Follow by Email

Friday, October 20, 2017

Plant the Seeds - Reap the Harvest

I come from a semi-rural background.  What I mean by that is while I didn't live or grow up on a farm I had strong ties to and history with farming through both sets of grandparents.  I spent many summer days and nights on these small family farms that went back to the very origins of my family in Canada.  Some of the memories from that time remain vividly etched in my mind and none more so than those related to spring seeding and the fall harvest.

Without a doubt, these two times of the year were times of extraordinary effort and anxiety. In the spring time, the work commenced as soon as field conditions permitted and there was always an eye towards the sky and weather forecasts.  There were prayers that machinery would hold out against unexpected and unwanted repair.  So too with harvest.  Go hard and make hay while the sun - or moon - shines.

I find some parallels in the kind of work I do now and, indeed, the kind of work that any of us do. I suspect that at the start of any venture or the start of each business or calendar year, we begin with a sense of anxiety and guarded optimism.  Whatever transpired from last year's "crops" provides no guarantee of what the next effort will bring or require.  Perhaps last year's events have set a stronger or weaker foundation to start from.  I believe the farming experience and metaphor of planting seeds and harvesting crops suggests some powerful lessons for how to approach other endeavors.

Planting our proverbial seeds does, just like farming, take preparation and thought. If we are to have a chance at a successful year we must properly prepare the ground, utilize the best tools possible, stay focused, and plant the right seeds, in the right place, at the right time.  In the case of my own coaching and consulting practice, this has meant networking with purpose, being active in certain activities, partnering with others that can complement and supplement my skills, and investing in my own skills and abilities on an ongoing basis.

A commitment to developing one's own business, like farming, also takes the right mix of optimism and realism.  The stats on startups and new businesses typically tell a rather grim story with a far greater chance of failure than success in the first year or two. I tend to think of the reasons for such failures falling into two broad categories - Lack of (significant preparation) and over-optimistic projections of how successful one can expect to be in the short-term. Successful farmers similarly leave nothing to chance.  They put in the extra planning, maintenance of equipment, and time to compensate for unanticipated and undesirable events.  No one controls the weather - or the economy.  I suspect, however, that just like farmers lamenting or worrying about the weather, all of us have an anxiety about business factors that are well beyond our control to influence. We can't control the weather but we can be ready with the umbrella or rubber boots.

Successful business people, like good farmers, are also prepared to learn from the past and from others to reap a better harvest.  This requires some rigor in understanding what did or did not work in the past and why.  Failure to truly learn from past successes and failures causes us to attribute one to our skill and the other to the foibles of the gods.  In either case successful strategies or solutions have not been discerned to inform the next effort. In respect of learning from others, I can't even begin to identify all the leaders, coaches and consultants who have informed my journey over the past 30 years. Their experiences - good and bad - have helped me develop new skills, approaches and models along the way.  Just like farming, however, there has to be a sense of adapting - not blindly adopting - tools and techniques that suit your particular field of work.

I also believe there is further advantage and opportunity to be gained by failing well.  That's right - failing well.  Now I'll admit that this may not seem to draw quite as strong a parallel to farming as other lessons noted above.  But I believe it goes back to being prepared to learn lessons.  I have personally had success in trying to reengage with prospective clients when a proposal I have submitted for consideration has been rejected. The nature of my response to rejection I believe has been a key to my recovery and subsequent success.  A sincere and genuine interest in trying to discover how I could have presented or engaged differently on an RFP response has directly related to multiple different opportunities.  How you fail, and how you respond to failure, is just as important as how you succeed.

One final note and look back to farming as a benchmark for business success.  I believe all who have grown up in rural communities would attest to an underlying spirit of support and cooperation  If somebody needed help it was often available to them especially in times of distress.  For those of us with roots in rural and farming communities I'm sure we have more than one story of community collaboration.  Its a bit of that spirit that I hope I bring into my coaching and consulting practice and what I value in some of my most trusted associates - offer help, guidance, time and tools when asked without expectation of return.  A spirit of pay it forward that plants seeds for future collaboration, support and engagement.

So plant seeds.  Prepare well.  Look for opportunities and connections.  Look for synergies and like-minded "farmers" to work with.  Listen, learn, adapt and apply.  Offer help and support. Fail well.

Reap the harvest.

Do it again.


Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Co-Founder
BreakPoint Solutions

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Can't Fail!

The phrase "I can't fail" has been one that has been a part of several discussions I've been in over the past few months.  In addition, it has been rattling around in my own brain as I action a new, exciting and challenging venture in the next phase of my personal reinvention.

In most of these circumstances the fear of failure that has been articulated has represented a lament and an expression of trepidation.  Likely this perspective resonates with all of us or at the very least we can remember a time where fear and anxiety surrounding change took hold of us.  In my recent engagements, this has happened at both an organizational and individual level.  There are a number of forms that this fear has taken from the (perceived) risk to organizational reputation to the potential (negative) impact to individual security and stability.
Example one:  Some months ago I was working with an organization going through substantial (and externally driven) change in its mandate which stemmed from a substantial change in economic realities.  Perhaps even more fundamentally, there was also a perspective at play that was calling into question the overall utility and effectiveness of the organization.  In these kinds of circumstances we can often be paralyzed - we perceive that one (more) wrong move might in fact put that final nail in our proverbial coffin.  It was within this context of needing to redefine mandate that the notion of not being in a position to fail came up.  From one perspective, the reality being faced by the organization, and the external skepticism that permeated the debate, suggested that any misstep in plan and execution, no matter how well designed or intentioned, would cement perspectives on irrelevance or incompetence.  In this light, however, I questioned whether by not being more assertive, bold and visionary was the organization was in fact holding itself back from its potential.  More critically, was there a risk that they were living up to their own self-fulfilling prophecy.  The desire to avoid failure can often lead to limited or no success.  No risk, no reward.  No risk, no success.  No risk, no impact.

In my coaching practice I've certainly seen this same mentality play out in a number of circumstances.  The need for quick wins, the concern about aggressively going after that next role, or as an entrepreneur or small-business owner anxious about taking that first or next big step in business development.  Essentially playing not to lose rather than playing to win.  This first plays into how most of us view failure - we don't see it as a learning opportunity, but rather as a fundamental comment on our skills, abilities and character.  Often this accompanied by an overwhelming anxiety that the vision established is too big to get our heads around and the steps to get there are not detailed enough to guarantee success.

It's also often the case that some of us actually fear success as much as we fear failure.  What if we start succeeding and the expectations that we have for ourselves and from others actually grow?  What's the next level of performance expected of us?  In many cases as leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners we have a number of others that look up to us and even rely on us for their success as well.

Associated with either of these fears - failure and success - are any number of detailed questions that give further context for the challenge we believe we are facing.  Do I have the right plan in place for the circumstances?  Do I really have the skills to pull this off?  Have I thought of every contingency?  Do I have enough or the right resources in place to make this happen?  What's the impact to me personally (or my family, or my staff) if I can't pull this off or if success takes longer than anticipated?

Alternatively, having a very inspirational but ungrounded view epitomized by an "I can't fail" mantra can in fact lead disaster and disappointment.  This is a vision that fails to challenge or appreciate reality, lacks for real planning and lacks for conscious thought and execution.  I sometimes call this the "Facebook" declaration.  This is the belief that by merely stating for oneself - and sometimes in front of the "world" - my powerful vision that success will arrive on schedule and with expected impact.  Unfortunately, this is much more akin to asking for three wishes from the proverbial genie or buying lottery tickets and spending the winnings before the draw date.

Unfortunately, there are also going to be naysayers in our midst as well.  Now it's great if we can rely upon some sober second thoughts from our trusted advisers or supporters.  However, as with my own personal experience, we must guard against the imposition of standards and agendas not our own.  Too often we may hear "you're making a mistake" and allow those comments to generate or amplify our own self-doubt.  The "ducks start quacking" in our head and may prevent us from standing in our own opportunities and strengths.  Balance all the available information, don't enter into a business or personal venture with rose-colored glasses, but consider the merits of the opportunity ahead.  Perhaps not everyone has the courage to pursue the vision you have or their perspective may be colored by their biases that do not serve you.

I do believe there is a balance to be found.  And I've tried to find it in my own venture.  I've been exploring what I'm really good at.  I've been testing my theories and hypotheses with past and former clients.  I've been trying to evaluate as objectively as possible what the financial requirements and implications of delays or shortfalls might be.  I'm taking considered risk, motivated by the reality of a tangible and achievable outcome, appreciating potential challenges and preparing contingencies for them, and placing future plans within the context of past challenges, growth, and success.  My vision is inspiring to me, grounded in reality, and planned to an appropriate degree.

Is my plan 100% perfect?  No, because I can never anticipate every reality or issue that will crop up.  Is it sufficient to take confident action?  Yes.  Will I execute with 100% effectiveness?  Unlikely.  I can anticipate that I may falter or become distracted and that my fear of failure (and even success) will give me pause.  Ultimately leadership is about creating and actioning a powerful vision.  Nothing great has ever come from playing it safe.

The takeaway - the fear of failure can be paralyzing and self-limiting and on the other hand it be highly motivational (stay hungry, don't get complacent).  As with most things in life it appears to me that the magic sits in the middle of these two extremes.

At the end of the day if you can't fail maybe its because you didn't try.  If you can't fail you may not succeed either.


Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Co-Founder
BreakPoint Solutions

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Leadership - A Popularity Contest?

Several years ago, in perhaps a misdirected and naive venture into government service, I was attending a leadership development seminar attended by staff from across the public sector.  During the course of this seminar I ended up in a debate with another public servant which in its essence boiled down to the nature of leadership in a democracy.

While I have largely forgotten what caused us to go down this particular path, I recall putting forward the concept that I what personally looked for in a leader and how I expected them to lead thereafter was based on the power of their personal convictions. From my perspective, I expected them to lead and even shape the perspectives of the city, province, or country they led.  Ultimately, I wanted them to show me the courage of their convictions.

My "adversary", if that is what one could call him, had a relatively strong reaction to my position and suggested that such an approach could be construed as flying in the face of foundational democratic principles of modern Western society.  From his standpoint it was, and is, up to a democratically-elected leader to implement the wishes of the populace that elected him or her to power.  Extending this perspective, one might be inclined to suggest that opinion polls provide a mechanism for keeping a leader informed and directed during the course of their elected term.

As you can no doubt tell from the title to this blog post, I continue to have a decided bias against running any organization or business on the basis of opinion polls, engagement surveys or similar instruments.  But this position does place me in a bit of a quandary.  After all, as many of you who know me would come to understand, I'm very much a proponent of models that equate with the concept of servant leadership and engagement of staff.  So wouldn't, by definition, mechanisms like opinion polls be the very foundation of such a leadership commitment?

What gave further impetus for me to consider this issue of leadership and stakeholder direction were a couple of articles focused on opinion polls on provincial and national issues.  Within my own province of Alberta there is certainly a lot of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair in the midst of the most significant economic downturn in recent memory coupled with leadership by the New Democratic Party (NDP).  The NDP has a decidedly different philosophy and approach to leadership than the Conservative dynasty of 40+ years tenure which they replaced.  In this particular time and place an opinion poll of the populace noted that the #1 priority of Albertans was to reduce taxes closely followed by a desire to see reduced spending, a lower provincial deficit, while at the same time maintaining services such as health and education.  As the author of the news article that focused on these results said "It's a contradictory bag of responses."

So in the absence of committed leadership, founded at least on one's own developed principles, what wind should blow you what direction?

In a national article that came out on the same day as the provincial issue noted above, an assessment was delivered which noted how out of sync people's perspectives were with the facts on the ground.  In this case, the particular issue was the feeling of a "majority" of Canadians (or at least those responding to the poll) that the middle class dream most of us aspire to was slipping away.  This despite the fact that median household incomes have steadily risen over the past 20 years.  So how then could we end up with such a discrepancy of feelings versus fact?  And how we might then expect our leaders to respond?

Without a doubt one of the major factors in the usefulness or believablity (credibility?) of such polls comes in how the questions are framed or asked.  In all too many cases opinion polls and public consultations are simply crafted to give leaders the answers they are looking for.  On the other hand, we might also just need to be clear about what such opinion polls are actually telling us - or not.  In one respect, opinion polls are probably telling us and leaders what people are actually thinking and feeling.  However, and back to the potential basis of my dispute with my government colleague - is what the public (or any other stakeholder group) thinking where we should be leading them?  Are they truly informed on the issue at hand?  Feelings, assumptions, and "alternative facts" should not, in my opinion, form the basis for significant initiatives, policy directions, and strategic directions.

In this case, "That's how you feel because that's how you feel", comes across as a very dangerous position to lead from.  This can lead, and has led, to very reactionary changes in direction by business leaders, organizations and whole countries - pick your favorite example.

So while we all collectively are quite capable of believing in a whole range of things that are not true, I believe it is up to principled and courageous leaders to stand for something.  While you might run the risk of being mistaken or being on the wrong side of any given issue, I would rather see leadership based on values and facts than one based on the latest opinion poll or engagement survey.  No good change came easy.  Leadership is neither easy nor for the faint of heart.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Power of Vision, Commitment and Legacy

Over this past week I was privileged to find myself in Warsaw, Poland, representing the Edmonton Charter Chapter of the International Coach Federation at the annual Global Leadership Forum.  Coaching leadership from over 68 countries collaborating to support the growth of the coaching profession, our chapters and our clients.  More on that later in future posts!

What the trip also afforded me, albeit in a very limited fashion, was the ability to get to know the history of Warsaw and Poland to a greater degree than what I previously possessed. I’m an avid history buff so that was perhaps saying something.  Most particularly I had a chance to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Royal Castle.  In both cases, I had the opportunity to fully appreciate the utter and complete devastation that Warsaw experienced as a result of World War II and the challenges it faced under Nazi, Soviet and Communist rule.  Warsaw – a thriving and artistic metropolis of over 1 million people reduced to a pile of rubble occupied by no more than a few thousand at war’s end.

The journey back for Warsaw actually started at the commencement of hostilities in September 1939 and in some respects continues to this day.  When Nazi planes started bombing the city, many of its cultural icons and buildings were immediately put at risk with the Royal Palace being severely damaged at the outset.  Many brave Poles began the effort to save the artifacts within the building even to the point of losing their lives doing so.  Throughout those early days of desperation and ultimate defeat they continued the effort to preserve as much of the art and even the architecture of their buildings. They showed as much determination in terms of preserving their heritage as the Nazi’s did in destroying and looting it. 

No reprieve came to the residents of Warsaw and Poland as the war drew to a close.  Quite the contrary.  As Nazi Germany went through its death throes, Hitler and his cronies were more determined than ever to destroy what they could not own or control while at the same time making Warsaw a devastating battleground with the Soviet war machine.  The result was that literally all of Warsaw was laid waste and the Royal Castle purposely destroyed by the Nazi’s before withdrawing from the area.

As might be imagined, the Soviet Union and its Communist-installed regime were in no rush to support reconstruction of glories of the past or anything that might detract from unswerving allegiance to a new world order.  As a result reconstruction of the Royal Castle was not started until 1971 – fully 25 years after the end of World War II – and was not fully restored until 1988.

What does any of have this to with my usual focus on leadership?  Simply this – consider the vision and the commitment to preserving a cultural heritage taken up by a few key leaders and likely hundreds if not thousands of other ordinary citizens from 1939 through to 1988. As I noted earlier, those who took steps to preserve the arts and architecture of the Royal Castle at the start and for the duration of World War II often paid for that effort with their lives.  This meant not only removing art and furnishings from the Royal Castle.  As I learned it also sometimes entailed removing pieces of the building itself – frescoes, statues, decorative paneling – all to be carried away and hidden until the war was over. 

Regardless of whether these same individuals survived the war or not, many of them must have realized that they likely were not going to be around for the restoration of the Royal Palace or any other edifice in Warsaw.  And yet they not only undertook the immediate effort and risk, but persevered in their commitment for the two plus decades that followed. They had to have known that their vision would not be realized in their lifetime.  They faced a multitude of challenges including barriers put in place by authorities of the day and the very real issues facing a rebuilding nation and economy. But they persevered and sacrificed in support of their vision anyway.

Just as importantly, these visionaries were able to convince the populace of Warsaw, Poland and others to contribute to the rebuilding and restoration of the Royal Castle.  By 1975 over $500 million zloty had been raised through voluntary contribution including from Polish citizens who in many ways had so little to give at the time as they continued to work to restore the basic necessities of life.  Art and artifacts hidden during the war were recovered and returned for inclusion in the new structure.  And new significant pieces of art were donated from other countries around the world. 

How many of us struggle to create a vision for ourselves or the businesses we lead that goes much beyond two to three years?

How many of us aspire to create and sustain a vision with the power to impact well beyond ourselves operating with the realization that its achievement will be beyond our physical ability to see realized?

In today’s world how many of us would even entertain such prospects if there were not something of immediate gain in such a venture for us?

I hope you can take from this short post a sense of the inspiration and awe I felt for those with the commitment to build for more than just themselves.  To be inspired by the selfless sacrifices that others were prepared to make for future generations and that we have seen in other similar circumstances - in business, in charitable causes, and in nation-building - and to challenge ourselves to a higher level of performance and goal setting. 

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Good Leadership Requires Good Governance - Redux

It's often been said, in one form or another, as goes the leader so goes the company.  Rest assured this is not going to be another blog/commentary about Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau or any other potentially polarizing public figure.  My focus continues to be on the impact that leadership - for good or bad - has on the culture and success of an organization.  But as recent events in my own community have proven out again (, often times its not just about the President/CEO and their leadership philosophy that can have impact on organizational functioning and success.  For very many organizations the quality and effectiveness of a Board of Directors begins to the set the tone from the very top.

I'm not sure how many of us appreciate the role that Boards of Directors play in setting direction for large organizations and helping it achieve those objectives.  In most circumstances public and media focus falls on a leader - a President, a CEO or other top executive.  Ultimately, however, a well functioning Board is fundamental to the success of an organization through their decisions - not the least of which is their selection of THE senior operational leader.  The quality of their decision making and their commitment to their governance task can have wide-ranging impact.

I have worked with a variety of boards in my 25 year career.  I have worked with good boards and not so good boards.  I have seen them lose their way in a variety of circumstances including being burdened with an ineffective Chair, a disruptive board member, uncommitted board members, boards that get too involved in operations, and boards that simply perform a rubber stamp role for what senior leadership wants to get done.  Ineffective governance can severely compromise and inhibit the ability of an organization to succeed and fulfill its mandate.

Sometimes boards don't even understand what their key responsibilities are.  This lack of understanding or confusion can often arise from the process by which a person is recruited to the board or the quality of the orientation they receive upon becoming a member.  Those boards that function on the basis of being elected have an additional potential challenge of individual "platforms" (e.g., axes to grind) entering into the equation.

Too often board members can be selected on criteria that may have nothing to do with kinds of skills that a board requires to fulfill its functions - they are part of the same personal network as existing board members, they are prominent community members, they are politically connected, they are major donors, and so on and so forth.  None of these factors necessarily make for a good board member.  A poor selection process can then be compounded by inadequate orientation to the role of the board.  In that circumstance, an individual board member has to either rely on the skills they bring to the table from their life outside of the board room, the examples set by their fellow board members (for good or bad), or they may be left to take what orientation or guidance they might get from senior leadership of the organization.  Not the ideal recipe for success.

So what's the starting point for good governance?  The first task is clearly understanding what the roles of the board are.  First and foremost a board needs to focus on setting direction - making clear choices on an organization's vision, mission, values and strategic directions.  Failure to fully engage in this first set of major responsibilities means that an organization can easily drift from its fundamental purposes.  Failure to develop cohesion around these fundamental building blocks also and inevitably leads to conflict between board members that impacts on organizational performance and public confidence.  Moreover, if there is no consensus among the Board as to vision, mission, values and strategic directions how can senior operational leadership be effectively guided or held accountable for performance? 

Second, a board is required to exercise oversight on organizational performance.  It is important here to distinguish oversight for organizational performance from managing the organization.  Neither the board as a whole nor individual board members (including the Chair) should get involved in managing the organization.  The temptation to direct operations is intense, especially for those board members who lead and manage significant entities outside of the organization for which they are a board member. The board needs to remember that they have engaged operational leaders - the CEO in particular - to manage operational matters.  Ostensibly, they have utilized a robust process for recruitment and selection, have followed up with appropriate performance reviews and feedback, and have trust in the CEO and other management personnel to achieve the Board-established strategic directions.  If the Board lacks such confidence then it has erred in selection, has erred in communicating expectations, or perhaps has not been engaged in managing performance at all.  Ultimately, if that confidence erodes the choice of the Board is to more clearly communicate its expectations or remove the CEO.  The choices available to the Board should not include becoming more engaged in operational decision-making.

That being said, a Board MUST exercise appropriate oversight.  It must be clear on its expectations and establish robust and objective mechanisms by which to evaluate CEO performance on achievement of the organization's vision and strategic directions.  Moreover, a Board would do well to evaluate not only outcomes but also - at a high level - how those outcomes were achieved.  The Board has a key role in ensuring that the values of the organization are fostered and upheld.  Every effort should be made to ensure that objective, quantifiable reports on performance are made available to the Board on a regular basis.  In this regard, the Board should avail itself of a variety of forms of feedback to evaluate performance and success in achieving objectives. 

Finally, a Board manages its direction setting accountability, its oversight responsibility, and its own functions by establishing policy.  These policies must clearly distinguish Board function from management function.  Just as important, they must describe and detail how the Board itself shall function - role of Chair and other officers of the Board, how decisions will be made, what committee structures if any will be utilized, and so forth.  This is one distinct way to ensure clarity of roles and to diminish and manage potential conflicts.

As can be imagined, it is easy for Boards to become involved in non-Board activities and tasks.  Board members can easily neglect the very real work that is required to ensure proper Board functioning.   If this high-level, strategic work is not done or is done poorly, there will be little or no foundation for success for the organization as a whole. 

Boards have very real responsibilities.  The tasks they are engaged in cannot be minimized or trivialized.  We have seen too many organizational failures in recent years which can be traced back to governance failures.  Complacency about board performance is not an option.  However, effective governance does not mean becoming more engaged in operational leadership.  Nor is it to establish ever more controls and bureaucracy.  Boards need to do very real work in understanding their roles and responsibilities, establish proper structures to do their work, recruit and retain good members, and set the tone for the values and ethics that will guide the organization.

To achieve operational excellence there must be a foundation of governance excellence.  Good leadership requires good governance.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Leadership and Being Open to Change

One of the qualities that I believe has come to define me - for myself and in the eyes of others - is the ability to persevere in pursuit of desired goals.  This has been true both personally and organizationally in my varied roles as a leader.  As I transitioned from my last senior leadership role I believe it safe to say that new goals and objectives took a little while to solidify as I worked through what it was to be an independent business-person for the first time in my life.  As a newly minted management consultant and executive coach it was clearly a case of "I didn't know what I didn't know."  Much like my first year or two as an executive in healthcare, the start in my new career was characterized by what I now identify as missteps, lost time and misguided pursuits.  Am I still learning?  Absolutely.  I expect to continue down that learning path for a long time to come.

One tool that I believe has been instrumental in my development over the past 3-4 years is my own personal business plan.  It's a tool that many of my clients would recognize along with students in my leadership course at Concordia University of Edmonton.  Now I've had various versions of my personal mission, vision and values since my mid-twenties.  At that time the prime catalyst for my leadership framework was Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People".  Since then my thoughts have been further shaped by work and life experiences and the writings of other authors such as Kouzes & Posner and Jim Collins.  The frameworks that I have worked with have certainly evolved over time as have some of the key content of each plan.  This evolution owes much to experience, maturity and more fully developed sense of self.

If one were to lay all of these frameworks and their contents side-by-side, as I have done from time to time, common elements would certainly stand out - mission, vision, values, objectives and even metrics.  Over time I would say that my personal mission has certainly evolved (or become better understood by myself) while my vision of future success has significantly changed along with the strategies and metrics used to ascertain progress.  The only thing that I can say with relative confidence - and satisfaction - is that my values have remained solid, anchored on such things as integrity, commitment, compassion and humility.

A key difference for me in the past several years is how effectively and consistently I have paid attention to my plan.  I can literally say there is not a month - or sometimes even a week - when I am not coming back to my plan, evaluating progress towards objectives, re-evaluating strategies, all within the context of long-term goals.  The results of the increasing specificity of my plan and the attention paid to its execution have been clear and evident - moving from half my previous annual salary in year one of my practice to nearly double that in the 5th full year of my practice.  The focus afforded to me by working to my plan consistently has also meant the scope of my vision has consistently shifted year over year.  The definition of impossible is getting challenged all the time.

But for all the success enjoyed while executing on my plan I recently came to recognize a potentially fatal flaw in my structured process.  The relative success that I have enjoyed by focusing on the "details" of my plan nearly made me blind to other lurking challenges and available opportunities.  In many ways I had become comfortable and complacent in my path.  It wasn't until a colleague of mine started to express some reservations and frustrations with their state of affairs - which mirrored my own reality - that I started to seriously question my plan.

The result of getting hit by this "bucket of cold water" - and having the humility to accept its lessons - is that I'm taking the next big step in my career.  I'm embracing another order of change and being open to a new round of "impossible".  I'm furthering my reinvention as a leadership development resource for established and aspiring leaders.  As with all change like this I'm positive that it will be both exciting and nauseating!

While I can say that my mission, vision and values have been solidified and reinforced through this recent evaluative process, my strategies, objectives and even long-term goals have gone through sizable change.  It is at this point that I believe it necessary to identify that, despite the relatively short gestation period for delivering this change, it has not been undertaken without extensive evaluation and self-talk.  On the outside some might consider this another decisive initiative on my part yet the result masks a period of intense consideration of risks and benefits.  

This process of rediscovery has again taught me about the value of being mindful, intentional and provocative with oneself.  As leaders we have to continuously look to ways to challenge ourselves and our mindset or find others that will do it for us.  It may sound cliche, but for leaders it may just be that "If it ain't broke, break it."  Only by being open to change can we reach new levels of impossible for ourselves and those we serve.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Healthcare - A Way Forward?

On January 10, 2017, Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail, commented on his assessment of the real challenge facing our healthcare system across Canada - leadership.  His article came on the heels of the decision of Saskatchewan to abolish its (latest) current regional structure in favor of a single administrative structure.  Quoting directly from his article he concluded:

"Complex health systems do not run themselves, and our current loosey-goosey collection of leaderless, milquetoast administrative bodies is not doing the job.

If you want a well-managed, efficient health system that provides value for money, you need to hire good managers, pay them decently, empower them and hold them accountable.

Until we do so, the number of health regions won't matter, and the quality of health care will not improve appreciably."

Strong words and a conclusion I have no difficulty agreeing with.  My perspective is established out of a 25-year career in healthcare administration spanning roles in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and a stint within a provincial Ministry of Health.  Since departing the formal healthcare system almost 5 years ago I have remained a keen observer of the system, hearing the concerns and complaints of those who try to navigate the system and receive less than optimal results, observe the macro results we achieve (or don't achieve) for the resources invested, see how Canada compares to other jurisdictions across the world, and continue to connect with those who still labor valiantly to try to make a difference in service of patients, clients and residents.  Despite the best efforts of very many committed individuals, those who are good leaders, and those who see healthcare not just as a job but as a vocation, we continue to perform at far less than desired or optimal levels.

So what accounts for this challenge in performance and lack of change over the last 20+ years?  Andre Picard touches the surface of the issue and proposes a small sampling of potential solutions.  I'd like to build upon his recommendations.

The issues we face in healthcare are large, complex and not amenable to half-hearted, politically-motivated solutions.  If we - the collective we - are serious about reform in the pursuit of a system that is effective, efficient and sustainable than we must face, discuss and deal with the hard realities before us.  With healthcare typically being the largest expenditure of any provincial government - on average 40% of total expenditures - there must be concerted, sustained and integrated efforts to manage this accountability responsibly.  In my humble opinion, grand and repeated efforts at achieving positive change through restructuring - changing deck chairs on the Titanic - have been the cause of far more disruption and regression than positive change and progression.

Likewise, the challenges facing our healthcare system will not be resolved by the continued bureaucratization and centralization of decision-making and cost-control.  When I left healthcare some 5 years ago it was as an increasingly frustrated senior vice-president.  In my final years as a so-called decision-maker, with budgetary accountability of some $300 million, I found myself unable to make the simplest decisions on how to exercise my assigned accountability.  Inevitably it felt as though any decision that required an expenditure or reallocation of even $5,000 required input and consensus of an entire senior executive team.  

If anything it appears that the current reality has only gotten worse.  Cost management has taken on extreme proportions with many provincial health systems mandating, restricting and banning many expenditures.  I wish I could say I was making some of these stories up - but I'm not.  In efforts to deal with projected deficits in the area of hundreds of millions of dollars front-line managers and staff are often told to not order paper, pens or other non-patient care supplies.  Many systems are also banning any form of travel outside their province.  So at a time when we might need to be less insular we are becoming more limited in our ability to exchange information and ideas.  Efforts at staff recognition and engagement (e.g., bring in a pizza for lunch) are frowned upon.  The system now requires multiple approvals, moving up the chain of command, for even the simplest decisions.  In effect, our systems and our "leaders" are spending dollars in an effort to save pennies.  

This lament comes with a set of recommendations that is not so simplistic as restructuring or penny-pinching.  They do however require a significant change in how we collectively think and act.  But as Einstein once said, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Time to try something different, perhaps unique, and requiring more than a bit of courage and commitment.  And a style of leadership, at all levels, that we have not had for some time.

First, given that healthcare is so important to our collective experience of our lives and now takes such a huge proportion of our total expenditures it is beyond time that our political leaders and parties approached long-term planning of programs and expenditures in a non-partisan manner.  In this I take a page out of how I understand Australia sets defense policy and manages associated expenditures.  In this case an all party committee debates and sets joint direction on a multi-year plan that transcends normal political cycles (e.g., 4 to 5 years).  Recognizing that defense decisions and requisite systems (e.g,. aircraft, ships, tanks) require long development cycles, consistent and reliable levels of expenditure, and overall sustained vision to be effective, Australia's political parties have committed to maintaining direction regardless of which party is in power. 

A simplistic and naive recommendation?  In my view not any more than the multiple and misguided restructuring efforts that have plagued healthcare since the mid 90's.  A challenge to be sure in the increasingly polarized reality of our political systems.  Within the Alberta context for example I grant that it is indeed more than a stretch to imagine Rachel Notley and Brian Jean, or perhaps a Jason Kenney, coming together, overcoming their sizable political differences, and developing and holding to a long-term vision and plan for healthcare.  But that is the political maturity and leadership I believe that we do require - and have been sorely missing - if we are to move beyond the empty rhetoric and expensive misfires of healthcare reform that has characterized the last 20 years.

Second, presuming the political solution and will identified above, we must craft a true long-term vision for what our healthcare system should be and what it should deliver.  Again, in my opinion, our systems have been operating without a true, empowering, action-oriented and well-understood vision for some time.  We've had platitudes to be sure - patient-centred, commitment to quality, accountability, [fill in the blank] - but all too often I believe a healthcare vision has been subsumed, subverted and overridden by short-term financial and political agendas.  The first step in this process?  Broad-based and transparent engagement of the public and our service providers.  The effective creation - and implementation - of a meaningful and sustained vision and plan for health will not come if we can't achieve broad-based understanding and commitment of a majority of our stakeholders in making it happen.  This is fundamental to the success of any venture.  However, for a variety of reasons (e.g., fear? arrogance?) the formal system and our political masters have shied away from anything but cursory, perfunctory, and even deceitful "consultation" processes.  The intent more often than not has been to manage noise rather than create true engagement and constructive action.

Third we need to ramp up the collective courage to make the hard decisions and choices that are before us.  The changes we need to achieve the outcomes we say we want (e.g,. quality health care, cost-effective, patient-centred, sustainable) will not come without courage.  We do not lack for knowledge, data and research.  Much of what we know about what contributes to healthier populations has been reinforced in multiple studies dating back to the 1970's.  I suggest to you that another study - on mental health reform, rural health services, manpower planning, whatever - will not fundamentally alter our understanding of what our issues are, where are systems are failing, and what we must do.  Do we have 100% perfect information?  No.  But if we believe we need that before taking action I suggest you prepare yourself to accept less than optimal performance for some time to come.  We need courage and leadership to address the hard changes before us. 

So how do we incent the type of leadership we require within our systems?  When I've posed this type of question to others one of the common responses I've received is that we need to move away from our publicly funded health care system and allow the private sector to drive needed change.  Again I may be naive, idealistic or blinded to the possibilities, but I do not believe the profit motive is one that is required - or desirable - within our healthcare systems.  I still believe that a publicly funded and managed system can deliver on its commitments if it is allowed to.  I do believe that we have the leadership talent in the system to work for better change if we empower staff, managers and leaders to do the right things, to make courageous decisions, and be supported for doing so.  The reality for the past many years however is that caution, risk aversion, and even indecision have been rewarded over any form of action.  Too often those who have been prepared to take action have been chastised, demoted, isolated, or even dismissed.  Other potential leaders have left of their own accord, having become discouraged by their inability to make the difference they believe necessary.  Others have simply quit in place, now being content to defer to others higher up in the chain of command, or to participate in innumerable and never-ending committee work - our proverbial bridge to nowhere.

Finally, and just as critically, we need to overcome the challenge of the type of leadership culture we have created over the past 20+ years.  While we often hear assertions, particularly from politicians, that our system is overburdened with overpaid administrators I believe the issue is more profound than that.  In my view, due in no small part to the actions and behaviours of our politicians, the healthcare system is over managed and under led.  As noted previously, we have raised several cadres of healthcare administrators within a culture that has valued "noise management", risk management, and decisions and accountability (or lack thereof) by committee.  Accountability has become diffuse by design.  For those wishing to push forward with strength and vision they often encounter policies, procedures, and processes to confound Solomon.  

Aside from the challenge of the maturity of our political process noted at the outset of this post, I believe this latter point may be one of the most challenging to overcome.  Changing the culture of leadership - which sets the stage for all other required change in the system - is daunting.  How does one change a leadership mindset when more often than there is a predilection in succession planning in choosing those who act, behave, and look most like us?  Wholesale change is certainly not desirable.  We need the benefit of corporate memory to inform us, guide our actions, and prevent us from repeating past missteps.  But we also need more innovation, creativity and courage than ever before.  I fear that our current leaders may not overcome their own unconscious biases to make that happen.  I fear too that there may not be many of those potential leaders remaining in the system to choose from and develop to make the necessary difference.

The challenges healthcare faces are immense and they will require political maturity, vision, courage, the right incentives, appropriate accountability mechanisms and a new style of leadership to overcome.  A tall order.  Can it happen?  Only if we have the strength to do the hard work and not simply engage in what seems expedient in the moment.  Only if we have the courage to risk and hold true to the values that I believe informed most of us to enter into the healthcare field in the first place.

In this case it truly is all about leadership.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.