Category Archives: Leadership Values

Caring or Care-taking?~A Fine Distinction

This post, from 2011, explores what it means to care about people and why it’s important to know the difference between caring and care-taking.


In this blog I write a lot about caring in leadership.  I write about it because I strongly believe that if leaders care about people, their efforts will be rewarded in a multitude of ways, both intrinsically and extrinsically.

In my experience though, ‘caring’ in organizations takes one of two forms.  One provides the best possible opportunity for people to thrive, grow and contribute and the other does just the opposite. The challenge is that not unlike identical twins, each kind of caring, though sounding like the other and looking very much like the other to the naked eye, is not, and has a very different impact when applied to the workplace and the people who work in it.

So, what is the difference between caring and caretaking?

Well, for one thing,there is a difference in the assumptions we work from.

Caretaking assumptions look like this:

  • I know what’s best for those who follow me.
  • If I take care of them, they owe me.
  • My people are not capable of solving their own problems.
  • If they do as I ask, I will keep them safe
  • As leader, I am also protector.

Caring assumptions look more like this:

  • Those I lead know what’s best for them.  They like to have choices.
  • If I care for them, they will care for others including those whom the organization serves.
  • People I lead are responsible adults
  • People are fully capable of solving their own problems
  • As leader, I am also facilitator.

For some, the notion of being taken care of can actually be appealing, at least at first.  In this scenario, when I have a particularly sticky problem, I simply have to take it to my boss and s/he will take it off my hands. As well, decisions that affect me are not usually discussed with me and so if things go wrong I feel quite justified in grumbling about it without having to take responsibility for it.  And that can be perversely satisfying.

Eventually though, even people who initially like the idea of being taken care of tire of it and either strain against its limitations or retreat, taking their best game them.

There will be some who believe that creating a caring work environment is akin to the notion of laissez-faire leadership. But really, caring workplaces typically operate from clearly stated boundaries communicated through their organizational purpose and a set of values that provide both focus and a guide for problem solving and decision-making.

Using those boundaries as a guide, organizations and leaders who care will, among other things:

  • Hold people accountable for the commitments and decisions they make
  • Provide opportunities for learning and growth
  • Encourage, coach and challenge people to build capability
  • Liberally share problem solving and resist the temptation to “do it themselves”
  • Acknowledge and reward fine work regularly
  • Create structures and mechanisms that encourage autonomy and allow for help to be available when it is most needed.

There are of course other characteristics associated with leaders who care but the bottom line is this:

Those who caretake exercise power over others and operate from the perspective of ownership.  Those who care are more likely to value collaborative effort and operate from the perspective of shared responsibility.

Given a choice I know which one I’d go for.  What about you?



Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

The Certainty of Ambiguity in Leadership

This post is a refreshed version of one written originally in  June, 2009.


Anyone who has ever been in a leadership role for longer than, oh, five minutes, knows that leadership is not a prescriptive thing.  As simple as we try to make it with lists of the ten top things to do here or the best five things to do there, it remains rife with complexity.

Part of this complexity lies in the many roles leaders must undertake that, while necessary, seem incompatible with one another.

Here are some examples:

Being conceptual and Tactical

As a leader, it is important for you to be able to rise above the day-to-day mechanics of your operation so you can see where it is all going. This is about having a vision and ideas that give purpose to the work.

There is, however, a limit on the amount of time you should spend at thirty thousand feet without coming down to the ground and working with people to ensure that plans are developed in line with the vision and specific actions are taken to bring it to life.

Leaders who dwell in the land of ideas too long tend to accomplish very little. Alternately, those who keep their noses to the grindstone and never get off the ground might accomplish a lot but chances are, it will be a lot of the wrong thing.

Being a Leader and a Manager

Some people believe that leadership and management are two separate jobs. From where I sit, they’re not.  Both roles belong in the leader’s virtual backpack. Confusion often raises its quizzical head, though, when deciding what to manage; what to lead; and when.

A simple rule of thumb is that you manage things and lead people. However, to add complexity to the mix, you also manage events and happenings that involve people. And that means you must be prepared to manage conflict and other situations that could potentially get in the way of accomplishing the work.

Being a Leader and a Follower

Opportunities for people to show leadership, regardless of their formal status in the organization, are everywhere.  It is a wise leader who will recognize this and make room for it when it serves the organization and supports its goals.  The trick is in knowing when it is appropriate to stand down and become a supportive follower.

In general, allowing someone else to take the lead is a good idea when:

S/he knows more about the specific work involved than you do or;

S/he has demonstrated more skill in a certain area than you have.

This doesn’t mean you abdicate your position.  It does mean that you are leading for a time, by following and supporting someone who can by leading, accomplish the goal better, faster or more efficiently than you can.

To do this effectively, you must first know your own strengths and limitations and also make it a priority to know the capabilities of the people who work with you.

Controlling and Empowering

We all know that empowering others to express themselves and make contributions to the organizational goals is key to creating vibrant, engaged, working environments. And, while this is a leadership responsibility, it is also the job of the leader to create a controlled atmosphere that connects to the demands and goals of the business.

This means finding a fine balance between being autocratic and being liberal. It is where having a fully activated set of organizational values and a comprehensive, well-articulated vision of the future come in handy. They form a framework within which people can be empowered to use their creative abilities and make contributions on their own terms.

There are many other situations where leaders are required to make choices between seemingly contradictory activities.  For instance, when would you encourage individual effort over team development? Under what circumstances might you favour an arbitrary decision over a democratic one?

What comes up for you?


Filed under Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Leading Change, managing paradox, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and the Credibility Factor

What does credibility mean to you?  Here’s my take on it and why I think it’s an important quality for leaders to develop, not just in effecting change initiatives but in everything else they do.


I’ve been thinking about change lately, mostly about what it is that separates a person who seems to be able to influence change in a positive direction, from a person who might have the authority and the technical skill to do the work, but seems unable to pull it off.

The word credibility comes to mind.  The Thesaurus suggests that credibility is synonymous with trustworthiness, integrity and sincerity. I think that if these basic values are present, the chances of arousing the interest and respect of other people are pretty good. And, I believe too, that change agents come in many forms, manifest themselves in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels.

Thinking about that reinforces for me, the notion that it is credibility not title, position, role or authority that makes the difference between an effective change agent and an ineffective one.

So, if you are with me so far, the big question seems to be ” How do I prove my credibility to others?”

Here’s what I think it takes to earn credibility:

I do what I say I’m going to do… and I do it, when I say I’m going to do it.

Reliability is an important ingredient in establishing credibility.

There’s nothing more infuriating or counter-productive, than when someone makes a commitment to do something and then fails to follow through.

I represent myself honestly and do my best to be candid and open with my colleagues and bosses.

I think that to gain credibility with others we must simply find the courage and confidence to be ourselves and make our contributions without pretense or bravado.

I show that I’m open to learning and trying new things

Nothing puts holes in our credibility more than conveying the impression that we have all the answers. And, it is arrogant to think that we can influence change in others without feeling the need to change something in ourselves as well.

After all, change is a learning experience in itself. If we believe that it is for everyone but us, we are likely not asking the right questions, enough questions, or paying attention to what is going on around us.

I demonstrate respect for the experiences and knowledge of others.

One of the best ways to build credibility is to observe those who have gone before us and learn from their experiences.  If we want to be heard we must first listen.

When I challenge the status quo, I offer feasible and thoughtful alternatives.

To me, presenting a problem without considering a solution is not supporting change.  It is simply complaining.  This doesn’t mean that we have to have a solution for every problem.  But if we want to earn credibility, we have to consider not only the problem, but also the possibilities and questions that will stimulate further exploration.

I own up to being human and making mistakes. And, when I make mistakes, I apologize and then do my best to make amends.

Making excuses for the mistakes we make is simply unproductive and, well, not very attractive either. In general, we do not adversely affect our credibility when we make mistakes. We adversely affect our credibility when we try to cover them up, rationalize them away, blame them on someone else or otherwise pretend  they didn’t happen.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Leading Change

Taking Charge: When NOT to Delegate

Somebody once said, “ You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.”

I think this week’s post kind of speaks to that.


In leadership, one of the things we are always being reminded of is the importance of delegation, and with good reason. It not only ensures an even distribution of work and authority, it also provides important opportunities for individual exploration and growth.  I expect we can all agree on that.

However, there are times when leaders, regardless of their level in an organization, have to rely on their strength of character to call upon the backbone and take charge.

So here are some situations where I think delegation is not an option:

  • When you have to deliver bad news or make a change that you know will not be well received.

Let’s face it, everyone likes to be popular but leadership is not about popularity.  It involves making tough decisions, sometimes decisions that affect jobs and the futures of those who do them. It means not only delivering tough messages personally but also staying around to respond to difficult questions and participating in the process of making hard and sometimes upsetting transitions.

  • When the objectives of an assignment are unclear or people don’t have the tools they need to get the job done.

Delegating an assignment that is not well thought out or does not include the tools necessary for implementation is pretty much guaranteeing failure. And, it does little for the people charged with carrying it out, apart from adding to their frustration level.

It is the leader’s job to ensure clarity around what is to be achieved and to provide the resources necessary to promote success. Turning a concept into an assignment while it is still in its formative stage makes everyone’s job harder.

  • When something goes wrong that affects the entire department or company

So let’s say that things are motoring along nicely in your domain.  People are attending to their responsibilities and you are delegating assignments in accordance with your knowledge of their capabilities. Great.

And then, something goes wrong. Someone makes a big mistake that reverberates beyond your sphere of control, affecting other areas of the organization and its reputation.

While you might have delegated the work assignment, the responsibility for the outcome of it rests with you.  That’s why you get paid the big bucks, as they say. It is your job to find out specifically what went wrong and why.  It is your job to work with the person or people involved in bringing the mistake about and taking whatever corrective action is deemed appropriate. And, you are the one that must be accountable. ‘Nuff said.

  • When you are trying something new and the risk of failure is high

In any enterprise, innovation is crucial to growth and sustainability.  As such, risk is an inherent part of business life.  If a project being contemplated carries with it a high risk/reward ratio, it also requires full involvement by the leader. To some extent, this will mitigate the risk and send the message that, while you asking others to “go where no man has gone before” you will be right there with them, to share in the glory…or the blame.

People often say that leadership is not for the faint of heart.  I have described only four situations where a leader must stand up and be counted.  There are no doubt countless others.

What comes to mind for you?


Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

In today’s world, we often look for faster ways of getting things done.  The magic of technology makes this possible.  And, there are all kinds of ways to cut through processes when they start getting in the way of progress.  One thing we can never afford to compromise however, is the integrity with which we conduct ourselves.  That’s what this post is about.


No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honour… Andrew Carnegie

Good leadership relies on our ability to live our lives with courage, strength of character and honesty. It is harder to do than talk about but without it, leaders can’t thrive for any length of time regardless of how skilled they may be otherwise.

There have been many prominent leaders who have risen to great heights only to fall with a severe thud because they have acted solely out of self-interest.  Sadly and frustratingly, there is a lot of evidence of this.

These people have, or are experiencing, the consequences of a kind of self-absorption, that assumes that power gives them a certain exemption from behaving responsibly and honourably.

What they seem to have ignored, or failed to understand, is that the more powerful we become, the greater is our responsibility to others. And, when leaders go awry of honourable actions, the impact of their 
behaviour is felt very deeply by people who have had little, if anything, to do with decisions made on their behalf. At these times, honour is offered as a sacrifice to greed and trust is destroyed.

Trust is one of those things that often takes a long time to build but only a minute to destroy. As such, it is a thing to be treasured and protected. That’s where strength of character comes in, and where telling the truth and keeping promises become vital.

Okay, so we’re all human and who among us has never told a lie? But, the consequences of deception and lies often have a greater impact than we think when we first venture into the realm of the untruth. It is a lesson that most of us learn eventually.

There is a certain arrogance in believing that the rules of the universe apply to everyone but me. And, believe me, there have been times when I have been very arrogant indeed… always with a poor result.

Maybe this is what happens to business leaders who come to believe in their own importance to the exclusion of everything else.

Skill and talent can take us only so far. To travel the rest of the way, we must make sure we bring with us a large measure of honourable intent, concern for the welfare of others and the willingness and courage to do what is right, even when it means giving up something we want very badly.  That’s what makes it so hard.

One of my favourite movies is “Scent of a Woman”.  In it, Al Pacino’s character makes a declaration that speaks to exactly how difficult it is to live a life with integrity…and exactly why it is so necessary.  I offer it here with no intent to infringe copyright but simply to reinforce the movie’s message and my own.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, organizational culture

Attention Leaders: Five Attitudes to Take to work in 2013

Attitude is a big deal.  The way we look at things and the beliefs we hold about them influence what we choose to do and how we choose to behave when we’re doing it.  That’s why I think it’s always a good idea, especially for those who lead, to conduct something of an attitude inventory from time to time.  And, what better time to do it than at the beginning of a New Year?

So, with that in mind, here are five attitudes that I think will be necessary for business leaders to take, in achieving success in 2013 and beyond:

Attitude # 1: Diversity is not a black and white subject   ~ There are a myriad of distinctions between human beings. Leaders who believe that diversity is limited to cultural, ethnic and gender differences must go deeper and wider to make optimal use of the richness in knowledge, thought and experience that exists in their organizations.

For example, organizations in 2013 include people from three generations, each with their own set of experiences and expectations.  Leaders who don’t seek to understand both the benefits this promises and the tension it creates, will be disadvantaged.  More importantly, if they fail to constructively accommodate these differences, they will also fail to create an environment in which people from each generation are willing to do their best work.

The Upshot:  If you look at building a diverse workforce as a nice to do initiative, you are missing the point…and the boat. Making optimal use of available talent brings optimal results and will keep you in the game. That makes valuing diversity a business imperative.

Attitude #2: Communication is only effective if it results in understanding ~ Communication is a huge topic in most organizations.  It, or lack of it, is often pinpointed as the culprit when things go wrong. And yet, so many cling to the idea that because they understand the message they are sending, it is reasonable to assume that those on the receiving end will understand it in the same way.

The Upshot: If you view communication as something that creates understanding, you may also see the wisdom in seeking out and engaging a wider range of communication tools.  And, there are a great many about thanks to the wonders of technology.   This attitude can help to reduce the confusion that comes from  unclear messages and increase potential for greater overall productivity.

Attitude #3: Learning and Training are not synonymous ~ Opportunities to learn are everywhere and yet some leaders continue to believe that if they have a wide array of training programs in their organizations and encourage, or even require, people to attend them, their job is done.  While it would be nice to think that, the truth is, learning doesn’t really happen in a classroom, on a webinar or from a book.  Learning happens when training is applied in real life circumstances. To create learning, you also have to create the culture and environment that welcomes it.

Lots of people who attend classes will come away with new ideas and yet have no place to apply them.  When this happens, the ideas, no matter how good, drift off into the ether.  Also, when people try something new and fail, the response to that failure becomes critical to the learning process.  Too many organizations make punishment the reward for honest mistakes.  When that happens, learning takes a back seat to survival.

The Upshot: If you want people to learn, grow and increase their value to your organization, create a whole learning environment that includes opportunity for application of new skill; a balanced attitude toward failure; genuine recognition of accomplishment and; a well constructed framework for individual accountability.

Attitude #4:  Collaboration is the watchword of the 21st Century ~ In successful organizations, there’s no such thing as a one-man (or woman) band. There’s just far too much going on for a single person to manage successfully. And yet, there are still those who try to keep tight control over everything that goes on around them.

The Upshot:  Taking a collaborative perspective and putting it into practice is hard. It means making the work more important than you.  But, doing so most often reaps better results.  That is reason enough to take a collaborative attitude.

Attitude #5: Vision, values and purpose matter more than rules and policies ~ In every organization, there have to be boundaries.  For instance, legal and ethical boundaries are permanent fixtures in any reputable company and must be strongly enforced.  However, beyond that, encouraging people to contribute their best work relies on the strength of their understanding of, and belief in, your organizational purpose, vision of the future and the values you espouse.

The Upshot:  Leading from vision, values and purpose requires greater focus and discipline than enforcing a set of rules.  However, those who do it successfully create workplaces that attract talented, enthusiastic and committed people. In a world where competition for the best is fierce, that has to be a good thing.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, NOWLeadership, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

Personality vs Character in Leadership

A recent, and much discussed event in the news has started me thinking about the difference between personality and character.   There are perhaps some who have spent little time considering if there even is a difference between them.  Even the Thesaurus on my laptop suggests the word ‘character’ as an acceptable substitute for the word ‘personality’.  But to me, they are quite different.  And, especially if you are a leader, understanding the distinction between them is critically important.

With my strictly layperson’s eye, I see that distinction as this:

Personality refers to our basic nature.  For instance, some of us are extraverted and some introverted.  Some of us are even-tempered, some hotheaded, and so on.  In short, personality mainly consists of those things we inherit genetically.  It dictates our personal preferences and choices. And, it drives our social interaction with others.

Character refers to how we choose to use our inheritance to make our way in the world.  Character is built over time. It comes from living, learning and making mistakes.  It shows up in the decisions we make and the risks we take.  Character measures and tests the strength of our will, our beliefs and our sense of justice.  And it is often a hard taskmaster.

It was W. Somerset Maugham who once said, “ When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character”

I think the same could be said of leaders.  Sometimes, of course we don’t get to choose our leaders. And sometimes we don’t get the leaders we choose. However, we do get to choose the kind of leaders we are going to be. Will we ride on the coat tails of personality, going where the wind blows us?   Or, will we rely on the deep-seated beliefs that form our character to guide us, even if that road is harder… and even if it makes us unpopular?

To many people, the answer will seem obvious.  But, character can be difficult to discern.  It can go for a long time without being publically tested or uncovered and can often be eclipsed by the strength and easy attraction of a winning personality.

So how do we know?  How do we recognize when we are leading from the depths of our character and when we are not?  Under what circumstances would we be able to recognize strength of character in others?

Well, I can think of a few circumstances anyway that would provide some pretty good clues. Like:

In a crisis ~ the measure of any leader becomes most obvious when things go wrong.  It is then when wheat and chaff part company.

In Private ~ If, what leaders say in public differs from what they say in private, on the same subject, that is very telling. Those who change stories to fit the situation cast doubt on the veracity of any of them.

In the Face of Temptation ~ The power that leadership brings can be quite an aphrodisiac.  How leaders choose to use that power will say a lot about them.  The draw of self-interest is ever-present.   The test of character comes when we are faced with the temptation to indulge it.

There are, of course, many situations where character, or lack thereof, is revealed.  Suffice it to say that if we are looking for it, character, can generally be found in close proximity to courage and truthfulness.

So here’s the bottom line for me.  As a leader, while personality will get you in the door, character will ensure you stay there…or not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values