Leadership: Toronto Guru Robin Sharma

In honour of this week’s trip to Toronto, here is my favourite Toronto-based leadership guru, Robin Sharma. His message is aimed at New Years but if you’re at all optimistic you know that every day can qualify as a new start. All you have to do is frame it that way.


Stumbling With Grace

WARNING: Believing in one’s self enough to take chances and try new methods may result in embarrassment. 

There’s nothing like a good mistake to reveal strength of character and moral turpitude.  I like to ask job candidates to describe their last mistake.  It’s not that I’m seeking gory details or negative job histories.  In fact, I don’t even care what kind of mistake it was.  I want to hear about the way they discovered their error, how they dealt with it and how it affected future work.  The way we handle ourselves – and the way we describe the events – says a lot about us.  John Warrillow talks about this in his article entitled: The One Question You Need To Weed Out Rotten Apples

Stumbling with grace means we dust ourselves off, figure out what we’ll do differently next time, and get right back at it again.  As I write this I still have a slightly bruised chin (figuratively speaking) from my last fall. 

Success isn’t measured by a lack of errors.  It’s all about recovering quickly, learning from the mistake and plunging right in again.

For more on this topic see Embracing Imperfection.

Flexing from Leader to Manager and Back Again

I love this excerpt from the Op-Ed blog at Posterous*:

Management is just the science of execution.
But leadership provides vision.

So true.

I’ve had many *discussions* with people on whether leadership and management are one and the same or two different skill sets.  According to me they are distinct and easily identifiable.  Those with leadership skills are able to articulate their vision for a better future; they are dissatisfied with the status quo and lay out a clear and compelling path to a new future.  The manager ensures execution of the steps required to transform the vision into reality.  Both skill sets are crucial for business health.

Can one person do both?

I know quite a few who excel at both leadership and management but it is more common to find individuals with strengths in one area over the other.  The trick is to know yourself.  Look through the table below and see where your style fits.  Are there elements you would like to change? The good news is it’s never too late.

Reprinted with permission from ChangingMinds.org

Further reading
You’re welcome to dig in further at Leader vs Manager — The Debate Continues.  I also recommend “Leadership vs Management” from which I sourced the above table. Read it here.


*The Posterous blogging platform is no longer online.

A Newbie’s Foray into the Classroom

Sitting in the foyer of a local high school brought me back a few years. Although my high school is a 7-hour flight from here (and many years in the past) the sights and sounds are familiar: parents rushing in to sign forms or pick up students for dental appointments, office workers busily filing documents and answering phones, and the school bell that instantly mobilizes an entire building. Just one thing gives away the current era: mobile phones. They’re everywhere.

Waiting for the session bell to ring gave me plenty of time to realize I was nervous about teaching my first Junior Achievement class. I’m adept at presenting to professionals and executives – but how would I relate to tenth graders in a way that would provide value to them? I couldn’t help but remember the Sidney Poitier movie “To Sir With Love” where the girls are snarky, the boys look dangerous, and hormones abound.

At the sound of the bell I was met by my assigned teacher, Lorena. It quickly became evident that she cares for her students. I loved watching the way she brought them all in, got them in order, and explained what would take place for the next hour. Throughout the class she watched closely to ensure the students had what they needed. At one point when she offered clarification on an exercise instruction I had given I was reminded that good educators share a competency with the best business leaders: delivering clear expectations. We could probably learn a thing or two about clarity from teachers.

The students could not have been farther from the images in my imagination. They were quiet and mostly soft spoken. It was challenging to get them to participate but by the end of the class more than half of them did. They easily grasped the concept of making buy, sell, hold decisions.  In fact, they seemed to like the decision making part. And they certainly understood the appeal of investing.  I can’t wait to see what they do with the stock market simulation over the next few weeks.

I wonder what it is like for an experienced teacher to turn her classroom over to a newbie.  That might make an interesting future post.

In honour of teachers everywhere, here’s a recent remake of Lulu’s famous song “To Sir With Love” (from Glee). Click the link for a redirect to YouTube.

Transformational Leadership

Optimism and resilience are so highly regarded there are countless career assessments employed to measure this specific area.  Does this mean we are seeking unrealistic Pollyanna types?  No.  The ideal optimist fearlessly faces reality – deliberately uncovering and facing unpleasant facts – while maintaining the course.  They are not deflated by obstacles.

One particular book on this topic, The Art of Possibility, has served me well for years.  I find myself drawn to it yet again as we move into a new business quarter.  Here is a favorite excerpt from the book:

The practice of this chapter is to invent and sustain frameworks that bring forth possibility.  It is about restructuring meanings, creating visions, and establishing environments where possibility is spoken — where the buoyant force of possibility overcomes the pull of the downward spiral.

The steps to the practice of framing possibility are:

1. Make a new distinction in the realm of possibility: one that is a powerful substitute for the current framework of meaning that is generating the downward spiral.

2. Enter the territory.  Embody the new distinction in such a way that it becomes the framework for life around you.

3. Keep distinguishing what is “on the track” and what is “off the track” of your framework for possibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who aspires to transformational leadership.

For a special treat, here is an 8-minute video of Ben Zander illustrating the power of stopping the downward spiral in its tracks:

5 Questions to Sharpen Your Direction

  • What kind of future would you like to create?
  • What is good about your present that you would like to increase?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What behaviour or thought process is no longer working for you?
  • What worked for you in the past is most likely not going to help you obtain what you desire in the future. What needs to change?

Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

The title of this post came from John Lennon.  Here are two more quotes that I love:

“Never, never, never, never give up.”  ~Winston Churchill

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” ~Jack Welch

A well-placed quote can bring a presentation to life.  If you’re seeking interesting quotations, try these sites:





Zooming for Effective Leaders

Everyone knows leaders must have vision. That’s an important element of leadership but it’s not the whole story. In my estimation a true leader keeps everyone focused on the destination and maintains constant vigilance over stuff that gets in the way. 

Today’s leaders must possess the ability to zoom in and zoom out.  Zooming means you keep the big picture front and center AND you are always ready to go deep to blast away bottlenecks and sustain forward motion. It’s focus management at its best.

I think part of the problem is that it’s not sexy to wallow through the muck of a gnarly problem.  It’s messy and it can be frustrating.  Some call that management hell – I call it being midway to a solution.  But if you have a productivity bottleneck or a barrier to success this is exactly where you should be.  There’s a pot of gold at the end for those who stick around long enough to formulate solutions.

I hope you enjoy this latest leadership video from HBR.