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Celebrate values, effort AND outcomes

November 6, 2017

Thoughtful, strategic – and often wildly successful – organizations carefully craft their  culture. They think about the values, norms and behaviours they want to see and encourage them. They communicate values… often. They offer coaching. They incentivize and reward people who exemplify these behaviours.

So imagine how pleased I was when I attended my son’s school awards ceremony last IMG_0776week and saw how they are promoting values and behaviours. The night kicked off with awards related to how students approach their studies like curiosity and teamwork. There were awards for students who show awareness and interest in the global context and certificates for students who promote their faith, language and culture. (It’s a French catholic school in a predominantly English community).

My won the an award for “orientation in space and time.” This involves exploring personal histories; homes and journeys; turning points in humankind; discoveries; explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between, and the interconnectedness of, individuals and civilizations, from personal, local and global perspectives. WOW! Who knew the kid who’s a bear in the morning is a master of time and space? (He is enjoying a bit of ribbing on that front.)

Before the awards for highest grades in each subject, there were awards for students who exemplify the International Baccalaureate student profile:

  • Inquiring mindsAltruism
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective


Picture a gymnasium full of junior-high and high-school kids cheering wildly for empathy and integrity!

It was amazing to hear the students cheer for one another. Picture a gym full of junior and high-school kids cheering wildly for empathy and integrity. Imagine if society valued teamwork, curiosity, reflexion, perseverance as much as we do wealth and celebrity. Think about how easy it would be to do something like this in your workplace.

Critics will argue that this is the equivalent of a participation ribbon for every kid, but these kids are nominated by their teachers for consistently modelling a specific aptitude or behaviour. Many kids are nominated but only a few receive the certificate. It’s a prime example of appreciative inquiry – identifying a positive behaviour to get more of it. (And, so what if we recognize something of value in every kid?)

In the workplace, you can think of it as inexpensive and effective risk-management. Not only do you encourage positive, productive behaviour, you reduce destructive behaviour. Wouldn’t Volkswagen be better off if they had shown more integrity? Wouldn’t the global financial crisis been averted – or at least mitigated- if Wall Street wasn’t obsessed with short term results or if it had thought broadly of the human and financial impacts of their deceit?  What does scandal cost? The ethics are as old as Aristotle but the integrated thinking and the systems approach is fairly new to business, and we need more of it.

It’s not an “either-or” proposition. In this model both positive behaviour AND achievement are recognized. The approach tells the kids early on that it’s not just the outcome that matters, but how you get there. It reminds me of Chris Hadfield’s book, An astronaut’s guide to life on earth. In it, Cmdr. Hadfield points out that temperament, teamwork and preparation matter. Many people are fit enough, smart enough, talented enough to be astronauts but do you want to live six months in space with a bunch of jerks? Do you think people behave optimally without reflexion, open-mindedness, empathy and communication?

In life, no one will ever ask you about your marks in grade Grade 11 chemistry. They will want to see how you applied that knowledge. They will notice your work ethic. They will want you to think broadly. Many people don’t have the best grades but are more adept at applying what they know or their approach brings out the best performance in a team. We need to recognize and celebrate those attributes.

Bravo les Chevaliers!

Big Dreams. Hard Work. No Excuses.

October 23, 2017

How do you become an astronaut when you’re born before space travel? How do you build a real-estate empire when you’re born in a refugee camp and married off at the age of 15?  Two women I’ve met in the last few weeks set their sights on an “impossible” dream and achieved it. How? Big Dreams. Hard Work. No Excuses.

“We should never reach our potential. It should keep moving and evolving,” said

Dr. Roberta Bondar

Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first woman in space, urges UofG audience to keep learning, to keep pushing boundaries and to be creative

Roberta Bondar at a University of Guelph MA Leadership event earlier this month. Canada’s first woman in space- and the world’s first neurologist in space- was born before Sputnik. Her high school guidance councillors discouraged her from pursuing science. The traditional fighter-pilot route to space was closed to women who could not be Air Force pilots in until 1988. After 18 years in university and in medical practice for only 18 months, she could easily have pursued her life on earth… couldn’t she?

“You have to take what you know into the field and keep building on it,” Dr. Bondar explained. So, insatiably curious and always open to new opportunities, she applied for the space program when NASA put out a call for astronauts. Selected among thousands of candidates, her training started in 1984 and culminated with eight days in space aboard Discovery in January, 1992. The research she conducted during that time now helps astronauts spend more time in space. Now, her earthly mission is to get more people to connect with the natural environment – primarily through photography.

Showing an image of a massive space rock and astronauts figuring out how to get over or around it, Dr. Bondar challenged the audience: “Is this an obstruction or an opportunity? Don’t think negatively or you’ll never get around the rock.”

Millionaire developer, author and real-estate magnate Tahani Abudareh reinforced this sentiment just a few days later when I heard her speak at a women’s networking event. Praphrasing Jim Rohn she said:

“The person who really wants to do something finds a way. The other person finds an excuse.” “What is your excuse?” she prodded. Is it 100% true? What is the opposite of that excuse? Replace it with a new truth.

Tahani Abduraneh

Tahani Abudareh speaks to Guelph Women in Networking in November, challenging them to set larger goals.

Born in a Jordanian refugee camp and married to a Canadian man at the age of 15, Abudareh came to Canada not knowing anything about the country, her new family or the language. She said she had every reason not to dream big. “Who am I to dream big? My English isn’t good enough. It’s not part of my culture. I don’t have time while going to college, raising a family, and working part-time to send money to my family in the Middle East.” But she persevered in the belief that education would be her salvation.

“Set a goal in your mind. Now think bigger. Now think bigger still,” Abudareh challenged the audience. She explained that after divorcing her husband she had to feed her children and make her way in the world. She wanted not just to survive but to thrive for them so she convinced local homebuilders to let her be their agent. She said she would work harder for the sales than anyone else because she was the most motivated. Within a few years, sales were flourishing and she had started to build up her portfolio of investment properties. She is a teacher, a speaker, an investor, an author and a champion for women.

“The little girl from the refugee camp builds houses,” she says and shared her goal of helping 100,000 women own their first investment property. Echoing some of the advice shared by Dr. Bondar, Abudareh says the recipe is simple:

Take action. Be creative. Find the best in your field and ask them for advice. When someone helps you, they become committed to your success. And if they won’t help you? Move on and ask someone else. Believe that you’re worth it.

It’s easy to sit in the audience and think these are unique stories; but are they extraordinary? Are they unbelievable? Obviously they are believable… they happened.  Do they have to be out of the ordinary? From space to real estate, the message is that achievement can- and should be- ordinary and believable.  Similar to the conclusion drawn in The Confidence Code, you just have to go for it.

What’s holding you back?


Why encourage people in the middle of the pack and those who are dead last?- from my archives

October 4, 2017

Who’s cheering for the steady Eddies? Who’s applauding the kid who comes in last? What’s wrong with our approach when we celebrate the winners and discard all the rest?

The last two weeks were the local cross-country races for my daughter. I thought I’d dust off this post as it still applies.


Remember the Seinfeld episode where George worries about worlds colliding? Well, fair warning: here’s a post where leadership, parenting, ranting and sound advice collide.

encouragment and perseveranceLast Friday, my 8-year old son participated in a city-wide cross-country track race. I went to encourage him and to help out his teachers; but what started like a little parenting side-trip turned into a profound leadership observation with implications for businesses and communities.

I noticed that all the parents and classmates gather at the start line of the 1km race for pictures and encouragement and then they race to the finish line to applaud their child’s achievement. Of course, that’s natural and it’s great parenting.

However, after the first group of front-runners crosses the finish line, the applause and encouragement is not as loud. People drift away with their kids as the middle group and the ‘stragglers’ finish up. So, after my son’s race, I deliberately found a stretch in the middle of the course where there was no one shouting encouragement. I stayed past those nipping at the heels of the pace bunny and I waited for the group in the middle and, especially, for the kids who were at the end of their group.

I shouted really simple things like “You’re half-way there”, “You look awesome”, “Nice stride” and “You can do it.” What I saw amazed me. Just the presence of someone there made them perk up, start running again, lengthen their gait. I saw kids literally lift off the ground (once their face stopped saying “Who is this lady and why is she shouting at me?”).

I started thinking about how everyone cheers for the winners; but what about the kids who had the courage to sign up for something outside their comfort zone? Who’s cheering for them and the courage and perseverance they’ve displayed? There’s a huge crowd around the “winner”. The “winners” will be encouraged to keep going. The “winners” will be invited to special training to improve even more.

Where’s the crowd around the courageous? the brave? the tenacious? The chubby kid who’s trying? The kid with Downs Syndrome or with less visible challenges?

I just did a mini-triathlon in September and, hardly a natural athlete, I know what it’s like to be at the very back of the group. I know what it’s like to have to walk many parts of a race. I also know what it took for me to sign up, to train, to show up. Of course,  they tell the kids “run your own race” but that’s hard to do when you see a big group of kids pulling away in the distance. It’s still discouraging. I know what it’s like to pull out of a race in junior high because you’re just so far behind you don’t think you’ll finish and you’re embarrassed.

I admit, I got a little pissed off that parents were leaving as soon as their kids’ race was over. Why was I alone cheering on these kids in the lonely stretch? Yes, their teachers were at the finish line. Yes, I had the luxury of time on my side that day but aren’t they all our kids? Don’t they all deserve to have someone there to cheer them on – whether they are first or last? Especially if they are last? Otherwise, they  just won’t come next time.

In our community, where else can we encourage the kids who are struggling?

In our workplace, are we cheering on the superstars and drifting away when the “average” workers – the solid, consistent people – come through because a “win” is exciting but a finish is expected?

Are we encouraging those who are struggling, especially when there are specific challenges they are trying to overcome? An ‘average’ worker who is keeping it together despite being torn-apart because a parent is dying (I have been there too). An ‘average’ worker who is still delivering despite a marriage falling apart. Do we recognize the extraordinary efforts it sometimes takes to be “average”?

I’m just suggesting that we try to be there for everyone who’s in the race – literal or figurative – because when we encourage others – in that lonely stretch where people are struggling – people will literally rise off the ground, lengthen their gait and hear the crowd cheering for them. They will return to try again. They will start to see themselves differently. They may never be first but maybe they’ll be faster, stronger, happier and more confident.

Are you an ethical leader? Can an architect be unethical? How about a sausage maker? 8 questions to ask

August 16, 2017

It feels like social values are crumbling. South of the border, we see more division than vision. The melting pot is bubbling over and threatening to crack. Locally, hateful messages were spray-painted on the roof of a local church. There is a new meanness in the air. My stomach turns every time I watch the news and frankly, it’s difficult to write anything that does not seem grossly insufficient.

Leaders across all sectors and at all levels urgently need to denounce hatred and re-establish norms of basic civility, at the very least. Norms in any organization – from a company to a federal cabinet- are not vague “do the right thing” statements. They are not group think. They are behaviours that reflect the ethics of the organization. Acceptable behaviours are modelled and transgressions are punished.

This is not “soft stuff, ” unaddressed ethical transgressions erode trust, productivity and social cohesion. Could there be anything more important?

Ethical practice needs to be at the centre of decision-making to establish norms, to serve as a tool for value-creation and risk management, and so everyone in the organization can live with integrity.

See 10 ethical decision rules to bullet-proof business

A recent visit to The Evidence Room at the Royal Ontario Museum reminded me that


The door to the Auschwitz gas chamber was designed to swing out because a crush of bodies would prevent it from swinging inward. There is no door handle inside the gas chamber. No one would leave alive.

no profession is exempt from an ethical duty. Featuring “reconstructions of three key components of the Auschwitz gas chambers—a gas column, gas-tight door, and gas-tight hatch—and over 60 plaster casts of architectural evidence, such as blueprints, contractors’ bills and photographs,”* the installation shows that Auschwitz was carefully planned as a Nazi death site for a million Jews.

Not intended for more innocuous purposes, as some Holocaust deniers claimed, Auschwitz was deliberate, architectural murder. The construction of Auschwitz was “the greatest crime ever committed by architects,” according to historical architect Robert Jan van Pelt who presented evidence at the Irving v Penguin books libel trial  in 2000.

The greatest crime ever committed by architects”
— Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, exhibition principal and University Professor, University of Waterloo School of Architecture 


Casts of architectural drawings and blueprints show the deadly purpose of Auschwitz at The Evidence Room exhibit.

While most businesses today are not planning mass genocide, all organizations can examine their leadership behaviours, their motives, their practices and question who benefits from their actions and who is hurt by them.

From “undisclosed meat ” in sausage to growing C-Suite scandals, leaders would be wise to ask themselves the following 8 questions and to act on any shortcomings.

  1. What am I really building?
  2. Is it for the greater good in the long-term?
  3. Am I modelling integrity, honesty and civility?
  4. Are my actions kind?
  5. Would I be willing to see others in a similar position take the same actions towards me?
  6. Do my actions respect the rights of others?
  7. Do I deal decisively and harshly with people who violate ethical norms to send a clear signal it won’t be tolerated?
  8. What have I done stop injustice?

As always, thank you for reading. I recognize that I am woefully short of doing justice to The Evidence Room exhibit and the trial behind it. I hope it piques your interest enough to find out more.

I welcome your comments and wish you a happy, peaceful and positive end to your summer.


* From the ROM website:


Book Review: The Confidence Code: The science and art of self-assurance, what women should know

July 31, 2017

The Confidence CodeLast week, prodigious reader, blogger and my good friend, Susan Gibson, was very kind to invite me to submit a guest post for A Year of Books Blog. It was a nice throwback to the years we were MA students together, discussing our latest journal articles and theories of leadership.

Check out her blog and my review of The Confidence Code: The science and art of self-assurance, what women should know by American journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

If you are a woman, read it. If you are a parent, teacher or coach, read it. If you are an employer, read it. Then… share it. I can’t recommend it enough.

15 minute video: your crash course on inter-organizational trust

July 13, 2017

Worldwide, we have a macro-level problem of distrust towards our institutions. We need macro-level solutions.

Five years ago, I graduated from my MA Leadership program at the University of Guelph. Having always been fascinated with trust and trust-building, I focused on trust at the firm level – rather than interpersonal trust- and how organizations can build trust between them for greater efficiency and better results.

Here’s a video of my research presentation to my classmates. Yes, the video and audio quality is quite poor but the content is pretty good and it’s faster for you than reading  more than 100 journal articles! Enjoy.

The best fatherly advice my LinkedIn connections ever received

June 18, 2017

A few weeks ago, my LinkedIn connections shared the best advice their Dads ever gave them. While Dads come from all educational, professional and cultural backgrounds, some advice, like the importance of teamwork, is timeless and universal. And, as Dr. Sylvain Charlebois pointed out, the source of the advice really makes a difference.

Many people will give us advice and there’s no shortage of tips on the Internet, but we will only see a few people model and enforce it daily for decades. That’s pretty special.

Happy Father’s Day to Dads everywhere. If you are lucky enough to still have your dad, be sure to tell him you love him. Tell him about one specific piece of advice he gave you, the behaviour that brought about and the impact it has had on you personally and professionally.

From the collected wisdom of my network:

Be accountable. Be responsible. Avoid issues before they arise.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAw2AAAAJDY0N2RhNDU5LTMyODctNDRhYy04ZTMzLTJkYzQzNWQyZTI2NgLynn Vanschaik wrote: “My dad, now 97 years young. Gave me advice back when I was 16 years old. … He said: “Drive likes it’s not paid for” and “if you break it, make sure you fix it before you bring it home and tell me,” and he meant it. To this day my cars have been tidy, filled with gas, air pressure checked and maintenance done in advance to avoid issues or breakdowns. Life is more seamless and effective with this great guidance.”
Lead by example every day. Value the power of your team.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois shared:
Advice no.1: Leadership is important, but team leadership is even more powerful. Quite obvious, really.
Advice no.2: Life can be messy, but always lead by example, every single day, no matter what happens.”
Not earth-shattering material, but it made a difference coming from Dad.
Be loyal. Serve the people you lead.
36adc40Bruce Manion observed: “My father simply said that leadership was all about loyalty to the people you were leading. It was not about you but about them. What flowed from that concept was that your people would do their very best when they knew that you had their backs and go to the wall for them. He also told me to never work for a leader who did not adhere to that principle. I have worked both for leaders who followed that principle and for some who did not. I was always at my very best in the former situation and did not stay long when the latter situation prevailed. My father was Jack Manion, a long-time senior public servant renowned for his leadership and ethics. It would be very interesting to get his take on what passes for effective leadership these days.”
Work hard. Believe in yourself.
Josée Touchette, LLL, CPA, MBA, ICD.D valued her Dad’s encouragement: “My father told me I could be anything I wanted, as long as I worked hard and was true to my values . He probably never realized it, but he was a feminist. And I am a very lucky woman to have had such a loving father who believed in me.”
Get all the information, analyze, then decide.
Matthew Bondy, M.A. quips: “It’s almost irritating to write this down because I’ve heard it so much over the years, but here it is: ‘Get all the information, separate the wheat from the chaff, and then make your decision.’ It’s so easy to over-complicate things. And when you have tough decisions to make, it’s helpful to focus on a solid, simple decision-making *process* that organizes information in a clear, sequential way.”
Respect everyone. Focus on team success and recognition.
Anne MacKay lives up to what her Dad taught her. She writes: “My dad, Ken, doesn’t talk so much about his approach but he demonstrates beautifully. First, he treats everyone the same with the same degree of respect. Second, you succeed as a whole – if one of your team needs help, you give it and you share credit with all the folks who made progress possible. Great lessons!”


Go team!
Kimberly Leach also had a Dad who was a proponent of teamwork. She says:” at a young and impressionable age I remember my Dad telling me that “teamwork” gets the job done ! No truer words said.”
Thank you to today’s contributors. I’ve seen many of you apply these very lessons and the world is better for it.
You can read all about my Dad’s leadership advice and please share what were the most valuable lessons your Dad taught you. They live on long after Father’s Day!
P.S. I don’t know why the formatting appears wonky in this post. I assure you, I have left plenty of spaces between paragraphs. I could spend the the next few hours trying to figure it out, but I have to make dips for a party this afternoon. Family first. Formatting second.
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