Your Ego Is Holding You Back

[this is  a fall re-post series re-post]

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 1

I do a little volunteer mentoring. Last year I helped a student group that had gotten stuck. They were working on a design for a community space, bringing together senior students from architecture, engineering, marketing, and business schools. Teams were formed for the weekend, with a juried presentation Sunday afternoon.

I met with them Saturday evening. Most of the other teams had already settled on a design, gotten community comments, done their costing, and were working on their presentations for the next day. A few had even knocked off early to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s presentation.

The group I worked with were still deciding which design to go with. The were tired, frustrated, and dispirited. After asking questions about their process up to that point, it was clear that there were three “strong personalities”. People who were pushing to get things done, and another four that just wanted to move forward but didn’t know how.

Super Chickens

It was a classic example of “super chickens”. Instead of working together as a team, they were unintentionally pecking at each other in earnest effort to push the group forward. As frustrating as it was for them, it wasn’t really surprising. They hadn’t learned to work in a team. They had, up to now, been rewarded for winning instead of for being helpful. Even if they had played on, say, a sports team, there is still an amazing emphasis on individual stars and personal achievement. Heros aren’t teams. Heros are people.

Leadership is about inspiring a bunch of people to do great things. Sometimes it’s about inspiring a team to do mundane, dirty, or dangerous work in a great way. It’s about taking turns. Contributing without bullying, Collaborating without wanting or needing the credit. It’s providing a service, not stroking your ego.

Yet consistently we seem to train men and women at all levels who believe that to be successful they have to compete and win at everything. And it’s not true. A different and better definition of success, I believe, is the success of the team. Not just the success of the people on the team.

The Hard Work

The hard work of changing our own behaviour, and therefore being able to influence other’s behaviour more effectively, is possible BUT it means making a long-term, consistent, commitment to learning and practising leadership. It means putting in the time and effort. It means adopting a “window and mirror” maturity. When things go well, it means pointing out the window to others and giving them the credit. When things don’t go well, it means looking in the mirror. It means being confident and humble at the same time.  

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 2 – Your Authority Is Meaningless

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

Have you ever worked with somebody you felt absolutely had your best interest at heart, even if it meant sacrificing their own?

A Wise Man

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

—  Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee
More than just a pretty face


The Richest Man In Asia Wants You To Know This

 In summary: relationships are important, learning is important, have a plan, be disciplined, learn to sell. Worth the (short) read:

5 Things the Richest Man in Asia Wants You to Know

(Re)Starting Your Company #1 – Teach

Alexander the Great with his teacher Aristotle
Alexander the Great with his teacher Aristotle

Finding the right people to help you run your company is hard. Especially here in Calgary. Finding qualified and competent workers at all levels has been a challenge for years, with no end in sight, because of the boom economy.

Getting the right people is a strategic differentiator for your company. So instead of competing with everybody else, you might want to try something different.

Recruit your students. Don’t have any? Go out and teach or volunteer in your professional community. This is an extension of a previous suggestion for restarting your career – get out there and volunteer in the community.

One of my clients is a sales manager for a home-builder. In order to develop herself professionally, she volunteered to teach the local entry-level realtor’s certification. If you know anything about the Calgary real estate market, you’ll know that it was barely affected by the crash. Vacancy rates have been at less than 1% for a couple of years now. Lots of new agents are entering this hot market hoping to make their fortunes in sales.

But there are many other opportunities in this city. Even though the hiring pool is wide, sometimes it’s not  very deep. And no matter what the size of the candidate pool, we always wanting to be skimming off the top – to get the best available candidates for the money we’re paying.

Besides being a great way to stretch herself, authentically give back to the community, and enhance her personal and company’s reputation, she realized that she had a month-long opportunity to “interview” candidates for hours at a time in the evenings and weekends. The best ones – self-motivated, self-disciplined, smart, hard-working – are the ones she invited for a coffee chat.

By not making the excuse of too busy (she is a shareholder in the company and the mother of a young child), by developing herself and giving back to the industry, not only did she burnish her own and the company’s reputation, she also found a pipeline of likely candidates in a very tight market.

Want to restart the hiring pipeline for your company? Get yourself and your leaders out there.

Predicting Success

Predicting Success

Predictor of business execution success

Check out my latest article for “Predictors of Business Execution Success”. It’s a gooder.

One Discovery, Two Decisions

The best part of my job is working with, sharing, inspiring and being inspired by passionate, smart people. It turns my crank. I am lucky to have this life. I try to stop and be grateful when as often as I can.

I had one of those moments last week at breakfast with the Design4Change agency, Patricia Derbyshire of Mount Royal University, and Earnest Barbaric the social media strategist. Clarity came while we were talking marketing and career choices.

I believe we all have one discover and two choices we all have to make to gain mastery, be fulfilled, and be engaged in our work and our lives. There are things we all need to do in order to be successful in life, no matter how we define success. Here’s what I think those things are:

Discover What You’re Good At

This is one of those simple but not always easy to carry out concepts. It takes thought, focus, and self-awareness. We all enjoy something, we can all be good at something, we all need to master something. Being good and being recognized by others as being good, is the difference between thriving and merely surviving.

What are you good at? What makes time fly, leaves you energized instead of drained, or is fun for you? If you can’t think of anything, or you don’t get to do it very often, maybe it’s time for a change? Life is too short and hard already to spend it doing something that eats your soul instead of feeding it.

Figure out what that thing is, then  figure out how to make a living at it.

Choose Who You’re Going to Work With

Maslow got it wrong. The “social” need of his hierarchy is just as important as food and shelter.

People matter, and who you surround yourself with matters. Choose your friends and co-workers carefully. The biggest influence on a child’s life? Not their parents, but their friends. Want to raise good kids? Choose their friends  carefully.

Business success depends on the people you choose to hire (or not). Don’t waste your time with somebody who you wouldn’t enthusiastically rehire. It’s not worth it.

Choose to Keep Learning

You can learn and adapt by trial and error, or you can learn from others. Darwin didn’t say that survival would go to the fittest. He said it would go to the most adaptable. Those that learn also adapt and survive.

Get into the habit of reading, learning, and always always always trying to find ways to simplify and do things better. You could do it by trial and error, on your own, but that doesn’t seem very efficient does it?

I believe that these are the simple things that outstanding managers (and successful human beings) do well.

Question for the Comments:
What are the lifetime habits that help you succeed?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Eight Career Rules For My Teenage Daughter
Following Your Passion
Getting the Job You Want by Talking to the Right People

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

It’s Not About Changing Who You Are

Making changes to how you do things is not about changing who you are. It’s about making who you are more effective.

If you think you have no weaknesses then your biggest weakness is a lack of self-awareness.  It’s holding you back.

You might be able to get away with it where you’re working now, but if your company’s growing or you ever hope to move ahead, it’s holding you back.

Eventually the pain you’re putting your peers and boss through working around the stuff you don’t do well  (instead of recognizing it and doing something about it yourself) is going to outweigh the benefit of that thing that you’re really really good it.

When that day comes you’re going to get put out on the street. I hope you have a good severance package.

The Best Way to Learn “Leadership”

I’m reading General Hillier’s auto-biography, and I tripped across a little gem buried in the middle of the book: if you want to learn about leadership, put down the leadership books. Instead, read biographies of leaders.

Nothing substitutes for a good mentor and first-hand experience of course. Reading books written about leadership as a scholastic topic should be at the botton of your “sharpening the saw” list. Reading books about first-hand accounts of leadership (good and bad) should be at the top.

. . . and if you want to buy General Hillier’s biography from Amazon, just click the link. A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War. It’s well worth the read. Especially if you think you work in a complex, international context.

Best Books of 2010

Books, magazines, and blogs are great way to keep up, catch up, and get ahead knowledge-wise. It’s part of the continual learning we must all do to become and stay the leaders and managers in this information and knowledge driven world. Problem is, there is too much information out there. How can we separate the sheep from the goats, especially in the B.S. driven world of management and business writing?

Here are the books that I found useful and inspiring in the last year or so. I hope you find them as enlightening as I did.

If you have any books you’ve read in the last year that you’d like to recommend please let us know in the comments. Or check out my reading list on LinkedIn. If you let me know that you found me through this blog I’ll be glad to connect with you.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

One of those mind-opening books that has the potential to shape the way you think. The last time I had a buzz from a book like this was when I’d finished “The Selfish Gene”. Your mileage may vary.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

An easy read, well written, useful for anyone who needs to think about improving processes (sales, marketing, operations, record-keeping, etc.) in a way that doesn’t bury your teams in ream of useless doctrine.

Awesomely Simple: Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas Into Action

John Spence has an amazing faculty & discipline, plus years of real business experience, which he uses to consume business books and distill them into six focused chapters. Good reading for business & other leaders anywhere.

Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People

OK, I haven’t actually read this 500+ page monster cover to cover, but I’ve used and taught the principles in it. Want the best people? Get the best hiring and coaching practises. Start here.

How To Win Friends and Influence People

An oldie but a goodie for a reason. Concrete examples and strategies on how to influence people. Get what you want by giving people what they want. More effective that using your positional authority to make people jump through hoops.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

OK, this isn’t really a business book, but it’s a great illustration of the law of unintended consequences, how motivator don’t always bring about the desired effect, and why when you pick your key performance indicators you need to be really, really careful. Plus, it will stretch your mind. Thanks for the book Tara.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

A fictional case study which is a good introduction to team dynamics and resolving conflicts.


First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

Research based principles of the most successful managers in the most successful companies. Most important: can your staff come to work and do their best every day? To find out what this means read the book.

Soldiers Mad Me Look Good: A Life in the Shadow of War

A soldier’s biography, with leadership nuggets buried throughout. This is the Canadian General who opened the Sarejavo airport during the Bosnian conflict. Well worth the read even if you’re not usually interested in things military.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

As much as we might sometime wish that it didn’t happen (or hide from it), being an outstanding manager means sometimes having the courage to have difficult conversations. You provide the courage, this book will provide the tools.

Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership

Great for supervisors, managers, and executives who want to develop their direct reports and staff. Want to be know as a boss who gets the best out of their people? Using what’s in this book is a good start.

The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill

Interesting research-based insight into evolutionary motivation and relationships. Read this if you want to understand what drives people to extremes.

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm

A good primer on strategic planning and execution written in concrete terms.

Enjoy your reading,


p.s. My apologies if the links aren’t quite working yet. I’m still working out the details.

Simple Things To Learn To Be a Better Boss

Are you a good boss? Do you enjoy what you do? Would you do it if you didn’t have to work for money? Do leap out of bed in the morning?

Do your values, believes, and ideals line up with the values of the company and people you’re working for and with? Do you know what to expect from the people you work with when tough decisions are being made?

Are you good at what you do? Do you have the skills, knowledge, and experience to be the best? Have you learned how to pick the right people, including the ones that fill in your blind spots? Have you learned how to deal with conflict, and encourage creativity, because if two people in a meeting agree, then one of them is unnecessary.

Do you know the basics – have you learned how to give feedback, run meetings, communicate effectively, and inspire other people. Do you make good decisions? Do you know how to coach, delegate, and hold yourself others accountable? Can you build life-long relationships, deliver, and measure your results? Do you keep learning?

If not, why not? What’s the one thing that you need to work on next to make yourself a better boss in the next year?

Have a great Christmas and enjoy the return of the sun. The next couple of weeks of the blog will be repeats of greatest hits and popular blogs from the last year. See you in the new year.