What Leaders Can Learn From Pearl Divers

Dig deeper. Look past the first right answer.

Last weekend on my run, I glanced across the harbour and saw this view of a boat on the water.

If we were to glance briefly at the photo, we would only see the boat at the forefront of the image, floating safely in the harbour. We could be forgiven for thinking there was only one boat in the picture.

But if you look more closely, you’ll see another boat in the distance, hiding in the mist.

It’s a bit like that in leadership.  Too often we focus on what’s right in front of us, rather than taking the time to look beyond the glaringly obvious.

When coaching others, one of the most powerful phrases I have found to use are the words, “…and what else?” Sometimes these simple words are said two or more times within the space of one conversation.

I’m constantly surprised and delighted (as are my clients) at how often the third or fourth answer is the best one.

The lesson?

Don’t stop with the first right answer you find.

How often do we stop at peeling back the first layer of the proverbial onion, only scraping the surface of a problem or opportunity? Rushing from the first right answer straight into action mode?

Ask yourself, what am I missing, like I did when I glanced across the harbour?

The best way to get a good idea is to first acquire lots of ideas.  That’s why brainstorming is an effective practice to get into when problem solving or driving innovation and creativity in your workplace culture.

Imagine a pearl diver on an island in the South Seas. He pushes his canoe off from shore, paddles out into the lagoon, dives deep into the water, picks an oyster off the bottom, surfaces, climbs into his boat, paddles to shore and opens the shell.

Finding nothing inside but an oyster, he pushes his canoe off again and begins paddling back into the lagoon. What an incredible waste of time! The reasonable thing to do is dive again and again, fill up the canoe with oysters and then return to shore.

Pearls are rare. A diver must open many oysters before finding one. Only a foolish person would waste time and energy making a separate trip for each oyster.

It’s the same with producing ideas. Many times we will come up with one or two concepts and proceed as if they are the answer.

But the best creative ideas, like pearls, occur infrequently.

And how do you get to the premium pearls? Gather lots of oysters first.

As Emile Chartier, French philosopher, journalist and pacifist once said, “nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only right one you have.”

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6 Reasons Why Senior Executives Should Blog

Today’s post is written by Amy Cunningham – a communications consultant specialising in blogging for businesses and senior executives. Amy is also my blog manager and the other half of The Leader’s Digest. 

If I asked you which company CEO you would most like to have dinner with, who would you choose?

I’m betting your answer is someone you find intriguing, interesting and inspiring.

Someone you have a significant amount of respect for.

Someone you think you’d get along well with, learn something from and have a bit of a laugh with. Am I right?

Let’s delve a little deeper. How did you come to form such a positive connection with this person in the first place?

My answer to that question is reputation.

We are living in an age of instant global connectivity. Yet the reality is, many CEOs still feel lonely at the top. A recent *survey validated this fact, showing over two thirds of CEOs feel isolated – and likewise, many employees, stakeholders and the general public feel disconnected from organisational leaders as well.

So, how can leaders work towards bridging this gap? One of the most accessible and effective ways CEOs and senior executives can elevate their individual and organisational reputation is through blogging.

Here are 6 reasons why CEOs and senior executives should blog:

1. Relationship building. One of the first lessons we learn in business is relationships are everything. Blogging is a highly effective tool for building and maintaining both internal and external relationships.

Why? It builds trust, credibility and ultimately, reputation.

The importance of building strong relationships with stakeholders before the proverbial hits the fan is illustrated in a crisis. CEOs we know and trust will always come across more positively in a crisis than those we have no prior relationship with.

2.  Personality. If giving your company a human face is high on your to-do list, consider leadership blogging as a tactic.

Richard Branson is an example of a CEO who has done this exceptionally well, through his blog on the Virgin website. Sure, he’s a well known business leader anyway, but his blog is not about self-promotion. It shares useful tips and insights about how others can become entrepreneurs. He even posts some holiday photos now and then which give it a nice personal touch.

3. Thought leadership. Blogging is a great way to establish yourself as a leader in your field. Writing posts about issues in your industry allows you to position yourself as an expert. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential/current employee or client – you want to work with the most experienced and knowledgeable people, right? This doesn’t mean you need to know everything. You have knowledge, expertise and most importantly, an opinion – all you need to do is share it.

4. Employment branding and talent acquisition. Bloggers are essentially authors; publishers of their own (or their company’s) brand. Your blog will raise your professional profile and help direct interest from potential new talent directly to your door. In addition to enhancing the reputation of the organisation you represent, you will grow your own public image – a valuable asset when seeking new opportunities.

5. Communication. The main difference between blogging and more traditional forms of communication (i.e. print advertising), is people only read information which resonates with them.

We invite people to read our blog post and if they find it interesting enough to read, a ‘conversation’ of sorts can take place – when the reader submits their feedback by leaving a comment/s. This can lead to an exchange of dialogue where questions can be asked, solutions offered, ideas transferred and most importantly, relationships developed.

We can’t have this type of interaction with a billboard or an ad in a magazine, but we can with bloggers.

Research* also portrays senior executives who blog engage with external stakeholders better than those who don’t.

6. It’s inevitable. CEO ‘sociability’ (i.e. use of social media as a form of professional communication) increased from 36% to 66% between 2010 and 2012. Having a strong digital presence is no longer just a ‘nice to have’.

Peter Aceto CEO, ING DIRECT Canada, summed it up nicely when he said:-

“Successful leaders will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community, customers will be table stakes in the future. They are talking about your business anyway. Why not be included in the conversation?”

If you want to earn a seat at more ‘dinner tables’, consider entering the blogosphere. If you’re reading this blog post, you’re already half way there.

About the author:
Amy is a communications consultant specialising in helping business leaders to harness the power of blogging. If you’re interested in finding out more about Amy’s blog management service, get in touch.


*Data from the Executive Coaching Survey by the Center for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and The Miles Group.

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Oops! We Made A Mistake…

Recently I received an email from e-book company Kobo which started something like this:

Oops! We Made A Mistake…We’re sorry – we messed up. We want to apologise for any confusion this may have caused…

I was surprised at my response.

The irony is, even though they had admittedly stuffed up in this instance (and ticked me off in the process) the way they handled the mishap ultimately left a positive impression on me.

I no longer felt irked. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I felt better about the organisation after they made the mistake than I did before it took place.

Not only did they go up on my personal cool-o-meter, it also increased my sense of customer loyalty.

It made me think about the power of saying sorry as leaders – without any subsequent excuse or ‘buts’; just simply owning up to our blunders in an open and sincere way.

It’s equally as important to say sorry to colleagues, bosses and team members as it is to our customers.

Why don’t we do it more often?

We can hesitate in saying sorry because it can make us feel uncomfortable – even when we know an expression of regret from us is in order.

Here’s why saying sorry is so powerful:

It means you take full responsibility for your part in any interaction (see the 51% rule in any conflict for more on this).
It models the behaviour you want to see in others.
It shows you’re human – and that making mistakes (as an individual and as an organisation) is inevitable and that each mistake can teach us something.
It builds trust, credibility and strengthens relationships.
It makes people feel more positively towards you.

A couple of points to note when apologising:

  • Don’t say “sorry, but…” Saying the word but negates the preceding apology.
  • Follow up with, “and here’s what I’m going to do to rectify/prevent it from happening again.” Or, “this is what I have learned.”

The key thing I learned from this situation? When you’re sorry, never be afraid to say so. Just make sure your apology comes from an authentic place.

And Kobo? They got a loyal customer from using these two simple words.

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4 Easy Ways To Oil Your Team’s Wheels

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to learn vicariously.

Here are just 4 simple things you can start doing today to improve the cohesiveness and general all round awesomeness of your teams:

1. Cut down on email communication. Put down the mouse. Step away from the computer. Pick up the phone or better yet, get up from your desk and go and see that person.

Too many conversations (particularly ones involving conflict) are being had over email trails. Cue miscommunication, time-wasting and clogging of inboxes.

So many dramas, struggles and issues could be resolved if we spoke more and emailed less. Click here to read a good article on the do’s and don’ts of email.

2. Focus on where you are headed as a team and why. Pepper your conversations with the organisational purpose and strategy. Link what they do with why it’s important. Motivation of teams increases if people know why they are turning up to work each day and why their contribution matters.

3. Get better at seeking and giving feedback. See here for tips. Too often I see wasted potential and broken working relationships simply because honest conversations are not being had. The result? Elephants in rooms and everyone walking around (and tripping up on) the proverbial lump in the carpet.

4. Shine a spotlight on what you want to grow. Catch people doing good stuff. Notice when someone does something well and tell them. Many of us think giving genuine and authentic praise is gushy. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Positive feedback,  when it’s genuine and timely, is likely to encourage you to do it again – am I right?

These are four things you can start doing today to become a better leader and improve your team.

You don’t need extra resources, approval or sign-off to get started.

What are you waiting for?

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Sasquatch Dan Video Update

Yesterday we published a guest post by Scott Duncan from Aspire Executive Search – which was, by the way, fantastic.

HOWEVER, a few people have experienced technical difficulties in viewing the video within Scott’s post.

If you were one of these people, please click on the following link: http://youtu.be/GA8z7f7a2Pk

And if you have any further issues, please let us know.

Happy reading…

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Leadership, Authenticity and Sasquatch Dan

Today it is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Scott Duncan to The Leader’s Digest. Scott is the Co-Founder and Director of Aspire Executive Search –  a boutique, New Zealand-owned executive search consultancy.

Now this is an interesting display of leadership. If your life doesn’t allow you time to view the full three minutes, feel free to skip through it at 30 second intervals. I think you will still get the point.

Look at what can happen in under three minutes! I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but smile when I watch this.

There’s something about his carefree abandon, his willingness to try (and fail) and the way he embraces those who literally run to join him.

Putting aside my initial reactions, it has struck me just how many leadership traits this guy, let’s call him ‘Sasquatch Dan’, demonstrates – both consciously and unconsciously:

Courage – Sasquatch Dan is not afraid to put himself out there. Yes, it did look like a rather encouraging and supportive environment, but there was still an element of reputational risk involved. Sasquatch Dan took the initiative and very effectively led by example.

Confidence and conviction – I’m certainly not one to critique anyone’s dance style, but you have to admire Sasquatch Dan’s confidence. To quote a cliché, he was almost “dancing like no one was watching”. Through his approach he was able to inspire those around him to join in.

Openness and acceptance – Sasquatch Dan was not seeking to control anyone. He was open, accepting and inviting of all participants – encouraging and valuing the unique individual contributions of every individual.

He presented a vision, but let the teamwork form the reality.

Enthusiasm and passion – if you agree enthusiasm is infectious, Sasquatch Dan actually went viral (in real life). It was his energy and enthusiasm which motivated the crowd to form. More than anything though, it was his high level of authenticity.

Authenticity is hard to fake.

It innately resonates with people, engendering trust, participation and collaboration.

If a group of people dancing in a paddock is not quite cerebral enough for you, you may wish to consider this Harvard Business Review article on Authentic Leadership.

This study suggests there is no one clear profile of the ideal leader. It states leadership emerges, both consciously and subconsciously, from our unique experiences and life stories.

Authenticity, developed through an appreciation and understanding of one’s personal values, is the spark which ignites our leadership potential.

The quote below talks to the real risk of adopting a leadership style which is not sincere and true. Amgen CEO and President Kevin Sharer, who gained priceless experience working as Jack Welch’s assistant in the 1980s, saw the downside of GE’s cult of personality in those days.

“Everyone wanted to be like Jack,” he explains. “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”

Ultimately, I think it is impossible to be truly authentic until we genuinely understand and embrace our own personal values and drivers.

Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in an exercise with noted Corporate Anthropologist Michael Henderson (see his TEDx Talk here), which highlighted and crystallised my personal value set.

Whilst we may think these things would be fairly obvious, there were some real surprises at the end of the exercise. It became more of an awakening of the subconscious; the elevation of what I felt to what I now know and orientate my decisions towards.

Through this process of examination, I am now consciously more aligned to my values and am leading a more consistent and authentic life.

Some questions you may wish to ponder:

1. What values are most important to you?

2. Is your adherence/lack of adherence to these values impacting your effectiveness as a leader?

3. If you started dancing in a field, would your team run to join you?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Want to connect with Scott?
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Why Leaders Should Welcome Discomfort

This week, my personal trainer pushed me harder than I have been pushed in a long while.

To say I felt “some discomfort” in the days following that mammoth sesh was an understatement. This is me using a straw in my coffee as a result of literally not being able to lift my arms.

But here’s the thing. I was willing to put up with some discomfort in order to get stronger and reach my fitness goals.

It’s a bit like that in leadership.

A leader needs to become comfortable with discomfort.
Tweet: A leader needs to become comfortable with discomfort. http://ctt.ec/_mcx3+ via @suzimcalpine #leadership #nzlead

Becoming a better leader, or person for that matter, requires us to change, grow and develop.  And in order to transform, we must get outside our comfort zone and go into the Red Zone.

As Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane say in their McKinsey article, Why Leadership Development Programmes Fail;

“Addressing the root causes of why leaders act the way they do can be uncomfortable for participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses — but if there isn’t a significant degree of discomfort, the chances are the behaviour won’t change.”

Here are just 5 examples where living with discomfort is a good thing:

1. Managing and addressing conflict.
2. Giving difficult but necessary feedback (aka crucial conversations).
3. Being under the accountability spotlight for a poor decision or bad result.
4. Knowing you need to implement redundancies in order to enable the organisation to survive and flourish (and what that means to the lives of those affected).
5. Generally feeling the weight of responsibility in leading a team of people i.e. the weight of accountability.

What is your relationship with discomfort in relation to your leadership?

If you look at yourself honestly and compassionately, do you find yourself finding ways to avoid being in discomfort? Of sitting in that “too tight shoes” place?

I urge you to change your relationship with discomfort.

Don’t automatically seek to avoid discomfort, but rather see it as a necessary part of being a leader.
Tweet: Don’t automatically seek to avoid discomfort, but see it as a necessary part of being a leader. http://ctt.ec/587q2+ via @suzimcalpine

Welcome it in.
Listen to it.
Tune into discomfort.

What is it telling you?

It may be your discomfort is about guilt of not being as ethical as you should.
It could be you are ignoring your intuition.
It could be you are growing – personally and professionally.

Some of my biggest learnings have been preceded by a period of discomfort. Breakthrough in any sphere of my life has rarely occurred without discomfort.  So it’s ironic that we seek to avoid it.

Learn to live with discomfort.

As leadership guru and blogger Seth Godin says;

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.” 

And as another great leader, John F. Kennedy, espoused;

“Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

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