Michael Bungay Stanier: The Art of Leadership

img_1722“Can you stay curious just a little longer and rush to questions and advice just a little bit slower?”

If you have been following my blogposts you already know about the fabulous day that I spent at The Art of Leadership conference on Friday.  Michael Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit was a  vibrant presenter unique from the other guests, with his wild, flowered shirt and participatory style of presenting.  He got the 1600 participants up on their feet, meeting fellow conference attendees and role-playing their coaching skills.

Michael has sold over 100 000 copies of Do More Great Work and divides work into:

  • Bad – mind numbing meetings utilizing time you will never get back or dealing with emails that “grow like weeds through the cracks in the sidewalk”.
  • Good – getting the things done that are in your job description.
  • Great – the work that engages you, has meaning and impact

He had the audience divide their work into these categories on a pie graph to consider how they are spending their time each day.  He described the rat race of eating at your desk, feeling tired, working late, working at home yet not really knowing what was accomplished during the week and offered coaching as a solution to strengthen teams an do more great work!

He shared 5 practical questions that make a difference when coaching team members including:

  1. What’s on your mind?  He referred to this as the “kickstart question” which gets to the issue quickly.  It is  an open ended question and requires the coach to sit back and listen only.
  2. What’s the real challenge for you?  This question helps to focus on the real problem, not just the first one.
  3. And what else? He referred to the AWE question as the “best question in the world”.  The first issue is rarely the only issue or the biggest issue.  It stops the leader from jumping to advice.
  4. What do you want?  He encouraged the group to “be lazy” when asking this question and continue to just listen as this can be tricky for the employee to answer.
  5. How can I help? This helps to empower the employee to reflect on the specific assistance that they are looking for and ensures that the coach does not just start offering advice.

He encouraged the group to spend more time listening as the job of the coach is to help the team to learn and expanded t hat “people don’t learn when you tell them things”.  Michael’s simple but impactful coaching questions will be helpful in working with teams.  His presentation was strong and will be remembered for both content and style as he did a fabulous job getting 1600 people role playing with enthusiasm!

“Remember that if you are working really hard in a coaching conversation, something has gone wrong”

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93. The Velvet Hours (Alyson Richman)

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-9-36-13-pmAfter reading The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman for book club last January, I was pleased to find an audio copy of her newest book through my local library.  I love reading historical fiction that includes some real life characters and storylines.  The book was well-narrated and ALMOST made me look forward to my commutes.

Richman has weaved an engaging tale of love, beauty, resilience, desperation, loss and courage into this story set in France during WW2.  Solange Beugiron meets her grand-mother, Marthe De Florian  and begins recording her life story including the history of her stunning portrait which hung over the mantelpiece.  Having been newly introduced to Marthe she learns more of her story with each visit and understands her life which began as the daughter of a laundress.  To escape this harsh life and ensconce herself in a life of beauty and treasures, Marthe becomes a kept woman after giving up her only son for adoption.

As Solange learns about her patriarchal history, but about her late mother’s heritage.  As she learns about her family history, she also learns about herself. Marthe’s life has been mainly contained to her apartment, with her beautiful things and carefully curated art while Solange has to make difficult decisions impacting her safety during WW2.  Wartime history always makes the reader ponder the difficulties and despair of that era and makes the reader appreciate life and freedom.

I appreciated that the epilogue detailed the true story of an apartment in Paris which had been left untouched for 70 years.  The rent had automatically been paid by Solange until her death.  When the apartment was opened, it revealed important art including the painting described in the novel which is depicted in a video embedded in the link above.

Alyson Richman’s bio describes her as an accomplished painter and the recipient of a degree in art history and Japanese studies.  Her knowledge and appreciation of art is blended into both The Lost Wife and The Velvet Hours.  The author is working on her 7th novel The Family Cloud and lives on Long Island with her spouse and 2 children.  I have enjoyed these two novels and will be adding her other works to my growing TBR pile!

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Kevin Patterson: Grimsby Author Series

img_1738The second speaker of the Monday night Grimsby Author Series was Kevin Patterson, promoting his latest book, News from the Red Desert.  This author who also practices critical care and outreach medicine is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on a sailboat in Saltspring Island.

His novel was introduced as a “contemporary war novel” trying to help readers to understand the chaos of war.  Patterson was heartfelt in his discussion about both the war in Afghanistan and his novel.  He shared that he had been a “terrible infantry officer” but was able to pursue his medical studies in the military.  He ended up in charge of the artillery base in Shiloh where the soldiers were quite healthy allowing him enough free time to start writing short stories.  After amassing an “incredible collection of rejection slips” his work began to sell.  He joked that “if it had been a more animated place, I probably would have hung out a cafes and flirted with waitresses” but instead he became an author.

Initially, Patterson was optimistic with the military role to help the Afghan people leading to a happier future for the country but the sad fate was that the mission was not a success.  He began to consider the relationship between journalists and the media, which he referred to as “infotainment”, with combat and war zones.  He feels that the “media is intoxicated with war” and that “excitement and enthusiasm builds up covering war stories” and the media becomes “the architects of the war” and how it is perceived by consumers of the news. News from the Red Desert features a female correspondent as the main character who tries to make sense of the chaos of the war.

When questioned about his approach to writing, he shared that he typically writes our a chapter, sentence by sentence.  As things happen, he may jump ahead making notes for subsequent chapters which are waiting for him when he gets that far.  He feels that there is danger in planning too carefully because writing like true life is full of dead ends and can be “circuitous nonsense”.  At the same time, the story needs to move ahead so there is a balance between writing to the end and following a map.

Patterson stayed to sign books and the puzzle as to why his fingers were blue was revealed as he signed books with a fountain pen and a pot of ink.  I look forward to read his earlier book, Consumption, set in Rankin Inlet.

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Gail Anderson-Dargatz: Grimsby Author Series

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-16-02-pmI have been looking forward to meeting Gail Anderson-Dargatz after reading Turtle Valley and A Recipe for Bees.  Her first book The Cure for Death by Lightning is in my growing to be read pile and is on the CBC list of 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian.  This British Columbia author not only writes amazing Canadian novels but shares her craft through an online mentoring program and a summer writer’s camp on Manitoulin Island.

After the glowing introduction, Gail noted how impressed she was with the packed room.  She shared that she does not always get such a great introduction and I will have to share that the moderation of these events is part of the success of the Grimsby Author Series.  Ken is always well-researched and shares keen insights about each author.

The Spawning Grounds had taken a long time to write and Gail shared that the years prior to this book had included the loss of her parents, a divorce and then a remarriage after catching up with an old friend and falling in love.  These major life changes along with the blending of their families kept her busy.  As the mother of 4 children also, I can understand how she could be too busy to write!  Her husband is responsible for the terrific photographs in Turtle Valley which introduce each chapter.  What a great creative project for a couple to share!

Prior to reading the first chapter, Gail shared that she had began with the image of cartwheeling eagles (see video) which she described as a mating ritual where the flying birds, lock talons and cartwheel through the air.  She had been privileged to witness this event and was surprised to see the eagles remain locked together and fall into a bush which sometimes can lead to starvation and death.  This image and her fascination with rivers inspired the novel with the salmon country setting.  She joked that the “spirit of the sockeye led me to write the boy meets fish story”.

The moderator questioned her about her inspiration of writing the boy at the river and she shared that the first time that she had met this boy was in a dream where he was standing on the surface of the water with the sounds beneath.  Gail said that sometimes “characters walk through our dreams” and agreed with the moderator that this was a “velcro moment”.  The boy in her dreams had stuck with her for more than 20 years.

“Writing fiction is largely a subconscious act”.

It was also inspiring to grow up with “the stew of magic stories” shared by her parents.  This included the story her mom told about being hit by lightning and those that her dad had learned from Shuswap sheep farmers.  These magical moments blend with the magic of our nature and the boundaries formed by rivers which have historically divided the First Nations people from the settlers.  She writes about these issues of her communities but feels that it is a “mistake to have a message that you want to preach” when writing. Although she writes about her own community, it was interesting to hear that most of her writing takes place on Manitoulin Island since she “needs to leave the home environment in order to screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-19-30-pmwrite about it”.

I am excited to have 3 signed copies of Gail’s books today including The Cure for Death by Lightning which now has a Gail Anderson-Dargatz original drawing of a cow.  When Gail learned that I was the blogger who had connected with her, previously sharing my reviews, she stood up and gave me a big hug.  She is clearly a warm individual who supports and mentors others in their writing.  I am looking forward to reading The Spawning Grounds but since I have  exceeded my book buying budget this month, I had to ignore the temptation to buy a copy to have signed and will be looking to borrow a copy from the library.  :(

Watch for my next post about the second author of the evening, Kevin Patterson as well as more posts about The Art of Leadership Conference!


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Peter Aceto – The Art of Leadership

img_1720“Leadership as an incredible responsibility because we really do have a very big impact on the people we lead”

Peter Aceto has written the book Weology:  How Everybody Wins When We Comes Before Me and shared that he does not have his own office, his own parking space and doesn’t have a title imprinted on his business card.  He focuses on team and believes that everyone has an important role in Tangerine (formerly ING direct), the company that he has been CEO since 2008.  In a conversation moderated by Ron Tite, he shared his insights and advice on working together as a team.

The first question that Tite asked is why he would ever share the secrets that give Tangerine a competitive advantage in a book?  His answer was that his company creates an experience that is different and his book helps to gather new customers and works as a recruiting tool for those who “think different” which is important for the company which has an “ideology of leadership where if you put we before me, everybody wins”.

He laughed and said that he cringes when people refer to him as a banker despite the fact that he has spent 90% of his career in banking.  Instead, he things of himself as a “student of leadership” and expressed how he has learned many lessons, made mistakes and studied other leaders while considering his leadership as a “constant evolution”.

Aceto strives to break down the stereotype of the CEO and told the story of coming to work late and driving around the parking lot looking for a space just like everyone else.  He feels that he can share ideas with his team, they will take it and make it 10 times better by working together which makes him “incredibly proud”.  He loves to hear “what employees will do for a client” and notes that there are some senior members of his team that started out working in the call centre.

He makes an effort to get to know members of the team, making connections gives him energy.  He feels that it is a true luxury to hear front line feedback and that in the past, companies “focused too much on the shareholders at the expense of stakeholders”.  He likes to involve the customers through advisory groups.

“Make connections, they pay dividends”

Listening to him speak, he really did seem like the guy next door, running out to watch his son play soccer and talking about his 13 year old daughter when he stressed the importance of women filling key leadership positions.  I am looking forward to reading Weology and am happy to add a signed copy to my bookshelf!





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92. The Best Kind of People (Zoe Whitall)

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-4-00-53-pmAfter all the excitement of The Art of Leadership Conference, I have taken a break in my postings about this event and finished reading my second book from the Scotiabank Giller Prize short-list.  Reading Zoe Whittall’s book The Best Kind of People was an escape from my own life to consider the challenge of families living with the accusation that their spouse/father/co-worker is a sex offender.  Whittall delves into the Woodbury family’s lives after George, esteemed teacher at the Avalon Hills prep school, well-liked member of the community and patriarchal leader of his family was accused with the attempted rape and assault of several students.

The Woodbury family life was sent into turmoil when the police arrived, removing George in handcuffs along with his computers and many items from the family home.  Joan, his wife, took a leave of absence and struggled to decide whether her husband was capable of participating in this terrible act.  Sadie, his teenage daughter, became a pariah at school and began skipping classes, experimenting with marijuana and alcohol and temporarily moved to her boyfriend’s home to escape.  Andrew traveled back and forth from his home in New York, where he was a lawyer who lived with his partner Jarod, to support his mother and sister.  The family dealt with their own issues and doubts, none of them really knowing what to believe.

The book was divided into 6 sections:  The Prologue describing George as an upstanding citizen and a hero who had thwarted a potential murder in the school. The First Week, The Next Four Months, The Week Before the Trial and The Trial sections share the details of each family member’s struggle. The Epilogue gave a brief update on each main character so that the reader could understand  what had happened after the trial.  Each section described the frustration and struggles that the family struggled to deal with.  Joan went back to work and began attending a support group. Sadie made new friends and was taken advantage of by a local author who wrote about the case.  Andrew depended on his partner to support hime yet also kept some distance between his past and current situations.

The book was unique, it makes the reader consider how family members can be blindsided by these kind of accusations, not knowing what to believe and feeling a huge sense of loss and confusion.  The Best Kind of People is one of 6 nominees for the $100 000 prize which will be announced on November 7th.  I did enjoy reading it and will be interested to read further works by this author.  I think she did a great job of writing the ambivalence and frustration experienced by this family but do wonder why, as a Canadian author, she chose the setting to be an American City close to New York?

Zoe Whittall, who is younger than I am, grew up in Quebec and now lives in Toronto.  We share the experience of being alumni of Masters Programs at the University of Guelph.  She is currently working on editing the 14th season of Degrassi and is teaching at both the Universities of Toronto and Guelph.  Whittall will be participating in an author event in Hamilton next weekend and while I wish I could attend, I have other commitments and will keep my eye open for future events.  As the Giller Awards announcement comes closer I would recommend reading this glimpse into a family devastated by these charges who may never really know the truth!

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Ron Tite – The Art of Leadership

img_1711I have to admit that Ron Tite is a new name for me in the field of leadership and he was an enthusiastic and motivating speaker!  He has written a book called Everyone’s an Artist and combines his experience as a stand up comic (Second City) with advertising and creativity.  He had the audience laughing and is a fabulous speaker.

He began by talking about Steve Martin – we all laugh thinking of him as The Jerk, The Father of the Bride, in roles on Saturday Night Live.  Tite had the audience reflect on how this 70 year old has “completely and constantly reinvented himself” going from roles as a stand up comic, to television, to movies, to writing books and screenplays and most recently, to curating the Lawrence Harris exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Tite reinforces that this reinvention has “lead to an amazing career” and that reinventing themselves “is what great leaders do”.  He spoke of the Top 10 brands and provided examples of how they have reinvented themselves including Apple, Google and Microsoft.  He even used the example of Barbie, saying that if “Barbie can change, you can change”!

Tite identified some key areas for the leaders in the room to consider:

Focus on Your Art – which he expanded to finding out what your “art” is.

Eliminate Time Sucking Maggots – don’t just eliminate these maggots but reinvest your time into your “art”.  This suggestion garnered many chuckles and I am sure that the audience was considering all the things that they could reduce – for me, I need to tame my inbox!

Mindless Accept Syndrome (MAS) – reconsider blindly accepting those meetings that pop into  your calendar.  He did not show the following TED talk but referenced the works of David Grady.  The video is worth a view and certainly made me laugh as he mimicked the teleconference issues we experience EVERYDAY!!

Be a Rebel with a Cause – follow a higher order belief by leading with your values and considering “purpose before profit”.  He said that this is “why you do what you do” and gave the example of the CBC giving up the profits of other programming to broadcast The Tragically Hip’s last performance.

“I don’t care about your values – I shouldn’t read them, I should experience them”

Be a Rockstar – Starting with a  video of 1000 individuals performing the Foo Fighter’s Learn to fly video in a small town in Italy, he shared the importance of face to face interaction.  Instead of management by walking around, he feels that many of us practice with “management by reply all” and stressed how essential connection with our teams is.  Telling stories, reinforces behaviours and “the stories we are passionate about, we tell over and over again”.  Leaders need to consider “what is the story I have to tell and write?” and need to “write the stories of where we want to get to”.

Be Anti-establishment – Stick it to the man, even if you are the man – Tite says it takes courage to be anti-establishment and to consider new ideas and yet successful “disrupters are companies that are solving the problems the establishment can’t or won’t”.  He shared examples of Virgin Hotels and Dyson who have been revolutionary with new ideas.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Gil Scott Heron) – sometimes no one sees change coming and organizations such as Uber, AirBNB, Square and Tesla show up and have no other competition.

The World Needs Originals, Not Sequels – He showed a picture of Donald Trump and Rob Ford, sharing that these two have followers because some people believe in them because of the fact that they do not look like politicians.  The room laughed when Tite talked about the “presidential haircut” which clearly Trump has not received!  He spoke of WestJet and their originality which has brought them success and a strong reputation.

Ron Tite was a great speaker and the audience was very engaged.  I am looking forward to reading my copy of Everyone’s an Artist.fullsizeoutput_6fd8

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Sir Ken Robinson – Art of Leadership Conference

“Discover what you are good at and live meaningful lives”

img_1708The initial speaker at the Art of Leadership conference was Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in creativity and innovation whose TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity has been viewed by over 41 million people!  He received his knighthood in 2003 for his services to the arts.  His book, Finding Your Element, (which I now have a signed copy) is a New York Times Bestseller.  His talk was engaging and peppered with funny anecdotes which kept the audience of 1600 people laughing and attentive.

His initial concept was that “all people are born with tremendous talents” which need to be discovered and that human resources, like natural resources, are “highly diverse and you need to dig down”.  He talked about the difference between aptitude and ability and that humans are very curious and “absorb most of what we know from the people we are with”.  Unfortunately, organizations often ignore the potential talent that is available and miss opportunities for greatness.

“Diversity is the vitamin of innovation”.

He quoted a statistic from a Gallup Poll that over 70% of individuals are uninterested or disengaged from their jobs and that the World Health Organization predicts that the 2nd most prevalent cause of illness by 2020 will be depression.  He feels that the key to solving this problem is “finding something you are good at and something you love” since it is all about energy, both spiritual and physical, to keep going.  Heads were nodding in the audience with this piece of advice.

“If you love what you are doing, it feeds your energy”

He told the story of how his wife of over 40 years loves Elvis.  Apparently Elvis had not been allowed to join the Glee club as it was thought that he would ruin the sound – what a great example of talent overlooked!  He also shared that his friend Paul (that is Paul McCartney) had a similar experience when he hated music when he was in school.  George Harrison was also at that school and the teacher, who had half the Beatles in his class, had missed that talent which Ken thought was “a bit of an oversight”.

Sir Ken also shared the story of Kodak – a company that started with the immensely popular Brownie camera which employed and sustained the community of Rochester, New York.  Unfortunately, the company is now practically bankrupt.  Photography has gone digital and even though they invented digital photography in the 1970s, the company of chemists ignored it, instead choosing to focus on the chemical process of film development.  His example showed that this company “couldn’t see what was right in front of them” when they needed to adapt to both internal and external changes.  They missed a key opportunity as more pictures, and he laughed – selfies,  are being taken than ever.

It is essential for leaders to “develop the creative ability of every community member”. Companies need to have “synergistic relationship with their environments”, feeding off other peoples ideas and encouraging innovation as a “constant refractory process”.  To reinforce that the solutions are often right in front of us, he shared this Dutch video which showed individuals trying to get a peanut out of a tube.  Can you figure it out before the answer is clear in the video?

“We absorb most of what we know from the people we are with”.

“People have tremendous talents but we exclude them because of where they sit or their job descriptions”.

He finished by sharing another video called Yes I Can, which portrayed special olympic athletes showing that “as humans we are capable of extraordinary things” yet “everyone is struggling with something” and that we all have special needs.  His final message was to reframe what we are capable of!


Key points depicted by Carolyn Ellis during the event.

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Art of Leadership Event

I spent an inspiring day, Friday,  listening to a group of amazing leadership and coaching thought leaders at the Art of Leadership conference in Toronto.  Over the next few days, I will share some of the insights from this amazing group of speakers and authors through blog posts and will follow up with book reviews as I read through my fantastic pile of signed books from the conference.


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91. Wenjack (Joseph Boyden)

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-11-10-10-pmAfter meeting Joseph Boyden in June, at the Celebrating Canada’s Indigenous Writers Event, I have been looking forward to his latest book.  Wenjack is a novella that is a “pocket-sized” book with a striking  black and white drawings of the spirit animals which followed Chanie Wenjack in the fictional story based on his escape from the residential school.  Despite its’ small size, the book shares a large impact on readers who consider the terrible legacy of residential schools.

Chanie had been removed from his family two years prior.  After having his name changed, being punished for his indigenous language and suffering abuse, he ran away with two older boys.  He was slower moving and coughing up blood which was typical of tuberculosis, a common infection in residential school settings.  It started out as a warm fall day as young Chanie followed the boys to their Uncle’s home.  His plans were to continue on his journey to his own home, especially since he was not welcome at the Uncle’s.

The real Chanie knew that his family lived along the railroad tracks.  What he did not know was that while they did live along the tracks, they lived 600 km along the tracks!  He began his journey only to die of exposure.  After being forced to attend residential schools for 2 years, he finally returned to his family – in a casket.

Boyden’s story is told from the perspective of Chanie and from his spirit guides, the 12 animals that are depicted in each chapter  of the story.  It is a creative version of Chanie Wenjack’s true experience which is a dreadful part of the Canadian history.  This is a novella that EVERY high school student in Canada should read as part of their history curriculum to understand the experience of residential schools and the lasting impact that remains on indigenous families.

This story provides a starting point for learning more about indigenous history and residential schools which had a goal of assimilation.  These schools were built across Canada and included the Mohawk Institute, also known as “the Mush Hole”, here in Brantford.  This building is now the Woodland Cultural Centre which operated as residential school from 1831 to 1971.

Joseph Boyden is one of my favourite authors and I would recommend this quick read as well as his other novels:  The Orenda, Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce.  I can’t help but repost this picture of me with “the trickster” this June:


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