Do you see what I see?! Our unconscious minds at work.

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

About 10 years ago, a couple of my best friends and I ventured to New York City for a fabulous “girls weekend”!  I have so many special memories from that trip.  One memory that has stayed with me was an encounter we had with a homeless gentleman on the subway platform.  Like many other homeless people, this gentleman was walking along the platform and asking subway riders for spare change.  When he approached us, he stopped, looked down at the money he had collected and offered it to my friend …. my friend happens to be in a wheelchair.  Rather than seeing this beautiful, intelligent and very successful professional young lady, he saw her wheelchair and he incorrectly assumed that she needed the money more than he did!  What you see is not always what you get.  There are so may layers to people, things and experiences, and we need to be aware of our blind-spots and what may lie in our periphery. And while it’s easy to dismiss this story and attribute it to the ignorance of a poor homeless man, we all have conscious and unconscious biases that impact our perceptions/beliefs and influence the decisions we make.  This homeless gentleman was so focused on my friend’s disability that he couldn’t see her many capabilities.  Moreover, if he was able to see the full picture, he would have noticed that my friend and I were both able to “walk” from point A to point B …. HOW we accomplished this was different …. whereas she relied on her wheelchair to walk/move, I relied on my legs.

(Note: I used the example of physical disability, in my story, for illustration purposes. However, any and all other examples of diversity – gender, cultural, age, etc. – are relevant).

Unconscious or implicit bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realizing.  These biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.  We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications. [ECU: Equality Challenge Unit]

Unconscious Bias at Play:

There is no good or evil when it comes to implicit bias …. We ALL, each and every one of us, have unconscious biases!  To prove this, here are some fun examples of our unconscious minds at play.

FrogOrHorse.2What do you see when you look at the picture on the left?  I first came across this picture while attending a workshop on unconscious bias.  When this was presented on the screen, all I could see was a frog?  The facilitator of the workshop told us that we should be able to see a horse, and I will admit, I could not see it!   It wasn’t until we rotated the picture that I saw the horse …. I needed to change my perspective, and once I did, I saw the image very differently.  Today, irrespective of how this picture is presented, I am able to see both a horse and a frog.  Thus, although we all have implicit biases, if we acknowledge and accept that we are susceptible to unconscious biases, we can indeed manage these biases, and open ourselves to new perspectives and outlooks.

Now, I invite you to view this You-Tube video from a workshop on Diversity and Inclusion that was facilitated by Scott Horton, a diversity consultant with Delta Concepts Consulting.  Specifically, play along with audience for the two games that Scott leads which is 2 minutes into the video, and then at the 3:45 minute markerScott Horton: Fun with the Unconscious Mind

As you can see, it’s very easy to get trapped by implicit biases and prejudices.  Intellectually, we know that these stereotypes are not accurate, yet when ideas are repeated over and over, they become ingrained into our subconscious.  One way to manage these biases is to embrace diversity, and open ourselves to differing ideas, experiences and people.

The Importance Diversity and Inclusion:

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” — Anais Nin

The tolerance scaleTolerance Scale, developed by Korn Ferry and shown on the right, describe 5 different rankings for how we respond to others.  You’ll note, that how we place others on this scale is as much – if not more – a function of ourselves, as it is about the person.  In other words, our biases are at play!  Now imagine yourself as leader/manager, and think about the implications that our biases – both conscious and unconscious – have on recruitment (who we hire) and performance appraisals, as well as simple everyday work interaction.

Recruitment is particularly vulnerable to biases.  Why?  Well, when we hire, we look to solve immediate or near-term needs.  In these situations, we tend to skew in favour of homogeneity (“in-the-box” candidate), as we want to avoid the disruption that different perspectives, experience, background and work style may bring in the near term.   Thus, it’s very important that the recruiter/interviewer/hiring manager be cognizant of their unconscious biases and tendencies, and keep an open mind during the recruitment process.

It’s for this reason – our inherent biases and resultant tolerance scale with which we respond to each other – that diversity, on it’s own, is not enough.  Today, most organizations and leaders understand that they need to embrace a diverse and inclusive culture.  According to Korn Ferry, “if diversity is “the mix” then inclusion is making the mix “work” by leveraging the wealth of knowledge, insights and perspectives in an open, trusting and diverse workplace”It’s inclusiveness that moves us from tolerance and acceptance to appreciation.

Inclusive leadership is about giving everyone the opportunity to be heard and feel appreciated.  It’s about valuing both differences, and also commonality to ensure no one stands out too far from the rest.  It’s also about creating a sense of belonging for all and ensuring all team members are engaged and feel “safe to speak up” and share ideas.  After all, the greatest innovators in the world are those who have made their mark not in spite of their differences and the barriers they’ve had to overcome, but because of it!

Diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do for a business …. it’s the smart thing to do!



















Ready, set … collaborate!!

Collaboration is the new competition! When you think collaboration, the world will look a little different and you’ll begin to see opportunities all over the place!

If you’re anything like me, you’re glued to your screens (be it television screens or your devices) and caught up in the excitement of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  After all, the Olympics represent the ultimate of all sports competitions, bringing together the best athletes from around the world.

Through the years, sports has provided us with many valuable lessons and inspirational stories of the true spirit of competition, and the dedication and drive it takes to succeed.  The Olympics (and sports, in general) also provides us with examples of how collaboration can elevate competition to that next level.  Although the athletes compete against each other for medals and represent countries with differing political values, they are unified around a common vision: the Olympic spirit. And this year’s Winter Olympics is extra-special in that it has brought together South Korea and North Korea, two warring nations, who are competing in these Olympics in Pyeongchang as a “United Korea” team!

Inspiring Olympic Stories of Collaboration:

Laditorino olympics 2006es Cross-Country Sprint Relay, 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy:  Canadian skier, Sara Renner, was leading the race when the unthinkable happened – her ski pole snapped.  The Finn skier skied past her, then the Swede and then the Norwegian … seemingly gone was hopes for a medal for Canada of any kind.  However, Norwegian’s Director of Cross-Country Ski Program, Bjornar Hakensmoen, did something remarkable.  He took his own ski pole and gave it to Renner.  Yes, the size of the pole was too big, but nonetheless, this gesture allowed Renner to reach and tag her relay partner, Beckie Scott, who was able to make up a lot of ground.  The race was thrilling with Sweden narrowly beating out Canada for the gold medal.  The Norwegians finished 4th.  Now you may be thinking that the Norwegian skiers and their fans would have been outraged with Hakensmoen for costing them their dream of an Olympic medal …. however, that was not the case at all! In fact, it’s not uncommon for opposing teams to help out with equipment malfunctions in cross-country skiing …  true sportsmanship at it’s best!  And this was the case during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where this time it was a Canadian coach who “came to the rescue” of a Russian skier whose skis had broken, thereby allowing the Russian to finish the race.

Even in the “dog eat dog” world of track and field, we have seen truly beautiful examples of collaboration.  Owens_and_LongThe 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany started out as the tense, politically-charged “Nazi Olympics” but will forever be remembered as the Olympics of Jesse Owens.  Owens won a then unprecedented record four gold medals (100m, 200m, relay, long jump) for the U.S.  During the qualifying rounds for the long jump, Owens had fouled his first two attempts. Facing elimination from the competition if he did not post a qualifying mark on his third attempt, Owens received a piece of advice from German long-jumper, Luz Long.  Long suggested to Owens that he move back the start of his run-up so he would take off well before the long jump board.  Owens easily qualified and went on to win the gold medal, with Long taking the silver.  Jesse Owens later wrote: “What I remember most was the friendship I struck with Luz Long.  He was my strongest rival, yet it was he who advised me to adjust my run-up in the qualifying round, and thereby helped me win“.

Collaboration is the New Competition

collaboration opportunities

Edward deBono noted that “companies that focus solely on competition will die, while those that focus on value creation will thrive“.  Apple’s story is proof-point to this theory.

If we want to move forward, see Apple healthy and prosperous again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. And if people are going to help us, that’s great … And if we screw up and don’t do a good job, it’s not someone else’s fault, it’s our fault. This era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over.  This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry.” – Steve Jobs, CEO Apple in August 1997

The above quote, which foreshadowed Steve Job’s “Think Different Campaign“, marked a dramatic shift in strategy for Apple … one away from a singular focus on it’s competition (namely Microsoft) and towards a focus on “good design” and intuitive customer interface/experience.  At the time, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy, losing $1.5B over an 18 month period, and Steve Jobs realized that change was in order.  He shocked the industry by announcing a “strategic alliance” with Microsoft, which included a $150mm investment in Apply by Microsoft.  20 years later (August 2017), Apple’s market cap was $815B and Microsoft’s was $561B …. both companies successful in their own right!

Competitive Mindset = can foster inward focus; how are we doing vis-à-vis others
Collaborative (Team) Mindset = external focus to the customer; how are we contributing towards the company’s value proposition and for our customers.

Our customers are loyal to us right until the second somebody offers them a better service. And I LOVE that … Its super motivating! If you’re competitor focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Few with argue that Amazon, the company that started out as an online book store, has completely disrupted and reinvented the retail industry. Amazon was ranked in 2017 as the 4th most valuable company as measured by market capitalization, after Apple, Alphabet/Google and Microsoft (Note: as of February 2018, Amazon surpassed Microsoft into #3 spot). Today, Amazon is responsible for about 40% of all online retail sales in the U.S. Amazon’s secret lies in it’s obsession not for beating the competition, but for the customer. Amazon has become a master at anticipating what customers want – sometimes, even before they know they want it!

Competition is not a bad thing, and no one would disagree that the competitive fires run high at Amazon.  Healthy competition IS a good thing, it breeds resilience and is necessary part of our DNA. According to Ashley Merryman, co-author “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing“, competition drives creativity. “Whether professional musicians or school children, studies have shown that competition fuels creativity and improves quality of work. More than that, the skill that makes you a great competitor, such as the willingness to push boundaries, trust one’s instincts, problem solve – those are the same skills needed for innovation“. However, the key is to not get overly wrapped up in the competition, but rather use it as a lever to better yourself …. Competition coupled with collaboration allows you to forge new opportunities, and not just compete for existing ones.

olympics media collaboration

Returning to the Olympic theme, Canada’s broadcasting industry, which is dominated by a few giant oligopolies, provide us with a great example of how collaboration has led to a win-win scenario for all, and most importantly, for the Canadian consumer.

In today’s day and age, consumers want access to all events in real time on a broadcasting format that works for them .…. only collaboration can make this happen! Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, has secured the broadcast rights for the Olympics in 2018, 2020 and beyond. The network will partner with Bell Media (owner of CTV, it’s primary network rival) and Rogers Media.  In the announcement, Jeffrey Orridge, Executive Director at CBC Sports shared, “we are collaborating on the production. We are going to share airwaves, we’re going to share technical resources, we’re going to share our expertise, and we’re going to share our talent.”  For the 2018 Winter Olympics, CBC and it’s partners, are slated to air 871 hours of programming on conventional TV and an additional 2,500 hours of coverage will be streamed to devices …. virtually every moment of the Games will be available to watch by all Canadians, when and how they choose to watch it!  Another Olympic illustration of how through collaboration we can elevate “our game” and create something bigger (and better) than the sum of what each can create on their own …. or in sports-terms, put together a gold medal worthy value proposition!

Speaking of gold medals, the Winter Olympics awaits …. Go Canada Go! 🙂


















New Year, New Beginnings: Navigating Transition!

Transition and uncertainty are not the end, but the start of a new beginning. Today is my tomorrow – I have a blank page to work with and it’s up to me to set goals and be the author of my destiny!
Happy New Year … Here’s to new beginnings in 2018 and enjoying the journey ahead!

Never has a new year truly equated to new beginnings for me as 2018. For the first time in my professional (and academic) life, I start the new year with a completely blank sheet of paper!

Change and transition is definitely scary, but it’s also exhilarating and empowering.  I am the author of my 2018 story …. it won’t just be my story to tell, but I will be crafting it from scratch!  When navigating through uncertainty and transition, goal-setting (“new year’s resolutions”) takes on new importance.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into visible.” — Tony Robbins



When you’re in career-transition, you answer to yourself.  There are no formal performance metrics, quarterly reviews, sales targets, etc. to track against.  There’s also no one to hold you accountable to your goals and resolutions, other than yourself …. it’s no wonder people fall short and give up on new year’s resolutions.

One of my favourite gifts that I received last year was a “gratitude journal” that a friend gave me.  Initially, I started writing 5 to 10 things that I was thankful for each day.  Eventually, I evolved journal to also include a 1 or 2 “contributions” that I made in the day … be it to the contributions to the community, loved ones or to myself.  I started to notice the correlation between the two entries ….. it helped me understand “my purpose.

This purpose in life – ensuring that I live each and everyday with a goal of making a contribution to myself or others – has been vital for me in managing through this period of professional transition.  It’s helped me stay focused, disciplined, self-motivated and energized.  Purpose and clarity of values provide us with a compass to navigate an uncertain future.

In today’s vastly changing world, where managing through uncertainty is necessary for success, more and more organizations are crafting “purpose statements” to inspire employees and express the organization’s impact and contribution on others.


“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

Another goal that I’ve set for myself for 2018 is to “just do” …. not just look to the future, but actually move forward!  To pursue progress instead of chasing perfection.  I know it seems simplistic and intuitive, but it’s so easy to be paralyzed by fear of failure or rejection.

“I hope this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.  You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” — Neil Gaiman

This transition is my opportunity to go for it, and pursue challenges and new goals.  However, it’s not enough just “to do”.   It’s also important to track these activities against our goals/purpose to ensure we’re on the right course, and know if we need to pivot and adjust along the way.


This next goal is a key one for me: “Truly be present”.  There’s the old adage that the problem in communication often occurs because “we often listen to reply, rather than listen to truly understand” …. Well, the same can be said for how we live our life.  Sometimes we are so focused on how the particular activity or event leads to our goal or what learnings we should be gathering, that we actually inhibit growth.

As I’ve shared with you from previous blogs, I am taking ballroom/latin dance lessons – something brand new to me, with which I have absolutely no background or experience in.  It drives my dance teacher crazy sometimes because I’m not always present, even though I think I am.  For example, when he’s teaching a new step or choreography, we usually start by watching first … simple enough, right?  Well, not in my case!  Often, as I am “watching”, what I am truly doing is trying to guess where this all leads, that in the end, I completely miss the actual step.  So when it’s time for me to repeat the step … I’m a complete blank.  As it turns out, I am so focused on what I expect “the learnings” should be, that I miss out on the actual experience, and inhibit my learning and progress.

enjoy the journeyYou can’t solve for a problem or attain a goal in the future, if you don’t truly understand or experience it today!

Yes, a GPS can provide you with directions to your destination, but unless you are present and take in the route along the way, you’ll not only always be dependant on that GPS to guide you – but more importantly, you’ll miss out on the beauty and the experience of the journey!



Understanding your strengths and building (and maintaining!) your self-confidence is very important in times of transition.  What’s equally – if not more – important is practicing “self-compassion”.  Self-compassion is NOT self-pity, nor is it shrugging off ownership and responsibility for our weaknesses and failures.

Dr. Kristen Neff has identified Three Elements of Self Compassion:

  • Self Kindness vs. Self Judgment – Accepting (and acknowledging) our mistakes, and focusing on what we can learn from our mistakes rather than being self-critical and judging ourselves for not being perfect.
  •  Common Humanity vs. Isolation – Being open about our vulnerabilities and evaluating ourselves with honesty and objectivity.
  • Mindfulness vs. Over Identification – Understand that everyone makes mistakes and encounters failures and roadblocks along the way.

Self-compassion builds resiliency.  Without the pressure to be perfect and view mistakes and weaknesses as negative, it’s easier to accept feedback and criticism …. and thus, it’s easier to move forward, improve and stick-handle roadblocks as they come along.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.  A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” — Christopher K. Germer

the adventure ahead

Who knows what the future holds, but I’m going to put a stake in the ground and not be afraid to declare 2018 as my year!  Today is my tomorrow …. It’s up to me to shape it and be the author of my destiny, and enjoy the journey along the way!

Happy New Year … Make 2018 YOUR year, too!



Pay It Forward: Redefining Leadership

I love this time of year!  I love everything about Christmas and the holiday season …. the  decorations, the smell of cookies baking in the oven, the music and merriment!  It’s the time of year where we are all children at heart: in it’s simplest form, it’s a celebration of the child within us!

For many, it can also be the most stressful time of year.  We create unrealistic expectations and build it up to be more than it really needs to be.  The holiday season becomes a check-list of tasks and “chores” that we need to tick off, and we get so caught up in our “to do” lists that we lose touch of the child-like wonderment of the season and the true meaning of Christmas.

The same is true for leadership …. We often overcomplicate what it truly means to be a leader!

One of my favourite TedxTalk on leadership is Drew Dudley’s “Leading with Lollipops” (in fact, this video is one of the inspirations behind this blog series and my own perspective on leadership).  In the TedxTalk,  Drew shares a funny story from his life, and calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as an everyday act of improving each other’s lives.

We all have the ability to lead and inspire others through simple every day “random acts of kindness”.   When we over-complicate what it is to be a leader, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it every day from ourselves and from others.

In the words of Colin Powell:

“Being kind doesn’t mean being soft or a wuss.  Kindness is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of confidence.  If you have developed a reputation for kindness and consideration then even the most unpleasant decisions will go down easier because everyone will understand why you are doing what you are doing.  They realize your decisions must be necessary and is not arbitrary or without empathy.”


kindness slide 2

As we head into the chaos of the holiday season and embark on the new year ahead, let’s redefine leadership and Pay-It-Forward for 2018: Make time in our every day for simple, every-day random acts of kindness, and also take the time to seek out and tell others when they’ve inspired us! 






You’re how old?! Sshhhh…!!!

It’s attitude and character of a person that define cultural fit and leadership capabilities, and NOT the date stamped on their birth certificate!  

Oh to be that age?  You may be thinking, “what age is she referring to” …. Truth be told, I wish I knew the answer to that very question, myself!

Conscious or unconscious, ageism is the most common bias in the workplace today, and is especially true for leadership roles!  Interestingly, let’s look at the key attributes of a good leader:

  • Integrity
  • Courage
  • Vision
  • Judgment
  • Passion
  • Empathy
  • Emotional Intelligence

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t seem to find an “expiry date” on any of these attributes?  I also don’t know of a boilerplate “start-date” where these qualities kick-in either.   Yet, many of us find ourselves creatively engineering our resumes and talent profiles in order to “mask” our age and mitigate against prevailing age-biases that may exist.

“Some people say they have 20 years, when in reality they have 1 years experience repeated 20 times” – Stephen Covey (to Richie Norton when Norton asked if he was too young to train older executives for Covey)

For me, like so many others, I took on the role of a leader well before my first job as a “manager” …. I was a teacher assistant for the kindergarten classes when I was a youngster in elementary school, school-bus monitor and Red-Cross trained babysitter in my neighbourhood.

Although leadership came naturally for me since childhood, I still needed to “prove my worth” and fight off ageism biases at the workplace.  I can’t tell you how often I heard the phrase “you have plenty of runway in your career” whenever I was considered (and passed over) for roles.  In fact, believe it or not, a colleague once suggested that I “gray my hair” and wear glasses at the office, so that clients (and colleagues) would be more comfortable with me in a management role!  Yep …. in this day and age, where everyone wants to look younger and younger, I was advised to age my appearance so that I could overcome biases – conscious and unconscious!

ageism traffic light

With the blink of an eye, I have now gone from having huge runway (green lights ahead) to entering into the “tail-end” of my career (amber lights).  Have all those leadership attributes, hard work ethic, drive and creative thinking skills that I possessed not that long ago now expired?!  Nope, not at all … If anything, I’m at my prime, growing as a leader and learning new things every single day!  Yet, I find myself needing to omit dates on my resume and avoid references highlighting my 20+ years of experience …. Again, to battle biases and give myself a chance to demonstrate my capabilities rather than simply be dismissed because of my age!

Yes, I realize that ageism biases often come into play not because skills/capabilities are in question, but instead it’s a question of cultural (workplace) fit.  At the end of the day, it’s the TEAM that drives success, so most organizations “hire for fit, and train for skills“!   

I am going to digress for a moment and tell you a dance-story ….

Just over two years ago, I signed up for Ballroom and Latin dance lessons.  What surprised me was the diversity of students at the studio(s).  For those not familiar with Ballroom and Latin dancing – it’s not an “old persons” hobby!  There was a large number of students in their 20s and 30s (early in their professional lives), quite a few in their 40s and 50s (prime of their careers), and another fair-sized group aged 60 and over.  And while the diverse range of ages may have surprised me, what AMAZED me was that everyone at the studio is “blind to age” …. On any given day, you’ll see 30 year olds dancing with the 50 year olds, and the 40-somethings sharing a story with the 60+ and 20 year olds.  Everyone at the studio is united by a common passion and purpose: dance!  

Moreover, not only do we spend time together at the dance studio, but we’ve formed genuine friendships.  We’ve organized social events (on and off the dance-floor), hosted dinners, taken road-trips and vacations together, and supported each other in our various professional roles.

While most of you reading this may not be students of ballroom and latin dancing, I am sure you’re involved in book-clubs, meet-up groups and other hobbies where you interact with others of all ages, and relish in that “diversity of thought” with everyone coming away richer from having participated regardless of their age!

Why is it possible for individuals across generations to collaborate for a common purpose and passion on the dance-floor and outside the office, yet we face ageism in the workplace?!   It’s attitude and character of a person that define cultural fit, and not the date stamped on their birth certificate!  Bias busted! 

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” – Anais Nin

Finally, diversity of thought is more important today than ever.  In this digital-age, where customer experience and ease-of-use trumps loyalty, it’s very important that businesses understand the needs and expectations of their customers.   As a female in my 40s, I shouldn’t be hiding my age to potential employers/clients, but rather the opposite.  Consider this … over the next decade, women (notably those 50 and over) will control two-thirds of consumer wealth and be beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in the history of America (with similar statistics in Canada).   Yet this same demographic – the very customer segment that most businesses will be battling for – are often cast aside by executives and recruiters on the notion of “lack of organizational fit”!   As Gord Nixon, former CEO of RBC, often said “diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do for an organization, but it’s more importantly the SMART thing to do for the organization’s success”!

Whether it exists as a conscious bias or unconscious bias, ageism is very real in the workplace.  We can’t “wish it away” or pretend it’s not there, but instead must face it head on!  And while I may be in that underdog position by virtue of my age …. I’m definitely still in the game!

“Life may not be the party we hoped for …. but while we’re here, we may as well dance” – Jeanne C. Stein

Care to join me for a cha-cha… ?  I will see you on the dance floor!  🙂










Clowning around ….

Leadership lessons from Cirque du Soleil

We’ve started a new autumn Canadian tradition in my family.  No, we don’t head up north to the country-side to take in the Fall colours.  Instead, we patiently tackle the traffic congestion and venture to Le Grand Chapiteau in downtown Toronto for the colour and theatrics of a Cirque du Soleil show!

My first encounter with Cirque du Soleil came by way of an “employee year-end town hall” that I attended in December 2010.  I had taken on a new leadership role, and was leading a team of young millennials whose talent and drive more than made up for their lack of business work-experience.  Given that this was a bank employee town hall meeting, the focus of the event was on Cirque du Soleil – the business – although we were treated to a short 10 minute performance, as well.

I could not help but be completely drawn by the similarities between a circus (theatrical) company and a large corporation …. and even more specifically, the parallels between the role that a clown plays in a circus production and that of a great coach/leader!  And I was completely blown away when my team later gifted me with a “jester’s hat”!  Yes, I had a young team that loved “clowning around” and playing practical jokes.  The gift, however, was not given in jest to poke fun at my leadership style, but quite the opposite …. It was  given to me with genuine respect and appreciation.  This talented group of young professionals saw beyond the laughter and magic-acts, and recognized the leadership lessons shared by the clown during the mini-performance.

Business Lessons from the Circus

What started out as a relatively small troupe performing in Quebec in early-mid 1980’s, Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”) has grown into the largest theatrical producer in the world!

Not unlike today’s “digital disruptors” with their scaled-down, customer-focused business models who are wreaking havoc on large corporations and traditional service-based business …. Cirque du Soleil was also a disruptor, changing the landscape for not only traditional circus-acts, but the broader theatrical production industry.

Cirque du Soleil opted to forego with performing animals which formed the core of traditional circus productions, and instead adopted a theatrical “character-driven” approach.  Interestingly, while audiences won’t see elephants, lions and tigers, Cirque (and other “nouveau cirque” acts) chose to keep the role of the clown as a central story-telling character.  

Key “leadership traits” we can learn from clowns:

1. Catalyst for Imagination:

Clowns represent “eternal optimism in the face of failures”.  Essentially, clowns are catalysts for our imagination and encourage us to overcome our fears of failure or rejection, and put our imagination into action!  Clowns do this by celebrating both failure and success!  The audience (and other actors present on the stage) cheer on the clown by way of laughter and applause, and encourage (not discourage) the clown to give it another try.

One of the things I’ve noticed during the Cirque du Soleil productions is that the greatest level of authentic two-way engagement between both performers and audience usually takes place during these acts featuring the show’s clown.  Audience members not only cheer on the clown, but occasionally are also called on to actively participate in the act.  The clown is not on his/her own ….. Performers and audience members come together as a team to encourage the clown in the face of failure.

Likewise, in business, role of a great coach and leader is to inspire team members to learn (not hide from) mistakes, to reach for new challenges and work together as a team towards success!  Teams cannot be afraid to fail.

2. Connecting the Dots:

Very early in my career as leader, my boss and mentor, shared some advice that has always stayed with me …. A great coach and leader isn’t striving to be the “MVP” or star of the team.  Instead, great leadership is about building a team of stars and MVPs who excel both individually and as a team on the playing field.  While occasionally it entails leading on the field, most valuable coaching lessons occur off the playing field.

In most, if not all, Cirque du Soleil shows, the acrobats are the true stars …. the audience marvels at their death-defying talent and artistry.  The clown’s role is primarily “between acts” …. To interact and engage with the audience and “weave together” the broader storyline and key messages for the audience.  Through humour and story-telling, the clown showcase the artists on stage, and engage and relate with the audience, to help bring the story to life!  

3. Rhythm and Timing: 

A key competency for any clown is what’s referred to as “pointe fixe(a good sense of rhythm and timing).  You’ll often see the clown interact and engage with the audience before the show begins.  The clown establishes a very real rapport with the audience – and often “sets the stage” for what’s to come …. Creating the overarching culture and vision for the show.

Great coaches have to interact with key leaders, they need to build trust and rapport with their teams, and they have to have a solid understanding of the broader environment (customers, competitors, etc.).  These relationships and contextual understanding helps the coach develop their own “cadence” or “playbook” for success!  A joke only works when it’s timed correctly.  Likewise, the pieces of the puzzle all need to fall in place at the right time and in the right way to truly build a winning team for bot short and long term success!

I genuinely look forward to autumn every year so that I can spend time with my family enjoying the latest and greatest Cirque du Soleil show.  Like everyone else in the audience, I am mezmorized by the amazing and awe-inspiring talent of the performances each and every year.  As a leader and coach, I also enjoy reflecting on the character of the clown in each of the shows ….Observing how they interact with the audience, how they leverage humour and story-telling to highlight the key themes and messages, and how they inspire courage to take on challenges in an attempt to make the impossible, possible!

And for all you leaders out there ….. Wear your jester’s hats with pride, I most certainly do!  


Say yes to new adventures … Leadership insights from skydiving!

It’s curiousity that inspires us to conquer our fears, reach for new dreams, and explore new horizons!

You can smell the newness and energy in the air …. it’s “back to school season”.  For most, it’s that dreaded last long-weekend of the summer; for others, it marks the start of new adventures and challenges!  My favourite Labour Day memory is from 2009.  Together with a few friends, I decided to “take the plunge”, so to speak, and signed up for a skydiving experience of a lifetime!

You’re probably thinking “why would I ever take any advice (much less advice on leadership) from some risk-seeker who accepts a challenge and jumps out of a plane?!”  Well, the best lessons in life come from our experiences – both successes and failures – and that’s no different for lessons on leadership and coaching!

To quote the legendary Babe Ruth (who many consider as one of the greatest sports heros in American culture): “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.  Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back”.  

As you can see from the photos of my skydiving adventure, the view of the earth from above is absolutely breathtaking …. and experiencing this was beyond anything I could have ever imagined!  We sometimes confine ourselves (and limit our goals/dreams) to what’s in our peripheral vision. Skydiving helped open my eyes to the unlimited possibilities and opportunities that were achievable by conquering fears, embracing challenges and being open to new ideas and experiences!

Without risk, there is no reward!  Success requires the bravery to both conquer our fears and turn our dreams into reality!  As a leader or coach, this means ensuring your team is encouraged to grow and evolve – or better said, do not feel discouraged from trying new things and making mistakes.

This is especially true today, in this digital age of “disruption”, where customers/technology/markets are constantly evolving, and businesses are being disintermediated by the next great “app”!

Change leadership is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s essential.  Be a distruptor (i.e.: be open to change) or face disruption!  On paper, this seems like a no-brainer.  However, in practice, we know that change is not at all easy.

The two most powerful motivators for momentum in any change initiative are fear and inspiration.


Most are probably reading this and saying, “nope, that’s not me”!  Well, truth be told, fear is most often the starting point for most change.  Fear is a powerful motivator …. it’s a catalyst for action!  Today, “threat of disruption and disintermediation” have become new rallying cries and momentum builders for change initiatives across many organizations.

The irony is that fear disrupts true creativity!  With fear, we are motivated to take action and find a solution (which is definitely a good thing) …. The caveat though, is that often the solution we are seeking is one that takes us back to our “comfort zone”.

Using a sports analogy, it’s like running on a track …. Fear is that starting pistol that gets us off the ground and moving forward.  In actuality, we’re not moving forward per se, but running (or racing) away from the initial starting block and then we take a circular pattern and run towards the finish line, which ironically happens to be the same point that we initially started from!

Going back to my skydiving adventure …. I absolutely loved skydiving, it truly is an experience that I will always remember vividly.  But, as much as I conquered a challenge (fear), the truth is, I’ve never been motivated (inspired) to try it again!  For me, skydiving was about conquering a fear, not inspiration to achieving a goal!


Inspiration breeds curiousity … curiousity leads you to new paths and goals.  It’s akin to running a marathon rather than running on a track.  It’s a slower start, and we are no longer racing away from a starting block but instead are moving forward and running toward a new path.  And as in all marathons, there are pitfalls and stops along the way … we stop for nourishment (which serves as encouragement for our bodies and minds) and we occasionally even stumble or stop/slow down for a breather.

Going back to skydiving ….  My greatest insight that I’ve taken away from the experience didn’t come from the jump itself, but on the preparation prior to the jump.  Those of you who have skydived would understand.  It’s all about the preparation before the jump …. the physical, mental and emotional prep, and ensuring you have the right equipment and tools for the jump itself!   I remember vividly sitting on the plane before my jump (I was the first jumper in our flight/cohort).  It took physical strength and endurance to sit steady and positioned at the ledge of the plane fighting the wind, and waiting for the go-ahead.  It also took mental stamina to withstand the butterflies in my stomach and million thoughts (anxiousness, fear, excitement) running through my head.  [Note: “Included in the gallery are a few photos of my skydiving preparation]

How does this relate to inspiration and change ….?

We need to be more than just leaders, we need to be coaches!  We need to focus on skill-building to ensure our teams have the relevant skills required to position themselves for success both today and more importantly, for tomorrow ….. and, we need to BUILD MENTAL READINESS by inspiring and motivating our teams to constantly strive to grow and improve!  Mental readiness and curiousity does not evolve from fear, but inspiration!

To truly inspire, we need to make it safe for our teams to take on new challenges and goals … and yes, to fail!  Our goal, as leaders, should be to inspire and develop “curiosity” in our teams.  It’s not just about creating a culture of innovation “for the sake of innovation”, but for a broader purpose and vision.

For me, creating this safety zone included leading by example, which included being open and transparent about my own experiences (successes, failures, and learnings).  As an authentic leader, I didn’t try and create any illusions about the end state – after all, with any change, there’s no guarantee what the change is going to result in. Instead of focusing on the outcome (the what), I focused on the journey … and sought to create a sense of excitement about the journey and experience ahead!

One of my absolute favourite quotes is from William Arthur Ward:  “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  Speeches, videos, books and courses are good …. they serve as a kick-starter, but real change is not a “once and done” event, but a journey.  And journeys involve traveling and experiencing together …. not simply “showing” (photos) and “telling” (events/stories).  A picture may be worth a 1000 words, but an experience is the real thing!

To close, true change leadership comes from inspiring and rewarding curiousity, and not simply motivating through fear …..  After all, it’s curiousity that inspires us to conquer our fears, reach for new dreams and explore new horizons!  At the end of the day curiousity and inspiration trump fear!