The Presidential Dance Off

Will Obama Win?

If you're following the American election, and if you're not - how in the world are you avoiding it? Then you know that, at this moment Obama and Mc Cain are locked in a dead heat to the finish line - with Obama in the lead. It's been fascinating to listen to them both talk about the changes they will make if elected.Both are promising sweeping, multi-issue, complex, radical change. Both are handing out assurances for a better life; greater prosperity, increased safety, a revolutionized health care system, bolstered infrastructures and sounder financial markets, and they - so they say - will make it happen. They both guarantee bold - yet compassionate - leadership and, both have 'plans'. Sounds great - doesn't it?

But, beneath the veneer of political boasting lurks the reality of how change actually happens. When one of the contenders finally steps into the White House they will be faced with the sobering truth - change ain't for sissies.

Change happens one conversation at a time and the new President will need a savvy Transition Team of people dedicated to reaching out to the larger group; men and women who see themselves as agents of the change - willing to be the Commander and Chief's eyes and ears on the ground, feeding information back about how the change is really going and make recommendations for course corrections. No man, or woman, is an island and no one person can pull off this magnitude of change alone.

This time next month, the waiting will be over. In the meantime, what are you doing to get your team ready for their changes? Do you have a Transition Team in place? The Leaders Summit is a comprehensive learning program designed to you with the techniques and skills to make good on your promises for transformation.

To activate an entire nation like the US towards change means budgets to analyze - and then slash, wars to retreat from - or finish and literally millions of ordinary people to mobilize. It will require overhauling complex systems, engaging former archenemies and significantly disrupting the day-to-day routine of literally millions of businesses and households. And that's only the process for inside the US boarders - the ripple effect out to the rest of the world will be, well HUGE.

This kind of audacious transformation will require a willingness to cooperate never seen before; it will mean a giving up of values held dear by many who will cling to the status quo, even if the current state of affairs is crumbling. In short, the mammoth change that both men are promising will be an enormous undertaking, requiring the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and - you guessed it - time. Lots of time.

There will be no quick fixes for the US regardless of whom the voters choose. Those of you leading teams and organizations know this. You understand the challenges you face when trying to get a group of people to change - imagine a whole country! Now, both these men believe that this kind of change is doable, but that it will take the commitment of 'every American' to make it happen. Well, not quite. How do you get wholesale commitment from everyone in a change effort? You don't. And, you don't need to.

But what the new President will have to do, just like any other change leader, is gain the support of a key portion of the electorate; a group fiercely committed to seeing the change happen.

Is the Sky Falling?

It's been just a few days since US President George 'W' Bush faced cameras and made an impassioned plea for his government to approve a plan to bail Wall Street out of its current financial crisis. The severity and complexity of the mess appears to be unprecedented, the global economic impact uncertain and the emotional toll mounting as Joe Public tries to make sense of it all.

Affected business leaders across all industries are asking themselves, what do I do with this? How will I make good choices, handle my own anxiety, fear and anger over the losses and, how can I lead my people now?

John Holt said it best, "The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do".

Leaders are telling me they feel a bit like the King in the famous children's story Chicken Little. That story opens with Henny-Penny just minding her own business when she's suddenly hit on the head. She doesn't see it coming, doesn't know what it was, has never experienced it before and so concludes that the sky was falling. She runs to tell her friends: Ducky Daddles, Cocky Locky, Goosey Poosey and Turkey Lurkey and they decide that the only rational response to such a catastrophe, is to go tell the King. They get side tracked by Foxy Loxy, outsmart him, escape and finally reach the King. When they inform the King the sky is falling, he looks up, sees that indeed it isn't and tells them everything will be ok, and that they should go back to the barn.

In crisis, or perceived crisis, people want a King like Chicken Little had. People want their leader to tell them it's going to be all right - whether the leader knows it will be or not is irrelevant; they want to hear it anyway.

Inherent within every crisis are both Danger & Opportunity. We don't have to look far to be reminded of the dangers, just tune into CNN; they're trotting them out in graphic detail, every hour on the hour. Near the end of every broadcast they tell viewers, in a variety of ways, to - be afraid, be very afraid. Broadcasters remind us that, after all, this could only be the beginning of the fallout - the worse is surely yet to come.

Riveting television, bad leadership.

During times of uncertainty, leaders need to be realistic about outcomes, and empathetic towards people. They need to talk optimistically about what they do know and sparingly about what they don't know.

And, the opportunities - what about them? They're there - they always are. Tucked in behind the clouds of doom are always little streaks of sunlight; rays of hope, voices that are calm and optimistic. Do you hear them? Are you one of them? Can people count on you for a sensible, thoughtful approach? It's tough - but doable - to remain grounded when the ground is shaking.If you need some help to navigate the changes you're in - call me.

Where Are You Going?

Ah, fall is in the air! It's back to work and school. For lots of people September is a time for new beginnings, for recommitment to routines and schedules. It's a time when we reluctantly leave behind a slower pace and re-position our noses on the preverbal grindstone, yet again. For many, September is a month ripe with an unspoken challenge to step up your game.Many of my clients are expressing the desire to be more real, relevant and more ready for change. They're rumbling about achieving bigger numbers, securing promotions and finding balance, with an intensity that wasn't there in June.

So, what will the next few months mean for you? Whether your dreams are about getting fit, finishing a degree or climbing Kilimanjaro - the question is - how will you make that happen?

Bob Buford, author of, From Success to Significance suggests three ways to plunge ahead with passion and purpose.

First - Get Clear. "Gain clarity about your perspectives, your attitudes, your 'calling', the results that you most want in your life." I would add, get real. Get truthful with yourself. Do your goals match your core beliefs? Do they fit with who you really are? If they don't - they may be great goals for someone else, just not for you. Bob would ask, 'what do you need to get clear? If it were a few years from now and you were living the perfect life, how would you know?" Great clarity questions.

Second - Get Free. "Identify and free your mind and heart of unrealistic expectations, untrue assumptions, unfounded fears and needless financial pressure. " Not easy, especially if you're struggling with limiting beliefs, paralyzing fears or financial burdens that have stopped you in the past. I would add, get relevant. Relevance comes by challenging those habits, practices or people that hold you back and choosing to keep only those that fit now. It's not disrespectful to eliminate people or beliefs that aren't supportive of your loftier goals - it's smart. I would ask, "What will you need to leave behind to move ahead?"

Third - Get Going. There's simply no substitute for action! Bob instructs us to, "Begin simply by talking with those you love, researching what others are doing in the area you are interested in, trying some small projects, preparing for transition and praying for direction." Or, in other words - get ready for change. Ease into it, but get moving - today! For most would-be changers, the feel the fear and do it anyway motto works best. Don't wait till you're 'ready' for the difficult stuff - start now. Sneak up on your resistance and start racking up some early wins to keep you motivated.

Oh, and if you're leading a group towards an audacious goal, how will you help them through this process?

Give it some thought, because September is one of those fresh, exciting months that sends a lot of folks into their boss's office just bursting with great ideas.

Golf Anyone?

It's summertime and I bet that some of you are golfing more than you're working. I don't golf often, but when I do I'm struck by the similarities between golf and leading change.

The first time I golfed I was nervous because I assumed that everyone on the course would be a good golfer. I figured that, if someone invested hundreds of dollars in clubs and clothes, plunked down a lot of money to play and then went to a public course to do it, that they would probably know what they're doing. Not so.

I soon learned that there are lots of novices like me who have clubs, enjoy the game but .will never be mistaken for Annika Sorenstam. Sadly, the same scenario exists in most organizations; there are lots of leaders involved in change initiatives, but few real Change Champions.

At work or on the golf course, the right tools are key to success. You wouldn't use a driver around the greens, or a putter in the rough. But I see people routinely reaching for their command and control 'club' when a softer, more elegant communication approach is what's called for.

And, speaking of being in the rough, and place I visit often on my way to the flag, getting out of the rough with minimal strokes can, as they say, really separate the men from the boys. Teams in transition will inevitably spend time in the 'rough'; that in-between place where people and processes aren't like they used to be, but aren't yet what they should be. It's a tough spot to be in and, just like the tall grass and trees that make up the rough on a golf course, leaders need finesse to move themselves and their teams through the uncomfortable parts of a change . The rough requires a sound knowledge of: your clubs (options) the terrain (yourself, the objectives and the company's change-readiness) and your tolerance for risk (that seems to be the same in golf or in business).

Another parallel between playing golf and leading change is that the task is never the same twice, no matter how similar it looks at first glance. Even if you play the same course every Saturday morning, each time you step up to a tee - it's a new shot. Today the wind is a factor, last time it wasn't, or the greens are dryer and so landing a shot is harder. Good golfers understand this. At each hole they check to see where the flag is; they know that flags, just like people or processes, can be in a different spot than they were last time they took the same shot

I don't get out on the links or practice much so I'm at about the same skill level I was when I first took up the game. Oh, I've always been able to drive decently enough, but it's my 'short game' that's well, less than it should be. So, I like playing Best Ball. Best Ball is a great way to describe the work of a high-performance transition team. Each player (team member) has skin in the game; that is, they all accept responsibility for the outcome of the game.

When you're in a game of Best Ball, you quickly learn who has the stronger drive, putting or the ability to get out of the sand trap, and a savvy team leans into the strengths of its members. Each player takes their best shot in turn, but they know that their team- mates are there to help out when their individual effort falls short. They share the goal, the pressure to perform and ultimately the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

So, how's your game?

Are you someone who people are thrilled to have lead their team?

Need to brush up on your change-leadership skills?

Maybe I can help. Just don't count on me for golf!

Been To Disneyland Lately?

Nobody does customer service better than Disney. Nobody!

I just returned from presenting at a conference on Disney property in Orlando, Florida - and I have a few insights to share.Now, I grew up in Southern California and went to Disneyland a lot. As a kid - it was magical! I remember being wowed by the sights of everything Disney. This year is Disney's 50th Anniversary and their theme for this year is 'the Magical Journey'. From the minute I stepped on to Disney's Magical Express to travel to my hotel, till I waved a final see ya real soon to Mickey, it was... well, still magical.

This time I noticed something I was too young to care about as a kid. I was struck by the 'journey' that they kept telling me I was on. That's what they called it - the Journey the magical journey. When I went to breakfast I was encouraged to enjoy a 'magical meal'. On my way to my workshop room they called after me to have a 'magical meeting' and when I called the front desk to arrange a wake-up call, the soothing voice on the other end, invited me to fall into a 'magical sleep'.

And the Cast Members (what else would you call people who are guiding you through a magical journey) directed, instructed, encouraged and served me every step of my stay. When I got lost, going looking for my themed dinner destination, they took me there. When I needed to check on my flight - they took care of it. It was clear that they knew where I was supposed to be going and I relaxed into their leadership, happy not to have to worry too much about the final destination.

Now, I'm a big girl and I know that the ultimate goal of Disney shareholders is to pry as much of my money away from me as they can. But they get to their goal by lavishly, and unapologetically taking me on a journey that caters to my needs. And that my friends is nothing short of brilliant!

If you've been in a workshop with me you know that I talk a lot about change leaders speaking to the 'me' issues early and creating a 'story' for the change; a descriptive 'picture' of the end goal - the organizational equivalent of Disney's magical journey.

A good goal story:

  • Is compelling - it captures your imagination
  • Pulls people towards the goal
  • Speaks to what your heart desires
  • Is told by everyone, all the time
  • Is stamped on everything the traveler touches and is related to everything the traveler experiences

So, have you got a story for your next change initiative? No? Better get one quick. Leading change is heart work. Before you leave the station with your team, borrow a page from Mickey and take time to grab their imaginations. If you want help crafting your change story - give me a call.

My telephone number is 905-659-6683.

Are Your Customers Changing?

How do you know when your customer's needs have changed? Do you know what's meaningful to them? What keeps them up at night? And when your products or services are changing, how do you let your customers know?

Not all customers leave suppliers because of price, product or options. Research tells us that many leave because they feel that the company doesn't understand them and what they really need.

68% leave because they believe the company doesn't care about them
14% leave because they are dissatisfied
9% leave because they are lured by a competitor
5% leave because they are influenced by friends
4% leave because they simply move away

How are you letting your customers - both internal and external - know that you care about them? When organizations are in flux, and that's just about everyone these days, knowing how others are changing is just as valuable as knowing what your team or organization are up to. Being blindsided by other people's changes stings. Don't let it happen to you.

I suggest that you look for every opportunity to build communication bridges. Bridges that allow information to flow to and from your customer in ways that keep you and them informed about shifts in either party's operations or requirements.

Speak to them. Listen to them. Call them on the phone. You remember - it's that small black devise on your desk that harnesses radio waves and allows you to actually have an old fashioned conversation. Use it. Call your customers and ask them how they are. Sound simple? Apparently this kind of communication is exactly what your customers are waiting for - a supplier that sees themselves as a partner. A supplier that has time for them. The kind of time it takes to pick up the phone and say - hey, what's changed?

If you want some help with the kinds of questions that can get to the shifting priorities and issues in a group, give me a shout. I've got some ideas that just might help.

My telephone number is 905-659-6683.

What Are You Apologizing For?

Change brings out the best, and worst in all of us. When things are moving fast, processes and next steps are blurry and highly prized outcomes are way off in the distance, some of us can get a bit testy. Feelings can be raw when the will to achieve is being challenged by the enormity of the task.

The truth is, when life or work is fast -n -furious, we make mistakes, faux pas, miss-steps and miss-speaks; we 'forget' important deadlines, drop the ball, miss-calculate or step out of character. In short, we screw up sometimes!

Maybe you had the same kind of mom I did. I'd be playing with my siblings and 'accidentally' hit them too hard. My mom would appear out of nowhere, stand me face to face with the offended and say, 'Now Peggy, say you're sorry'. I'd dutifully drop my head in fake remorse and mumble 'sorry'. I was in that moment, of course, anything but sorry.

The problem with saying 'sorry' as a kid was that I believed that sorry was synonymous with guilt, and that by saying I was sorry I was admitting that I had intended to hurt my sibling, which was, only occasionally the case.

My intentions as a child were often suspect. But as an adult, for the most part, my intentions are honourable. And, like most of you, I don't set out to be hurtful; I don't try to infuriate those around me. But, sometimes I know I do and I know I need to apologize. So, I've learned to see apologizing from a different perspective.

I think there are three Professional Apologies that need to be liberally given in the workplace:

Responsibility Apology:
This is when you take responsibility for having hurt someone - whether you meant to or not. Simply put, this apology is for when; someone got hurt (ruffled, delayed, embarrassed, etc.), you were in some way the cause - and you regret your actions. You own up and ask for forgiveness.

Acknowledgement Apology:
This is when your actions were justified, necessary or pure and yet the person reacted by getting hurt or upset in some way. This apology is an acknowledgement that you are sorry that they are hurt, but don't necessarily regret what you did or didn't do that may have brought them to this point. This apology can work for change leaders that have to make those tough decisions that impact people in negative ways.

Empathetic Apology:
This apology is essentially - I had nothing to do with your situation, but I can see how upsetting it is to you and I'm truly sorry you're having to go through what you're going through. This apology is pure gold for sales people or those savvy customer service reps that need to turn a raging consumer into a customer for life by diffusing a volatile situation.

These apologies are free and they work! Simple words that take responsibility, acknowledge impact and/or express empathy, can diffuse anger, sooth hurts and smooth ruffled feathers.

I encourage you to give the Professional Apology a spin. See if there are circumstances where you need to step past your childhood version of 'sorry' and step into a more grown-up version of fence mending.
The US Presidential elections are heating up. As I write this, Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama are racing towards the Democratic National Convention, neck -n- neck. There is no doubt that this is an historic competition for the hearts and votes of the American public. Most political analysts agree that, in terms of policy at least, there is very little that separates these two Presidential wanna-bees. But, in practical terms... their approach to the race is worlds apart.

Setting politics aside for a moment, I think there are priceless lessons in change leadership being modeled by these orators every night for us on CNN. Washington Post columnist E.J.Dionne Jr. says of Hilary, "she has answers to hard questions, but he (Barack) has the one answer that voters hunger for: He offers himself as the vehicle for creating a new political movement."

Barack Obama speaks of hope, and hope is the one thing that prompts people to believe that change is possible. George Packer spoke of listening to Barack speak to the crowds this way, " Within minutes, I couldn't recall a single thing he had said, and the speech dissolved into pure feeling ...which stayed with me for days." There's something fascinating going on here.

What's happening isn't new. It's been said that when Cicero, the Roman statesman, lawyer, political theorist and philosopher spoke, the crowds declared, "How well he spoke." But when Demosthenes, a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens spoke, the crowds exclaimed, 'Let us march!"

How many executive announcements about some company change have you sat through where the content was - the company, blah, blah, blah, or quality and profits, blah, blah, blah? And, how did these factual, structured pronouncements make you feel?

Ok, so what lessons can we take from the drama that's playing out on the world stage? Here's what I see:
  • People need substance, but the facts are seldom enough to inspire people to act
  • People are hungry for hope - at work and in their personal lives
  • You don't have to have all the answers to inspire confidence and propel people to action
  • Real engagement is an activity of the heart

Whether the thrill of what's possible will trump a battle cry of, having answers to the tough questions remains to be seen. What we know for sure is that how you communicate is at least as important as what you communicate when it comes to engaging people's hearts and minds.

How are your change communication skills? Are you compelling? Is your message to your family, team or organization filled with hope?

If you want to bring your change communications to the next level, call me; I just might be able to help.

Are You Sure That Will Work?

Have you ever tried to introduce an idea at work only to have your co-workers say things like, 'That won't work here." Or," we tried that in 2004 and it didn't work then - so it isn't going to work now."

Sound familiar? Sure it does. That kind of response is based on, what I believe to be, a faulty premise. At the heart of this kind of thinking is a belief that goes something like this; if you've already tried something and it didn't work, don't bother trying it again. Sounds good, but it's simply not true.

The fallacy of that reasoning was so clearly demonstrated in the 1978 movie Same Time Next Year. The plot involves Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn's characters who meet by chance at a remote, romantic inn during dinner. Although both are married to other people, they end up spending the night together. They are wildly attracted to each other and agree that, although they are married, they will get together on the same weekend each year after that.

Each new scene of the movie opens with them arriving at the inn each successive year, always staying in the same room. They never miss a year, and every few years they seem to take on new personas. One year, Alda's character is buttoned-up corporate; stiff and angry, while Burstyn's character has just gone back to university (in the 60's) and is radical in both fashion and philosophy. A few years later Ellen has started a business and has taken on a touch, 'take-no-prisoners' approach to life. That same year Alda confesses to having gone through personal therapy and has morphed into a softer, more open-minded version of his former self.

Each year they have to adjust and re-acquaint themselves with the 'new' people they've become. They manage to make the adjustments and continue to find enough common ground between them to sustain the relationship for twenty-six years.

It's fascinating to see these two characters come back to the same hotel room, walk the same beach, eat at the same diner and yet be so very different year after year. It speaks to something fundamental about change, that is; the same place, same activities and even the same intent DO NOT equal the same result. Why - because, things change.

Alda and Burstyn's characters changed, they grew; their capacity for love, acceptance, awareness, their tolerance levels, perspectives, family configurations, skills, circumstances and motivators changed from year to year. What they wanted out of life, and their clandestine relationship, changed. All of those shifts contributed to the end result of the weekend being different. At times it was pure lust, on other weekends there were times of deep emotional sharing. One year Alda even delivered Burstyn's baby. I know - Hollywood.

The principle is this; you or your team or organization may have tried something before, but before is not now. You are different, your customer is different, the market has shifted, skill sets have changed and even the will of the people to succeed may be different.

So, don't throw away an idea just because you or others have tried it before. This time, this year may just be the year it works!

What Surprised You In 2007?

What surprised you in 2007? What did you do that was different, new or novel to the way you usually do it? And, what did you turn your undivided attention to last year? Whatever it was you changed last year may hold a key to what you will be able to change this year.

Dr. Norman Doidge, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself - a fascinating review of brain research over the past fifty years - confirms what motivational experts have touted for decades - that our brains are plastic, not rigid machines, and can learn and unlearn almost anything. Our flexible brains change with every encounter we have, every thought we hold on to and every new experience we engage in. We construct 'brain maps' for particular behaviours and, when we want to stop that behaviour or start a new one, we must take the time to create a new 'map' that sends and receives new stimuli that foster new choices and behaviours. Good news for would-be changers!

But, there is a catch of sorts. Apparently new brain maps require three things to alter themselves significantly enough to either erase old patterns or create new ones. The stimuli that create new and improved maps must be:

Compelling: We don't change what we don't want to change. That is, in order for our brain to take us seriously enough to go to all the trouble of changing itself, it (we) must first believe that what we want to change is indeed worthy of the effort. Remember when parents and teachers used to say, 'now pay attention, this is important'? Apparently that's just the kind of heads-up we need to give ourselves if we want to alter our thinking and ultimately our behaviour.

Surprising or Novel: Our brains like to create maps for responding to situations and then run down the same path over and over. It makes us feel safe, calm and sure of our next step. So, if we want to effect a change, we need to jolt our old map into pliability by giving it something it doesn't expect instead of the same old, same old. For example, if you want to stop gossiping at work you might splash water on your face when you find yourself telling tales. A bit drastic you say? Ok, what about recording what you say for a week and play it back to see how rumors sound coming out of your own mouth. That mental slap in the face might just be what the old gossip brain map would find surprising enough to consider switching to a kinder, gentler communication style.

Focused: Simply put, you can't just cruise into new or out of old patterns. Research has shown us that even stroke victims can regain use of cognitive ability and lifeless limbs if new mental maps are created. But, it takes concentration and real effort if a mental map is going to re-organize itself to respond in new ways. So if you want to be a different kind of person this year at home or work, you will have to apply yourself diligently to the task. I know, I know, you were hoping I would say that you can just dream your way to a better you - we all want that. And, it's bunk. Your brain 'No Can Do'.

So, are you ready for a change? Help yourself by making your change compelling, surprising and focused for success?

If I can be helpful to you in achieving your goals this year, it would be my pleasure.