Stan Lee

It’s weird. The death of Stan Lee has really choked me up. Here I am a 50 year old man and I keep finding myself emotional over the passing of the comic book legend.

Maybe it was what he represented. All those amazing characters he created (chief among them to me was Spider-Man) or shepherded represented something substantial and good in the world. Each of them flawed human beings like the rest of us. Identifiable.

Somehow he took the remarkable and made it achievable through the humanity each expressed.

Maybe I couldn’t shoot webs or climb walls but I could be nice, I could be compassionate.

What a guy…he will be missed.

Leadership & the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

“The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the state of entropy of the entire universe, as an isolated system, will always increase over time. The second law also states that the changes in the entropy in the universe can never be negative.”  – Sadi Carnot

Basically all things degrade; all things run-down; all things tend toward chaos.

I write a lot about the 2nd law as it relates to human systems, management and leadership because I find it apt (and it makes me seem smart). I repeat myself in this area because I think this is an area that largely bears repeating – it is important and people forget about it.

Leadership and its subset, management, are critical bulwarks against entropy in organizations where the 2nd law is at work in determined and often rapid fashion.

Without sound, cohesive, intentional leadership over an entire system or organization a vacuum forms. When this happens another wondrous law of nature comes to play with entropy – nature abhors a vacuum.

Situational leaders, people who rise to the occassion for good or ill, fill the gap left by the absence of structured leadership and they do so in a haphazard, tribal and often ill-informed fashion.

Each of these sitch leaders attempts to slow the entropy threatening their particlar ecosystem. Their vision is often limited to their silo, they are rarely experienced leaders, and they almost never consider the whole but only the part they exist within. When they do consider the whole they do so with incomplete information.

As these leaders develop across an organization the irony is their efforts to stem entropy in their fiefdoms accelerate it across the whole. This often leads to selfish decision making and conflict – decisions that seem right for the area but do not work when the whole is taken into account.

The longer this state is allowed to persist the more difficult it is for an incoming leader/manager to bring it under control.

Lack of sound leadership can destroy organizations.

Leadership vacuums can occur for a number of reasons – the person in charge is not, in fact a good leader and abdicates authority to other managers down the chain. This is not the same as trust and one should know the difference.

A good leader enables their managers to do their job in order to ensure the hositic vision and goals of the organization are met. A poor leader simply lets their managers manage the whole organization out of laziness or fear of conflict and does not enforce a central vision and stays generally uninvolved.

Sometimes people leave an organization. This happens all of the time. I am a firm believer that organizations do not live and die on the basis of one individual – none of us are that important from the board chair, mayor, CEO, city manager on down.

That being said, having the right person in the right position is critical to organizational effectiveness.

This is why you should never promote someone to a position of leadership simply because they have been there the longest. This is the absolute worst possible thing an organization can do in these circumstances and it can be very destructive. It is like organizational Russian roulette. Do not take people who are performing excellently in one area and move them to another, different area, because you assume they will perform just as well.

You put good leaders into position of leadership regardless of their tenure and experience.

Many times when an organization loses it’s head, so-to-speak, after the departure of a senior manager in a position of overall leadership, it is thought that the best thing to do is to go into a state of sustain until the new leader can come in.

There is no such thing as sustain in organizations – you move forward or you degrade.

This is often the mistake of boards, councils, legislatures etc. Assumptions are made at the board level that the organization can weather the storm over a few weeks/months without any leadership – just business as usual.

When senior leaders depart it is the board’s responsibility to ensure strong operational leadership is in place even if they have to exercise it themselves.

This is not a popular opinion. It runs square up against the axiom that boards govern and staff operate and neither the twain should meet. But like all good rules (and this is a good rule) there are exceptions.

Boards must step up and ensure a strong central vision and the policies and procedures that go with it remain in place and are enforced in the interim between leaders or else the situational leaders take over.

This happens very quickly – not days or weeks but rather minutes and hours.

Boards must be intentional about this. They cannot sit back and assume staff will imform them if problems arise. They must appoint a representative who connects immediately with remaining management and staff to communicate the will of the board while the circumstance persists. They must be willing to ask questions and seek out info.

You get the point. To fight entropy in leadership vacuums contingency plans need to be in place for just such an occassion – plans that answer the question “what do we do if the CEO quits?” Plans that are actively and intentionally developed to ensure strong, central management persists through the transtion. Most importantly the organization needs to be ready to implment those plans immediately.

Like a Thief in Broad Daylight

slavojPenguin is sending me a copy of Slavoj Žižek’s latest book to review so stay tuned. The book is titled Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity. See Penguin’s description below:

“In recent years, techno-scientific progress has started to utterly transform our world – changing it almost beyond recognition. In this extraordinary new book, renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek turns to look at the brave new world of Big Tech, revealing how, with each new wave of innovation, we find ourselves moving closer and closer to a bizarrely literal realisation of Marx’s prediction that ‘all that is solid melts into air.’ With the automation of work, the virtualisation of money, the dissipation of class communities and the rise of immaterial, intellectual labour, the global capitalist edifice is beginning to crumble, more quickly than ever before-and it is now on the verge of vanishing entirely.

But what will come next? Against a backdrop of constant socio-technological upheaval, how could any kind of authentic change take place? In such a context, Zizek argues, there can be no great social triumph – because lasting revolution has already come into the scene, like a thief in broad daylight, stealing into sight right before our very eyes. What we must do now is wake up and see it.”

Leadership Amidst Growth

Exercising good leadership in a growing organization can be a little like juggling on a tightrope whilst blindfolded. Take to firm a hand and you risk alienating valuable staff; become too hands-off and your people and departments can spin off into choas like so many planets into space after their sun vanishes.

A balance must be struck between active involvement and the exercise of trust in people who were hired to do their jobs.

It can be particularly difficult for boards and their various dopplegangers (municipal councils, legislative assemblies, house of worship elders or councils etc).

One of the reasons it is difficult for boards is becuase the goal of a board is to focus and emphasize governance and not to nitpick at the operational level – this is what the CEO/Executive Director, city manager, CAO, deputy minister, pastor, imam, rabii etc. is for.

Staff report up to the CEO and the CEO reports to the board. All communications from staff to the board should go through the CEO and all communication from the board to staff should be through the board chair/mayor etc.

So how do we manage effectively and no when there are issues at the operational level? Well the kind of reports provided to boards on a monthly basis should contain metrics that can provide you with an overall sense of organizational well-being. The reports should give you the information you need to ask the right questions.

Ultimately the health of an organization is dependent upon the strength and clarity of the vision as developed by the board and effectively communicated to the staff through the CEO.

The CEO should be someone who can assist the board in developing the vision and be capable of implementing said vision. There should never be a disconnect between the two as that creates friction and structural breakdown at the operational level.

An organization should never be in a position where the CEO is complaining to staff and management about the board and the board should never be in a position to be complaining publicly about their CEO – when this happens one or both have failed in their roles.

Conflict will always arise in organizations and it is up to the board and management to come to a place of understanding and peace – if they cannot management needs to go.

You might ask – “why not the board? Maybe the board needs to go.”

This may be true but this is the decision of the shareholder/member/electorate at the AGM or election and for them to make an informed decision they need information and that is their responsibility to get it and the responsiblity of the board to ensure the organization distributes it.

Unhealthy organizations fear distributing all but the most harmless information. The healthiest organizations are as transparent as they can legally be.

If you want to know how healthy an organization you are a member of is start asking questions. Stonewalling, patronizing or outright lack of response is a sign there are significant problems.

Back to leading amidst growth.

There are two primary kinds of organizational growth – strategic/planned growth based upon the need to meet strategic vision and unplanned, reactive growth that results from a lack of vision at the corporate level.

The first kind of growth happens when leadership is clearly and regularly communicating the strategic vision to the staff and the members of the organization. The second kind of growth happens when there is no strong strategic vision or that vision is not communicated on a regular and clear basis.

In the second instance the vacuum of vision and leadership begins to be filled on an ad hoc and tribal basis at the department level. This most often leads to internal conflict, low morale, and inappropriate spending on competing micro-visions developed by formal and informal departmental leaders.

You want the first kind of growth but this requires a great deal of effort and intentionality on the part of the board and the CEO. It requires a clear vision that feeds a strong and clear corporate strategic plan that can be elecidated at increasingly accurate levels from 5 to 3 to 1 year on a rolling basis (or whatever timeframes are appropriate for your organization).

From this plan department heads are to develop departmental strategies accordingly – all designed to meet the desired results of the corporate plan. At this level all hiring, budgeting, growth etc is fed by and feeds the strategic plan and vision.

In all of this one of the significant keys to success is strong, clear, vibrant, inspiring communication of the vision and strategic plan to the staff and membership.

For a plan to succeed those obligated to carry it out must be inspired and believe in that plan. They must feel like they matter in the ultimate achievement of said plan and have been able to contribute to the development of the plan and vision otherwise you are simply an organization trying to maintain the status quo all the while deteriorating into chaos. You become the practical outworking of the second law of thermodynaimcs demonstrating that all things tend toward entropy and fall apart.

The struggle with leading in a time of growth is that growth brings immediate challenges that need to be met and it is easy to forget the vision and strategic plan in order to remove the challenge as fast as possible. However if you do this you risk eroding the vision and plan with poorly thought out decisions that have a ripple effect throughout the organization.

It is better amidst growth to allow immediate pain and take time to make the right decision than to eliminate the pain by a quick decision and suffer significantly over the long term.

The longer you take to implement sound vision-based leadership the more likely small, tribal leaders will emerge and become recalcitrant in their ways communicating competitive visions to their staff creating conflict between staff and one-another as well as staff and the CEO/board. In this circumstance departmental needs begin to outweigh corporate needs and costs can begin to dramitcally increase due to decentralized, selfish thinking.

If you are not careful you run the risk of being in a situation where you have to reboot the entire organization from the top on down which, while it may be necessary, is both costly and distracting.

To avoid this from happening the board must maintain a strong and healthy relationship with the CEO while the CEO must do the same with management and management with staff. Each relationship models the next and starts between the board and the CEO feeding the organization with the organization feeding the membership and the membership then feeding and informing the board.

Eventually a healthy cycle ensues…and trust me when I say the absence of a healthy cycle is not a vacuum – it is the creation of an unhealthy and destructive cycle that sees perpetual turnover, escalating costs, and constant disastisfaction amongst all stakeholders.

Strong vision. Strong strategic plan. Strong leadership and, tying it all together, strong communication – these are the keys to success amidst a growing organization.


in my dreams
i heard the coyote howling
its long, mournful wail
that trailed through the dark
as though it had lost a thing
as though it had lost its pack
one, long howl
over and over and over

you know a coyote
from every other animal
when you live in the small places
near the country
away from everything else
you know a coyote

and then i remembered
i was asleep in my hotel
in Winnipeg
why were there coyotes howling here?
how could they get to this place
away from the others
no family and lost in the great, lit city

this woke me
and still i heard the coyote howling
not far now
like when we camped in the Pembina Valley
and they seemed so close to the tent
you could hear them walking
you could hear them whispering
about what may be inside
i was awake
and still i heard the coyote howling
so i opened my balcony
and stepped naked to the cold beyond
where the wails grew, and grew
for minutes i strained in puzzled wonder
how could a coyote be here
how lost was this soul with sadness
wrung through its heart like blood

it felt like forever before i knew
this was a woman howling
no coyote here but a broken lady
somewhere off just out of site
and so i called the police on my phone

“i thought i heard a coyote but its a woman
i could hear her across from the Holiday Tower
she is like a coyote piercing my walls”

“sir can you tell if she is in trouble”

“shes screaming and screaming and screaming
i can hear her through my walls”

“we’ll send a car” – calm, bored.

and then she asked me somewhat bemused –

“sir where are you from?”

as if they don’t have coyotes in the city
where i am from
as if they don’t have lonely, sad, howling coyotes
where i am from
i know what the coyote song sounds like

so i left her howling nine floors down
and i stepped back into my warm room at the Delta
and climbed back into my soft bed at the Delta
closing the balcony doors on the sounds
and i was sad for the coyote woman
who stopped her howling soon
i was sad because coyotes never howl alone
i was sad because maybe she cried out for the others
that no longer ran with her
that somehow she was lost and angry
so she shattered the night and waited
and i waited also…wanting with her to hear that response
and sometimes i thought i could
i thought maybe off and a long way away
another great howl searched her out, calling her back
back to safety, back to family, back to the chorus
and away from the soliloquay she rained down
from the parking lot across from the Holiday Tower

i didn’t know
i didn’t know the coyotes howled at night
in streets of downtown Winnipeg
howled till you needed to write her down
howled till you wanted to cry and cry and cry
and howl alongside her
at loss and the world’s end

Better Demons

we sought after them,
our better angels,
and learned that they had died
or fled this battlefield
in favour of less insane ground
from which to watch the conflagration;
and so now we’re caught
appealing to our better demons,
our less destructive demons,
to pull us from this fine mess,
this water-logged, sinking ship, SOS
that we’re sure to drown in,
if only a little,
for the hands that would pull us free,
they also want to push us under
and be done with the whole, stinking lot.

Tam and the Fuzzy Places

A house could stand for a 1,000 years and be as peaceful as the day it was built. Lives could come and go…some in violence, some in sadness or anger and others like a spring breeze that just wanders in and wanders out…and that house could sit just as still as a pond at twilight.

Most houses are like this really.

Other houses are like magnets for the dark. As though every bad thing and every bad thought that ever came near it somehow stuck like the unseen barbs of stinging nettle. All you have to do is walk through it and you come out the otherside all red and irritated and you don’t know why.

The dark houses people pick up on pretty quick usually and learn to keep their distance. The like to put their trust in the quiet places; the silent places that make them feel safe.

Sometimes though it’s the quiet places that you have to worry about. Sometimes something triggers that old sleeping presence. An act or a word. A thing that shocks the house awake…and when it wakes it wakes like bear startled out of a deep winter slumber all teeth and swiping claws. Lord help the people who startle such a house to wakefulness because that anger runs deep and long and rarely lets go.

Tam, short for Tammany because mum once heard the name Tammany Hall and fell in love with it even though she never knew where it came from and never though to look, Tam was six and liked to wander.

She could not be outside for more than five minutes before she needed to explore, or walk or skip or just lose herself in the big and wide world. She was like a lot of children in this way…oblivious to the obvious dangers but somehow wary to the hidden ones.

Children, cats, and some dogs (certain monkeys in other parts of the world) have a sense for the hidden dangers that are woven deep into some things. We lose it mostly as we get older and it becomes the bedrock of the mythology of our youth. We grow in disbelief and thus can stumble into some real, honest to goodness evil without warning like walking down the stairs and reaching casually for that last step that you know is there but isn’t and you lose your equilibrium in a sudden, shocking jolt.

Tam was like most kids and then some. Tam knew the dark places even in the full bright of the midday summer sun. Tam knew which parts of the wood to steer away from, which parts of grandpa’s farm to avoid and she knew to stay well and clear of the red brick house at the end of 9th Street.

Tam knew this in a way that even other children didn’t…heck she knew this and other things better even than cats and that is saying something. When they drove past the red brick house she would hold her breathe and sit motionless lest it know she was there. She could feel it reaching out…even from blocks and blocks away it was like some worried sore in a deep place that radiated heat and sickness and infection. It was gross and made her want to throwup. It turned her ever-present smile into a thin line running straight across her face.

The place scared her as she knew it should but more than fear it made her angry. A place like that had no business in this town. A place like that had no business in this world. It was like a rotting, decayed tooth that wouldn’t fall out no matter how hard it got tugged. It practically hummed with pain like a high voltage wire that would kill you if you reached close enough.

Tam didn’t know what a high-voltage wire was. She didn’t think in terms of metaphor. She was six. She just knew it was a wrong place, the wrongest she’d ever felt in her more than half decade of life…and she knew if a person were to reach out it’d jump toward them like an arc from that high tension wire she never thought about…so she stayed away.

Now you might be wondering what kind of parent let their six year old little girl wander all over town and you’d be right to wonder such things. But Tam’s parents didn’t exactly ‘let’ her wander. She would just sneak off when they weren’t looking and send them into a panic.

Tam wandered. That’s what Tam’s do as far as Tam was concerned – they wandered and catalogued the wide world in their mind so as to sort through the images and feelings later in bed.

Sometimes without know it she would be ranking places from the bright to the dark in her head. It was a trick that helped her go to sleep. There weren’t just bright and dark places though. Tam knew there were in-betweens and almosts too. These were the most interesting to her – not dangerous…just unsettled like their English Bulldog Putz when he would whimper dream and shake.

When this would happen Tam would sneak quietly over and lay a hand on Putz and he would start to settle down. She liked to bring peace to Putz and, slowly and accidentally, Tam learned she could bring peace to some of the unsettled places too. This was one of the reasons she would wander…to find the unsettled not-yet-dangerous places and lay her hand on them that they might sleep still and peaceful again.

It was back in early September when Tam learned she could make the unsettled places quiet down like she did with Putz. Way back 8 months ago, which is a long, long time in the life of a six year old.

Tam was wandering the school yard during the first recess of her first day in Grade 1 when she decided to check out a part of the school yard that was fresh earth surrounded by grass.

It was a curious spot that lookked out of place and because it was different it drew her attention. Half walking, half skipping Tam made her way to the spot and just stared for a while. It was dark earth covered in tan seeds and surrounded by orange plastic rope wrapped around little metal spears.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Tam counted the spears. She counted them five times…three times out loud and twice in her head. Tam thoroughly enjoyed counting and was already learning math which made her feel smart and proud.

Tam knew from her classroom window the first time she saw the spot earlier in the day that this was an unsettled place. A fuzzy place as Tam would say because unsettled was not a word she knew yet.

Standing in front of the spot made her feel odd and sad. There were little pink and red things on the ground at one side and she went over to look. Small wilted flower petals. She picked one up and smelled it but there was nothing to smell. She put it into her pants pocket with a small rock she found earlier.

Tam stood and stared at the spot. So fuzzy. So unsettled. She knew if it woke it would get angry. It would be scared and confused like Putz could get and so she knelt and placed her hand on the earth and thought “there, there…you need to sleep…shhhh…go to sleep, its alright.”

Over and over she did this and slowly the fuzzy went away.

“I’ll come back to make sure yer ok” she said after the buzzer rang to drag Tam and fellow students back.

Walking back to the blue doors that led to her classroom Tam was happy. She made a fuzzy place quiet. She thought of the red brick house and frowned. That was not a fuzzy place and she could do nothing for it, not yet. But there were many other places like the spot on the school yard and she felt that maybe she should help them quiet too…it would make her sad to let them just stay fuzzy.


Morden Hires New City Manager

At council’s meeting on October 15th it was revealed that Faisal Anwar, director of sustainable economic development for the city of Selkirk, has been hired by the City of Morden as it’s new City Manager.

Mr. Anwar comes to the city with a wealth of experience having been with Selkirk for more than four years. Prior to Selkirk Mr. Anwar worked for the City of Yorkton, Sasktachewan where he was the economic development officer.

Aside from his professional experience Mr. Anwar brings a wealth of education in the form of three master’s degrees including: a Master of Applied Environmental Studies in Local Economic Development, Business Development from the University of Waterloo; An MBA in Finance and Financial Services from Adamson University, Manila; and a Master of Arts, Economics, MAthematical Economics and Econometrics from Karachi University, Pakistan.

According to council Mr. Anwar is set to start his new role in December.