Tag: consulting

Leadership vs management – The difference and why one is not better than the other

Leadership vs management. Often you will see people writing about how leadership is better than management. There will be comparisons that say something like “a manager controls a team, a leader empowers a team”.

Businessman Standing on Steps Outside Talking Through a Megaphone, Large Group of Business People Listening and Applauding

I am big on the importance of leadership, but I think we are getting this management vs leadership view wrong. Management and leadership are two different things. They both are important and valuable to an organization.

Let’s start with management. We take it for granted, but management is something that we created just over the past century. The core practices of management are planning, budgeting, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.

Management practices started with the creation of the railroads. They gave us the ability to develop and manage large organizations. Management ensures an organization functions the way it was designed.

Leadership is about having a vision for the future and creating a strategy to get there. Leaders create change, and they do so by getting people to buy into their vision. Leaders motivate and they create the systems, or change the systems, that managers manage.

So it’s not that leadership is better than management or vice versa. They are both critical to the success of an organization. Yet, globalization and technology have forced organizations to have the ability to change. For this reason, there is a now a great demand for leadership. Organizations need to have people who can lead, and not just from the top. We need leaders at all levels, from CEO to team member.

Most of our business schools focus their curriculums on management. Going forward, schools will need to start focusing more on the importance of leadership. In my opinion, organizational hierarchy structures will be a thing of the past within the next two decades. We’ve already seen this happening.

Management will still be necessary, but organizations will operate in a more flattened team based approach. Cross functional teams will be autonomous and empowered. This will enable organizations to adapt to change. The team based approach needs leadership at every level. Organization structure will look more like a mind map than a top down org chart.

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Team building – 3 proven methods to develop trust on Agile teams


All well performing teams have one thing in common, they trust each other. Whether it be a military team, a sports team, or an Agile software development team, trust is key. Team members need to feel that they are in a safe environment so they can do their best. They need to feel that it’s okay to make mistakes.

For software development teams newly transitioning to Agile, developing trust doesn’t come easy. Here are 3 proven methods to help develop trust on your Agile team:

Communicate trust – Let the team know that trust is foundational to success. Empower team members to make decisions and mistakes. Foster a decentralized culture of empowerment. Remember that Agile teams don’t work in a hierarchy structure. There is no project manager calling the shots. It’s the team that has the power. Team collaboration is essential for success and when there’s trust, collaboration will shine.

Now, communicating a team dynamic built on trust is just the start. Just because you’ve let the team know they can trust each other, doesn’t mean they will. The team will be wary of diving into the trust pool. Although they may not be ready to trust, you have planted the seed and the team is interested. Now is the time to walk the walk.

Walk the walk: Show vulnerability and humility – After communicating trust, it’s time to lead by example. We do this by showing vulnerability and humility. This can be difficult for some to do, but it’s absolutely essential. Let the team know when you have made a mistake. Let them know your weaknesses. By showing vulnerability and humility, it lets everyone know they can drop their guards.

If you’re collaborating as a group and a team member is quiet and not engaged, try to pull them in. Let them know their thoughts and ideas are important. Voicing opinions may be new to some team members, so they’ll need a little encouragement. By valuing team members and showing vulnerability, you’ll make great strides towards building trust.

Give it time – The last and perhaps most important need for trust building is time. There is no substitute for time and the positive effect it has on team building. Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 model of forming, storming, norming, and performing still holds true. If you are part of newly formed Agile team, don’t get frustrated when there’s a lack of trust. Just like any relationship, it takes time to get to know and trust each other.

Often, management doesn’t understand the importance of time when it comes to teams. When management shifts people from team to team, it hinders team performance. The best teams consist of people who have worked together for some time. They know and trust each other. Advice to management – Don’t form teams around projects. Instead, form projects around cross functional teams.  

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Don’t raise problems without solutions


Working in IT, whatever your role, you will encounter problems. Systems are down, deadlines are missed, code isn’t ready…etc. The list of problems you may face are endless. When faced with a problem, it’s easy to either escalate it or communicate the issue out to a wider audience. It’s harder to come up with solutions and take action on a path towards getting it resolved.

When you encounter problems, I suggest taking actions toward a solution before anything else. Once you have taken steps towards resolution, then communicate the issue to a wider audience. This way when you do communicate, you’re not just raising a problem, you are also bringing a solution. Chances are, your leadership team will look to you anyway to get the problem resolved.

Here’s the thing, people get frustrated when others bring them problems without solutions. When I worked in software QA and someone told me the system wasn’t working, I would begin a series of questions like…is the environment down? Have you reached out to the deployment team? Have you logged a defect? Have you done anything?

The point is, don’t just raise problems and expect others to do the work of getting it resolved. Go above and beyond. If you’re going to communicate an issue to leadership, tell them your plan to resolve it.  Even better, also tell them your plan to avoid it happening again in the future.

Now, there are sometimes when you should communicate issues before having a solution. If the house is on fire, everyone needs to know immediately. You can figure out cause and prevention later. But for most issues, you will have time to work on a solution before communicating to leadership.

For those of us who are project managers, managing and resolving problems is our job. When fires occur on our projects, it is our responsibility to get them put out. Project management is tough work. If you don’t enjoy taking the lead to resolve issues, while being the center point of communication, project management may not be for you. No matter how well you plan, your projects will hit turbulence.

For me, I actually enjoy the chaos that can come with project management. I like being the one to lead an “all hands on deck” war room fire drill. This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes get stressed. I’ve been through enough projects now to know that dealing with problems is normal and part of the job.

Next time you encounter a problem, I challenge you to come up with solutions before you escalate. Start taking action to get the issue resolved. This way, your leadership team and stakeholders will know you are taking the lead.

Don’t just bring a problem, bring a solution.

For my next post, I’ll talk about how to not let someone else make their problem, your problem.

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Leave it all on the field – 3 reasons to give it your all at work

“Leave it all on the field”. It’s an expression you often here in sports. It means, give it everything you got! Do your very best. Don’t look back after the game and say, I could have played better.

In our professional lives, we should also have the mentality of leaving it all on the field. It’s not easy, but we need to do the best we can, one day at a time.

Here are three important reasons why we should give it our best at work.

  1. It calms worry and anxiety – Understand that we can’t control everything. We have limitations. This understanding brings a sense of ease and perspective. I remember a moment back in High School, taking the bus ride to an opposing football team. I was anxious on the ride, until I had a thought. The thought was, I’ll just do my best. After that thought, I felt calm, positive, and ready to play.
  2. You won’t have any regrets – Even if things don’t go well, we feel a strong sense of pride when we do our best. One of the biggest tragedies in life, is when people look back and say….what if? What if I did my best? What could have been?
  3. It’s the best thing you can do for your teammates – This may be the most important reason of all. It’s not just about you. It’s about the greater good of the team! Being your best is what helps your team the most.

Performing at our best doesn’t mean we have to work like maniacs, staying late and coming in at 5AM. Giving it our all means performing to our capability. This means following our gut and doing the right thing. Below are some examples of what it might mean to do our best:

  • Doing something that inconveniences us, to help our colleague.
  • Not being quick to react when something bothers us.
  • Pausing before sending that scolding email, and realizing it’s better to take the high ground.
  • Recognizing someone who is doing a great job, but has gone unnoticed.
  • Giving others credit, instead of trying to make yourself look good.
  • Having the courage to volunteer for a challenging task, that nobody else will take.

So, when you’re heading off to work in the morning, get your mind right. Even if you’re not happy with your current job, you can still be the best version of yourself. The best version of yourself is your true self.

Each day we are faced with challenges beyond our control. When you come home at night after a long day, I hope you can feel good knowing you gave it your all. Knowing you brought your true self, someone of high integrity, work ethic, and values.

I hope you feel good, knowing you left it all on the field.

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10 proven tactics to successfully implement change

change ahead

People don’t like change. We feel a sense of unease when we have to do something new, something different. In the morning, I park my car in the same area, every day. If I can’t find a spot in that area, it bothers me.

If something as small as changing our parking spot bothers us, think about how we react to a huge change to our jobs. In IT, take Agile adoption for example. People who worked in silos for years, are suddenly sitting side by side. Interacting near team members, and transparency of work, is completely new for them.  It’s not hard to see why a change like this will cause some resistance.

Aside from people not liking change, there are other forces that make change difficult. This is why it’s so important to have a change plan. If you have a good change plan you can overcome the resistance.  Below is a list of 10 tactics that will help you be successful.

Build a Coalition of Support – You have to build a coalition of support for your change effort. Treat it like you are campaigning for office. Talk to people, especially those with influence, and get their buy in for the change. The more people you have supporting the effort, the better things will go.

Create a sense of urgency – You have to create a sense of urgency to get things moving. If people don’t think the change is an urgent need, everything will slow down and eventually grind to a halt. One effective way for creating a sense of urgency is providing data to back up the change need.

Over communicate daily – Under communication is one of the biggest reasons change efforts fail. Come up with creative ways to communicate, and do it on a daily basis. It may feel like you are communicating too much, but you’re not. Use email, web and blog posts, videos, presentations and other creative methods.

Get CEO’s public support – The CEO has less influence on change efforts than you may think. But, it still helps to get the CEO’s public support. (this doesn’t have to be the CEO, it may be a director or VP).

Conduct Private Interviews, particularly with resistors – Meet with people privately to get their support. Talk to the resistors and try to connect with them on a personal level. If you’re faced with someone who is adamant about not supporting the change, go around them. Don’t waste time trying to convert someone who is difficult. Instead, get them out of the way. Check out John Kotter’s video here on dealing with resistors.

Hold Town Halls – Give presentations at Town Halls or All Hands meetings. When presenting, deliver your message in a story format. Tell people why the change is happening, and how it will benefit them and the company.

Recognize Early Adopters – Recognize early adopters, tell them they are doing a great job. People get motivated when they are recongnized. The recognition also provides incentives for others to start adopting the change.

Announce Goals and Deadlines – Set a goal so people align on what you’re trying to do. Back to my Agile adoption example, a goal might be something like the following: In 6 months, a cross functional Scrum team will deliver software in two week iterations. All team members will go through training and be Agile certified.

Tell a ‘success’ story – It’s important to promote success stories. If one team has adopted the change, promote their success to the organization. You can do this in a variety of ways of communication. One fun way of promoting a success story is through the use of video.

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50% of your meetings are a waste of time!


Clutter! It shows up in all areas of our lives. At home, it’s easy to recognize clutter. When I arrive home at night, I can see when clutter starts building up in the kitchen and living room. I blame it on my 3 year old. At work, a different type of clutter happens and it’s harder to recognize.

I’m referring to meetings. We love to fill our calendars with meetings. The problem is that most meetings we attend don’t add value. Yes, when we first scheduled them, they seemed like a good idea. We then discover, after 1 or 2 meetings, they are unnecessary. Yet, we continue to attend them, knowing we are wasting our time.

Think about it. How many meetings do you attend where you provide the same updates, to the same people?

Observe people’s behavior when you are in meetings. Are they engaged and having a dialogue? Or is everyone looking down and frustrated? If the latter is true, there’s a good chance the meeting needs to go.

Time is our most precious resource and we can’t afford wasting it in meetings that don’t add value. Take a good look at your calendar and sit down with your colleagues to review the meetings. Decide what meetings are unnecessary, then get rid of them!

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5 proven ways to improve your leadership using empathy

What is empathy?

At some point you have probably worked for someone who lacked empathy. I will never forget a manager I once had. He was like a robot, with no ability to connect on an emotional level. I was baffled that he was in charge of managing people. Yet, people like him get put into “leadership” positions all the time. So, what is empathy and why is it so important for leadership? Merriam Webster defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings” (Webster).

The word empathy derives from the Greek word empatheia, “feeling into”. Empathy is the ability to sense the emotions of those around us. People who have strong empathy can feel the feelings of others as if they were their own. Empathy is different from sympathy, which is feeling self-pity or sorry for others. With empathy, we may not even agree with others, but we can understand and sense how they feel.

Empathy is one of the components that make up emotional intelligence (EI). The other components that make up EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skills. Today, leaders need to have both strong IQ and EI. There has been much research done on the value of EI in leadership. The research indicates that the greatest leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence.

The purpose of this post is to drill deeper into the importance of empathy in leadership.  Empathy may be the greatest pillar of emotional intelligence.  Throughout my career, I have found that a lack of empathy is common problem among management. This is particularly true in the technology industry.

In IT, we think of managers as people who think in a linear way of facts, all about computation and logic. In business, we think of managers as people who should have the ability to connect with others.

I contest that we can no longer afford to separate these two groups of people. Why not hire and promote people who are both smart and good with people, regardless of industry? Why not teach leadership, regardless of one’s position title?  Why not teach the importance of empathy?

Empathy in general gets a bad rap in the business world. In business, we think we need to be tough. Only the strong survive. Don’t let emotions get in the way.  There’s no time to be empathetic to customers or employees. This is a great misunderstanding. Empathizing with employees and customers has a direct positive effect on the bottom line.

Why is empathy important for leadership?

Being a leader requires interpersonal relations. I don’t care if you are CEO, if you don’t connect with others, you are not a leader. Steven Covey, author of the 7 habits of highly effective people, writes: “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication” (Covey, 1989).

To understand another, we must have empathy. The best leaders are not self-absorbed, they take interest in others.  Daniel Goleman  is an expert and author on emotional intelligence. Goleman identified three reasons why empathy is important for leadership. They are: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to keep talent (Goleman, 1996).

With the increasing use of team’s, leaders need to have a sense of everyone’s viewpoints. With globalization, empathy provides leaders the capability to better connect in cross-cultural dialogues. This happens through subtleties in body language and feeling. Lastly, empathy plays a key role in the retention of talent. Empathetic leaders will do what they can to develop employees and keep them happy.

Most individuals that lack empathy believe if they focus only on themselves, they will get ahead. In reality, the opposite happens. People who only care about their own career will only go so far, but those who enable others to grow and flourish will rise to new heights. This goes back to the sound moral principle; if we give we will receive.

Here are 5 ways to improve your leadership using empathy

Practice humility – Humility is the ultimate display of leadership. It’s what separates the men from the boys. What our ego wants us to believe may be completely different than reality. To lead with empathy, you need to understand that you don’t have all the answers. You need to appreciate that someone much lower down on the org chart than you, may know much more than you. In fact, they may provide more value to the organization than you. With this in mind, treat everyone, regardless of their title, with the same amount of respect.

Focus on listening – Attune yourself to the person who is communicating with you. Observe their body language and facial expressions, as well as hear the words they speak. Before you state your view point, make sure you understand the other person. For more on listening with empathy, see my blog post here.

Express that you care – Expressing that you care can be effective, but be careful, you can’t fake it. I often manage projects that need software testing. I always make a point to the testers that I care about how they are treated. Since I worked as a software tester, I know how difficult it is. I do what I can to let the team know I care, and I am genuine. 

Understand that you don’t always understand – Accept that you don’t always understand situations. This gets back to practicing humility. If someone starts missing work, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are slacking. Give people the benefit of the doubt. That person may have a good reason for needing to take personal days. Kanye West provided a great example of what can go wrong when we jump to conclusions. During one of his concerts he told everyone to stand up. When one person didn’t stand up, he got frustrated and pointed out the person who wouldn’t stand up. He then discovered the person didn’t stand because they were in a wheelchair. Don’t jump to conclusions!  

 Put yourself in their shoes – Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Another way to say this is, try to relate and not compare. If someone tells you they are struggling with an issue, try to relate. Think about how you too have struggled with a similar issue. Before jumping right into what you think they should do, talk about how you relate. Maybe you faced the same problem once, and it made you stressed. As Managers, we think we need to have immediate answers. Refrain from diving right into solutions. Instead, take a minute to relate and connect. By taking the time to show empathy, it provides relief to the individual who came to you with an issue. After making that connection, then you can get into what to do next. By connecting first, the solution and next steps will be much more effective.

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Personal connections still matter

Check out the latest video from MacIsaac Consulting. Personal connections still matter!

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How to listen with empathy – 5 steps towards remarkable improvement


One of my favorite books is “the 7 habits of highly effective people”by  Stephen Covey. In this book, habit 5 is “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Covey describes empathic listening as the highest form of listening. He writes: “Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference.  You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel” (Covey, 1989).

Experts in communication estimate that 60% of our communication takes place through body language. They also say that only about 10% of communication take place through the words we speak. This is why empathic listening is one of the most important characteristic of leadership. When we are listening with empathy, we are able to understand and connect.  We are listening at an emotional level, and an intellectual level.

In my experience, empathic listening is lacking from our managers and corporate leaders. This is especially true in the technology industry. Part of the problem is that we don’t know we are poor listeners. We don’t know because people at work are afraid to confront us about it.

Most people at work avoid face to face conflict at all cost, especially with their manager. Unfortunately, this avoidance technique has many negative repercussions.

In healthy relationships, we are comfortable confronting someone when we don’t feel understood. This is why spouses have no problem confronting each other if they don’t feel understood. Spouse’s trust each other and the confrontation is healthy.

Leaders should not get defensive when confronted by employees who feel they aren’t heard. Leaders should take the feedback as an opportunity for self-improvement. They should understand that they have built trust. They should also use the confrontation as an opportunity to practice humility.

For more on lack of trust and confrontation avoidance, I recommend  Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Lencioni describes absence of trust and fear of conflict. These two dysfunctions kill team productivity and cohesiveness (Lencioni, 2002).

To listen with empathy, we need to attune ourselves to the person who is communicating to us. We need to observe their body language and facial expressions, as well as hear the words they speak.

Here are 5 steps you can take to listen with empathy:

  1. Give your full attention. Look the person in the eye when they are speaking to you. Don’t look  at your phone!
  2. Focus on listening. It’s hard to hear what someone is saying when you are forming  a response.
  3. Pay close attention to body language and facial expressions. What are they telling you?
  4. After you feel like you are understanding the other person, repeat back to them what you heard.
  5. Acknowledge their feelings.

By acknowledging feelings, people feed understood. Listening with empathy deepens relationships and builds trust. As leaders, we need to connect with people on a deeper level. So next time you are listening to someone at work, listen with empathy.

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Introducing MacIsaac Consulting, a technology leadership company

For our first blog post, I’m thrilled to announce the start of MacIsaac Consulting! We are a new IT consulting company based in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul.

As someone who has worked in the trenches of IT for over 15 years, it became clear to me a change was needed. Most IT firms don’t understand the importance of leadership and collaboration. They staff resources based only on their technical skills. Companies then suffer when they bring on technical resources who can’t work well with a team.

Gone are the days when IT would isolate from the rest of the organization, left to sit alone while writing code. Today, IT needs to engage with the business from the start of project initiation. Cross functional teams must partner early with the business to deliver effective technical solutions. The shift to Agile has made this collaboration an absolute necessity.

At MacIsaac Consulting, we are raising the bar for IT consulting. Our goal is to provide not only best in class technical experts, but also leadership. Real leadership doesn’t come in the form of a title or position. Leadership is when we put the greater good of the team before ourselves. Leaders exude a “can do” attitude and they do all they can to help their teammates. 

Our core values are trust, commitment and results. 

If you are interested in our services, connect with us here. We are strong advocates of Agile software delivery. 

If you are interested in joining our team, email your resume to Mike at [email protected] We are looking for entrepreneurial minded individuals who are ready to change the game!

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Stay tuned for exciting updates from MacIsaac Consulting!

Kind Regards,

Mike MacIsaac – President and Principal Consultant



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