Je Suis Charlie: You (and we) HAVE To Rethink Leadership

The infrequent visitor to this blog might be puzzled by the an apparent lack of coherence found herein. In the ‘Digest’ section I share many of the timely articles/stories that have captured my attention – all more or less speaking to the scale and scope of profound disruption, the forces that are ever faster shaping our existence.  Elsewhere in ‘Posts’ one will find the sometime chronicling of my journey over the past few years, and my thoughts on the changing nature of leadership.  Still elsewhere, the diligent reader will see that I’m applying myself to the challenge and reward of establishing a CEO Forum to better explore ways of building 15 or so exceptional businesses though peer mentoring and collaboration.

Sadly, the coherence is to be found in the shadow of the tragedy we’ve all just witnessed this past week in Paris, where the forces of ignorance struck out at a society wrestling with just the initial consequences of profound politico-socio-economic disruption driven in turn by exponential technological growth.  I have previously observed that orthodoxy generally can be regarded as a reaction to change – be it in our religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc.), our cultures, our legislatures, our institutions, our organizations – and our businesses.  As the complexity of the world becomes more indecipherable to some, many within our societies are clearly falling back on simpler answer sets for comfort and guidance – a disenfranchised (or perhaps more accurately unenfranchised) population that is growing at an alarming pace.  That this is happening speaks to a leadership deficit that is equally alarming – in our religious leaders of course, but so to in the leadership of our politicians, our community leaders and our business leadership.  When young men (and now women) take up arms against their homeland, there are a great many ‘leaders’  who have failed them, and more to the point, their victims.

If you’ve read this far, you must – MUST – take a few minutes to watch Jeremy Howard’s recent TEDx talk in Brussels – The Wonderful and Terrifying Implications Of Computers That Can Learn.  If you do so you will see that the stuff of science fiction is shaping our world much, much faster than most of us realize – with the attendant consequences (good and bad) on the entities that we lead.  It is not hard to imagine that those seeking a simple and simplistic  understanding of life and their role within it will join the ranks of the ignorant to our collective peril.  In short, if we want a world where each human has the opportunity to be a constructive and participative citizen and is motivated (and incented) to be the best ‘them’ they can be, we need a leadership cohort that is much, much better at making sense of their environments, with the consequent capacity to apply enlightened leadership to the reality of profound disruption.

And who provide the greatest numbers to the global leadership cohort?  Those who run businesses.  Those who are responsible for inventing things, making things, making things better, organizing things, creating employment.  Like it or not, our businesses have been given a societal license to create and distribute wealth and power a prosperous, healthy world.  Our businesses, like it or not, are the engines of societal growth.  On the whole – and as a cohort – we’ve done a pretty inadequate job, taking refuge in the laissez faire POV that ‘it’s not my job’ to think of the bigger picture.  “My job is to  run my business”.  The reality is, if we as a society are to realize the benefits – for all citizens – of profound disruption, then its our business leaders who need to step up and assume the responsibility of true leadership, or else inevitably others will (that societal license I referred to is ‘use it or lose it’).  And where product life-cycles are increasingly measured in months, successful businesses are adapting to a world of constant flux – something government and public sector leadership are structurally prevented from doing.

Simply put, to defeat ignorance we need to create happy, healthy societies that engage their populations – failure to do so will have terminal consequences.

What does it mean to be such a leader?  I have no idea.  But I do know that it’s less about where you look for answers as much as it is with whom you frame the questions, and share in the exploration and discovery of objective solutions.  I know that leadership isn’t found in the self-serving ‘how to be a winning CEO’ lists/articles we are all subjected to, but rather that leadership is nurtured from within.  And I do know that the place to start is at the ground floor – within the businesses that drive our societies.  Every business has the capacity to be an incubator for equitable wealth generation and distribution.  Every leader has the capacity to be an exemplar of enlightened leadership – accepting that when they seek the mantle of leadership they are joining a global community of world makers – who are party both to the defeat of ignorance and the victory of enlightenment.

We are all Charlie.



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I’ve landed (and the how & why of it)

There has been admittedly, a lull in my reporting.  But silence does not speak to inaction or indolence.  Indeed, my neurons have been firing at a particularly active rate of late.  And the point I find myself at in the moment is in fact a landing point.  I have arrived here and have concluded that here marks the beginning of a journey I believe will be profound, remarkable and important – certainly for me and I hope for you.

For those who have followed me and my musings over the last year or so, you will know that I have been exploring options for my next play – my raison d’être.  Something that caught my imagination, my propensity for big ideas – something that mattered.  It needed to be something that leveraged my 30+ years as an intrapreneur, consultant and entrepreneur AND my newfound understanding of the power of leadership coaching. But as I probed and scoped for things to do, I realized that context was for me, missing.  Here I was trying to find my fit in life for the next x-xx years, and I hadn’t nailed the context for life – for living (both capital ‘L’).  Sounds kind of existential.  It was.

So I started scanning and reading articles about innovation and technology.  Tens of articles became hundreds and hundreds thousands.  And not just about geekspeak developments in the pureplay tech space, but about how such advancements were floating all our boats – advances in material science, nanotechnology, healthcare, robotics/AI and so much more.

While I had always considered myself au courant, I found instead that the breadth, depth and pace of change was at a state far beyond what I understood to be.  It was immeasurably more than what that over-used term ‘disruptive’ allows for.  In fact, I realized that we are approaching a watershed moment in human development and history, a time that has the potential to see Man transcendent in all the ways that can be considered good, and yet with the very real possibility that we will either shrink from that future because of fear and ignorance, and/or we will corrupt the nature and quality of that transcendence to something mean and common – even evil.

So.  A pressing future was revealed to me that was at once awesome and terrifying.  Given the potentially terminal consequence of failure, humanity’s picking the wrong door was not an option.  Which begged the question – is our leadership prepared to lead us through, to and beyond this watershed? Do they have the intellect, values, courage and vision necessary to guide us and inspire us?

You will not be surprised that I concluded in the negative – no, nyet, negatory, definitely not. No.

So. Timing is everything.  Just as I was pondering the inevitable decline/demise of us and our collective – at minimum a descent into mediocrity – I discovered a discipline/POV that had been conceived of and incubated over the last half century in the best business schools in the west.  It is elegant, even beautiful, it is startling intuitive and simple, and it is dense. The academics who laboured away at it for those five decades clearly didn’t want anyone finding out about it. The problem is, I think it may represent a new way of defining leadership and empowering leaders that is unique and vital to the imperative of picking the right door(s) that I noted above.  Rather than provide a one-size-fits-all prescriptive answer (like the million biz-philosophies and guru’s du jour), it provides a new way of understanding oneself, ones family, ones business, ones community – ones environment. This way of thinking provides a new framework for asking questions, that in the answering is far more likely to lead to genuine and helpful enlightenment.

So.  (Likely) Problem identified.  (Likely) Solution identified.  We have something like 25-40 years to get our act together and start acting like a species that can make the earth what it can and should be and shoot for the stars at the same time.

Who then to take the lead? Government? I think not – for not only are they too slow, cumbersome and self-interested, their mandate is by definition driven by narrow local, regional and national perspectives – when the best solutions are more often than not, global.  The answer I’ve concluded, is business.  Not the Bernie Madoff, Wall Street-that-nearly-destroyed-us kind of capitalism, but one that reframes itself by asking the right questions and pursuing thoughtful answers (note I didn’t say the ‘right’ answer – more on that later) that engage and profit all stakeholders. No surprise then, if you’ve managed to follow my logic (gold star for you), I’ve netted out that we must distill and develop this new leadership mindset and insert it into an eco-system of millions of actors so that intellectual Darwinism does its job of testing and refining said mindset as an agnostic alternative to a world made small by orthodoxy.

Now THIS is something I can sink my existential teeth into!  Being party to the cracking of the problem/solution definitely captures my imagination, and it certainly qualifies as a big idea, but most importantly – it matters. For the future that is unfolding demands that we each take what we are and do more with it.  So, for my part, I will roll up my 30+ years of intrapreneurial, consulting, entrepreneurial and coaching experience to start the process of distilling, testing and refining this new POV with those of similar mindset – for business leaders who perceive their corporate success as an exemplar, a tool,  for something greater.

Let the journey begin.




Get real about being realistic…

“I need to be realistic.  I need to be pragmatic.”  How many times have you heard that said – have said it yourself?  About your role as leader, and with respect to the pursuit of your personal destiny?

To be an occupier of the C-suite or to aspire to that lofty place, we have learned that being ‘realistic’ is one of the key measures by which we are judged, and by which we must therefore conduct ourselves.  With jaws thrust confidently forward, we know that to lead and inspire – to be executorial – we must be ‘realistic’.  We must look to all of our future possibilities and leverage our understanding of our context to parse from that future the elements that can, in the end, realistically be achieved. That’s what a leader does.

How delusional.

Of course, being grounded/centered in one’s reality is critical to surviving let alone excelling in this world.  But I fear that ‘being realistic’ is all too often – in fact almost always is – a self-limiting filter that screens out possibilities that threaten to challenge us or force us out of our comfort zones, both personally and professionally.

The outcome?  We sabotage our own destiny.  If we limit or mitigate the potential for failure or disappointment by filtering out possibilities that if seized, illuminate our full potential, we limit the greater likelihood of individual and collective self-actualization.

And why do we do this?  Simple.  To lesser and greater degrees and sometimes more rather than less, we lack confidence.  We are insecure. Our insecurity defines the parameters that in turn shape the filters or lenses through which we perceive our context – our reality.  The greater our honest and engaged perception of our context is, the farther out we push those parameters – and so much more of our true destiny is revealed.

To do more than to survive (a pretty low bar), but rather to compete and excel, one must have the confidence to grant oneself permission to perceive and engage reality in all its glory.  To not do so is to condemn oneself to compromised banality.

So how ‘realistic’ are you prepared to be?


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How I Got My Team To Fail More

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The results? The transformation of a venerated but legacy brand into a digital leader.  […]


10 Quotes All Entrepreneurs Should Memorize

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The same is true for entrepreneurs. Just as “bad things happen to good people,” every great entrepreneur regularly stares down the barrel of failure.  […]


Ex-Apple CEO: Innovation doesn’t live on democratic leadership

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Confessions of a recovering consultant

I give good vision.  There, its out there.  I’ve admitted it.  Show me a set of scenarios or possibilities, and I’ll zing you back a VERY clever and convincing corporate mission, vision statement and action plan.  Highly differentiating, and perhaps just a tad ahead of its time.  Not a hallucinatory compromise either – but a real, substantive bonafide vision that gets everyone excited and will make everyone rich.  “Hooray – let the bells ring and the birds sing, we have a future – we just bought ourselves a shiny new one!”

For over 25 years, from start-up to enterprise level organizations, I’ve been the go-to guy for insta-vision solutions.  And truthfully, and said with some humility, I have only had happy, contented customers/colleagues – often repeat buyers in fact.  The only slight wrinkle is that I can’t really think of an engagement that was implemented to any real effect after I cashed the cheque.  Which got me thinking – maybe I was just a lousy consultant.

I don’t think so (one can never know for sure). Turns out that ‘the’ research suggests that the failure rate of consulting engagements is estimated to be as high as 80% (just google it – that’s what I did), a figure that resonated with me, both as a vendor and as a customer.  As Ferdinand Piëch, former CEO of Volkswagen famously observed: “If you want to ruin a company, you only have to try fixing it with the help of external consultants”.

Which as you might guess – got me thinking.  We all know why people hire consultants – to purchase and inject a solution (not unlike a drug) that has the effect of allowing the organization to bask in the glow of residual cleverness and dodge some heavy lifting while providing covering validation of their actions.  Though somewhat dated, the old saw “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM” is a motivation that most senior executives can still relate to.  Of course, it is often the case that subject matter expertise is being sought that simply does not exist internally – such as IT projects.  But as far as vision, strategy and innovation goes – the persona, soul or (most importantly) purpose of a person or an organization is not something that can be outsourced.  It is the source of the greatness that defines the best possible future of the entity in question, and that must always every time be the product of internal exploration, discovery and definition.

The answer is encouragingly obvious.  That is to tap into, leverage and free the experiential, emotional and intellectual energy that defines our individual and collective self. It may well be the case that outside assistance may be required, but it is a coach, not a consultant that is required.  You don’t need to be told what to do, you need to be freed to see for yourself what the future holds for you, and empowered with the sufficient tools to secure its promise.

I think back to one of my highly acclaimed visions that a client paid a considerable sum of money for.  All the key stakeholders bought into it intellectually.  But because none of them were its author, there was no emotional ownership, accountability or connection.  For what its worth, my pristine vision was quite brilliant (if I do say so myself) and theoretically practical. It was also fatally flawed.  When the inevitable challenges presented themselves the intellectual commitment to the project dissolved, with only a champion or two quietly disappearing.  Instead, had the individuals and/or team been coached to find the answer within themselves, a less-pristine and imperfect vision might have been the result, but the likelihood of success would have been far, far, far higher.  Not only that, the camaraderie and sense of accomplishment within the executive ranks – to say nothing of the empowering experience gained – would infinitely better prepare them for future challenges and opportunities.  That the requisite investment of time and money on a coaching conversation as opposed to a consulting solution would have been dramatically less was a bonus.

So, a change in the game plan for both you and me is in order. From now on YOU give good vision and I’ll help tease it out of you.  Works, better, faster and cheaper – and it WORKS.  Sound like a plan?

Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference



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