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I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Be a rebel, but don't be a troublemaker"/ The Ladder: Pam August

Feb. 20, 2017 "Be a rebel, but don't be a troublemaker": Today I found this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail:

Carmen Medina spent 32 years at the CIA as an analyst and self-described organizational heretic. Speaking after retirement to a Providence, R.I., audience, her reference to being an organizational heretic stirred local leadership consultant Lois Kelly to share concerns about the many other rebels at work whose intentions are good but who have nobody helping them.

As the duo started working together, friends warned Ms. Kelly she could sabotage her career, since clients wouldn’t like someone helping rebels. But they have persisted, convinced that workplaces are losing out by shutting down the rebels in their midst.

They distinguish between troublemakers and rebels. Troublemakers complain about problems. Rebels create possibilities. Troublemakers are me-focused while rebels are missionfocused. Troublemakers are pessimists, rebels inherently optimistic. Troublemakers sap energy and alienate others, thus work alone. Rebels create energy and attract others.

Asked in an interview about the rebel who won the presidency of the United States, they counter that the campaign record suggested he is a troublemaker. Through that period he was egotistical, a loner, cynical, great at complaining but weak on presenting solutions – failing to present a picture of what he wanted to achieve. Those are troublemaker traits, quite different from the way rebels act, although the duo suggests time may show different character attributes.

Ms. Medina had many years where she flailed away, ineffectively, at the CIA, before reconfiguring her approach. In the interview and their book Rebels at Work ( about-the-book), the duo highlight the mistakes rebels need to stop making, including:

Not prioritizing ideas: Rebels often have lots of ideas so they must discipline themselves to only raise one or two a year, focusing and building support. “Don’t say everything that comes to your mind. It’s so simple, but I certainly missed it at the CIA,” Ms. Medina says in the interview.

On their website, they share questions to determine if something is worth your effort: How much value would this idea provide, does it support the organization’s goals, do I believe it’s possible, will other people support it and how much do I want to do it? Your answers should be classified as low, medium or high value.

Going solo: If there’s no support, it’s just one person’s idea and won’t get very far. To some extent that weeds out people fuelled by ego. They have to figure out how to make “my idea” into something shared by others. “Ideas always become better when people collaborate,” Ms. Kelly says.

She also notes that Gallup research shows the value of having a friend at work. Going it alone will just burn rebels out. They need friends.

Failing the pitch meeting: Ms. Medina says she repeatedly got too fired up for meetings where she was intending to pitch her ideas and so wasn’t effective. First, you will win the pitch meeting if you don’t view it as the mighty moment but have already worked to sell your idea. Second, be brief at the session. Don’t view it as selling, but as getting feedback. If you have an hour, speak for 15 minutes (attendees already should have been exposed to the idea) and use the rest of the time to discuss it, getting them engaged. “That’s the final step of buy-in. You’re making the idea everyone’s idea,” Ms. Kelly says.

Not being skilled at handling difficult conversations so you raise the manager’s anxiety:

Don’t view conversations as something you have to win. Indeed, don’t view them as combat. Ms. Kelly will often defuse situations by asking others, “How important is this to you?” Often people get tangled up in conflict when the issue is marginal to them and when they realize that, hostility dissolves. Be alert to the narcissism of small differences, which can be illustrated in political groups where people who essentially think alike go to war with each other over minor stuff.

Ignoring personal danger signs: Being a rebel is tough on the soul. There can be ecstatic moments, but more often, there’s a feeling of rejection. Take care of yourself. “People are surprised at how important this is,” Ms. Medina says. Every night, write down three things that went well.

Occasionally write a letter of self-compassion, remembering a difficult time, acknowledging your feelings or thoughts and mentoring yourself with some compassionate advice or encouragement.

Also, they stress not “making a Himalayan out of a mountain” – the obstacles you face can be great, not molehills, but still keep your perspective. Organizations need rebels, they believe. Smart rebels. Rebels who don’t make those mistakes.

The Ladder: Pam August:

Pam August is director of culture activation for Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd.

I’ve had a very eclectic and very non-linear career path. After graduating from high school in the eighties, I worked as a corporate secretary at Scotiabank, left to travel and returned to waitress at the Foothills hospital [in Calgary]. I also taught aerobics with leg warmers and big hair.

The turning point in my career was when the director of food services tapped me on the shoulder, and said: “Pam, I know you have secretarial skills; can you come help me?” So I literally went to the office in my waitressing uniform.

There I discovered a love of nutrition and went on to graduate with a nutritional technology diploma from SAIT [Southern Alberta Institute of Technology]. That led to a career in corporate wellness in marketing and sales, and teaching fitness and lifestyle education.

My food and nutrition mentor hired me back to teach in the SAIT Health Sciences faculty, but then I moved to Faculty Development to teach teachers how to teach. I realized I loved learning about learning. I had young children so I worked part-time.

It’s important to remember none of these jobs paid very well, at least not at the start. I could have have made more money in the corporate world. But I followed what I loved to do.

Start with your strengths. I was told, “you would a great lawyer,” “you would be a great HR manager.” But none of them was me.

I had applied to WestJet in learning and development but heard nothing back. Later, I was teaching instructional techniques and there were some WestJet trainers in the class. They encouraged me to come to WestJet. I arranged an information interview and was hired later as an adviser in leadership development.

I learned how to coach other leaders because it was the same as teaching faculty how to teach.

One of the most influential authors for me is Brené Brown who writes on vulnerability. Some people roll their eyes initially, but she’s real and her research has substance. The leaders that I have worked with who have been the most successful are those who are most real. They share personal stories about what matters to them and this connects people to them.

I continued my education online while working and earned a B.Ed. in adult education from the University of Alberta. Now I’m working on my master’s degree in leadership at Royal Roads University. I’m a life-long learner. I’m a brain-gym instructor, a yoga teacher and a mindfulness practitioner.

To be successful you have to be able to form strong relationships. Every organization says that – at WestJet it’s a deal-breaker. Be curious.

My biggest on-the-job challenge came last year, as I was just about to join 500 WestJetters at an event in Toronto. I got a call that my mother suddenly passed away. The way my organization took care of me solidified that WestJet is an organization that truly cares.

My leader asked me to imagine the culture of WestJet in five years. I took a year to imagine my current role. I’m responsible for leading our culture road map for the next five years.

If your organization is just chasing numbers, you will never build the type of passion and commitment that you are looking for.

Culture is our strength. I’m trying to support a culture of care and of an owner’s mindset, where people take personal ownership. It is a place of high personal spirit where we come from a positive outlook. We have a high sense of control and go above and beyond.

We keep it real through key practices. For instance, we don’t do automatic deposit for profit share. We print and run cheques so leaders can look their people in the eye and say “thank you.”

As we grow, we are designing key connections so people feel like they are part of something. We are rolling out a program called Base Camp; we’re sending leaders out into our operation. Most WestJetters don’t work in an office.

Own the moment. What we have control over is the experience in the moment. That’s how we want to distinguish ourselves. We all have the opportunity to own the moment while working in a challenging industry.

As told to Janice Paskey. The interview has been edited and condensed for length.


3 days ago

What I'm about to say is not a reflection on the author of this piece. I don't know her, have never interacted with her. There are some wonderful, authentic people in the work force who form strong (and healthy) relationships the right way, for the right reasons. She might indeed be one of those people.

But, generally speaking, I also know the following: An individual with a lot of psychopathic personality traits will form 'strong relationships' alright (in the workplace as well as in other realms of life). In other words, he/she will surround himself/herself with a cultivated posse of shills. The purpose of the shills, of course, is to help disguise the true nature of the psychopathic individual. As well, the shills gullibly do a lot of the dirty work at the behest of the psychopath. 

Strong relationships are a beautiful thing - unless they are based on gullibility, covert abuse and naivete.

Burnt Norton
4 days ago

WestJet is the airline that promised my family to reimburse us for winter clothing we had to buy when our flight was diverted to a city in the Prairies and reneged on the promise. That was in 2012. Numerous letters to WestJet HQ in Calgary have resulted in nothing, nada, zilch.

That's what you call "forming strong relationships"?
The only silver lining in this story is that our family's boycott of WestJet over the $200.00 owed has cost the airline thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

3 days ago

Congrats on a great article Pam....and a great life path......inspiring....and yes I can confirm the big hair phase.... all the best
Paul Poscente


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