Thursday, August 12, 2010

Always Keep Evolving

from a cultural conversation with Yo-Yo Ma
and the Wall Street Journal

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, "The Ever-Curious Cellist." He had many inspiring things to say. Some of his thoughts are especially relevant to the art of communicating and engaging others. And although their context is music and performing, they speak to the essence of enlightened storytelling...

You spend years trying to learn how to communicate that this sound is reflective of that thought, but then there's the question of how it's received.

My job as a performer is to make something memorable. If I do something nice but forgettable, it needn't have happened.

There are moments when the answers about who you are and what you're doing can change suddenly. Even if we don't like change, we change anyway. There's no real stasis. So the question is how do you change?

People will ask 'Are you famous?' And I always answer 'My mother thinks so.' Besides, even exceptionally talented artists need to practice and grow. I may be playing the same pieces, but the way I'm thinking about them is different.

Colin Goedecke is a strategic story developer and senior-level interviewer, with a 25-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their marketing stories. Always Keep Evolving is the 24th in a series of thought pieces to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at

Yo-Yo Ma is a celebrated cellist, who has played with most of the world's major orchestras. He currently plays with his own Silk Road Ensemble, which brings together musicians from diverse countries which are historically linked to the Silk Road.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Defining Leaders

A conversation about true leaders and leadership

with Richard Russack

CG: Leadership is something you’ve thought a lot about over the years, Dick. And you’ve certainly worked with your share of [corporate] leaders. Why is it so much on your mind now?

RR: If you look at the world today, it’s devoid of enough true leaders. We used to have so many. This troubles me. What has happened? Is it because people don’t want to step up to the higher responsibilities of leadership, or don’t know how to be great leaders?

CG: What in your view defines a true leader?

RR: The first quality of leadership is moral and ethical character. When we look at the [now former] CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, for example, his whole attitude and behavior from a public relations point of view was ridiculous. Making me wonder how he ever got into such a significant leadership role.

Many times individuals arrive in a major leadership position because they were great salespeople or CFOs or prominent public figures, but then didn’t behave like true leaders; in some cases revealed serious character flaws. Yet too few people ever questioned whether they met high standards of leadership to begin with.

Aside from moral integrity, another essential leadership quality is vision. In contrast to a manager with goals. And, a sense of team, which enables a leader to attract the experts they need to help them lead and help them create a culture that can achieve both short-term goals and a long-term vision. There’s also a certain wisdom, a blend of intelligence and street smarts.

CG: What about charisma?

RR: Yes, but it’s overused. I’d say courage. Because as a leader you’re faced with many unknown situations, and need courage to assess them, take decisive action -- and stake your reputation on this.

CG: Yet we have people in the world, in business, government, academia and elsewhere in society, who we call leaders but who don’t meet the criteria we’re talking about, even though they’re technically “leading,” i.e. running something.

RR: Yes. But there’s no clear understanding or commonly accepted definition of what a leader actually is.

CG: Despite countless books and articles written on the subject.

RR: All this represents are different points of view. Even if you talk with those who are considered or consider themselves leaders, you would still get a range of attributes instead of two or three consistent ones.

They used to be defined as people with deep experience, who knew how to deal with change and who had significant accomplishments. Like Dwight D. Eisenhower. He never set out to be President of the United States. He worked his way up in the military and when it came time to deal with the Normandy invasion he showed himself to be a real leader. He staked his reputation on a point of view and course of action, against great odds and opposition. And he succeeded.

CG: Looking at the landscape now, who stands out for you as an exemplary leader?

RR: At one point President Obama came to mind, who had a vision but has run into too many uphill political issues. In sports, I’d say someone like Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals stands out as a true leader. He has character, moral integrity and vision, has been terribly consistent and is held in esteem by his teammates as a leader.

CG: Other than Eisenhower and Pujols, who else is in your pantheon of leaders?

RR: George Washington.

CG: Why Washington?

RR: He wasn't a very well educated man, but he demonstrated leadership through the [American] revolution and in building a nation. He was able to bring a brilliant group of people together – philosophers, orators, visionaries, innovators and organizers – to work toward a larger purpose and vision.

Inspiring loyalty is something I didn’t mention earlier, but it is a hallmark… though we see so little of it today, to anyone or anything.

IBM’s Thomas J. Watson is a fine model for this. He was in touch, face-to-face, with his employees, and personally acknowledged them and their value, and they were extremely loyal in return.

I once advised a CEO to walk around the company campus at Christmas time to wish our people happy holidays. He didn’t want to do it. He was afraid it would appear insincere. I told him if you start and do it every year it’ll be tremendously sincere; if not, employees will view you as someone who doesn’t care about them.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, one of seven projects of the Pew Research Center supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, are leaders. Both institutions have been around for decades, and have never strayed from their visions, missions or basic criteria. They’ve kept their purpose, focus and investments vital and consistent with our evolving world.

Theirs is a different form of leadership, but a critical one, that impacts society by influencing trends, identifying individual leaders and helping to shape public awareness and opinion.

CG: An unsung leader for me is a man I recently interviewed, Claus Biegert, founder of the Nuclear Free Future Awards. Because he leads a valiant, selfless effort and vision for a nuclear freer world; championing the rights of victimized indigenous peoples, uniting scientists, politicians and activists worldwide, and doing all this with wisdom and integrity.

CG: Are leaders made, or born?

RR: I’d like to think genetics play some part, but I have no scientific proof. Some of it is serendipitous. You can have a desire to be a leader, but you may not achieve it because you lack some essential trait or simply miss the right opportunity because of timing or age.

The military has a system that over time separates leaders from non-leaders, but you find few people who left it in the last 10 to 20 years and became recognized leaders in other fields.

CG: What pitfalls do leaders need to avoid?

RR: They have to avoid becoming arrogant. It’s an occupational hazard. In business especially, also government. They move in very narrow circles of people and thinking, and many lose their objectivity and forget their humbler beginnings. Making it hard to relate in any normal way to what’s going on outside their bubbles.

Great leaders never lose touch like this.

CG: What about sustaining leadership?

RR: This is a true test of whether someone is a leader: the ability to realize a significant vision over time.

CG: Are the best leaders also heroes?

RR: Absolutely. And acknowledged by a broad not just a narrow group of people.

An inventor can be a leader. Maybe not at the point of the invention. Thomas Edison took his invention, electric light, drove the development and application of it, and made it [and electric power generation] a backbone of the world.

CG: Not to mention the phonograph and motion picture camera. What’s so pivotal about Edison’s role is his impact on mass communications, especially telecommunications. And how he led the application of mass production principles to the process of invention, out of which came the first industrial research lab.

CG: Now coming back to the scarcity of true leaders, does this leave society too rudderless? Who do we follow; support; trust; believe in?

RR: This is a quandary. Among the public, it makes people afraid to go out and vote. Which is why in most cities do you have a 10% turnout for elections of mayors.

CG: Is it a loss of faith?

RR: Yes, and part of a true leader’s role is to restore faith, confidence, belief. To be honest about things. To make decisions in the best interests of the many vs. the few.

CG: Any books about leadership you’ve found worthwhile?

RR: For a number of years, I have been reading historical fiction. Right now Tested by Fate, a trilogy about Lord Horatio Nelson, a leader and a hero. A man who held every single job and knew every aspect of operating and navigating a ship. No matter what I read, I see that those who turn out to be the most successful leaders, are also those who have learned everything along the way so when they reach a top position they know exactly what has to be done by each person on the team, bottom up – because they’ve done it.

If we could achieve this today, we would have enlightened leaders, not people racing through important steps or skipping them altogether.

CG: Is this a critical observation we should be making about our current and future leaders?

RR: It probably is.

I’m consulting for a private company that’s leaderless right now. And the question is whether to bring someone in from the outside or cultivate a leader internally over a few years. I’m in favor of cultivating, of incubating: it’s critical for forming the right and best kind of leaders.

CG: As the world changes, will the fundamentals of true leadership change?

RR: No, but because the world will continue getting more complicated, it’ll be harder to find people who have the drive and stamina and interest as well as the ability to lead in all the ways we’ve talked about here.

We have schools trying to teach leadership, but we need to look at and questions these curricula. I don’t believe you can really teach it, but I do believe you can inspire it.

As American voters head to polls this Fall, they have an opportunity to

think beyond party lines and make choices based on the defining qualities of leadership we’ve been discussing.

This is a critical time for our country. And we all need to evaluate whether the challengers understand the issues and have the ability to really lead and inspire others to follow. Because voting out the incumbents just to vote them out would be a catastrophic mistake. We can take advantage of the mid-term elections to advance a meaningful, shared vision and populate Congress with new and true leaders who will earn – and deserve – the public’s trust and support.

CG: Dick, thank you for your time and thoughts.

Colin Goedecke is a strategic story developer and senior-level interviewer, with a 25-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their marketing stories. Defining Leaders is the 23rd in a series of thought pieces to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at

Richard Russack, is a senior management & communications consultant. He retired in 2008 from a 16-year role as VP of corporate relations for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation and president of its foundation. His Linked In profile is His e-mail:

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning the Right Life Lessons

A conversation about the value of the past

with David Melnik, Q.C.

CG: The famous philosopher, poet and novelist Georges Santayana said: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. How is this point relevant today?

DM: To have a good view of how you should live your life, and how best to contribute to your community and avoid some of life’s large pitfalls, you should learn a much as you can about what happened in the past. About what made and makes the world go round.

That’s why the study of history and philosophy are more important than anything I can think of. Whether you do it formally or informally.

CG: When you look at your own life, how did this serve you?

DM: Over my life I learned a great, great deal about the past, and it helped me move forward. I took aspects of it I felt were workable, worth copying or following, and used them in new and constructive ways.

When we look not just at individuals, but also at companies, we see opportunities to take what worked well for others in the past and use it to improve the present and future.

However, the problem with business today is you’re often dealing with political instead of purely economic agendas: driven by getting votes instead of doing the right thing. An environment where politics rule or overrule common sense.

As a result, we have witnessed the insolvency of a company like GM, once one of the world’s great industrial giants. And, its ownership being forced by the US Government onto the shoulders of America’s taxpayers.

CG: What can we learn from this?

DM: Several things. That governments have powerful agendas of their own, like getting re-elected, and because of this they often forget or ignore the wisdom of the past; which was to have businesses run intelligently and profitably, or let them fail if they didn’t succeed on their own merits.

That we have to take careful note of what our leaders say and do, then hold them to account.

And, that Santayana was right.

I served at one time in my 50+ year career as a senior advisor to the Premier of Ontario, Canada, so I have both an outside and a very inside perspective of government and politics at work; likewise of law from leading a law practice, and of business from running a bank and serving on many corporate boards.

CG: But we don’t need university degrees to glean the wisdom and folly of the past.

DM: Well I have five degrees, but I still have to pay to go on the streetcar as they say. The key is working throughout your lifetime to acquire meaningful knowledge and experience – and the ability to seriously analyze and discuss issues.

CG: In your view, most governments are operating more from self than public interest, and exerting counter-productive control over the marketplace. So where does capitalism fit in today?

DM: I don’t have many heroes, but the great economist Milton Friedman was certainly one. Years back, he gave an interview. When asked if capitalism was a selfish thing, Friedman, like Adam Smith before him, said no, that private, free market achievement was the basis of creating wealth for more people than would otherwise be the case in any dictatorial or totalitarian state (like Stalinist Russia).

I think it’s still true; and more essential than ever that we work to restore a free market.

CG: What one book has influenced you most significantly?

DM: Perhaps British economic historian Robert Skidelsky’s acclaimed three-volume biography on John Maynard Keynes. Fifty years later, we’re still struggling with the effects of Keynesianism. In essence Keynes theory was when things go down, let the government print and pump money into the system and all will be well. Which isn’t the way a free market should work, and we – especially you in the U.S. – have paid dearly for it: tens of trillions in debt and obligations.

I did not admire Keynes in any way, because I think his theory of government involvement in the economy is wrong…but I had to study him to really understand this.

CG: Richard Maybury, publisher of the always insightful and compelling US & World Early Warning Report, has a lot to say about the crushing losses that have come from Keynesian economics -- and about what 2,500 years of economic history tell us to expect ahead in our markets.

But why aren’t we thinking more about these essential issues?

DM: When they’re working all day long, most people are tired and want to relax. The last thing they are likely to do is read Skidelsky’s biography of John Maynard Keynes, or study the meaning of history or carefully analyze where their country is heading.

CG: Yet don’t we all have a higher responsibility, to learn life lessons? To be mindful and helpful, and do the right things in our world by and for each other?

DM: Yes we do. Socrates felt virtue was the most valuable of all possessions, and that the ideal life was spent in search of the good. His ancient wisdom is as timely as ever. It’s something we can seek every day.

CG: You may remember the conversation piece “A Time for Questioning” I did last year with world performer/director/ethical business catalyst Yannis Simonides about Socratic wisdom.

DM: On a larger plane, people also have to be free to make their own decisions about how to conduct their affairs, with as little outside interference as possible. When you go back to the past, you’ll see it was the free market that worked – when it was allowed to work; while government-run or government-influenced economies were not so successful. You’re seeing these dynamics play out again in the present.

CG: So what’s your best advice?

DM: Study. Read. Think. Find people you can talk and exchange ideas with, who will listen…and respect what you have to say; and will offer other viewpoints you can appreciate.

Learn. And keep learning.

I have traveled to over a hundred countries in my 78 years; worked in business, academia and government, and sought out other ways of thinking that helped me evolve my own. I have never stopped learning.

I believe our individual capacity in modern times to transform knowledge of the past, of history and philosophy, into vital new ideas and action for tomorrow, is as great as it ever was. But we have to seize the opportunity, each in our own best way. Our own lives and our future well-being as a society depend on it.

CG: Thank you so much, David.

Colin Goedecke is a strategic story developer and senior-level interviewer, with a 25-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their marketing stories. Learning the Right Life Lessons is the 22nd in a series of thought pieces to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at Colin's Linked In profile is

David Melnik, Queen’s Counsel, is a leading international legal and financial consultant; who sits on many company boards. Former CEO of Canada’s Vanguard Trust, he also served as policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario, and as professor at both the University of Toronto and York University business schools…

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Choosing a Nuclear Freer Future

a conversation about the surprising realities

and costs of nuclear energy with Claus Biegert

CG: Our world has been nuclearized over the last five decades, for energy and atomic weaponry. And the production, from the mining of uranium for both, to the storage of radioactive waste from both, you say has come at immense environmental and social cost, cost that much of the public is still unenlightened or unconscious or uncurious about. Despite all the hard evidence out there. What’s the root problem?

CB: Few people question where nuclear material comes from in the first place, or whether it’s wise to use it. It’s uranium, and it comes from the earth, and usually from the traditional homelands of indigenous peoples. Most of these people live in vital relationship with the earth, and these surroundings wind up destroyed and with them, their cultures. Making these mining activities a clear and ongoing violation of human rights.

CG: Why is the process of taking uranium from the earth so destructive?

CB: Because enormous amounts of rock have to be mined and milled to produce a tiny amount, just 0.1% or less, of uranium ore, that’s turned into yellowcake. Most is waste, and 85% of it radioactive in the extensive tailings left behind – that can be the size of small mountains (the largest is over 80 million tons in Europe; and in the US and Canada some approach 30 million tons) or submerged under vast areas of hazardous, dammed-up water. These toxic messes will remain contaminated for generations to come.

CG: So while an epic environmental disaster is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, around the world the nuclear industry has been knowingly not accidentally poisoning many parts of the planet’s ecology and its people for decades, from Asia and Africa to Canada and the US?

CB: But none of this is referred to publicly or officially as anything disastrous because it’s a widely accepted aspect of the uranium mining business. Even though scientifically we know it’s highly toxic; that the nearby radiation indigenous people are exposed to are related to many cancers and other debilitating diseases, and to the unnatural sicknesses of local animal and plant life.

Likewise, uranium enrichment, a process that produces depleted uranium – which is only considered “raw material” by the marketplace and not radioactive waste. Some of this goes into the weapons industry, and some into the iron and steel industry where it winds up recycled into parts of structures people move and work in.

Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

CG: Clearly we need to realize and become actively concerned about where nuclear energy is coming from; how it is extracted and handled, and where nuclear waste is going to. Not unlike the way we’re concerned these days about how safe our food is, and where and how it’s grown.

CB: We must, and we must also face ourselves in the mirror, and ask how comfortable we are living with this situation.

CG: But isn’t nuclear an essential part of the world’s energy supply?

CB: Despite many world leaders suggesting this is the case, it’s only about 2.5% of total energy production, and electricity alone is only about 17%. Making the level of destruction to produce it far out of proportion; wholly unsustainable; unacceptable. To say nothing of the fact that a half-century later there’s still no place to permanently store all the nuclear waste that has been and is still being generated as we speak.

Imagine creating an entire industry with no solution for the back end of the process. No real answers; no real antidote. That’s the world nuclear business.

CG: When I was an Official Listener back in 1992 at the World Uranium Hearing that you held in Salzburg, one of the greatest revelations from the leading scientists present was that there’s no safe level of ionizing radiation, despite propaganda to the contrary.

I also heard first-hand from the indigenous peoples affected, from the immediate victims of the world’s nuclear pursuits; many who had never left their villages till then. Who told their stories, revealed the truth, sad truth, that brought so many of us there in Salzburg to tears.

CB: The Hearing was successful in opening a lot of eyes and minds to the dark realities, and in empowering these indigenous people by giving them allies in their struggle to preserve their lands, livelihoods and cultures. As well, in publishing their testimonies and sharing revealing scientific presentations and conclusions.

As you know, we also had a Declaration of Salzburg adopted by the United Nations, which I encourage your readers to look at. It’s something vital we can all stand for. Especially for the benefit of our younger and next generations.

CG: What other illusions or myths are we operating under?

CB: Generations of people were told by the nuclear industry, especially in the 1950s and 60s, that nuclear was a panacea and science would take care of everything. So most people stopped worrying about the profound issues and problems of going and being nuclear. But the industry and nuclear-driven governments have failed to protect us or the planet, and they still have no worthwhile answers.

We need to worry.

CG: Aside of course from what happened so chillingly in Chernobyl, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history; and Three Mile Island, which people have forgotten about. These raised red flags for a while, but all that urgent concern seems to have faded away from the mainstream consciousness.

CB: Unfortunately yes. And the industry and governments talk today about a nuclear energy renaissance. But this is just PR, because there’s a finite amount of mineable uranium left, which will be exhausted in 70-80 years; and in less time if many new reactors are built around the world. Why should we say yes to an industry that is so lethal, and one with such a short shelf life?

They even call it green energy because it doesn’t emit Co2.

The fact is, there are many countries in the world, like Austria, Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand and Denmark, who don’t have and don’t want nuclear energy. And get along fine without it. Australia is rich in uranium deposits but has no reactors.

CG: So why did you create the Nuclear-Free Future Awards in 1998?

CB: All over the world there are courageous, inventive and inspired but unsung people standing up against this destruction; "counter-nuclear" champions who are working hard to educate and motivate the public.

These are people with great visions and smart solutions; who often risk their careers, even their lives to achieve a nuclear-free world. Our goal is to shine a light on them and their efforts; to recognize and financially support their work, because it’s important for every single one of us on the planet. They deserve our thanks.

We say nuclear-free instead of anti-nuclear, because we have a vision of a wiser future, one that uses safe and sustainable energy. Even if the world will never be fully nuclear free, it can be much freer of nuclear than it is. Including weapons. Our society started the Nuclear Age. Our society has the power to end or seriously diminish it.

CG: The next Nuclear-Free Future Awards are going to be presented in New York City, this September 30th at Cooper Union; open and free to the public. Can you tell us more about the event.

CB: We will recognize the following laureates and award them each $10,000: Oleg Bodrov in Russia for Education, Bruno Barrillot in France for Solutions, and The African Uranium Alliance for Resistance, as well as two individuals honorarily: Henry Red Cloud, from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Lakota Nation. He’s the fifth-generation grandson of famous Oglala Chief Red Cloud who was the first Indian to speak at Cooper Union, 140 years ago. And actor Martin Sheen, who has dedicated so much of his life fighting for peace through a nuclear-free world.

They will tell their front-line stories to the audience in Cooper Union's Great Hall and to all the people tuning in from around the world to the planned podcast.

CG: What should we all be thinking about right now, Claus?

CB: About why we allow the production of energy that is harming our lives and that of our children in visible and invisible ways, and seriously damaging the near and long-term health of our planet.

We should be thinking about how we can be more aware – and more responsible – as citizens of the wider world; and as protectors of the Nature that sustains us all. Become defenders of the purity of the natural resources like the oceans and skies we share: the world’s commons.

Everyone has a responsibility, a voice, and the ability to act.

Will we wait for another Chernobyl, maybe an even larger one, to get us to think and behave differently? Or will we take some initiative now.

It's time to realize that there's nothing safe or peaceful about nuclear.

CG: How can we be more enlightened, or helpful?

CB: Learn the truth. Also learn about groups like ours, and support some of them by volunteering or donating. The Nuclear-Free Future Awards directly supports individuals working for these essential goals with awards of money. You can also listen to the awardees in their own words on our site…or by coming to the September 30 (2010) event, or listening to the podcast.

Engage in conversations about these topics with your circles of friends and family and colleagues.

Take personal responsibility, and tell your elected officials this nuclear state of affairs that sacrifices so many innocent lives and precious parts of our natural world is unacceptable.

CG: What’s the greatest opportunity we have as a society?

CB: To wake up and work together in whatever small or larger ways we can to change course from our unwise ways of treating the earth to much wiser ways.

A message and spirit to take to heart is what the great Native American Chief Seattle said back in 1854 to President Franklin Pierce: The earth does not belong to man: man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood, which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

And John Mohawk Sotsisowah, the great Iroquois philosopher, who said in 1979: the war of the future will be between destroyers of nature and defenders of nature.

CG: Thanks so much Claus for all your thoughts and all your vital efforts.

Colin Goedecke is a strategic story developer and high-level interviewer, with a 25-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Choosing a Nuclear-Freer Future is the 21st in a series of thought pieces to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at

Claus Biegert is a long time radio host, documentary filmmaker, author, and journalist in Germany since 1973. He co-leads the Nuclear-Free Future Awards (NFFA) An independent group founded in 1998, the NFFA works closely with The Alternative Nobel Prize among others, and has been called by Berlin newspaper Taz “the most important anti-nuke award in the world.” Each year’s laureates, from grass-roots activists to enlightened politicians, are nominated by a distinguished advisory board and selected by an international jury.

For more information about the September 30th 2010 Nuclear-Free Future Award ceremony, at the Great Hall of Cooper Union; free to the public, email

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