Feb 27, 2010

He who is good with a hammer thinks that everything is a nail!!

As I write this blog, in preparation for an upcoming book... (presumably of the same name... "Being the Hero of Your Life"), I've struggled with the fact that my subject matter is so diverse, and whether not I should focus on a narrower scope.
However, upon greater reflection, I believe that the way to achieve "being the hero of your lfe" (meaning achieving your personal best, with the ultimate goal being to achieve happiness which I believe is our ultimate purpose on this earth), must be multi faceted,
There are, of course, no shortage of people offering an endless variety of "success formulas", many of whom are simply spouting platitudes and repeating the same old messages from countless self-help books written in the last several decades.
Admittedly, many of these people, do in fact offer some useful information, however, it is most often biased by their particular field of expertise or personal experience. (he who is good with a hammer thinks that everything is a nail!)
While the motivational speaker will talk about the power of positive thinking, the member of the clergy will expound on spirituality and the philosopher will talk about having a proper grasp of reasoning and reality. (I'm kind of partial to the latter).
The athlete will sing the praises of physical fitness, the recovering addict will promote the 12 steps and abstinence while the dietitian or nutritionist will speak of proper diet as being critical. And there is considerable evidence in my opinion that proper sleep and alignment with circadian rhythms have a considerable effect on virtually everything in our lives. Of course, the psychologist and/or psychiatrist will speak to their field and the physician will talk about health care.
In the end, I think I have a unique perspective in that I am not an "expert" in any particular field, and I have come to the conclusion, that while all these forementioned contributors have something to offer, it's not a matter of them being wrong or right but being incomplete because of their personal biases and myopic perspective.
I'm not claiming ot have it all figured out just yet. I continue to make additional distinctions, and believe I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
I remain confident however, that the distinctions I have made thus far in my life, will present an original and more importantly, effective approach to achieving happiness, both because of the diversity of sources, and because of revolutionary (I believe this not to be hype) ideas in many of the areas that will be discussed in the book.
As I had hoped, as I write more entries in the blog, my final vision for the book continues to be clearer all the time.
Thanks for reading....

Feb 19, 2010

Leadership in Dance, Business and Life

Recently, I heard someone say that a leader's job is to take responsibility for solutions. Often, when there is a problem or challenge, there is a tendency to look to who caused that problem.

However, unless that particular information will form part of the solution, the energy spent assigning blame is a complete waste at best, or actually contributes to delaying the solution or even compounding the original problem.

This made perfect sense to me, but then it occured to me that this applies not just to business organizations or non profit organizations which is the context this particular speaker was referring to, but many other things as well.

In fact, as my wife and I engage in ballroom dancing, I could see the parralel in that, being a strong lead as part of a dance couple was a perfect application of these same principles. From that, I realized that ballroom dancing is an amazing opportunity to learn and apply leadership principles that will carry over into all aspects of my life.

The thing about dancing is that the feedback as to whether you're an effective leader or not is instantaneous and blatantly obvious. (if you take responsibility) When your role in business or as a parent for example demands leadership, your effectiveness in that role, or lack thereof, may not become obvious until you have the benefit of hindsight to evaluate your results. In fact, when the results are less than optimal, it is even easy with the deceptive perspective of significant time passed, to rationalize that the lack of results was justified. (Of all the people you can fool, it is easiest to fool yourself!)

Now, in dancing, I have often seen couples, and I must admit, I've been guilty of this more often than I would like to admit, stopped on the floor, debating which of them is making a mistake. (I've actually seen people storm off the floor!)

This, in fact, as with levying blame in business.... serves no purpose and only makes things worse.

The leader doesn't care whose fault it is, he simply takes responsibility for the solution. If I'm leading, (and I maintain this proper frame of mind), if the dance isn't smooth, it's my job to correct it. Now some of you may suggest that I'm taking more than my share of responsiblity as perhaps my wife is the one who has made the mistake.

I would respond to this in two ways..... first, I would say that, that information, regardless of whether it is true or not, is totally besides the point I'm trying to make. Secondly, those who know a little about ballroom dancing (especially the women) will know that, in fact, if my lead is "perfect", my partner's role becomes relatively easy; actually, it will be more difficult for her to make a mistake then to do it right. To do it wrong would require that she go against my lead to do it incorrectly which will feel very unnatural and forced to her. Conversely, when my lead falls short, the result is not neutral for her, it is an added challenge over and above her just knowing her steps, and just as she would have to resist a good lead to do it wrong, she now has to compensate for my errant leadership when my lead is weak in order to get it right. (almost impossible)

You see, one way or another, I'm always leading her in some direction... that is either in the right or wrong direction, never a neutral one. A leader is always helping or hurting... food for thought.

"Leadership would be easy if it weren't for people!"; "They're so irrational and difficult to deal with!". You may have heard these complaints, only half in jest.

When a musician makes a mistake, he doesn't blame his instrument.... it is an inanimate object.... alternatively, dealing with people is a greater challenge because they are far less predictable, (perhaps however, not as much as most people think.)

Learning to play a musical instrument is, in many ways, far easier than learning how to lead in dance. A friend of mine once told me, "my guitar is always in the mood".

But leadership is not about leading inanimate objects, it's about leading people with all their wonderful diversity of moods and motivations, and, in dancing, the person you are dealing with is right in front of you, and it is a wonderful opportunity (sometimes very humbling) to see just how good you really are with people. (as much or more than how good you are at dancing.)

If you tell your dance partner when something goes wrong, "my fault, I think I can get it better this time.", more often than not, she will say, "no, I think I messed up there, too." Your willingness to take responsibility will bring out her willingness to at least share it. I think you can guess what reaction assigning blame will create. (especially if you happen to be married to your dance partner.)

So, if, as a manager of the Financial Center with Sun Life, I get frustrated with my advisors for not behaving in the way I think they should be, I have to realize that as a leader, their behaviour is a mirror of my own shortcomings as a leader and I have to take responsibility for improvement. As a father, when I catch myself criticizing my adult children's behaviour, if I truly consider myself as a leader/father, then I better be careful in that department as well!

Certainly human beings have free will, and I'm not suggesting that one take on sole responsibility for everyone else's actions but.... as a leader, I will do my best not to waste time on assigning blame, but to look within when it comes to finding the solution.

A bumber sticker that reads "Dancing is Life"... might be closer to the truth than we might, at first think.

Thanks for reading!

Feb 12, 2010

Figures Don't Lie, But Liars Sure Do Figure

One of the cardinal rules of management is "What gets measured, gets done!"

There is a lot of validity to this statement, and, in fact, keeping good records is very important. Measuring progress allows us to evaluate what is working better for our desired objective and what may actually be detrimental. Without proper measurement, people can fool themselves by being busy instead of being effective.

However like many things, even measurement itself can be abused, and in fact can become counterproductive.

I debated whether to name this entry as I have, or something along the lines of "Don't confuse measurement with reality."

By becoming overly concerned with achieving a certain measurement of progress, we can start to manipulate the measuring itself, in order to convince ourselves that our progress is greater than what it actually is. When I state that "liars sure do figure", I would state that in many cses, they start by lying to themselves.

Let me give you some examples.

Success is often measured by financial gain. Financial gain, is in fact, a valid measure of a person's progress in a chosen endeavour, however, if that individual, gets caught up in the measure, in this case, financial gain, then they can start to compromise their integrity in order to achieve the measure, and in so doing, be complete failures. That is obviously the case, if someone achieves wealth through dishonest methods, even though they may have achieved the "measure", their loss of perspective has changed them to someone they would never have started out to become.

Progress in an exercise program is often measured by performance of a certain physical feat, such as lifting a certain weight a certain number of times. This would indicate an increase in strength, logically. However, again, if the person gets caught up in the measure, they can start to compromise the integrity of the form used in the given movement, using momentum, loose form, or "cheating" methods in order to achieve the "feat". In so doing, a best case scenario is the person simply deluding themselves and as a result using ineffective methods to achieve this "false progress". In the worst case scenario, the person, using too much weight unsafely, suffers a serious injury, that delibitates them, and, as with the financial gain example becomes a complete failure in what they originally set out to accomplish.

Finally, in the corporate world, where companies are publicly traded, success is measured by quarterly earnings and balance sheets. We have already seen the headlines where "creative accounting" has caused many scandals and contributed to world economic turmoil.

In the end, there is cause and effect. Again, Ayn Rand, stated that people fool themselves by attempting to reverse cause and effect. In the examples above, people think, if they can get the effect (measure), it will give them the cause (in the examples above, personal worth, strength, or a solid company).

We have to make sure that we use measurement properly, as a tool to facilitate success, and not as a delusion that can have the reverse effect.

In managing a financial centre, for Sun Life, I must remain continually vigilant to ensure that the many measures we use to evaluate progress, are kept in the right perspective in order to ensure that we manage with the utmost integrity, in order to provide rewarding careers for our people enabling them to help change their clients' lives forever which is the true measure of success in our field.

Thanks for reading!