Sunday, February 20, 2011

leadership and innovation

I am musing about something;  something that concerns me about our public service. There was an article in the Economist about changes to our wireless world.  The article spoke about what various companies are up to, mentioning Verizon which is about to launch the next wireless technology, called LTE, that will make wireless connectivity so much easier.  And you can bet that Verizon is not content to focus on LTE.  Undoubtedly, they are already thinking about and planning for what comes after LTE.  It is all about a relentless quest to innovate.  Of course, driven by a desire for increased market share.

And it makes me wonder about our public service.  Where is OUR relentless drive to innovate, to make things better?  Do we even think about what happens beyond next week, next month?  We are so driven by the now.  And we are driven by our tiny preoccupations, in our respective divisions.

What if our motivation was to continuously improve our service offerings to Canadians, while driving down the costs of those offerings?

Can innovation only occur when there is a profit motive?  Are there other ways to spur creativity and innovation in the public sector?

I worry that we are too big, too bloated and too complacent.  Things are working "okay", so there is no real impetus for change.  It reminds me a bit of our conversations in Argentina.  They too have a reasonable standard of living in a beautiful country, and so they are content to muddle along.

I am going to take a look at my sector, and what we are responsible for, and I am going to put my question to my team.  How can we continuously improve what we do, for the benefit of Canadians, while driving down our costs of doing it.

Should be an interesting conversation!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I don't want to be a shit-disturber, but really.....

So......I have been struggling with something.  I work for the Government of Canada.  We have a policy that says that we are not to book meetings or do business with places that are inaccessible.  Yet the department I work in consistently books some meetings (mostly for social reasons such as retirement or going away parties) at a nearby air force mess hall...that is completely inaccessible.  Stairs to get in, and more stairs once you get in.  I can't tell you the number of times over the years in which I have declined invitations to one event or another at this location, and explained why I cannot attend.  Recently, I learned that a colleague had booked a work-related meeting at this venue.  I thought, "I have to do, or say, something".  I know that these incidents are never intentional.  And the people booking the meetings probably never stop to think about what they are doing, and the attitudes they are reinforcing.  They probably think, if they stop to think, well no-one coming to the meeting is disabled, so it's not really an issue. And I wonder how they would react if the same venue had a sign outside that said, "blacks not welcome", or "women not allowed", or "no Jews".  Because a venue that is not accessible is saying that people like me are not welcome, that we are not valued, that we are not part of the community.

So I am going to raise this issue at our next management meeting.  And I hope that my colleagues will agree that if someone discriminates against one of us, they discriminate against all of us. And maybe, if this venue loses a regular clientele, they will do something about their lack of access.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

so NOW I get food poisoning????

How cruel is that?  I return, bleary-eyed, jet-lagged, but having survived many interesting food experiences (so what does the polite visitor do when the aboriginal hosts offer a steaming cup of coca-leaf tea? ..or mystery meat kebabs?)
I was congratulating myself for my amazing ability to keep up with my colleagues, do the late-night dinners, the excruciatingly early mornings (and remember, it takes me twice as long to do the personal grooming and getting ready stuff as the non-wheeled folk).  I was Ms. get-up-and-go-because-we-can-sleep-when-we-get-home.  Ah hubris!  Never mock the travel gods.

Arrived home in the morning.  Dear  hubby prepared a lovely dinner - - his specialty - - roast chicken-- for me.  I slept like a baby,for 10 hours.  But when I awoke the next day, the tummy was not so happy, and things went downhill from there.  And stayed that way for the next 2 days.  No fever. No aches.  No chills.  Just the sad reality of a bad case of food poisoning.

But I am better.  And I am back.  And am so delighted at the work of my team in my absence.  It really paid off to truly disconnect.  I resisted the urge to call in, and my staff rallied beautifully.  Things got done!  I love feeling dispensable.  I don't feel useless or that I have no added value, but it is very reassuring to know that you have good people and that the place will indeed survive without you!

I am observing myself in my environment, and I am so hoping that some of what I learned over the last 3 weeks will stick.  The whole point is to be a better leader.  Will I be?

So now it is my turn to ask you out there...what do you want to know more about?  How would you like me to continue this blog? Would you like more detail about the trip?  Do you have questions that you want to discuss about leadership?  Do you want to learn more about the accessibility angle?

I would love to make this more interactive, so let me know, and please, let's continue!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Of swollen ankles and lack of sleep

Another day, another aircraft.  Here I am on the tarmac of Santiago Chile.  No, this is not another stop on the program, it is a stop on our flight to Toronto.  Air Canada does not fly directly from Buenos Aires, so we had to fly first to Santiago.  Because the flight crew was changing, every passenger had to disembark…disabled folks included.  So, we were told to line up in a non-air-conditioned hallway to wait while they cleaned the plane.  I was last in a posse of 7 wheelchairs.  But I didn’t mind… it was warm and there was a spectacular sunset over the mountains that ring Santiago’s airport.  It reminded me that Chile is another country I want to visit…but Argentina keeps getting in the way!

Why is it that when I travel to Argentina, my ankles and feet swell up in a hideous way?  It never happens in Europe or Mexico.  I actually had to buy a new pair of shoes, since I had run out of options that did not pinch badly.  And buying is something you can do with great abandon and delight in Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) our agenda was so action packed that it was difficult to carve out time to do anything else….but lord knows, I and my colleagues certainly tried!

My early impressions of this journey?  There are some themes starting to emerge…one is about passion.  The leaders who impressed me the most were those who were living their passion.  They were doing exactly what they wanted to do.  I don’t think they thought about things like work-life balance.  Their work and their life were one and the same.They had utter commitment to what they did. They radiated a sense of purpose and rightness in what they were doing.

Another thing I observed was that the good leaders were surrounded by talented people who supported their vision.  So many of them spoke of the necessity of being surrounded by good, talented people with the right values.  All stressed the importance of working as a team, and the power that comes when people start to work together.  I think back to one of the social enterprises we visited, and how it was not just an exercise in bringing natural gas to a was about helping neighbours work together to solve their own echo of what the mayor of Calgary spoke to us about....the magic of seeing other people not as clients, but as co-problem-solvers.

What else?  Beware of complacency!  It is too easy to slide into it.  If one is comfortable, and things are still relatively okay, one can tolerate a little discomfort, a little loss of freedom, of democracy.  I observed this most in Argentina, but also in the US.

Need to mull a bit more....the synthesis of what I've experienced is going to take some time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

tango in argentina

What a shock to leave snowy, soggy Washington and arrive in sultry, sunny Argentina.  Oh the joys of summer!  It is delightful to shed, coats, gloves...and expose pale northern skin to warm air.

We are on an intense learning experience, and we are soaking it up.  We have met with an amazing array of people.  Once again, it is an impressive mix of politicians, academics, social entrepreneurs, business leaders.  It gives us a composite picture of this complicated country.  What is emerging?  There is a profound distrust of institutions  (polling suggests that a strong majority feel that it is okay to not pay taxes, since there is little to show for it), and at the same time a huge pride in their country and the people.  They have a highly educated population, and for those fortunate enough to live in the cities, the quality of life is impressive.  Yet in the suburbs  surrounding Buenos Aires, people are banding together to lobby for access to natural gas...and water! 

This is a country that is innovating in areas of the environment, nuclear and satellite technology, yet that is putting huge export duties on its farmers in an attempt to manage supply within the country, forcing many to switch from their famous cattle to soya crops.

No-one knows what the true rate of inflation is, because the government sacked their chief statistician in 2006, because they did not like the high numbers being reported.  However, there are proxy numbers, because salary increases are reported regularly, and last year, salaries rose  by an average of 25%. And certainly the people are complaining about it.

I do get a sense of dynamism and optimism....pride in what they have been able to overcome (more on that in a later post on the horrors of the last military dictatorship.)  In some ways, we have much in common.....educated people, friendly, lots of natural resources, but the biggest difference is institutional.  say what you will about the Brits and common law, but it has laid the foundations for a stable system in our country.  IN Argentina, they lament their italo-hispanic institutional is not efficient, to say the least!  On the other hand, it has given them a tremendous sense of culture and identity that is impressive.

no conclusions yet, but am processing, processing everything I'm taking in.

more later.....