Thursday, August 13, 2015

Nurturing Leadership

I’m not one to pick the battle between whether leadership can be taught or is innate, but I do think leadership can be nurtured. The earlier the better.

The more natural leadership is as organic behaviour patterns than learned practical exercises, the better.

The concern I have is that leadership has been made into this mythological style that one needs to be either trained in or born with, when, realistically speaking, it’s not that hard of a concept to grasp.

Yes, for a guy that talks about leadership a lot, gets on the circuit and does talks on the subject, I'm telling you this isn't hard.

I find it ironic that leadership was about how a leader led his or her people and yet we believe there is a magical formula that we all need to learn that will make us natural born leaders. Leadership is unique to the individual, unique to the people you lead and unique to the environment you are in. It is not a strict set of guidelines that you follow or study that makes you a good or a bad leader.

At times I equate leadership to humanity and being a person above all else. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking you to hug trees, I'm not that person, but I am the one who says being a Manager alone is not enough.

And I will also say that being a Leader is not always about making the easy calls that makes everyone happy. In fact some of our greatest leaders have had to make some of the toughest decisions, at times impacting the lives of those they lead.

Leadership is more than just softening Management and the traditional hierarchy. It’s about an approach, about how you believe you want to show up and work with people around you. It is about being tough yet human. It is about being inclusive, yet knowing when to make the decision. It is about having fun but getting the job done. It is about engendering thoughts, new ideas and creativity, all the while keeping an eye on your objectives.

Leadership is one of the biggest contradictions in organizational and personal styles one can have. Yet it works. Perhaps it is because we are contradictions in our own lives and in our own ways that this fits so well.

Find your own contradictions, find your own style. It will drive you further than you ever have. Challenges, opportunities, and all.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

One of my best worst leadership mistakes

We have a recruitment process at WeUsThem that, for a small business, is rather arduous and lengthy.

Recruits have multiple levels of sorting and filtering they need to go through before they even walk through the door. After vetting their resumes, the candidates have an initial short meet and greet with the hiring manager followed immediately with a skills test. Should the candidate make it through the first round, it leads to a meeting with my business partner and I. If they are a potential candidate of choice at that point, they meet with rest of the team. If there’s a positive nod from the team, the candidate’s references are checked out and an offer is finally put forward.

Now, you must be thinking as to why a small business would put itself through such a lengthy process, and what the purpose may be. There are a few reasons for this, which are:

1- We want to make sure whoever we hire fits with the “je ne sais quoi” of our team. It's taken a long time for us to put together a team that just works and to maintain this is absolutely paramount. This harmony and chemistry, the ying and yang is unique to our team and we do what we can to maintain this.

2- We want the right sets of skills that are “beyond the paper”. We test not just for work-related skills—we also test for creativity. Thinking on your feet while applying your skill sets is an important asset for us.

3- We want each team member to take ownership for including others. Our potential hires will need to work and be comfortable with each other.

In the case of our most recent hire, we went through our typical process, step by step. Once they made it through the first round, it was time for them to meet with my business partner and I. After we met and the candidate left,  my partner and I found ourselves with two very different opinions. While she believed they would be a good addition to the team, I had my sincere doubts.

Together, we decided to let them progress to the next round to see what feedback we would receive from the team and, once again, he made it through.

I admit, I was worried. For the first time, after recruiting hundreds of people in my former careers I had an uneasy feeling on this particular hire. Although we have a probationary period in place, I did not want to invest in someone who just wouldn't work. But, due to our process, I was outvoted, outnumbered and outgunned.

Three months ago, this individual joined our small but mighty rag tag team and just completed their first review.

There is no other way to say it: I was wrong. The hire carved a unique place for themselves in our team, while also providing us much needed support.

I honestly had thought I made a mistake when letting my team outvote me to hire this individual. I’m proud to say that I’m glad I was wrong and that my partner and the team were there to catch me. This hire was my best worst mistake.

Our recruitment process may sound absurd for what we do, but we don't just add employees to our team—we add family members, as my partner would say. This multi-layered process brought us another member who adds to our strengths and works cohesively in a fashion we are comfortable with.

It's only been three months, but the teachable moment of looking back and relying on group think allowed us to gain an important cog in our WeUsThem machine.

Leadership inherently requires trusting your team and building in the capacity so that you can be caught by those that you surround yourself with. Build a team, one that takes ownership and voices their concerns when you may have missed something. This collaborative leadership style will bring about organic leadership training, growth and progression for your team while ensuring the ethos of the business continues to remain as you had envisioned.

I have always said that successful leadership needs to be about a bottom-up model than top-down and, clearly, this is another example of how this truly works. Building those conditions are important and, perhaps, you too will make a mistake you’ll eventually be proud of.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Education - What if?

I was asked an impromptu question on Twitter yesterday on an article ( on education and some very quick thoughts on it are as follows, but more importantly, throwing tech at a problem will not solve our core issues..

1- A monetized system for education creates a class system for the haves and have nots. It should be a right, freely available to those that want it. This consumerist nature has made it a business where students are consumers and universities are vendors. What learning are you to have when the primary goal is to ensure a black bottom line and the expectation of customer satisfaction? The paper certificate you get does not have a value because it is not earned, it is purchased.

2- Education should be informed by fact not fiction; textbooks should not be influenced by personal belief as they are, leading to a falsehood of historical & scientific fact. A separation of education and church should exist.

3- The generational focus on varying subjects has led us to a strong focus on STEM these days when it needs to be a healthy combination of the arts, the sciences, mathematics, social sciences and others. Focus on uniquely customizable individualistic models rather than a one size fits all, which does not work. If people are individuals, why is education not geared to each?

4- Lastly, education does not exist simply in the four walls of an institution, it is the job of the educators, the family members, business leaders, community members, etc to provide the learning we all continually need through life.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mobile Health Apps - A Cautious Boon?

by Ashwin Kutty 

Mobile Health (mHealth) Applications for your smartphone, tablets, phablets, etc. are the next best thing in healthcare. We have moved from a recent push on enormous amounts of $$ being spent on Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR/EMR) to a new trend in the building of mHealth applications that are easily accessible to the consumer. In the US alone, a report  in 2011 indicated that spending was to surge to a massive $40B in Healthcare IT and at the time were focused solely on EHR/EMR’s.

Consider the attractiveness of lightweight Mobile Apps that are inexpensive, albeit less comprehensive but a lot more consumer friendly. The last Apple Worldwide Developers Conference was also indicative that Big Business believes there to be big money in mHealth. This isn’t news, as Microsoft, Google and others have been in this space for some time now.

With all the competitors in the mHealth space, how can you stand out from the crowd? Is there a strategic way to do so? mHealth Apps if done correctly can set the stage for a consumers to take ownership and control of their healthcare. This revolution has been a long time coming.

We need to first understand the landscape of mHealth Apps. The Institute for Healthcare Informatics, in Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare noted that there were close to 43,000 mHealth Apps available on iTunes in mid-2013.  Most provide only information and 16,275 deal with health and treatment. This number has since grown and with Apple’s recent announcement, is bound to grow further with their strategic partnerships with the Mayo Clinic, IBM and Epic Systems. Detailed statistics on Mobile Apps are available at Statistic Brain.

A few strategic steps to consider are:

1 – Evidence (Data) – Use evidence to drive the development of a mobile app, as the platform is only a delivery mechanism. Consider the recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine by Nathan Cortez that asks if apps need to be regulated by the FDA to ensure they are safe and effective to use. In addition, Eric Topol also warns us of apps not having any validated data compared to accepted reference standards.

iphone apps2 – Partner up – If you are a healthcare professional looking to develop an mHealth app, get the right development as well as design partner to help you. Conversely, if you are a designer or a developer and are looking to develop a novel mHealth App, get a health professional to partner up. To be clear it does not have to be a partnership of equity, just a partner that can help with the expertise of their subject matter be it through an equity position or through term contracts.

3 – Design for the Consumer – Healthcare professionals are tireless champions for health and I have the utmost respect for them. Designers know how to design for the consumer and their visual needs. The healthcare professional knows their consumers health needs. A group of potential users to help you through the design process will bring rigour to the final product.

4 – Marketing – If you build it, they may not come. If mHealth Apps need to reach the masses, they need to be marketed appropriately to the targeted audiences. This could take the form of partnerships with other healthcare professionals for their patients to media coverage through industry specific publications, mass media, newspapers, social media influencers, etc. to ensure a wider access and distribution medium.  Marketing takes resources and funding partners need to understand that without marketing, the app may not be used.

In the Maritimes we have seen the mobile space develop quite quickly in healthcare, with Dr. Dunbar, an Orthopedic Surgeon at Capital District Health Authority currently developing a Gait Monitoring System, hoping to reduce wait times for in-hospital appointments garnering the same information via the App, along with exercise videos, diets, etc. Dr. Kutcher, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and a Psychiatrist with the IWK Health Centre had the Transitions app ( developed for youth transitioning from the school system to post-secondary education providing for a free resource that has been widely used across Canada. You will also find Apps from all the major pharmacies and some from private first responders within the market. That said, there are a lot more in the pipeline that will be available soon.

This post was originally published on Organized Curiosity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nova Scotia Small Business - Good Business?

by Ashwin Kutty 

The Conference Board of Canada recent forecast (click here for a summeryindicates that Nova Scotia will lead in economic growth compared to the rest of the country.

Always good news when you read about economic growth in your region, but what I find interesting is that the jobs figures will continue to remain as poor as they are now. When we look at some of the larger investments highlighted in the article, we know that all of that FDI coming in as a good sign, but what about that jobs figure.

I wonder sometimes where the economic impact of small business is and how that is quantified, measured and shown as a sign of economic growth or not. Traditional reporting looks at the headlines and uses it to substantiate economic indicators, while not really looking at the deeper business environment we currently live in.

Small business is a good business driver for job growth, regardless of which sector or industry as small businesses span the gamut. When we consider big businesses that we want to attract to our shores, sure they bring in jobs, but what they also bring in are subsidies, grants and forgivable loans that we need to give out to ensure they come and hopefully they stay. I am not against this strategy as attracting big business is good news for us - they drive small business growth in return and make us attractive for talent, investment and innovation. This is where I believe we need to pay a bit more focus on the small business and look at a few key indicators of potential success that could both drive growth as well as sustainability:
  1. Is it innovative? Are they unique and if so, what is their unique value proposition?
  2. Is it feasible? Just because they are unique does not mean they can find financing in a heartbeat. This may require a rethink on the product/service if it can be made feasibly or if there are alternative funding sources that could help its feasibility.
  3. Is it market appropriate? The definition of the market space it has been identified for needs to be in line with the market need thats out there. If it doesn't exist, investing in something to then educate the market on and convert individuals into consumers is no easy task. This is not a deal breaker, but is a cautionary note on furthering any small business.
  4. Is it executable? A good idea is only as good as the team that will execute it. This requires not just the technical (and no not IT technical) but also a business member of the team that can potentially execute it. Track record is important, but we need to take chances on passion, fortitude and chutzpah - not many have it and a small business in a big business market requires every ounce of this mix of three they can muster.
  5. Is it mentor’able? Its not a word, but it needs to be. We need to have mentors for any and all small business - godparents of business if you will to ensure that no matter how small or big the business is, it remains true to its original vision and stays on course to deliver, deliver, deliver. The second it does not, these mentors need to be able to strong enough in making tough decisions around whether proceeding further would benefit anyone. Good money after bad is never a good idea. 
We do not have a lack of creativity, nor do we lack business acumen, what we lack is the combination of the two. We need to build more sustainable businesses that do not close its doors in a blink of an eye, nor stay open with no running water or electricity.

Business is tough, small business more so, but its doable. If you need to, heed to the first piece of advice I received in business “Spend money to make money”. I would only change that to “Spend money wisely to make money”.

Small business is good business and it will drive jobs growth in our province and a multitude of others. I am not talking about building a hundred small companies to create jobs, I am talking about building 10 that will sustain careers for a long time. If we let small businesses be successful by being tough on them on the onset, imagine the impacts of the same when they grow to medium and large businesses in the future.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Going for the Crystal (Gold)? Invest in Ideas or …?

by Ashwin Kutty

Winning an award is quite a cathartic experience. If you do end up winning does that mean you have now accomplished all you can in that category and have mastered it enough to be recognized by peers and industry leaders? Or does it mean that you now need to move on to other categories and master those to see if you can do as well?
Seated: Leslie & Faten
Front Row: Mitch, Ashwin & Anthony
Back Row: Staff off ill, on vacation, and yet to be recruited and all our families
Corner: Gollum
I have never understood individual awards as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love being hailed as a fearless leader for the country, but does it happen without the support of those around me? Does it happen without the teams that help me reach these zeniths? Does it happen without the families that suffer through your hunger for more and what they have to put up with, i.e. the late nights, the conference calls (both video and audio) during vacations and god knows what else?

I was recently honoured & humbled by the Peter Brojde Foundation & CATAAlliance's Next Generation Executive Leadership Award which I was pleased to receive at the Gala in Ottawa earlier this month. The work for which I was nominated included a large team of professionals from Information Technology to Marketing & Communications to vendor partners to frontline staff to Finance & Decision Support and a whole bunch of others that helped me get the project off the ground, underway and a runaway success.

I am only as successful as the team that supports me. Even in this instance, there are those that are not pictured in the photo above, but they know who they are. Crazy ideas, fantastic innovations and creative explorations are great, but to make them a reality requires execution. An idea without a successful execution strategy has no meaning. As an Angel myself, my strategy has always hedged on a solid team that can execute over one that may have a better idea.

Putting together a team is no easy task, and with one of my recent ventures, this has never been truer. I have been painstakingly slow about recruiting my team and this has been primarily to ensure that the team I put together is a reflection of the culture, the atmosphere and the environment I want in the space. The team, like my partner and myself receive an equal vote on who comes in to the fold. They get a deciding vote as they take ownership for how the team functions.

Small and Mighty far outweighs Large and Insignificant. I believe in small teams that make up the larger whole and the power of these small teams drive the innovation in this country.

So my thought this Monday afternoon that I would share with you is, give your teams the power to decide how they would like their team built. Give them ownership for their own teams and watch the accountability and performance rise. Simultaneously you will find there to be a downward trend of personality issues and conflicts in the workplace as the team will self manage the relationships. Diversity in a team is good and this will be managed quite well - people by nature do not want competition in their own niche, they would rather partners that complement them than substitutions, driving diversity in thought and approach.

With that, have a glorious week and to our team at WeUsThem Inc. and their families, a hearty congratulations on this beautiful award.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Succession Planning - a Leadership Challenge

We talk so much about succession planning, but never do this or never get around to it. Some say, that gone are the days when we used to be scared to have individuals identified that could be mentored, even given the reins from time to time to groom for succession planning. I say, its well entrenched in the mindset of the Leaders we have today and there is still quite a gap from where we need to be from where we are.

There is also the conundrum of new vs. old blood from a standpoint of internal experience and not a reflection of individual age. Experience within an organization speaks volumes to internal growth, stability & momentum. In some cases, external voices provides balance, perspective and unbiased approach to growth & visioning as you position yourself towards the next horizon. have one simple ask from those recruiting for their next Leader - regardless of where the candidate comes from, include those who this person would lead. Yes, some people believe it is a odd to have future employees decide your fate for recruitment or renewal, but it speaks volumes to your role as a Leader and your Leadership profile. Let them be a voice, in fact be courageous & encourage it.

For those who are currently Leaders, I also have one simple ask of you - motivate & mentor those you lead. Give them a shot, they will surprise you. You have the position and yet they choose to follow you. Give them the reins and see if they are capable of running the show. If they can, you know who you can rely on when you need to take your long deserved siesta in the Mediterranean waters, and if not, if they show promise, groom them. It is a gratifying experience to grow individuals to the next elevation - education exists in all forms and in all places, especially in the workplace. Practicality & applicability of theoretical approaches are only learned in the workforce and teach them, let them have an appreciation of your day and perhaps you may receive multiple benefits in doing so:
  1. Walk in my shoes for a day - You won't need to say that any more. Appreciating each others complexity of roles & requirements is a challenge and this individual(s) can become your ambassador.
  2. Educate, Motivate & Elevate - Put on your educators hat and show them the ropes. Pass on your sage advice, your learnings and let it live through not just this one individual, but the multitudes thereafter that will have a similar experience through a trickle down learning philosophy.
  3. Relax - You may find someone that could help you, perhaps even share some of the burden of some of the larger stressors, perhaps even cover for you while you are taking you well deserved rest.
  4. Good Karma - Yes its important. Getting gratification from just doing a good job at work is not enough; through some variety in there, get some gratification from the appreciation you receive from those that you Lead. It is a phenomenal high.
Succession planning, can be a forced exercise, but for those that follow the Bottom-Up model of Leadership I profess as the key to a successful organization, this will be second nature. Just remember, this is not about replacing you, but if you are concerned about that and it is a valid concern, then perhaps you have other things you need to work on...

Positions can be filled, People can never be replaced. Organizations will continue, the world will not come to an end, you may be forgotten & they could lose your essence. Leave that mark, Grow your Legacy.

Friday, July 19, 2013