Sunday, April 27, 2008

Friend of Simplicity - Brian Ward

Brian Ward of Affinity Consulting, Edmonton, Canada

Today I'm launching 'Friend of Simplicity' a new feature on my Simplicity Blog. I intend to publish a series of interviews with people who have influenced my thinking about leadership and management.

I am delighted to say the first interview is with my good friend Brian Ward who is based in Edmonton Canada. Brian and I first ‘met’ about 6 years ago through a discussion board on Brian’s excellent leadership website.

TREVOR: Hi Brian – Can you tell me a bit about how an Irishman ends up living Edmonton, Canada?!

BRIAN: Hi Trevor. What a penetrating question to start with! I came to Canada mainly to afford my three daughters a better life, better opportunities. They are all adults now, and have graduated from university, and are well on their way to making a success of their lives. Dublin at that time, in the mid-eighties was in a bad state economically…not like now!

When people ask me why I emmigrated to Canada, I tell them that, but I also sometimes reply by saying ‘greed’. As you can imagine, this normally sets them back a little. But it also sets up the conversation to focus on the topic of motivation. This topic has always fascinated me. We all act out of self-interest, even when we are acting to help others. When others benefit from our self-interest, then we have what is often referred to as a win-win outcome. I believe that we need to be totally honest about our motivations, AND we need to pursue our goals in an ‘ecological’ way. By ecological I mean that we maintain a balance of fairness, we don’t play zero-sum games i.e. you must lose in order for me to win.

TREVOR: So tell me about what Affinity Consulting can offer online to folks here in the UK?

BRIAN: We work with leaders to help them and their teams achieve their goals. We help them get focused on what matters to them, and to maintain that focus. In organizations today there are so many distractions and competing entities and priorities, it’s very easy to get sidetracked and achieve mediocrity. To start with, folks in the UK can visit our articles website Excellence 2.0 at

TREVOR: I am very interested in the FACET model – can you explain what it is about?

BRIAN: Gladly. FACET is actually an acronym. It came about when I was coaching a senior leader, and we got talking about servant leadership. This resonated with him, but he was struggling to put the pieces together. So he asked me if I could come up with a 360 degree questionnaire that he could give to his staff, his boss and some other folk. We looked at a number of ‘off-the-shelf’ surveys, but none of them appealed to him. We had been using a customer satisfaction survey in a previous project with this organization, and he asked if he could just take that survey and give it to his staff, whom he saw as his customers. Well, it didn’t fit very well, but it did inspire the development of the FACET Model.

FACET stands for Focus, Authenticity, Courage, Empathy, Timing. You can read an article on our Excellence 2.0 website at which explains it more fully.

TREVOR: I have often used your quote ‘Leadership is a Decision, Not a Position’ – can you elaborate on that for me?

BRIAN: Certainly. I come across many managers who are in management positions and doing a reasonable job, but have not made the decision to lead. By that I mean they have become caretaker managers, with a focus on control. To be a leader, you must decide on a new destination where you want to take people. That’s where the FOCUS in the FACET Model comes into play. Examples include Jack Welch of GE ‘Be the No1 or No 2 in each of our businesses’; Sam Walton of Wal*Mart with everyday low prices; Fred Smith of FedEx with overnight parcel delivery. I’m sure you can probably add to that with UK leaders such as Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alex Ferguson…I’m quite certain that they didn’t get their knighthoods by being ‘managers’!

TREVOR: From your experience of both the UK and the Canadian business cultures do you see differences and/or similarities?

BRIAN: Yes, there are many similarities and differences. I suppose you could describe Canada as being ‘mid-Atlantic’ as far as its culture is concerned. There are many British ex-pats here, and they bring a tremendous work ethic to this country, which everyone benefits from. Of course we are also part of the Commonwealth, and any time members of the Royal Family come here they get a great reception! There is a proud British heritage in this country…we still have the Queen adorn some of our currency!

On the other hand, we have a lot in common with the USA. We drive on the same side of the road, for one! We have an open and vast country, with major cities and highways that draw a lot of their architecture and culture from the USA, who are our greatest trading partner.

So I think I see a blend of European and North American cultures here, with cities such as Toronto and Vancouver having a more cosmopolitan feel.

From a management perspective, US research and practice exerts a great amount of influence on us, especially in the field of marketing and sales management. We tend to have a more ‘hyped’ approach to marketing and selling, less than the US but more than the UK.

TREVOR: What do you see as the main challenges for business leaders in 2008?

BRIAN: Well, for 2008 and beyond, I see so many challenges. The biggest one for CEOs is how can they keep their jobs, and keep their integrity. In many instances they are under intense pressure to produce results that are short-term, and this can make them lose sight of some of the fundamentals to long-term growth. Foremost amongst these is trust. WorldCom, Tyco, Enron and Conrad Black being really clear examples of where greed (there’s that word again) results in a zero-sum game. I think it is critical for CEOs to focus on playing a win-win game, and being truly authentic.

TREVOR: When we met in Dublin a couple of years ago you were doing some voluntary work building homes – can you remind me what that was all about?

BRIAN: Yes, thank you for asking. When we met in Dublin, along with our good wives, Judy and Annie, I was a Board member for the Edmonton affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. Judy and I were visiting Dublin with a group from the USA on an international build, which they call Global Village. Habitat for Humanity is a cause that is near and dear to me, and this gave me the opportunity to work on building homes (and building hope) for low income families in Dublin, my city of birth. It was a wonderful experience. And of course we got to meet you and Annie for the first time and had a few pints of Guinness together!

TREVOR: Finally Brian is there anything you miss about the UK apart of course from Manchester United with whom we both share a passion?

BRIAN: Oh, yeah, Man. Utd. Come on the Reds! I miss the telly a lot. Game shows especially, such as Terry Wogan (a fellow Irishman)…the ones here are all about the money; the weather believe it or not, as we get long sub-zero winters here; and fish and chips…not the same here I’m afraid!

TREVOR: Thanks a lot Brian


rocky said...

Excellent article. I am a huge fan of The FACET model. This article is well done. keep up the great work.

Trevor Gay said...

Rocky - it deosn't seem 6 years ago that you and I had the great pleasure of 'meeting' Brian online does it?

Brian's work is leading edge and deserves wider coverage and recognition.

spinhead said...

I found the FACET model interesting (though the actual article at Excellence2 was a bit difficult to find.)

It's a good example of 'simplicity vs. simplistic'—Brian acknowledges in the article that it's not an attempt at a complete view, but a solid starting point to help see other facets.

Trevor Gay said...

Thank Joel - Brain would value your feedback I'm sure - this is is his email address: