What does it take to be a hero?

What does it take to be a hero? As I look at the news feeds about rescues in Syria and some of the monumental acts of sacrifice that take place daily, my first thought is that a hero is someone who does something super-human. Somebody who gives everything he or she has for a purpose they believe in. Not something that your every day, run of the mill individual is necessarily cut out to do.

And then I watched the Olympic Men’s triathlon.

I was watching Andrew Yorke. Andrew is my son Rory’s friend, a young man that I watched grow up. I have pictures of Andrew bobbing for apples in our basement, snowboarding with our family, and even some from he and Rory’s grade 8 graduation. Memories, too, of loading bikes on my truck and going over to Albion Hills to ride up and down the hills with a crew of kids that always included Andrew. Always moving, always playing, always laughing.

Still, kind of a run of the mill individual from Caledon East.

But Andrew was also the kind of kid who, when Rory was deciding whether or not to go to the regional arts high school and leave all his friends behind, called him up to tell him he had to go there…and they’d still be friends, even if they didn’t go to school together. Pretty heroic for a run of the mill 14 year old.

Andrew was ready for the Olympics, and in the best shape of his life. He stood at the beach, ready to enter the water, obviously prepared to give everything he had. And he did.

Yes, Alistair Brownlee won the event. He out-swam, out-rode and out-ran all the other competitors, Andrew included. But it was Andrew who is my hero. Because he gave everything he had. And more. Who knows what happened to cause the crash, but Andrew and Jason Wilson went down. Then Andrew did what he always does – he got up and kept going. Imagine spending years of your life focused on this single outcome, and then have your goals shatter into smithereens in a heartbeat….and then having the guts and the internal strength to get up, push your bike uphill, and keep going.

Something like that would crush most of us average mortals. We would sink into the ground and be afraid to rise. Not Andrew. He kept going. He finished the race, and he turned and waved to the crowds.

If you must know, I was crying when I saw Andrew cross the finish line. Not because I felt sorry for him, but because I am so fiercely proud of this young man. He is our Olympian, with a spirit and determination that knows no bounds. Andrew, you are a hero to Caledon, to Canada, and to all who know and love you.

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Decision factory worker or freelancer?

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail’s Report on Business had an interesting article about decision factories, by Harvey Schacter. “We associate factories with blue-collar work. White-collar workers – today’s knowledge workers – operate out of offices and laboratories. But Roger Martin, a professor and former Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says they also are factory workers, toiling in “decision factories.”

Martin says that when a company announces layoffs of 5,000 or 10,000 people after years of building up that knowledge corps, what is astounding is how few consequences these big layoffs appear to have on the organization.

He’s right, of course, simply in the sense that the impact of those lay offs doesn’t reverberate throughout the halls of those companies for long. In short order, the gaps are filled and the same quantity of work resumes.

Two inhabitants of a decision factory...and a bear.

Two inhabitants of a decision factory…and a bear.

What is the message here for those of us who work in the consultation and facilitation industry, and don’t work in these large “decision factories”? It might actually be a good message, to be honest. I run my own business. I work closely with clients to run workshops, facilitate meetings, and provide educational and soft skill training opportunities. I deliver services for these decision factories, and those services don’t stop being required just because staff numbers are reduced. Perhaps that’s one of the joys of being independent. One company may not need me full time, but a lot of companies need me part time.

Martin continues with these thoughts about the decision factory workers: “Their raw materials are data, either from their own information systems or from outside providers. They engage in production processes – called meetings – that convert this work to finished goods in the form of decisions. And they participate in post-production services: following up on decisions.”

Decision factories require the services of someone to help them better engage in their production processes, and to ensure they have the right skills to participate in post-production services. Meaning there will be a demand for both the facilitation end of my business, and the training end of my business. This is definately a win/win for me!

I admit, there are times when I look at friends who have “real” jobs, those that come equipped with a dental plan, a pension, paid vacations and regular pay cheques. And there is a certain wistfulness that I feel when I think about their work week…imagine, working the majority of your time Monday through Friday? Being a freelance consultant means a high degree of uncertainty and down time mixed with mad, frantic work weeks. It means waiting to hear from clients, and then racing hard to produce for them. It means not paying your bills until the end of a project, when you get paid.

Then I think about my usual Monday mornings, where I walk the dogs to get the newspaper, and I sit in my kitchen, listening to the CBC and reading the Globe and Mail, finding articles like the one by Mr. Schacter this morning.

The view from my home office...note the guard dog on the chair!

The view from my home office…note the guard dog on the chair!

It means a high degree of job satisfaction and personal control. I take my time to wander to the office, pour a second cup and plan my week. I’ve got a change management presentation that I need to edit, an environmental health workshop on data accessibility to plan for, and a proposal for a new leadership course to prepare. In between, I will make time to get my snow tires on, I’ll get my hair trimmed, and even have lunch with two business “colleagues”, who are really friends first, then business associates.

The view from my "office" at the Toyota dealer, getting on my snow tires!

The view from my “office” at the Toyota dealer, getting on my snow tires!

I don’t worry about downsizing or lay offs, and any decisions that I don’t like will be my own, and not some imposed on me by senior management…because I am the senior management in my company. As Roger Martin, suggests, I am not an order taker, but rather a choice maker. And that works for me.

Leadership 101

Have you ever done something that you knew, within every fibre of your body, was great? For many of us, that doesn’t happen often. We try to do our best, but things sometimes get in the way and our outcomes are limited by things beyond our control.

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Me, pontificating to the team…yet again.

Last week, I was one of the lucky ones. All the stars aligned and I was part of a team  who delivered the first Ontario Parks Leadership Foundations Course. 5 days of everything from asking and answering questions, listening critically, participating in “The Challenge of the Day”, guest speakers, story tellers…you name it, we included it in the course curriculum. And the outcome was great!

Gail and I were part of the team who designed the course, and we were asked to facilitate this initial event. 25 new leaders from the Ontario Parks organization were selected, and we put them through their paces. The timing was hard for me. I’m also doing some truly exciting change management work for Natural Resources Canada. I am committed to doing my best for my Ottawa team, so though my days were filled with leadership activities, my nights were filled with change management writing and research. By Friday, I felt like I’d been “rode hard and put away wet”.

But it was soooooo worth it. Every moment, from sitting around a table at a restaurant on Sunday night with people I barely knew celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, to standing in front of a room of new leaders and asking them…no, demanding, that they think critically, outside the box, and telling them I won’t settle for less than their best.

And they gave it to me.

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New leaders, thinking really, really hard!

Each day, I challenged them to write down and share their  3 most valuable “Take Aways” with me. Some were handed to me, others were shoved under my door at night, with each participants’ thoughtful input. I wanted to know what makes a great leader; what is unexpected about leadership; what does it take to really lead. Here are some of the responses:

  • Change is inevitable. Be prepared to adapt. You must, if you are going to lead.
  • Managing different personalities requires different approaches.
  • Ordinary people do extraordinary things when they are challenged, inspired and passionate; when they believe and are believed in; when they hit a barrier or when barriers are removed.
  • Exemplary leaders possess vision, courage and empathy.
  • Leadership is saying “no” sometimes.
  • Personal sharing from the heart will connect you with others.
  • Trust people and the knowledge and experience they have.
  • Leadership is about inspiring others to believe in themselves and be the best version of themselves.
  • Leaders are not above followers.
  • Anyone can manage, but not everyone can lead.
  • Don’t be scared to get out of your comfort zone.
A bit of shenanigans is always good for any course!

A bit of shenanigans is always good for any course!

I knew, when this course was over, that it was a great success. As I stood in front of the group, I shared my story. I told them that when I left the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, I walked away without looking back because the family that was the MNR was gone. Over that week, I found it again. It is in the eyes, ears, hearts and spirits of these new leaders in Ontario Parks. Ontario is lucky to have them. And I was so, so very lucky to know them.