Thursday, January 27, 2011

up up and away....

So here I am, up in the clouds on Frontier airlines.  We are en route to Washington, and scheduled to arrive at the same time as the snowstorm…
Denver was a great learning opportunity.  Once we straightened out our travel arrangements, everything went smoothly.  We were wonderfully greeted by the consul general and his staff.  We had fascinating meetings with a former governor, a former senator, academics, pundits, the Federal Reserve, the EPA and the folks at the institute for renewable energy.  What impressed me was the calibre of the people we met.  They were thoughtful, informed, entertaining.  We heard so much passion…about their country and its potential.  And although we are in a state that produces coal and holds vast potential for shale oil, they are zooming ahead on renewable energy, green buildings and other measures to deal with climate change.   The people we met with were so generous with their time and their insight.  And they wanted to understand our perspective, to know what we think.
On our first night in Denver, we watched a documentary on Mayor (now Governor) Hickenlooper and the 10 days in which they hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2008.  He just radiated positive energy, and what really struck me was how he was consistently open to others.  He never took offence and was always willing to engage with people, even those who disagreed with or opposed him.  He did not appear to have an ounce of cynicism in him.  Remarkable.
And last night we watched the State of the Union address.  We watched the artful unveiling of what will undoubtedly be the next presidential campaign…with its focus on the future, on innovation, on education, but also on fiscal discipline.  And of course, the throwing down of the gauntlet for a more civil discourse and a spirit of cooperation. 

So, what am I learning?  Well, a lot about suspending judgement.  Also about listening actively, and asking questions to deepen my understanding.

I am blessed with wonderful colleagues, who ask great questions, and who are entertaining travel companions.

And about accessibility...I hit the jackpot at the Brown palace hotel and spa!  It seems as though the only accessible room they had was a palatial suite.  I knew something was up when we entered my marble foyer and I saw the dining room table at the end.  Yikes!  It also had a spectacular shower…and once the nice man from engineering came up to help us out, I also had a toilet that I could use. And once we changed from the party bus, we had superb transportation.  All good.

I wish we'd had a bit more time.  I know we just scratched the surface.  We saw a lot of homeless people and I want to know more about who they are.  But overall, I am really pleased with our Denver experience....what's not to love about a city where you can get terrific Mexican food (can you say "mole"?), amazing steaks, champagne by the glass, and drive around in an accessible, and free, downtown shuttle bus?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

...Get on the bus....the party bus!

Have arrived in Denver...mile high city!  it is very odd and wonderful to be in a city where you almost touch the clouds!  Interestingly, there is no snow here.  Everything is brown and yellow.  We were met at the airport by a colourful individual, driving a very colourful bus.  Although the company had told our trip organizers that the bus was fully wheelchair accessible, when I asked the driver where the ramp was, he said there wasn't, but that he had "loads of experience" getting wheelchairs on and off his bus. So backwards up the steps I went, with him pulling, and a colleague holding the front of my chair for balance.  Not surprisingly, there was no place in which to anchor an  occupied wheelchair, so I got out of the chair and into one of the this is no ordinary bus, oh no.  The seats are arranged bench-style, along the windows, facing one another.  Down the middle of the aisle is a metal table with a channel running through it, and with holes cut out for bottles or cans to rest.  At the front of the bus are a series of day-glo posters.  On the ceiling are black lights (i am not making this up!).  There were no seat belts and there was a persistent aroma of stale beer.

We are all amused and bemused by our transportation.  Thankfully, my travelling assistant is 22 and was able to enlighten us.  We were apparently travelling by way of "party bus"....something used to ferry high school and college kids to prom nights and other big events. The metal table is set up so that they can play "beer pong"...apparently a competitive sport involving ping pong balls and cups of beer.

As one of my colleagues pointed out, we were in the middle of a teachable moment.  

Today, we are off to one of the big annual events.  It is the final day of the National Western Stock Show, so I expect to see a lot of cows!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

experiential learning, or how I learned to stop worrying and surrender to the clay

Banff, Alberta.

We arrived in Calgary at 9:30 a.m. and it was minus 14 celsius.  By the time we got to Banff, it was plus 2, and it was raining sleet.  

Banff is the perfect environment in which to start a leadership adventure.  The inescapable reality of the mountains, the sky and the snow is designed to inspire.  And to be resident of a colony that was begun as one man's dream (to build a space for the arts on a mountainside, in the middle of the Great Depression) forces one to think big.

The entire two and a half days seemed designed to move us out ...way out...of our comfort zones. And it worked!  It was terrifying, and wonderful.

What did I learn? That it is very liberating to do things you are really bad not be the best, to not be in control, and to have to work and contribute nonetheless.  I was wowed by the insight and perspectives of my colleagues.  I laughed, I debated and I felt indescribably nourished.  I learned about the importance of creating a space for ideas and innovation to flourish.  I learned to harness parts of my brain that I don't use often enough.  I learned to listen to the "little voices" that too often get drowned out by the big drums. 

It truly helped to set us up for the rest of this journey.  

Now we are in Calgary, meeting with an amazing array of people. And what I learned in Banff is giving me a fresh perspective to bring to these meetings.  I see everything through a leadership filter, and I ask myself...what does this mean for Canada? for the public service?  for me? for my team?

all in all, a great beginning!

Friday, January 14, 2011

am I ready?

Here we are...two more sleeps before we depart.  So many lists and so much work trying to make sure that everything is in place.  So many levels of preparation!  First, will the hotels and travel be accessible?  It's amazing how elastic is the concept of accessibility.  You can assume nothing.  One location assured us that there would be an "accessible shuttle" to get us around the site. But when we asked for details, they clarified that the shuttle was a mini-van....minus any ramp. would someone who cannot climb stairs, and who uses a mobility scooter climb up into the seats?  Hmmmmm.  And don't get me started on toilets!  One of the things that I discovered on an intense cross-Canada swing back in 2004, not all accessible toilets are created equal.  Some are kindergarten height ---I almost missed a flight in Saskatchewan because the seat was so low, I could not get up. Some are so high you have climb up to sit on them.  Some have grab bars on either side, some have them in behind (just figure that one out!), some have none at all.  In Germany, some came equipped with a trapeze-like rope structure suspended from the ceiling...something designed by Cirque du Soleil?

So for me, advance planning is critical, and I cannot rely on what the hotel tells me.  I have learned from experience...ask for photos!  It gives me a better sense of what I'm in for, and how to prepare.  As always, being clear about your needs is is being polite and persistent.

In addition to the accessibility planning, of course there is a ton of planning for my office.  Are we clear on what needs to get done?  How are my boss's comfort levels?  She works so hard, and she is so supportive, but I don't want this to be a burden for her.  This kind of leadership program inevitably means extra work for everyone else.  You have to manage your guilt.  You have to be able to let go and permit others to take things on.  I have a great team, and great confidence in them and I know they will do just fine.  I am going to make my best efforts to disconnect from the office, so that I can really take advantage of the program, and so that my staff have the chance to take advantage of my absence and do their own leadership development.

Then there is the home front.  I grew up with a dad who was a survey pilot.  He was often away for huge chunks of time...up to 6 months.  I saw what a toll it placed on my mum.  I swore that if I got married, there would not be this kind of disruption.  So when Terry and I married, we made a deal....there would be no more than 5 nights apart at a given time.  We have managed quite well over the last 22 years....only when I went to New Zealand for work  in 2007 did I exceed our limit  (by 2 nights)...but 3 weeks?  I feel terribly guilty, and yet he encouraged me to go on the program when it was offered....which kind of adds to the guilt.  In my experience, it is always harder for the person who stays home.  (Plus, I'm worried that my plants won't survive :-) 
Thank goodness for Skype!

I am really excited....I am quivering with anticipation.  The program is very intense.  There are many many meetings with an array of people...former and current politicians, community leaders, academics, journalists, captains of industry...all have agreed to meet with us to help us gain insight into their worlds.  It is very humbling.  They are being so generous.

I hope to make the very best of it.  To learn from every thing that happens, including the inevitable hiccups along the way. There are some great people participating with me, so we will also have the chance to learn from each other.  And in the end, I hope that it will make me a better leader.