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Review: This I Know – Marketing Lessons From Under The Influence by Terry O’Reilly

this i knowThis review first ran in the March 27th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

This I Know: Marketing Lessons From Under The Influence

By Terry O’Reilly

Alfred A. Knopf Canada


It’s not my fault but it is my problem.

This Disney World mantra is worth adopting if you’re serious about delivering superior service.

When customers come to you with a complaint, don’t duck or dodge. Don’t transfer their call, forward their email or tell them to talk to someone else. Don’t pass the buck, say your hands are tied and tell them nothing can do done.

Instead, clean up the mess even if you didn’t make it.  Own the problem and stay with your customer until she gets a solution or resolution.

“Obsessive customer service is one of the best ways to trump the competition,” says Terry O’Reilly, author of This I Know, co-founder of Pirate Radio and Television and a CBC radio host of Under the Influence. “Your competitor’s lack of obsessive customer service is your opportunity. Delivering consistent, superlative, standout customer service is one of the best ways to cause your competitors to find you really, completely irritating.”

Yes, customer service costs money. But you’ll make far more money than you spend, says O’Reilly. “Memorable, outstanding, go-the-extra-mile, I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that-for-me customer service is as rare as a winning lottery ticket. But if played daily, it is a winning lottery ticket for the company. The return on investment is ten-fold.”

That’s because great customer service fuels word of mouth which O’Reilly calls the most powerful advertising of all. Happy customers rave, dissatisfied customers rant and social media amplifies both.

One way to earn those rave reviews is to go the extra inch. “Smart businesses search for ways to deliver the smallest touches to make an experience memorable. The smaller the detail, the more intrigued and impressed I am,” says O’Reilly.

Along with being a game of inches, marketing starts by answering a fundamental question.

What business are we really in?

“Don’t answer that question too quickly. Most people get it wrong. Yet it’s the most important marketing question you can ask yourself. Until you answer it correctly, your marketing will always lack focus,” says O’Reilly. “If you truly know what business you’re in, you will be selling the right thing and solving the right problems.”

What you’re selling and what we’re buying can be two very different things. You sell products and services while we buy solutions. “Customers don’t want your product,” says O’Reilly. “They want the benefit of the product. People buy benefits. Not products. Not features. And they buy these solutions from companies they can relate to.”

Molson isn’t in the beer business, says O’Reilly. They’re in the party business with beer as the social lubricant.

Michelin doesn’t sell tires. They sell safety.

Starbucks is in the coffee theatre business. Nike is in the motivation business. Apple sells personal empowerment while Coke sells happiness.

“You have to quietly observe what customers are really buying from you. They will tell you, but you have to listen carefully. The best marketers are the best listeners.”

Having won hundreds of international advertising awards, O’Reilly is well worth listening to. His book should be required reading for entrepreneurs, small business owners and leaders of non-profit who don’t have monster marketing budgets and ad agencies on retainer.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Difference – When Good Enough Isn’t Enough by Subir Chowdhury

the differenceThis review first ran in the March 13th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough

By Subir Chowdhury

Crown Business


You tell us three things about yourself every time you dump dirty dishes in the lunchroom sink.

Expecting someone else to clean up your mess tells us you’re lazy and entitled. It also shows us that you just don’t care.

And that’s a big problem because caring is the difference between good and great organizations.

So says author and management consultant Subir Chowdhury who works with Fortune 500 companies.

Chowdhury was stumped by why organizations of similar sizes from the same industries achieved markedly different results after working with his consulting team. “It didn’t make sense to me,” says Chowdhury.  “One company achieved a return of five times their investment – adequate to me but hardly spectacular – while the other saw a return of 100 times their investment.”

Chowdhury found that an organization-wide caring mindset explained the difference. “When a caring mindset prevails, truth is valued, people strive to understand one another, concessions are resisted in favour of seeking the best possible result or outcome, and people recognize that quality is everyone’s business.

“We have to do better than good enough. We have to strive for excellence. And that process and way of thinking all begins with developing a caring mindset.”

It’s a mindset defined by four must-have principles.  To be caring, you need to be straightforward, thoughtful, accountable and demonstrate a steady resolve.

“Practice them until your caring mindset has no off-switch,” says Chowdhury about the four principles. “Own them. Make them yours. When you do, you will inspire everyone around you to do the same. The principles are contagious. You can be the difference.”

Being honest, direct, open, candid, transparent and fair with others makes us straightforward. It also guards against lying and deceit and prevents organizational problems from being ignored, downplayed or dismissed.

Being attentive, considerate, unselfish and helpful makes us thoughtful.

“When  we place ourselves in another person’s shoes, or see things from another’s point of view, and then act for their benefit – when we are being empathetic – we are practicing what it means to be thoughtful.”

Taking responsibility makes us accountable. We don’t say something should be done by someone at some point. Instead, we step up and take ownership for getting it done even if we didn’t make the mess or cause the problem.

And we show our resolve by having the passion, determination and perseverance to stay the course when solving tough problems or improving situations. We keep going long after others have packed it in.

What’s our best strategy for developing a caring mindset? Be in the company of people who already have one, says Chowdhury.

Adopt a caring mindset and we’ll follow you as a leader and work with you as a peer. “Anyone can make a difference and inspire others if they adopt a caring mindset. Having a caring mindset has nothing to do with where you were born or how much money you make. You do don’t need to be anything other than who you are.”

So the next time you bring a coffee mug or plate to the lunchroom, don’t dump and run. Wash and dry instead. It’s a small step on a longer journey from good to great.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Your Leadership Story by Timothy Tobin

a-leadership-storyThis review was first published in the Feb. 27th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire and Motivate

By Timothy Tobin

Berrett-Koehler Publishers


We won’t follow you as a leader until we know you as a person.

So if you aspire to lead, you first need to inspire us with your story.

Talk about your moral compass, what you believe in and which values you’ll never compromise.

Talk about your greatest hit, your darkest day and the lessons learned.

Talk about who and what inspires and motivates you.

And talk about the reason you chose to lead, the difference you intend to make and the legacy you hope to leave.

“Your leadership story communicates the message of identity: who you are as a leader, what you believe in, what drives you and defines you as a leader, and how you act,” says Timothy Tobin, author of Your Leadership Story and vice president of global learning and leadership at Marriott International.

“Unfortunately, too often, leaders do not spend time thinking about or planning their story. It is given little thought or attention and it is left to chance. If you don’t tell your leadership story, other people will – and it may not be the story you want told.”

There are two compelling reasons why a leadership story deserves your time and attention.

Knowing your story will make you more self-aware of your strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. You stand a greater chance of steering clear of blind spots that can derail your career, ruin your reputation and drive your organization into the ditch.

A leadership story also gives you a better shot at making an emotional connection with us and then winning our trust and support. You can’t be an effective leader if we’re unwilling or uninterested in following you.

“If I don’t know about you as a person, then I don’t know about you as a leader,” says Tobin. “Leadership is about people. Your ability to connect with people can make the difference between great and poor leadership.”

Tobin cautions against telling a leadership story that’s more fiction than fact. Your credibility will take a hit if what you say doesn’t align with what you do and what we see.

“You cannot fake leadership,” says Tobin. “It must be sincere and real and reflect who you are. You must search your soul for what you truly believe and not just massage what you want others to see or hear.”

Understanding your leadership story is just part of the equation. You also need to tell it. “How you communicate your story tells as much about you as the story itself. If not told right, at the right opportunity and with the right audience, your leadership story can backfire.”

All good storytellers understand their audience. What do we want to hear from you and what do we need to know? What’s on our minds and what concerns us? If you don’t know, ask us and we’ll tell you.

“To effectively communicate your leadership story to your audience, you need to show empathy and establish relevance,” says Tobin. “You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes.”

The best time to tell us your story is when the stakes are high and there’s something significant to be won or lost for you and our organization. Tobin says you need to maximize these planned and unanticipated make-or-break moments of truth. “Moments of truth are distinct opportunities to share or reinforce your leadership story. It is these events that make your leadership story memorable.”

If you don’t yet have a clear and compelling leadership story, Tobin will help you draft it with a series of questions, activities and tips. He also shows why you won’t be a great leader if you choose to remain a closed book or continue to spin a story made up of alternative facts.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.

Review: Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy

egiThis review first ran in the Jan. 30 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Ego is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin


One of the all-time greatest coaches broke into the National Football League by doing unpaid grunt work.

Bill Belichick, who’s coaching in his seventh Super Bowl this Sunday, got his start by analyzing thousands of hours of game film for the Baltimore Colts.

“You gave him an assignment and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done and then he wanted to do more,” said of the Colts coaches.

Belichick didn’t demand to get paid. He didn’t tell the coaches that he was too smart and talented to waste his time watching film. He didn’t expect to be showered with praise for his insights and ideas. He didn’t walk around the office boasting that he was destined for a Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

Instead, Belichick quietly got to work, paid his dues and adopted what Ego is the Enemy author Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy.

It’s a strategy where you help yourself by helping others. You trade short-term gratification for a longer-term payoff. “Find canvases for others to paint on. Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you – that was your aim, after all. Let the others take the credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”

The culminating effect of the canvas strategy is profound, says Holiday. You learn from solving diverse problems for other people. You earn a reputation for being indispensable. You develop new relationships and build a bank of favours that you can later cash in.

We can adopt the canvas strategy at any time and at any stage in our careers. “Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself. The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction; just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

Following the canvas strategy is one way to keep our egos in check and avoid an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

Ego is our enemy, says Holiday. Ego seduces us by telling us we’re special, better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply to us. It’s “the petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”

Learning to manage our egos will keep us humble in our aspirations, gracious in our successes and resilient in our failures.

“What is rare is not raw talent, skill or even confidence but humility, diligence and self-awareness,” says Holiday. “If the belief in yourself is not built on actual achievement you are setting yourself up for a precipitous rise followed by a calamitous fall.”

Social media does us no favours. Talk and hype have replaced quiet action away from the spotlight, warns Holiday. “We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death. So we talk, talk, talk as though our life depends on it. The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.”

And when faced with life’s inevitable setbacks, we console ourselves on social media and indulge in self-immolation. We cry how it isn’t fair and blame others. We traffic in conspiracy theories, promise retaliation and plot our revenge. “We don’t need pity – our own or anyone else’s,” says Holiday. “We need purpose, poise and patience.” We need stoic resilience and increased self-awareness, something that an unchecked ego will block.

Learning to supress, subsume and direct our egos is the best guarantee that we’ll make a difference and leave our mark, whether we’re leading a small business, a major organization, an NFL team or the most powerful nation in the free world.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999..



Review: Mastering Civility – A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath

civilityThis review first ran in the Jan. 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace

By Christine Porath

Grand Central Publishing


One question will define your career.

You answer it every day by what do and say with colleagues at work.

Do you lift people up? Or do you hold them down?

Choose wisely.

“How you treat people means everything – whether they will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you, support you, and work hard for you, or not,” says Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

Sobering stats from the Civility in America 2016 survey show that 95 per cent of respondents believe we have a civility problem, 74 per cent believe we’re less civil now than we were a few years ago and 70 per cent believe incivility has reached crisis proportions.

Incivility takes its toll on our health and well-being. It wrecks morale and productivity. It repels customers. And it’s contagious, spreading and lingering among bystanders who watch people behaving badly to others.

“Incivility usually arises not from malice but from ignorance,” says Porath. “Most bad behavior reflects a lack of self-awareness. We don’t want to hurt others but we do. We’re oblivious and behaving in ways we’d never want to be treated.”

Porath’s created an incivility test to help flag your bad behaviors and blind spots.

Everyone knows better than to belittle, berate and humiliate coworkers or fly off into rages at work.

But do you neglect to say please and thank you? Do you email or text during meetings? Take too much credit for collaborative work? Ignore invitations?  Keep people waiting needlessly? Speak unkindly of others?

To become more civil and inject greater civility into your workplace, Porath says you need to focus first on the fundamentals. Do four things differently and she promises you’ll see welcome changes in how people respond to you.

Start by saying please and thank you. Small gestures of civility matter far more than we think, says Porath.

“If you want to connect with your employee or team, lead with warmth. Warmth is the pathway to influence. It facilities trust, information, and idea sharing.”

Smile more. Kids smile as much as 400 times a day. Yet only 30 per cent of adults smile more than 20 days a day. “Without saying a word, you can use it to put people at ease, build rapport and inspire.”

Build relationships with subordinates. “Relationships with people lower than you in an organization matter. To relate well with a subordinate, you first have to acknowledge him or her. Feeling acknowledged matters. In order to acknowledge someone personally, it helps to actually know who the person is.”

Back in 2012, the CEO of investment company The Motley Fool told employees they’d get their 20 per cent annual bonus only if every one of them knew the names of all their colleagues by year end. At the time, 250 people worked for the company. “He could have issued a proclamation from on high: let’s treat one another like family,” says Porath. “He could have created general metrics around collegiality or culture. Instead, he realized that relationships came down to a few basic behaviors. In order to strengthen interactions between people, everyone should know one another by name.”  The employees learned everyone’s names and earned their bonus.

Porath also recommends actively listening to what people are saying. It’s hard work giving people our undivided attention and it demands a surprising amount of energy and concentration. “If employees don’t believe their bosses are listening, they’re far less likely to offer ideas and helpful suggestions. They’re also more likely to become emotionally exhausted and to quit.”

The good news is our behavior isn’t fixed, says Porath. We can learn to be more civil. “All of us, no matter how we’ve behaved in the past, can improve. If we care the least about ourselves, our work and our organizations, we must improve. Strive to listen more attentively. Acknowledge people. Say hello. Smile more. Look to include others, especially those who are forgotten or who are in need of our understanding and help.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Six ideas worth considering for your career, company and community in 2017

This review first ran in the Jan. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Here are six ideas worth considering in the new year, pulled from some my favourite business book reviews in 2016.

deep workTake an unannounced social media sabbatical.  You won’t miss much. And we really won’t miss your daily musings, deep thoughts, witty observations and running social commentary. Once free of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you’ll suddenly have more time to focus on what’s actually important. “A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World. “It is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.  Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. To succeed, you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing – a task that requires depth.”

hug-your-hatersWhile taking a break from oversharing on social media, start paying attention to what’s being said online about your business. Customer service is now a spectator sport thanks to review sites like Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor. We’re watching to see how you respond to complaints posted online. And we’re blown away when a company responds to our complaints and goes above and beyond what we expected. “In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience,” says Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. “Hugging your haters gives you the chance to turn lemons into lemonade, morph bad news into good and keep the customers you already have. So few companies hug their haters that those that make the commitment are almost automatically differentiated and noteworthy when compared to their competitors.”

snowblowersIf you’re in a leadership role, try talking less amongst yourselves behind closed doors and start listening more to your frontline staff. They likely know the solutions to whatever problems you’re wrestling with and other issues that aren’t even on your radar yet. They have a very clear sense of what’s working, what’s not and how things could work even better. “The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room,” says Steven Goldstein, author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement. “It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

no fearStart encouraging your children to follow their passion even if it doesn’t lead into law or medicine. And never tell your kids to quit dreaming, get practical and settle for a real career that they may eventually learn to like. Even telling your kids to have a plan B in case their big dreams doen’t pan out is not helpful advice.“Since we are protective of our children, why would we send them on a blood-sucking and soul-destroying path?” asks Larry Smith, a University of Waterloo professor and author of No Fears, No Excuses.  “The grown-up world is where talent goes to die. The rules are clear: do what you are told and you get paid; work to live on the weekend and dread Monday; look forward to retirement and hope you do not end up dreading that as well; expect that pleasure or satisfaction in the work is an uncommon bonus.”

work rulesTake a good chunk of your training budget and spend it instead on recruitment. Run your own in-house search firm, give bonuses to employees who make successful referrals and pay a premium for top talent. When you hire the right people, you don’t need to invest as much in soft skill training and development. “The presence of a huge training budget is not evidence that you’re investing in your people,” says Google VP Laszlo Bock, author of Work Rules. “It’s evidence that you failed to hire the right people to begin with. Refocusing your resources on hiring better will have a higher return than almost any training program you can develop.”

human-city-1Start loving the suburbs. To sustain Hamilton’s momentum, we need densification downtown and growth on our suburban boundaries. Like every generation before them, many of the young professionals we’re courting will eventually outgrow their one-bedroom condos in the heart of the city and dream of single family homes with front porches, back decks and driveways. They’ll look elsewhere if they can’t find, or afford, a home to raise their kids in Hamilton. “In reality, for most residents of cities, life is not about engaging the urban ‘entertainment machine’ or enjoying the most spectacular views from a high-rise tower,” says Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. “To them, the goal is to achieve residence in a small home in a modest neighbourhood, whether in a suburb or in the city, where children can be raised and also where, of increasing importance, seniors can grow old amid familiar places and faces. Cities with few children and families will prove fundamentally unsustainable, deprived of a base from which they can draw new workers and consumers, as well as critical sources of both parental motivation and youthful innovation.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Revenge of Analog – Real Things And Why They Matter by David Sax

revenge-of-analogThis review first ran in the Jan. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things And Why They Matter

By David Sax

Perseus Books


Shinola watches won’t track how many steps you take in a day, monitor your heart rate, remind you to stand up and get active, display photos and emails or keep you tethered to the Internet.

Instead, Shinola watches do just two things – tell time and employ hundreds of people in downtown Detroit.

Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis opened his watch factory in a landmark Midtown Detroit building that was once home to General Motors’ research and design division. Kartsotis chose the Motor City after consumers said they’d pay a premium for products made in Detroit. Along with high end watches, Shinola also makes leather goods, bicycles, turntables and other products. Shinola is a niche manufacturer building off the DNA of the city and its people.

“Shinola’s entire brand rests on its location in Detroit,” says David Sax, author of . “The Shinola marketing material is relentless in pushing this narrative of American artisan craftsmanship and ingenuity.

“Shinola may base its brand on a fanciful tale of renewed American manufacturing, but the dollars generated by the sale of its watches, and the jobs those sales have created, are undeniably real. The benefits of these jobs, and the business model of Shinola and other analog industries, have tangible, long-term benefits for investors, workers and communities, which differ greatly from those created in a digital economy, whose own benefit is far less widely spread.”

Yet every city is relentless in the pursuit of digital start-ups, tech companies, creative industries and the jobs of tomorrow. Politicians and civic leaders are quick and happy to throw money at research hubs, technology incubators and coding camps for kids.

Twitter’s decision to hire one person to work in Detroit generated the same media coverage as Shinola opening a factory and employing 500 residents.

“The problem is that analog jobs aren’t sexy in the way tech jobs are to politicians, investors and philanthropists, and the media,” says Sax.

“While the growth of the digital economy is real and will only continue, the benefits of that vast growth on employment, economies and communities have not even come close to matching the hype surrounding them. Those other jobs, the ones politicians and thought leaders don’t talk about – analog jobs – still matter a hell of lot more than do those associated with the digital economy. Nowhere is this clearer than in Detroit.”

Sax says high-paying tech jobs are accessible only to a select highly-educated few who already have their pick of plum jobs. Labour-intensive companies like Shinola create jobs for an analog workforce that can learn new skills while earning a decent middle class living.

Like Detroit, Hamilton also has a well-earned reputation for making things. As the demand for analog products and services goes mainstream, that reputation could help launch new businesses and bring new manufacturing jobs to the Ambitious City.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.

Review: The Leadership Contract – The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader by Vince Molinaro

contractThis review first ran in the Dec. 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Leadership Contract: The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader

By Vince Molinaro



Even when doing nothing, disengaged leaders are doing a number on your organization.

Empty chair leadership breeds mediocrity. Problems persist. Projects derail. Morale sinks. High performers bolt and everyone else follows lame leaders in going through the motions.

Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract and an advisor to senior executives, says we’re suffering from a serious lack of leadership accountability and paying a steep price. Too many of the people getting tapped for leadership roles are woefully unprepared or taking the job for the pay, perks and power.

“We all know that stories of great leaders leading great companies act as beacons of hope but these stories are the minority,” says Molinaro. “More common are stories of empty chair leaders – those who are inept or motivated solely by personal ambition. When our experience of leadership is routinely disappointing, disconnected and disgraceful, we begin to lower our expectations.”

Accountable leaders raise those expectations and build highly engaged workforces by abiding by four terms of a personal leadership contract.

They make the decision to lead and consciously commit to being the best leader they can be.  “Too many theories about leadership just assume that everyone wants to be a leader. But this is a faulty assumption – one that we often don’t realize we are making.”

Accountable leaders make an obligation to serve the greater good, putting what’s best for the organization ahead of self-interest.  They rise to a new standard of behavior and uphold responsibilities to customers, co-workers and the community.

Accountable leaders commit to working hard. “Leadership can be easy if you’re satisfied with mediocrity,” says Molinaro. When you refuse to do hard work, you become a weak leader. Accountable leaders have resilience, resolve and determination.

And accountable leaders connect and build community with other leaders.  These networks and connections foster high levels of trust and mutual support and guard against getting overwhelmed. If another leader asks for help, accountable leaders give it without hesitation.

“These four terms go a long way to addressing the problems with leadership today,” says Molinaro. “We can overcome lame and unaccountable leadership in our organizations when leaders truly understand what it means to be a leader and sign up for the right reasons. It’s no longer good enough to be a complacent or ambivalent leader.”

Along with personal contracts, Molinaro recommends organizations introduce leadership accountability contracts to be signed every time someone moves into an emerging, frontline, mid-level and executive leadership role.

“You cannot stay in your role without signing the leadership contract,” says Molinaro. “If you do, you’ll end up leading in a mediocre way. You will do a disservice to your organization and the people you lead. You will do a disservice to yourself.”

Molinaro maps up daily, quarterly and annual actions for following through on the four terms of a personal leadership contract.

“I believe leading an organization is one of the greatest honours and challenge that any individual can assume. However, it’s not a job for everyone. And there is only one way to ensure that you have what it takes to be a truly accountable leader – you have to make a conscious decision to lead, with full awareness of what that means.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator and lives in Hamilton.





Review: Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement


This review was first published in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement

By Steven Goldstein

Greenleaf Book Group Press


If I was president of the Niagara Health System, I’d invite Edna out for lunch.

Edna was the best of a pretty remarkable group of nurses and health professionals who looked after my mom last week at the St. Catharines General Hospital.

Edna didn’t just provide exemplary care. She genuinely cared about my mom and provided real comfort to our family. While her Sunday shift ended at 7 p.m., Edna stuck around until my mom got out of surgery nearly two hours later. They were still talking when my brother-in-law and I called it a night.

And although she was caring for other patients on the ward three days later, Edna dropped by to offer some last minute encouragement as my mom headed home.

So if I was a senior executive wanting to make a great hospital even better for patients and families, I’d go to the frontlines and look to standout staff like Edna for ideas on what to start, stop and continue doing.

“Interacting with employees and customers on a regular basis is the key to success,” says Steven Goldstein, past chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?

“The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room. It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

Goldstein did exactly that while working for American Express in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That’s where he met John, a window washer who was ignored by every other executive in the building. Goldstein turned an impromptu 45-minute conversation with John into regular coffee breaks and end-of-day pints at a pub.

“I learned more in my first meeting with John than I could have ever learned reviewing reports or even talking to my team. He was extremely perceptive about what was going on in the business.”

So why aren’t leaders routinely connecting with frontline staff? Goldstein says it’s more a matter of will than skill. Yes, all senior executives are extremely busy with meetings. Some are introverts who aren’t blessed with the gift of gab. Others are insecure and believe they should already have all the answers. And more than a few leaders have developed over-inflated egos and take themselves a little too seriously.

Goldstein encourages senior executives to park their egos and venture alone and unannounced to the frontlines.  Don’t bring along an entourage or send in an advance team to stage manage a royal visit.

Take notes so the people you’re talking with know that you’re sincere and serious about their ideas and opinions. Report back to your team and make sure follow-up items are implemented.

“The best way to convince people that you are listening is for them to see clear changes resulting from their feedback. They will connect the dots.”

Be yourself and be natural in your conversations. Avoid being stiff, officious or contrived.

“Most important, have fun and enjoy this,” says Goldstein. “It is really great to get to know the people in your organization, especially the ones who really care about their customers and their jobs. Visit people and talk to them; make this a priority.”

Connecting with employees and customers is one of Goldstein’s five principles of engagement.  You also need to start looking at your organization with an outsider’s perspective, focus everyone’s attention on just two or three key metrics, be transparent with information and instill a bias for action. “Whatever speed you are going is too slow. Companies cannot assume they have endless time to evaluate, plan and launch new initiatives.”

When you have a highly engaged workforce, you don’t wind up doing dumb things like selling snowblowers at a Sears store in Miami. It’s one of many personal stories Goldstein tells from his 35-year career dedicated to helping leaders cure organizational dysfunction.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is grateful to the health care team at St. Catharines General Hospital.

Review: Committed Teams – 3 Steps to Inspiring Passion & Performance by Moussa, Boyer and Newberry

committedteamsmockupThis review first ran in the Nov. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance

By Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newberry



Your organization has a problem.

You need a solution.

Your first instinct is to strike a committee and stock it with your best and brightest.

But should you trust your instincts?

“To committee, or not to committee, that is the question,” say Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newbery.

Before firing off meeting invites, ask whether your organization needs yet another committee? Do your top employees need to spend more hours in meetings? Do they even have the time to spare?


“At worst, a committee can become the automatic default for decision-making – a collective form of punting the ball down the field when in reality an effective decision could be made through other means. As committees proliferate to review every initiative in the organization, it can get to the point where so many exist that people begin to despair at ever getting a proposal approved.”

Moussa, Boyer and Newberry wrote Committed Teams based on their work with the Executive Development Program at The Wharton School of Business.

They recommend asking three questions before striking a committee:

  1. Would the decisions made by the committee materially affect the performance and objectives of your organization?
  2. Is there an existing committee that could make these decisions?
  3. Do these decisions require diverse opinions and input from across the organization, or can they be made unilaterally?

If the answers are a resounding yes, strike away. But don’t assume that a room full of high achievers will automatically gel into a high performing team.

“Keeping the energy up on committees is rarely easy,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “How can you keep team members engaged when they are not required to participate and are likely to put their committee role at the bottom of a long list of priorities?”

Start by getting the right people in the room. “While the point of a committee is to bring together diverse opinions for a special issue, make sure everyone who is in the room has a specific point of view or level of expertise that will add to the deliberations.”

More may be merrier but it can also lead to what’s called social loafing. Studies show that less effort gets applied to a task as more people get involved. Six or seven members will get you the diversity you need while ensuring that everyone keeps pulling their weight.

Recruit team members who are well respected, trusted and connected across your organization. People with high social capital can win trust and lend credibility to the outcome of the committee.

Your committee needs clear answers to two questions before they get to work. What’s it in for me and what’s in it for my organization? Aim for a simple, unified purpose.  “To be successful, every team needs strong, collective goals that members can rally around.”  You don’t want committee members wondering why they’re there and if they’re making a difference.

Assign roles. Confusion over who does what will inevitably lead to stress, miscommunication and disengagement. “Research consistently finds that teams work harder and better when members have clear, interdependent roles that tap into their skills, expertise and sense of meaning.”

Set expectations with teeth. “We are generally not big fans of wielding the stick of accountability. But on committees you need to set clear expectations for participation and agree upon meaningful consequences for when it falls short.”

And finally, uncouple authority and seniority. “Sometimes it is the junior person who needs to take charge.” The authors also recommend establishing informal roles, including caretakers, coordinators and antagonists who guard against groupthink.

Whether it’s a committee, project team or leadership group, get yourselves organized, schedule regular times to check on your progress and adjust when necessary. And to keep your team committed, define your goals, roles and norms upfront. Know where you’re going, who’s doing what and how you’ll work together.

“Flawed or not, teams show no signs of going away,” say Moussa, Boyer and Newberry. “Being good at teamwork is synonymous with simply being good at work. The complexity of today’s world demands that organizations of all kinds seek out the synergistic potential of teams.”

@jayrobb works as the director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.