Category Archives: motivating & Inspiring

Unlocking the Energy…Yet Another Job for Leaders

Enthusiasm-150x150Frances Hesselbein once said, “the Leader’s job, after all, is not to provide energy but to release it from others”

Admittedly, the initial image that popped into my head, on reading that quote, was a bit bizarre. (I’ll spare you the details). And, I thought that Ms Hesselbein’s remark was not quite right or perhaps an oversimplification of a very difficult job.

But then I wondered. What does it actually take for people to unlock hidden reservoirs of energy from others and have them use it willingly in the accomplishment of great work? As a matter of fact what does it take to make me give my best?

So I had a little think about it and here’s what I came up with.

First, give me something I can relate to and believe in.

For me, work transcends into something meaningful when I know why it’s important and the part I have to play is equally important. If I can feel that importance, then I stop thinking about it as work and start thinking about it as contribution, which to me, is something I do by choice.

Second, work with me.

I don’t mean that you should do the work I’m doing or be there every minute. No, I mean, talk to me from time to time. Let me know I’m on the right track and if I’m not, help me to make adjustments. Tell me what I need to do, or be, to succeed. Let me know you’re interested in what I’m doing. And yes, occasionally, roll up your sleeves and work alongside me. That will help me to build my sense of common purpose. As well, I seem to have more energy when I feel that the work I do is important enough for you to pitch in from time to time.

Third, please Don’t Hover

There is a fine line between working with me and hovering over me. If I satisfy your need to know that I know what I’m doing, then let me get on with it. If you hover, you can be sure that my energy level will plummet pretty fast. On the other hand, I can get pretty stoked when I know that you trust me to do my part without having to give me constant direction.

Fourth, give value to my contribution

There is nothing more energizing to me than being acknowledged for doing my job well. It doesn’t have to be a big deal but from time to time, I need to know that what I’m doing is appreciated and valued.

Fifth, and finally, (at least for now), help me to make my work life fun.

I don’t expect you to be a constant source of entertainment. I know there is serious work to be done. But at work, as in life, there are, well, absurdities that just need to be laughed at. I have so much energy when I can laugh in the company of my colleagues. It breaks any tension that might be hanging around and really helps me to keep a healthy perspective when I need it.

So that’s it for now, from me anyway.

What about you? What turns you into the Energizer Bunny?

Note: This post was originally published in April, 2010

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Getting Back to Work ~ What Motivates Us

KtLtMO3rJd42s9nvpRuZ6D7b_500I hate to say it…but I will. Summer is coming to a close. It feels a little sad saying adios to the hazy, crazy, sometimes lazy days of summer. And yet, to me, there is always a ‘new start’ feeling about September. I guess it must be that, for most people, summer vacation is over and it’s time to get back to work.

Some of us will approach this prospect with enthusiasm and some, well, some will spend time singing the back to work blues.

As a leader, it is reasonable to assume that you would prefer the enthusiasm option to the blues option. But, like everything else, you’ll likely have to work for it.

So here’s a reminder from Daniel Pink about what truly motivates people to do their best work, (post vacation or otherwise) and it has nothing to do with money. In fact, according to Pink, (and intuitively, I agree) there are three things that, in combination, will charge our batteries and get us happily moving forward. Here they are:

Autonomy ~ freedom to,( independently or with others of our choosing), work creatively and produce something we can be proud of.

Mastery ~ opportunities to learn, grow and build on our interests, knowledge and abilities

Purpose ~ Connecting to something greater than ourselves that we can believe in and strive to fulfill.

Here is a wonderful RSA Animate production called Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It is ten minutes long but, for any leader, is worth the time to see because it gets to the heart of what motivates us.

This presentation suggests to me that to keep the effects of lethargy (whenever it may arise) from diminishing our activity and blurring our focus, we must find ways to emphasize or integrate the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose into our everyday work life.

With this in mind, here are some questions for you, as leader, to consider:


  • Given the nature of your business, how might you provide opportunity for people to work autonomously?
  • How flexible are you when it comes to work arrangements?
  • What would happen if you were to make each person’s operational framework larger and allow more independence? What might it look like?
  • What would you need to make it work? What would you have to do to fill that need? What would others have to do?


  • What opportunities do you provide for people to get better at what they do?
  • How do you approach development planning?
  • How do you acknowledge accomplishment?
  • What value do you place on curiosity, risk and learning?
  • What are you willing to try, to allow your people a chance for growth and greater contribution?
  • If you were to take what you are doing now to increase peoples’ level of mastery and multiply it by two, what would it look like? What do you anticipate would be the outcome?


  • What purpose does your organization serve?
  • Does everyone in your organization know it? Understand it? Believe in it?
  • How often do you remind people of your organizational purpose?
  • How do you help them make the connection between what they do and how they contribute to the fulfillment of the purpose?


There will of course be other questions that come up for you but the point is, there are times when this notion of achieving a working environment that values autonomy, mastery and purpose requires some active consideration.

I just happen to think that the autumn is one of those times.

What do you think?

*Please Note: This post was originally published in 2011

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Crossing the Finish Line

060812_al_ablow_640So far, there have not been many really hot days in my neck of the woods this summer, but one such day recently reminded me of another summer day quite a few years ago.

I was nearing the end of my degree program, sitting, and sweating, over a particularly tough assignment. It was one I needed to submit prior to my final residency and graduation. I was hot and tired. And, because the subject matter was not a favourite, I was struggling. I wanted to quit. In fact, I remember saying to my husband something like, “I’ve had enough. I just want to give up. What made me think I could do this in the first place?”

He said something like, “I know it’s hard right now. But you’re not going to quit. You’re going to sit there and finish what you started because it’s important to you.”

Well, of course it was…so I did. But at that moment in time, I wanted to pack it all in and I needed someone who cared about me to give me a little push.

I expect we all, at one time or another, have experienced this kind of dwindling interest as the finish line comes into view.

At first, when we embark on a new project or business venture, we are full of enthusiasm, raring to go and dreaming of how it’s going to look, or be, when we have accomplished it. As time progresses, we encounter problems (or challenges, however you wish to express it). Things we imagine don’t quite manifest themselves according to expectations. We experience mission“drifts” and relationship“rifts”, disappointments, victories and defeats along the way. By the time we get close to the journey’s end, we wonder if we are going to make it. Exhaustion sets in and sometimes we start thinking about the next project before this one is done because the next project looks like so much more fun.

It’s not a unique scenario is it? The question for the leader is; how do you, not only get over the finish line but make sure that everyone else does too?

Well, we all have ideas about that I’m sure. Here are a few of mine:

Keep your eyes on the prize ~ When the going gets tough, I think it helps to remember the fundamental purpose of the project; why it was important when you started it and why it continues to be important as you work toward accomplishing it. Consider the tangible rewards that will come from having completed it and also how you’re going to feel when all is said and done.

Celebrate small successes ~ Sometimes a large project can create overwhelm that feels somewhat akin to a snake swallowing a pig. If, however, you were to break it down and take time to celebrate milestones along the way, it might be entirely more digestible and provide sufficient energy to keep going.

Make Time for Rest ~ to function optimally, the human engine requires rest. It is easy to get caught up in the demands of a critical project and tempting to work right through until it is done. However, doing so and expecting others to do so, without respite, is a mistake. We are at our best when rested and focused. The time we think we save by not resting is usually lost when our physical and mental energies go on the wane.

Exercise the empathy muscle ~ This means checking in with people along the way; acknowledging their challenges and the feelings that go along with working toward a collective goal. In other words, recognizing and relating to the emotional ups and downs that occur over the life of a project can be very reassuring. In truth, empathy and encouragement fuel the journey and can make the difference between giving up and going on.

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


Note: Originally published in the Summer of 2012

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Leadership and Faith

Talking about faith in the workplace can be a bit tricky.  Often when we hear the word we automatically think about religion. But faith is not always about that.  It can simply be about believing that something is possible.   That’s what this post, from March 2012, is  about.


Faith. It’s not a word I’ve heard used a lot in my working life.  Perhaps it is because it has a tinge of uncertainty about it that many in traditional organizations tend to view it with misgiving.  It is an important word though… especially important if you want to achieve something; rise above something; or stretch beyond the boundaries of your current understanding.

This occurred to me  when I went to see the movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  This story is about a very wealthy Sheik who loves to fish.  He owns a castle in Scotland and part of his vision for the future of his people is to make it possible for salmon to live and thrive in theYemen.  It seems like an impossible dream to everyone but him.   And yet, he continues to pursue it and to believe in it.

The truth is, Leadership asks a great deal of us.  It often demands that we strike out into the unknown and convince other people it’s a good idea.  It asks us to trust that some things do not come complete with scientific or rational explanation.  It asks us, too, to believe in our own abilities: the potential and ability of those who work with us; and in the value and viability of our vision, even at times when that vision seems unlikely enough to be unattainable.

Faith also asks this of us.   And, it makes room for great things to happen.

It allows us to ‘step off cliffs’  ~ Building and growing a business requires us to take chances.  Sometimes these are measured and well researched and sometimes they constitute a leap of faith.   I think the success of the latter often depends on how fervently we believe in our imagined outcomes. Those who doubt either themselves or their ability to realize their imagined outcomes rarely see them come to fruition.

It allows us to let go ~ Simply put, when we place our faith in the ability and good intentions of others, we are free to concentrate on other important things.  Of course, part of letting go includes successfully transferring our vision of the future to others but, once done, it allows them the freedom to think, create and produce great results in ways that we might not have imagined.

It allows us to see mistakes as reparable ~ When we really believe in what we are doing, mistakes become part of the learning and growing process.  Indeed, if our faith in the direction we are taking is strong, the setbacks we will inevitably experience will find a way of teaching us something useful.

The bottom line is that faith in organizations is an essential part of growth and exploration.  It belongs in the workplace.  It does not guarantee success but it allows for small, and sometimes very big, victories.   And, like stepping stones in a stream, these victories eventually lead us to the other side where we can look back and marvel at the journey and maybe even go fishing in the Yemen.

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

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Leading with Emotion

This post is from 2011.  I was inspired to write it after watching an interview with someone who is never ashamed to show emotion and is highly successful in engaging and inspiring others to excel. 


I “grew up” working in a very large organization which, for the most part, was notorious for its, um, conservative culture.  In my early experience, this meant that emotions, when expressed at work, were largely met with disapproval.  There were a couple of exceptions of course.  Anger was one.  And the other was fear.  Together these two sentiments, along with their not-so-distant cousins, irritation, exasperation, disgust, nervousness and envy formed a large part of my early working environment along with apathy, the place of neutrality where it was relatively safe but not very inspired.

I think we have learned a lot since those early days.  Thank goodness.  More and more we are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work with us.  More and more, leaders are seeing the benefits of doing the encouraging.

I’m wondering though to what extent business organizations are taking this concept of giving other emotions, like love, joy and surprise greater space and actively incorporating them into their everyday culture.  I know there are some. comes to mind for one. But, I ‘m thinking there are more that still squirm when considering the notion of bringing these perceived softer, and potentially messier, sides of humanity to work and giving them pride of place.

So, I tried to find somewhere where leading with emotion has worked a kind of magic that can, potentially be translated into any organization no matter the focus or the product.

I came up with Celine Dion.  Okay, I’m imagining some eyes rolling in an upward direction here.  Celine Dion is not everyone’s cup of tea.  She is often portrayed and perceived as overly dramatic, too effusive and excessively ostentatious. But hey, who better to study when considering the impact that overt emotion can have on organizations than someone who does it in a big way?

Ms Dion and her husband Rene Angelil operate their own company. M. Angelil is President and Manager of (wait for it) Feeling Productions. In 1999 they entered into a partnership with Cirque du Soleil to produce the Las Vegas Show, A New Day. At $300 million, it was reportedly the biggest contract ever negotiated in the history of the music business.  And they did it practically on a handshake.

Here is the beginning of the story of how A New Day came about.  Although it may be tempting, I urge you not to skip watching it because there are clues in here about the power leading with emotion can have on a company of diverse people with diverse interests. Pay particular attention to Celine as she meets the show’s dancers for the first time.  Listen to what the dancers are saying about her and the show. What emotions are at play?

Here is what I am learning from this:

I don’t have to be perfect to be inspiring

In fact I expect that the opposite might be true. Imperfections especially, if I am self-deprecating about them, have a way of making me more human and perhaps more forgivable.

I do have to acknowledge the value that others bring and…tell them…often.

What is more encouraging than having someone say something like, “You changed a bit of my life today”? To me, that’s pretty powerful.

One small gesture of appreciation can lead to very big things.

Celine’s back stage gesture to the cast of Cirque du Soleil triggered a set of events that otherwise might not have happened.  Genuine enthusiasm, admiration and pride for the work of others are powerful motivators.

As a leader, my positive emotions can be even more infectious than my negative ones.

I just have to call upon them more often by looking first for what’s right , not what’s wrong.


What stood out for you?  If there is one take away here that will help you engage and inspire others, what would it be?

(Please note, the use of the video clip is in no way an attempt to infringe on copyright.  It is being used here solely to serve as a learning instrument)

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6 Ideas About Creating Organizations That Value Ideas

John Cage once said, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I’m frightened of the old ones”

This notion kind of struck me while I was watching a movie about Charles Darwin who had, and developed, one of the world’s biggest ideas, one that, even now, creates much spirited conversation.  I suppose in that context (and in those times) there may have been much to fear.  After all, Darwin’s big idea was one that challenged people to rethink their whole existence.  Nonetheless, it was important to human growth and understanding to entertain it because without the exploration that comes from new ideas, I suspect we would simply all fade to black eventually… or die of boredom.

I think this is also true of business organizations.  Now, more than ever, businesses are having to rethink their product and how they deliver to market.  A number of longstanding companies who failed to do that are now either out of business or in some serious bother because, either in whole or in part, they have found themselves being outpaced by technology and consumer demand for ever evolving applications.

So, the question, (or at least one of them) is, how do we build organizations that actively value idea creation and development?

Some companies will say they have processes in place that encourage people to offer their ideas.  I would argue that creating mechanisms through which to feed ideas is not enough, no matter how sophisticated the process.

To really engage people in sharing and developing new ideas, I rather think we have to create cultures that will support it.  That’s a bit trickier.

So how might this be accomplished?  Well, I’m sure you have some thoughts about that.  Just to be going on with though, here are some of mine:

Give people the opportunity to deeply understand the purpose and vision of your organization.  ~ People who have a clear grasp of why their organizations are in business and what they hope to achieve in the future will tend to set their brains in that direction when searching for solutions to existing problems or anticipating future ones.  Perhaps too, they will be more likely to use their creative juices to pre-empt organizational issues before they arise.

Build a Safe Environment for Idea sharing ~ putting forth a new, possibly even bizarre idea takes a lot of courage.  People have to see the risk as one worth taking and operate in the knowledge that they will not be judged, derided or punished in any way for sharing their ideas.  Not all ideas are going to be good  but among them, there are bound to be some great ones that might not have surfaced if the working environment is such that it values censorship over creativity.

Learn to encourage and value diverse opinion ~ People look at things based on their own experiences and biases.   If we all thought alike or hired only people who thought like us, we would no doubt miss a great deal.  To generate ideas that are future oriented we must invite diversity into our conversations.  That means letting go of the reins of our own strongly held opinions long enough to listen to the possibility that there might be a better way.

Challenge ideas not people ~ While this is part of building a safe environment for ideas to be shared, in the heat of a moment, it is easy to slide criticism away from the idea and onto the one who brought it up so I think it bears repeating.

Acknowledge, Acknowledge and Acknowledge some more ~ Acknowledgement is integral to building an organization that values idea generation and development.  I think we all know that.  I’m just not sure how many of us provide it. It really doesn’t have to come in the form of fancy recognition programs.  It just has to be sincere and timely in its delivery.

Shift the perspective of knowledge as power~   We have become used to the notion that  knowledge is power so we’d better hang onto it.  So many of us are reluctant to share what we know because we fear loss of leverage of some kind.  In this new century though, the power comes from the collective.  Business success lies in our ability to collaborate, not hoard.   That means building organizations flexible enough, daring enough, strong enough and, perhaps even Darwinian enough to invite people to rethink their whole corporate existence and use the ideas that come from it to move them confidently into the future.

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



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Leadership Lessons From Gilbert & Sullivan

This is a refreshed version of a post written a couple of years ago. It reminds me that leadership can be found everywhere… and is necessary, no matter what your occupation.


Recently, I watched a movie called Topsy Turvy.  This 1999 production tells a story of Gilbert and Sullivan and the events that led up to the creation of The Mikado, a now much celebrated opera.

While I was watching, I began to see the fundamental elements of management and leadership at play and to appreciate that no matter the endeavour, the principles of both are ever present.

Here are some things I was reminded of:

People work best together when they sing from the same song sheet.

Throughout the movie it became clear to me that no matter what was going on, the values of civility, respect and dignity underscored everything.  The principal leaders of the company were unceasingly polite and respectful toward one another.  This, of course, might have been the Victorian times in which they lived, but it struck me that Gilbert and Sullivan as well as their business partner, D’Oyley Carte demonstrated these values consistently and effortlessly.  They set the tone for the rest of the company who followed suit without question.  And, I didn’t see a Values Statement hanging on a wall anywhere.

Outstanding productions require collaboration

Can you imagine what The Mikado might have sounded like if Gilbert had written the libretto and Sullivan, the music for it without consulting each other?…Something of a mess I shouldn’t wonder.  And yet, in so many organizations, one department will invariably act without consulting the other or a boss will make decisions without consulting the team.  The truth is, it is collaborative effort that brings a one-dimensional idea to life and helps it to stand the test of time.

Care about the players

The company of players was comprised of a mixed group of artists all with their own special talents, needs and idiosyncrasies.  Gilbert and Sullivan recognized that in order to get the best performance from each, they needed to understand their individual capabilities, strengths and limitations. They interacted with and encouraged both the principals of the production and members of the chorus to give what they knew them to be capable of giving.  And, they held each member to account for their behaviour and the quality of performance they delivered.

Examine The Performance

At the end of the evening’s performance and before anyone in the company was allowed to leave, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte, the theatre manager, held a meeting.  At this meeting, they each discussed how the performance was executed from their own particular perspectives.  First, they talked about what went well, praised the performers and thanked them for their efforts.   Then, through discussion, they changed some things to enhance their overall performance the next time.   This is sometimes referred to as a post-mortem but whatever you call it, bringing the team together to discuss outcomes and changes, makes for a better result next time and also has a way of creating a feeling of solidarity among people.

Criticize the song, not the singer

At one point in the movie, Gilbert announces his intention to cut a song from the show.  There are sounds of disappointment among the company and sympathy expressed for the song’s performer.  The singer suggests to Mr. Gilbert that while he doesn’t consider himself a great singer, he believes that he could make a better effort.  Mr. Gilbert responds by saying something like, “Sir, you misunderstand. You performed eminently well.  It is the song that is bad”

Often, making the distinction between the thing that isn’t working and the person who is working it is very important.  There are of course times when the thing is perfectly good and the performance of the person needs some work, but that’s a different conversation.  The lesson for me here is that being clear about what we are criticizing avoids a great deal of confusion and unnecessary angst.

Cling to your own opinion at your peril

There is a great deal of sadness among the company when the song is cut from the show.  They all consider it a fine song and have empathy for the performer who continues to feel he has somehow failed.  As a consequence, a small group of players decide to approach Mr. Gilbert and ask him to consider re-instating the song.  This is something of a departure from normal custom in a patriarchal, benevolent dictatorship and yet this small group feels strongly enough to take a risk.  And so, in the presence of the entire company they present their case.

Mr. Gilbert remains quiet for some minutes.  He looks from one to the other earnest face and asks if the rest of the company agrees.  Aside from the company sycophant, who assures Mr. Gilbert that none of this was his idea, they unanimously reply, “Yes, we do!”

Mr. Gilbert then asks the song’s performer if he would be ready and willing to perform the song.  Again, he receives an affirmative reply.   Mr. Gilbert remains unconvinced that the song is good but believes in the opinion of his company and so he allows the song back into the performance. That evening, the song receives considerable accolades from the audience.

This reminds me of the critical importance of listening.   It also confirms that even the most brilliant among us is wrong sometimes.  Clinging stubbornly to our own opinions can be critically damaging.

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

Oh, and just for fun, here is the finale of the Mikado for your viewing pleasure.

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