Congratulations! Your name has been chosen for the free ticket to The Art of Leadership on Sept 16th — a $499 value! This lovely surprise email landed in my email inbox just a day or so before the event, and I was delighted. Armed with my recently download ticket, I made my way to the conversion center at the ungodly hour of 7am to be in time for the 8am opening of the doors. Once in the building we were lined up in roped off lanes, presumably until those with the more expensive tickets had gotten in.
Once the lines started moving, our tickets were scanned, and with my Art of Leadership Card with the agenda on the back around my neck, I made my way into the seated area and read the magazine I found on the seat.
I was a bit disappointed that the whole day would be a series of famous speakers one after the other. As someone who loves to learn and train using more interactive methods, this seemed a bit overly informational. “O well, I thought. Such is life.”
The speakers, six internationally renowned bestselling authors and thought leaders however, were all very good. For a more comprehensive summary of each speaker, you can go to this link.
Tammy Heernan, Senior Vice-President Strategic Solutions, Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge, spoke to women and those who supervise or mentor women. She talked about how to think strategically, AND get credit for it! She talked about her own experience of learning not only to think strategically, but to be seen as doing so, so that she could advance her career in ways she desired. Learning to ask strategic questions was not only a great way to gain insight, but to show your ability to think strategically. Strategic breadth as a leader is evident , she posited, through asking connection, impact, and tension questions, with particular a focus on the customer, linking to broader goals, quantifying with numbers, projecting a future focus, and showing the where and how. She distinguished between mere opinion and point of view, which is a clear position or perspective from which something is considered or valued. She emphasized that networking is not an optional extra to the successful leader, but part of the job, including strategic lunches and coffee. She named three areas where such networks need to be built, namely, operational networks (what’s going on), future focused networks (knowing where we are headed), and career networks (who’s mentoring you)
Sir Ken Robinson
The next speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally acclaimed expert on creativity and innovation, was hilarious. His very droll sense of British humour had most of us laughing out loud right away as he told us what an honour it was for us to meet him! He invited us to a personal branding exercise: condense your resume in a single tweet of 140 characters. He reminded us that what makes us different than other creatures is our capacity for creativity and imagination, and that our role in leadership is to cultivate that in ourselves and others. He told a story about the Dalai Lama who had the capacity, when not knowing the answer, to say “I don’t know.” Great leaders know how to ask others what they think.
After a break, Ron Tite took the stage to expand on the creativity topic. Mirroring the concepts in his new book, “Everyone’s an Artist”, Ron told us that taking an artistic approach to business makes you a better leader. For instance, he made the provocative statement, “you have no competition” when you are an artist, because there is only one of you. If you allow yourself to be your unique self, no one can be you. If you figure out what your art is, then you spend all your time on that, not other distractions. People don’t buy what you have to sell, the buy what you believe in. Your stories are more important than your specs.
Michael Bungay Stanier
The best time for me came after lunch, when Michael Bungay Stanier decided to teach us how to coach, and did so interactively. He got us talking to each other, usually in twos, and then actually coaching each other using very simple questions. After distinguishing between bad work, good work and GREAT work, not measures of quality but of impact. Good work is what is in your job description. He asked us how much time we spend doing Great work, and how we could increase this time. Then he taught us how to coach by asking questions and listening, without giving advice. The questions are:
· “What’s on your mind?”
· “What’s the challenge here for you?”
· “and what else?” which you may ask two or more times
· “What do you want?” Often the first problem that shows up will not be the real problem.
· “What was most useful here for you?”
Awesome coaching, he argued, gets to state of vulnerability and connection in less than three minutes.
By resisting our need to fix people and listening well, we say less, ask more, and stay curious. This allows us to go deeper, and allows the other person to resolve their own issues. This can all be done, he says, in about 15 minutes.
Neil Pasricha, the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation, told us how after writing the blog and Book of Awesome to help himself out of a life crisis, he was being seen as a guru of happiness. The problem was that he wasn’t happy. After studying happiness, he realised that happiness was not a reward for success and hard work, but something that we needed to cultivate right now. Easy things you can do that increase happiness are to: perform five conscious acts of kindness a week, take three twenty minute walks a week, keep a journal, meditate, and think of things for which we are grateful. He also reminded us that we make about 295 decisions per day. It helps to automate, regulate, or effectuate decisions that are lower in importance or time consumption, so that we have time to debate the things that actually matter. Finally he reminded us that contrary to popular opinion, action leads to motivation, not the other way round. It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.
The final speaker Tom Peters, perhaps the most famous, came across as somewhat annoyed that he still had to make the points he makes all over the world. His passion for excellence, “tucking the shower curtain into the bath” was met by his passion for making a difference in the lives of employees. To this end he argued that leaders should treat their employees like customers – ‘if you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff”. He made 19 points and barely got to them all. He argued that our principal moral obligation as leaders is to develop the soft and hard skills of the people in your charge. He said that if people were selfish and greedy, they should hire women, who are far better equipped as leaders in the new economy. Teams with less than 50% women need to shape up for their own sakes. Other points were: The most important person any manager needs to manage is her/himself. Blind spots are everywhere in leadership. Return on investment in relationships (ROIR) is more important than ROI and is the only measure that’s sustainable. To this end, ask people who work for you, “What do you think?” bring back hand-written notes, and master “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.” Also, create a climate where it is alright to make mistakes and learn. Try many new things and fail faster and succeed sooner.
Each speaker was also introduced by a notable speaker, and so there were many ideas to play with. Each attendee was encouraged to find someone they could call a couple of times a month in a peer-coaching-by-phone situation. They certainly tried to prevent people from going away and losing all they had learned. I certainly enjoyed each speaker, but it was the coaching technique I learned from Michael Bungay Stanier that I found most powerful, because we actually took the learning and applied it there and then in a way that is seared into my bones.
I am very grateful to the BCODN for giving me the opportunity to attend and hear this group of thought leaders, and so a very big thankyou to you all for your generosity.