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The “do-not-do” list for good leaders

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I had a very enjoyable breakfast chat this morning with my good friend Alejandro, and the subject of a “do-not-do” list came up. Unlike a to-do list, the do-not-do list is a reminder to ourselves of the things that we either don’t want to be doing or shouldn’t be doing.

Do-not-do list

Do-not-do list

This got me thinking about leaders, and the many things they should not be doing. I wonder if all leaders shouldn’t keep their do-not-do lists handy at all times. What would be on such a list? Here are a few ideas, and I hope you will weigh in with your own comments and additions:

A do-not-do list for good leaders

  • Do not do anything that one of your staff could do. Hoarding the work and failing to effectively delegate is a critical flaw, especially for new managers. It may be true that you can do the best job on several tasks, but that isn’t why they pay you the big bucks. Your job as a leader is to apportion the work fairly among your staff, to develop and stretch the talents of your team, to have your eye on the big picture, and to lobby for your team’s success. The first question to cross your mind when a new task comes in should be “Who else could do this?” If you have more than 3 items on your personal to-do list, you probably aren’t delegating enough – time to reassess and reassign.
  • Do not be a perfectionist. Delegation is one of the scariest things a manager does, as it often flies in the face of what got the leader promoted in the first place. Leaders often progress upwards because they are very hard on themselves, and are sticklers for producing good work. It can be gut-wrenching at times for perfectionists to release a task to someone else, knowing what they will get back is only 80-90% of the quality they could do themselves. Get over it! It is much easier to help refine the work of a dozen team members who have made a good effort at a dozen tasks than it is to hoard the work and add it to your growing to-do list.
  • Do not micro-manage. Nobody likes being micro-managed. Leadership is about engendering and modelling trust and accountability. Be clear on what the task being assigned is, how it fits into a bigger context (why it is important), what resources are available to help get it done, and when it is required. Then GO AWAY! You can check in if you sense that something is going off the rails, but otherwise, just back off. We hire highly-qualified and motivated people who are good at what they do – let them do it, without interfering or being overly controlling. When you micro-manage someone, you are telegraphing the message that you don’t trust them to get things done, which is very unmotivating, and is also a poor use of your time.
Rob Duncan at the Helm

You can't steer the boat and micro-manage it too

What do you think? Feel free to comment on this post and share your own “do-not-do” items.

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership and related topics, please contact Rob Duncan at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Interviewees needed for doctoral research on social networking

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I would like to interview managers and executives who have consciously encouraged the use of online social networks in their organizations. This is for my doctoral research looking into the use of online social networks like LinkedIn. If you would be willing to be interviewed by me for around 30-45 minutes, I would be hugely grateful. I will share the interview questions with you prior to the interview, and your responses will be kept confidential unless you wish otherwise. I will also be pleased to share a synopsis of my findings with all who participate. If you are willing to take part, please let me know at and I will be in touch with further details and to schedule an interview time. Many thanks!

Leadership lessons from the 2010 Olympics, part 2

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Rob Duncan in front of the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour

Rob Duncan in front of the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour

As the games unfold, I can already see a few things that were obviously done right, and could be emulated by other leaders. Here are a few ideas:

Early warning: Vancouverites were warned early and often that nothing would be as normal during the run-up to the games and while the games were on. This extended to closing traffic lanes, which was done on a seemingly random basis in the weeks before the games started. The message was clear – get out of your cars, take transit or stay home! Leaders who anticipate disruption can smooth the way by feeding the warnings out there early, and by lowering positive expectations, as was done in the case of traffic control.

Creative catastrophising: By putting every negative outcome out there as a possibility, in the bleakest possible terms, from traffic gridlock to cost overruns, the real events can only pale by comparison. In my west end neighbourhood, we were expecting to be invaded by a quarter million people swarming our streets and taking over our cafes and restaurants. Buck up, get out of town or huddle at home was the message. In the end, there have only been a few more people here than usual, traffic is lighter if anything, and I have had no trouble getting a coffee from my favourite haunts. By allowing maximum catastrophic thinking to take root, people end up pricing-in the worst outcomes, and can only be pleasantly surprised by reality.

Appealing to collective pride: I haven’t met a Vancouverite yet, who hasn’t responded to the call to showcase the best aspects of our city and country. In my famously antisocial neighbourhood, people are actually smiling at one another, and having the small, pleasant, inconsequential snatches of conversation at streetcorners that I associate more with New York than here. In the last few days, I have seen people stooping to pick up bits of trash off other people’s lawns, and a sense of civic pride that I haven’t seen for a long time. I suspect all leaders can gain by making major challenges into a point of collective pride!

Please feel free to weigh in with your opinions and ideas. Or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership, please contact Rob Duncan at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Leadership lessons from the 2010 Olympics, part 1

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Rob Duncan - Vancouver 2010

Rob Duncan - Vancouver 2010

Okay, I admit it: the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are shaping up to be cool – real cool! I have to think that the leadership behind the games has been largely responsible for what is shaping up to be a terrific show.

I haven’t always been convinced we were going to pull it off without a hitch. While it was exciting to see all the buildings being erected and the city decorated, the Vancouver Olympics were facing many challenges. Limited parking in Whistler, not enough snow on Cypress mountain and multiple transportation and accommodation shortages being some of the key issues.

Fortunately, many precautions were put in place to help the Olympics move smoothly, things like closing schools and implementing driving permits to reduce traffic and increasing the use of buses to service displaced drivers.

I will be observing the games with an eye to divining just what the leadership “secret sauce” was that contributed to the success of the games. I would love to hear your thoughts on leadership lessons from the games. Go Canada!

Energizing innovation by enabling social connections

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One of my most satisfying experiments was the introduction of Commercialization Bootcamps at BCIT’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation (CARI). Rather than just being a dump of lecture content (which people told us they DIDN’T want), the purpose of the one-day events is to enable social connections between inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, professionals and students.

Watch this quick video to get the idea:

Client feedback is telling us that the Bootcamps are a total success, and that the connections that attendees have made with one another have advanced their ideas closer to market.

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about enhancing innovation through bootcamps, please contact Rob Duncan at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Using facebook to create an innovation community

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I am currently completing my doctorate in the area of collaborative innovation through online social networks. One of the “living experiments” I am watching is the effort by BCIT’s Applied Research Liaison Office (ARLO) to create an online community that brings together students, industry and faculty. What ARLO has done is set up a Facebook fan page ( and endeavored to populate the community with a healthy mix of students, industry people and others who are interested in applied research and innovation.

ARLO Facebook Page

ARLO Facebook Page

As with everything experimental, there are both successes and challenges. Some of my observations so far are:

- Getting members to sign up, and to stick around.
- Achieving the right mix of participants.
- Keeping the content fresh and appealing.
- Getting members of the community to interact with each other.
- Moving beyond the surface contact nature of Facebook.

- Increased awareness of the ARLO office and what they do.
- Stimulated the creation of a student-led consulting group.
- Opened a two-way communication channel with the market in a medium they like.

Is Facebook the right medium to create this type of community? Only time will tell…

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about collaborative innovation through online social networks, please contact Rob Duncan at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Building the perfect leader for a new decade?

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Last week I was involved in a brainstorming session with a team of professionals who had been asked to come up with a list of attributes they wanted their new senior manager to have. The individual being sought would need to be well-versed in technical fields, as well as having the typical well-rounded management qualities.

As I now look over the list of attributes, I see a strong pattern emerging: of the 20 or so attributes, there are virtually no hard skills listed! Instead, there are a number of soft skills such as high EQ, being a people person, having humility, integrity and great communications skills.

This got me wondering – are we seeing a pendulum swing back in favor of soft skills? Could this be a reaction to the bruising effects of the recession? The importance of soft skills seems to be confirmed by a recent study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership, please contact Rob Duncan at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Passion, vision, growing together

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I am excited to set up this blog to share my experience and ideas on leadership and development.  I will be able to pull all the best resources I have found over the years and over the web and present them in a format that is both easy to understand and easy to apply to normal life.  My vision is to help individuals and teams to identify their true goals and help them prepare and accomplish those goals within their own schedule. I will be adding a video blog shortly so that you can get a better idea of who I am and what I am truly passionate about.  Please come back soon to absorb and  interact on knowledge that you can actually use.

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