Archives September 2022

To Be a Better Leader: ‘Unlearning’ Is More Important Than ‘Learning’

This article was featured in Community Now Magazine from ‘September 2022 Volume 5 Issue 2’

For decades the leadership ‘Talking-Heads’ emphasized that good leaders were learning leaders.

I, like you, fell for that platitude. But quite frankly, I think unlearning may be more critical.

I recently had a conversation about the changes we have seen since we grew up in the 60s.

Such as; A family friend’s son publicly transitioned from his birth gender of female.

In the 60’s, there were jobs that women were not allowed to do. Pot led to debauchery. LGBQ people were harassed, jailed, and ejected from institutions like the military. People of colour were routinely openly and legally the victims of racist policies. First Nations people were kept behind locked gates.

Today is where unlearning becomes essential.

Can you unlearn things you would have bet the ranch on?

Since the discovery of thousands of Residential School unmarked graves where babies & children were unceremoniously disposed of, we have been steadily unlearning the history that was taught us. There is a whole other version of history that includes people of colour and events so brutal it is heartbreaking.

I have spent the past few decades unlearning and expanding my view of how the world was made. And how we got here.

And celebrating the changes: women are serving in the military as combat soldiers. LGBQ people are proudly out in the open. ‘Off-Colour’ humour that was once perfectly acceptable is now recognized as horrifying.

These changes are 100% needed. We need to recognize the different versions of history and acknowledge that other people have perspectives that are as valid as our own.

The Post-Pandemic Workplace

Return-to-office planning is ramping up, and as many companies have experienced tremendous change in headcount over the past two years, the transition back to the office introduces the challenge of welcoming new team members and reorienting existing employees.

We know that many of us need to unlearn what the traditional workplace looks like. From space to desks to resources, for new to returning workers to what our leadership team looks like and does.

Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, we need new methodologies to guide our organizations to face unprecedented challenges — and opportunities — to create a better workplace experience in the post-pandemic era.

We need to unlearn that headcounts and floor space are signs of importance and value. As the economy reopens, competition will be intense. Everyone will return to a changed workplace. Expectations will differ from person to person and could create tensions across generations at work.

These new sensibilities will affect how leading companies attract, retain, and inspire talent for many years. Culture is rooted in community and the “social infrastructure” that connects people and shapes how we interact.

The modern workplace will need to foster in-person and virtual relationships, build communities at work, and allow people to achieve more.

It is super hard to unlearn something.

It is a truism that nothing is harder to do than to unlearn something you hold to be true.

For many of us, historical leadership models point to outmoded arrogance and assumptions that the leader has a hold on reality and truth.

When leaders are 100% sure about something, they convey inflexibility. In turn, their obstinacy discourages debate and dialogue. Whether they are aware of that fact or not, a leader who radiates a high level of self-assuredness communicates to those who follow that they must agree with their boss or remain silent.

This leads to compliance and complicity — even willful blindness, which can lead people not to bring up big problems when they see them.

In his article “The Simple Difficulty of Being a CEO,” leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni refers to this trait as “invulnerability” and says it’s one of the temptations of a CEO that can lead to failure.

“The adage ‘Don’t let them see you sweat may be appropriate for actors or salespeople, but for leaders, it’s a problem,” he writes.

“Arrogance hampers your ability to build trust among your people.”

Lencioni says that when leaders do not admit to being wrong, employees mirror that behaviour, which becomes “a never-ending posturing exercise, where real dialogue dies.”

The longer a successful leader has been around, the more this assuredness can tune out different thinking, approaches, and ideas.

Don’t be that leader.

Here are three shifts you can make to continue learning and unlearning:

Shift #1: Engage in continual learning — and never assume you are done learning.

How? Ask open-ended questions that begin with “What” or “How might we?”

Shift #2: Be present and “quiet the chatter.”

How? Carefully analyze the critical events or communications that challenged your thinking and beliefs. Write them down, then reflect on which of these might be ones you need to unlearn.

Shift #3: Welcome diversity in thinking and approach.

How? Immerse yourself in a divergent perspective to gain a deeper understanding of it. Follow new people on social media, watch different news channels, and keep your mind wide open.

Remember the phrase, “Minds, like parachutes, work best when open.”

You may have to unlearn what you once thought true and sure to get your mind opened


Who would have thought that in 2022 a worldwide pandemic would have been the least of our worries?

It seems quaint now that Europe is on the verge of the Thord World War.

Here in Canada, we witnessed a horrifying mass-murder

And of course, the recent loss of Queen Elizabeth seems to have cast a pal across our country, Britain and the Commonwealth 

We watch the news with fascination and horror over recent events and concern.

I have spent quite a bit of time with clients, prospects and friends and what the rest of the world is missing is that most are horrified by recent events.

Fear for their Nation, families, communities, lifestyles, and livelihoods.

In short, they are scared and living in scary times.

If you are a leader, you carry a responsibility to deal well with scary times, for your conduct impacts not only those in your personal life but also employees.

What follows are several thoughts for leaders concerning yourself, your family, your company, and your community.

Leading Yourself through Scary Times

Your employees deserve better than you being an ass.

1)  Watch your stress – A contagious virus or an insurrection is undoubtedly something to take seriously. Nothing is gained, however, from adding stress and anxiety to the situation. It is a challenge dealing with these big hairy ugly problems that are entirely out of your control. Still, if individuals in leadership positions exhibit unnecessary anxiety or stress, one problem turns into two: the original problem and our stress level. It can be helpful to remember that few things are either as good or as bad as reported.

If you feel anxious, turn off the TV, Twitter or the radio, disconnect for a couple of hours from the relentless pounding of hyperbolic news and get outside. Distance and open space give perspective – something that is easily lost when caught up in the whirlwind.

2)  Take care of yourself – it is an excellent time to get some rest and make sure your health stays good. Eat well, exercise, and carve out some “you time” – this is not a selfish notion. It will help to ensure that your decision-making remains sound.

3)  Know that it will end – It is unhelpful to put a date on the calendar when you suspect things will be better because you have no control over that.

In the middle of crises, the world seems to shrink around us, and all we can see is the scary mess of the current situation. At those times, it is helpful to raise your chin just a bit, look out further, and remind yourself that time will move on and things will improve.  

Leading your Family through Scary Times

1) Don’t get too caught up in business – If you are a leader within your organization, you are rightfully concerned about your business and your employees. Attend to that, but don’t lose sight of your family. They may also be scared. Your kids need to see a parental role model who projects strength and calmness. Your significant other needs a full partner. You need not have all the answers – you need to be there – not just in body, but fully present with your heart, mind and ears.

2)  Be Together – Scary things can sometimes make us reassess what is important in our lives. We can often get great strength from our family and friends – and we should openly turn to them at times of stress. 

Read about being exceedingly human.

Leading your Company through Scary Times

1)  Opportunity #1 – I recently talked with a good CEO who noted that as his company has been reacting to the rapidly changing operational landscape for their business, they have come up with some ideas that should have been implemented earlier. Adversity sometimes gives us the kick in the rear needed to make changes we should have made long ago.

2)  Opportunity #2 – If you are in a leadership position, make sure to note those staff members who show up ready to help when you need it most. It is a chance to identify your real Stars – the people you want to invest in.

3)  Opportunity #3 – Do your best to treat your staff well through this difficult period. The company is under stress, but so are your employees and their families – they are scared too. You are on stage right now. Your employees are watching how you respond. Thoughtful acts of kindness and understanding will be magnified and remembered – so act accordingly.

4)  Opportunity #4 – This is a hard one, but accept there will be a financial hit. That is how the world works: things go up and down. When customers are being hit with adversity and are fearful, be as generous as you can with customers under stress. When you respond to their needs with understanding and kindness, you are taking the opportunity to improve your business relationship toward more of a full partnership. 

5)  Be the Chief Reminder Officer – More is better regarding communication. In the present situation, many will be working remotely for the first time. Don’t worry if your communication is repetitive – repetition can be reassuring. It is also okay to share concerns – your employees are not children and can deal with reality. If you fail to communicate, their imagination will fill in the gaps with fears worse than reality.

Read about being the CRO

Closing Thoughts

Watch for Emotional contagion – There is a psychological phenomenon called emotional contagion that can infect a group, a business, a town, and even a nation. It refers to a human tendency to mirror or take on the emotions of those with whom we interact. It is particularly evident when the emotion being spread is fear – and as mentioned above, fear is the emotion that negatively impacts decision-making, which is one of the most important things a leader must do. 

Humans are drawn to drama, and the pessimists among us seem odd to enjoy being on stage – those two factors make for a bad combination. You can help to stop the spread of emotional contagion  by:

  1. Being mindful of the phenomenon so you can resist it,
  2. not constantly reading the latest “news” on the concerning situation at hand from such questionable sources as your inbox, Facebook, and Twitter,
  3. staying informed, but only at reasonable intervals and exclusively from reliable sources,
  4. stop making every conversation in your day about the frightening topic,
  5. actively reminding yourself and others of the blessings all around, and
  6. graciously accepting what you can and cannot control.

You, my friends, will successfully come through this and even thrive if you focus on taking care of yourself, your family, your business, and your community.

And remember the great Canadian philosopher, Red Green, advice:

How to handle underperformance – Productively!

Most people want to be successful in their job.

Consider the following suggestions when you observe performance that is not meeting your expectations:

  • Make sure you and the individual have the exact expectations and goals, as a mutual understanding of performance objectives is critical to managing performance.

Read why High Performance is not the same as High Potential.

  • How:

Schedule a conversation with the person and make sure you have enough time not to be rushed

Ensure that you have a mutual understanding of the employee’s performance objectives

          • Ask the person to describe what they are trying to do and how they view their performance. DO NOT interrupt and allow the employee to talk.

Listen carefully and thoughtfully to the person’s view of the situation.

          • Paraphrase what you heard the person say to ensure you understand
          • Ask the person to repeat what they said, but in different words

A Poor Performer Costs Money, But If You Like Them, It Will Cost You $76,500* – Two Approaches To Cut That Cost

Once they are finished, consider what they said and then share your expectations and perceptions.

Discuss any discrepancies between your expectation and what the employee has told you by:

          • Be specific about your expectations for goals and objectives that the employee is not meeting.
          • Listening carefully to the person’s ideas and perspectives and then determining if there is a way to improve the person’s work.
          • If the poor performance results from a lack of skill, knowledge, or experience, give specific direction to provide coaching and development opportunities.
          • If the poor performance results from conflicting priorities, clarify your preferences for this person.

Once you have a shared understanding of the situation, refocus the conversation on the future, not the past.

Ask the person for their ideas and solutions for closing any performance gaps.

Agree on the steps to be taken and a time frame for each step

Read about performance management fails & what to do about them

Follow up on the performance regularly by scheduling meetings and informally with regular check-ins.