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Leadership in action – be true to who you are

Leadership in ActionI’m no political pundit, but I am a keen observer of people, especially leaders in action.

Earlier this morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast discussion with Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats at a time when her party has been wielding the balance of power and working to support the Province’s minority Liberal government.  Far from being a dry presentation of platform issues, this discussion was specifically geared to address the topic of leadership through change and how to maximize opportunities as they are presented.

As she took the podium and addressed the audience, I was struck by Ms Horwath’s nature as a leader and began to understand why she appears to be gaining significant traction in the current political and economic landscape.

Whatever your beliefs (and mine is not to question or persuade either way) there were some great leadership lessons to be learned from simply watching this very eloquent and charming woman handle the room.

To begin, she set the scene and explained some of the thinking behind recent decisions to collaborate with the Liberals over an unpopular budget rather than force an election.  Effective leadership is not about making the easy choice (which in this case would have been to simply follow the lead set by the third leg and oppose the budget). Rather, negotiating a resolution required a far more thoughtful approach.

She went on to express her ideas and address the questions of the audience in a confident and engaging style. What follows are some key leadership lessons I was able to observe in action.

Acknowledge your critics

One of the most disarming things Ms Horwath did for the audience this morning was to acknowledge where many of them may be holding different views and perspectives on the best form of government.  Not only was this a very humble way to approach the potentially antagonistic crowd, but it was extremely charming and immediately reset the tone of the discussion to more open exploration of ideas.

Anticipate questions and answer candidly

As you might expect, Ms Horwath was well prepared to address the kinds of questions that would arise. While her position for each area was clearly prepared in advance, her answers appeared to come very naturally and unscripted.  The ability to be clear on your position frees you up to be authentic in your response.

Be clear on your role, and your priorities

Like any good leader, there was no doubt in Ms Horwath’s mind what she was there to do this morning. When an opportunity arose, she reinforced her approach and the value proposition offered by her party. But she did so while paying close attention to the needs and interests of the audience. She didn’t dominate the discussion with political mantra but she did adhere to her priorities to shine a positive light on the choices being made and the strong alternative offered by her approach.

Ask for what you want

While much of the discussion this morning was about supporting others and working within the boundaries and limitations set, I heard Ms Horwath explicitly ask the audience for their vote – twice!  She made it clear that she will continue to work with the current structure for as long as required, but would much prefer to lead from the front. Her willingness to ask outright for what she wants, and to not obscure her ambition, impressed the heck out of me.  Too many women are hesitant to state their ambitions and far too shy about asking for what they want.

Demonstrate your openness to fresh ideas

As a leader – there are always moments when you have to confront statements of opinion presented as a question, or unsolicited ideas on how to do a better job.  Not only did Ms Horwath welcome such moments, she was incredibly gracious with her response and actively demonstrated that she would take action on the ideas presented.

Be true to who you are

One final observation I would make is that Ms Horwath is an example of a strong, confident and emotionally intelligent woman doing an excellent job in leadership.  While her gender does not appear to have been a limitation in her advancement, she has a integrative style and subtle approach which I can’t imagine being delivered effectively by anyone other than a woman.


Hot On The Presses…

Having your content published in the newspaper or a quality trade journal can add credibility and exposure for your professional expertise, but how should you go about selecting a readable topic, developing a story idea and pitching your story to an interested editor?
Here are some quick tips inspired by great questions from one of my clients

Read first …

If there is a publication you admire, feel is well suited to your ideas or has an ideal subscriber base for you to reach, scan through several recent editions. Get a feel for the kinds of articles and columns the publication covers. Get a sense of the tone and pitch of their stories: are they deep and detailed, or light and breezy? Do they reference a range of other sources or simply provide “top tips” and practical ideas? What are the hot topics or themes in the area you wish to write about?

Figure out what you might have to say…

Before you write anything, have a clear idea of what you might want to write about and what might be of interest to your target reader. If your topic has been covered recently, how can you build on what has been published already? Where can you add a new or slightly different perspective? Can you bring additional concrete examples or “how to” steps into the discussion?

Why should anyone read it? …

Once you have thought about what’s already been written and what new slant or perspective you might be able to offer – think about what the reader might have to gain from reading your article or listening to your ideas. While an article is a potential soapbox for providing your point of view to a wider audience, it should also provide a call to action and leave the reader better for having taken away some of your ideas. What are the 3-5 points that someone will learn as a result of reading your piece?

Write the Abstract …

Now write a “pitch paragraph” or abstract rather than the full article. This will save you a lot of time and wasted effort writing an article that struggles to find a placement, or rewriting an article which hits the right notes but is not best suited to a publication’s audience. Use 300 to 500 words to outline your core theme, highlight the main points your article will touch on, and an overview of the leave behinds you will deposit in the mind of the reader.

Show where it fits…

If you can, show how your article will fit into the landscape of the discussion topic (i.e., x writer recently referenced this, this article will go beyond that idea to discuss y & z in more detail and demonstrate how n happens …).

These are just a few ideas on how to get your content noticed by editors.  I’d love to hear your hot tips for getting ‘on’ the presses.  

Time to add some inspiration…

Like many, I am an eclectic consumer of all kinds of information sources… taking inspiration from books, music, places and people. Like the namesake of my company, Alfred Russel Wallace and his explorer contemporaries, I actively seek out new ideas and new ‘species’ every day. Granted, many of the sources I read regularly have been found before (New York Times Bestsellers, renowned gurus and recognisable names like Seth, Guy, Mitch, Pam). Others are intentionally a little more off the beaten track. For your enjoyment this Friday, I thought I’d share a little slice of extra inspiration from just some of the blogs I follow…

To all mentioned here – thanks for all that you do.

For insanely practical marketing ideas for the smaller business

For always fascinating insight to the next big thing/s

Hugh rocks my world. Outspoken, irreverent and totally on the money!

Recently discovered, Liz Strauss is a gift!

Great content around branding and positioning thanks to John Gatrell of Pragmatic Marketing

Rosa Say of the wonderful Managing with Aloha and the Talking Story Blog

Great podcasts, insights and provocations from Anna Farmery of

Enjoy! Happy FF

Things that make you go “mmmmm…?”

This morning’s post is inspired by Liz Strauss (via chuckfrey). 20 Questions to Kickstart New Thoughts

Although written in 2007, the questions Liz poses to inspire new ideas are still very valid. The one that made me go mmmmm this morning was #6 of the second 10 “Do you know the most important thing you’ve learned?”

While I have learned many things and I hope to continue learning every day of my life, the most impactful lesson I learned came from a cherished mentor who gave me the courage to trust my instincts.

For me – my instinct kicks in whenever there is a tough choice to be made. It fires up and shows me which way to shoot. And I can tell the difference between instinct and lizard brain because more often that not the instinct brain is telling me to do something which is neither easy or simply – just right. Whenever I steer away from what my gut is telling me, or ignore the inner voice that is trying so hard to guide my actions, it feels false – like I’m trying too hard to do what others think I should.

I try every day to live my authentic and instinctive self, which isn’t easy. Trusting your instincts is about following through with something that feels right – even when it feels risky and against the flow (ESPECIALLY when it feels risky and against the flow). Its the moments that make you uniquely you, and not an automaton. Trusting your instincts can also be about listening to others, taking onboard different perspectives and then being clear with the decisions you are making and why. Its okay to have your instincts either reinforced or guided by others but fundamentally the core must be your own.

So – to continue with Liz’s provocation – Do YOU know the most important thing you have learned?

In response to Hugh…

If you define Art as a process or activity that purposefully seeks to affect the senses or emotions, I challenge you to remain un-inspired by the provocative Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void. Hugh’s eloquence with the jagged line and cutting commentary is pure artistry.  Clearly – his gift to the world is to make us think and have fun at the same time.

Therefore, when he recently laid down the challenge to show him something back; to write 500 words or less to interest and excite him to a cause that he could care enough about to draw one of his infamous cube grenades, I had to throw my hat in the ring!

Now I have to say – I’m not one of those who will try to outwit, outlast and outplay the thousands of other ‘applicants’ that will surely lay claim to this generous offer.  That would mean simply shouting at the top of my voice “Pick Me… Pick Me… I’m the best…” without really adding any value to the process.

See, I figure that Hugh has the mind of an artist. Just as he seeks to inspire and provoke us to a new perspective, he’s pleading with us (his audience) to provide the same gift back…  He wants to feel inspired and compelled to align with the cause and commit to its advocacy.  And perhaps, just maybe, there’s a little bit of soul searching to see if anyone ‘gets’ what he’s doing. Yeah, we all love the cartoons and many of us subscribe to the newsletter to have a social object to circulate. But is that enough??? Are we making the world a different place because we enjoy Hugh’s work?

The Wallace Effect is an entrepreneurial venture still in its humble infancy, but the seeds have been germinating for some time.  With optimal growth conditions, my goal is to provoke new thinking, develop new approaches and inspire full potential in people and their organizations.   Named after Alfred Russell Wallace, who provoked Charles Darwin to go beyond his religious sensitivities and think bigger with his theories, The Wallace Effect is first and foremost an agent for cultural change.  For businesses that are looking to evolve and align their strategies, embed change in their culture and energise their results, they must first consider what prevents them from reaching their full growth potential today and what will help them adapt to their competitive environment more successfully in the future.

In my own way, with the directness of my questions, the candour of my observations, and the practicality of my solutions, I aim to do for my clients what Hugh is trying to do for all of us in his gallery – inspire change.

So Hugh, if you’re reading this – Thank you for making a difference. I would love it if you could help me do the same by expressing “The Wallace Effect” in visual form.

Are you really making a difference???

I am a huge fan of Seth Godin, and others of his cohort. They have taught us all so much about reaching for our full potential and making a difference in the world. They are clearly very insightful thinkers with a massive audience of followers and believers in their message.

Why then are so many who claim to be fans still failing to act differently!!!

In his recent post You’re already self employed, Seth makes a simple and elegant ‘call to action’ to shake people out of their sheepwalk. At the time of writing this some 450 people had retweeted the post and I’m sure by the end of the day many more will have done so.

However it reminds me of the saying

“when all is said and done, more is said than done”.

I have observed the reality that Seth speaks of, in companies where people bemoan the lack of empowerment and autonomy to change their role but do NOTHING to challenge the status quo and help establish better ways. They wait for the organisation to GIVE them the authority rather than claim their own role in leading the way. Even people who have leadership titles often wait to be shown the way….HUH???

And then there are others who clearly think their role is to keep on doing stuff without questioning whether that stuff is of ANY value to the organisation. How many countless hours are wasted on reports that gather dust, presentations that do not inspire change and meetings which put people to sleep?

When you are self-employed you have to demonstrate the value that you bring to the table EVERY day. You have to SHOW UP and be counted. Perhaps if more people did that, they would find themselves actively engaged instead of sucking a paycheque and waiting for the weekend.

So – people – show some respect for the man you claim to rever so much. Don’t just retweet his elegant words and succint messages. Go make a difference….

View from in here…

I recently acquired a great quote from Career Strategist Mark Venning at Change Rangers “Don’t let anyone rent space in your brain for free”…

I love the quote, and it certainly helps place a value on your knowledge and creative energy. This is especially critical for those of us who are seeking income for the value we provide! However, it also got me thinking. What if you could find a way to give a virtual tour to “The view from in here…” . I know from speaking to people that how I view the world and the connections I make between seemingly disconnected ideas to create new direction can (and does) inspire others to do the same.  And I get juiced by hearing back their thoughts and building on things together. Eventually I hope that the mutual exchange leads to something which improves both our worlds. I certainly don’t want to rent space in my brain for free, and once an idea is out there and flying free its hard to ask for a refund!!!! But it does also speak to Mitch Joel’s recent post about networking and the need for it to be a two way exchange.

I think people buy you, your ideas, values and the way you interact with the world way before they buy your work. I want to make sure people can get a taste of the way I think and connect before they buy. Perhaps thats why I blog, Twitter and engage in all forms of social networking (real world and digital). Just as I enjoy having offline conversations that are a mutual exchange of ideas, challenges and discovery, so I hope the online community will respond and add to the dialogue.

Join me – and likewise, share with me a little of the view from over there if you will.