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Servant Leadership – A training course

As my commute to work takes around 45 minutes morning and night, I was looking for an audiobook for my drive to the office. I’ve been a subscriber to Audible for over 2 years now and after a few searches on the topic of Leadership, I came across James C. Hunter’s audiobook The Servant Leadership Training Course: Achieving Success Through Character, Bravery, and Influence. I didn’t know Hunter so I thought “Even a bad audiobook would be better than sitting in a traffic jam caused by a snow storm!” so I went ahead and purchased it. The audiobook is apparently based on Hunter’s earlier book The Servant.

My intend here is not to summarize the training course since I probably wouldn’t do the book justice but to give a few quotes from the book to give you a sense of the content and hopefully get you interested in servant leadership if this is something you would like to develop.

  • Leadership is not a position or a job title;
  • Leadership is influence;
  • To lead is to serve others;
  • Generation X doesn’t trust power people;
  • Two thirds of employees quit their job because of their boss;
  • Leadership is not management – leadership is about influencing people, not having power over people;
  • Leadership is not about what you do, it’s about who you are;
  • Leadership is the skill of influencing people to achieve a common goal;
  • Leadership is character in action;
  • Character is who you are in the dark when nobody is looking;
  • Your thoughts become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your character, and your character became your destiny;
  • You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting (I really like this one!)
  • Leadership is getting over your 2’s (years old) and start behaving like an adult;
  • Leadership is about addressing the real needs of people, not their wants;
  • The difference between power and authority:
    • POWER = Do it or else…
    • Power is “I have the position to make you do it, so you will”
    • AUTHORITY = I’ll do it for you…
    • Authority is “Getting people to willingly do what you ask them to”
  • Authority is about who you are as a person;
  • Power destroys relationships;
  • Business is a series of relationships.

If you are a people manager and wish to become a true leader, this training course will offer you lots of reference points. Similar to the concept of stewardship, true leadership is not easily accessible. Most of us need to change our behavior, attitude, and actions to serve others and then become servant leaders.

As I said at the beginning, these are only a few quotes and the training course provides much more material to better understand the context and background of servant leadership. Under 4h30, this audiobook covered my commute to work for less than a week. Now, I need to search for another audiobook. Any suggestions?


Stuck in a dead-end job…

During a recent conversation with on of our client, the project manager informed me of a new iPod Touch application they had just released. A few days later, I downloaded the National Film Board application from iTunes’ AppStore and installed it. As I browsed through some of their short films, I came across this one.

The Necktie is the story of Valentin and his quest to find meaning in his life. Stuck in a dead-end job, he has forgotten all about the things that used to bring him joy. Years pass, and boredom replaces all his aspirations and hope for the future. It is only on his 40th birthday, when he rediscovers an old accordion hidden in the depths of his closet, that he regains his lust for life.

Working with organizations to help them transition toward a more Agile work environment, I couldn’t help draw many parallels between this short film and some of the people we meet. Although some people count the days until their retirements, many decide to change the course of their career within their organization (and sometimes outside) in an attempt to enjoy life and have fun once again. I hope you’ll enjoy this short film.

Merry Christmas everyone

Season’s Greetings and Merry Christmas to everyone.

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings

Results of my 360 degrees feedback. What my colleagues had to say.

I finally completed the 360 degrees feedback exercise I initiated a few weeks ago. At the time, I created a document to collect my colleague’s feedback and explained why I was using this method for my performance assessment this year.

Before I get into the results, I must say that I was very pleased with the new tool as it forced people to make some choices in where they would allocate their points for the strengths and weaknesses. One of my evaluator had a comment that summed up the process nicely. He said “Your tool is very similar to you. It is simple yet it has a playful complexity behind it. It forces the evaluator to really give some thoughts to his answers”.

The graphic below presents the average score for each question, in descending order. Out of the 20 people I invited to take part of my evaluation, 17 people participated and filled out the questionnaire while 1 participant preferred to provide an evaluation without filling it out.

Graphical representation of the results of my 360 degrees feedback

Graphical representation of the results of my 360 degrees feedback

Evaluators could score each question on a scale from -4 to +4. The explanation of each score is presented at the end of this post.

Although the results are very interesting, the process allowed me to receive a lot of feedback and have open conversations with people I work with. In my opinion, this is by far the most positive aspect of this process. I look forward to repeating the process once again next year.

  • -4: This competency is below the 1st percentile compared to the population.
  • -3: This competency is below the 10th percentile compared to the population.
  • -2: This competency is below the 25th percentile compared to the population.
  • -1: This competency is below the 50th percentile compared to the population.
  • 0: This competency is average.
  • +1: This competency is above the 50th percentile compared to the population.
  • +2: This competency is above the 75th percentile compared to the population.
  • +3: This competency is above the 90th percentile compared to the population.
  • +4: This competency is above the 99th percentile compared to the population.

Variable salary that fluctuates with the company’s performance

I already mentioned that we do not work like most organizations. We are almost at the point where people decide their own salary (more on that topic in an upcoming post). Some are even contemplating making their salary public to everyone within the company (more on that also in an upcoming post). For now, I want to share some interesting discussion around what is called the “risk salary”.

Now that our leaders were happy with their salary – or at least responsible for them – Paulo had another, even more daring proposal, He called it “risk salary”.

“Each of you now has the correct salary, according to your own estimate of your worth,” he told managers at a meeting of company leaders in 1989. “I propose to pay you a little less, but in return will give you the possibility of earning more.”

Then he explained his new wrinkle. If Semco did well, an employee who agreed to risk a 25 percent salary cut – the limit – would receive up to 50 percent more. If Semco did poorly, he would suffer the 25 percent cut. So a manager who received, say, $1,000 a week could risk having it reduced to $750. On the other hand, he could, at the end of each quarter, get an amount that would bring his weekly salary to $1,500.

Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace

We are talking about implementing a similar concept. Below is how the proposed model would work.

Variable salary that fluctuates with the company's performance

  • The Normal Salary is the employee’s current salary. For the purpose of this example, it is set at $50 000.
  • The Black Line in the middle of the triangle represents the level of tolerated risk. This level can be anywhere between 0% and 100% depending on the choice of each individual.
  • The Red Line at the base of the triangle represents the base salary depending on the level of tolerated risk. For example, an amount is indicated for each level of tolerated risk – at a 5% risk level, the base salary is $47,500 while at a 25% risk level the base salary becomes $37,500.
  • The Green Line at the top of the triangle represents the maximum salary level associated with the tolerated risk level. For example, an amount is indicated for each level of risk accepted – at a 5% risk level, the maximum salary is $52,500 while at a 25% risk level the maximum salary becomes $62,500.
As explained in the quotation from Maverick, it is the choice of each person to include (or not) a risk factor in their compensation. The criteria used to decide whether individuals will receive higher pay than their base salaries are: actual annual income compared to budgeted annual income and actual profits compared to budgeted profits. The parameters are to be defined within each organization and could include other variables.
This compensation model is different from the typical “bonus” model used within some organizations in a few ways:
  • The bonus model is based on the “normal salary” and doesn’t include a risk factor.
  • The bonus model is pretty much defined the same way for everyone in the organization while this model allows each individual to set their risk level.
  • The bonus model may motivate employees to deliver better performance but it is considered a bonus on top of one’s salary. On the other hand, the risk model allows employees to set the level of risk that would motivate them to deliver better performance.

This model was used by a few employees last year and the discussions around opening this model to everyone are under ways. Interestingly enough, although this model would be entirely voluntary employees are divided on the implementation of this proposed model. I should be able to share more details on this experiment in the months to come.

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 2)

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on this topic, below is the agenda of our meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

Strategic Café

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Strategic Café

Agenda – Day 2

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Presentation of our initiatives for the next 6 months (8:30 to 11:00)

Strategic Café

Pause (11:00 to 11:30)

Strategic Café

Prioritization of our initiatives for the next 6 months (11:30 to 12:15)

Lunch (12:15 to 1:00)

Strategic Café

World Café – Strategic assessment of our environment (1:00 to 2:30)

Background: To correctly set up our strategies, we must understand the environment in which we operate for: our consulting service, our products, and our training.

Question: What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each sector of activity?


  • Products
  • Products
  • Consulting Service
  • Consulting Service
  • Training

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 12 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Pause (2:30 to 3:00)

World Café – Operational improvements (3:00 to 4:30)

Background: In order to continue our growth, we must give ourselves the means to grow up, what are the improvements that wants to carry out: sales, marketing, finance, human resources and SME.
Question: How does improve on our operations to do the goals we had set?
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Subject Matter Experts
Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Timmy’s story: Is it better to be right or to be helpful?

Timmy's story

Would you rather be right or be helpful?

This is the story of Timmy, a highly talented university graduate. After spending 4 years completing a university degree in Computer Science at a well-recognized school and over a year working on internal projects within his firm, Timmy was sent off as a consultant to help an organization in need.

Timmy quickly realized that he was more knowledgeable, more competent, more skilled, and harder working than most software developers on his new team. Whenever an issue would come up, Timmy knew the answer much before everyone else.

After a few days, Timmy realized the sad state of affairs within his client’s software development organization and in trying to help his new colleagues, he started dispensing recommendations as if they were candies on Halloween night.

Every time Timmy noticed something that wasn’t done properly or as per the theory he had mastered, he would immediately point it out. Every time a colleague would run into an issue, Timmy would quickly point out the source of the issue and the solution to fix it. Every time Timmy noticed a team-mate slack off, he would tell others on the team. Timmy knew he was right – pretty much all the time.

Needless to say, Timmy was not well liked by his team mates. On the other hand, Timmy didn’t like his consulting mandate either and within a few days, Timmy asked his firm to pull him off the mandate.

Despite Timmy’s capabilities and the obvious need of his new team, the conflicts between him and his colleagues grew quickly every day. After a few weeks Timmy had enough. He couldn’t understand why nobody saw that he was right, that he had the answer to all their questions, and that they wouldn’t have any problem if only they would listen to him.

Feeling so frustrated by the situation, Timmy showed up at his firm’s office one morning asking for help. “Can someone tell me what is going on?” he cried out.

A senior consultant who immediately saw the distress on Timmy’s face, gladly offered to help. He explained to Timmy that although he was a competent technical resource, Timmy failed to realize a few key elements of consulting:

  • Timmy hadn’t made sure to clarify the reason he was hired. Clarifying the expectations was necessary to avoid possible confusion around the role he was to play;
  • Nobody likes to feel they are inferior to others – especially not to consultants. If Timmy wanted his suggestions to be accepted, he would need to use a softer approach, some humility, and a lot of patience;
  • People do not accept suggestions – let alone recommendations – from others unless they have established their credibility;
  • Team mates are not likely to accept input unless they actually ask for it;
  • Timmy needs to ask himself if he believes it is better for him and for his client to be right.

Do you know anyone who is like Timmy?

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 1)

If you ever had a chance to participate in a Strategy Definition meeting, you either had a good time because YOU were dictating the strategy to follow or had an awful experience because your recommendations were totally altered, down-graded to a point of irrelevance or blown out of proportion making them un-achievable. Needless to say, for most people a Strategy Definition meeting is an experience comparable to a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

As I already mentioned, not only is our organizational structure different from most organizations but so is our strategic process. As opposed to a top-down Strategy Definition where the Top Executives come up with the Strategy, we use a bottom-up approach. Once again, we rely on the wisdom of the crowd to come up with the best strategy we can achieve. Not only is the strategy sound, it also removes the need to obtain buy-in after the fact since employees participated in the definition of their strategy.

We’ve implemented a Balanced Score Cards approach to our strategic planning process 6 months ago. This approach is helping us move forward but the format of our previous meetings left a lot of room for improvement. After asking around for an alternate approach for the meeting, François suggested we try a World Café format. After reading about the principles and the book (The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter), we spent time preparing and planning for the meeting. Needless to say, the Strategic Café was a huge success.

World Café used to Define the Corporate Strategy

I want to sharing with you the agenda of the meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Agenda – Day 1

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Warming up the brain cells (8:30 to 8:45)

We asked participants to compete in a friendly game of Rush Hour. The intend was to introduce a fun element in the day in preparation for the meeting.

Strategic Café

World Café – Retrospection of the previous 6 months (8:45 to 10:30)

Background: What should be done to improve the organization on the following 5 dimensions: communication, accountability, prioritization, leadership and decision making?

Question: What are the challenges encountered within the organization and what is my contribution to meeting these challenges?

5 Tables: Communication, Accountability, Prioritization, Leadership, and Decision Making.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 15 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Each of the 5 paper-table-cloths is assigned to an individual responsible to come up with a plan of actions.

Strategic Café

Pause (10:30 to 11:00)

Presentation of the new governance model (11:00 to 12:30)

Unfortunately, this part is confidential 😉

Lunch (12:30 to 1:15)

Strategic Café

World Café – Improvement to the well-being of people (1:15 to 3:00)

Background: In 1 year from now, what will be the impact of our organization on the following 4 sectors: employees, existing customers, stakeholders, and potential customers?

Question: What programs should we develop to meet our objective of improving people’s well-being?

4 Tables: Employees, Existing Customers, Potential Customers, and Society.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall on which the organization would invest time, energy and resources to move forward.

Strategic Café

Pause (3:00 to 3:30)

Strategic Café

World Café – Selection criteria to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months (3:30 to 5:15)

Background: Given the limited resources and the large number of initiatives within our organization, which criteria do we want to use to prioritize and select the initiative that we will move forward using the following areas: Financial, Customer experience, and Employee learning and growth?

Question: Which criteria we will use to determine our priorities?

3 Tables: Financial, Customer Experience, and Employee Learning and Growth

Mechanics: The participants were allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall. Those would become the criteria used to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months.

Strategic Café

Dinner (6:00 to 8:30)

As an analogy to our Strategic Meeting, we had organized dinner at O’Noir.

I’ll be publishing Day 2 of our meeting shortly.

Rules aren’t created for those who will comply

I already wrote about our non-traditional organizational structure and the increasing reliance on communities the organize our teams. I recently had an interesting conversation about the use of rules within communities and within the overall organization.

Breaking the rules

The conversation went something like this.

  • Dan – “We already use self-organized teams and increasingly rely on communities to get our goals done. Why do we need to add formal rules? Isn’t this against our approach of trusting people?”
  • Me – “Implementing rules doesn’t mean we don’t trust people. The rules are simply there to help everyone understand which behaviors are acceptable so our community can work efficiently.”
  • Dan – “This goes against self-organized teams. If the teams want to work without rules, they should be allowed to.”
  • Me – “Yes, but only up to a certain point. Without rules you will quickly get chaos and anarchy. I believe rules should disappear over time but they are initially required to help regulate the actions of the group.”
  • Dan – “I believe we shouldn’t have any rules. If I want to do something, I don’t want any stupid rules to prevent me from doing it…”
  • Me [light bulb goes on in my head] – I wonder if people oppose rules because they may (want to) break them…

This question quickly lead me to the debate around the proposed legislation to reduce the blood-alcohol level from 80 to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. A similar public debate was launched when Quebec decided to experiment with photo radar a few months ago. In both cases, it seemed to me that the arguments often used to oppose such rules are that they go against people’s freedom. Although the rules make sense, you will find many people who will oppose the rules pretending they interfere with their freedom of choice and action.

It appears to me that the people who oppose rules may eventually break them and as such, anticipate being caught. Keep in mind that rules are very rarely opposed by those who will comply with them.

Books I’ve read – November 2009

A fair number of people who read my blog posts also end up consulting the list of books I’ve read in recent years. Based on their reaction, I’ve come to realize that the organization of my virtual bookshelf could be improved. Moving forward, I will publish a monthly post on the books I’ve read during the previous month – this is the first of such posts.

Meeting Facilitation

In preparation for our Strategic Café I read the following two books. I’m working on a post describing the process which should come out in the next few weeks.

The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter

My Rating:

A few words on this book: This is a great book if you are looking to start meaningful conversations on topics that are close to people’s heart. The book covers the requirements to organize a successful World Café.

The World Café is a flexible, easy-to-use process for fostering collaborative dialogue, sharing collective knowledge, and discovering new opportunities for action. World Café originators Juanita Brown and David Isaacs outline seven core design principles and provide practical tips and tools for convening and hosting “conversations that matter,” even with very large groups. Each chapter features actual stories of Café dialogues from business, education, government, and community organizations across the globe, demonstrating how the World Café approach can be adapted to many different settings and cultures. Based on living systems thinking, this is a proven approach for fostering authentic dialogue and creating dynamic networks of conversation around your organization or community’s real work and critical questions––improving both personal relationships and people’s capacity to shape the future together.

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

My Rating:

A few words on this book: Margaret Wheatley wrote the foreword to the The World Cafe book and as such I assumed this book would be a good complement. Unfortunately, this book focuses much more on “restoring hope” than it does on initiating conversations. From my perspective, the book is more about the soft side and the philosophical aspect of conversations.

“I believe we can change the world if we start talking to one another again.”

With this simple declaration, Margaret Wheatley proposes that people band together with their colleagues and friends to create the solutions for real social change, both locally and globally, that are so badly needed. Such change will not come from governments or corporations, she argues, but from the ageless process of thinking together in conversation.

Leadership and Stewardship

The Right Use of Power (The Inner Art of Business Series)

My Rating:

A few words on this book: Although I listened to Peter Block’s audiobook a few months ago, I decided to invest another 3 hours to better understand the philosophical aspects behind stewardship. My friend François told me he listened to this audiobook 6 or 7 times and he has been greatly influenced by it.

The words of Peter Block convey the essence of his revolutionary message. On “The Right Use of Power,” this bestselling author and distinguished management consultant fast forwards us to the business model of the future: a self-governing, accountable organization where power is shared equally and work has meaning far beyond conventional measures. Join this business visionary as he explores:

The “community” of workers and how faith, service and communication redefine success

How to retain the best co-workers and why it has little to do with money

The “high control, low adaptive” organization and its roots in the parent-child relationship

What the philosopher-artist can teach us about pure motivation

The “controlling” boss: the surprising truth about why they do it

Spirituality in the workplace and the hidden strengths of our co-workers

Performance appraisal: obsolete artifact or necessary evil?

Breaking the cycle of “unfulfillable expectations” in the workplace through the partnership model

The “Great Questions” technique for building skillful communications and trust at work

If we redistribute power do we have to redistribute wealth, too?

Compelling real-life examples of the power of stewardship, gained from Peter Block’s years of work in both the public and private sectors

Concluding with a tough question-and-answer session with Peter Block, “The Right Use of Power” will help prepare you for the changes, challenges and rewards coming in the new era of business — an era that has already begun.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

My Rating:

A few words on this book: I read this book in 2002 a few months after it came out. After listening to The Right Use of Power I wanted to go back to Collins’ book to find if there were any similarities between the concepts brought forward in these 2 books – and there are. I will document them further in an upcoming blog post.