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East Coast Leadership

This article is based on Tyler Hayden's Book "Livin' Life Large: Simple Actions that Create Success."  It talks about how our local East Coast Culture shapes how business should be lead on the east coast.

The impact that a regional culture can have on every facet of life is amazing, including traditions, health and wellness, family, and especially business.  In Atlantic Canada business leaders are required to look through a much different lens given the unique culture of our community.

As I was writing my most recent book, Livin’ Life Large – Simple Actions that Create Success, I was struck by the implications of our specific ways of living here in Atlantic Canada and how we, as business leaders, need to guide our organizations.  One example is when I had tea and sweets with my wife’s Nan in Cape Breton. Guess that day was my “Tuesday with Morrie.”

If yer little ass was made of glass it woulda been broke for long ago.”

I have to be completely honest, I had no clue what she was talking about the day she shared that little piece of wisdom.  So I consulted the informal Cape Breton English dictionary and realized that what she meant was we all mess up, and that never stopped us before, so take responsibility for it, wipe yourself off, and get back to business.

Isn’t that the type of culture we should be creating in our businesses?  Healthy forums where both our employees and we can make mistakes, learn, grow, and move forward.  Often, those mistakes can be the greatest learning experiences.  Recall the “New Coke” fiasco or Donald Trump going broke.  In both examples organizations took responsibility for their mistakes, learned from them, and moved forward to bigger and better things.

In Coke’s case, the multimillion-dollar blunder became the most costly training and development program any executive in a company’s history had ever been enrolled in.  While in Trump’s case, his organization simply had to use their proven track record and central competencies to rebuild the premiere multibusiness model.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we are brought up to know that regardless of our blunder we can always return home.  In order to keep our most valuable employees, as leaders we need to remember Atlantic Canadian wisdom and use this life experience to provide opportunities for sustainable growth and development.  Give your managers and senior leaders the opportunities and skills required to effectively process these experiences and then the freedom to get back to the business at hand.

“The arse is outaver!” 

Successful Atlantic Canadian businesses are built not only on considerable sweat equity investments but also in our ability to let our hair down to enjoy the magnificent opportunities around us.  Our culture is truly one of working hard, playing hard, and attaining balance between the two.

Earlier this year I had a meeting with a top executive at Aliant, one of our region’s most successful businesses.  This senior executive personifies the balance in between.  He met me in his office that day wearing a cowboy hat, jeans, and boots smelling of a tasty outdoor barbeque.  It turned out he had just finished cooking his team a spread of burgers and dogs.  Spending the rest of the day in his casual gear let me know that he truly enjoyed his staff, his job, and the organization he invests his time in.

The reality for a leader in Atlantic Canada is that letting loose with our employees and enjoying ourselves allows them to see that we are authentic.  Successful leaders in our culture don’t gain positions of power by the stringent enforcement of rules, but rather through authentic human interactions.  These relations build the foundation for increased productivity from our employees as well as improved employee morale.  When we do not demonstrate that we, too, truly enjoy life, we create disdain for senior leadership because we separate ourselves from the reality of that balanced Atlantic Canadian way of life.

“It’s the thank-you jobs that get work done in crunch time.”

My brother’s father-in-law, Paul, who is a manager at a mill in Newfoundland, told me that little gem.  Paul is one of the most effective workers I have ever met.  He can run every machine in the mill and make any part that breaks from a hunk of metal.  I asked Paul how he was able to get so much done around the mill.  Expecting to hear a piece of time management wisdom, I need to tell you I was surprised when he told me it was “thank-you jobs.”

Paul spends time building gates for an employee’s horse pen, fixing their car or something else very personal to an employee.  For that effort of a “thank-you job,” he banks unwritten vouchers for support from his staff.  Paul then cashes those vouchers in for jobs that need doing around the mill.

His leadership style is “we’re all in this thing together, so let me help you first, and then you can help me.”  An ingrained culture of support and dedication to our neighbors has sustained Atlantic Canadians for centuries.

Before asking what an employee will do for us, build a bank of vouchers by first doing for them.  An employee’s commitment to an organization runs further then a simple paycheck and opportunity for a pension plan.  Bob Nelson, the author of 1001 Ways to Reward and Recognize Employees, lets us know that the best way to inspire an employee is to give them a verbal thank-you in a timely fashion. The next best way is to handwrite a note of thanks.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

My father drilled that statement into me from the time I was a boy. It probably will be one of the greatest legacies he will leave with me as a person and a business leader.  Anything valuable in life, even the Roman Empire, is built one stone at a time.  It is essential to place each stone with care and secure it with a vision of a magnificent future. 

Of course, achieving that vision takes time.  Atlantic Canadian leadership is about recognizing and empowering our people to achieve more by identifying individual accomplishments.  In my experience, it is the individual achievements that come together collectively to create a sustainable business.  Senior executives need to have a vision as big as the Roman Empire was in all its glory and as focused on quality as the stonemasons must have been who helped build it.  To do this we need to follow Jim Collins’ advice, “Get the right people on the bus – and make sure that they are in the right seats.”

“It’s what you do when nobody’s watching.”

That is the core of public perception.  Martha Stewart and senior leaders of Enron could have benefited by playing dollies with my daughter Tait, who has taught me this nugget so well.

Ensuring that our employees believe in our vision requires us to be consistent and genuine.  Our clarity, commitment, and conscience are what inspire Atlantic Canadians to follow their senior leaders.  What we do when we are alone not only demonstrates our ethics but it also helps to safeguard us from undue ridicule and the possibility of a headline in Frank Magazine.

Growing up in a small seaside community in Atlantic Canada quickly taught me that rarely is “nobody watching.”  Someone always seems to see you at your best – and your worst.  Certainly, Atlantic Canadians love to talk.  As senior leaders, being hypersensitive to our everyday actions is our greatest safeguard against getting jigged like a wide-mouth cod by the rumor mill.

Further, the reality that there are eyes in every corner is an absolute opportunity to model the things that you would like to see in your employees.  Remember, though, that role modeling is based in the law of diminishing returns.  So senior leaders need to be 110 percent of what they desire in their employees.

Learn to lead by walking around.  Spend time on the road with a service technician; answer customer service calls; and take employees out to lunch.  Seize every opportunity to build rapport and get unedited information from frontline staff to better gauge how you are doing, as well as build a defensive team that will quash any negativity before it starts.

“Die with blisters on your hands, not your butt.”

Finally, something I learned from my neighbor Lonnie, who is well into his 70s and still working full-time, is that Atlantic Canadians appreciate and value a good day’s work and people who are willing to do it.

Let’s get to work on leading our organizations in a way that will be well received by our distinct Atlantic Canadian culture.  Let’s not sit on our hands; instead, use them.  Let’s work together towards the creation of a sustainable economy with a vibrant workforce and a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  Let’s build up the calluses on our hands and commit to building our teams into groups that are poised and driven to succeed for the benefit of all Atlantic Canadians.

True leadership in Atlantic Canada takes an accurate understanding of the culture that we live in – what works in Toronto will not necessarily work here.  Our local human capital is some of the best educated and hardest working in the world.  It is time we as senior leaders begin to speak to our organizations in ways that reflect how people are raised in Atlantic Canada, understanding it is the simple actions that will create success.


Tyler Hayden’s book Livin’ Life Large – Simple Actions that Create Success is the most basic personal development book ever written.  It is based on the wisdom of living in Atlantic Canada.  If you are looking to make some simple life changes so that you can be happier and have more fun, this is a must-read for you.

Tyler Hayden combines his zest for life with lessons from small-town Atlantic Canada to write this book from which all of us can benefit.

            Henry Demone, President & CEO, High Liner Foods Inc.

Simple, fun, insightful, and down to earth – no, not Tyler, … the book!!  Great read, great book!

            Robert Zed, CEO, The Zed Group

Livin’ Life Large is a highly entertaining and fun book to read that’s full of down-home wisdom and inspiration.  Tyler taps into the ageless wisdom of simple truths and reminds us of what’s really important to successfully enjoying our short trip on this planet.

Jim ClemmerArticle Search, Certified Speaking Professional and author of The Leader’s Digest and Growing the Distance.

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Tyler Hayden has been a full-time professional speaker and innovative educator for the past decade . His business is personal development and nontraditional team-building programs. Tyler’s clients include some of the world’s largest corporations and associations, such as the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO).

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