Are You an ACTUAL Leader?

Abundance Management Organizational culture


Key Point: Japanese companies famous for quality and lean systems have this great management ethos about applying the FIVE ACTUALS. The essence of this leadership principle is that you need to go to where the work is actually being done to REALLY understand what’s going on. It is a simple and straightforward concept, but too many leaders get lost in meetings, emails and spread sheets. They embrace a different management principle: “Lost in translation.” Which leader are you? An “actual” leader or “distant” leader?

I heard a great story today about the President and CEO of the Canadian airline WestJet. The storyteller was on a flight from Toronto to Calgary. As the flight begins to take off, Gregg Saretsky (WestJet’s número uno boss), takes the audio system, introduces himself and welcomes all 130 passengers. During the flight he helps flight attendants serve the passengers, and even pick up all the trash. He then says hello to all the people on the plane. He thanks them and asks for any input on how WestJet can get better. He concludes the trip by hosting a contest for all the passengers. The person closest to guessing the weight of the airplane fully loaded wins a free trip to anywhere WestJet flies. Wow. When the passengers and entire flight crew landed, they exited as raving fans. So what was the benefit for the CEO? He captured all the learning from applying the five actuals. Like Saretsky, you can be an “actual” leader regardless of where you work and what role you have. If you aspire to actually becoming one, apply the following.

Character Moves:

  1. Actually get out of your office/cube, go down to the floor or where the work is being done, and talk to the employees there. It’s extremely important to do this and find where there’s waste, inefficiency and identify/encourage the people doing things well.
  2. Actually observe the processes in action. Don’t listen to somebody else and have him or her tell you how processes are working. You really need to watch it yourself, because unfortunately in others transferring the message you’ll be surprised what gets lost in translation.
  3. Actually engage the people doing the work. They’re the experts and know the answers if you ask them and genuinely listen.
  4. Actually collect data on what’s going on with the processes. Observe what the situation is and what the problems are. Use the metrics as evidence.
  5. Actually understand how value is being delivered from a customer point of view! Challenge the processes.

If you apply the above you will be actually in touch. When people working with or for us think we don’t actually know what is really going on, they lose faith and become less engaged. If you don’t know or care what’s actually going on, why should they care?

Actually in the Triangle,



Are You in the Habit Hole?

Accountability Books Growth mindset


Key Point: Our habits define us. Are you conscious of and proactively managing your habits? This very idea is somewhat of a contradiction because a habit is a behavior that is nearly or completely involuntary and without cognition. For example, people who bite their nails often don’t even realize because they’re not thinking about it. We generally think of habits as bad behaviors we want to resist, but there are good habits we actually want to do, such as flossing our teeth or wearing a bike helmet. When I describe the Character Triangle as a HABIT SYSTEM, I’m encouraging individuals to consciously embrace thinking and acting with self-accountability, respect and abundance to a point where it becomes second nature. Living the Character Triangle makes it become a good habit system within us. 

To build habits, an individual needs automaticity. It’s the ability to do things without occupying the mind with low-level details, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern. Automaticity is necessary for making quick decisions and actions. Research points to developing our basal ganglia (the part in our brain that stores instinctual habitual learning). How do we exercise that part of our brain for more desirable habits?

According to author and journalist Charles Duhigg, as noted in his excellent book The Power of Habit, it comes down to a simple, three part loop: cue, routine and reward. In the author’s own words, “first, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”  It maybe simple to explain but it takes conscious applied effort and the added dimension of willpower to execute on a good habit.

 Character Moves:

  1. Remember that both good and bad habits are in our control to change and develop. We have to be present and self-aware though.
  2. Create new habits that replace or override old ones. This typically involves changing the routine assisted with cues and rewards. See Duhiggs explanation in the video above if you want more insight on this.
  3. Look for small wins and build on those. For example if you want to be more generous and abundant, start your day by turning on your technology and sending a quick electronic thank you or recognition to someone with your morning coffee. If you followed this routine for 90 or so days, you would likely institute a habit of giving recognition. The positive response you get from folks might actually generate more ways of self giving, relationship building and ultimately being more generous with your time and spirit. This could develop what Duhigg describes as a keystone habit. Keystone habits become foundational to our make up as a person.
  4. In the context of The Character Triangle, one needs to develop the “cue, routine, reward” cycle for each value of The Triangle. This takes thought, action and will power. Bit by bit, it is a life long process.

The Power of The Character Triangle (as a keystone habit system),



Do You Send Career Limiting Emails?

Communication Kindness Respect


Key Point: Email has been around for twenty plus years now, but it’s misuse still a real issue at most workplaces. I’m stunned that people continue to self-sabotage their careers by sending emails that have no value and can even be harmful. Unless someone is recording our voice conversations, we can usually say regrettable things with the immediate ability to clarify and/or amend our remarks. That is NOT the case with emails (or texts). Our ability to retract or modify is severely limited. In fact, an email sender’s comments live in perpetuity to be forwarded, replied to and stored. Do you send out emails that are career limiting? Read below for a checklist and guide to never make that mistake again.

Over my years as a CEO and executive, I have been forwarded the most amazing, appallingly negative and career impacting emails. They can often contain comments that undermine relationships and job tenure. Here are some of the major email blunders and categories I’ve observed. I have literally seen verbatim or facsimiles of the following doozy digital messages numerous times.

1. The personal attack email: “I can’t believe what a #*@$*$# jerk you are. You are always criticizing my team’s work. Next time you want something from us… Forget it.”

2. The no self-accountability/blame email: “Hey… Don’t blame me. Marketing sends out promotions we can’t possibly deliver on. They live in the biggest stovepipes in the company. Point your finger in another direction. You should be grateful we try to support those knuckleheads.”

3. The “Sludge” email: “He is never around… And did you notice that he got his haircut in the morning during work hours?”

4. The scarcity email: “She gets the best leads because she knows (and likely more) the VP of Sales. I don’t care that she is the best revenue and margin generating sales person. If I was given the best territory and leads, I would be too.”

5. The insubordination emaiI: “I wish the hell you (the boss) would stop meddling in my business. Have you read the latest management theory about command and control? Thats you… Like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you continue, I’m going to escalate this issue.”

6. The patronizing email: “Hey… I’m your top gun teammate and here to help. It takes a while to get the real groove around here but if you stick around my world, I can help. Let’s go for a drink and I will let you in on who and what to avoid.”

7. The harassment email: “Hi… I heard you’re a big fan of The New Normal TV show. I wish these shows about gays would stay on HBO where they belong… Anyway, I will send you the accounts payable report you’re looking for.”

Believe it or not, I could go on and give you many more examples. These types of emails (and worse) are exchanged in organizations every day. How would you react if you were forwarded an email like this from someone up for a promotion? Would it influence your decision? It does mine. These negative emails become living, legacy references that help define what the author believes, thinks and does. And trust me, these emails circulate and will eventually get to someone in a position to question the underlying judgment and values of the sender. An email sender’s intention may have little correlation to how an email actually reads. But once in black and white, it is very difficult to restate intent and do damage control.

Character Move:

  1. Be like a master carpenter of email. Instead of measuring twice and cutting once, read twice before pressing send. Evaluate the email by asking… “What value does this email really provide?” “Who does it really serve?” “Am I proud to send it?” “Would I feel ok if my mother read it?”
  2. If your gut is twitching and you have doubts about pressing send, take it as a warning sign… Read it three more times and ask for an opinion from a trusted source before sending. I bet that you will amend the content significantly. Often you will thankfully press delete before sending it at all.
  3. If there is lots of negative emotion attached, spend a moment to ask when and how it’s the best way to constructively respond. It’s likely that a different time and medium is more effective. Often a phone conversation the following morning brings better results. Escalating an email argument is like watching a ball of string unravel. It gets tangled and becomes an ugly mess to straighten up. And usually everyone on the CC list shakes his or her head in mocking disgust.
  4. Although ridiculously obvious, emails late at night and/or attached to mood modifying substances (like buckets of red wine) can rapidly become a career suicide mission. Like many things, do not drink and ____. This includes sending emails.
  5. Remember that some of the best emails or texts are the ones you never send. If you make a mistake and DO regrettably send, apologize by email immediately, followed by a personal contact to do the same. Hopefully the receiver will permanently delete it.

Emails in (not out) of The Triangle,



Risk Management for the Super Bowl and You!

Accountability Management Personal leadership


Key Point: I recently had the privilege of spending a couple days listening to some very savvy executives talk about the concept of risk as it applies to organizations. The recent financial meltdown has raised the bar regarding risk management and mitigation. In the chaotic and lightening fast paced world we live in, it is more vital than ever for organizations to be prepared for the possible and even the unimaginable. The same applies to us personally. What is your personal risk management (including crises) plan? Do you give yourself time to consciously think and plan for it?

Now that the football season is well underway in both Canada and the U.S., a presentation on how to effectively prepare for the risks associated with hosting the Super Bowl was timely and insightful. Imagine preparing for a 12-day event, when hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on a hosting city, with the infrastructure taxed to capacity. The presenter on this topic was the former co-chairman of the risk committee for this big game. The group identified 250 key risks, with 20 that were classified as “most critical.” Comprehensive plans to proactively manage these key risks, focusing on the top 20, led to a very successful Super Bowl from the perspective of the fans, the NFL and the community. And the preparedness helped the organizers to be “on their toes” and nimbly navigate through unexpected events. 

Character Move:

  1. Be clear about your purpose and strategy for living (I’ve blogged about this many times in the past). This is our personal Super Bowl. Any successful risk plan must be anchored by a strategy.
  2. Identify all the risks that could derail your ability to achieve your life’s purpose and mission. Write them down!
  3. Determine your most serious risks. Ideally the top 20 percent need to be proactively addressed with detailed mitigation planning. Be watchful but let the remaining 80 percent unfold (we can’t prepare for everything). Do this on a regular basis. Risk potential is very dynamic.
  4. Play life to WIN and NOT to lose. Having a risk plan is good but identifying risk categories also frames up great opportunities. We can’t live our lives totally defensively, worrying about the risks alone. On the contrary, good risk planning helps us move forward with confidence and take advantage of all the accompanying opportunities. Because where there is risk, the other side of the coin is usually an invitation to achieve a big win!
  5. Remember that it is not the jump but the landing that requires the most attention in life.

Risk management in The Triangle,



Don’t Be an Echo Chamber… Please Disagree!

Abundance Communication Growth mindset


Key Point: Over my years as a leader, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible value of constructive disagreement and conflict. When you have people around you who care enough to present a viewpoint that helps an idea evolve or makes a decision better because of a debate, everyone usually wins. On the other hand, when people become passive or worse, ambivalent, to constructive conflict, we will likely run into difficulty. It is vital that we embrace disagreement as a way to improve thinking and the quality of an outcome. Do you really embrace disagreement and constructive conflict? What do you do to create a safe and positive environment for opposing viewpoints?

Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us in this TED Talk, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counter intuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers… And how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree. 

 Character Move:

  1. Find a window to watch Heffernan’s relatively short 12-minute TED Talks video and honestly evaluate how much you promote honest dialogue and disagreement on ideas or propositions.
  2. Spend more time asking versus telling. People are smart. They will know if you are genuinely interested in honest debate versus seeking unedited approval.
  3. Do not punish people when they express a view you don’t like, (for example, don’t get mad, become defensive, show how hurt you are, etc). They will soon realize that having any disagreement with you isn’t worth the “pain” associated with the conflict.
  4. The worse, and potentially dangerous thing is an environment where people are not capable of having constructive conflict. The outcome is that ultimately bad decisions will be made.
  5. Stand up and learn how to constructively disagree. Celebrate better decisions that emerge from healthy, constructive conflict.

No echo chamber in The Triangle,



Do You SLUDGE at Work?

Accountability Management Productivity


Key Point: We are going through a work revolution in many ways. But perhaps the biggest mind shift is recognizing that for many of us, work is NOT just where we go. Instead, it’s what we do. And related to that concept is the emerging understanding that all of us need to concentrate on managing work rather than each other. This combination of different thinking about work and management will be an opportunity for each of us. It is also a risk if we don’t revisit our thinking about the nature of work and how we are personally adapting. One-way to determine whether a person “gets it” or not is to observe how much they “SLUDGE.” What’s SLUDGE? Read on.

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson coined the term in their fascinating book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution. SLUDGE refers to any comment we make that reinforces old, outdated ideas of how work gets done. It is hard not to participate in SLUDGE, especially if you’ve been in the workforce for more than a decade. Many of us have it firmly placed in our heads that success at work is related to time spent in the work place. But if we give this view serious thought, this way of looking at work is complete nonsense. Here is the new deal: NO RESULTS = NO JOB.

It doesn’t matter how many hours we put in, how hard we try, how nice we are, how loyal, etc. We can get in the office before the sun rises and drag our way home after it sets… It does not matter unless we get the results needed from the work we are assigned. Since mobile technology lets many of us take work everywhere, it is vital to get clarity on what results are expected and to deliver, from wherever we need to be. Additionally, managers have a renewed responsibility to spend most of their time recognizing, assigning, measuring and delivering what adds value. Let’s all manage what needs to get done and encourage people to be self-accountable and manage themselves on achieving the needed results. (Do you personally need to be MANAGED)?

“Bill gets in the office after 9:00 a.m. every day. I get in at 7:00 a.m., and he gets a promotion. Obviously they don’t value hard work here.”

“I can’t believe how much time she’s out of the office. I bet she’s got a job on the side!”

“I haven’t taken a vacation in five years. That’s dedication.”

“Oh you’re here? That’s a surprise.”

“Sally must be close to pushing up daisies. Why don’t these oldie mouldies retire and make room for some one younger?”

The above are examples of SLUDGE and serve no value. In fact they are subtly or not so subtly sucking away energy from where it is supposed to be… IS the person getting the required results or not?

Character Move:

  1. Be able to observe when you or others are participating in SLUDGE. (I did it the other day when I jokingly teased one my associates about leaving “to go golfing”).
  2. Recognize that SLUDGE reinforces outdated beliefs that you’re only committed based on hours spent in the workplace, that you’re not trusted enough to be left unsupervised, and that you’re really not worth being respected.
  3. Stop SLUDGE in your head and coming out of your mouth. And when you hear someone else doing it, ask him or her how that stuff they are SLUDGING on really is negatively impacting results and/or stopping them from doing good work. Or are they just being gossips? Don’t let SLUDGE stink up your department.
  4. Get hands-on and granular on really defining results and spend time evaluating what you’re doing to get that work done. Spend less time worrying about appearances and office politics. If you’re a manager, help people get great results and expect them to have the value of self-management. Don’t use “time” to control your direct reports because they will learn how to show you how much time they’re putting in instead of spending their energy on delivering great results.
  5. Remember… NO RESULTS = NO WORK! For you and others.

SLUDGE free in the Triangle,

– Lorne