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Peaks & Valleys – Jan Kaminski

About Peaks & Valleys

The Peaks & Valleys podcast is a series that looks at the unique challenges of running a seasonal business. Although interview guests run agribusinesses, the discussions are applicable to any seasonal business. Each episode ends with tips and best practices related to the given topic.

About the Episode

In this episode we welcome back Jan Kaminski to talk about the sins of omission, one of his seven core beliefs that he feels is fundamental to leadership.

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Have you ever considered that an organization is an organism, and that good leadership is about making sure the cells are healthy?

I’m Lisa Courtney Lloyd and you’re listening to the Peaks and Valley podcast where we talk about the challenges of running a business.

Today we welcome back Jan Kaminski who is both a longtime leader and student of leadership. Currently he’s executive chair of CryoStasis, a director at Market Maker and president of Colonnade Investments.

Lisa: Hello Jan, and welcome back.

Jan: Thanks Lisa. Always fun to be chatting with you.

Lisa: For those of you who follow this podcast, last November I met with Jan to talk about leadership. For Jan, leadership is a process. It’s an intentional process that’s supported by a set of beliefs which we talked about in that podcast. So today we’re going to take a closer look at one of those beliefs and it’s one that Jan talks about as eliminating omissions. Jan, I’m going to open the floor and let you talk to us about this.

Jan: Sure. Thank you, Lisa.

I guess before I start about omissions, I think it’s important to lay down the concept of healthy leadership because a lot of people believe leadership is doing wonderful things and then everybody aspires to be like you and follow you. And fundamentally maybe that’s true, but I don’t believe it. I believe leadership is more about health. And I think there are many cells within your organization that have the opportunity to be healthy from a leadership perspective. A lot of times what we see in organizations is the failure of leadership because many of these cells are not healthy, they’re not doing and behaving in a healthy manner to be able to provide an organism like an organization the necessary amount of healthy cell activity to be able to be healthy overall.

Lisa: Good analogy.

Jan: Yeah. So the slide that we’re looking at right now describes a cell mechanism. I’ve stolen this from Mike Morin who was my leadership coach for many, many years. And he presented to me this prism.

The prism is about your visions, values, beliefs and behaviors — which we could have a whole separate discussion on – you create this vision, values, beliefs and behaviors prism and run the cellular mechanism within the prism. The mechanism is relatively simple: if you want a healthy leadership cell, the leader who is at the bottom of the prism should be able to see the problem that they’re trying to go and address.

And then what they need to make sure that they understand the problem. It’s not good enough to see the problem. They need to understand it and be able to explain it to themselves. That might be through their own doing or it might be doing research or working with others and collecting information, but they need to understand it.


Once they understand it, they can communicate what they understand to the resources who then address it.


So again, if you have a healthy leadership cell, you have a leader that sees the problem, then he or she understands that problem, communicates it to the resources, and the resources address it. And my view is this isn’t just something that happens in the organization. This is happening all over your organization. There are opportunities throughout your organization because everybody has a leadership role.


The last thing I added is the accountability zones. I think that it’s important to understand in the of role of staff person or manager your problem horizon is more near term. It might be a week, two weeks, maybe out to a month. When you start getting into higher levels of directors and VPs, you might be looking at anything from one month to six months. And if you’re a CEO, you should be looking at six months and beyond. You need to understand your problem horizons so that you can effectively see, understand, communicate, and address within your horizons. When we talk about the omissions, which we’ll get into, fundamentally, we’re talking about unhealthy activities that are going on in these mechanisms.  These mechanisms, if you’re a successful and healthy leadership organization, should be pervasive throughout your organization.

Lisa: Right. So it’s a bit about knowing where you play in your roles and responsibilities as well.

Jan: Sure. And that is one of the structural omissions, is understanding that. So now I will talk about the omissions and if we understand what the omissions are, these sins of emission as I call them, and the categories; if we understand specifically what they are, my view is that by avoiding them, you’re more likely to have healthy leadership cell activity. If you have that pervasively throughout your organization where people are aware, you’re going to have a healthy organism; you’re going to have a healthy organization.


There are three categories that I think of when I think about omissions, there’s the grand omission, there’s structural omissions, and there’s cell omissions themselves, cellular omissions (these are the more tactical things that are going on). And when you think about the grand omission, I think a lot of times when an organization doesn’t have a clear vision that ties into what the organization is trying to do and what people are trying to get out of the organization. When you create a grand vision, not only do you want to create something important where you’re trying to change the world and whatnot, but it has to be compelling enough to attract people to want to be with you to go and solve that problem right now. It’d be nice if that was enough, but it’s not. You’ve also then have to go and understand what people want out of this, especially all your key people. What do they want out of the engagement with the organization and does your grand vision allow them to achieve that? Whether it be doing well for their family, advancing their career, challenging themselves in new kind of areas to learn? Those are all things that I think that need to be part of a true grand vision for the organization. Anway, I could go through examples but I think that’s relatively self explanatory and that’s hard work. Your ultimate leader, whether it be CEO or the executive team, they have a responsibility of doing that and when they don’t do that you start seeing unhealthy leadership activity inside the organization. I don’t know if there’s any questions on that.

Lisa: So it’s really understanding a bit of the why people are there, what gets them up in the morning, what gets them excited.

Jan: Okay, exactly. I always like to say your salary is what helps you sleep at night but this vision and your why is what gets you up in the morning. Now you need to sleep well at night to be good in the morning. Salaries and market salaries are important but this is what drives people every day.

And making sure this works is a critical and important part of what executives have to do. And not doing it is a major sin of omission and I can see.

Lisa: I can see how that would be overlooked because people would take it for granted. So well said.

Jan: The next emission is the structural emission. If you look again at the triangle or the prism you’ll see that the prism has the visions, values, beliefs and behaviors. And the other big part of this is the accountability zones. And not having the prism and the zones clearly understood by all, and not continually refining it and understanding it is a huge problem. I’ll give you an example.

If leaders don’t establish values, then you have a situation where the company will always have values. They may just not be the ones that you hold near and dear to your heart. And then there’s the inconsistency and confusion and that then plays into various beliefs and behaviors that you think are undesirable. But a lot of it comes down to is there a clear establishment of values within the organization?

Now maybe there is good, strong, clear values defined but then again, but there are no consequences to poor behaviors – this is one of the big structural emissions again that happens in the prism and the management of that prism is really important. Because it’s hard to work the healthy leadership process — see problem, understand it, communicate it, address it — if the prism isn’t properly defined.


The other one is the accountability zones and this one is really important. And I think the simplest way for me to talk about this is this is when senior people get involved in day-to-day business and try to deal with day-to-day problems.

Yes, they need to understand those day-to-day problems because they may impact their accountability zone. But many leaders have come from working in the employee manager zone and now have moved up into the executive zone, or CEO zone, and they haven’t realized that. So all of a sudden they’re trying to do people’s jobs and you hear about micromanaging, you hear about all these things.

This is a deadly omission that goes on because all of a sudden when you start leading in the wrong zone other people don’t take up healthy leadership activities because they don’t see the problem, they don’t try to understand the problem, then they have no need to communicate it because they think you’re going to go do that.


My question was always, well as an executive because I used to get frustrated with situations because I would get sucked down into managerial or into staff zones and I said look it, I don’t mind helping you because maybe it’s a problem I’ve created. Maybe I need to do work on that prism. Maybe I need to do work on making sure that there’s clarity in what the accountability zones are. So I’ll take that away. But here’s the deal I can’t be doing and making decisions in your zone because if I’m spending time making decisions in your zone or choices in your zone that means I’m not spending time making choices in my zone. And all of a sudden we have a very unhealthy cell or set of cell activities because there are whole areas that are not being addressed. So accountability zones, they’re not easy but they are critical because not understanding them leads to very unhealthy leadership activity.

Lisa: Yeah, I can see that and that’s where I think being intentional is so important because especially if you’ve come from that area, it’s easy for you to default to something that you can do easily. But I suspect it’s like you said, knowing the lane or the zone in which you should be playing and building that trust that the person who is in that zone is able to do the job well under the values, the visions, the beliefs that have been set. Is that fair?

Jan: Absolutely fair. And then the other thing to understand here is if this is truly happening and you have a successful leadership, a successful company that understands leadership, you’ve got maybe hundreds of leadership cells that are functioning well in the organization at all certain levels. So you want to encourage your people at the staff level to learn how to be able to see a problem, understand the problem, communicate it to the right resources so they can go and address it. And if that’s happening throughout your organization, all of a sudden you, as the ultimate leader, is not worrying about it. Now, making that happening isn’t necessarily easy, but those are some of the structural things that you need to go and make sure are in place if you want that to happen. Leadership isn’t about having a good leader. Leadership in an organization is about having hundreds of good leaders that know how to make a choice, know how to see a problem, know how to go and communicate it and get it addressed.

And then the last one is just more practical things where the competency of individuals to be able to see the problem because as you go further out — and a lot of times people get promoted to higher levels but they don’t necessarily have the competency or necessarily the wiring – it doesn’t make them bad employees; it makes them bad in the seat that you’re putting them because they don’t have the competency to be able to make good decisions in the horizons. As the horizon goes further out, the problems become less clear, the problems are more nuanced. There’s fogginess on the horizon and it’s unclear whether it’s truly a problem or it’s just a distraction. And so the further you get out … when you think about it, a twelve month old problem, you’ve got to think about it differently. You’ve got to react to it differently than if it’s a one week or one month horizon problem and not everybody’s wired to understand those horizons. I’m going to say I think I’m relatively well wired for twelve-month problems. I think I’ve had some success as an executive and a CEO because I can see that. I’m going to say I’m not that good at dealing with near term horizon problems and there’s people that are way better. So does that make me a more important employee? I don’t think so. Do you know what I mean? So it makes me good in a particular time horizon and it makes other people really good in other time horizons and being able to realize that and being able to give people fulfillment in that is another critical part of your visions, values and beliefs. If people who are really good on near term stuff, if you can make sure that they feel valuable in that, then there’s really no need for them to go up into higher areas where they may not be successful because they’re not necessarily wired or they aren’t as fulfilled dealing with very unclear, fuzzy, long-term types of and more abstract problems.

Lisa: And that’s an incredibly important point because too often you see people assuming that you have to continue to climb. I’m going to say climb up that ladder and sometimes it’s not where they play best or their capabilities are. And so as a leader, it’d be important to truly understand … going back to an earlier point you made about the why… why are they there, what is important to them and making sure that what they’re doing is fulfilling for them.

Jan: Right, exactly. Because a lot of organizations set up a scenario that the higher you go in their organization, the more successful you are. And I don’t believe that to be true and I don’t believe that that should be true. So there’s way more higher levels of accountability and just other problems that you’ve got to go deal with at higher levels of the organization. That’s got to get played out. I think the other one too is that even if people can see that problem and maybe understand the concerns and whatnot of those fuzzy problem areas can the leader understand it? Do they have enough experience? Do they have enough context? Do they too easily discount the problem? Do they not connect it to other areas?


There’s the seeing the problem and then there’s the understanding problem and I think they are two different issues. Seeing it is a bit of a wiring type of issue, maybe some experience. Understanding it is clearly an experience and understanding the interconnections.  And then all of a sudden being a good communicator, a lot of people often jump to the conclusion that, oh, we got to get better at communications. You hear this all the time Lisa, you’re a communications expert. But I often see that it’s because really they don’t understand the problem is why they can’t communicate it. Because if they understood the problem, the communications part becomes a lot simpler. People are communicating things they don’t understand and that usually leads to a ton of confusion because if you communicate it well to the right resources and the resources are properly motivated to go and address it, they’ll fix the problem, the problem will get fixed. That’s the beauty of a healthy leadership cell.

Lisa: Yeah, I see that and I do see as you describe it, it makes so much sense, but it is so complicated because there are so many aspects that have to be in place. And I’ve heard you say this over and over again where you have to always be thinking about this and always being aware of the different aspects of this leadership cell and these cells within the organization, because if you let too many slip, then the integrity, the trust starts to break down as does the confusion start to increase. So it’s a lot, you have to think about a lot of pieces.

Jan: and, you need to go and put in just a level of patience that a lot of people don’t have, including me, because this is a four step process.

See problem, fix problem is a two step process. And our nature is see it, fix it.

And then what we’ve now forgotten is understand it, communicate it, bring the right resources in place. So why do problems often lag on and go on and go on in an organization? Because people are trying to implement the short form see it, fix it, which is very unhealthy leadership cell activity. And what’s worse —  nothing’s more demoralizing — this is what I believe —  people i do not mind problems, they actually like problems because it is fundamentally why you’re there, because there’s problems. The thing that people hate is problems that are persistent, consistent and never go away. That’s what they hate. So the nice thing about this is that if you do make it work, you’re making it work at all levels. People are being challenged by problems, they’re being challenged in the process of doing these problems, and I think again, this healthy cell activity propagates more healthy cell activity. So this is, I think, the fundamentals of a high performing team.

Lisa: Well, thank you, Jan. There is a lot here and I can’t wait to review this again and again because I’m thinking of a number of different situations where I’d like to apply this and work through it and make sure that all the pieces are in place so that we do have these healthy cells within our organizations.

Thank you very much.

Jan:  It was great.

Lisa: I hope we can continue this conversation with another one of your beliefs in a few months.

Jan: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. Always love talking about this and always love talking with you, Lisa.

Lisa: Great. Thanks Jan.

Jan: Thanks, Lisa.

You’ve been listening to Peaks and Valleys, the podcast on seasonal business. Peaks and Valleys is presented by Market Maker Agriculture, a long term hold private equity company that invests in agribusinesses across North America that have seasonal cash flows. For more information about Market Maker or suggestions for topic or guest contact