Find the Bright Spots!

Books Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: Today, more than ever, an essential leadership competence is the ability to advance an organization’s culture. As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” So what strategies can leaders deploy to “up shift” culture? Harnessing the power of “Bright Spots,” is one impactful and perhaps under-utilized strategy for driving rapid, sustainable cultural improvement. Chip Heath, the Stanford based organization consultant, researcher and author recently spoke to 700 hundred of our leaders. Check out his book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. He told the following story: 

“In 1990, Jerry Sternin, author of Power of Positive Deviance, was sent by Save the Children to fight severe malnutrition in rural communities of Vietnam. The Vietnamese foreign minister, having seen many such ‘do-gooder’ missions in the past, gave him just six months to make a difference. Sternin was well versed in the academic literature on the complex systemic causes of malnutrition – poor sanitation, poverty, lack of education, etc. He considered such information “T.B.U.” – “True But Useless.” There was no way a strategy focused on changing these deeply rooted issues could see results in six months.

Instead, Sternin used an approach that he would later call positive deviance. He traveled to villages and met with the foremost experts on feeding children: Groups of village mothers. He asked them whether there were any very poor families whose children were bigger and healthier than the typical child, even though their families had only the same resources available to all. Hearing that the answer was ‘yes,’ Sternin and villagers set out to discover what the mothers of the healthiest children were doing differently.

They found that the mothers of the healthiest children were indeed doing things differently. First, they were feeding their children smaller portions of food, more often during the day. Second, they were taking brine shrimp from the rice paddies and greens from sweet potatoes grown in their gardens and adding these to their daily soups or rice dishes. They were doing this even though most people avoided these foods, which were stigmatized as ‘low class.’ And third, when serving their children, they were ladling from the bottom of the pot, making sure the kids got the shrimp and greens that had settled during cooking.

Sternin called these families ‘bright spots’ – observable exceptions recognized by their peers as producing results above the norm with only the same kinds of resources available to others. In less than a month, he and the mothers had discovered local practices that were effective, realistic and sustainable. He helped mothers in other villages to study their local bright spots and replicate their behavior. Critical to the success of this process was recognizing that sustainable solutions are already in use, and could be locally sourced by local people. Sternin helped the ‘bright spot’ mothers in numerous villages train others in the most effective practices for their communities. At the end of six months, 65 percent of the children in the villages where Sternin worked were better nourished.”

Character Moves: 

  1. Look for Bright Spots in your team/organization. And then leverage insight you get from them. It is often the fastest, most meaningful way to drive RESULTS. Sometimes it may seem too simple or obvious. Be humble enough to embrace the simplicity. 
  2. In a previous blog, I talked about the importance of extinguishing Dim Spots. However, avoid becoming seduced into exclusively doing so. People who are unwilling or incapable of changing their behavior to contribute to the “up shift” of the “new” culture DO need to leave. Yet, indulging in what could be perceived as a cultural “witch hunt” will likely slow down a meaningful cultural change and be less productive than effectively leveraging the best of Bright Spots.
  3. Invite peers to help discover who and where Bright Spots are and use stories to describe their behavior and results. As the Bright Spots connect and flourish, the momentum will help Dim Spots either switch on or fizzle out. 

Bright Spots in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: The nice thing about being a Millennial (and therefore, lower on most totem poles), is we’re really only looking for Bright Spots. That’s all I want to have mentor me, or really want to pay attention to. I simply don’t care about Dim Spots. For two reasons: 1. Unless they adversely affect MY personal work, it’s a distraction to even let them bother me. 2. We’re not that far removed from the “tattle tale” days, in theory, so it’s still their job to notice it on their own or someone more important probably will. That said, I’m all for Millennial teamwork too, so, if there’s a Dim Spot colleague you notice who can make a quick improvement, go ahead and give em’ a positive, quiet nudge… (Emphasis on quiet: Direct Message, Gchat, catch them in the hall or break room, whatever). But, you don’t need to call out his or her screw up across the office in front of all superiors to hear. If that’s your style, then yeah, that Dim Spot will probably become a lot brighter, and maybe even bright enough to burn you later.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone… Now!

Gratitude Growth mindset Respect


Key Point: To find out more about yourself and really develop, you have to get out of your comfort zone. I recently had an annual reflection with one of my direct reports and asked her what was gratifying about the past year. With a smile on her face she talked about having to take on a new role. She was very comfortable in her previous job. She had been doing it for years and was loved and respected by all. And she admitted the new assignment was “scary.” It was in a different part of the business with unique clients, and definitely challenging. In fact, she was taking over temporarily for a strong leader who was eventually returning. Essentially she was leaving a secure spot for an uncertain future. Yes the shift was not easy and yet I saw this person grow in confidence and ability as the year progressed. A recent blog by Ash Read on the same topic refers to two experts from Psychology Today.

 Ran Zilca:

“We live in a society where comfort has become a value and a life goal. But comfort reduces our motivation for introducing important transformations in our lives. Sadly, being comfortable often prohibits us from chasing our dreams. Many of us are like lions in the zoo: well-fed but sit around passively stuck in a reactive rut…Take a look at your life today, if you are enjoying a shelter of comfort, break through it and go outside where life awaits.”

Alex Lickerman:

“New things or a new way of thinking is often frightening. But if you think about it, most of the things we fear don’t actually come to pass. What’s more, we’re often unable to anticipate the good things that do occur as a result of our trying something new.”

Perhaps to a fault, I can vouch for the joy and adventure of this way of living and thinking. Please accept the following as fact and definitely not boasting. I’ve given everything I’ve had in contributing and in bringing value to others through the following: I played University football, been a teacher, went to grad school, negotiated collective agreements with the tough building trades, ran my own consulting business for 10 years, studied Deming Prize winning companies in Japan, worked directly for the chairman of a Fortune 50 company, was VP of Operations for a National Hockey League team, CEO of a cash burning unprofitable software company, SVP of a 400 person sales team without ever being a formal sales person, COO of a publicly traded internet technology company, lost almost everything in a “sure bet technology startup,” eight years as the CEO of a privately held international mobile technology company, and now the Chief People Officer of one of the best companies in the world. I’ve run the NYC marathon, biked several gran fondos, and lived in three countries. And most importantly, I’ve been married for 43 years to a woman who obviously has no fear, and is supportive beyond belief. We have three glorious kids and two “perfect grandchildren,” (hoping for more). All of this has given me the courage and hopefully credible insight for authoring two books and this blog. And I promise to be just loading up for even more exciting things ahead!! My comfort zone is out of the comfort zone! 

Our lives have been filled with the many ups and downs all people go through. Trust me, the above is not an endorsement for a painless, comfortable, error free life. And it is certainly not recommended as a blue print for you or anyone else. However, I can vouch for the unbelievable personal learning, gratification and joy of living life to the very fullest. I can honestly tell you that there is almost no environment (other than life threatening) that I am fearful of. Yes, I get butterflies in my stomach when I’m faced with new situations or even high risk familiar ones. And of course I worry a little (maybe too much) about people I love every day. I can also tell you with experience and conviction that jumping out of your comfort zone is almost always worth it. Whenever my life ends I will be sorry for mistakes made and people I’ve hurt. However, I will have have zero regrets about not living life to the very fullest. I’m going to squeeze every ounce out of giving to others through what life has to offer. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Get out of your comfort zone and look forward to the outcome whatever happens.
  2.  Think big and take small steps. Not everyone can or should take big leaps. Have a big vision for yourself. If you can run, 5k/3 miles, add a mile or klick on every month. Once you run 10, running 15 will be in sight and then if you want, you will run a marathon. It’s the same with anyone or anything. 
  3.  As you well know by now, the Readers Digest version of my philosophy embodied in The Character Triangle is: Do it Now, Be Kind and Give More. To live to that mantra you HAVE to step out of the comfort zone. Get out!

 Out of the Comfort Zone in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: As we in the U.S. celebrate this Memorial Day Weekend, we all get to enjoy our barbeques, day off, and at the very least, less traffic because so few sacrifice so much for our freedom. I can’t imagine a more “step out of the comfort” zone than the military. I’m so thankful for the men and women serving. We’re all free and able to operate on a daily basis because of their selfless efforts. Thanks to them, we can imagine what’s discussed up above. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Are You an Inspirational Self-Boss?

Accountability Personal leadership Well-being


Key Point: Are you an inspirational or demotivating boss, to yourself? If we lead ourselves then we can assume we are responsible for our personal level of engagement. There is a ton of evidence suggesting that the most effective leaders show personal care for their employees. They thoughtfully coach and build on their strengths, cultivate strong working relationships, and instill a sense of purpose and hope. There is an abundance of research that shows employees quit their bosses, not their jobs. Most ineffective leaders overload employees with responsibilities, then micromanage, do not connect at a personal level, communicate poorly, and fail to inspire a sense of purpose. 

So, if you (as your own boss) treat yourself with appropriate care and support, will you be positive and engaged? And conversely, if you (as your own boss) treat yourself with disdain and negativity, will you be totally disengaged? Will you essentially quit on yourself?  

Leading Yourself Begins With Self-Talk

I really like the argument on this matter put forth by psychologist, Brett Steenbarger, in a recent “Self-Leadership and Respect” Forbes post.

“Think of the stream of conscious thought as a conversation: It is our way of talking to ourselves. Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves; it is also our way of managing ourselves. This perspective leads to an interesting question: Would you want your boss to talk to you the way you speak to yourself?

All too often, our self-talk is filled with frustration (‘How can I possibly get this done?’); disgust (‘I can’t wait to get through this!’); pessimism (‘Nothing works out!’); and apathy (‘Whatever!’). Think of the self-talk of the perfectionist: Nothing is ever good enough and any falling short of (lofty) goals is failure. Some of the most damaging self-talk I’ve heard is from perfectionists: ‘I’m such an idiot!’ and ‘I can’t do anything right!’.

Of course, none of us would want to hear such things from a supervisor. Exposed to that verbal abuse and negativity daily, we would quickly disengage from the workplace and start to look for new employment. But what if we are our own bosses and that is how we talk to ourselves? The result is not so different: We disengage… When we talk to ourselves in ways that leave us disengaged, the loss of energy and optimism is palpable. Conversely, when we challenge ourselves constructively and immerse ourselves in meaningful activity, we become spiritually and emotionally charged.”

Psychologists refer to positive self-engagement as moral elevation while negative self talk leads to moral deflation. And our propensity to treat and talk to ourselves in certain ways may manifest in our daily experience:

*  Emotionally – As optimism versus. Pessimism.

*  Socially – As attachment versus. Detachment.

*  Physically – As vitality versus. Fatigue.

As Steenbarger notes, “Across the board, positive self-management is energizing; self-management grounded in negative self-talk robs us of energy. In many ways, the state of our bodies reflects our mind state.” 

Character Moves: 

  1. Do you like what your self-boss is saying about you? Are you an engaging, inspirational self-boss or are you disengaged and looking for new “employment?” 
  2. The challenge with being a very negative self-boss is that when you quit and become disengaged, your self-boss is still there… Yup, that’s you!  
  3. As always, engagement comes from leadership. In this case, how are you leading yourself? Take the simple test: Are you optimistic? Attached? Vital? If not, your self-boss can get better with intentional help and practice.
  4. If you need to help your self-boss, don’t be afraid to get him/her a coach (in some cases a therapist) so they might learn. You and your self-boss are both (hopefully without sounding schizophrenic) worth it. 

Your self-boss in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Millennials might be some of the best self-bosses out there. I’ve seen self-bosses my age switch careers, follow opportunities, relocate, start businesses, and even say, “screw this, I’m traveling to Fiji and I don’t have a return flight yet.” It seems we’re our worst self-bosses when we’re stuck, hesitant, or without ANY plan. I like to remind myself that these are my “no wife, no dog, no mortgage” years… My self-boss is never going to be able to have as much corporate freedom as he does right now, might as well make the best of it, and be positive. But my “company” (me) has to be in a good enough place to offer those benefits.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Why I Hate and Love Personal Performance Ratings

Accountability Contribution Management


Key Point: Most of us want to improve in work and life, and I believe if you have a boss, friend, teammate, and/or other that cares enough about you to give meaningful and actionable feedback, then you’re one of the fortunate ones. There are lots of ways to coach. You can be direct and show a better way, ask self-reflective questions, give recognition, assign challenging work, etc. Most of us, regardless of our station in work/life will be striving for the ever-elusive goal of self-improvement. And my experience is that the most successful people are in relentless pursuit of personal leadership development. To a large extent, that seems to be their purpose in life. Do we need personal performance ratings to drive this quest?

Ratings are indeed helpful to compare experiences, items and I guess at times, people. When I go to sites like Trip Advisor or Rotten Tomatoes, I do pay attention to the stars. Usually the ratings come from lots of people and I do believe in the statement, “The Trend is Your Friend.” I also believe that leaders can and should be rated on their ability to accomplish three big things:  1. Achieve extraordinary results 2. Build relationships 3. Develop others. Why? Because there is so much research underlying these elements as distinguishing factors in driving leadership performance. To a large extent, you can measure each of these. Ideally a rating on each factor would be based on copious amounts of data from lots of folks as evidence and support. As an example, if many of your colleagues rate you strongly or poorly on relationship building, well the trend is or is not your friend. And so on. I think that is actionable insight.

However, I dislike ratings the way they are often used in annual performance reviews. Can you tell me one good thing can come out of your boss giving you a rating number (other than the highest rating) unless there is a very clear path to increase it? Frankly, in one-on-one relationships, my experience is that ratings are usually fuzzy, subjective, demotivating, and overall useless. On the other hand, ratings from a significant number of people on the three criteria listed above would be informative and directionally meaningful. The trend is your friend! (I’m not talking about the often clumsy so called 360 degree review either).

My philosophy with people who report to me is the following: You and I are getting better or we’re likely on a path out. I expect myself, and my leaders, to be better each year. Sometimes circumstances alter results. I understand that. But no one can stand pat on a number rating, whatever it is. That’s another reason giving a personal rating number can be bogus.  I frankly don’t care what it was last year. I’m interested in the present and a foundation for getting better. And as harsh as it may sound, if I need a different role or set of skills, I may have to replace a leader regardless of their past performance. You’re on my team getting better, and part of delivering what we need or you’re going to be off it (respectfully and fairly treated in the exit, of course).

Character Moves:

  1. Think about the merit and value of providing personal, numeric ratings to people on your team and organization. How have ratings impacted you? Others? What do they really mean? What are we really trying to accomplish with them? Who really benefits?

Ratings in the Triangle,

Lorne Rubis

One Millennial View: I think the main difficult and frustrating thing for Millennials entering the workplace is a sudden lack of constant rating. Throughout our academic careers, all we’ve known is a steady barrage of grades, and charted feedback. Now, in the office, sometimes we get NO feedback at all. All of a sudden, we’re sucker punched with a guessing game. That’s part of growing up and becoming professional… I don’t need an “atta-boy” for just doing my job, and don’t expect one, but when months and months go by without any feedback, where do I stand? On the flip side, micromanagement sucks the life out of work. How about this? I think a nice “here’s what’s great, and here’s what you can work on” every couple weeks would be stellar for all.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Accelerated Learning and Leadership

Abundance Growth mindset Personal leadership


Key Point: Content is changing so rapidly that it has become less important to demonstrate what you know versus how fast you can learn and execute newly acquired knowledge.  

I’ve been a fascinated follower of Tim Ferriss, because he has the chops to look at things from unique angles and challenge convention. His best selling books The 4-Hour Work Week, and The 4-Hour Body are examples. Over the past year, Ferriss set out to learn 13 very difficult skills, like playing a musical instrument, driving a race car, and learning a foreign language, all under some very difficult conditions.

For example, without knowing how to read music or keep time, Tim gave himself five days to see if he could learn to play drums well enough to perform on stage in front of a live audience. Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police, was his teacher. As a final test of his skill he convinced classic rockers Foreigner to let him drum during one of their live shows, in front of a packed house. 

Ferriss’ investigation into the outer possibilities of accelerated learning is to challenge the assumptions and so-called barriers of adult learning. As an example, the idea that developing real expertise takes years of practice is something Ferriss demonstrates to be untrue. He concludes that the key to accelerated learning is to be a systems thinker and learner.

A recent article on the Ferriss experiment noted:

“Systems are nothing more or less than a cohesive set of patterns. One of the biggest challenges to accelerated learning is the systems’ level view of learning how to learn. It’s learning how the brain’s learning systems actually work.  And it’s detecting the larger patterns, the shared commonalities, and using them to your advantage. But here’s the rub—a system’s eye view of learning is impossible to develop in isolated chunks. Learning one new skill—even up to the expert level—won’t do it. You need to learn a bevy of new things in order to start to spot the commonalities between the processes. In other words, if you want to learn how you learn, it helps to learn a bunch of different skills at once, because only then will the larger patterns reveal themselves.

Mastering fear, for example, is a commonality shared in every learning situation. Which means, the same calming techniques that Tim learned from big wave surfer Laird Hamilton (in his attempt to learn to surf overhead waves in a week—something it takes most novices a couple of years to figure out) were absolutely applicable when he was risking thousands of dollars at the poker table or playing the drums in front of a live audience.

Another commonality is the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule—the idea that 80 percent of your consequences stem from 20 percent of your actions—applied to life-hacking. To give you an example of this rule at work, when Tim tried to master Brazilian jiu-jitsu in a week, instead of attempting to learn the entire martial art, Tim focused on only one choke hold—the guillotine choke—and learned to use this one hold from every possible position (both attacking and defending). That choke hold was his 20 percent chunk, but his mastery of this one skill gave him the ability to maneuver in 80 percent of the situations he encountered—which is not bad for five days effort.”

Character Moves: 

1. What multiple new things are you learning? What’s putting you out of your comfort zone? How are you approaching it? Are you learning in old fashioned, pedestrian ways or experimenting? Watch how Ferris approaches this by viewing his “show.” (Farriss just released the entire season—all thirteen experiments—on iTunes (check it out here). And if you do check it out, you’re going to start noticing some similarities between methodologies. There’s overlap. How might this apply to your learning?

2. As a leader, you’re a student AND teacher. How effective are you as an accelerated learner? As an accelerated teacher? Do you apply systems learning to help you multipurpose learning techniques ? Do you apply the Pareto principle? Should you? If so, where? 

3. Invest in understanding large system learning patterns and accelerated learning. Understand what content requires true mastery and what requires practical competence. Different learning strategies apply. In all cases, speed is important. The ability to be an accelerated learner in the marketplace will be a personal competitive advantage. 

Accelerated learning in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Let’s get this straight… Tim Ferriss found a way to 1. QUICKLY learn a variety of awesome life skills from an assortment of the selected industry’s BEST. 2. He’s profiting (read: making bank) while checking off bucket list items like race car driving and performing with rock bands. 3. He’s tricked people into funding it, and calling it “work.” (Look, I know Ferriss is a guy who busts his hump… But… Wow). Let’s just say Ferriss figured out how to live and successfully accomplish most millennial’s dream. Forget 13 things, I would just like one accelerated learning lesson on how to work like Ferriss.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘It’s THE People… Stupid!’

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: The title above is a riff on the famous phrase coined by James Carville during the 1992 American presidential election, “it’s the economy, stupid!” Lets officially declare and be clear! The priority order AND focus in organizations should be: 1. People 2. Customers, and then 3. Shareholders. The company I have the privilege of being part of is 77 years old, employs more than 5,000 people, and has had net income growth of more than 25 percent each year for the last three years. Each successive year has returned a record profit. Of course we scour our financial statements at regular intervals but what’s most incredible about our company is that we don’t really talk about or focus on profit in our daily work. We do, however, always talk about team member engagement, trust and our productivity. (Our people scores put us in the top 10 to 15 companies in Canada and likely in the top five percent of companies to work for in the world). We must and will get even better. 

I’ve worked in industry for 40 plus years, including three countries and in every type… I’ve worked in Fortune 50, mid-size, startups and both public and privately held organizations. From the day I joined THIS company, from the Chairman and CEO down, it was made crystal clear that the priority focus was PEOPLE FIRST 

As the Chief People Officer, my role would be well beyond traditional “HR.”  Most companies I’ve been around have touted “people first,” but the real order of priority has been 1. Shareholders. 2. Customers and eventually 3. People. Note the following insightful analysis on why it’s been this way for so long, by respected author Steve Denning:   

“Achieving humanistic management has turned out to be a much more intractable problem than most thought leaders expected it to be… Why is change so difficult? One reason is that an unholy alliance links shareholder value theory and hierarchical bureaucracy. Once a firm embraces maximizing shareholder value and the current stock price as its goal, and lavishly compensates top management to that end, the C-suite has little choice but to deploy command-and-control management. That’s because making money for shareholders and the C-suite is inherently uninspiring to employees. The C-suite must compel employees to obey. The result is that only one in five employees is fully engaged in his or her work, and even fewer are passionate. The very foundations of humanist management—collaboration and trust—are missing…” 

Primarily because of the internet, Denning goes on to say that this “unholy alliance between the C Suite and Shareholders” is under pressure to behave differently: “The locus of competitive advantage is now being determined by interactions with the customer, built on the work of engaged and passionate workers. The central strategic questions of the industrial model, ‘How much more can we sell?’ and ‘How much money can we make?’ are replaced by ‘Why should customers buy from us?’ and ‘What else do customers need?’” Hooray, I say!! 

Here is the great thing about the power going to customers and the disruptive attack on almost every business model: Only engaged, passionate, and committed team members will effectively navigate an organization through the “rapids” to get and keep customers that want to give their hard earned money to any company. And even better, it has to be everyone “ALL IN.” The C suite can’t do it alone. And over compensating CEOs isn’t a sustainable difference (if it ever was). Effective CEOs and other big bosses will create sustainable value by getting the heck out of their offices, stop wringing their hands over stock prices and meaningfully create “side to side, networked” organizations that inspire people to thrive… ALL IN! 

Character Moves: 

  1. Assess whether you and your organization are “all in.” If not, why? Be honest! Where’s the evidence? 
  2. Please take 10 minutes to watch the following video. If that doesn’t inspire you, check your pulse and purpose.

All In The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I feel like I hear a lot of successful, happy people say something along the lines of “hey, don’t over think it.” In today’s Yelp!-like society, we’re likely going to get immediate feedback. People in great companies go to work and give it everyday. Being pleased, and pleasing people shouldn’t be that hard. But it does seem to be “over” thought sometimes. All it probably needs is a meaningful purpose, conditions for people to contribute, and their willingness to execute. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.