Four Ways You Can Impact Learning

More and more, job candidates are asking the question, "What will I learn here?"

If they don't like the answer they may keep looking.

For leaders, managers, and heads of projects, helping people learn is a critical contribution to individual and organizational success.

So, here are Four Ways to Impact Learning that will serve you well.



Impact on Curiosity:
For every action there's a reaction. When we say or do something, people want time to react to it, talk about it, and understand what it means to them.

Practical Application: Allow  time for questions and answers. The give-and-take after you speak is where people actually learn and where they begin to develop an affinity for, and commitment to, the topic. Even if you're an expert, the learning takes place as a result of people wrestling with the information or idea rather than being the recipients of a data dump--no matter how eloquent you may be.

Impact on self confidence: How you deliver and discuss the information impacts how people feel about learning it. People with position power--managers, supervisors, team leaders--all have the ability to build confidence in the learners or create a defensive atmosphere.

Practical Application: Tell the group at the outset that you value their questions and that you hope they'll jump in when they experience an "Aha!" or a "Help me, I don't get it." When someone asks a question, throw it back out to the group to give someone else a chance to form an answer that may be framed in a way different than your own. Thank people whenever they ask a question or offer an answer.

Impact on motivation: Even as youngsters, we knew who the teachers were who made learning exciting, interesting, and engaging. Why not be the "managerial version" of your best teacher. And remember this: Managers Are The Mediators of Motivation.

Practical Application: Take some time to develop questions and break people into groups to address them; if you're talking about a new marketing approach, give people a block of time to do a concept and present it to the group. You know the content. The time you spend designing the right approach will pay off in engaged learners and, ultimately, effective learning.

Impact on Creativity: Unless you're involved in safety procedures, accounting rules, or a regulatory issue, people want to be able to offer their own "variation on a theme." One of the reasons to bring people together is to capitalize on the collective creativity and varying viewpoints in the room.

Practical Application: Give people latitude to take the discussion in directions that you never thought of. Remember, you're in charge--but to try to be in control will shut down the kind of learning that the group--and you--have an opportunity to experience.

Bonus: When the noise level goes up and people start debating, discussing, and delving into the topic, you've been successful. Let it go until the energy begins to die down. Then, capture the points that they were making with their co-workers and discuss next steps. When learners sit passively, you may feel more relaxed because you feel in control not having to respond to questions or manage the group. What it may really mean is that they aren't engaged, aren't learning, and are waiting "until the bell rings" so they can go back to their workspace.

What are your unique methods for impacting learning?

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"Who Do You Want to Become?" vs. "What Do You Want To Be?"

Which question are you asking yourself?

Your choice will help determine the depth of your life as well as the comfort-level of your career.  Treegrowingtall0

I've been watching a new CEO client begin his tenure at a global company. He is very comfortable listening, talking, giving direction, and saying "I don't know. That sounds good to me. Go ahead and do it." (Whatever the "it" is).

What I'm really seeing is a man who has, over a lifetime, decided to "become" the kind of person he wanted to be. I know for a fact that he didn't set out to be a CEO. In fact, he was invited into the role. The reason he received the invitation, I believe, rests in great part on who he is to the people around him.

Yet "who he is" was shaped by not ambitiously jumping into a position that was too far ahead of "who he was" at the moment. His career path shows a progression that was slow and steady, building solid relationships and new knowledge along the way.  And each step on the ladder reflected genuine accomplishment.

Now he has become a CEO; he doesn't have to play the role of CEO.

And that's the distinction between where the two questions above will lead you.

Who do you want to become?

Or do you want to play a role?

Think about the how the difference will affect your life.

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Fear: Success or Failure?

Lets be honest:  All of us have doubts that block us from doing things. It's even socially acceptable to talk about some "fear of failure."

But "fear of success?"

Success-FailureIt's just as real. Being afraid to achieve the very things that we want.

How does it happen?

The Future/Change Factor: Personal

The good news is that when we experience this fear, it's because we're imagining a "better" future. We're actually thinking about change.

But we don't know what else that's going to bring. Since it's all about the future, we can imagine anything and everything about what might be. In the absence of factual information we fantasize, often negatively.

  • "I don't deserve it"
  • "If I achieve what I set out to do, everyone will know that I don't really deserve it"
  • "If I get it I won't be able to sustain it. Why try?"
  • "If I am successful, someone will come along who is better than me. Then, what will happen to me?"
  • "If I am successful, the nature and equilibrium of my relationships will change and I'll have to make new friends. My current friends would never accept a more successful (bigger, deeper, better, healthier) me."

(Feel free to list your own and others you've hear in the comments section).

What happens as a result of this kind of thinking?

  • Self-defeating thinking leads to self-defeating actions. Here are just a few:
  • Doing the wrong thing even when you know the right thing to do. That way, one can avoid having to deal with success.
  • Minimizing your accomplishments so they are ultimately negated. Then, you don't have to live up to being all that you really are.
  • Feeling guilty when you have a success. This creates a slowdown in momentum, hesitancy to act, and a self-fulfilling inability to move on to another success.

What you can do differently

Here are some suggestions that aren't complicated but do place the responsibility clearly on our personal shoulders:

1. Act in a way that will genuinely help build a sense of self: Find ways to encourage and acknowledge accomplishments of those around you.

2. Get an accountability partner--or maybe a couple. These people have your explicit permission to give you feedback--positive and negative --about how they are experiencing your progress. This is a reality check. Honest, factual, periodic conversations will help you replace the unknown negative fantasies with reality-based information.

3. When someone compliments you, respond with a firm "Thank you!" No false modesty or additional talk. Simply hear the compliments and let them begin to influence how you see yourself.

In the next post, we'll look at how this plays out at work and in organizational life. 

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Wholeness, Meaning, and Change

“Meaning is a peculiarly individual and subjective thing. I wonder, if every worker pursued their own notion of meaning, how would that affect the corporate world?"

That question was posed a few years ago by my online friend and EQ expert extraordinnaire, the late Galba Bright. 

It's a question that is related to the success–-or failure–-of every change initiative. Whether it’s about a new benefits package, introducing new technology, or figuring out where the entire family will go on vacation, meaning is the core issue.


WholenessBecause when we retain what is meaningful, we have a sense of wholeness. When we have a sense of wholeness, we can–-by definition–-bring our whole self to the game. Conversely, if meaning is subverted in some way, so are we. Our enthusiasm and commitment diminish; only part of us is left, and it’s not the part that is ready to add value to the situation.

A Helpful Way to Think About Meaning, Worklife, and Change

Corporations are in business to earn a profit. Without that, there wouldn’t be jobs or money for employees. Heck, there wouldn’t be employees, products, or services. Without high-performing employees, there wouldn’t be highly profitable corporations.

Which means that both are giving and getting something out of the relationship. And that’s where I believe the frustration begins. The same people who would spend days, weeks, and months wining and dining a new love–-gazing longingly into the other’s eyes–-too often spend about 5 minutes sending out an email announcing a change that will impact work schedules, careers, income, and the well-being of families.

I’ve been involved in corporate life for more than 30 years. Most executives I know do acknowledge the personal difficulties inherent with change. But here’s where it gets icky: somehow, along the way, a particular defense mechanism has been allowed to serve as an acceptable “reason” for all kinds of behavior. And that is the phrase, “This is a business.”

When that is uttered, somehow everyone within earshot is supposed to nod knowingly, acknowledging that the business gods–wherever they are–deserve whatever sacrificial offering is required to keep them looking favorably upon that company’s shareholder value.

“This is a business.”

Knock it off, we all know that. In fact, that’s why we’re all here!

We’re all here for another reason

"Business" allows us to fulfill some deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. For some, it’s the work itself. For others, it may offer the means to buy a first home and start a much longed-for family. For still others, the location of the workplace may have meaning if one needs to care for elderly or suffering family members. And, yes, there are many who are working simply to have enough money to retire. They’ve decided that they’ll delay certain kinds of satisfaction so that they don’t need to worry during their later years.

Many of us will be sitting around the Christmas dinner table with family and friends or celebrating holidays in other ways, but still having conversations about the year past and the year ahead. As you listen--or add your own hopes and dreams--be aware of the differences in purpose and meaning. 

They are all personal and all valid. 

What gives meaning to your work? If the conversation slows down, that may be a useful question to ask. You'll learn quite a bit about each other.


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How About Those Difficult People?

For more than twenty years I've been working with clients on "How To Deal With Difficult People."

It sounds kind of grim but it's really satisfying. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. When they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn new behaviors  at the same time without navel-gazing. What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? Coping doesn't change anything.

DealingDo You Want To Change Something?

Good. Here are five good diagnostic questions I hope will help:

1. What really drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers are that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite" person finally got to you. What did they do? That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior. Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you? How did they look at you? Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react?

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel? Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?

3. What do you want from yourself?

What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4. What do you really want from them?

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!" Not going to happen. So,think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept? Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really).

5. Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

How do they do it? Who might know how to do it? Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help. When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious. You can train your nervous system in the same way.

If you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.


Remember: Success in life isn't what happens to us; it's how we respond to what happens to us. And you are in charge of your responses.

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Add Goals To Your Passion

Are you passionate about what you want to do but concerned about your progress?

No problem. You're part of a large club.

Reach For The StarsAbout 45% of us prefer to live our lives in a more "open-ended, hold-out-for-another-option" manner. That means that while we may wantsomething to happen, we're not real likely to makesomething happen as a result of a schedule or timetable.

We avoid goals and a high level of commitment to following through on them. And that may be what's stopping our progress. (But you already knew that if you are in the 45%)!

Start adding goals to your passion today because:

1. Goals give you laser-like focus. With no goals you tend to drift and get lost in activity not related  to your success.

2. Goals boost your productivity. And when you are more productive. . .

3. The results boost your sense of self and give you the momentum and confidence to continue.

Add some goals now. Watch your passion grow into the real thing.

What are you going to do today to make the right thing happen for you?

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Thinking About Work-Life Balance?

The real issue of work-life balance is about what kind of a life you want to have. Work plays a part in life--it's not designed to be the other way around.

Decisions that you make about life determine how much work and what kind of work you do. Spending time getting clear about who you are and how you are talented is time well-spent. You may not even like the answer at first. It may conflict with expectations from you, your family, the community, and even society at large.


Real people searching for balance

A few years ago my wife and I were visited by a young married couple (I'll call them Phil and Ann) who wanted to talk about some choices they were confronting about their life together.  The real issue emerged when Ann said, "I think I will need professional fulfillment over the long run. We really want to have children soon, too. How do you achieve that kind of balance?"

It was at that moment that I realized that work and life were being viewed as slices of a pie that could somehow be sliced, with every piece equally tasty and available for consumption when desired.

And the reason they came to us is...

My wife, Barbara, was also my consulting partner for a number of years. She has a dual Ph.D. in Business and Counseling. (She'll analyze your financials, tell you you're going broke, then switch chairs and ask in the best Rogerian fashion, "How do you feel about that?"). Ann knew about Barb's background and the fact that we had a daughter (a teenager at that time). So her real question was "How do you have it all?"

The answer:  You don't have it "all"  at  the same moment in time.

(Intuition tells me that there is probably some law of physics that would bear that out. However, my party-life balance in college caused me to miss that class.)

Barb explained that we had made a choice together about raising our daughter. We had decided that it was important for her to come home to a parent each day. There was too much going on in our daughter's life to leave the development of her own decision process to chance or to others with values inconsistent with ours.  Yes, it would cut our income considerably. Yes, there were things that we wouldn't do as a result. No, she (Barb) didn't feel any "less of a woman" by not having a professional identity at that time. No, she didn't feel as if she had wasted her education ("Ann, try raising a teen-aged daughter without a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology!"). And so on.


A way to re-think this

Work-life balance is really a deceiving term. It has the impact ofseparating work and life. It then visually nudges you toward making decisions that fall into those two categories instead of integrating the elements of your life into a sensible whole.

Maybe that's the place to start. For those who work best with a label, perhaps "Life Integration" would offer a better working phrase than "Work-Life Balance". I believe you can do yourself a big favor by paying attention to a job that offers a "good fit" for who you are and what you do vs. trying to "balance" something that started off out of sync.

Fast Forward: Phil and Ann

Phil and Ann now have two children, 8 and 5. Ann is a volunteer leader in an organization where she can bring the 3 year-old along and it works. She does intend to continue her "professional" life in a couple of years and is exploring ways to do that. She told me that she likes her life, is happy with the decision, and doesn't think about "balance" any more. Instead, she and Phil look at where they are, where they want to be, what they value, and then make decisions accordingly.

They took the approach that life is, indeed, a journey; it's not a "have-it-all-at-this-moment-in-time-every-time" proposition.

What are your experiences? Are you working on a balancing act or best-fit decisions?

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Leadership, Stamina, and Heart

The cheetah survives on the African plains by running down its prey and can sprint 70 miles per hour. But, according to the TV documentary I was watching, the cheetah Cheetah-leaping can't sustain that pace for long. Inside its long, sleek body is a disproportionately small heart. This causes the cheetah to tire out quickly. Unless the speedster catches its prey on the first try, it has to abandon the chase. 

Sometimes we approach leadership the same way. We zoom into projects with unbridled energy. But lacking energy for sustained effort, we fizzle out before we finish. We garner more resources, try new strategies, cut costs, manage the metrics, and vow to start faster and run harder.

What we need may not be more speed, but more staying power--stamina that comes only from having a bigger heart.

Leadership Bonus: Check out a broad array of tips and advice at the Leadership Development Carnival, graciously hosted this month by Jesse Lyn Stoner.

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Who Will Influence You?

Every leader must also follow.

ElephantsThose who show no accountability to others--in business, non-profits, or government--may hold a position of leadership but won't hold on to it without some version of brute or "political" force, overt or covert. (If that kind of leadership appeals to you, you may want to check Craigslist for the "Dictators Wanted" ads).

Be selective about who you allow to influence your thinking, attitudes, decisions, and behavior. What are the values you hold most dear--the ones you would like others to adopt as a result of being influenced by you?

Please consider that question. Then, make sure the influences on your life mirror those values.

If you do, your life and your leadership will be reinforced and lifted up. If you don't, you put yourself in a position to be led away from your life's vision. Perhaps even worse, you'll lead others in the wrong direction.

Who are you choosing to follow?

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Your Character and Legacy: One Question

"Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has"
--Billy Graham

Consider these: 

  • Sir Walter Raleigh, after getting in deep doo-doo Music with the queen, spent 13
    years in prison. How did he spend his time? He wrote The History of the World.


  • Beethoven composed his greatest music after he went deaf.


  • The poet Dante worked--and died--in exile.


  • Daniel DeFoe wrote Robinson Crusoe while in prison.


  • Pilgrim's Progress was penned by John Bunyan during his imprisonment in Bedford Jail.


  • He was too poor to buy paper so he used scraps of leather. That's how MIguel de Cervantes managed to produce Don Quixote while jailed in Madrid.

At times, we all feel as if we're being sentenced to something. So, we have a choice: Do we lament what is happening in our life or do we live the life we've been given?

Our character and legacy are built on that decision.


In case you missed it: Enjoyed conributing recently to Canada's Globe & Mail Business feature section: How to Draw Attention to Your Great Idea! Good interview with Wallace Immen.

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How Do You Pursue Success? Try This


What Do These Success Quotes All Have in Common?

"I don't know the key to success but the key to failure is to try to please everyone." Bill Cosby

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."Bob Dylan

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives." Albert Einstein

"The secret of success is constancy to purpose." Benjamin Disraeli


"Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals." Paul J. Meyer

I think the commonality is this:

1. Each person thought about what success meant to him

2. None of them defined it in terms of others' expectations

Have You Taken Time to Think About Success In Terms of Your Own Expectations?

If you haven't, then maybe today is the day to start. If you don't, you are at risk.Think about it. Without a clear sense of what a successful life means to you, then everyone else can control your time, your choices, and your career. You have no firm basis on which to make decisions. And no way to tell yourself "I'm doing fine!"

That means that others can tell you how they think you are doing. And what they think you should be doing. Wouldn't it be nice to be clear about why they are so wrong?!

I believe that you already know what success means to you. The first moment you do something consistent with that will also bring the first sense of being the unique person you were designed to be.

Have a successful day!



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Strengths, Weaknesses, and Engagement

What engages you most: building on your talent or overcoming what you see as some "gap" in your inherent abilities?

Where do you get the bigger payoff?

My friend and employee engagement guru David Zinger cited a Gallup Management Journal article in one of his posts that reflected these findings:

1. If your manager primarily ignores you your chances of being actively disengaged are 40%

2. If your manager focuses on your weaknesses your chances of being actively disengaged are 22%

3. If you manager focuses on your strengths your chances of being actively disengaged are only 1%.

Hot Cold Commitment

I think these factoids are powerful in their simplicity. They point the way to what managers and their people should be paying attention to if they're really concerned with being engaged.

First: Managers would be wise to initiate conversation and discussion with all of their people. Otherwise, the numbers show that they'll lose the active commitment of nearly half. Note to employees: I know that you know that your manager is supposed to know this. Well, clearly they may not. If you aren't getting attention, initiate a conversation with your boss about how important it is to you. Some people, by nature, don't initiate those things. Then, if you find out that this isn't a department or organization where you can flourish, you have some solid information for making career decisions. And if you do make a difference by initiating the discussion and see it continue, you've helped at least two people.

Second: Here is a way to start thinking about where to invest energy: Building Strengths or Overcoming Weaknesses. I'll use a sales example.

Let's say you are a sales rep who has a track record of getting appointments and a presentation with 60% of the people on whom you call. But your ability to close the sale is 25%. You have been a sales rep at different companies for 18 years.(Stick with me, I've been a sales manager). What you now know is that you're strength lies in building the initial relationship and being able to get in front of the client. No matter how hard you've worked at closing the sale, you've never gotten above 25%. As your sales manager, I'd start thinking: If I help you focus on getting appointments and presentations--and you improve just 10%--then I have someone who can get us in front of a prospective client 66% of the time. If I start focusing on your closing deficit and you manage to improve 10%, you still only get to a 27.5% success rate. So I decide that I --or another "closer" with a high percentage of success--will come along to the presentations. You become the "star" door opener and we find another "star" closer.

I'd be crazy to spend my time and energy focusing on your weakness. It would be the same as telling Yo Yo Ma "You're a phenomenal musician. I know you are a cellist, but we're going to put all of our energy into making you a great tuba player."

Thought for Today: Let's talk with people about "What They Can't Not Do."

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"What Do I Want To Be?" or "What Do I Want To Become?"

Which question are you asking yourself?

Your choice will help determine the depth of your life as well as the comfort-level of your career.


I've been watching a new CEO client begin his tenure at a global company. He is very comfortable listening, talking, giving direction, and saying "I don't know. That sounds good to me. Go ahead and do it." (Whatever the "it" is).

What I'm really seeing is a man who has, over a lifetime, decided to "become" the kind of person he wanted to be. I know for a fact that he didn't set out to be a CEO. In fact, he was invited into the role. The reason he received the invitation, I believe, rests in great part on who he is to the people around him.

Yet "who he is" was shaped by not ambitiously jumping into a position that was too far ahead of "who he was" at the moment. His career path shows a progression that was slow and steady, building solid relationships and new knowledge along the way.  And each step on the ladder reflected genuine accomplishment.

Now he has become a CEO; he doesn't have to play the role of CEO.

And that's the distinction between where the two questions above will lead you.

Who do you want to become?

Or do you want to play a role?

Think about the how the difference will affect your life.


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Ten Life Lessons From Business

I'm in the process of completing a program design for a university where I'll be working with business students on bumping up their game when it comes to professionalism and organizational savvy. The activity prompted me to think back over years of managing, training, and consulting, and what kinds of Ten life lessons were learned along the way. (Business is part of life, not the other way around). 

So, I thought I'd share the list that emerged after thinking over the past 30 years in business:

Ten Life Lessons From Managing and Consulting

1. You can be in charge, but you're never in control.

2. If you have a Powerpoint slide with a graph whose curve always points upward, you're lying. Delete it.

3. If you look at people through your own eyes, you'll judge them for who you think they are. If you look at them through God's eyes, you'll see them for who they can become.

4. You can't be good at who you are until you stop trying to be all the things you are not.

5. Charge what you are worth. If you don't, you'll begin to resent your employer or client, even thoughyou decided to take the assignment.

6. You can't control circumstances. You can control your response to them. Those who learn to respond thoughtfully and peacefully are the ones who are accorded trust and power.

7. Overt displays of position power show weakness.  Genuine humility shows power.

8. All groups aren't "teams". Often they are just collections of people who work really, really well together. Leave them alone.

9. No one can know how to be an effective leader until they've toiled as a dedicated follower.

10. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied with discernment.

What Are Your Business Life Lessons?

Do you have life lessons from business that you can add? Click on the comment box and use your experience to contribute to someone else's development.

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How Do You Define Success?

Largetree247 What Do These Quotes All Have in Common?

"I don't know the key to success but the key to failure is to try to please everyone." Bill Cosby

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do." Bob Dylan

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives." Albert Einstein

"The secret of success is constancy to purpose." Benjamin Disraeli

"Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals." Paul J. Meyer

I think the commonality is this:

1. Each person thought about what success meant to him.

2. None defined success in terms of others' expectations

Have You Taken Time to Define Success In Terms of Your Own Expectations?

If not, then maybe this is the day to start. If you don't, you are at risk.Think about it. Without a clear sense of what a successful life means to you, then everyone else can control your time, your choices, and your career. You have no firm basis on which to make decisions. And no way to tell yourself, "I'm doing fine!"

That means that others can tell you how they think you are doing and what they think you should be doing. Wouldn't it be nice to be clear about why they are so wrong?!

I believe you already know what success means to you. What's missing is the initial act of doing something consistent with what you know to be your true path.

Today is the day to take that first step. If you do, tomorrow may be your first day without regret.


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Start Your Weekend With a Smile

When we designated a "guest room" here at Maison Roesler, we were unaware that some of the locals might check it out for a future overnight:



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Speaking? Three Things Your Audience Wants

Audiences--whether 6 or 600--really want three things from you. These apply to meetings, wedding toasts, or keynote speeches:

Three fingers(1) 1. Connection. They want to feel connected to you. They've already endured too many distant, aloof presentations in their lifetimes. Give them you, not a veiled voice in the corner reciting PowerPoint bullets. In fact, to be the "real deal" and "authentic", be even more of you. Wear your enthusiasm for your topic on your sleeve, look into the eyes of participants, and have a bold, honest conversation with them.

2. We all love a bit of entertainment. No one expects you--or even wants you--to be Jimmy Kimmel or Jay Leno. You can do a quick activity that energizes people and gets them thinking more about the topic. It also gives you a break and a chance to relax. Keep it light. Stay serious about your topic but not about yourself. A funny personal story, especially if the joke was on you, can loosen people up and increase the connection. ("Wow, I thought that only happened to me.!) I watched my wife listen to a very well-known speaker/writer from Harvard. My wife has a dual Ph.D. She thought his presentation was so serious and ponderous that he came across as  self-important. He lost her, even though his information was accurate.

Note: Did you know that speakers who also sell product actually sell measurably more product when there is humor in their talk?

3. Create meaning. How does what you are saying fit into their business or organizational life?  Make the connection for them (don't assume they'll automatically do it themselves). Explain specifically how you or your idea will personally increase their satisfaction or reduce their pain. When you can synthesize the meaning of your topic to that point, you've really got something worth saying.

Connect with the people, connect with a little light humor, and connect the dots.


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Leading: Complete Trust or Catastrophe?

I recall a TV program that preceded the 1988 Winter Olympics. It featured blind skiers who were being trained for slalom skiing which, to me, sounded impossible. Matched with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to turn left and right.

Blind skiing Once that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting "Right!" and "Left!" As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, relying only on the sighted skiers' words. The choice? Complete trust or catastrophe. 

What a striking picture of leaders as coaches. Employees sign on with the hope that their leaders will "be there" when the going gets tough. What are employees really looking for? Someone who will come alongside with a "Right!" or "Left!" when the situation requires the physical presence of the person with a clear vision. 

Leaders, we have to "be there" to make a difference when those who rely on us don't have the ability or the direction to see what's in our minds. The outcome will yield trust and successor catastrophe.

Where do you need to be today?


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15 Useful Phrases At Work

I'm not sure where these originated, but they were emailed to me by an ex-boss. I'm not sure what that means, either.

Sarcastic-quotes  For those 'special' moments in meetings and cube interactions, here are:

Useful Work Phrases Guaranteed To At Least Make You Feel Better


1. Thank you. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.

2. The fact that no one understands you doesn't mean you're an artist.

3. I don't know what your problem is, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce.

4. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.

5. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don't care.

6. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.

7. What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?

8. I'm not being rude. You're just insignificant.

9. I'm already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.

10. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.

11. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.

12. How about never? Is never good for you?

13. I'm really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.

14. You sound reasonable. Time to up my medication.

15. I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.

Yeah. You really do want to try one out, eh? :-)

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Future Leaders: Do You Have These Three?

BrownDogTalkingtoBlackDog331x222 We say we want a mentor, a coach, a trusted advisor.

We want to grow and become more effective.

We ask for help. For "feedback."

This is what you need to make it a success:

The patience to listen, the humility to hear, and the courage to act.

Do you have all three?

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The Business of Forgiveness

This originally appeared here in July, 2008. Since the human condition hasn't changed since then, I thought it might prompt some much-needed and quiet reflection at a time of year that epitomizes the hopefulness of reconciliation.

Downsizing. Corruption. Bullying. Harassment. "Do more with less." Reduced benefits. Add to that list some of the people with whom you have to work every day.

There's a lot of opportunity for anger and hurt on the job.

Where you find anger, you find the need for forgiveness.


It's good for you. For your physical and mental health. For your relationships. For your ability to move on peacefully and productively.

Forgivenesslogo Why forgiveness instead of revenge?

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. is the Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She says:

"On a personal level, forgiveness of self can help us achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God. Wrongdoing against others and ourselves can result in guilt and resentment.  This can then lead to self-recrimination and self-loathing; it also can create a distance or disconnect from self and others. Resentment can give away to hate and intolerance. Forgiveness is the first stage of self-love and acceptance. It is also the basic building block of loving relationships with others."

It's not the offense. It's your response to it.

I confess, I'm not always a quick-to-forgive person once I've felt "wronged". I give people a very long leash and a long time to "get their act together" if things aren't going well. But there is some point at which I just say "that's it" and cut them off from my life. It is very infrequent, but the pattern is always the same. I decide that the differences are irreconcilable. So, the relationship in its present form is finished.

Does that serve me well?

Only if I genuinely forgive. It is both possible and imperative to do that and, at the same time, acknowledge that the nature of the relationship may not be productive. This is the harder part, I think. It begs the nagging question, "If I can forgive, why can't I just continue?"

Sometimes it's possible. More often, it becomes apparent that I wasn't seeing clearly to begin with and that continuing the relationship--without changing expectations--would not be peaceful or productive for either of us.

Dr. Frederic Luskin specializes in Learning to Forgive. He explains that:

"The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health."

Dr. Luskin's 9 Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes--or ten years ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

If you would like to explore other resources, check out The Forgiveness Web  and Forgiveness Net.

Think about this today: Your workplace is a web of relationships. Being at peace with them can only make your own life a lot more satisfying.

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Holidays At Work: Reduce Stress, Increase Joy

If you are experiencing stress at the very time you are expecting joy, you aren't alone.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that:

  • 40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful".
  • 26% of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or stressed" by their work.
  • 29% of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work".

Stress Levels Rise During the Holidays

Why do stress levels rise?

Joy The statistics show that 40% are already stressed out before the holidays arrive. In a poll of 600 full-time employees, Accenture’s HR Services found that 66% of the respondents reported additional stress at work during the holidays.

Let's face it. During the holidays you're faced with gift-buying in the midst of an already-stretched financial life; trying to shop while meeting job deadlines and other responsibilities; and thinking about the family dynamics that get played out each year.

I think there's one more big reason as well:

Unrealistic Expectations

For some reason, year after year, we cling to the hope of a perfect holiday, a perfectly loving family, and the perfect balance of work and life during the season. We're surrounded by images of happy families, ads that tell us how much we should be giving, and that joy will reign.

Yet the reality is that work and its deadlines remain (and are often shortened due to the holiday schedule); families continue to be families with all of their inherent challenges; our bank accounts don't allow us to give our spouses new cars or diamonds; and the gap between what we're told to expect and what is actually happening drains the joy from our hearts.

What Can You Do?


1. Know that your family and friends don't care if everything is perfect. What they want is a relaxed atmosphere, according to the Harvard Medical School.

2. Money --and therefore, gifts--don't buy happiness. Yeah, I know you've heard that before.  Different studies suggest that, although poverty and low pay can cause unhappiness, once a certain level of compensation is reached, there is not a “significant relationship between how much money a person earns and whether he or she feels good about life” (Easterbrook 2005).

3. Supportive family and friends, on the other hand, appear to be crucial. This comes from Drs. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleague Martin Diener at the University of Illinois. Both are heavily involved in the study of happiness.. When Seligman and Diener studied a group of students, they found that the happier ones tended to socialize more. “It is important to work on. . .close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy,” says Diener. It's all about relationships.


1. Provide employees with a more flexible schedule to accommodate added demands outside the office. The Accenture study found that 54% of the surveyed workers said that flexible hours during the holidays would help reduce workplace stress. Twenty-six percent said they would like to telecommute once in a while until the seasonal rush is finished.

2. How about a shopping day? Some employers provide one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give people a chance to do just that. And they say it reduces angst and is appreciated by the employees.

3. Provide an online shopping catalog and allow online shopping. Plenty of companies offer hard-copy versions produced by firms who specialize in such programs. Why not do it online and save people time?

A Final Thought

Dr. Seligman, arguably the premier researcher and proponent of the psychology of happiness, says that happiness has three essential components:

First: the ability to savor life’s pleasures.

Second: there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, and loved ones.

Third: the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self (“Reflective,” 2005; Wallis 2005).

I think it's the third that we need to attend to.

Whenever we focus on something greater than ourselves--especially the well-being of others--our sense of satisfaction and peace grows exponentially.

So give yourself this year. Your stress and anxiety will begin to melt away. And for once, the people around you will actually get what they want.

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The Mark of Leadership

Chesty Puller, considered by many to be "Mr. Marine Corps," said once that the corps needed men who could lead, not command. Commanders tell people what to do; a leader shows people what to do by personal example.

Who would have thought that Mr. Marine was all about servant leadership?

One of the hardest parts of sitting in the proverbial "corner office" is remembering that leading requires action. Without action, no one has an example of how to "be" in the organization.

We all like to be acknowledged and fawned over--especially when we've reached a perceived pinnacle of career success. Truth be told, few of us like to roll up our sleeves and wait on others. Yet this is exactly how people are drawn into the service of our vision. Few things are as magnetic as seeing an individual help someone else. 

When was the last time you quietly helped a hassled co-worker or direct report put the finishing touches on a project? Or maybe something as simple as pouring coffee for the participants gathered around a meeting table?

Help Here's an example of The Mark of Leadership that I can't get out of my mind:

During an executive gathering in a mahogany filled suite on the top floor of a corporate building in Philadelphia a few years ago, a glance out the window revealed that a blizzard was sweeping in. The CEO--coincidentally a former naval commander--noticed as well. This man had been brought in to make some difficult, long-term changes and had done so quite successfully. But what he was about to do is why I remember him.

There was too much food for the participants in the meeting. Everyone invited couldn't get there. At the end of the brief luncheon meeting he said: "There are people within 3 blocks of here who are homeless and probably huddled under the walkways. Let's gather up these sandwiches and chips, find those people and feed them."


The Mark of Leadership.

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The Paradox of Choices

The rallying cry of product managers and politicians is "Choices! We offer choices!"

My observation? 

We really don’t like having too many choices. It makes us a little nervous. Every option leads to a chance to foul something up. Heck, a lot of people are more worried about not being wrong than about being right. So, we allow our experiences and habits to narrow our options to just a couple of familiar ones. It reduces the anxiety and relieves stress.

So, how do you make genuine changes faced with the siren song of habits?

The first move is to re-capture your sense of conscious choice in place of habitual reactions.  This leads to new options and frees you up from repeating the mistakes that have risen from repetition.

Be aware: it's not a single event, but a way of life.

Choices More Good Options Than You Think!

You can choose how to respond, regardless of the situation and circumstances. Here are some possibilities that can change your world today. None of the options is confusing and you have permission to pick just one to get started:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Try something new and different, and don't worry about getting it wrong. People who never made a mistake never made anything else.
  • Caught up in your emotions? Over-enthusiasm, revenge, or frustration will each whisper lousy advice in your ear. Wait until they stop talking, chill out, and re-visit the decision.
  • Listen longer before you respond to someone, at work or at home. The other person will feel more respected and you're just liable to see something from their viewpoint--in which case, you may end up in agreement. At the least, you'll learn something new.
  • Eschew snap judgments. It's easy to take a stand; the workplace smiles upon "strong"people. But when it comes to who is right and who is wrong, a knee-jerk reaction can wreck relationships. Besides, do you like it when someone makes a judgment about you?
  • Stop the self-talk about what you can’t do. Once you start doing that, you'll make it come true. Give your idea a try and see what happens. If it doesn't work, so what? Really. So what? If it does work, think about how you'll feel.

Now there's only one option: Will you choose to try doing something differently?"


If this is something important to you, you'll also want to read:

Fear of Success and Lasting Change: Part 1

Fear of Success and Lasting Change: Part 2

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What Can't You Not Share?

I was thinking about a Mercedes Benz TV commercial that shows their car smashing into a concrete wall as part of a safety test. Then, someone asks their spokesman why they don't enforce the patent on the Mercedes Benz energy-absorbing car body. The design is evidently copied by other companies because of its success.


The matter-of-fact reply: "Because some things in life are too important not to share."

What do you have that's just too important not to share?

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You Feel How? Why?

How do you feel about your life: Bitter or Better?

Your answer will color everything about your existence. At home, at work, with friends.

Clarity Stephen Shapiro, author of  Goal Free Living, described a common life situation a while back in a post called The One-Third Life Crisis. It's about a successful (by any achievement-oriented social standards) guy who is a 33 year-old Harvard grad, pilot, board member, etc. But at 33 he described his life this way to Stephen:

Do well at Step A and you can proceed to Step B. Do well at B, and proceed to C. As I look back at my life so far, I realize that I was playing by a very narrow set of rules. And if I played by those rules, worked hard, and caught a lucky break or two, I’d be rewarded with plenty of wealth and prestige.

And that worked okay…for a while…until I began to have nagging doubts. “The Path” began to feel just a bit too narrow. I felt that I was always trying to do well in life in order to move to the next step. As a result, I had completely lost the ability to live in the moment or to appreciate success for success’ sake. And failure? Well, that wasn’t even an option. Most insidiously, I began looking at the people in my life only as potential allies (or, gasp, even pawns) in my quest to keep plugging along down The Path.

And here’s the worst part. I had completely lost my sense of risk, creativity, and wonder. So I felt that even if I wanted to get off The Path, I was woefully and utterly ill-equipped to navigate on my own. That’s the essence of the one-third life crisis.

What Are You Experiencing at 30? Or 40 or 50 or 60?

This isn't at all unusual. In fact, I became so fascinated by it that about 10 years ago I started looking into research that might produce a plausible, helpful explanation. This was prompted by what I noticed were increasing requests from successful 30-somethings within my client organizations who were expressing dissatisfaction with their circumstances. The stories were similar:

1. I'm not happy

2. I should be happy because I have a good job, make good money, home life is good; I've done everything I was supposed to do.

3. So why I am I feeling unhappy and stressed out?

Until About 30, You Don't Have to be You


Because you've got enough energy to do just about anything. And people let you.

Physiologically, you're on a roll. Psychologically, you're starting a career and a life. And guess what? Everyone around you will let you do your thing. Your family understands this. They allow you to "get your career started." Your boss loves this. And you are able to put in 60 or 80 hours a week at being really good at what you do. And you are probably doing pretty well. Heck, why not? Your sheer energy and time is compensating for a lack of genuine passion or talent. So if "it" isn't what you were meant to do--or consistent with who you are--you can't fake it forever (you don't know you're faking it. You are doing what you think people are supposed to do). At +/- 30 your energy begins to drop a bit. And you start asking questions about it. And you should.

Because growing up means being--and accepting--who you are. It's the only way you'll stay in the game and be happy about it. I've found that the most difficult--but most rewarding--thing that I've done personally is to answer this question:

"What are all of the things I think I am--but am not?" These resulted in a looonnngggg list of answers that combined bloated self-perception with lots of expectations from other people. Do it. It's a huge relief to get rid of the baggage.

Then change the question from "What could I do as a career?" to these three:

1. "What do I really value and see as priorities in my life?"

2. "What are my natural talents and how can I use them to support #1?

3. "What specific skills do I have--or need to get--that help support #2?"

If you get honest about 1, acknowledge 2 as not being boastful--but a gift--and use 3 in the service of the first two, you'll be back in the game.

And just in case math is your strong suit: draw a Venn diagram of Values, Talents, and Skills. The place where the three intersect is the actual "you." (You're welcome).

55: Bitter or Better?

A final observation.

Somewhere around the age of 55 people--and I see it mostly in men--decide to be either "Bitter" or "Better" about life. It's a choice. But it appears to be a choice based upon evaluating one's circumstances against one's expectations of how life should be (or should have been).

The distinction usually lies in a choice that was made to:

Live as one's self, and therefore feel better. There is only one standard and it will always be met.

Live according to others' expectations and one's definition of how things "should" be. This leads to a bitter outcome.

So what about our searching friend in the beginning of the post? It sounds as if he is choosing to ask the right questions at the right time. And he even has a group of trusted advisors to guide him and keep him accountable.

I'm guessing "better."

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Disengage to Engage: The Hummingbird Principle

In business, we're all about action and movement. 

I got up this morning and, for the first time in recent memory, was totally overwhelmed by what was on the calendar/to-do list. My first instinct was to shout "54-40 or Fight" or maybe"Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" and attack with a vengeance. But there was just no energy to do anything on the task list.

So, I did what most of us would consider a weenie cop-out: nothing. Zero.

Sat on the back deck, sipped coffee, thought about. . .nothing. From 6 am until noon. Instead, I watched. . .

. . .this collage of Creation taking place in the midst of our busyness.


All of this unfolded across my backyard, bit by bit, while I was doing nothing. The most effort exerted by me was "focus and click". 

I was most smitten by the hummingbird (see orange arrow, lower left). In order to get him to the feeder, we simply need to add  sugar to water to engage him. Plenty of water but no sugar: no hummingbird. A little sweetness goes a long way, even in the animal kingdom. He also fascinated me by the way his little wings buzzed at hyper-speed while his body remained completely still, all the time suspended in air.

Which leads me to wonder: Do we have to be seen as "in motion" at every moment in order to be considered alive, well and productive?

Oh, yeah. The deer did eat our flowers. Today, I didn't care.


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Who Packs Your Parachute?

Charles Plumb was a Navy pilot. On his seventy-fifth combat mission, he was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory. Plum was captured and spent six years in prison. He survived and now lectures on the lessons he learned from his experiences.

Parachute One day Plumb and his wife were in a restaurant and approached by a man who asked, "Are you Plumb the navy pilot?"

"Yes, how did you know?" asked Plumb.

"I packed your parachute," the man replied.

Plumb was amazed - and grateful: "If the chute you packed hadn't worked I wouldn't be here today..."

Plumb refers to this in his lectures: he realized that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots' lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said 'hello', let alone said 'thanks'.

Now Plumb asks his audiences, "Who packs your parachutes?..... Who helps you through your life?.... Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? . . .

Who packs your parachute?  At work and at home, thank them today.

Photo attribution:

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Character and Persistence Trump Adversity

"Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has"
--Billy Graham

Consider these:OdeToJoy

  • Sir Walter Raleigh, after getting in deep doo-doo with the queen, spent 13 years in prison. How did he spend his time? He wrote The History of the World.

  • Beethoven composed his greatest music after he went deaf.

  • The poet Dante worked--and died--in exile.

  • Daniel DeFoe wrote Robinson Crusoe while in prison.

  • Pilgrim's Progress was penned by John Bunyan during his imprisonment in Bedford Jail.

  • He was too poor to buy paper so he used scraps of leather. That's how MIguel de Cervantes managed to produce Don Quixote while jailed in Madrid.

At times, we all feel as if we're being sentenced to something. So, we have a choice: Do we lament what is happening in our life or do we live the life we've been given?

The nature of our character and our legacy is built on that decision.

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Real Freedom in the Free Agent Workplace

 Coaches, Consultants, Writers, Speakers, Trainers. . .each of you has, as part of your dream, the desire to be “free” from certain constraints.

But you may be boxing yourself in more than you realize.

When you set out on your own, adding value is linked directly to your personal talent, skills, and  knowledge. It’s easy--and somewhat satisfying-- to revel in the fact that you are the brand

Think long and hard about these three questions:

    * Do you want to be the only on-site resource for customers?
    * Do you ever want to generate passive income?
    * Do you want to grow your business?

SelfEmployed Some people like being “Da Man" (or “Da Woman”). They get a buzz from being  in demand. That’s OK if the related  limitations of such self-branding are acceptable.

But what if you see a different future? Maybe you’re interested in a way out of the every day stand-up grind that produces revenue and doesn’t involve “closing” the biz.

Most consultants/coaches, for example  would say that their only asset is their brain and the ideas generated. Well, what can you do to turn that into a self-sustaining business?

Start Thinking Product Instead of Services

Many creative professionals sell their services. Let’s be totally hones here  Solopreneurs usually put all the focus on themselves and sell only the services they create and can handle. Big mistake. It stunts your business growth because it looks as if no one else can do what you do the way that you do it.

The solution: move the focus away from you and start treating your service (results) as a product. When you contract, contract for a specific result. That way, your clients are focused on something tangible and so are you. You build a reputation for delivering value in a specific way.

It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of our creativity and uniqueness. Once you get over that and start treating the result as your product, you start building a business that very well may lead to a tangible information prodcut. Why? Because you are focusing on outcomes and how to get there--the “how to” that people long for.

Freedom comes from building replicable systems and products that allow people to have the benefit of you--and your thinking-- without you actually being there.

Do it now. Begin to shift the focus from “you” to your “product”. I guarantee you it will be a freeing experience.

Thought for Today: You may love being "out there" all the time and providing face-to-face service. That's great. Keep in mind that on the spectrum of life, you are more "self-employed" than "in business."

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Leader Development at Mountain State

"The real key to leadership is for leaders to know when to lead and when to follow."

--Dr. Charles Polk, President, Mountain State University

Last week's Are You Really Developing Leaders? highlights the critical ingredient of action and doing in leadership development as stated clearly by current, high-performing managers.

Ckmsu_bannerThat grabbed the attention of Becky Robinson who writes Mountain State University's Leader Talk, the official blog of their School of Leadership and Professional Development. We began discussing real leader development and the University's quest to continually link the classroom with real life. Two things made me want to go further with this:

1. Becky's enthusiasm and investment in the success of the program.

2. My commitment to working with universities and their students to help build faculty and student leadership and prepare students for organizational life.

A Glimpse into Real-Life Leadership Education

Becky shares this:

 As president of a statewide professional organization and a business owner, Robin Holstein was a leader long before she entered the Coonskin Armory in Charleston, WV to begin her Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership from Mountain State University. With more than twenty years of work and life experience between her high school graduation and her first day of class, Robin knew that completing her degree would be challenging. Still, the intensity of the eighteen month program surprised her.
Robin joined a blended cohort of Air Guardsmen, and graduated as the only woman and only civilian. This cohort has been important resource to her. After completing assignments and reading outside the classroom, the cohort met to discuss a designated topic, guided by a faculty member/facilitator. Each week, their discussion sparked a dynamic interchange between the course material and real life.Mountin cohort On topics ranging from leadership principles to human resources, the group used personal examples to relate their opinions and ideas.
One benefit of the cohort experience, Robin shared, is that it mirrors a real life boardroom experience.  She had to learn to work with a diverse group of people, to relate to their ideas and opinions. Emotions flared when people polarized on topics at times. At each classroom  she practiced negotiation and persuasion and learned to communicate well.
When the organization she led faced declining membership and scarce budgetary resources, Robin turned to her cohort for encouragement. She had a plan, but wanted support. She initiated a merger with an organization from a nearby state. As a result, the members of her organization have new opportunities for networking and training.
Robin's experience is a great example of what is happening in Mountain State's leadership programs. At each of our campuses and online, students in cohort groups join together to learn leadership skills in an interactive way that prepares them to make a difference in their organizations.
Since I started writing LeaderTalk, I've been captured by the vision of our faculty, the enthusiasm of our students, and the potential of the future.
Mountain State has been teaching leadership for several years, under the School of Business and Technology. About three years ago, Bill White, the founding Dean of the School of Leadership and Professional Development, realized his goal to establish a separate school to focus on leadership development and leadership studies. The school has seen incredible growth, and he is forging ahead toward other goals:
  • to see leadership recognized as a discrete academic discipline
  • to create a premier center for leadership learning
  • to establish consistent outcomes for leadership learning across the country.
We are excited about the development of our new doctoral program. In October, the first set of students will begin this three year program. Though the first set of students will study in seat at our main campus in Beckley, West Virginia, a second group will begin the program in February 2010 in a hybrid program that will include a combination of in seat study and four days per year of study in residence. Both groups will be working toward a Doctor of Executive Leadership degree.
The doctorate joins our Master of Science in Strategic Leadership and our Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership offerings. All three degrees are designed around a three fold purpose. We are developing stewards of the discipline of leadership who will
  • conserve leadership knowledge
  • generate new knowledge about leadership
  • and transfer leadership knowledge to others.
All three degrees are intensely practical and are built around a cohort format that encourages students to immediately apply their learning to real life situations.

Steve's note: In my own telephone discussion with Dr. Polk, he said something that cuts through the long running pop-psych, re-hashed "leadership" advice and offered this:

"To understand leadership you have to take time to observe your own behavior in different situations. There's no understanding 'others' until you get an accurate picture of how your own behavior impacts theirs. That's what we want to be sure happens in our programs."

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Looking for Hope? Stop Putting Things Off

Hope - "a confident feeling about what will happen in the future."

If you aren't feeling confident about some aspect of your work life, career, or business, chances are it's because you aren't acting to make it hopeful. You can't control what's on the news or in the news, but you can control what's in your news.

Hopesignpost Hope and Action

Psychologically, Charles Richard  Snyder characterized hope as the will and the way to achieve your goals. More specifically, he defines  hope "as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways" .

What does that really say?

  • The first part involves feeling capable to create a reasonable plan of action (the "way")
  • The second highlights the motivation to follow the plan (the "will").

Using this line of thought, hope is the opposite of procrastination.

Take action. Even if it isn't perfect, you don't have to get it right you just have to get it going.

Credit where credit is due: I had recalled an article I read some time ago that prompted this particular post. After Googling around, I found it. For the complete research study and the article partly paraphrased here, visit the excellent original by at Psychology Today


Something special tomorrow. I'm going to be doing a phone interview with Dr. Charles Polk, President of Mountain State University in the morning. Their action-oriented leadership program grabbed my attention because it's really how people "learn leadership." So, the post will give you a glimpse into what is happening with leadership education in two ways:

Becky Robinson of Mountain State has done a guest post for me that is to-the-point and explains their approach. I'll add some of the interview with Dr. Polk and, "Voila!"--some excitement about leadership education and its possibilities.

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5 Tips to Ethical & Successful Influence

I was just asked how I built our speaking/consulting/coaching practice over the years (we incorporated and began it part-time in 1977).

Here is the answer:

I didn't know what I was doing. So I just did whatever I knew.

Looking back, the answer is clear:

a. I wanted to use my expertise to help people.

b. I had to do 'a' for money.

c. In order to do 'a' and 'b', people had to know me, trust me, and believe me/experience the results.

It would be easy to wax poetic about a structured business plan (didn't have one), raising capital (got a $5,000 loan on a handshake with the president of the local bank), or the drop-dead marketing plan (I just wanted to do what I wanted to do).

5 There are only five things that have been consistent and that I find haven't--and shouldn't--be changed.

1. First impressions are made within about four seconds but  can last a lifetime. Create first class relationships, presentation materials, and now a top-notch online identity. Only hire primo individuals as employees or contractors; they are who your clients will use to judge your business.

2. Stand for something unique. Differentiate in a way that resonates with your community without being whacko-trendy. (Unless, of course, your product or service is "whacko-trendy").

3. Network and do business through referrals. Your introduction to an opportunity changes how you are perceived and treated. Too many coaches, consultants, and training people cold call the world instead of networking with targeted groups of individuals who can be both informative and valuable connectors.

4. Let clients experience your performance. If they take your services for a test drive they will likely want more of you down the road.

5. Don't sell your services; build friendships. People do business with those who they consider their friends. Most people attribute positive attributes to all aspects of a person's abilities if they first approve of that person's character and personality. Pay attention to the depth of your character; your personality will reflect it.

Whether you are starting a retail business, a consulting practice, or interviewing for your first job, invest yourself in these five activities. No matter what is happening around you continue to hold fast to them. They have proven faithful for 32 years as long as I remain faithful to them.

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Recommended Reading: "Rules of Thumb"

The subtitle lives up to its words: "52 Truths For Winning At Business Without Losing Your Self".

You don't see many book reviews here even though we receive many promotional copies. I do look hard at each one but, given my own business and personal priorities, I only write a review when it's a raving recommendation, like: Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self  

First, author Alan M. Webber's credentials are solid and you are probably familiar with some of his work already.

How so?

Webber is the co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine as well as former editorial director and managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. As such, he is able to deftly combine the best of storytelling with the best of business lessons learned by actually "doing business."

You say, "No, I'm not into one more business success book. Leave me alone!"

I'm glad you said that, because you are a candidate for one of my favorite rules of the 52: "Learn to Take '51Q3Kioxk2L._SL160_No' as a Question."

If your real question is, "Why should I spend my time with this book?" my real answer is "Because it's an investment, not an expense." Really.

Want to know what's important? "Simplicity is the New Currency."

Wondering how to be a real player? Then you'll earn back your small investment with "If You Want to Change The Game, Change The Economics of How the Game Is Played."

Each of the 52 rules could be a book in itself. Webber has chosen to offer up a real-life story, real-life examples, and then a "So What?" for each one. You'll know what to do with the information because he's a practical guy who doesn't make you guess.

If you are a speaker, trainer, consultant, coach or executive. . .

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self will spark your thinking for the next speech, presentation, or meeting. Leadership, Communication, Technology, and Customer Service-- they are all here in ways that reflect the new economy and new ways of doing business.

For those of you savvy enough to grab Pam Slim's  Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, your move will receive an extra boost from following  Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.

Kudos to both for sharing easy-to-read-and-use nuggets for the success-oriented in all walks of life.

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Fear of Success and Lasting Change: Part 2

When you think about the common factor in every roadblock in your life, here's what you discover: you were there when it took place.

My experience has been that people do realize this and are then faced with a choice:

a. to stay mired in self-defeating "See, I'm not really any good" thinking; or,

b. to commit the same act of forgiveness for themselves that they give to others. 

"Forgiveness" isn't a term you hear very often in business articles. But business is conducted by people--people like you and me who are very human and who are subject to the immutable laws of nature regardless of title or position.

Decisions Closure Is Really An Opening

When you consciously forgive yourself it leads to a sense of completion. This lets you move ahead and not feel compelled to repeat self-defeating acts over and over again.

But you need to understand why you held onto these for so long. There are (often insidious) payoffs for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and failing to change.

Here are some some foundational questions that can help you understand what you are really holding on to:

• What am I afraid of losing if I succeed?

• Who do I think I'm punishing by doing this?

• What emotion am I not willing to release? (For many it's anger).

• What guarantee am I holding out for?

• By doing/not doing this, what do I get to avoid?

• How does this make me seem better or less than ____________(name of person)?

•Am I using self-pity to manipulate someone or some situation?

The big question: What do I hope to get out of pretending to be powerless to change?

Once you do the work you already know you need to do: pinpoint your fears and understand why you he hold onto them--you can commit the act of forgiving yourself and move ahead.

Bonus: A big part of your situation is that you are trying to "go it alone." Sit down with a trusted friend or associate and tell them what's going on. The like-minded experiences they share will not only amaze you; you'll discover that you are a member of a very large club.

Membership has its rewards.

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Fear of Success and Lasting Change: Part 1

Apparently fear of failure takes a back seat to fear of success in the search engines. After two years, I'm still getting regular traffic to an article I wrote in July, 2007 titled Fear of Success vs. Fear of Failure. When I say 'regular' traffic I mean every day. Really.

Getting what you really want in  your career and your life requires lasting change and a sustained vision of the future. This picture serves not just as an ongoing source of motivation to get there, it helps you identify and move through the obstacles that have held you back up to this point.

Fail We Get The Failure Thing...But Fear of Success?

However, that vision quickly conjures up obstacles that include fear of failure and doubts about your own worthiness for success. If you're like most people, that also involves fear of actually achieving the very things you want.

Fear of success is a very unique issue that arises when you are genuinely creating change and moving forward in your life. The reason 'fear of success' is real is because the future is real and what we imagine for our future has an enormous influence on us.

The Problem?

We're pretty clueless how to deal with fear of success because it's in the future and, heck, how do we concretely live and deal in the future? If you think about your business you can see just how steeped western culture is in fixing the past. (How much time does your team spend fixing things instead of creating opportunity?) It's almost as if we drive through life focused on the rear-view mirror.

Creating and sustaining success involves some very personal "work." Fact is, the more you leave the task undone, the more your fears will control you. And the longer you put off taking small actions now, the bigger the dilemma becomes.

What Gets In The Way?

One of the real fears about making a personal change is that success will lead to loneliness. We know what our lives are like now and we have a sense that how we live has brought us friendships and love. In their most honest moments, many people have admitted that they fear success because they are afraid that being bold enough to create the life they want will make them different and, therefore,  unlovable.

Some fears are very real. When you change, the relationships around you will be forced to change. Some friends will encourage and applaud you while others are so grounded in jealousy they'll find ways to belittle you for moving forward. (You'll find out who your friends really are).

Here's what more than one of my psychologist friends has shared: "The deepest fear is that when we step up and succeed, we have to face the fact that we've always had the power to change and we could have changed a year or five years ago." Change comes from choices and we have always had that ability to choose.

But that's not all...

Whether you are reading this at work or on the beach, there are changes you want to make. So we won't leave you hanging with the problem. Stop back tomorrow for Part II when we look at the specific questions you can ask yourself to get the kind of forward motion you want in your career and your life.

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Perseverance, Outrage, Drama Queens, and Success

Have you noticed the consistent use of the word "outrage" in the media?

It seems that, regardless of the gravity of the situation, someone feels compelled to use the word "outrage", even when their body language and tone of voice are matter-of-fact. Perhaps it has been discovered that "outrage" is a media-friendly word that can elevate one to victim status; and victim status will then lead to some sort of reward by a convoluted notion of automatic victim entitlement.

Burrohorse The facts of life show otherwise.

Perseverance and Success

Back in the days of the great western cattle ranches, a little burro would be harnessed to a wild horse. Bucking and raging, the two would be set loose onto the desert. You could see them disappear over the horizon, that strong steed dragging the little burro along and tossing him around like blended carrots in a Veg-O-Matic commercial. Even though they would be gone for days, eventually they would return. Amazingly, that little burro would be seen first, trotting across the horizon with the now-submissive horse in tow. Somewhere out there the strong, wild horse became exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro. In that moment, the burro took mastery and became the leader.

Our struggles in life and in business life go to the determined, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.

Let's find a way to live this out in our own lives today.

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"Workplace" #16 In RiseSmart Career 100

I'm a fairly simple guy who works with individuals and companies to bump up their game. 

Imagine my surprise and the attendant "Aw, Shucks" blush when the folks at RiseSmart listed All Things Workplace as 16 #16 on their Career 100 list.

Thanks, RiseSmart!

BTW: if you like statistics, have a look at the ranking system. This is why my college counselor "strongly" suggested that continuing as an Accounting major might not be the best use of my family's savings.

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Innovation Reigns in the Concert Hall Workplace

Stop! Even if you aren't a musician I know you have a soft spot for real innovation.

My good friend, Eric the Swede and his concert cohorts from the Philadelphia Orchestra are dazzling the eardrums of European classical music aficionados as I write.

But not without innovating along the way.

I received the following smug humble email from His LowBrassness:

"Steve: So here is the conundrum Blair and I faced:

A low C# with Harmon mute for me.
A low D with Harmon mute for him.
Both of us were required to go from covered to open and back.
Normally one covers the mute with one's left hand, but both of our notes required us to operate the valves with our left hands.
My note is way out in 6th position. (Ed. Note: that is about 300 yards from one's shoulder).

The parts for this piece came to us from another major orchestra, and had penciled notes from the trombonists there claiming that these notes were not possible with Harmon mute.  I can't believe they didn't see the obvious solution:"

(L): Sartorial Swede Eric Carlson wearing the light gray socks and rubber-soled shoes with formal attire, but innovatively nailing the heretofore "unplayable" notes.
(R): Brassy Blair Bollinger, clearly appalled at his partner's choice of pedi-wear but feeling good about their contribution to Brassdom.

Second editor's note: As a proud (and now even prouder) native Philadelphian, I must point out that the penciled-in "this can't be done" notations came from an orchestra headquartered on Michigan Avenue in a windy Midwestern city. This has all the makings of a white-tie-and-tails Reality TV Wagnerian smackdown.

Producers may contact me here at All Things Workplace to arrange a booking...

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Optimism: A Much Different Take

How Important Is Optimism?  generated an entirely different thought from a reader who contributed the following via email:

Reality-check "Optimism can certainly be useful and definitely has its place, but, in the sense that it's being presented here, I feel 'optimism' is really a euphemism for 'coping mechanism,' and thus 'survival.'  People all have their way of coping and dealing with life. Some are perceived as pessimists (I personally feel that many realists are mislabeled as pessimists), who might be 'worst case scenario' thinkers, only to be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better. Then there are those who adhere to the "I think, therefore I am" school of thought - think positively, and it will happen. Neither mindset is better or worse than the other. But both are ways of coping and, essentially ways of 'getting by' in life.
And I definitely beg to differ with the statistic that 75% of Americans consider themselves to be optimists. I think that right there represents a good portion of the population who is just poor at accurate self-assessment.  There is a difference between wanting something to get better -- which a pessimist is equally capable of doing, vs. thinking or believing that it actually will. This is the distinction people are failing to recognize, and were they able to make this separation, I think that 75% would be much lower."

It's true that if one's self-assessment were inaccurate the figure would probably be different. However, that doesn't change the fact that 75% consider themselves to be optimists (no matter how misinformed they might be!).

What I like most about this thoughtful reply is the writer's differentiation when it comes to "wanting" vs. "believing."

Who would have thought that optimism would lead to a spirited, analytical conversation?

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How Important is Optimism?

I've been immersed in holidays and projects, and one project caught my eye and ear.

Optimism My long-time friend and colleague, Bud Bilanich, has a wonderfully practical book out titled, Straight Talk for Success. I say "ear" because I'm doing the voice over for the audio book version and it gives me a chance to experience the content in more than one way.

 Given the economic situation facing us, Bud's chapter on "Optimism"--written a while back--is a useful one.

Bud notes that optimism not only propels us toward our goals but allows people to experience hopefulness. In a crisis, optimists see problems as temporary. They don't blame themselves and they don't feel doomed.  He also offers some factoids related to optimism:

  • 75% of Americans consider themselves to be optimists.
  • 99% of workers prefer a positive job environment. (No surprise there!).
  • 90% of people say they are more productive around positive people.

The one profession where pessimists do better than optimists is law. Bud wonders if that may not explain all those lawyer jokes.

Learned Helplessness

Martin Seligmam of the University of Pennsylvania says, "People who don't think they can make positive changes develop a condition called "'learned helplessness." Taken to extremes, it can lead to despair and depression. According to Bud, optimists generally do not fall into the trap of learned helplessness.

What Can You Do?

  • Focus on what you can do and control.
  • Understand and tap into your inherent strengths.
  • Mentally rehearse how you will handle problems.
  • Accentuate the positive.
  • Focus on possibilities instead of limitations.

Some good suggestions from The Common Sense Guy.

What do you do to stay optimistic when it seems as if gloom is the theme of the day?

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How To Create Creativity

You want to be creative and breed creativity in your workplace, right?

Do you consider yourself to be "creative?"

Ask a group of first-graders, "How many of you are 'creative?' " Watch most of the hands go up. They smile. They show their colorful drawings and finger painting and maybe even compose a song along the way.

What happens when the same question is asked of the same kids a few years later? The responses drop to nearly zero. And the kids are still in elementary school.

Ideadrawingxsmall4 Fast forward to your business meeting. Someone says "Let's get creative about how to grow the market in Asia. We've got until 5 o'clock."

Are you and I seeing the same thing here?

We've got little kids who are convinced they are creative. Then we get bigger little kids who think, "Not so much." Now we've got adults being asked to create and who are sure they aren't creative.

This post is a call for thought, not a rant. (Well, a little one). It seems to me that we have taken an entire population of creative youngsters, told them to color inside the box (or else!), and now tell them to "think outside the box"--(or else!).

Nine things to encourage creativity

Silvano Arieti  wrote a book in 1976 called Creativity: The Magic Synthesis (you can get a used copy through Here are his nine conditions and the reasons why:

1. Aloneness. Being alone allows the person to make contact with the self and be open to new kinds of inspiration.

2. Inactivity. Periods of time are needed to focus on inner resources and to be removed from the constraints of routine activities.

3. Daydreaming. Allows exploration of one's fantasy life and venturing into new avenues for growth.

4. Free thinking. Allows the mind to wander in any direction without restriction and permits the similarities among remote topics or concepts to emerge.

5. State of readiness to catch similarities
. One must practice recognizing similarities and resemblances across to perceptual of cognitive domains.

6. Gullibility. A willingness to suspend judgment allows one to be open to possibilities without treating them as nonsense.

7. Remembering & replaying past traumatic conflicts. Conflict can be transformed into more stable creative products.

8. Alertness. A state of awareness that permits the person to grasp the relevance of seemingly insignificant similarities.

9. Discipline. A devotion to the techniques, logic, and repetition that permit creative ideas to be realized.

So now we go to our boss and say "I'd like to have some extended alone time for inactivity and daydreaming so I can come up with a creative idea for your strategy."

(Please let me know how that conversation goes).

You can act to create creativity

The next time you have charge of a meeting or idea session, how about using some of the above items to lay a foundation for creativity.

  • Build in "alone time" by having people think about the task well in advance.
  • Suspend judgment and encourage the craziest ideas in the room, because
  • Alertness (number 8) will connect the "crazy" dots

I hope you'll use these to be intentional about creativity. It sounds almost like an oxymoron--"intentional creativity"--but according to number 9 it isn't.

Intentional Creativity--that's a lot easier to sell to your boss than some alone time.

Graphic Source:

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Groaners For The Water Cooler

Enough seriousness. It's time to show your workplace cohorts just how sophomoric you really are. To help depress impress that special co-worker we offer, courtesy of PR pro Walt Murphy:


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Too Busy Doing Business to Do Business?

I recently met with a corporate Executive VP in New York City. I'll call him Kyle. Kyle said his division was struggling. But instead of leading the charge to turn things around, he was being called into meetings regularly to make lengthy, detailed, Power Point presentations explaining what was wrong. He was too busy doing business to be doing the business. Interestingly, one of his recommendations was for the company to get out of some of its operations because they were draining money and other resources. He explained that his people were spending too much time on things that no longer yielded the kind of margins the company desired.

Tasklist_2 Does any of this sound remotely familiar to you?

I realized while he was talking to me that I had gotten up at 5 a.m. to deal with emails from a European client; spent time on the cell phone in transit with a non-profit, pro bono client who needed to talk; and allowed myself to be sidetracked by hallway conversations with managers from the client group who I hadn't seen in a while. A similar schedule unraveled today.

What is there to learn?

1. If you do business globally in the electronic age, the expectation is that you are available on "their" time...or you should be. So choose carefully--you can't afford to be awake 24 hours a day.

2. Time management isn't really just about time. It's about clear priorities. Which means...

3. It's important to say "no." In fact, I think "no" is the solution to a lot of this craziness.

4. If you are in Kyle's position, at some point you need to tell those above you that the very act of "over-reporting" is exacerbating the problem. Do it respectfully. Share the impact and consequences on your business and let them take responsibility for whether or not it makes sense to continue all of those external demands on your time.

Note: You may not get any relief. Instead, you may hear, "Everything is equally important."

Everything isn't equally important. That's a fact.

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Ultimately It Won't Be About The Money. It Will Be About You.

Right now everyone is watching, listening, and talking about the financial situation.

Whatever legislation is passed will not prove to be the most important outcome. It will be how you choose to manage yourself through this and how you choose to view and live life as a result.

Anonymity2_2 The financial chaos is a test of willingness to learn, willingness to change, and willingness to exercise the kind of discernment that leads to wisdom. It is designed to profoundly shape your character, so it's no time to use a cheat-sheet (that's what got us here).

From a leadership perspective, the self-leadership you demonstrate now will help define your organizational leadership capability in the future.

Remember: You can't control the totality of your circumstances. You can control how you respond. Those responses will tell you--and those around you--who you really are.

And no one will be paying a bit of attention to the balance in your 401k.

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Five Reasons Why "Who You Are Really" Matters


It's not about. . .

. . . a title. That's the role an organization says you're supposed to play. And that can change in a fleeting moment.

This is about who you really are.

Why is that so important?

1. Who You Are determines How you are.

2. How You Are determines the quality and depth of your relationships.

3. The quality and depth of your relationships  determine your ability to mobilize your people--workers, family, or friends--in time of need.

4. The quality of your relationships  determine  the breadth and depth of help you'll receive in your time of need.

5. Who You Are determines your brand while you're alive and your legacy afterward.

Take time today to build a firm foundation that won't shake and crack with the first sign of adversity.

I hope that provides at least 5 good reasons for action.


Note:  I'm conducting an off-site client meeting through Friday. This article first appeared in June, 2007 and I thought it fit well with our current series here at All Things Workplace.

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Life & Careers: What Does Success Mean To You?

What Do These Success Quotes All Have in Common?

"I don't know the key to success but the key to failure is to try to please everyone." Bill Cosby

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do." Bob Dylan

Success_2 "Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives." Albert Einstein

"The secret of success is constancy to purpose." Benjamin Disraeli

"Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals." Paul J. Meyer

I think the commonality is this:

1. Each person thought about what success meant personally.

2. None defined it in terms of others' expectations.

Have You Defined Your Own "Success" Expectations?

If you haven't, then maybe today is the day to start. Otherwise, you are at risk.

Think about it.

Without a clear sense of what a successful life means to you, everyone else controls your time, your choices, and your career. You have no firm basis on which to make decisions. And no way to tell yourself "I'm doing just fine!"

It also means that others can tell you how they think you are doing as well as what they think you should be doing. Wouldn't it be nice to be clear about why they are so wrong?!

I believe you already know what success means to you. The moment you acknowledge it and start doing something aligned with that definition, you will experience the focus and momentum needed to move forward.

What do you need to acknowledge to make this happen?

Do it. If it's closely work-related, talk with your boss about it. Most of all, put it in motion. Now.

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Talent: What You Can't Not Do

Successful People and Their Struggles

Richard Branson, the Virgin brand mogul, gets bored easily. He channels this "problem" into a positive by "getting himself into numerous businesses that he can spread himself around in."

Businessweightlifter Charles Schwab was dyslexic and almost flunked out of Stanford, having failed English twice. In business, he overcame this reading problem by speaking from the heart (nixing the need for reading and writing long memos and speeches).

Cisco CEO John Chambers was also dyslexic, so he relies on memorized speeches and interacting personally with people as much as possible.

Each of these people found a way to succeed in the face of some weakness.

Strengths from Weakness and Natural Talent

I'd like to propose that you and I look at our lives in light of those two gifts. And they are both gifts, although the first one may be difficult to see at first.

Strengths from Weakness

This isn't happy talk or psycho-babble.

Each of us is faced with some struggle around which we have to make a choice. Either we succumb to the struggle or we see it through. What we label as "overcoming" is really the molding of our character through adversity. In that process, we discover and develop strengths that serve our natural talents and purpose in life. All of the examples above reflect that.

If you choose to acknowledge your struggle and see it through, you'll end up leading and mentoring others who are struggling with similar challenges.


You'll possess knowledge, wisdom, and empathy about the issue that others cannot gain from classroom study. It will become an area of passion and personal meaning. You'll become known for your insight and strength.

What You "Can't Not Do"

Your Natural Talent(s)

If you're reading this, you are probably committed to personal and professional development. So at some point, you ask yourself "What are my real talents?"

I do a lot of mid-career counseling with executives who also wrestle with that question. Every one has read about  Following Your Bliss, Pursuing Your Passion, and Discovering Your Strengths. They get the idea. But they find it difficult to separate skills that they've developed from the talents they possess.

During one session--in the midst of my own frustration--I blurted out, "What can't you not do?"

That proved to be a breakthrough question and has turned into a cornerstone of the career counseling part of my practice.

Look at your life. What can't you not do? No matter what your job title or job description, what do you find it impossible not to get involved with? What are you always getting in trouble for because you're not supposed to be doing it--or doing it that way?

Start paying attention to that and you'll start to identify your natural talent(s). And when you're using those talents, you won't even feel as if you are working. That's one of the reasons they can be hard to identify. We're so good at them, we don't recognize them for what they are. And we tend to place a low value on them because they don't "seem like work." Yet they are the part of you that makes you a star.

What to take away

1. When faced with a struggle, recognize that seeing it all the way through will present you with a new strength. You don't yet know what that is.

2. When you make that choice, it will become an area of your life where you will help, guide, and mentor others. Your burden will become one of your gifts.

3. If you are an HR person or manager who is interviewing candidates: Ask the candidate to describe a struggle that has led to a new talent, and how they use it. Pay attention to this. It will be a powerful part of their career potential

4. What can't you not do?

Stop not doing it.

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"Aha!" Signals A Beginning

Exclamation02_2 How many times have you studied, thought, worked, conversed, or meditated in order to reach an "Aha!" moment?

It seems to me that we have a tendency to treat "Ahas!" as if they are a result.  Yet when you look at them carefully, they signal a beginning; a sign that there may be a new path to pursue, something new to learn, or a situation to re-visit in a different way.

Some Aha! Questions to Ponder

1. When was your last "Aha!"?

2. Did it lead somewhere?

3. If  so, where?

4. If not, why not?

5. Is it time to re-visit it to see what you might have missed?

(Almost) Everything I Know About "Ahas" I Learned From Fourth-Graders

When I got out of the Army, I went back to college to complete the last few requirements for my degree.  I also went back to being a working--and paid--musician.  Life was good. Except for the next "Aha!."

You see, at that time in the history of the universe, there was a strange, quaint phenomenon known as dating.("Dating" was a very common ancient ritual that involved asking a young woman to go out with you alone to a movie, or a restaurant, or an event. The idea was that if you could get to know each other better, you might want to continue and develop an even deeper relationship. If this sounds strange and you want to learn more about it, go to a garage sale, buy a 45 RPM record (they look like oversized CD's with a big hole in the center), and listen to the lyrics. Hint: you will notice that the lyrics rhyme. Oh, and you'll need to buy a 45 RPM record player,too.)


Back to the related "Aha!" which was known as:

"Come in and meet my father"

Me with mandatory strong handshake: "Hello, Mr. ____, nice to meet you. "

Father: "Hello, young man (fathers do not utter the actual name of the perceived weasel-disguised-as-a person. Now that I am the father of a daughter, I understand the dynamic. But I can't reveal it, otherwise I would betray the other fathers-of-daughters-about-to-be-dated-by-the-weasel).

"Tell me, young man, what do you do for a living?" (This is a man-question to determine the extent of your slackerness).

Me: (proudly): Mr. _____, I'm a professional musician and I play at ______and ________.

Father: (Silence)

Father again: (Continued silence, furrowed brow, followed by look of disdain).

Father, turning to wife while walking out of the room: "Ethel, tell him to have her home by midnight."


I learned that:

a. "I am a musician" was not a good thing to say, no matter how much money I made.

b. I would have to do something that appeared to erase my perceived weaselness and make me respectable.


I will be a teacher.

So I did a little stint at a Junior High School.

Aha! Working with 13 and 14 year-olds clearly wasn't going to do it for me. I concluded, rather hastily, that every existing 13 and 14 year-old should be universally housed in their own country or state--say, North Dakota--until they are 20.

Obviously, High School would work out better for me.

Aha! I apparently had a very short memory and forgot that, between the ages of 15-18, Homer and Hemingway were completely overshadowed by Heaving Hormones. That leaves:

Elementary School. Yes, but what grade?

Third graders still had "accidents."

Fifth graders were reaching puberty.

And if I were to be somehow elected President, they would soon be sent to North Dakota anyway.

Aha! Fourth grade.

. . .and Here Are The 5 Things I Learned About Business from Fourth Graders

The kids--and all of us at work-- show up each day hoping that we'll have an Aha! experience. That it will lead to something new, engaging, and satisfying. As a teacher, it was my responsibility to attempt to create the conditions for that in the context of what was to be learned. So I had to do five things:

1. Be crystal clear about the learning goal.

If I wasn't clear, the day didn't go well. Minds and bodies gravitated toward something that did seem clear. The world--even the world of fourth graders--abhors a vacuum.

2. Show them the connection between what they would learn and how it works in life.

If they couldn't see how "it" was real, eyes glazed over.

3. Understand each of the kids and how they learn.

Hands-on doers, Readers, Questioners, 10-year-old Cynics. They were all represented.

4. Create an experience that would allow #3 to be satisfied.

I always thought that this was the toughest part. How do you achieve the learning goal in the designated amount of time with so many different kinds of learners?

5. Manage the experience and follow up with each of the kids.

Once I put the activity in motion, I had to touch base with each of the students, check out how they were doing, tell them how they were doing, and then formally evaluate how they did.

Applied Management That Creates "Aha!"?

1. Managing starts with clarity. The time a manager spends getting clear about what needs to be done will pay off in focused effort from increased understanding.

2. The Manager is the Mediator of Meaning. Clarity is the first part of  the issue. The other part is taking the time to show exactly how "what" you are proposing to do is directly connected to the success of over-arching goals.

3. Managers Understand How People Learn and Work. Intellectually, we all acknowledge that people learn differently and work differently. Really successful managers take time to pinpoint what those styles are and genuinely acknowledge their inherent value.

4. Managing Means Knowing How to Orchestrate the Experience. When to have a meeting or not have a meeting; who needs one-on-one attention? What isn't negotiable and what will work best with a full discussion? Is the objective really achievable--at the level of quality desired--in the originally designated timetable? Managers, go ahead and add your favorites to this list.

5. Managers Lead from Every Proximity. You'll spot a good manager out in front of the group; alongside of a direct report who is struggling; or standing in the back of the room listening to a discussion and only joining in when re-direction or a fact is needed. And everyone knows how they're doing in relation to what's expected.

I hope this has sparked an "Aha" for you. If it did, by all means weigh in in the comment box below.

Graphic Source: A Perfect World

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Business Choices: Starting With Peace

Three Stories and a QuestionTreesun_1

  • I just spoke with a fellow who needed to end a freelance career and return to corporate life. Although he is a real pro at what he does and enjoys the consulting life, other factors impacted the decision. While this would seem like a real blow to many, he sounded very calm and relaxed. He was at peace with the decision.


She didn't have a choice. When you visit the links above, note the bright smile that lights up the pages.

  • Some years back I received a phone call asking if I would consult/coach with a VP of Engineering at a major corporation. Part of his company had actually been shut down by a government monitoring agency. I was told by associates from other consulting firms not to work with him. They said he was  "old school," "narrow minded," and "kept to himself." (Whatever that was supposed to mean).

What had his part been in the company's situation? He had actually warned the CEO and Board of Directors, verbally and in writing,  that things were happening which were wrong. When the smoke finally cleared, he was the only one of the management team left.

The proposed task? To re-invigorate and re-structure a large organization of people who had been under close scrutiny and investigation. They were ultimately found not only to be above-board in their behavior but highly competent in their profession.

I decided to ignore the comments and went to meet with him. At the end of our initial meeting it was clear to me that he wanted to make a real difference and leave a legacy of professionalism and integrity for his group, and that the road ahead would be difficult. At that point I knew little about his personal background. I heard my voice begin a question that I had never asked a prospective client before: "How is your relationship with God?"

His answer: "I am totally at peace."

We worked together for 3 years on the project until his retirement. He was not only not old school or narrow minded; he was willing to consistently be "out there" with his people to lead and encourage throughout the rebuilding of the division and the company.

Here we have three different people facing major challenges and obstacles that were not of their doing. The first person will do just fine. The second two made decisions and acted upon them with courage.

None blamed their boss, their company, or their life.

Instead, they began by becoming peaceful with the situation and themselves. It allowed them to think clearly and act wisely.

Are you starting at the right place?

What do you need to be at peace with today?

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The Steve Roesler Group
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