Category: Leadership Page 2 of 7

Leadership Is About Owning Up To Your Mistakes

Elon Musk, the tech billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, recently made a huge mistake. When his plan to help a boys soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand (all were eventually rescued) using a submarine failed, he lashed out in irritation. Musk’s actions of getting into a feud with one of the rescuers and calling him a “pedo” (short for Pedafile) was awful. It appeared Musk was more concerned about the spotlight than the trapped boys.

After the severity of the damage of his actions took hold, Musk did the right thing. He tweeted an apology to the rescuer he insulted, and he took all the blame. I remember reading Musk’s apology tweet and thinking, this was the best thing he could do. He messed up, and he’s taking accountability.

The mishap Musk got himself into is a great reminder that leadership is about owning up to your mistakes. I’m sure Musk’s intentions were good, but when things didn’t work out his way, his frustration got the best of him.

If you are in a position of leadership, you will make some mistakes. When they happen, don’t pass blame or make excuses. Instead, show vulnerability and accountability by owning up to your mistake. Not only will it help defuse the situation, it also provides a great example for those you are leading. We are all human, and none of us are perfect.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


You Don’t Need A Great Idea To Start A Company

Most of us at some point think about starting a company. We fantasize about what that might look like, then fear usually kicks in and we go on with our lives. We have this misbelief that if only we had a brilliant idea, then we could start a company. We watch shows like Shark Tank and we get the impression that great companies only start by a great product idea and the backing of large investments.

In reality, most great companies do not start out with a large capital investment, or a great product idea.

In the book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras summarized their results after studying the habits of visionary companies (companies that lasted). Collins and Porras compared the habits of similar companies that didn’t do as well over time, with the habits of visionary companies. One theme they found was that most of the visionary companies didn’t have a great idea in mind when they first started.

The notion that founders must have a “Great Product Idea” to start a successful company is a myth.

Collins and Porras actually found that waiting for a great idea may be a bad thing, because it prevents people from starting companies. A central theme of visionary companies was that they focused not on single product or idea. These companies believe the greatest creation was the company itself.

The following is a short excerpt from Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful information technology companies in the world:  “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plans when we started-we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do”.



Hewlett-Packard Company Archives, “An interview with Bill Hewlett,” 1987

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Here’s a simple way to vastly improve employee satisfaction

Employee Satisfaction

What do you think would give your employees more satisfaction? Better pay? Better office? A more prestigious position with more authority? For sure these things could improve their satisfaction, but would it last?

We are seeing more employees dissatisfied with their jobs. In Gallops latest state of the American Work force report, 51% of employees reported they are not engaged at work. These employees are looking for a new job or looking for openings. US workers are confident and ready to leave.

A big reason employees don’t feel satisfied is because they don’t feel appreciated. Gallop reported that only 3 in 10 employees strongly agree that in the last 7 days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work. According to the Gallup study, employees report that the most meaningful recognition comes from their manager.

I was reminded by my friend the other day just how important recognition is. She told me how she made major contributions to a technology project. She worked hard to ensure the project delivered on time. After the project was over, the managers handed out thank you cards to those who worked on the project. The problem? They somehow neglected to give my friend a thank you card. To say she was upset would be a major understatement.

It’s funny, some of the basic lessons we learn when we’re toddlers about human nature, we lose sight of as adults. When we were kids and we did something good, our parents and teachers gave us positive reinforcement. They would tell us how happy they were with what we did, and it made us feel great. Not only did it make us feel great, but it motivated us to continue to improve upon the positive behavior. The result was an emotional connection that fostered positive behavior and positive feelings.

Here’s my advice to managers, or anyone who wants to improve an employee’s satisfaction, its really simple. First, try to slow down. We are all so busy and distracted that we become overwhelmed and lose sight of what’s important. Start to work on your self-awareness and mindfulness.  Once you’re able to slow down and see the bigger picture around you, you will start to see the good work of others.

Once you realize an employee has done a good job, let them know personally how much you appreciate their efforts. Simple, right?

Yes, it may be true that not all people are motivated by intrinsic factors. Some people for example would be horrified if they were recognized in front of a crowd. Others may love the spotlight. When I refer to recognition, I’m talking about thanking someone in person for a job well done.  Email is good too, but there’s something about that in person recognition that really enriches employee satisfaction.

So, go ahead and start providing personal recognition to your employees who deserve it. We can’t afford to have our good employees dissatisfied and unmotivated. Remember, we all have an inner need to feel appreciated.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.





Following spiritual and philosophical leadership principles

leadship principles

Since moving to Minnesota in 2005, I’ve had the pleasure of consulting for different companies within the Twin Cities. One of those companies is Best Buy. In a recent article, Meet The Man Best Buy Hired To Take On Amazon, Best Buy’s CEO Hubert July describes how his leadership is based on spiritual principles.

Hubert spent time with the monks of St John and he learned to practice spiritual exercises of the Jesuit, Ignatius of Loyola. When asked about his leadership at Best Buy, Hubert said “There’s a deep philosophical and spiritual underpinning to all this.”

I was aware of the great job Hubert has done at Best Buy, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn his leadership was based on spiritual and philosophical principles.

This all  got me thinking about leadership and my own beliefs. I’m an alum of Bethel University, a Christian school in Minnesota. At Bethel, they tied spirituality and faith into all their leadership courses. Yet, I find it’s easy to lose sight of my core values and beliefs when I’m in the throes of the daily grind. Those who work in IT like myself I’m sure can relate, where complex problems and tight deadlines are the norm.

When life gets crazy, spirituality helps put things in perspective. To me, spirituality means connecting with a power outside of myself. By having faith, not only can I then experience peace, I can also help others.

There’s a great amount of relief knowing that if I get out of my own way and stick to my core values, things will be okay. It’s a belief and a feeling that no matter what’s going on around me, everything is alright.

The Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello, elegantly stated: “All mystics — Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well”.

What greater gift is there than a sense of peace knowing that all is well? No amount of money can buy this gift, but it is available to us if we are willing to put in some work.

No matter what your religion or belief system is, improving your spiritual condition requires work. We should devote time to improving our spiritual condition, what ever that may look like for you. By tapping into spirituality, we can then put our core values at the forefront of our leadership.

In summary, I agree with Hubert,  there is a deep philosophical and spiritual underpinning to all this. Through spiritual principles, we can maximize our leadership potential. In the end, it may be all about providing service to others, whether that be our employees, customers, or family.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.



Adapting to change, the Agile organization

Organizations today must be Agile to deal with the rapid pace of change due to globalization and technology. In software development, we have seen how well cross functional Agile teams can deliver value.

Companies that adopt this same level of agility across their enterprise will be well served. I’m not talking about scaled Agile or some framework. I’m talking about organizations that can change and adapt. They are like clay instead of rocks. Agility provides a level of flexibility and adaptability that gives them a competitive advantage.

Below is a short talk from John Kotter in which he discusses the differences between the network and the hierarchy, and how they can coexist. In my view, organizational structures of the future will look less like hierarchies, and more like solar systems (networks).

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


How the lakes of Minneapolis helped me develop leadership

I took this photo of Lake Harriet in November 2010

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

In 2005 I hopped on a plan in Newark and left my home state of New Jersey. I left the land of Bon Jovi and “the Jersey Shore” behind and relocated to Minneapolis Minnesota. I was 28 years old and at a crossroads in my life. I needed a change, so I moved to a city I knew nothing about other than the fact that I knew Prince (RIP to my favorite artist) was from there. I also heard the winter temperatures dropped to some crazy cold level.

In first year living in the twin cities, anxiety consumed me. The move to Minneapolis was the biggest life change I had ever made.

I got around town via bus and I lived in a small apartment next to Lake Calhoun. Lake Calhoun is one of the many gorgeous lakes in Minneapolis. This is me at lake Calhoun back then.

Ever since my arrival to Minneapolis the lakes drew me in. We had lakes in New Jersey, but not like these. Calhoun is at least 3 miles around and connects to a chain of other lakes. Beautiful homes and paths for cycling or jogging/walking surround the lakes.

When I would ride the bus home at night, I felt a sense of calmness when the lake came into view shortly before my stop. Whenever I got the chance, I would take walks by the lake. I realized the walks help to ease my anxiety and clear my mind.

I was also fortunate back then to have a 5th floor apartment , albeit small and old, that had an awesome view of the lake. My favorite pastime was sitting on my couch enjoying the lake view while having coffee (often playing my acoustic as well).

The lake brought me a sense of calmness and joy. Today, 12 years later, I still live in Minnesota. Now 40 and married with two daughters, we live out in the burbs but still spend time by the lakes of Minneapolis.

The below pictures are of my daughters Emma (4 yrs old) and Allison (4 months old) enjoying Lake Harriet. My family is my greatest joy 🙂

So now that you know how much I and my family enjoy the lakes, what does this all have to do with leadership? This blog post was supposed to be about how the lakes helped me develop leadership right?

Spending time by the lake helped me improve my self-awareness through the practice of mindfulness.

Self-awareness is the gold standard for leadership. It is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

You see, what I didn’t understand (but could feel) back when I was 28 was that my walks by the lake helped to quiet my mind. The outside noise and distractions of the daily rat race fueled my thoughts, and most of my thoughts I could do without.

The walks by the lake helped to subside the noise so I could check my thoughts and feelings. It allowed me to become more present in the moment and decompress from stress or anxiety.

By improving my self-awareness through my lake walks I also improved my leadership. This affected me, my family, and my work. It enabled me to put things in perspective.

Leadership is not only about leading others, it’s also about leading ourselves. By leading ourself we continue to move towards a higher plane of existence based on our core values.

How do we practice mindfulness to develop self-awareness?

When most think of mindfulness, they think of meditation. Practicing mindfulness though doesn’t mean you have to sit with your legs crossed and your arms in the air. We are all different and for me, the walks by the lake worked well. For you it might be something different like traditional meditation. Or it could be an activity like painting. Only you can decide what works best to help you become more present and self-aware.

There’s no shortage of materials available to learn how to practice mindfulness. If you want to learn more, two of my favorite authors on self-awareness are Daniel Goleman and Bill George. What I like about them is that they relate the importance of self-awareness to leadership.

One thing’s for sure, in today’s society we could all benefit from slowing down and becoming more present and self-aware. This is especially true in the US where we are so politically divided and stressed. Combine this fact with the distraction of social media and the internet and it’s easy to become lost in the vortex of noise.

We can’t lose focus of what’s important in life. Our family, our health, and helping others is what’s important.

PS – If this is a topic you enjoy I highly recommend watching Innsaei which is available on Netflix. It’s about getting in touch with intuition and not relying only on rational thought.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


10 ways to immediately improve your leadership presence

Leadership Presence

Ever work with someone who had the ability to command everyone’s attention? Someone who could own a room even without saying much? Someone who could make you feel good by being around them?

If you have, you may be wondering what’s that special “wow” factor they have, and how can you get some of it? It’s not their job title or seniority. We’ve all worked with plenty of senior managers that had the personality of a hermit crab.

What this small group of individuals have is leadership presence.

Leadership presence is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Amy Cuddy, known for her “power pose” TED talk defines presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, value and potential”.

I like Amy’s definition of presence, but this isn’t exactly what I’m referring to. She’s talking about being present in the moment and authentic. This is important, and it’s a part of leadership presence, but I’m talking about standing out.

In short, people with leadership presence look and sound like a leader. They are great communicators, both verbally and non-verbally. Most importantly, they evoke trust because they ooze authenticity. These are people with strong emotional and social intelligence.

Some people may naturally have more leadership presence than others, but we can all make improvements.

Below is a list of 10 ways to immediately improve your leadership presence:

1.     Dress the part – Mark Zuckerburg can get away with wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, but you can’t. Take inventory of your current attire and if needed get some new digs. You don’t have to look like you belong on the cover of Forbes, but you do need to show that you care about your appearance.

For guys, this means you should be well-groomed and your clothes are appropriate for the office. One common mistake guys make is not taking care of their shoes. Having terrible looking shoes is a major foul. It makes you look like you don’t pay attention to detail.

Your shoes should be shined and they always must match the color of your belt. When it comes to socks, never, and I mean never, wear white socks with dress pants and shoes.

I’ll stay clear of making any dressing recommendations for the ladies. From my experience, it’s usually the guys who struggle in this arena. The point is, dress like a leader.

2.     Improve your posture – If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language, check it out. When you have good posture, you not only look more confident, it’s actually proven to make you feel more confident. Be mindful of your posture when you’re in meetings. Do not slouch in your chair. Slouching makes you look less confident and less like a leader.

3.     Speak up with confidence – For natural introverts like myself, speaking up isn’t always easy. If this is an issue for you, you have to address it. There are great public speaking courses you can take like Dale Carnegie training or Toast Masters.

Being vocal is so important not only for you and your career, but also for the greater good of your team and company. I’m convinced that a some of the greatest ideas never get heard because people are too afraid to speak up.

If you still struggle to speak up, even after training, you may need to be evaluated for social anxiety. If you are diagnosed with a disorder, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and there is help available.

4.     Know when to be silent – The opposite of speaking up is knowing when to be silent. This can be difficult for extroverts. Sometimes people in leadership roles feel they have to talk when they’re in a meeting. They are not comfortable in silence. The problem is that speaking too much makes you appear less confident and poised. Sometimes it’s okay to let there be silence. Let whatever was last said marinate. Take your time and be thoughtful before you express yourself.

5.     Exercise regularly – Aside from the countless physical benefits, exercise also improves your mood. By working out you stimulate chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier and more relaxed. For this reason a lot of people choose to work out early in the morning, before they go to work. Regular exercise increases your leadership presence because you’ll look and feel good.

6.     Be humble – Most people in the office hold all their cards close to their chest, scared to display any sign of weakness. A sure way to stand out as a leader is to show vulnerability and own up to your mistakes. Not only will this improve your leadership presence, it will also send a message of trust to others, letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes.

7.     Be authentic -The minute you put on a persona you turn people off. People can sense when we are not authentic. Even if you have a confrontational personality, if you are authentic, people will appreciate it. They’d much rather get to know the real you than have you act fake.

8.     Address people by their first name – This may sound like it’s not a big deal, but it is. When you address people by their first name it shows that you care about them. Dale Carnegie said that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Next time someone addresses you by your first name, especially someone in a leadership role, take note of how it makes you feel. Don’t you want to pass along that same feeling to others? Do your best to remember the first names of those that you interact with.

9.     Increase your self-awareness – Self-awareness is one of the traits that make up emotional intelligence. It is arguably the most important aspect of leadership. It means you have a deep understanding of who you are, including your strengths and weaknesses. When you have self-awareness, you can put your strengths to work which will improve your leadership presence.

One of the most effective techniques to increase your self-awareness is to get feedback from others. Anonymous peer reviews are a great tool. For more on improving self-awareness, I recommend this post by Bill George.

10. Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness means being present in the moment. When we become mindful, we become aware of our internal and external experiences. It helps us slow down and become centered. In today’s day and age, we need to practice mindfulness more than ever.

Between political divides, juggling work life balance, and the distraction of social media, practicing mindfulness lets us get off the hamster wheel. An easy technique to use is to just take a few minutes either at your desk at work, or at home, close your eyes and focus on your breath. As thoughts enter your mind, don’t fight them, let them pass and bring your attention back to your breath. By doing this for just a few minutes, you will enhance your presence.


If you aspire to advance your career as a leader, you need to work on your leadership presence. By taking the time to invest in yourself and work on the steps outlined, you will begin to look, sound, and feel more like a leader.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.




How to develop motivation and empower your team

empower your team
One of the challenges faced by leaders is discovering how they can motivate their teams. In earlier theories on leadership, we believed great leaders were born. The “great man” theory believed natural-born leaders could motivate using one style.
In later theories we started to look more into the behaviors that work for leaders. We now know that effective leadership is contingent upon many factors.
One factor is discovering what motivates people. Some people get motivated by intrinsic factors like recognition. Others may be more motivated by extrinsic factors such as a pay increase or a better office. It is the responsibility of the leader to discover what motivates them.
Another aspect to develop motivation for leaders is leading by example. There is nothing more disheartening than working for a “leader” who does nothing. People get motivated when their leader isn’t afraid to get down in the trenches with the team.
As a project manager I try to find different ways to motivate the team. I have found that using interpersonal skills to connect with people goes a long way. I also find that people work better when you give them space. This shows them that you trust them.
What challenges do you face in developing motivation and empowering your team?

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Mike’s Twitter @MikeMacIsaac

To contact Mike, click here.

Don’t overlook the obvious

Why is it that we love to over complicate things? Working as a consultant, when I see clients struggling to resolve an issue, the first thing I look to see is whether they understand the issue. Often time’s people get stuck trying to solve symptoms, rather than the root cause. They then become so fixated on a solution that they lose sight that the issue may be minor. All they needed to do was to look at the issue through a different frame of lens.

Case in point, the infamous defect tracking tool dilemma. Early in my consulting career, when I was with Accenture, I faced a big issue on one of my first projects. The client used two defect tracking systems instead of one.  The systems were out of sync which caused confusion and inaccurate reports. The client asked us to write a program that would keep the two defecting systems in sync.

When I first learned of the problem, I asked, couldn’t they just use one defect tracking tool? I was a newbie so I was a bit timid.  Immediately I got shot down by a senior consultant who said, we have to deliver what the client wants!

I was then assigned the dreaded task of creating a batch job, using excel macros, to synchronize the two defect tracking systems. After much hard work, I had working prototype in place. Meanwhile, my consulting firm flew in a high priced senior executive, who specialized in defect tracking tools, to help with the issue. His job was to look at the solution for the batch job and provide any input or recommendations.

What happened next is priceless. The senior executive arrives and the first thing he asks is, why can’t the client just use one defect tracking tool? Um, hello? Didn’t I suggest this when I first heard of the problem? Several meetings later they made the decision. The client would only use one defect tracking tool.

I guess it took a high priced senior consultant for people listen. It turned out the easiest solution was also the best solution

Next time you encounter some swirl around an issue, don’t overlook the obvious. Sometimes the best solutions are also the easiest.

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Self-actualization, discovering the masterpiece inside you

Self-actualization is your journey towards discovering the masterpiece inside you. One way to look at the self-actualization process, relates to Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David.

Word has it, when they asked Michaelangelo how he created the great masterpiece, he responded by saying “I just chipped away at what didn’t look like David”.


Michaelangelo may or may not have actually said this. This perspective though is a great way to look at our own journey towards self-actualization.

Discovering the intersection of your talents and passion, your sweet spot, is not easy. The good news is it’s never too late to discover the masterpiece inside you.

If you are crystal clear on your calling in life, great. If you are like most, trying to figure things out, here’s some advice. Instead of struggling to find your calling, just keep chipping away at what’s not you.

If you’re not fulfilled in whatever it is you’re doing, move on to something else. Keep trying new things, but don’t give up or settle. Follow your gut. This requires work and sacrifice, but all things worth while do.

The more your chip away at what’s not you, the closer you become to self-actualization.

Keep chipping away and you will discover the masterpiece inside you.

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