Managing Multi-Thread Strategic Complexity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgThe inventor of the microscope, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, was amazed at the complexity of organisms he discovered upon a closer look at pond water. What looked more or less clear to the naked eye displayed high complexity once subjected to even the most basic magnification. 

A strategy's complexity increases as the process moves from high-level vision, mission, values, and principles through strategic themes and into the overall strategic map of what goes where, when, and by whom. The same questions we ask when we first enter in to a strategic process (why, who, what, how, when, where) now move deeper into the organization as the core leadership hands off the strategy to the leaders and teams who support them. This pivot from the Thinking phase of a strategy to the Act phase of a strategy often trips us up.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!We often perceive strategic planning to be somehow linear - "ever onward and upward." We all know it to be more complex than that. Tying projects to strategic themes, getting the right teams assembled, making sure timing is correct - all of these things add complexity that itself has to be managed.

A strategic mapping process helps to visualize multiple themes, threads, projects, teams, and so on as they all move through the strategy. This map helps keep the whole project moving as a whole.

Some strategic plans build timing into their plans at a granular level - much like a football timing play: "Get to the 20 yard line, count 5-Mississippi, and then cut left, and the ball will be in your hands." Some organizations have both the data (to know how long something takes) and the leadership (to keep everyone moving together) to be able to set up projects with timing like that. Others look a bit more like a Rube Goldberg machine - it gets the job done, but my, oh, my, did it need to go like that? Still others look like a spider's web - and not one of those symmetrical orb weaver jobs, mind you, but more like arachnid trip-wires running every which-way.

(Related: Strategic Flexibility)

Whatever an organization's preferred mode of operating, keeping the timing right is often the biggest challenge to project success at this stage of the strategy process. TAD is a tool that can increase an organization's capacity to manage the complexities of the timing of the different themes and initiatives in a strategic plan. For instance, the 1-Year Road Map shows initiatives (projects) grouped by theme, with the planned schedule, the current date, and the current progress for each initiative. For each, it's possible to drill down in and see what is actually going on for each initiative and manage it from there.

Tad1YearRoadMap.png

Adjusting to the changes brought about by pieces of a strategy moving at different speeds, some with different success or failure rates often causes strategic plans to get thrown out or shelved. Things evolve differently than planned more often than not. Keeping the timing right helps to increase the success rate - and visualizing the process helps when the inevitable adjustments must be made to keep the overall strategy on track.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Strategic Flexibility

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgIn my part of the world, wind gusts are the stuff of legend - and reality. Fully loaded semitrailers have been known to blow off the highway onto their sides from them. Tall buildings are designed to sway or flex with the wind. We have mile after mile of ghostly gray-white windmills silently generating electricity. These winds are known to break rigid structures, while flexible ones survive the buffeting.

One of the reasons strategic plans get shelved before their time boils down to the plan's ability to flex with changing conditions - internal successes and failures, of course, but more often changes in the organization's external environment. Plans with incredible precision but without flexibility are often the first casualty of early success.

Photo Credit: News-Gazette. Highway sign on I-74 in East Central IllinoisOn-the-fly adjustments will always be necessary. Nevertheless, many organizations find building those adjustments into plans to be a considerable challenge. As is human tendency, we end up in a polarity of excessively detailed, layered, branched flowcharts; or making it up as we go, knowing it will all work out in the end.

Two approaches, working in tandem, help to keep plans clear and on track, even while navigating through windy conditions.

  1. Clear Communication plans. This sounds like a no-brainer. It is, but. Communication plans often struggle when purpose isn't clear, when lack of trust is (or even appears to be) the driver, and when plans don't display mutual benefit to all parties involved. Those things quickly change communication plans into dreaded paperwork. Clear communication plans keep information flowing where it needs to in ways that improve everyone's capacity to complete their work.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Strategic Triggers. These are aspects of solid strategic plans developed by leadership teams that posit a variety of situations across major sectors of the organizational environment to which the leaders will need to respond. Perhaps the stock market rises (or drops) 40% in a month. Perhaps new regulations that affect core business come into effect, or old ones expire. Most industries have specific things they watch. This just puts them in place and creates a series of "first thoughts" about what might be done under those new circumstances: whether the plan has to be reworked from first principles, or whether minor adjustments can be made, or more typically, somewhere in between.

(Related: Prioritization and Strategy Implemenatation)

The TAD process we have described over the last two weeks brings both of those approaches together in the Think phase. As a leadership team strategizes and prioritizes strategic themes, communication plans and strategic triggers get baked right in to the overall plan. This allows for the flexibility needed to adjust - so all the time, energy, money, and frustration of planning is not wasted the first time something unexpected blows in. In most cases, this starts from the first actual meeting to begin the TAD process.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me  at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Prioritization and Strategy Implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgPrioritization often is the greatest struggle for organizations with a vision and a lot of organizational inertia. There is so much we have been doing, and now, with a new vision, we will likely have to change what we are used to doing so we can start to do what we want to do. And often, despite our best efforts, our old habits creep back in.

Organizational inertia doesn't have to be a particularly bad thing - it can be the startup looking to pivot from development to a new sales market; it can be a longstanding business with a strong business model facing a new challenge; it can be a profitable product line which is being diversified. Nevertheless, in all these cases, transformation of priorities must take place, often to keep the business from getting mired by its current course or even its own success.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Prioritization is often a struggle because there is so much good that can be done, and so many good ideas that could bear fruit. It's important, then, to tie each level of what is being done to what is most important. This will mean that some good will likely be set aside in favor of another.

Last week, we introduced the TAD software from adaQuest, and why the organizations and leaders we work with would find it helpful. One of the ways in which TAD can be immediately helpful is to organizations looking to prioritize their projects and resources strategically.

Using a pairwise process, leaders can determine which major drivers of their strategy are more important than others. That way, the projects tied to them can gain their proper place. TAD can help measure the consistency of the prioritized themes that have come to the surface - to make sure the plan makes sense.

From there, based in budget, resources, or schedule, leaders can then choose which specific projects they will engage in, with TAD providing visual cues to what falls above and below a prioritization line.

 Prioritization does not have to be a task that derails strategy or gets everyone down in the weeds. Instead, it can truly drive the right kinds of transformations that will allow organizations and leaders to be at their best. 

How can I find out more?

TAD-color-cert-badge-2_18_16_.pngAs a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me  at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, adaQuest, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Introducing TAD: Software-supported strategy and implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgI spent a good chunk of last week in Washington State training on software that helps organizations move smoothly from strategic planning through to specific projects that support strategic initiatives. It's called TAD, and produced by a company called adaQuest. TAD stands for Think, Act, Deliver. This is representative of a process orientation to planning and management.

 

Why use TAD?

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Let's face it: it's hard to work from a pre-planning, strategic development position all the way through to the specific projects the strategy requires, and be able to flexibly adjust and iterate the plan along the way. Many strategic plans end up shelved for a lack of ability to adjust to changing conditions, or a lack of process orientation through the plan's creation.

(Related: Business Modeling and Sales Development)

 

TAD provides a software framework to assess current organizational state, support strategic planning, and then implement the plan through high-level initiatives and specific projects. TAD strengthens the consultative process by giving the organization the means to carry projects forward without having to embed consultants quite so deeply in day-to-day operations.

 

How can I find out more?

 

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

I'm really excited about this new tool! Check it out!

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, adaQuest, TAD

Benefits of Entrepreneurship for Organizational Leaders

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgLast week, I had the opportunity to go back to my old high school (after, well, we won't mention how many years) and teach a class for four days. Each February, The University of Illinois Laboratory High School holds a week-long  "Agora Days" where students, teachers, alumni and other friends of the school teach classes on subjects not in the usual curriculum. My class was entitled, "How to Start Your Own Business."

It was a great opportunity to reconnect with my high school Alma Mater. Entrepreneurship is not a class they currently offer, and it seemed to generate genuine interest for this four-day session. We used some of the materials from Strategyzer to frame value proposition development and overall business model design.

In offering this class, I have discovered myself an advocate for offering entrepreneurship in secondary education. Like we say with many other parts of high school student life, entrepreneurship classes create the business leaders of tomorrow. Beyond that, thought, entrepreneurship classes at the high school level have several significant benefits, including the following four:

 

  1. Entrepreneurship is a great interdisciplinary opportunity in secondary education. It is intensely integrative of social sciences, STEM, the arts, English, and even foreign languages.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Entrepreneurship is a great opportunity to motivate students to look beyond the immediate or the next-to-immediate, and develop a vision for making the world a better place. This could be particularly effective in economically depressed or disadvantaged areas: students could become motivated to learn by the need to gain skills for a project that might actually become their own business. The vision of seeing a problem and applying ways to find solutions could help to overcome the poverty tunneling that reduces neighborhoods' transformational capacity. Vision can raise students' eyes above just completing school, or just getting to college, or just getting by day-to-day. It can motivate in ways that are often measurable, albeit often indirectly.
  3. Integrative subject matter, with Entrepreneurship as the example, could transform the student metrics conversation. Instead of teaching to more and more tests, students could demonstrate mastery by book-ended integrative projects - say at the beginning and ending of high school. Mastery will be much more than just facts and figures; it could be application, and we could see new technologies emerging along the way.

Related: Working from a business model perspective

  1. Entrepreneurship classes can make for a stronger democracy: students engaged in entrepreneurship will have a deeper understanding of economics, government, finances, foreign policy (tariffs vs. free trade; geopolitics and natural resources), and the motivations of people in different contexts and situations. This will likely lead them to greater engagement and participation in the democratic process.
  2. Entrepreneurship, when done well, is almost always done in teams. Helping students learn how to work together well, with different motivations and personalities, could strengthen students' soft skills as well as raise their emotional intelligence.

In truth, I have already received some small degree of pushback that curriculums are already crowded, that this is a luxury for students already proficient in the basics, and that it would be hard to do group work with individualized education plans involved.

To those challenges, I would suggest that if standardized testing days could be reduced and swapped for integrative project days, there's still a lot of room - even without new courses. Second, I suggest that integrative projects like entrepreneurship could motivate students to greater proficiency and mastery of the basics, since they will have something they really want to engage with and accomplish. Third, I suggest that projects like these might help students with individualized plans because they (and their instructors) could discover approaches to learning that could work around learning difficulties.

 Related: Conversations and Learning

What say you? As an organizational leader, what kinds of classes and approaches did you find most helpful? What were the least helpful? e-mail me and we can talk about it.

 

In the meantime, check out this article about the balance of action and reflection.

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: business plan, Matthew Thomas, entrepreneurship, business model, secondary education, politics

Business modeling and sales development

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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Imatthew-thomas-2.jpg spend a lot of time thinking about people's business models. I suppose you could say it's a genuine curiosity about how things work, coupled with an utter fascination about how people work together with their individual combinations of skills, experience, abilities, and temperament.

 

Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time putting together a half-day seminar for prospective entrepreneurs. We'll deliver that seminar this week in four one-hour sessions as participants work in teams to design products and/or services around customer needs as they put together an overall business model.

 

All of this got me to thinking: how is business model development any different from what sales, marketing, and product development teams do within their companies?

 

ILike what you're reading? Subscribe Now!t's true, there's a lot of overlap. Sales, marketing, and product development have to build products and services that take care of customer jobs - and not just functional jobs, such as completing specific tasks - but the jobs that are about status, power, finesse, or security.

 

Those products and services also have to solve a customer problem - relieve one or more pain points - and, more than that, provide benefits and gains to the customer that at least meets a minimum set of expectations, and hopefully exceeds them.

 

And all of this for a price the customer is willing to pay.

 

So far, so good. So what's so different about working from a business model perspective?

 

  1. Comprehensive Scope. When we look at the business model, we zoom out from specifics to look at the overall way the business operates - from its cost and revenue structures to its key activities, customer relationships, and so on. This breaks down internal silos and helps to sift projects for development or discontinuation.
  2. Strategy vs. Tactics. Business modeling helps create a go-forward strategy, not just the next package to sell. It observes the trends, not just the immediate needs.
  3. Outsider viewpoint. We all get stuck in our ways of thinking sometimes. Having a neutral third party facilitating conversations and process can help transform mindsets to breakthrough.

 

Those are just three of the ways - there are more - but those are the most obvious.

 

Interested? e-mail me  or call 1.877.771.3330 x20 and we can talk.

 

Not sure you're ready for that? Check out this article on decision making in organizations. We've found it helps a lot of people!

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: business, business plan, Matthew Thomas, business design, business model, sales

Business modeling and sales development

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
Subscribe to  Sustainable Vision

Imatthew-thomas-2.jpg spend a lot of time thinking about people's business models. I suppose you could say it's a genuine curiosity about how things work, coupled with an utter fascination about how people work together with their individual combinations of skills, experience, abilities, and temperament.

 

Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time putting together a half-day seminar for prospective entrepreneurs. We'll deliver that seminar this week in four one-hour sessions as participants work in teams to design products and/or services around customer needs as they put together an overall business model.

 

All of this got me to thinking: how is business model development any different from what sales, marketing, and product development teams do within their companies?

 

ILike what you're reading? Subscribe Now!t's true, there's a lot of overlap. Sales, marketing, and product development have to build products and services that take care of customer jobs - and not just functional jobs, such as completing specific tasks - but the jobs that are about status, power, finesse, or security.

 

Those products and services also have to solve a customer problem - relieve one or more pain points - and, more than that, provide benefits and gains to the customer that at least meets a minimum set of expectations, and hopefully exceeds them.

 

And all of this for a price the customer is willing to pay.

 

So far, so good. So what's so different about working from a business model perspective?

 

  1. Comprehensive Scope. When we look at the business model, we zoom out from specifics to look at the overall way the business operates - from its cost and revenue structures to its key activities, customer relationships, and so on. This breaks down internal silos and helps to sift projects for development or discontinuation.
  2. Strategy vs. Tactics. Business modeling helps create a go-forward strategy, not just the next package to sell. It observes the trends, not just the immediate needs.
  3. Outsider viewpoint. We all get stuck in our ways of thinking sometimes. Having a neutral third party facilitating conversations and process can help transform mindsets to breakthrough.

 

Those are just three of the ways - there are more - but those are the most obvious.

 

Interested? e-mail me  or call 1.877.771.3330 x20 and we can talk.

 

Not sure you're ready for that? Check out this article on decision making in organizations. We've found it helps a lot of people!

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: business, business plan, Matthew Thomas, business design, business model, sales

Conversations and Learning

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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 matthew-thomas-2.jpgAbout six months ago, I joined our local Chamber of Commerce. This has given me a chance to meet a number of the small business leaders in my community. I've had a lot of conversations getting to know people, the businesses they represent, and their outlook on the world.

 

Here are three things I have learned (or perhaps re-learned) from these conversations:

 

  1. The best people in business are the ones who genuinely want to help people. Those who are self-serving are pretty easy to figure out, and they leave a bad taste in people's mouths. The best people find ways to help - even if it's referring to someone else.
  2. There are lots of different ways to talk about how you can help. Experimenting and adjusting with that keeps things fresh.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  3. Strong connections with others don't come along every day, but when they do, they often come from a discovery (perhaps even accidentally) of common values, more than common experience, sports teams, or weather.

 

What is most enjoyable for me is how I have been able to connect to others who also want to do work with genuine value while doing well for themselves.

 

How do you go about creating value? I'd be interested to hear your story! e-mail me , and let's talk.

 

In the meantime, check out this resource about how we balance action and reflection in decision-making.

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, relationships, relationship capital

What is Stewardship? Steward Leadership?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgReaders of this blog may have noticed the frequent attention paid to the term "Steward Leadership." In our work with leaders and businesses throughout the country and around the world, we find that a stewardship stance toward business makes a profound difference in that business' success on all levels. Without a strong sense of stewardship, businesses might still grow big and make lots of money, but their overall success as a business falters. That's why we find steward leadership so essential for organizations and their leaders as they transform for a vibrant future.

What do we mean by Stewardship?

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Stewardship is an increasingly-used term that may still be more familiar in the non-profit and faith-based organizational world than it is in business. Stewardship derives from the concept that we are given something (owned by someone else) to manage on their behalf and make it fruitful or profitable for the owner, or expend it according to the owner's terms to the beneficiaries the owners have designated.

Non-Owners 

For those of us who are executives or managers who don't own an interest in the business we work in, this stewardship concept translates quite directly to the work we do: we work on behalf of an owner or owners to make it fruitful or profitable for the owners, or expend the resources we are given according to the owners' terms to benefit the owners' purpose.

Owners 

For those of us who own our businesses (or part of our businesses), we take the concept of stewardship one more step forward. For us, we must, at minimum, approach our business as being a part of a shared world. The resources we consume came from someplace before us, and as we transform them or consume them, what is left behind will be left for someone else. This stewardship focuses on stewardship of our world: we are not the only people or creatures here, and we must keep everyone else's (and everything else's) interests well in mind.

Many steward leaders take one step beyond this to focus on how what they have they received from others, and they owe duty and gratitude to those who provided them with everything from their first job to their first big break to even their very lives. This stewardship focuses on paying it forward: we received benefit we want to amplify and pass on to others.

Some steward leaders focus on indirect stewardship: by investing in something that does not have an immediate monetary return (such as education grants, and so on), they are creating long-term benefit for themselves and others.

Some steward leaders focus on how their client or customer focus drives their business, and they must steward their customers' goodwill, experience, and the value the customers receive. It's not theirs, but they are entrusted to manage it. This aligns very closely with some of the non-profit approaches to stewardship.

Still other steward leaders focus on a more traditional sense of stewardship: that everything we have has come from  outside of ourselves and is owned by a being greater than ourselves. Often this can have religious, new age, or recovery community overtones. Like the others, this creates a sense of altruism in business. This sense of stewardship is often the most comprehensive, since it delineates that someone else owns everything a person touches - including their very life.

Common Characteristic 

That being said, all of these approaches to stewardship share the common characteristic that we are managing something that is not fully ours because others have a say in how it gets used, expended, or grown. All of these are approaches to being a steward leader who can do good in the community and the world while doing well. And that, in a nutshell, is a strong driver of the kinds of steward leadership in business we see that leads to success.

 


For more on organizational leadership, read Mark L. Vincent's fable, Wise Owl & Young Buck.

Wise Owl & Young Buck

 


 

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership

Steward Leadership through Courage

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgCourage is a word that brings up a lot of strong images. Often these images are of military prowess, or of rescuing someone against all odds, or taking a stand against an overwhelming majority. These images help us see - and sometimes keep us from seeing. Plato's approach pulls our eyes in a different direction.

 

Plato has an interesting approach to courage - one that could help leaders who want to do good while doing well. He says that courage is a "belief concerning what is and what is not to be feared." (Republic IV.430, Modern Library edition (New York: Knopf, 1906, 1935, 1976, 1992).

 

Knowing what is to be feared - and what is not - helps us as we steward our organizations.

 

  • Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Courage, as such, keeps us from foolish risks. It also keeps us from being so risk averse that we get nothing done.
  • Courage, as Plato defines it, causes us to approach people for sales, marketing, or networking without playing on their base fears - their phobias and their "isms", in particular.
  • Courage presses us to do what is right, even when it is not convenient.
  • Courage even keeps us centered in lines of business that eschew using others' fears as leverage. We just don't sell people services or products based upon their irrational, unfounded fears. 
  • For those of us who work in consulting, courage gives us voice when those we are helping are stuck or spiraling.

 

As we have discussed these four civic virtues described by Plato (prudence, temperance, courage, justice), we have seen that they, while they may sound quaint to our ears, help us to counterbalance the prevailing sense of outrage that we often see. Moreover, they help us manage our organizations well.

 

As we consider courage, we realize that these four virtues may not yet complete the framework for solid steward leadership virtue. Three remain (but not of Platonic origin); we will discuss them presently.

 

I'm curious to see how you apply courage as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see virtue at work.

 

We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?

 

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, courageous, Leadership courage, virtue, courage