Tag Archives: Author Blog

  • Unlocking The Thoughtful Leader

    Fisher_TheThoughtfulLeader

    Jim Fisher shares the details of his successful career, spanning three different fields, that influenced his writing of The Thoughtful Leader

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    I have had the good fortune of enjoying three careers. My first career was nearly 20 years as a strategy consultant; the second, about 15 years as an executive in the food industry. In my third career I was asked to teach a course on Human Resource Management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. At the same time, I became Vice Dean of Programs responsible for the Masters and Executive programs of the School.

    I decided to teach the course as one on “how to manage people so that they become a resource” rather than as one on the mechanics of the Human Resource function. That decision led me dig deeper into the mystery of leadership – what it is and how it works. In that pursuit I was able to test the various theories against my own life experience observing leaders as a strategy consultant and trying to be one as an executive.

    What inspired you to write this book?

    My students inspired me to write the book.  Over the years, many have asked for a write-up on the concept. Several were particularly persistent long after they had graduated.

    I was also inspired by the number of people who I would run into long after they had been in my classroom who would report on how useful the concepts were and how often they used them. They urged me to share these ideas with a larger audience.

    How did you become interested in the subject?

    Over the past 20 years, leadership has gone from being a topic for the history books to a topic that dominates the public conversation. It is hard not to be interested and to have an opinion.

    My personal interest in leadership started with a year-long consulting assignment with the Canadian military. I assumed that military leadership was based on the idea that officers gave orders and the lesser ranks obeyed – or were court martialed. In fact, in over a year of visiting bases in Canada and Europe I found that the military thought very deeply about leadership and that the model of leadership in the army was very different from that of the navy and different again from that of the Air Force.

    From that year I began to see leadership as a great puzzle. How does one get someone else to do what you want them to do when it may be something that they do not want to do? How do you get them to do it with energy and enthusiasm and creativity? When I found myself in an executive position responsible for an operation employing 8000 people spread across the continent, I was preoccupied with that same puzzle. How can I influence the behavior and attitudes of people that I would never see.

    Leadership is magic; leadership is hard; leadership is a great human puzzle.

    How long did it take you to write your latest book?

    One answer to this question is that it has taken a lifetime. Another answer is that it started in 1998 when I taught my first leadership course and was still puzzling about just what leadership is that can be taught. A more specific answer is that it took about 4 years and 3 complete rewrites to get the finished product.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    Leadership is the news every day. Where we used to talk about senior managers or executives or Presidents, we now talk about leaders. There is always a point of view and always someone to consider.

    In addition I find the concepts of leadership can be found in everyday life and can be used to explain why someone is a great teacher or great salesperson or great fundraiser or great teammate.

    What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

    I wish people would pay more attention to what people do and puzzle about why those actions are able to influence people and spend less time trying to generalize the attributes or skills of leaders.

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    I was surprised that I had to write this book. I was surprised that there was not another comprehensive framework out there that captured what  a leader needs to do today to induce voluntary, energized leadership.

    Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

    In my working life I have spent a lot of time in the air. And, in the time leading up to the publication of the book, I did teach in China, India and Europe. One of the great things about teaching at the Rotman School is that the students come from around the world. I was always curious about how the ideas resonated with different cultures and different environments. The framework that emerges seems to be generally applicable. As a result I have learned more about the global applicability of leadership concepts in the classrooms at the University of Toronto than I did when I physically travelled.

    What was the hardest part of writing your book?

    It was hard to get the ideas to stand still. Over the years that I wrote the book I taught my full course close to ten times and taught abbreviated versions many times. I teach to learn; each class is an opportunity to learn. Anything that I had committed to paper might have been improved from something I had learned in the class. After many classes I would rush back to my office to start revising some part of the manuscript.

    What did you learn from writing your book?

    I think I came to a deeper appreciation of the nuance of the framework and how it interrelates and connects. I am a better teacher for having written the book.

    What are your current/future projects?

    I do have an idea for a book on designing workable organizations but hope the idea fades before I go through the hard work of getting it into book form.

    I also have an idea for building an interactive website that will allow people to work through the leadership framework in a way that enables them to use it to accomplish something in their own lives.

    What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

    I usually have several books on the go. At the moment my bedtime reading is book three of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante:  Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. To stay current with my topic I am reading Jeffrey Pfeffer Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time.

    What is your favourite book?

    My all-time, read-many-times work of fiction favourite is War and Peace by Tolstoy.

    My all-time favourite, this-will-change-the-way-you-look-at-the-world book is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

    If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    Academia is my third career so I have already done a lot of interesting things. One answer would be that I would finally retire, learn to play golf, play the piano and another language while focusing on a particular area of literature. Another is that, if I could drag myself away from my grandchildren, I would like to think I could find some way to make a difference to people in the many parts of the world that have not had the advantages of those who live in Canada.

    However, since I have signed on for another year of teaching and can't drag myself away from my grandchildren, the real answer is “more of the same”.

  • Unlocking Economics in the Twenty-First Century

    Chernomas_ Economics in the Twenty First CenturyWe talk with Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson about the widespread influence of economics, their interest in the economic crash of 2008, and the Portsmouth Football Club.

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    To quote the great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson – “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”

    What inspired you to write this book?

    The economics profession was the subject of a great deal of justified criticism for their role in not only failing to predict the economic collapse of 2008, but actually putting in place many of the policies that created it. We were interested in finding out to what extent younger members of the profession had changed their analysis in response to these criticisms.

    How did you become interested in the subject?

    In assessing the evolution of economics we wanted to try and pick the “best” of the profession. Rather than personally getting involved in the messy, subjective and controversial task of determining which economists we thought were the “best,” studying the John Bates Clark winners (awarded to the best US economist under 40) conveniently allowed the economics profession to do the selection for us.

    How long did it take you to write your latest book?

    From conception to end - three years.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    One of the most interesting things about our research is the process of how economic ideas get accepted as “correct” inside the profession and adopted into policy. Is it a matter of good ideas overcoming their inferior predecessors in a process of Darwinian evolution, a matter of incentives in the ivory tower of academia, or a matter of the old murder detective’s maxim qui bono?

    What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

    Many people seem to find economics boring (although not this book – it’s a real page turner). Yet the influence that economists and their ideas have on the everyday lives of people around the world is almost impossible to overstate. How economic ideas take hold and who reaps their rewards or bears their costs is one of the most important questions in society.

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    There is a statistic floating around that only about 35% of Americans have passports. It’s supposed to demonstrate that Americans are a bit insular and unaware of what’s going on in the world. The economic world could be accused of a similar insularity, not because they don’t engage with other disciplines, our research in this book shows that they certainly do. Rather their insularity is about their dedication to a particular method no matter what discipline they are engaging with and, for many, an assumption that the US economy as it is currently structured is a more or less natural state of affairs.

    Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

    While the public is no doubt under the impression that economists jet around the world to exotic locations for Raiders of the Arc style adventures, writing the book meant sitting in our respective homes at our computers for hours on end, followed by yet more hours discussing whether what we have said is worth saying. Post book launch there is a bit of travel attending conferences to share ideas including Ottawa, Calgary, New York and Chicago.

    What was the hardest part of writing your book?

    This is our fourth book together. The hardest part is always the editing. At that point your substantive ideas are in place but you have to go over your own work with a critical eye in order to figure out if you are saying what you think you are saying -that and the grammar mistakes.

    What did you learn from writing your book?

    Our research certainly suggests that in determining the winner in the contest for economic ideas it is the qui bono question that produces the most useful answers.

    What are your current/future projects?

    We have two new book contracts for 2017 and a 2018. The first is a bit of a prequel to this book in that it examines the economists whose ideas transformed the US economy after 1980. The second looks at how neoliberalism has affected the life chances of different classes in the US.

    In the health area, we have become fascinated with the relationship between epigenetics and economics. Our research looks into the economic implications of the epigenetic finding that the physical and socioeconomic environment can have multigenerational effects.

    What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

    For Robert, it’s mysteries, history, and biographies. He is reading “The Second World War” by Anthony Beevor.

    This isn’t going to create the impression that Ian has any literary pretentions, but Sci Fi and fantasy are his most common genres. He’s currently reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

    What is your favourite book?

    Robert is a big fan of E. L. Doctorow.

    For Ian, it depends on what you mean by favorite. If you mean the best book, it would be something by Joseph Conrad – Lord Jim or Heart of Darkness. If you mean books that he couldn’t put down - Lord of the Rings or The Road. Not exactly high-brow.

    If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    Robert can’t imagine doing anything else accept maybe directing movies.

    Ian would like to know if playing midfield in a promotion winning campaign for the Portsmouth Football Club is an acceptable answer. It’s possible that ship has sailed for Ian, hopefully not for Portsmouth.

  • Behind the Book with Jim Dewald

    Dewald_AchievingLongevity

    Jim Dewald, author of the new release Achieving Longevity discusses his fascination with the short survival time of firms, rates of change, and more. 

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    My interest in corporate entrepreneurship dates back to before I was in academics, when I was CEO of a real estate development company. This dates back 17 years when we saw the opportunity to transact real estate using the Internet for partial dis-intermediation. What shocked me was the number of corporate leaders in the industry absolutely fearful of any kind of change or disruption. Leaders crave longevity, but they want things to stay as they are for the long term. That is simply not reality.

    I was so influenced by this experience that I actually started my PhD studies at the ripe age of 44, just so I could study why some leaders welcome corporate entrepreneurship, while others resist, and others actually outright fight against change. My personal view was that successful corporations are best resourced and best positioned to take advantage of entrepreneurial opportunities.

    What inspired you to write this book?

    Two things really started me on the journey to write Achieving Longevity. First, learning the extremely short time-line for firm survival. I mean, how weird is it to think that on average, new operating firms, not just the concept numbered companies, but the actual operating firms only exist for 5 years? That’s kind of crazy.

    Second was to learn that the most established firms of all time do practice corporate entrepreneurship. The evidence is compelling – great firms do prosper through entrepreneurial thinking.

    As a business school dean, and a professor in strategy, I came to the realization that the story had to be told. Sustained competitive advantage is not the path to longevity, strategic entrepreneurship is. To move from strategic planning to strategic entrepreneurship, leaders need to embrace entrepreneurial thinking. I felt compelled to share this message as widely as possible.

    How long did it take you to write your latest book?

    I have worked the past two years on this book.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    I am fascinated by the diversity of reactions to the same circumstances. When adversity or opportunity (which may be the same, but perceived differently) arises, leaders will react in a wide array of manners. Why? That is the question that fascinates me.

    My research has focused on first distinguishing between dispositional factors (how individuals are inherently different) and situational factors (how individuals perceive the event to be different).

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    I started my journey by wanting to use changing times as the reason why a leader must pursue entrepreneurial thinking for longevity. I had by then seen the data on the short survival rate of firms, and the degree of change on the Dow Jones 30, and finally the amount of entrepreneurship and innovation within the most successful firms of all time. But I didn’t expect what I found when I started studying change. In fact, we are only fiddling around the edges. Our way of living is so unchanged over the past 60 years or so, it is startling. We drive in cars, the same speed, on the same roads, fill-up with gasoline the same way, heat our homes the same, have plumbing, water supply, electricity to homes, take showers – I mean it is really shocking to think of how little my daily routine has changed since I was a young man to today. By contrast, someone born 100 years before me would have gone from horse to cars, from kerosene lamps to electric lights, from wood stoves to survive winter to central heating, from outhouses to indoor plumbing. Wow.

    This revelation caused me to do quite a bit more research on why things have not changed, and how long this phenomenon might continue. A fascinating and revealing study that is still ongoing for me, and will definitely be a main part of my future writing.

    What was the hardest part of writing your book?

    Writing a book needs to be an act of passion. You need to believe in it totally yourself. Particularly with boldness. The bolder you are, the less certain you can be that others will find your work important. That is the knife edge that can make a writer very anxious, but it is also very much where writing thrives. It is lonely, and scary, but very rewarding and liberating. Hmm, now I am realizing the question was about the hardest part, which turned into me talking about it being the most rewarding part. I guess that is a statement on just about anything in life.

    What did you learn from writing your book?

    I learned that it is very important to keep moving forward. One of my favourite sayings is that great writers don’t write, they re-write. I think this is a take-off from a Michael Crichton quote, “Books are not written – they’re re-written.” I found it is really important to put down your thoughts, fully recognizing that there is a good chance that it will be changed before the book is finished. Re-writing is improving.

    What are your current/future projects?

    I am currently working on a project that is focused on our future, the prospect of real change, and what would change on the level of an industrial revolution mean today? I am very excited about this work.

    What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

    I am probably too focused on business and business oriented books. Right now, I am reading Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott, The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert Gordon, and An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

    What is your favourite book?

    My favourite book of all time is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and I am also a huge fan of Max DePree’s books on leadership, most notably Leadership is an Art.

    If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    I did real estate development and engineering for the larger part of my work life, and at times I miss it. My thing is really the organization and the people, not so much what we are producing. Academics are great though because of the freedom to focus on what you feel is important and in need of further study.

    Without being so evasive, one thing I would like to do is be in business with my children, who are already adults and cutting their own paths. Still, maybe one day…

  • Behind the Book with Ellen Auster

    AusterHillenbrand_StragilityEllen Auster, co-author of Stragility, discusses the inspiration behind the book, the process of creating it, and more.

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    My first job after university was working in a food distribution center in New Jersey. My direct boss was quite progressive for the time but his boss led through oppression and fear. As a result, I saw many great ideas squashed and the potential of the employees in the organization lost. That sparked my interest in eventually devoting a career to understanding how we can create inspiring, engaging organizations where everyone thrives.

    What inspired you to write this book?

    For the last 30 years, I have specialized in strategic transitions, transformations and turnarounds. Stragility is the culmination of my research, consulting and teaching, combined with the career wisdom and insights of my long-time friend, Lisa Hillenbrand.  Lisa worked for Procter and Gamble for 30 years, most recently as Global Marketing Director, and she and I together led a number of high impact change initiatives at P&G. This book gave us an opportunity to glean the best of what both of us had learned about leading strategic change.

    How long did it take you to write your latest book?

    The writing of Stragility took a little less than a year although we have been percolating on the ideas for much longer than that. We lived stragility as we wrote the book, which helped speed the process along. We worked hard but we also took breaks, rode bikes, ran, and walked dogs to fuel our creativity, as well as had dates with destiny for reaching different milestones.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    While there are general principles and skills for leading change, such as our stragility skills, every context requires a unique application of those skills. That’s what makes change both challenging and a competitive advantage for those who can master the art of stragility.

    What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

    With disruptive technology, relentless globalization and ever-demanding customers, change is the new normal.  Stragility is about winning in today’s change while simultaneously building the capabilities for tomorrow’s change and all the changes yet to come. Learning our four stragility skills enables change leaders to overcome change fatigue and avoid becoming part of the 70% of changes that fail.  Given that products, services and infrastructure all become obsolete, the ability to win at change ever time might be one of the most powerful sources of competitive advantage.

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    One of the most surprising things we discovered is how complicated it is to uncover and discover the most essential skills for change.

    Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

    We believe in a global perspective on change so we travel as needed.  Lisa has lived in the US, Asia and Europe as part of her roles at P&G so she brought that perspective into our writing.

    What was the hardest part of writing your book?

    One of the most challenging aspects was ensuring that it was very user-friendly and accessible to change leaders in all types of organizations.

    What did you learn from writing your book?

    One lovely insight is that the intertwining of an academic and practitioner perspective facilitates a more comprehensive understanding for a broader audience.

    What are your current/future projects?

    One future area of work is roadtesting our stragility skills across more organizations in diverse industries.  A second extension is drilling down further on the application of stragility to smaller businesses and startups.

    What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

    One stream of books I like to read are business books that reframe leadership.  Right now I have just started a new book entitled Originals by Adam Grant, which is all about mobilizing innovative ideas that go against the grain. I also am a medical fitness buff and read a lot of leading edge medical newsletters as I am thoroughly intrigued by the complexity of the human body.

    What is your favourite book?

    One of my favorite books is a little known book called Seasons of the Self by Max Coots. It’s a wonderful book that underscores how we are constantly traversing fall, winter, spring and summer phases throughout our lives.

    If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    I would likely be a full time strategic change consultant or a medical doctor.  Both are all about systems and their ripple effects, which fascinate me.

  • Behind the Book with Maureen Lux

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    Maureen Lux gives even more depth to her striking new title Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s-1980s:

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    In a sense Separate Beds emerged out of the research from my previous book, Medicine That Walks (2001).  In that book I examined the nascent Canadian state’s expansion westward and the impact on Aboriginal bodies and societies.  Indigenous communities, once valuable and respected partners in trade, exploration, and commerce, came to be seen as impediments to settlement and agricultural progress.  The impact of dispossession and colonization on individual and collective wellbeing was immediate.  Rationalized at the time by reference to an inevitable struggle with the challenges of civilization, health disparities were accepted by state and society (bolstered by medical opinion), as the last gasp of a ‘dying race’.

    That book ended with what I thought at the time was a somewhat positive note.  Following years of neglect and blame, the government had, by the 1940s, finally begun to devote some resources and attention to Indigenous peoples’ health care. But as I got further into the research on the Indian Health Service and their Indian Hospitals, my optimism quickly faded.

    After the Second World War, Indigenous peoples’ continued economic, social, and political difference, or what was called the “Indian problem,” captured Canadians’ attention.  In particular, the discourse of a ‘dying race’ no longer held; disease in First Nations and Inuit communities came to be characterised as a threat to national health and hygiene.  Intended to isolate that threat, Indian hospitals also served to ensure that Aboriginal people would not take up beds in increasingly modern and expensive community hospitals.  While Canada invested millions in hospital infrastructure and programs of hospital and health insurance that became Medicare, Indian hospitals operated on the premise and promise that they would operate at half the cost of community hospitals.  Separate Beds examines the mid-twentieth century state’s response to continued health disparities.  Institutionalised health care, Indian Hospitals, emerged as Canada was actively defining something called ‘national health’ in the 1940s and 1950s.

    Underfunded by design and situated in redundant military barracks and residential schools, Indian hospitals would never draw personnel and resources from modernizing Canadian hospitals.  Aboriginal patients were characterized as careless in their own health and therefore subjected to prolonged institutional treatment, and increasingly invasive surgery, for tuberculosis at a time when most non-Aboriginal patients were treated at home.  Separate Beds exposes an abiding mid-century faith in medicine’s promise to treat those made ill by reserve poverty, only to return them to it.  Health disparities continued to widen.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    In talking to archivists, librarians, and other historians about my research on Indian Hospitals, I was constantly surprised by the almost complete lack of knowledge that such institutions ever existed in Canada.   I was intrigued by their reactions: “Canada didn’t have racially segregated health care!”  Yet, when I spoke with people in Indigenous communities, everyone had either personally experienced the institutions, or knew someone in their immediate family that had.

    How to explain this apparent erasure of Indigenous experience from public memory?  The hundreds of banker’s boxes of documents – though restricted and difficult to access - were there in front of me.  The bureaucratic record of the Hospitals was mostly intact (though many patient files were destroyed in the 1950s).   Yet twentieth century health care history told a progressive story of the ‘road to Medicare’ that embraced all Canadians.   It took me probably far too long to finally understand that the isolation and segregation of Indigenous people in Indian Hospitals was integral to the dominant project of modernizing health care for non-Indigenous Canadians. On the rare occasion that Indian Hospitals intruded into this story of progress, it was to congratulate Canadians on their humanitarianism.

    What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

    I think most thoughtful Canadians understand that health disparities in (some) First Nations and Inuit communities have deep economic and political roots in colonialism.  Yet there remains a sort of ideological shorthand that equates Indigenous communities with ill-health; that despite every effort, health disparities are seemingly inevitable.  Some even dredge up the old ‘biological invasion theory’ that Indigenous people somehow lack immunity to diseases brought by settlers.  Perhaps that notion had some purchase in very early contact situations, but it certainly does not apply to health history since the early nineteenth century.

    Canadians have only very recently begun a serious dialogue about the destructive role of the century-old Residential School program in our shared history.  Like the schools, Indian Hospitals and Health Services might be seen as nodes in the broader web of policies and relations that sought to undermine and isolate First Nations and Inuit communities in the interests of non-Indigenous Canada.

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    As I researched, I was always taken aback by the overwhelming paternalism of the physician-bureaucrats that designed and operated the Indian Health Service and its hospitals.  This surprisingly small group of men tied significant state power to medicine’s soaring twentieth century reputation that only grew with announcements of new drug treatments, daring surgeries, and the seeming ‘conquest’’ of another infectious disease.  Despite evidence to the contrary, they claimed success for their Hospitals project while blaming Indigenous people and their supposed cultural (racial) shortcomings for any failures.  The bureaucrats rarely, if ever, questioned that they alone knew what was best for Aboriginal communities.

    It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that Indigenous communities and their leadership were finally able to force some recognition that they might have insight into health problems and their solutions.  And it was not until the new century that communities were allowed a measure of decision making in the Health Transfer Agreements.  Given that history, it should not come as a great surprise that health disparities continued into the 21th century.

    What are your current/future projects?

    I am currently collaborating with Professor Erika Dyck on a history of reproductive politics in the 1960s and 1970s.  Taking our cue from the elder Prime Minister Trudeau’s famous quip that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, we examine the politics of reproduction in the wake of liberalizing Criminal Code amendments that legalized birth control and abortion.  Some middle class white Canadians achieved a measure of reproductive autonomy, yet others, defined by their disabilities and their race, found that the state had become even more interested in what went on in their bedrooms.   This project is nearing completion.

    What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

    I just finished Rosemary Sullivan’s fascinating narrative Stalin’s Daughter.  Right now I am re-reading (again) Alice Munro’s Open Secrets.  Her short stories are delicious; she makes every word do so much work.  Who else could describe snow drifts that “curled like waves stopped, like huge lappings of cream.”  Her writing dazzles.

    If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    I honestly couldn’t imagine working at a more fulfilling and exciting career!

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