September 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
Good work is a deeply personal thing. People who are engaged with their work just on a following orders level don’t develop the depth of personal commitment that brings out their personal best. One way to engage others to do their personal best at work is to focus on creating the conditions at work that support their personal growth, on their own personal terms.
The reason leadership is about creating the conditions for people’s personal growth is that we can’t do anything directly to make people grow. Marge Simpson, on The Simpsons TV show, is famous for saying, “People who say you can’t change people are just quitters.” But anyone who has tried to get a teenager to appreciate authority, or tried to get a politician to take a long-term view, knows that we can’t change a person’s outlook by telling them to change their outlook, any more than we can stand over a plant and say “Grow!” We can only take an indirect route by offering soil, water and sunlight. Then we have to let the plant do its own growing.
I experienced the power of the indirect route Read more…
August 27, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
What does it take for your business to be a great place to work? Progress Magazine recently published a list of the Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada, and the leaders of the workplaces on that list have figured this question out, each in their own way. And it’s exactly the each-in-their-own-way part that is the key to leading an award-winning workplace.
There’s no formula for being a great place to work, no 5 Easy Steps. There are however two principles we see reflected in businesses that boast low turnover, few sick days, high internal promotion, few grievances and high individual initiative; all good measures of a workplace’s health.
The first principle is, work is personal. We often say, “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business,” but really we want people to take their work personally, to feel that their work is worth their personal best. Getting people to bring their personal best to work is the holy grail of leadership. If we want to lead people to bring their personal best to work, we have to get personal. Read more…
July 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
When the Nova Scotia Sea School builds one of our expedition boats, we get the wood from Windhorse Farm, an eco-forestry woodlot in New Germany, Nova Scotia, that’s been producing a steady supply of lumber for more than 150 years. Its owners this generation, Jim and Margaret Drescher, have run the business on the premise that their true product is the forest itself. Lumber is a byproduct. Because they and the generations before them have viewed the forest as the product, there is now, after continuous lumber production that has supported several local families for 150 years, more potential lumber growing in the trees of the forest than there was when the first tree was cut. The true source of wealth is not the lumber, it’s the forest.
The true source of wealth in an organization is not its products, but people’s ability to produce those products. Of course, right? But we can see this idea in much more personal terms. Organizational strength is the byproduct of personal strength. It’s not enough Read more…
June 28, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
A famous English scholar of Asian studies visiting Japan managed to get himself invited to attend a traditional tea ceremony conducted by one of the greatest living tea masters. The scholar considered himself an expert on the history of the tea traditions, and viewed attending the ceremony as an element of his research.
The guest at a tea ceremony is expected to follow certain ceremonial protocols, which the scholar knew well and executed flawlessly. He was very pleased knowing he was doing everything right. When the master began to pour out the tea, he filled the scholar’s cup with great care, and kept on filling it, until it overflowed onto the table and then onto the floor. The scholar cried out, “Stop! Can’t you see the cup is full? There’s no room for more tea.” The master kept pouring, and replied, “Yes, like your mind, so full you can receive nothing.”
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from being in positions of leadership over the years is how to proceed on the basis that I don’t know. This approach has opened innumerable doors for me that a need for knowing would have kept closed. I have found this to be true of my work with Read more…
May 9, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
“The bad leader is hated and feared.
The good leader is loved and praised.
The great leader, when their work is done,
The people say, “We did this ourselves.”“
I too aspire to be the leader that Lao Tzu describes, to make my leadership not about me. But generous leadership, selfless leadership, is hard to give. I crave love and praise as much as the next guy. And I often find that in the pressure of the moment, in the rush to get things done or under the weight of my responsibility, I fall back into the small, fearful, controlling view of making it all about me. But when I succeed in leading generously, the results always exceed my expectations.
January 24, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
We usually accept that teaching others can be a generous thing to do. Being willing to learn from others can also be generous, and a powerful way to engage the best in them.
What do your people know that you don’t? Have you made an effort to find out? Have you created a culture in which people expect to learn from each other up and across the organizational chart as well as down?
It may feel a bit unsettling to encourage people under you to show that they know more than you do, but people are always going to know things you don’t know. None of us are omniscient. An excellent way to engage people is to ask them to teach something, and then make the effort to actually learn it and make use of it.
Curiosity practice – If you are not naturally inclined to seek out what you can learn from your team members, you can start with safe territory. For instance, Read more…
January 16, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
I owe my sailing career to Mary Jane. My first job on a sailing ship was as Chief Mate, second in command. First job? And I was Mate? What sense does that make? I think I managed to get hired as Chief Mate because they were short for crew that year and I already had a captain’s license. Never mind that it was the lowest grade motorboat license you could get, limited to lakes and harbours, or that I had not yet used it professionally, or even set foot on a large sailing ship before. I had a license, so I was Chief Mate.
But my ignorance was mortifying, and the captain was appalled that I had been hired. The rest of the crew consisted of two college kids who didn’t know up, an amateur naval historian who thought he knew everything, a revolving lineup of cooks aspiring to be sailors, none of whom lasted very long, and Mary Jane, age 54, who had retired early from her job to fulfill her dream of going to sea. Read more…
January 8, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
Michael Scott was for many years CEO of Precision BioLogic, a medium-sized medical products company rated one of the Top Ten Best Places to Work in Canada. He’s now Executive Chair.
For a few years now Michael has been pushing the chairs back against the boardroom table whenever he sees that they’re out of place. He makes sure the chairs are evenly spaced and neat. He’ll do this at the end of any meeting he’s in, after people have left or as he’s talking to someone who stayed behind. If he walks by the open door to the room and sees another group has left the chairs in disarray, he’ll go in and arrange them, and whoever might be walking with him has to follow him in.
His employees began by thinking this was odd, Read more…
January 4, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
Do you ever feel psyched out, stuck in worried preoccupation, or just completely disengaged and wanting to be somewhere else? What do you do when you’re caught up in an unproductive state of mind and you’re having trouble getting out of it? Do you have practices that help you ground yourself again, so you can proceed at your best?
Here’s a technique that works for me when I need to re-engage myself; when I need to change my mind, in the moment, on the spot. I feel these kinds of things are good to remind myself of at the start of a new year.
These techniques have to be simple and readily available. This one’s called Doorknob Practice.
A doorknob has a shape, a texture, a temperature, a quality of movement, a sound as it operates. It has a feel in your hand. It has a feel in your mind.
When you handle a doorknob, you can use that moment as a small but complete self-engagement practice for yourself. First, let the doorknob hold your attention. Let it hold the participation of all your senses for the moment you touch it. Read more…
November 26, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Captain Jan Miles has been captain of the PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II for over 25 years, and I sailed with him on PRIDE as one of the Mates on a nine-month voyage from Baltimore up the Atlantic coast into the Great Lakes and back. The PRIDE is a Tall Ship, a 157’ square-topsail schooner carrying over 9,000 square feet of sail, and she sails all over the world as goodwill ambassador for Baltimore and the State of Maryland.
On our way back from Chicago we were approaching Mackinac Island at the northern tip of Michigan. It was late evening, getting dark, with a moderate breeze from the northwest. Mackinac harbour is formed by rock breakwaters, and the widest part inside where PRIDE could anchor is only about eight times the length of the ship. Cruising boats at anchor are scattered throughout, and a lane has to be left open for the ferry. For a ship the size of PRIDE, it’s a crowded spot. Read more…