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Getting Down from the Ledge: Why Overcoming Fear is Critical for Forging the Right Strategy

We all have moments of paralyzing fear when the stakes of making the wrong decision seem gut-wrenchingly high. John Bourke, President of the Business Excellence Institute, knows that feeling well.

John recently shared a story with us about the moment he had to make a decision that could not only change his life but potentially end it. 

On a mountain climbing trip with his brother and his father, he found himself just short of the peak, on a six-inch ledge, and looking down at a 2km drop. Awaiting him on the other side was an overhang that he’d have to climb over with spider-like skill to reach his goal. 

It was a challenge John was nowhere near prepared for. Too far past his skill level. And far too dangerous. 

“I remember thinking very clearly, ‘I just can’t do this. Even though we’ve completed 75% of the climb, I’m brave enough to admit I'm just not up for this.’”

So, with his pulse racing, he made one of the most...

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Four Tips for Making Colossal Decisions

Just over a year ago, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, made one of the toughest calls of his life: he recommended the entire province shut down to stop the spread of a then-new virus called COVID-19.

It was a colossal decision that posed serious political, economic, and health implications. But it was a masterclass in how to act swiftly in the face of uncertainty.

Here are the four things we learned from Dr. Strang about how to make colossal decisions:

1. Review data but trust your gut. In the early days of COVID, getting sound data was extremely difficult. In the face of this, Dr. Strang poured over any data he could get his hands on and then relied on his expertise and that of his team to weigh in on what it all meant for Nova Scotians.

2. Align yourself with key leadership. Dr. Strang didn’t and couldn’t do it alone. He worked closely with the Premier and provincial leadership to bring them all on the same page. That paved the...

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The Lockdown that Saved Nova Scotia: Why Every Tough Strategy Needs Trust

Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health in Nova Scotia, on Episode 1 of the Toughest Call podcast.

When North America first started getting wind of a possible pandemic, no one quite knew the right course of action. 

Many in government wanted to watch and wait. Some were convinced we’d already outsmarted the virus. And still others thought the whole thing was simply exaggerated — just another variation of the flu.

While the public may not have known its extent, the urgency to “do something” was extremely pressing within Nova Scotia’s inner political circles. With catastrophic evidence pouring in from COVID-ravaged countries overseas, there was no time for public consultation. 

There was only time to act.

And act, they did. 

Under the advice of Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia completely shut down. No school. No restaurants. No offices. It was a lockdown like no one had ever seen before. And Nova...

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Toughest Call Ep. 101 - Going into the first pandemic lockdown (with Dr. Robert Strang) - TRANSCRIPT

Robert Strang  00:04

This was going to require essentially shutting everything down and keeping people at home. Because if we didn't, the way this was spreading,  we would get overwhelmed really quickly.


Chaz Thorne  00:20

Welcome back or welcome to Toughest Call, a podcast for organizational leaders where we hear stories from your leadership colleagues about career-defining decisions. I'm your host, Chaz Thorne. In this episode, I'm talking with Dr. Robert Strang about the decision-making that resulted in Nova Scotia entering its first lockdown at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Rob is the Chief Medical Officer of health for the province of Nova Scotia. The tough calls that our leading health officials have had to make in the face of this pandemic have been staggering. Especially in the early days of the outbreak, these decisions needed to be made quickly. And with incomplete information. Even more challenging, they needed to be implemented within...

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Is there Gain without Pain in Strategic Planning?

We’re almost through the first month of 2020, and many of us may have already given up on the gym. But not all goals can be dropped so easily. Like getting (or keeping) your business in shape. That’s one you’re probably determined to stick to.

Like hitting the gym though, strategic planning has a reputation for being rather painful. There are sensitivities between departments. Competing priorities. Challenges building consensus. And baking buy-in into the plan is always easier said than done. All of these things can not only slow down the strategic planning process, they can grind it to a halt.

But the fear of pain is no reason to avoid tackling your plan head-on. Because let’s face it. With no plan at all, you’re just inviting a whole different dose of pain. So, what’s the solution?

The answer all comes down to approach. Having worked with everyone from small non-profits to some of Canada’s largest corporations, I can tell you that the pain...

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Top Tried-and-True Tips for Better Strategic Planning in 2020

We’ve taken on our fair share of corporate strategic planning retreats over the past few years, and we’ve learned a lot doing it. One thing I can say unequivocally is that doing it right is tough.

You have limited time. Participants often come with their own agenda. And corporate sore points often creep into the discussion and bog things down.

But there are a few tried and true tips we always stick to when developing our strategic planning workshop. Together they help guarantee we keep on track and build a plan both on-time and on point. Here are our top three as we head into 2020:

1) Focus on Only a Few Priorities

You can’t boil the ocean. And you can’t be the best at everything. So pick your lane. Working on achieving just a few key priorities are more than enough to level up your 2020. We like three as a number, but it’s okay to have four if it’s really called for. As long as you have the resources to focus on them correctly and build...

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Going From Complex to Clear with Frameworks

As leaders, we spend a lot of time explaining things. Very often those things get lost in translation which results in squandered time and money while also causing frustration amongst team members.

I have yet to find anything more valuable than the use of frameworks to quickly communicate concepts and processes. At its most basic, a framework is a simple structure that represents the “how” of a process that leads to a result. (Bonus points for being able to illustrate it visually!)

Two key words above are “simple” and “result”. I have seen more than one framework that looked like the map for the Tokyo Metro. Unless your audience is all engineers, you’re not likely to get a positive response. You need to begin by breaking it down into the essential steps. If you have a tendency to get lost in detail, just going through this exercise is an excellent way to force yourself to identify what truly matters.

As for result, it needs to follow a...

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Finding Mastery

Over the years, and across the many domains in which I’ve worked, I’ve been blessed to have been exposed to many people who have achieved mastery.

There was a consistent quality they all possessed - humility This trait gave them access to what seemed to be the key to their mastery - they never, ever, ever, stopped learning.

That thirst for knowledge kept them open to being challenged and therefore willing to change. They would constantly read, train, and seek out perspectives from those younger and less experienced. This was always done with a genuine belief in maintaining a “beginner’s mind”.

It’s not about life or work hacks or some other tactical application, it starts with this core belief that we are all in a constant process of “becoming” - personally and professionally.

If you would like to dig further, I can’t recommend Michael Gervais' podcast, Finding Mastery, enough. It is interesting how consistently you see the same...

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Faster Decisions Using The 70% Rule and Filter Sets

A coachee was having trouble with his decision-making speed as it was causing conflict with colleagues that moved faster.

On further questioning, he revealed his slowness was rooted in fear, not process (this is often the case). Most telling it didn’t translate into better outcomes, just more time.

I offered two things for him to work on - The 70% Rule and Filter Sets

In my book, Barn Raising for Business, I include a quote from Jeff Bezos: "Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably being slow."

I then suggested he create a list of ten must haves (a “filter set”) in order for him to move forward on a project. If he reaches 7 out of the 10 he both knows he can move forward as well as areas that need to continue to be worked on to increase his confidence further.

What is your process for making decisions?

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Making Organizational Decisions with Love?

Several years ago, I went to a talk by Anita Moorjani, the author of Dying to Be Me. After reaching the point of organ failure brought on by cancer, she had a near-death experience and returned from the brink. Inexplicably, she was released from the hospital within weeks, completely cancer free. The doctors can’t explain what happened.

During her talk, she brought up a concept I had heard discussed before. She believes that decision-making, at its core, is a binary process.

You are choosing either fear or love.

And every time you choose love you move closer and closer to becoming the best version of yourself. And every time you choose fear, you move further away.

I bucked against this thought at first. It can’t be that simple!

It is.

And it should be the final filter that our decisions have to pass through.

In an organizational context, what if the last thing you thought about before you unleash a decision was love and not fear?

Too often, organizations are built on a...

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