Top Read Posts Today
Blog Large Image Whole Post Wide | the blog of dan pontefract
page-template,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post-wide,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post-wide-php,page,page-id-18959,page-child,parent-pageid-19834,do-etfw,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.4.4,vc_responsive

Blog Large Image Whole Post Wide

The Five Rules Of Managing Up

Most of us have a boss. Some of us actually like them.

The “boss” is that person who is ultimately responsible for your status in the organization. They can make or break your career. So too they hold power to continue or bring to an end your employment. Maybe you’re a full-time employee or a contractor. Either way, it is perhaps one of your most important relationships in life. (Hint: it’s much more important than your relationship with your mobile phone.)

Unless you’re a sole proprietor running your own business without a board of directors, there will always be someone who reigns over your employment.

CEOs report into chairs of the board. SVPs report into CEOs. Directors report into VPs. Managers report into directors. Individual contributors, team leads, and other commonly used front-line titles report into managers. It’s been like this for decades. It’s not going to change, either.

The relationship between you and your direct leader can be anywhere from tenuous to fantastic.

Wherever you land on the spectrum, it’s a rather important skill to possess. That is, how do you manage up?

Many people consider the term a derogatory one; “managing up.” Always the contrarian, I beg to differ. If leaders both lead and manage, what’s wrong with you—as the subordinate in the leader-subordinate relationship—managing up? After all, leaders are “managing down,” aren’t they?

First off, be proactive.

Everyone is tasked with projects, deliverables, goals and actions. Nobody likes a surprise. Whether you have good news to report or potentially bad news, your communication strategy ought to be one that is first and foremost proactive. Get ahead of everything and anything. That doesn’t mean being an overly zealous and careless communicator to the point of annoyance. It means to be constantly thinking about where you are at with your tasks, and how/when you will position yourself accordingly with your boss.

Second, lie.

Wait, what? That’s right; I said lie. Well, sort of. When managing up, one item to consider is whether you want to tell the entire story. Being proactive is critical, but providing all the gory details may not be a useful strategy. Imagine a performance issue with one of your team members. Perhaps there was inappropriate conduct. Rather than unleashing the entirety of the situation to your boss, ensure they are aware of the generalities of the scenario rather than the specifics. And ensure they know you are on top of it, and the outcome.

Third, ask for their assistance.

A boss always likes to feel wanted, if not needed. Far too many direct reports fail to appreciate their boss’s ego. “They’re my boss,” some will muse, “so why should I stroke their ego?” Well, you should. Period. With any luck, they attained the position of “boss” because of superior performance during their career. (That’s the hope.) There is unquestionably no harm in asking. Some of us believe it’s a sign of weakness with our character or leadership skills. It’s not. It demonstrates respect for your boss, and you might even get something out of it.

Fourth, offer your assistance.

In this the age of organizational freneticism, bosses are stressed, overly busy, and constantly trying to find ways to “do more with less.” Budget cutbacks, staff attrition (whether voluntary or involuntary) and constant restructuring are widespread issues that bosses have to handle. Inbox zero has become a dream. 40-hour work weeks are a distant memory. Every now and then I suggest that you offer up your assistance. Perhaps it’s in your 1-1 status review meeting. Maybe it’s in an email (sigh, more emails) or embedded somewhere else. Whatever the mechanism, when you offer to take something off of your leader’s plate—or simply suggesting you have a block of time over the next month, quarter, whatever to chip in—it goes a long way to furthering your relationship. It also demonstrates your sense of empathy.

Fifth and finally, skip past your boss.

Managing up should not stop with your immediate leader. They just happen to be the person directly connected to you via the org chart. I have seen people who occasionally skip past their boss to great advantage. Maybe you can come up with ways in which to physically say hello, be it at the end of a meeting, a town hall session, or even the elevator or parking lot. If you have established a relationship of some sort, you might even contemplate an email that outlines some of your accomplishments. Better yet, you might even highlight creative ideas that could help the team’s (or organization’s) strategy. You could offer your assistance somehow. In any case, you will want to gauge whether to involve your direct leader in any of your interactions so as not to seem rogue or disrespectful.

Managing up is not necessarily a negative concept. Indeed it could simply be another tool in your toolbox of career development.




I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.


Click Below





And why not watch the TED Talk?



So, Now What?

It never ceases to amaze me how many issues can crop up in our lives. Some of them deserve our attention, and some do not. It invariably begs the question, “so, now what?” (And should I do anything about it.)

There are the societal issues. Many of them. I’m always wondering about the health and wellness of our planet, for example.

Case in point: why did the State of Washington recently vote down its carbon tax plan? I could spend time analyzing the result but is that effective use of my time? I doubt it. I have to overlook the situation and not get hit by that particular curveball. I can’t take on every societal issue otherwise I’ll end up in a negative head space. I pick my battles. I like scotch, too.

There are the community issues. There are loads of them. I live in what is known as the CRD–Capital Region District–on Vancouver Island. There are 91 elected mayors and council members for a population of 383,360 people. That seems disproportionately high to me, but again, I can’t take on that particular matter. I’ll get sucked into a never-ending vortex of questions and end up smoking cannabis till my eyes turn greener than they already are. (Editor’s note: it’s legal in Canada now.)

There are my many personal issues. We all have them. In our house, Goats #1 and #2 are going through colossal struggles now as young teenagers. It’s not any fun at all, to be honest, for them or the parents. In this case, there is no choice but to be continually asking the question, “so, now what?” I feel as though I’m failing on this one. No one ever prepared me for the intensity, the emotional seesaw, the gong show that is parenting children. Whether they’re randomly collapsing like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or unable to control their temperament due to an unmistakable MIA state of their prefrontal cortex, it’s a miracle I haven’t beaten Goat #3 for sport. (Editor’s note: he hasn’t.)

Then there are the professional issues.

My monthly average for coaching conversations–where I spend 30-60 minutes with someone chatting about their current state, and where they want to get to–is eight. That is I will take eight requests from strangers or people I know and talk over the phone or in person (for free) about their purpose. I love doing it. I love helping others. But I can’t actually take on their problems. I have to get them to sort out the question, “so, now what?” It cannot fall on my shoulders.

Client issues (and opportunities) pop up all the time. It’s a constant juggle of listening, analyzing, thinking, strategizing, and doing. I doubt there is a day that passes by where I’m not asking, “so, now what?” I suppose it is to be expected. But if I take home their professional issue or if I internalize it to the point it affects my overall disposition, I am doing a disservice to anyone in my vicinity. (And that’s not a good thing for any of the so-called “goats.”)

When a professional issue pops up that directly affects me in a personal way, well, that’s a whole new kettle of fish. When SAP acquired Business Objects back in 2007, I recall with tumultuous memory the amount of time I spent trying to convince Germany-based leaders the merits of our organization, our team, our culture. It was a harrowing experience, but I learned a lot, too. (For example, I had never come across spätzle before. OMG, so good!)

In times of professional tumult, I have learned to fall back on my declaration of purpose. It’s rather simple and it effectively answers the question, “so, now what?” each time:

We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.

I’ve done it before, and I’ll surely do it again, if necessary.

It’s this ‘North Star’ that keeps me balanced, positive, and ready for anything that may come my way.

Purpose for the win! (Also, I lost my passport so if you find it, please let me know.)

Employees Have Become So Busy They Have Given Up On Learning

In today’s organization, speed has become a weapon against learning.

Time to market, time to innovate, and time to exploit are now bullets in the gun. And that gun seems perpetually cocked. In a world governed by the need for growth, employees are under stress to complete things as quickly as possible. Indeed, we now scurry from task to task and action to action in a continuous rootless state.

A perpetual influx of meetings litters our calendars, at times from early morning to late afternoon. Emails flood our inbox. Instant messages, texts and other social streams haunt our to-do list, even if they may be deemed unimportant and non-urgent.

On the topic of to-do lists, the corporate mantra of “do more with less” is ironically adding more to the plates of employees than its intended proclamation. The result? Employees are stressed, overworked, and failing to take the time to think. Busyness is now king. It’s the queen, too.

Employees have become so busy they have given up on learning. I find this a frighteningly worrying trend.

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, there is further irony to report. Ninety-four percent of employees indicated they would stay at their company longer if it invested in their career development. The irony? From the report: “The No. 1 reason employees say that they feel held back from learning is because they do not have time to learn the skills they need.”

It turns out employees are so busy that they’re not even aware the organization most likely already offers a wide array of learning options. If they somehow stumble upon a learning option—be it a class, eLearning, video, or job aid—the second hurdle now has to be overcome: Do they have the time in their overly busy calendar to consume the learning and then apply it to their role?

It’s no secret that levels of employee engagement have remained stagnant for the better part of two decades. About a third of the organization is engaged—willing to go above and beyond the call of duty while motivated and feeling valued in their role—whereas two-thirds of all employees are either checked out at work or worse, chronically disengaged to the point of sabotaging business processes like customer service.

Part of the reason for the stagnation in employee engagement is how frenetic and busy our schedules have become at work. Consequently, employees feel as though there is no time to learn. When there is no time to learn, the employee distrusts the organization. “This company doesn’t care about me or my career, so why should I put in any extra effort,” some will charge.

Senior leaders see it differently. According to the LinkedIn report, 90 percent of executives suggested learning and development is a “necessary benefit to the employees at the company.” While they may view learning as a necessary benefit, executives also have to ensure time is appropriately allocated to an employee’s bandwidth for the benefit of turning it into a positive outcome. Otherwise, any available learning and development option is merely an idea rather than a tactical application.

What to do?

The first step is to analyze how employees are spending their time. I often recommend a time or calendar audit. If there are too many unnecessary meetings, it’s time to rethink how the organization meets. If there is too much email or point-to-point communication preventing people from learning (or doing their work), it’s a good time to rethink the organization’s time management norms.

Second, ask employees their predilection for learning. Knowing how, when and where employees like to learn will provide the context for a new way of learning. In the LinkedIn report, employees reported their preferences as follows:

  • 68% of employees prefer to learn at work
  • 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace
  • 49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need


Pervasive Learning by Dan Pontefract

Third, redefine the term learning such that it incorporates three key types: formal, informal and social. Then spend the time re-educating the workforce on the definition (I coined it Pervasive Learning in my first book, FLAT ARMY) and help both employees and managers with the change.


Not every type of learning occurs in a classroom or needs days off at a time. There are ample informal and social ways in which we can learn these days.

The key is to bridge the gap between how we are spending our time, and what the actual definition of learning looks like in the 21st century.

Stop being so busy, and start not only redefining what learning is but allocating some time in which to make it happen.



I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.


Click Below

amazon-com-logo    indigo

indiebound      barnes-and-noble-logo-png-10  


And why not watch the TED Talk?



Win 1 Of 5 Signed Copies Of OPEN TO THINK

If you’d like to win one of five signed copies of Dan’s latest book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively and Make Better Decisions, simply subscribe to his “irregular newsletter.”

Published 3-5 times per year, Dan’s newsletter is usually chock full of free goodies including articles and columns he’s written, podcasts he has recorded, links to talks he has delivered, and the occasional story or two.

Visit the link below to subscribe and automatically be entered into the draw.

Contest closes Sunday, November 4, 6:00pm PT. Winners will be notified by email, and first names will be listed in a comment below this post.

Subscribe here:

PS: here’s Dan’s most recent newsletter as an example:

A Reader’s OPEN TO THINK Question About Critical Thinking & Students

A reader reached out to me with a question. They are in the middle of the book, immersed in the section devoted to Critical Thinking. Their profession is as a higher education professor.

I found it to be a compelling question, one that I’d like to share with you replete with my response.

Dear Dan,

I’m currently reading OPEN TO THINK and enjoying it.  May buy a hat! Just started chapter 5 on Critical Thinking and have a question.  Do grades within a post-secondary setting reduce students propensity for Critical Thinking partially due to rubrics and partially out of fear?

Dear Professor <name withheld>,

First, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to write and, of course, for picking up a copy of the book.

To your question, quite simply, yes! You are spot on.

I would add, however, that critical thinking is also impacted by the sheer load on a student. I’m not necessarily accusing the academic load that professors put on a student, rather an entire load of activity that is part of a student’s life.

I’m referring to the increased load that includes the need for part-time jobs but also the student’s addiction to content, texts, social streams (e.g. Instagramification), and dopamine hits from their mobile device.

Add it all up and I believe students are far busier than ever, which negatively affects their critical thinking. Compound the point with their desire to meet the grading system of the prof’s rubric and a fear of failing (versus a joy of learning) and you have a recipe for disaster.

Finally, go for the pork pie hat! 😀




What I Learned From My Emergency Gallbladder Surgery

Up here in Canada, north of the 49th parallel, we celebrate Thanksgiving several weeks before our American friends. During the second weekend of October, Canadians enjoy a three-day holiday taking stock in the fall harvest, friendship, and family while giving thanks for what we have, and who we are.

On October 7, our family held a dinner for 20 people. Eight adults and 12 children gathered round colours of orange, red and yellow and feasted on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Before the gorging ensued, I gave a toast:

“May we give thanks to each other, to those we have lost, to everything we have received, and to our health; never take it for granted.”

Eight hours later the irony of that comment about health was dripping as the gravy did off my plate.

Eight hours later I was in the emergency room, writhing in pain emanating from my mid-stomach region.

As the morphine kicked in, the CT scan and ultrasound test painted a picture implicating the gallbladder as the criminal. The guilty, charged. The verdict came in. Extraction. Goodbye gallbladder. Good riddance, too.

While the morphine and other antibiotics masked the pain pre-surgery, post-surgery a different sort of pain began: patience.

Despite my proclamations for slowing down to be better at thinking, it is always easier said than done. Like many of you, I enjoy a fast-paced, go-go-go lifestyle. Between my work at TELUS, writing, speaking, reading, family, friends and my athletic pursuits, part of my personal purpose is to live a life of action.

Yes, I have learned to insert more moments of pause into my calendar and my daily habits. I do not take meetings before 8:30 a.m. I block off Friday afternoons. I try to make as many meetings as I can 45-minute or 15-minute meetings versus 60- or 30-minute ones.

Long ago I committed to reading one book per month. I ride my bike somewhere between 75 and 250 miles per week.

However, when my gallbladder was removed, an entirely different type of patience was necessary during the recovery phase. It taught me a few things.

Granted I have never needed to be hospitalized for any invasive surgery; patience was a must. It became necessary to measure in advance any move I might make for fear of pain throughout my abdomen region.

Simply going to the bathroom in the hospital felt like an ultramarathon of planning, decision-making and execution. I was forced to sort out how I might get out of the bed—which arm to put forward first, which leg to move, when to turn, how to pivot—every two hours due to the volume of IV fluids circulating in my body.

Sleeping was like riding a stage in the Tour de France. Any minor shift seemed to have me touching wheels and crashing into a guardrail.

After a couple of days, I was released to recover from the comfort of my own bed.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the car ride home either.

The walk from the hospital room to the car waiting for me at the entry door would have normally taken five minutes. It took me 20, as I paused, reflected, and tried to avoid anyone bumping into me.

Once in the car after having successfully yet methodically sorted out how to sit down, the 30-minute ride home was an exercise in balance. As with Newton’s third law, every turn, brake, and acceleration was met with an equal and opposite force of mine trying to prevent the aforementioned abdominal pain. Patience came in spades.

Once at home, a sympathetic carousel of friends visited to check in on my health. But again, patience was a must. Not only is it exhausting to seem happy when you’re in pain, but I also found I had to learn not to laugh.

When my friend Mark—a natural comedian—dropped by, his normal sense of English humour was on full display. I had to teach myself to be patient and focus on not laughing.

I have a newfound respect for those that have been hospitalized with invasive surgeries of any sort. It’s something I have never experienced, and in summary, it has taught me even more about the importance of patience.

Next time you feel rushed or a visceral need to be speedy, I hope you consider being more patient.

And to our health; may we never take it for granted.

Dan’s Latest Irregular Newsletter (with free goodies)

Now Available!

Audio Version of OPEN TO THINK

If you have been waiting for the audio version of my newest book, OPEN TO THINK, the wait is now over.

Visit Audible or iTunes to purchase your copy.

As with my other books, once again I am the narrator. It’s such a thrill to narrate your own book for listeners like you. Thank you for entrusting me to do a good job. (I sure I hope I did!)




Also, you can listen to a sneak peek.


The folks at Big Think released the first of several short videos where I discuss OPEN TO THINK. Click to view “How To Stop Being So Busy.”
Listen to a Thinkers50 podcast with me and Stuart Crainer.


If you have already managed to plough through OPEN TO THINK, would you be so kind and consider leaving a review on Amazon?

I would most appreciate it.


I’ve had the great fortune of touring North America recently, chatting with all sorts of folks about OPEN TO THINK and its primary messages.

If you’d like to consider me for an event, download this handy Dan Pontefract Speaker Profile document.

The latest public speaking events are listed on my site.


I’ve had the incredible good fortune recently to participate in several podcast episodes that you may be interested in downloading and listening to.


It’s not ideal, but in the middle of a book launch (and my normal gig at TELUS as Chief Envisioner)

I had to suffer through the emergency removal of my gallbladder. Ugh.

I want to take this opportunity to thank so many of you that sent along kind words of support and healing. I’m getting there.

And a very special thanks to my infinitely better half, Denise Lamarche. Down a parent, and in an incredibly demanding role herself, her ability to balance everything with the goats while tending to me is nothing short of remarkable. xxx

New Big Think Video: How To Stop Being So Busy

Check out one of the videos that recently released from my time with the great folks from Big Think. (5:29 in length)

“How To Stop Being So Busy.”


I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.


Click Below

amazon-com-logo    indigo

indiebound      barnes-and-noble-logo-png-10  


And why not watch the TED Talk?


The Critical Importance Of Being Focused With High Energy

Have you ever wondered why some employees always accomplish their goals?

How about those who do so way ahead of schedule?

And then there are team members who not only beat the clock on those deadlines; they take on additional tasks making you look like a mere mortal.

It turns out those types of incredibly focused and high-energy people are the minority. But they are they ever loathed by us mere mortals.

In a 2002 study based on ten years of research in a dozen large-sized companies, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal proposed “The Focus-Energy Matrix.” The study identified four types of employee behaviors found in our organizations:

  • disengagement;
  • procrastination;
  • distraction; and
  • purposefulness.

The behaviors were plotted on a 2×2 matrix using Focus and Energy on the axis:

Focus-Energy Matrix

Individuals with low focus and low energy were deemed procrastinators, a group of people that made up 30% of the organization. These are the people who claim they’re going to write a book but never do.

Disengaged employees—those with high focus but low energy—comprised 20% of the organization. I suppose they’re focused on being lifeless at work.

Those considered to be distracted made up a whopping 40% of the population. They were employees who demonstrated a high level of energy but very little ability to focus. They are the people in meetings doing seven things at once pretending they are expert multi-taskers.

Bruch and Ghoshal discovered that only 10% of the employees demonstrated purposefulness in their actions. These types of individuals, although small, were unique.

They were the folks who were in control of their executive functions.

According to WebMD, executive functions are a set of mental skills that help you get things done. An area of the brain called the frontal lobe control these skills.

If we are not governing our executive functions, ultimately we wind up as part of the 90% in Bruch and Ghoshal’s study that lack focus, energy and so on.

Your executive functions are critically important. They help you in several key areas including:

  • attention span;
  • time management;
  • planning;
  • memory;
  • focus; and
  • remembering.

Executive functions also prevent you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. (Hint: think about that guy at work who is always putting his foot in his mouth at your bi-weekly team meeting.)

Why is it only 10% of the population is effective, registering high levels of energy and focus?

They are in control, positive and they are disciplined.

“Aware of the value of time, they manage it carefully. Some refuse to respond to e-mails, phone calls, or visitors outside certain periods of the day,” wrote the researchers. “Purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel.”

But in addition to energy, they possess an ability to push through rhetoric, bureaucracy, and roadblocks. In other words, they can concentrate, block out the distractions, and get things done.

They do not let the vibration of a newly liked Tweet to break their focus.

“They decide first what they must achieve and then work to manage the external environment—tapping into resources, building networks, honing skills, broadening their influence—so that, in the end, they meet their goals. A sense of personal volition—the refusal to let other people or organizational constraints set the agenda—is perhaps the subtlest and most important distinction between this group of managers and all the rest.”

The research published in 2002, but in 2018 I believe things have worsened. If we were to analyze employees today, I believe the 10% classified as demonstrating “purposefulness” in 2002 has dropped.

I reckon those who properly balance their focus and energy now sits at approximately 5%.

What terrifies me is our level of distraction. Our ability to focus has crashed to the earth. Our inability to concentrate is profound.

The “always on” mindset that has gripped society—be it with the near-pervasive and constant use of mobile devices and laptops or the inability to switch off from work when at home, etc.—is forcing our energy levels to rise.

But as those energy levels have shot up—looking for the next dopamine hit from a text, email, DM or red check mark found on a laptop’s web browser—so too I have witnessed a collapse in our focus. And when our focus wanes, our attention span plummets, and we become detrimentally distracted.

This is a new plague afflicting our organizations.

As a father of three, I have spent the past decade and a bit watching (and re-watching) films produced by Disney Pixar. One that has been viewed several times in our home is Up.

Regardless of the plot, I am always reminded of the dogs who were outfitted with high-tech collar contraptions that allowed them to speak English. The writers were having a go at the human race.

When the dogs got distracted—as they often did in the film—we witnessed them freezing in mid-sentence, looking left, only to scream, “Squirrel!!” (because they lost their focus after seeing a squirrel.)

The humor, of course, is that the dogs in Up are as distracted as we humans.

This is what we have become.

We now constantly scream “Squirrel!!” in our new world of distractedness and low levels of focus.

Distractedness Is Quickly Becoming The Organization’s Top Issue

“Sorry for being late,” said the client as she entered the conference call. “I had to drive home to take the call. It was way too noisy for a Thursday.”

Earlier that week I waltzed up to the outdoor concierge area of a hotel I was staying at. I needed my luggage and a taxi to head to the airport and the ensuing flight back home.

I approached the young man behind the desk. “Hey mate,” I said, “it’s time for me to depart.”

“Of course, sir,” he replied with remarkable cheeriness. “Give me your luggage ticket, and I’ll fetch it from the locker. Do you need a cab?”

I said yes, and he moseyed off. The locker was to my left, roughly 50 feet away. He opened the door, where I could see him easily procure my bag within seconds. Unbeknownst to him, I could see everything he was doing. He then proceeded to spend roughly two minutes flipping through a mobile phone that was charging against the wall.

When the scrolling ceased, he strolled back to where I was standing, oblivious to my friendly espionage.

“Alright sir, let’s hail you that cab.”

While unrelated, each of these situations is an example of workplace distractedness. It’s a growing concern of mine. It should be a concern of yours, too.

The open office concept has resulted in both positive and negative effects. On the positive side—for those that enjoy it—open offices create a buzz not found in closed office environments. That “buzz” might be a more collaborative arena in which to brainstorm, make decisions, or to get things done. The palpable energy is something many people feed off of, helping them to be more engaged in their work.

On the other hand, the open office is not for everyone. It can be quite stressful for those who require relative peace and serenity in which to accomplish their tasks, be it writing, thinking, assessing, creating, or in the case of my client, conducting a conference call.

The less-than-favorable view of the open office is another example of workplace distractedness. If an employee feels as though they cannot adequately perform in their role due to factors such as noise, commotion, interruptions, or even lighting, you can be assured that their levels of engagement and productivity will be less than stellar.

Similarly, leaders ought to appreciate the appropriate use of technology, notably the constant barrage of notifications and attention requests on employees.

In my cheeky example with the hotel concierge, one might argue that it was only a two-minute delay in my day. Indeed, it was only two minutes. But what is my impression of the hotel chain, and of this employee now?

Think about any customer-facing interaction. If employees feel compelled to answer every request or notification that comes their way on a device—be it a laptop, mobile phone, tablet, and so on—what does that say about that organization’s ability to focus and to serve the customer?

When an employee’s attention span is unable to be kept on task—like retrieving luggage—it begs the question of how productive they are across all of their objectives. If employees are distracted by small hits of dopamine—checking for texts, emails, requests from the boss, or likes on their most recent Instagram post—it is not only the output and productivity I am concerned about for that employee, it is the reputation of the organization itself.

What to do?

There are a few easy wins you might want to consider.

First, involve your Learning and Development department to design a program explicitly focused on “distraction training.” It’s my opinion that many employees do not even know how distracted they have become. The training itself ought to include the difference between a focused employee and an unfocused one. For example, detail the positive effects of shutting down all laptop and mobile phone notifications to be more focused. (If you do not possess such a department, outsource it to a willing contractor or external training firm.)

Second, if your organization has already shifted to an open office environment, create private, quiet spaces for people to work in. At my place of work, TELUS, we created just that with “telephone rooms” in which team members can book them to take a call or to focus on their work without distractions. We also implemented “walking rooms” where you can take your laptop in and stroll on a treadmill while thinking, writing, or even chatting on the phone. Both are examples of providing a distraction, noise-free option.

And finally, consider the introduction of “team norms.” While working with your team, establish rules and guidelines on how your team will interact and collaborate with one another. Perhaps there is a no-meeting Friday rule. Maybe everyone gets to “think” or “dream” for three hours every week. Or what if everyone was able to work from home once or twice per week. Whatever the case, having this open discussion with the team under the banner of “team norms” might help weed out the distractions.

And speaking of weeds, distractedness is quickly becoming the ultimate killer weed that is popping up more and more in our organizations.

It is the role of leaders to help find ways in which to prevent it from spreading and causing more damage than it has already done.

Dan Pontefract October 2018 Playlist (for Gord Downie)

August 1991. It was the first time I saw the Tragically Hip perform live. A small venue in Montreal, I was hooked from the very first chord.

Sure, I had been listening to the band the prior two years on the radio, MuchMusic, cassettes (!!!) and compact discs, but nothing compared to seeing them live.

Nothing does now either.

I saw the band well over 100 times during a 25-year period, culminating with their final show in Kingston on August 20, 2016.

While no day darkens without the “sweet sound” of the Hip emanating from whatever speaker is within earshot, the planning, anticipation, and participation in a live Hip show are sorely missing from my life.

It all pales in comparison, however, to the passing of Gord Downie.

October 17, 2018, marks the first anniversary of Gord’s death.

I think about his four children and how they’re coping. I think about his close friends and bandmates.

I think about his two brothers and two sisters. I think about his mom.

We are all born into relationships, and we develop others in our journey to the waterfall. We owe it to one another to be authentic, loving, curious, and kind in our travels.

That was Gord; authentic, loving, curious, and kind.

October’s playlist is dedicated to Gord. It’s a collection of songs that are from the deeper parts of the Hip’s and Gord’s solo catalogue, tunes I hope you consider adding to your repertoire.

Gord was like no other, and he remains sorely missed.


Please consider donating to the:

Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research



Effective Leaders Operate Like This

I was five minutes early for the meeting. I could see through the glass wall the individual I was set to meet was on a conference call. There were two other people in the office. The leader motioned to me to enter. And so I did, although in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.

“Dan, it’s so good to see you,” chimed the leader. I wondered to myself if I should be listening in on the conference call, which was still going strong and seemed rather confidential.

Thankfully the phone was on mute. But as 1:00 pm turned over and the four of us were chatting away, something strange occurred.

The leader was asked by one of her colleagues from the conference call what her thoughts were on a particular agenda item. Recognizing that her name had just been called while in mid-sentence with me, the leader took the phone off mute and quickly responded.

“That team is so annoying,” she said to me as the phone was put back on mute. The other two in the room smiled and nodded. “Sometimes I have no idea why I’m still in this job,” she added. That last sentence was met with a couple of piercing chimes emanating from her mobile device. Aroused by the sound, she picked up the device and proceeded to text back, while the meeting continued on the telephone.

The entire exchange outlined above lasted roughly 15 minutes. After mulling over this example, I would like to argue what happened in this particular situation, and what can be done to help leaders avoid such a predicament.

What Happened

  • Purpose: the leader operated in a job mindset, likely disengaged, and was unaware of how miserable she had become in a job that held no meaning for her.
  • Culture: in front of her direct reports, she was advocating for an “us versus them” corporate culture replete with fiefdoms, territoriality and an utter lack of collaboration.
  • Thinking: she should never have allowed me to enter the room during the conference call convincing herself she could multi-task, nor have been distracted by the text.

While my assessment may seem harsh, it is the predicament of many leaders and employees in today’s organizations.

We operate without a sense of purpose, we add to a “command and control” corporate culture by dissing our colleagues or refusing to work with them, and we pretend our levels of distraction, busyness and addiction to being “always on” are normal ways in which to lead.

To be blunt, it is the fool who thinks this way.

What Next

Leaders need to constantly remind themselves that to be successful for the long-term they ought to be considering how they operate through the metaphor of a three-legged stool.


The first task is to establish a positive and reciprocal connection between three distinct categories of purpose:

  • Personal purpose
  • Organizational purpose
  • Role purpose

If all three categories of purpose can come to fruition—if there is a positive interconnection between them—the benefits should be felt by employees, teams, the organization, customers, owners and, perhaps most importantly, society as a whole. We can refer to this balanced state as the “sweet spot.”

Leaders must begin by first declaring and enacting their own personal purpose. They must ensure they are in a purpose mindset in their role. And of course, they must work towards building the organization’s purpose such that it does not revolve solely around profit and/or power.


Great organizations realize that success is achieved through effective leadership, but if engaged employees is the primary outcome we desire from effective leadership, then it’s a question of whether leaders are embracing employees’ desires, first and foremost to be treated like responsible adults. This is the first step to a collaborative, open and engaged culture.

Traditional leaders struggle with this concept as it represents a loss of control for them, but creative, less hierarchical-minded leaders who empower their team members are getting better results, and in turn, are empowered and emboldened to reach for greater successes with their team. Leadership doesn’t come from one, it comes from all.

It is a leader’s responsibility to create such a culture. An open and collaborative culture is one in which there is reciprocal trust between the employee and leadership to do what’s right however, whenever and with whomever.


I argue that leaders need a more reflective and responsive thinking mindset. Our thinking ought to be shaped by constantly changing inputs and information. We should recognize that our thinking is only as good as our ability to continually challenge and question. Better thinking is dependent on how open we are to new ideas, how evidence-based our decision-making can be, how capable we remain to get things done. But according to my research, it’s not happening.

Thinking is the third leg of the leadership stool.

For leaders to become more effective, they must weave three distinct components of daily thinking into their lives. I have coined it Open Thinking and it comprises three key categories:

  • Creative Thinking: the generation of new ideas, unleashed from constraints. Do you reflect?
  • Critical Thinking: the thorough analysis of ideas and facts to make an ethical and timely decision. How do you decide?
  • Applied Thinking: commitment to execute a decision. Will you take thoughtful action?

In a nutshell: Dream, Decide, Do, Repeat.

Next Steps

You can tap into this three-legged stool metaphor today!

My third book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions tackles the concept of Open Thinking.

My second book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization plots the course of personal, role and an organization’s purpose.

My first book, FLAT ARMY: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization outlines the key steps to enacting an open and collaborative culture.

Put them all together and you will have yourself a three-legged stool of more effective leadership.

It is exactly the type of strategy the leader from my opening story is in need of.