Leadership is Jacinda Ardern

January 27, 2023

So often I write about corporate leaders who deliver bottom-line results to meet shareholder expectations, while demonstrating leadership principles that respect employees and customers. Today I want to highlight a politician who during her tenure demonstrated extraordinary leadership and elevated what is possible in this time of political turmoil.

In 2017 at the age of 37, Jacinda Ardern became the youngest prime minister in New Zealand’s history, and this week she resigned because she said it was time.

“I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

She certainly faced headwinds due to New Zealand’s economic turndown, but the abuse and threats she received had to weigh into her decision. Arden also had a baby while in office and she stated wanting to be more involved in her daughter’s life was important as well.

“For my part, I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job—of New Zealand and New Zealanders, has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said. “That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me.”

Arden accomplished a great deal while in office including:

  • Delivered a world-leading response to COVID-19 by closing New Zealand’s borders
  • Promoted unity and compassion after the March 2019 mosque terrorist attack
  • Introduced key policies to lift the wellbeing of children and families
  • Introduced a new public holiday to celebrate Matarik—the start of the Māori New Year
  • Took action on climate change by leading towards a zero carbon future
  • Launched New Zealand’s first Wellbeing Budget
  • Being the first prime minister to march in a Pride parade
  • Fought to close the gender pay gap

What I find most remarkable is what she stated in her final address regarding her legacy perhaps pointing to a direction other world leaders should take.

“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go,” Ardern said.

I can think of many world leaders who should take this to heart when weighing how to lead a country and when to exit a political career. The majority of U.S. citizens reported in a recent poll that they would prefer a candidate other than Joe Biden or Donald Trump to run for President in 2024. Even my 92-year-old mother can’t see how an octogenarian or septuagenarian can have enough left in the tank for such an important job.  

“Women know when to step down … their egos are lower,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organization Director-General. She went on to say that Ardern set an example by stepping down after giving her best.

Jacinda Ardern is a remarkable leader. I’m hopeful more men and women will follow her exemplary leadership.

All About Managers

January 6, 2023

The CEO is where we typically focus when we evaluate a particular company, which makes sense given that this is the leader with the biggest impact on the organization’s success or failure—at least in terms of profitability. However, when it comes to getting work done and employees being engaged, it’s all about managers.

Managers are the ones who execute the strategy, deliver products or services, and ensure that the overall objectives are carried out. Managers are also the ones with the biggest impact on employees and greatly determine whether they are fully engaged or not.

According to a 2017 Gallop report titled “State of the Global Workplace,” companies in the top quartile in employee engagement deliver 17 percent better productivity and 21 percent more profitability than those in the bottom. To improve employee engagement, look no further than the manager.

Former managing director for Gallup’s Global Leadership Advisory, Larry Emond, said “the manager explains 70 percent of engagement.” Better engagement is a function of better management, and worse engagement is a function of worse management.

“People need clear expectations, the autonomy to craft and pursue their agendas, support to achieve success, and help thinking about their careers,” writes Russ Laraway in his book When They Win, You Win: Being a great manager is simpler than you think. “Three important words managers use that demonstrate they care about the people: time, help, success. Take time to help people be more successful.”

According to Laraway, managers must provide three things: direction, coaching and career. By focusing on helping their people win, managers win too.

Direction – Setting the direction anchors the team to an aligned result through a combination of purpose and vision (long-term), and OKRs and ruthless prioritization (short-term). Setting direction ensures people know both the what and the why things need to get done, provides clear measures for what results look like, and a shared understanding of the most important tasks of the day, week, or quarter.

Coaching – Coaching is about encouraging people to change what’s not working and continue doing what is working. The first involves giving feedback in a way that is supportive; the second involves helping people explicitly understand what they have done well so they can do more of it. Neither of these should be considered micro-managing but instead are about keeping a close eye on what is happening to immediately correct when things go off-track and to encourage and praise when things are going well.

Career – Managers should do more than help employees succeed in the job at hand. They must also assist people in discovering a long-term vision for their careers and show them what actions they can take right now that enables tangible progress toward it. In doing so, managers can show employees that they care for them above and beyond the immediate work and current organization. Managers can demonstrate that they value their people more than simply as employees.

Laraway, a former executive at Google and Twitter as well as co-founder and COO at Radical Candor, says managers whose teams are most engaged, and whose organizations produce the best results, are able to systematically:

  • Create a culture of candor
  • Actively prioritize
  • Respond to ideas and concerns
  • Establish explicit expectations
  • Support growth and development

All of these are likely to increase engagement because they extend beyond typical company perks or benefits. They are about the behavior of managers leading the work.

To improve any company, look no further than the managers within it. Hiring and retaining the best managers makes business sense because good managers are those who develop engaged employees resulting in measurably superior results.

Living an Intentional Life

December 26, 2022

With the coming of a new year, this is the perfect time to take greater control of your life and career. This is not limited to signing up for a new round of exercise or diet programs but living a more intentional life by being proactive and taking responsibility for the progress in reaching your goals.

Many may believe there is little to do to control their life and career, and this is certainly true for some. Most of us, however, have a great deal of agency for steering the direction we want our lives to go. Intentionality means accepting, embracing, and exerting this agency.

I’m embarrassed to say this, but throughout my twenties and thirties I was merely a passenger on the passages in much of my life and career—simply waiting for an enticing offer, opportunity, or path to present itself. Yet I now see that when I am intentional about my daily decisions and choices, this can lead to the most beneficial outcomes.

Such decisions included pursuing a master’s degree in applied behavioral science, starting my own coaching and consulting business, and writing this bi-weekly blog for more than 15 years that led to business opportunities as well as writing a book on emotional intelligence. In my personal life, I chose to ride a bicycle across the country twice, climb to the summits of Washington’s three highest mountains and continue telemark skiing into my sixties.

Each of these accomplishments required consistently planning and working to reach them and would not have happened without being intentional in my pursuit.

Choosing to be intentional about your life and career means you are proactive. This doesn’t mean you control everything, but you are no longer passive and simply hoping to reach what you want to achieve. It means you have a clear goal or north star, yet you can be influenced and inspired by supporting opportunities and take advantage of them when they arise.

Intentionality means taking responsibility for your progress through discipline and persistence. It is also about holding yourself accountable.

It’s especially important to Identify and stay true to your values as they can serve as guardrails to inform you of when you stray from what is most important.

Accept that short term pain can lead to long term gain and reaching your goal is even more satisfying when you have worked hard to attain it.

Roman philosopher Seneca once stated, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Certainly, luck plays a part in reaching any goal, so it’s important to prepare for the opportunities that are certain to come about. This means being more intentional in your daily decisions.

Make this new year more intentional by identifying what you want, aligning it with your values and who you are, and then being proactive and persistent to reach your goals. By this time next year, I’m certain your intentionality will bring you closer to what you want in your life and career. Happy New Year!

Team Advantage of Strategic Offsites

December 8, 2022

On the cusp of a new year many organizations are currently scheduling offsites for senior executives to review strategic goals and devise execution plans for the coming year. Healthy organizations who encourage their leaders to embrace each other as vital teammates will be the most successful.

All too often offsites fail to deliver solid results because leaders bring forth plans that are focused on individuals and their departments. This can inadvertently reward silo building and allow for competition of resources that ultimately undermines company-wide success. Rather than building a unified team and doing what’s right for the organization, individual egos, reputations, and ambitions become the primary focus.

Any successful strategic offsite should begin with ensuring everyone feels psychologically safe to speak freely. Each person should trust that they can do the right thing for the right reasons. And all participants ought to feel like they are an important component of a highly functional team, and that the organization will succeed only with everyone working effectively together.

Before beginning any offsite, ensure that there is a foundation of trust and rapport. If this needs to be established or strengthened, this should be the number one priority. Though it takes time and energy, and some may see it as unnecessary, nothing is more important. Without trust, there can be little progress.

Vulnerability should also be encouraged and modeled by the most senior leader so others can show up more fully and authentically. This will set the tone for how everyone shows up.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, author Patrick Lencioni recommends a Team Effectiveness Exercise that can be especially helpful.

“Do this at the end of an off-site meeting once there is a decent foundation of trust,” writes Lencioni. “If team members aren’t capable of being vulnerable with one another, there is no point in doing it.”

Team Effectiveness Exercise

  1. Have each person write down one thing that each of the other team members does that makes the team better. It should be the biggest strength as it pertains to the impact on the group. Not technical skills but the way they behave when the team is together that makes the team stronger.

  2. Do the same thing except this time focus on one aspect of each person that sometimes hurts the team. Provide 10 to 15 minutes for this.

  3. Beginning with the leader, go around the room asking everyone to report on the person’s one positive characteristic. Let the person respond after everyone has finished. Now go around again offering the one characteristic that the person needs to work on. Allow for a reaction after everyone has gone. Then do this for the next person until everyone is complete. Should take only about 10 minutes per person.

This type of exercise requires trust and psychological safety to execute well. It can dramatically strengthen a team by making each member feel more supported by and accountable to the others on the team.

“The greatest impact is the realization on the part of leadership team members that holding one another accountable is a survivable and productive activity, and it will make them likely to continue doing it going forward,” continues Lencioni.

Lencioni does an excellent job of illustrating this in his earlier book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I highly recommend.

Plan on making your next strategic offsite meeting one that is focused on the team. The whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts, but requires ensuring there is psychological safety, trust, and rapport. And it means the courage to be vulnerable with each other for the sake of strengthening your relationships and team performance.

Gratitude Giving

November 23, 2022

It’s the time of year when we are reminded to give thanks. This often means breaking bread with friends and family to express gratitude for the blessings in our lives.

Thanksgiving has become less about being grateful and more about watching football, planning a Black Friday shopping strategy, eating too much, and joining extended family and friends you may often dread due to heightened stress over divisive opinions shared all too freely.

It’s been said that when you are looking to grow, you should compare yourself with who you were yesterday rather than with someone else. Unfortunately, one of the bigger problems with social media is that users often post their most glamorous words and photos, and this can make others feel inferior because—consciously or unconsciously—we do compare ourselves with others.

Expressing gratitude can help refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. This simple act can build greater confidence and acceptance.

All too frequently we tend to focus on problem solving rather than appreciative inquiry. We look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. We search for the flaws that somehow overpowers what is without flaw. We notice and are critical of the cracks in everything, but fail to appreciate as Leonard Cohen so artfully put it, that’s how the light gets in.

In psychology research, gratitude has been strongly associated with greater happiness because it helps people feel more positive emotions, improves their mental and physical health, enables them to deal with stress and build stronger relationships.

For me and my family, the past several months have been particularly challenging. After a lifetime of taking my physical health for granted, I came face to face with concerns that no longer allow for this. The loss of loved ones reminds me of my own mortality and that it’s important to make the most of the time I have left with the ones I love most.

It’s also a reminder to give thanks. By appreciating and showing gratitude for all that I have, I can shift from a focus of scarcity to one of abundance. I can express to myself and others what I value and what truly matters. Sharing gratitude means I can be fully present to what I have.

Here are some very simple ways to regularly express gratitude:

  • Do it in person with the people who mean the most to you. By intentionally sharing your appreciation for each of them, this will bring you even closer together.
  • Write a heartfelt letter or email to express your appreciation for people in the workplace or friends and family far away. Like an old fashioned thank you card, a personalized message is extremely beneficial and will be savored by those who receive it.
  • Before falling asleep at the end of each day, make a mental note of five things you’re grateful for. This can be as simple as your partner, your health, your job, or whatever you appreciate today. You’ll end up sleeping deeper and rest more fully.  

Thank you for reading this and thank you for your continued connection. I value you and appreciate your thoughts and impressions. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Embracing Failure

November 12, 2022

The road to success is paved with failure. You cannot succeed if you don’t fail along the way and are able to learn from those setbacks. The fact is no one succeeds unless they first embrace failure, learn from it, and try again and again.

Looking back over my career, I recall failures big and small that undermined my confidence and stalled my ability to get a job and get promoted more quickly. Some of these failures I blamed on other people, some I attributed to circumstances beyond my control. Ultimately, I failed to accept my responsibility for what happened and what I could do differently next time by learning from the experience.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career,” said Michael Jordan. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Choose any successful person—no matter the field—and I suspect they can recount a series of obstacles that they needed to overcome before they reached their goals. Here are a few famous failures.

  • Albert Einstein – Failed to speak until age 4; at age 16, he failed to be admitted into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school; graduated from college but struggled in classes so much that he considered dropping out; sold insurance door to door for two years before joining the patent office examining applications for various devices. Finally, he went on to develop the fundamental core laws governing physics, won the Nobel Prize and created the beginnings of quantum theory.
  • J.K. Rowling – At 17 she failed to be accepted at Oxford University; at 25 her mother died of Multiple Sclerosis, leaving her extremely distraught and upset; she found work with Amnesty International and then taught English; after the breakup of a difficult marriage with a young child at the age of 38, she moved in with her sister; diagnosed as clinically depressed and suicidal yet she completed the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After getting rejected by the 12 major publishing houses, a small literary house took a chance on the book, which led Rowling to be the first author to become a billionaire through book writing.  
  • Oprah Winfrey – As a young child living with her mother and younger sister, she was sexually molested by an uncle, cousin and a family friend; she ran away at 13, became pregnant at 14 and give birth prematurely to a child who died soon after birth; after a short stint as co-anchor for a news organization in Baltimore, she was fired for being “unfit for television.” At 29 she was hired at AM Chicago, a show that ultimately became the Oprah Winfrey Show, and is now a world-famous multi-billionaire.
  • Abraham Lincoln – At age 23 he lost his job, ran for the state legislature and lost; at age 26 the love of his life died; at 29 he lost his bid to become Speaker in the Illinois House of Representatives; at 39 he failed in his bid to become Commissioner of the General Land Office in D.C.; ten years later he failed to win a seat as a U.S. Senator. Then, at the age of 52, he was elected President of the United States and became one of the most famous failures to ever hold the high office in the United States. 

Failure is not the opposite of success, but an essential step towards it. Embrace your failure as it provides the vital information necessary for learning to succeed. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you reach success.

Choose Healthy, Happy Relationships

October 27, 2022

Are you unhappy? Do you get angry too often? Or are you apathetic? Do you feel you’re a victim and have no agency? Many people have no choice over the relationships in their lives that influence these perspectives. But most of us can have healthy, happy relationships if we make the choice to do so.

This means choosing to surround yourself with people who bring you up rather than bring you down. It can be difficult to sever relationships, but nothing will change if you don’t.

Perhaps as we return to the office and social gatherings where we can engage with colleagues and friends in the same room, it’s the perfect time to evaluate whether these people help us to thrive or not.

In both your personal life and professional life, you first need to decide whether you are closer or further from who you want to be when you are with these people. If you’re not who you want to be, you should evaluate the value of these relationships. My wife tells our teenagers that when they are with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s important to determine whether they can be their best selves or not. If they can’t, then something is obviously wrong.

I think this is true in all aspects of our lives. The people who we surround ourselves with can dramatically influence our overall well-being. And we do have a choice in the matter.

In the workplace, this means ensuring that you help foster relationships that include trust and rapport. Treat others with the same respect you expect to receive from them. Choose positive intent when reading an email or text that could be taken otherwise. And until you’ve proved otherwise, believe that your boss and colleagues are doing the best they can.

Regarding the relationship you have with your boss, this can be tricky. But as I wrote in my last post, you should work hard to make it work as best you can because there is a huge opportunity in getting things right with this relationship. And, if you’ve really done all you can and still cannot make it work, you may need to severe this relationship and move on.

As I wrote in my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, being successful in your career does not mean bringing your whole self into the workplace, but your best self. This means being authentic while remaining professional. Remember that you are entitled to your feelings and responsible for your behavior.

If your social media feed leaves you feeling worse about politicians, celebrities, business leaders and “Facebook friends,” perhaps you should stop following them and take away their power to negatively influence your well-being. See if you can engage with important social media friends in the real world to foster deeper and more meaningful relationships. I don’t believe rewarding relationships can be built or sustained exclusively online.

Barring another last-minute change of heart, the mercurial Elon Musk appears to be acquiring Twitter. I’ve decided to drop this social media app because I do not want to support Musk’s brand of “absolutist freedom of speech.” Call me old fashioned, but I still believe shouting fire in a crowded theatre when there is no fire is not only wrong but dangerous and should be outlawed.

Take control of your health and happiness in both your personal and professional life by choosing to engage with people who bring out your best. Doing otherwise is detrimental to you and to your career.

New Boss = New Opportunity

October 14, 2022

The pandemic led many people to change jobs, get promoted or otherwise been assigned a new boss. Regardless, if this was the case for you, it’s important to quickly get aligned and make the most of the opportunity with this new relationship.  

Perhaps what’s most important with a new boss is to be proactive in understanding their perspective, how they like to communicate and how you can be successful with them. As quickly as possible, strive to establish trust and build rapport. Don’t simply allow for the work to speak for itself, but instead begin building a solid reputation of who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what you’re capable of doing.

Remote work certainly altered how we interact with a new boss, but if you are returning to the office—even in a hybrid fashion—it’s important to re-establish rapport and interact face-to-face as much as possible to ensure you are aligned.

Focusing on the fundamentals is critical in building a productive relationship with your new boss, according to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  

When it comes to working with a new boss, Watkins suggests not doing these things:

  • Don’t stay away – Get on your boss’s calendar regularly and ensure you are in close communication.
  • Don’t surprise your boss – Ensure your boss knows problems well in advance with regular updates so they gain confidence in your ability to deliver results.
  • Don’t approach your boss only with problems – Give some thought to potential solutions so your boss has something to react to rather than resolve on his or her own.
  • Don’t run down your checklist – Assume your boss wants to focus on the most important things you’re trying to do and how he or she can help.
  • Don’t expect your boss to change – It’s your responsibility to adapt to your boss’s style: regardless of how you interacted with your previous boss.

Watkins recommends doing the following with your new boss:

  • Clarify expectations early and often – Don’t make assumptions based on what your prior boss wanted but make it clear what he or she is expecting from you.
  • Take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work – Don’t wait for your boss to adjust to you, but instead adjust to him or her.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning – Ensure that you are aligned on milestones and key delivery dates.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to the boss – Make your impact quickly so you can earn your boss’s confidence in your ability.
  • Pursue good marks from those who opinions your boss respects – This means shoring up your reputation with other leaders who influence your boss.

These reminders can go a long way towards building a solid relationship with the person most influential with accelerating or decelerating your career opportunities. This is an investment that will pay huge dividends and shouldn’t be minimized.

Further, think of how you can establish a relationship where you’re treated as a thought partner. That means thinking about the challenges your boss is facing and how you can best support him or her.

Every time you get a new boss, think of this as a new opportunity for you to grow in your leadership and in your career. Take a proactive approach and take responsibility for it. You’ll likely enjoy your job more and make greater progress.  

Trust Before Progress

September 28, 2022

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”  – Albert Einstein

In my work as a coach and organization development consultant, a common concern I encounter with my clients is a lack of trust among colleagues. This includes team members, peers, and even senior executives. A lack of trust means little progress can be made.

Author Patrick Lencioni discusses the absence of trust as a foundational aspect in any well-functioning team in his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Without trust, there can be no progress as this serves as the basis for the psychological safety necessary for any group of people to collaborate well.  

The previous President of this country reportedly told more than 30,000 false or misleading claims while in office. He was defeated when running for re-election, yet because of his continued lies as well as the misinformation of his backers, 70% of Republicans still don’t believe Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

When our Facebook and Twitter feeds contain false information, rumors presented as facts, and clear lies, we need to question the value of social media. When talking heads on cable TV spout misinformation simply to spike viewership, we should turn the channel. And when politicians lie, they need to be held accountable and voted out of office. If we normalize this lack of trust in the people we follow, tune in to, or vote for, we are doomed to be continually misinformed, misled, and swindled.

For some reason the search for truth no longer seems foundational in forming our own opinion. Have we gotten lazy and given up on the notion of thinking for ourselves?

This lack of trust is due to many factors, but perhaps began when we stopped paying for subscriptions to trusted news sources and allowed social media, cable news shows, and talk radio to tell us what we should and should not believe. We can certainly find confirming data on any given conspiracy theory on the internet. That doesn’t make the information true.

In our work lives as well as in our personal lives, it’s vital that we build and maintain trust in those around us. This is about integrity, and it is becoming all too rare.

To restore and build trust in our lives, we must begin by examining ourselves and see what sort of example we are showing to others:

Behaviors that Diminish Trust:

  • Stating your opinion as if it’s a fact
  • Accepting others’ opinions as fact
  • Failing to evaluate your news source as reliable for honesty and fairness
  • Retweeting unvetted things on social media

Behaviors that Build Trust:

  • Walking your talk: Do what you say and say what you will do
  • Being accountable and holding others accountable
  • Questioning the reliability of what you see, hear, and read
  • Choosing to be accurately informed and allowing to rethink what you believe

I choose to enter all my interactions both personal and professional with a trusting attitude. By extending trust first I know I could be taken advantage of, but I do so regardless because I want to expand rather than contract my world. And, in my experience, I have not been swindled often.

However, while I choose to trust first, this doesn’t mean I trust always. When someone proves to be untrustworthy by being unreliable, dishonest, or misinformed, I adjust my trust meter to no longer take them at their word. Their trust then needs to be restored.

I take this approach with people in my personal and professional life as well as those I don’t know but follow and look up to. This includes politicians, public officials, athletes, celebrities, and others in the media. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

We need to restore and build trust in order to make progress in our workplace as well as in our democracy. Nothing is more important than trust.

Philanthropy: Wealthy or Not

September 16, 2022

It’s better to give than receive. Various studies have found this to be true in that spending money on others or giving to charity is more likely to put a smile on your face than buying things for yourself. We all know this to some degree, but we don’t necessarily practice it throughout our lives.

The term philanthropy was first coined by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in 5th century BCE. Back then it meant “love of humanity.” Today it means generosity in all its forms and is often defined as giving gifts of “time, talent and treasure” to help make life better for other people.

Billionaire philanthropists who make large donations and get their names on buildings are clearly doing wonderful things. And tax breaks for this generosity seem entirely justifiable. Some recent examples of billionaires doing right:

  • Warren Buffett promises to give away 99% of his wealth upon his death. He’s already donated more than $50 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the rest of his estate may very well go towards primary and reproductive health causes.
  • This past summer Bill Gates gave the BMGF an additional $20 billion. He and his former wife, Melinda French Gates, say they plan to give away 95% of their wealth during their lifetimes.
  • Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, plans to give away her $28 billion in assets largely toward climate change during her lifetime or shortly after her death.
  • Mackenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has donated more than $20 billion to various causes since 2020.
  • And just this week, Patagonia’s CEO Yvon Chouinard decided to give away his entire company valued at $3 billion to a specially designed trust and nonprofit organization. While Chouinard may see enormous tax savings by doing so, this generous move will ensure all profits (~$100 million each year) are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land across the globe.

“Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” Chouinard said in an exclusive interview. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.”

But let’s not forget the enormous number of upper- and middle-income citizens who donate 5% to 10% of their annual income to worthy causes every year. Or the lower-income not-for-profit employees who may donate very little money, but toil away at low wages giving their time and talent for the common good.

It seems obvious that all people are important when it comes to giving and together can help pave the way toward a healthier and more compassionate environment.

According to several of the largest charitable foundations, the average income donated to charity ranges from just 3% to 5% of annual gross income. And the average percent donated to charity is the highest for lower income households, which suggests that lower income folks donate a higher percentage of their disposable income.

Reports from McClatchy Newspapers found in recent surveys that not only do the poor donate more per capita than individuals in higher income brackets, but their generosity tends to remain higher during economic downturns.

This is very difficult to measure as IRS tax return data contains giving information for households that choose to itemize their donations leaving out many lower-income households.

Yet the trend is heading in the wrong direction. In 2018 just 49.6% of U.S. households made a charitable contribution, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available. This is a drop of nearly 17 percentage points from 2000, when 66.2% of American households gave charitable donations.

As I wrote about in my previous post, happiness is derived by what people give to you and meaningfulness is more about what you give to others. Meaningfulness is more likely to lead to a long and healthy life. And philanthropy should be practiced by all of us.

How to Live: Happiness vs. Meaningfulness

August 30, 2022

Living a long and happy life seems to correlate more directly with the value of our relationships than our accumulated wealth. Though this may seem obvious, it’s not so frequently practiced.

In a famous longitudinal study tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores beginning in 1938, scientists hoped to learn the clues leading to healthy and happy lives. What they discovered was that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. These strong ties delay people from physical and mental decline and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even one’s genes. This finding was proven across the board with both the Harvard participants as well as those in the inner-city.

A study of 50 ninety-five-year-olds were asked if they could live their lives over again what would they do differently. The most common responses were: 1) They would reflect more. 2) They would take more risks and chances. 3) They would have left a legacy, something that would last beyond their own lifetime.

As we age, we should seek more meaning rather than merely happiness. This would mean shifting from primarily satisfying our needs and desires to giving back and leaving a legacy. Moving from what David Brooks in his book The Second Mountain terms “resume virtues” to “eulogy virtues.” It’s not about what you’ve achieved in your working life, but about the people you’ve touched along the way. It’s about your character rather than your accomplishments.

It turns out that happiness levels are positively correlated with whether people see their lives as meaningful, according to a survey of 400 American adults by Roy Baumeister and his colleagues. Our relationships are related to both how happy we are as well as how meaningful we see our lives. Feeling more connected to others improved both happiness and meaning. 

Ultimately, the researchers identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.

  1. Happy people satisfy their needs and wants, but this is generally irrelevant to a meaningful life. While health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not with meaning.
  2. While happiness is focused on the present, which is more fleeting, meaningfulness requires thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them.
  3. Happiness is derived by what other people give to you, while meaningfulness is more about what you give to others. And though spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, spending time with loved ones (e.g., taking care of your children or elderly parents) was linked to meaning, but not necessarily happiness.
  4. Meaningfulness in life involves stress and challenges to be overcome. High levels of worry and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness. It could be that while challenging oneself through obstacles may not lead to happiness, it has the potential to bring about longer-term meaningfulness.
  5. Self-expression is important for meaning, but not necessarily happiness. I can attest to this as I’ve written short fiction and feel that it is important and meaningful to me, even though I derive little happiness from this creative expression.

Clearly striving for happiness is important, but it shouldn’t be the only pursuit to live a long and healthy life. As with many things, it’s often about delayed gratification. There can be great satisfaction and fulfillment in working hard at something, making steady progress, and ultimately finding meaning. And remember to value relationships over things because when you’re 95, you’ll be glad you did.

Make Email a Useful Tool

August 12, 2022

Along with attending meetings, nothing dominates our workday more than tending to email messages. But does this have to be the case? Instead of allowing email to dictate how we spend our work lives, let’s put it back into the place where it belongs as just another tool that adds to rather than diminishes our overall productivity.

In my work coaching clients, I ask them to report how they spend their workday, and they so often report that they are consumed with back-to-back meetings all day every day. This is obviously not optimal and it needs to be gotten under control as I wrote about previously.

When you spend so much time in meetings, you either choose to multitask while in attendance or do your work (including email) when the workday should be complete. Multitasking while in meetings is not the solution as you are present for neither the meeting or the work you are trying to focus on. I suspect you really don’t need to attend all the meetings you go to, and it will serve you better by choosing to opt out whenever possible.

Regarding email, there are many things to consider so that you don’t spend nearly as much time on it. Many of these may be quite obvious, but that doesn’t mean we all do them.

Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to control your attention and choose your life, says it’s important to hack back on email. His suggestions include:

  • If you want to receive fewer emails, send fewer emails. You likely contribute to the problem of too many emails every time you send one. Consider whether email is the right medium for your message. Would it be better to pick up the phone to avoid a constant back and forth via email messages? Perhaps a face-to-face meeting would work even better. Text, slack message, or is it even necessary to write or respond?
  • Consider having office hours for when you will respond to emails. Rather than act as if every message is both urgent and important, choose more intentional follow through. Rather than checking your inbox constantly, specify times each day when you will check and respond as needed. Consider putting those times in an automated response, so people are not surprised when you delay in your reply.
  • Hesitate in replying as everything is not urgent and can go away with time. Oftentimes you may think “this will just take a minute, so I’ll reply,” even though others also included on the distribution may appreciate the opportunity to respond and thereby share their knowledge and expertise. Then perhaps next time an issue comes up, the sender may choose to reach out only to that person thereby reducing the number of emails you receive.
  • Schedule delayed delivery. Many people tend to respond or compose email messages late at night or on the weekend. This flexibility is great for you, but the recipient may sense more urgency than you intend. Consider scheduling a delay to have them sent early the next morning or the following Monday morning.
  • Eliminate unwanted messages. Reducing the number of email messages should begin with unsubscribing to those you don’t read or want. In the workplace, if you are receiving internal messages on projects or subjects that are not important to you, consider politely requesting that you not be included on the distribution list.

Another idea is to use the 1-minute rule. If you can reply within one-minute, then do it now. Otherwise plan to reply to all other emails at a designated time when you can focus more thoroughly. Again, try to avoid doing this throughout the day as it will detract from your ability to focus and accomplish important work.

Email has been around for decades and, while it may be shunned by many Millennials and Gen Zers, it will likely remain in the workplace so it’s important to make it work for us rather than against us. Make email a useful tool.

Success in Motivation

July 29, 2022

Maintaining motivation is challenged because we are so often focused on the wrong incentives. This is true whether it’s about our physical health or our effectiveness in the workplace. Seeking some far-off desired outcome is doomed without the right incentives to maintain motivation and succeed in reaching your goals.

Using intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic ones is helpful whether you’re trying to keep a healthy body or mind.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that all humans have three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that underlie our growth. This 50-year-old theory challenged the once dominant belief that the best way to get people to perform tasks is to reinforce behavior with extrinsic rewards.

However, half a century later, all too often organizations continue to incentivize employees primarily with external rewards rather than focus on these psychological needs.

Autonomy is feeling you have the choice to willingly behave in a certain way. In the workplace, this means you have agency for how to approach the task and complete your work.

Competence is the experience of mastery and being effective in your activity. This means making gradual progress, learning along the way, and feeling like you’re capable.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected and belonging to others. It’s about feeling valued by the people around you. This social aspect is often overlooked, but vitally important in maintaining motivation.

According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, authors of the book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the human psyche needs these three elements to flourish just as the human body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to run properly.  

In the same way managing overall physical health is greatly influenced by our habits and the lifestyle choices we make, so too are our behaviors and mindset in the workplace.

When it comes to physical health, this means ensuring that you focus on the proper fuel necessary to feel good and maintain proper health. Your physical health can thrive if you are motivated to consume the nourishment your body requires and limit the empty calories, sugary products and junk food that gets you into trouble.

Similarly, your psyche needs the right fuel to operate best by having a choice in how you approach the work (autonomy), experience mastery at being effective and making progress (competence), and feeling connected and belonging with others (relatedness).

Relatedness is likely compromised as we do more remote work and struggle to connect with others without being in their actual physical presence. As valuable as video conferencing technologies are in enabling remote work, not being in the physical presence of others limits our ability to fully connect. Motivation may be undermined because this social interaction is really crucial to feeling connected and belonging to something larger than oneself.  

As we continue to strive for a healthy hybrid workplace, keep this relatedness factor in mind when deciding how to make the most of your days in the office. Whenever possible, choose to have face-to-face interactions, impromptu casual conversations, team lunches, and other social engagements to build further connection and the feeling of belonging. This will help sustain motivation and keep you engaged.

Imagine a Four-Day Workweek

July 13, 2022

The pandemic has forever changed how we think about what it means to go to work. And though the hybrid approach is rapidly becoming the predominant model in many white-collar workplaces, perhaps we should consider a more radical change to the 40-hour, five-day workweek. Is it now time for the four-day workweek?

Instead of simply providing more flexibility on when employees get in their 40+ hours of work, why not give them the opportunity to trim the fat by cutting out wasted time, push back on non-essential meetings, and find ways to do the work more quickly and efficiently to achieve the same results so they can spend more time away from work?

This is ultimately about giving workers more autonomy and agency for getting work completed.

In 2018 the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day, 32-hour workweek as a pilot program and told employees that if productivity didn’t suffer, they would make it permanent. After eight weeks, they discovered not only did job performance not suffer, but there was an increase in employee engagement and work-life balance.

As a result of the pilot program, Perpetual Guardian found that:

  • Levels of engagement, teamwork, and stimulation went up between 30% to 40%   
  • Time spent on social media fell by 35%
  • Stress levels were down by 15%
  • People stated they slept more, rested more, read more, and relaxed more
  • After the two-month trial, the four-day workweek became permanent

“It’s not just having a day off a week,” says Perpetual Guardian founder and author Andrew Barnes. “It’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit established by Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day workweek.

Research suggests that alternative work arrangements such as the four-day workweek are particularly beneficial for working mothers and low-income employees because these they tend to be marginalized from high-paying jobs or promotions and are often labelled as “failed” employees because household and caretaking responsibilities prevent them from working long hours or unexpected business travel. The four-day workweek could help level the playing field for marginalized workers.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which I wrote about back in 2010, seems especially relevant today. ROWE gives workers the freedom to do their jobs how and when they see fit, so long as they produce the stated results on specified deadlines.

While ROWE may not be suitable in every work environment, it can work well with workers who are experienced, conscientious, and professional. That’s why workplaces such as IBM, JL Buchanan, WATT Global Media, GitHub, Trello, Toggl, DataStax and many others see the benefits to both their employees and the bottom line.

While ROWE can result in happier, more engaged, and productive employees, communication can be compromised if regular meetings or check-ins are not established and held firm. Not all employees are capable of being successful with such autonomy, and, of course, many workplaces simply don’t provide that much flexibility where established hours are required.

Nevertheless, where ROWE can be implemented, it can result in attracting and retaining top talent, lower real estate costs, and a company culture that values work-life balance.

I’ve learned that while employees love the hybrid work model, managers are not so enamored with the idea. Many claim it is too hard to successfully monitor and manage others. But perhaps this points to the problem. We need a new way to measure productivity that doesn’t involve watching over someone’s shoulder. This means providing greater autonomy for how the work gets done.

Whether the four-day workweek becomes a reality anytime soon, perhaps implementing the ROWE model is a step in that direction. Trust employees and give them the agency and autonomy to get the work done. Don’t simply fill five days with tasks, but provide the goals and objectives then get out of the way as employees deliver results. And be open to this being accomplished in just four days.

Time to Focus

June 30, 2022

In a world of constant distraction from incessant emails, text messages, phone calls, social media, and 24-hour news media, it can be difficult if not impossible to really focus. Yet, time to focus is exactly what we need to solve the biggest challenges we face as individuals, organizations, and societies.

Today in the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only 65 seconds before being distracted. Adults working in an office can do so for just three minutes. These are the findings of author Johann Hari, which he explores in his book Stolen Focus: Why you can’t pay attention—and how to think deeply again.

Further, the number of Americans who read books for pleasure is now at its lowest level ever. Gallup found that the proportion of Americans who never read a book in any given year tripled between 1978 and 2014. Currently, 57 percent of Americans do not read a single book in a typical year. While average Americans spend 17 minutes a day reading a book, they spend nearly five-and-a-half hours on their phone.

The advent of the internet and smartphones have certainly been beneficial to our society. But at what cost? What we consider essential tools to help us be better informed, more connected and improve our productivity, are in many cases causing us to be misinformed, increasingly lonely, and unable to focus on anything long enough to solve real problems or make progress.

Think about this for a minute. When was the last time you had an hour of uninterrupted time to think deeply about something? How about just 15 minutes before you were distracted and had to switch back to focusing again? Was it something external that distracted you or was it your internal desire to reach for your phone for just a second?

The problem is not only the amount of time you are distracted. It is the switching back and forth because it takes so much time to be fully focused again.

We can certainly find fault with those companies who are focused on creating and running the devices, websites and apps that keep us in this distracted state of mind. These companies are incentivized to keep our eyes glued to what they’ve created. Facebook could easily create a feature making it easy for you to find out who in your network is in a particular location so you could meet up with them. You would then have a real social engagement, but Facebook would lose the ad revenue once you disengage the app.

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractible, says there are things we can do as individuals to fight back. He suggests the 10-minute rule: When you feel the urge to check your phone, wait ten minutes. This short pause can help you stop simply reacting to the behavior that’s become a habit for all of us.

The moments in our lives that push us to give in to bad habits are what Eyal calls internal triggers. “An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state,” he says. “It’s all about avoidance. It’s all about—how do I get out of this uncomfortable state?” He suggests thinking about our triggers nonjudgmentally. Find ways to disrupt them. When you are triggered to pick up your phone or Google something you’re curious about, instead, simply make a note and plan to do it later. Rarely, is it something you need to do immediately.

Other suggestions include:

  • Silence notifications on your phone so that you’re not constantly interrupted.
  • Turn on “do not disturb” when you want to focus or move your phone to another room.
  • Delete all the apps you can from your phone, especially social media.
  • Set up limits on how much time you can use each app so you are forced to disengage.
  • Unsubscribe from email lists that are not important to you.
  • Choose to have “office hours” for when you’ll read and respond to emails and stick to it.

My 18-year-old daughter recently attended a training where nobody knew each other. They were first seated in a circle and, although everyone else in the group pulled out their phones and began staring at them, she chose to simply sit and be present. Though no conversation ensued, I think that if only more of us would behave in this manner, we might begin to reclaim our humanity. We may realize our phones are simply a tool, which can be used by us or ruled over us.

Choose productivity over immediately satisfying your curiosity. You’re more likely to remain focused and you’ll be able to think deeply about things that really matter.

Wisdom of Peter Drucker

June 18, 2022

Nobody embodies my philosophy of leadership more than the late great management consultant Peter Drucker. And his notion of “serving the common good” distinguishes him from the “greed is good” mantra that guided so many companies in the previous century.

According to Drucker’s theory, business leaders need to embrace the “spirit of performance” by displaying high levels of moral and ethical integrity in their actions. These actions should be focused on results, empowering employees, going beyond financial obligations to shareholders, and ultimately serving the common good. He focused on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Although this may seem idealistic and perhaps Pollyannish today, Drucker’s theory should serve as a north star where business leaders should aim if they want to be successful in the long run. I deliberately provide this caveat because all too many leaders are focused narrowly on the current share price and the next quarterly earnings call. This is often because they are measured far too strictly by these short-term financial results above and beyond all else.

The man largely credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” back in 1959, Drucker stated that “knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” He wasn’t just speaking of leaders, but all knowledge workers.

If we take away only one thing from formal education, we should embrace the idea of lifelong learning. Be it high school, college, or graduate school, it’s vital to continually seek out new information, especially when it challenges our current thinking. Confirmation bias is easily achieved by tuning into our favorite media echo chamber, social media group or a simple Google search. What’s hard is seriously considering alternative perspectives and staying open to different ideas.

My favorite and most often repeated Druckerism is “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Leadership is about continually questioning and confirming whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do. Peter Drucker once wrote that the leader of the past knew how to tell, but the leader of the future will know how to ask. The further you rise into leadership, the more important are the questions you raise.

With regard to decision making and influence, Drucker stated the following:

  1. Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.
  2. If we need to influence someone in order to make a positive difference, that person is our customer and we are the salesperson.
  3. Our customer does not need to buy; we need to sell.
  4. When we are trying to sell, our personal definition of what value is far less important than our customer’s definition of value.
  5. We should focus on the areas where we can actually make a positive difference. Sell what we can sell and change what we can change. Let go of what we cannot sell or change.

In my work as an executive coach, these five ideas are especially relevant for many of my clients to embrace if they want to increase their effectiveness as a leader.

The idea of “serving the common good” may have been disregarded by many organizations, but it is now embraced by companies who don’t see shareholder value at the expense of all the other stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and customers. Increasing shareholder value can be coupled with increasing stakeholder value.

Even the famous free market economist Milton Freidman, who wrote the New York Times Magazine article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” that shaped business practice for the past 50 years, would question many of the disreputable behavior of companies today. This is because Freidman also wrote about the “respect for ethical custom,” which doesn’t get much attention. By this he meant that if theft against the shareholder is wrong, then so is theft for the shareholder. Such theft could be in the form of companies abusing their power or depleting collectively owned resources (air quality, water quality, communities, etc.) without compensating owners.

Clearly companies who embrace serving the common good as a corporate value are much more likely to attract Millennials and Gen Zers, who are looking for their careers to be more than simply creating wealth for shareholders. The same is true for customers who, when faced with a choice, will choose brands that exemplify who they are and what they value.

Peter Drucker’s wisdom is embraced by leaders who will be successful going forward. And that’s good for their companies, employees, customers, communities, and the environment.

Threshold of an Opportunity

June 3, 2022

The fractured discourse in society over race, abortion, guns, politics, public health, and many other things threatens the fabric of what makes this country so great. We used to respectfully disagree and continue to be united as citizens. Now we are dangerously polarized. Where once we could compromise, now there is only me or you, win or lose.

E Pluribus Unum translates as “out of many, one.” This is emblazed across the scroll clenched in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States and originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation. Today there are Red states and Blue states.

We are in a liminal space: between what is and what is to come. The word liminal translates from the Latin word “limi,” which means threshold. Our society may be leaving one way of life behind and transitioning to something altogether different.

Businesses are facing a liminal space too. How do they entice employees to return to the workplace? The great resignation has morphed into workers demanding more control over when and where they do the work. Leaders are challenged to find a way.

“A leader’s primary role is to create the future,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “Our vision for the future should never be an extension of the present or a return to the past. Normal is the realm of a manager who sees his or her role as controlling what is. The leader, by contrast, doesn’t want to control—she seeks to release the potential of her people and her organization. There is nothing normal about a preferred future. Without the liminal space, escaping normalcy is unlikely, and so is a better tomorrow.”

It is important for leaders to see this liminal space as an opportunity. Reflect on the changing times and the abundance of possibilities for those who embrace rather than resist it. Create a vision for the future. Release the potential of your people and of the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a recognition that a change in the workplace is necessary. Consider the rise of union organization, demand for accountability on climate change, #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.

Many corporations may have to: shift from overly rewarding CEOs and shareholders at the expense of employees and customers; challenge the assumption that the reason for all white males on the leadership team and boardrooms is because there aren’t qualified woman and people of color; provide a ROWE (Results Only Work Ethic) environment where only the work results are measured and not the time in an office cubicle.

Look at this liminal space not simply as a time to address problems but to embrace the opportunities.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” wrote Peter Drucker, author of The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.”

At this threshold between what was and what will be, leaders must courageously embrace what is possible and move forward. This liminal space is the launching pad for transforming the old ways of working to meet the new challenges of today. Our future depends on it.

Is LinkedIn My Last Refuge?

May 14, 2022

As a small business owner, I’ve used social media to promote my services, demonstrate my expertise, and attract new clients. This is done primarily via blog posts, which I repurpose as articles on LinkedIn. Though I’ve used Facebook and Twitter, these sites proved less valuable for connecting with clients and now conflict with my values.

Elon Musk, in his on-again off-again decision to purchase Twitter, has caused confusion and dramatic swings in its stock price. This should not be surprising given the chaotic behavior we’ve come to expect from the mercurial Musk. I’ll soon close my account on Twitter because it is becoming embroiled in spreading misinformation detrimental to our society and potentially catastrophic in leading to further destruction of our democracy.

Three years ago, I removed myself from Facebook when it became clear CEO Mark Zuckerberg would take no responsibility for the rampant misinformation regarding presidential campaigns and COVID-19. Profits directly tied to false information spreading virally are just too enticing to take significant steps to curtail it. I believe Facebook has dramatically failed in its mission to give “people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

When I studied journalism as an undergraduate back in the early 1980s, I learned that the so-called fourth estate was vital to the health and well-being of our democracy. (I’m not suggesting social media is in any way a news organization, but many people seem to be treating it as such.) Back then, news reporting was respected because it was based on verifiable facts and as close to objective as possible with some notable exceptions. Fake news was relegated to the tabloids and people knew not to take seriously unverified information.

Obviously, a lot has changed since then and conspiracy theories and blatantly false information now dominate one major political party’s discourse. When someone seeks to confirm their bias, it’s easy to find cable news channels, talk radio hosts and websites that supply exactly what they’re looking for. Have we reached a post-truth era where verisimilitude matters most?

Fact finding and verification take time and money, and when we no longer financially support organizations providing that, we will be subject to those who profit from our ignorance. Many so-called news organizations choose to serve up opinion as fact and do not keep their audience informed, but merely seek to capture eyeballs and clicks for profit and power. 

Accountability is becoming all too rare and when corrupt politicians and white-collar criminals are not punished for breaking the law, this lack of accountability only permeates more deeply into society. Shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre was once deemed not protected by the First Amendment. Today, you can tweet or post just about anything—no matter how destructive—while facing few if any repercussions. Elon Musk believes banning someone for the equivalent of shouting “fire” when there is no fire impinges on free speech.

“A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being,” wrote Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Don’t Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life. The Mappiness Project found that of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks last in how much happiness it brings.

As much as I want to continue to promote my business and the services I offer, I will now only distribute my blog posts (as articles) via LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn continues to be a professional forum where most people post things and write articles that have some relevance to the people running and employed by businesses and organizations. My blog posts will also always be available on my website. Call me Meta-averse, but I will no longer use social media sites that run counter to my values.

“The mission of LinkedIn is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” I suspect this could be corrupted similar to Facebook and Twitter. I’ve certainly seen posts expressing purely political perspectives or rants that clearly don’t belong on this site. Many people have gently reminded those posting them that such missives don’t belong here.

For now, I see LinkedIn as my last refuge for promoting my business and it seems the ideal place for me connect with others on a professional basis. I hope you will continue to follow me on LinkedIn, even if I am no longer available on other social media platforms.

Effective Communication Takes Two

April 26, 2022

In my work as an executive coach, one of the most common goals my clients choose to work on is to become a better communicator. This is usually not about public speaking, presentations or even writing better emails. It’s about learning to actively listen, interacting back-and-forth and understanding it’s not about what you say, but what others hear.

Ironically, the plethora of tools created to help us communicate has not increased effective communication. In fact, I would argue it has gotten much worse. Look no further than the negative impacts of social media.

Effective communication requires back and forth exchange, otherwise it’s just talking at people. Sending and receiving messages requires active participation on both sides to enable accurate understanding. This is especially important in the workplace to ensure the results management wants is what employees can deliver.

“We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate,” writes management consultant and author Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship. The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely is it that the subordinate will mis-hear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.”

This back and forth is all too often missing and leads to managers upset when they repeatedly tell their direct reports what they want, yet the employee fails to deliver. Perhaps it’s less about telling and more about asking.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of doing the right things rather than simply doing things right. When those on the front lines (closest to the problem or opportunity) are consulted on what’s the right thing to do, leaders are likely to make better decisions. This involves two-way communication that balances listening with speaking.   

Drucker suggests effective executives should ask their knowledge workers the following:

  • What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?
  • What do you want to tell me regarding this organization?
  • Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit?
  • Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind?
  • What do you want to know from me about the organization?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” writes Drucker. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This advice should be followed by all executives as an organization can only be as effective as its people.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Ensure that your communication includes active listening, back-and-forth interaction, and that what you say is what they hear. Then it won’t be an illusion.

Role Clarity in Leadership

April 14, 2022

The leader of an organization has many responsibilities, but perhaps the most important is ensuring that the right people are in the right roles to carry out the needs of the organization so it can thrive. This role clarity cannot be overemphasized.

“Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” This quote is attributed to the great organizational consultant and author Warren G. Bennis. It is ultimately about leadership doing the right things, but also making a distinction between managing a process and leading people.

Managers are those who carry out right things. If they are asked to do the wrong things, then it really doesn’t matter if they do them right or not. The best organizations recognize that when a manager pushes back on doing what is perceived as the wrong things, it’s not necessarily a sign of insubordination. It can signal misunderstanding, insufficient communication or a lack of confidence in a leader.  

Leaders need not only do the right things, but they also need to ensure that their people are clear in their understanding and responsibility to execute these things in the right way. This means fully knowing why these are the right things. Unless the leader is in a command-and-control situation like the military, it is necessary to bring people along to ensure they fully believe you are doing the right things.

Getting this clarity regarding the role every person plays is vital, and this is especially important when leading teams.

“If you are the leader, you can decide the role you want to play and the role you want your team to play,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “But you need to decide.”

Miller distinguishes between what he suggests are a leader’s role versus a leadership team’s role.

Leader’s Role                                      Leadership Team’s Role
Provide vision                                     Communicate vision
Establish values                                  Enforce the core values
Set goals                                              Manage the day-to-day activities
Endorse core strategies                      Identify and solve problems
Provide resources                               Lift and maintain engagement
Provide encouragement                     Train and equip team members
Invest in leaders                                  Develop next generation leaders
Establish boundaries                          Provide accountability
Clarify roles                                         Improve performance

As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure there is clarity in the roles. If not, this impacts performance, and will undermine every leadership initiative.

“Don’t miss the big idea here—regardless of who does what, be clear and explicit,” says Miller. “The absence of role clarity is not a team failure—it is a leadership failure.”

Get clarity regarding your role and the role of your people in order to ensure your organization thrives.

Regards for Regrets

March 29, 2022

Do you have regrets? Perhaps your immediate reaction might be no, but—if you’re completely honest with yourself—you probably regret at least some things you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s part of being human and having free will.  

Like all emotions, regret can be extremely helpful if we are able to learn what it reveals to us. There is wisdom when we reflect on what this regret means on a deeper level.

Regret can occur when you believe your past action or behavior, if changed, may have produced a better outcome. We all have regrets about something at some point in our lives and it’s best not to deny feeling it. Regret can often be closely associated with feeling guilt or shame and can then be expressed to others in an apology.

According to Daniel H. Pink, author of The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, there are three options for responding to regret. Acknowledge that 1) feeling is for ignoring, which results in delusion; 2) feeling is for feeling, which results in despair; or 3) feeling is for thinking, which results in better decisions, improved performance, and deeper meaning.  

This third option is all about emotional intelligence and welcoming the information derived from your feelings without dismissing or getting overwhelmed by them. It means recognizing and responding to what you’re feeling in a way that helps you navigate your life, particularly when regret surfaces.

Pink says the deep structure of regret can be about the human need for stability, growth, goodness, or love. For example:

If you find yourself saying things like “if only I’d done the work,” this is likely a foundation regret that reveals your need for stability. Or when you find yourself thinking “if only I’d taken the risk,” this is about boldness where you are perhaps concerned about growth. When you think “if only I’d done the right thing,” this is likely a moral issue where you are concerned with goodness. And when you think “if only I’d reached out,” this is very likely a connection issue where you are missing the love that passed you by.  

To learn what regret is telling you, it helps to write about it or talk about it with others. Pink suggests that you relive and relieve regret to reduce some of the burden and begin to make sense of it.

“Writing about regret or revealing a regret to another person moves the experience from the realm of emotion into the realm of cognition,” says Pink. “Instead of those unpleasant feelings fluttering around uncontrollably, language helps us capture them in our net, pin them down, and begin analyzing them.”

This ability to analyze your regret means you can learn what the feeling is trying to tell you. Perhaps you need to apologize to someone who you’ve offended. Or maybe you need to reach out to someone with whom you’ve lost touch. You could act now to relieve your regret and likely unburden you with the weight you may be carrying as a result.

Other regrets such as not choosing a different career path may be difficult to reconcile, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned from what you’re feeling. You could certainly choose to look at it differently. That is, you may believe that a different career path would have been better, but how do you know? Rather than ruminate on what might have been, maybe you could celebrate all that you have, which may not have been possible with another career.  

So often it is only after the passage of time that we can see the thread that connects the events and people in our lives. If you embrace the feeling of regret and learn what it can teach, you are more likely to regard it as meaningful and move it from a debilitating feeling into meaningful action.

Zelenskyy’s Virtual Executive Presence

March 14, 2022

Throughout the past two years many of us have been challenged to demonstrate effective executive presence while working remotely. But how do you convey leadership prowess when you’re not physically in the same room?

Perhaps Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has most recently provided a great example of how to do this effectively—even while his life is being threatened and his country devastated by the Russian invasion.

First and foremost, Zelenskyy has led with values and demonstrates courage, vision and inspiration to Ukrainians and people around the world. Becoming famous by first acting as a fictional president in “Servant of the People,” perhaps the war has verified his ability to truly embody the notion of a servant to others.

Clearly, before becoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood how to communicate effectively as he rose from comedian to commander by capturing more than 70% of the vote. This effective wartime president has been able to gather worldwide sympathy as well as support for him and the Ukrainian people.

Whether President Putin may have simply underestimated the Ukrainian people’s resolve or President Zelenskyy has effectively held back a quick and decisive victory is still unclear. Regardless, the Ukrainian president is certainly effective in demonstrating his leadership.

Here are some examples how President Zelenskyy demonstrates executive presence:

  • Leads with values – speaks of freedom and independence for the Ukrainian people.
  • Speaks in terms of “we, the people of Ukraine” rather than “I alone can fix it” language.
  • Knows his medium: capitalizes on social media to effectively communicate his message.
  • Takes his own video selfies using not only words, but visuals of him wearing fatigues, sitting with his troops, and using backgrounds effectively.
  • Targets message to his audience: speaks Russian to Russian citizens, speaks English as necessary, and channels Winston Churchill in House of Commons speech: “we will fight in the fields, in the forests, in the streets . . .”
  • Demonstrates courage: When offered a safe way out, says “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”

When it comes to conveying leadership presence in less precarious and dangerous positions, perhaps there are some lessons to learn from Zelenskyy. Running an organization or any team of people requires showing up in a way that demonstrates you as a leader. This is about how you are perceived by others.

As I described in a previous blog post titled Building Trust & Connection via Zoom, it’s important to show you value others, carefully communicate, confidently collaborate and trust totally. Beyond the importance of digital body language, demonstrating executive presence in a virtual environment means:

  • Actively listen and take careful note of participants’ body language, focused attention, and whether they are engaged in the way you want.
  • Ensure that you remain fully engaged and are not distracted by multi-tasking.
  • Facilitate discussions to make everyone feel included and valued. Build on ideas, summarize information, and appoint actions to be taken.
  • Watch your tone of voice to ensure it is appropriate given the subject matter and the people involved, especially as this carries more weight without being in the same room.
  • Dress appropriately and groom yourself as if you were in the office. This falls under the category of “look the part of a leader.”
  • Use positive language and recognize that you may have to work harder to convey warmth due to the digital distance.

When you do these things effectively, you will show up in a way that others perceive as that of a leader. Since you can’t demonstrate how you physically carry yourself when you walk into a conference room, do all you can to accentuate the medium you are confined to. This is about how you look, how you speak, how you listen, how you participate.

Don’t disregard the importance of optimizing the medium you find yourself to bring out your best self. You’ll not only act like a leader but look the part as well.

Body Language in a Virtual World

February 28, 2022

With a return to the workplace, now’s a good time to reflect on the communication challenges we faced while working remotely. You were likely frustrated by the difficulty in exclusively communicating via Slack, Zoom or Teams, email, and texting. These alternative forms are certainly not going away, so it’s time to improve your digital body language.

Communication technologies provide many benefits, yet not being face-to-face in the same room, we lose the opportunity to send and receive messages most effectively.

While we’ve relied on body language to understand each other for centuries, the technology that has enabled alternative forms of communicating hasn’t replicated the nuance of being face-to-face. As a result, we need to strengthen our digital body language.

According to Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance, this can be simply responding promptly to a text, showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comments, using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting or many other things.

Dhawan says when trying to communicate most effectively, trust, engagement, excitement, and urgency all play a role. Keep the following suggestions in mind.

Traditional Body LanguageDigital Body Language
Establish Trust
Keep your palms open; uncross your arms and legs; smile and nod.Use language that is direct with clear subject lines; end emails with a friendly gesture; never bcc anyone without warning; mirror the sender’s use of emojis and/or informal punctuation.
Show Engagement
Lean in with your body as another person is talking; uncross your arms and legs; smile, nod, and make direct eye contact.  Prioritize timely responses; send responses that answer all questions or statements in the previous message (not just one or two); send a simple “Got it!” or “Received” if the message doesn’t merit a longer response; don’t use the mute button as a license to multitask; use positive emojis like thumbs-up or smile.
Demonstrate Excitement
Speak quickly; raise your voice; express yourself physically by jumping up and down or tapping your fingers on your desk.  Use exclamation points and capitalizations; prioritize quick response times; send multiple messages in a row without getting a response first; use positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs-up, high fives).  
Show Urgency
Raise your voice; speak quickly; point your finger (or make any other exaggerated gesture).  Use all caps paired with direct language or sentences that end in multiple exclamation marks; opt for a phone call or a meeting over a digital message; skip greetings; use formal closings, Reply All, or cc to direct attention; issue the same message on multiple digital channels simultaneously.

Working remotely is not going away so it’s important to strengthen your digital body language. Recognize the limitations in communicating without being face-to-face and shift the way you show up. Insert the beneficial elements of body language in the way you communicate in the virtual world.

Say Yes to Office Politics

February 14, 2022

Early in my career I worked for a rapidly growing mid-size company and experienced negative aspects of office politics firsthand. I saw men and women who regularly interrupted others, elbowed their way into interactions with senior leaders, pushed themselves into important discussions, and generally got promoted more quickly than the rest of us.

I convinced myself that I’d rather let my work speak for itself and while these people were playing office politics to get promoted more quickly, I’m better than that. I assumed there could be no integrity in office politics and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually I came to understand that being politically savvy is essential to rising into leadership positions and integrity is what separates those who are truly politically skilled. While those who are disingenuous may fool some people in the workplace, the art of being politically or organizationally savvy requires the authentic use of political skills.   

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, politically skilled leaders are masters at:

  • Social astuteness
  • Interpersonal influence
  • Networking ability
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Managing up
  • Apparent sincerity

Being politically savvy means you can maintain a positive image while driving your individual, team, and organization’s performance.

In a white paper titled Using Political Skill to Maximize and Leverage Work Relationships, the Center for Creative Leadership identified four distinct practices leaders can use to demonstrate political skill:

  • Social Awareness – This has to do with an ability to observe others well enough to understand their behaviors and motives.
  • Interpersonal Influence – The ability to influence and engage with others is paramount to successful leadership.  
  • Networking – Building one’s own team is merely a beginning as reaching across the organization is required to strengthen one’s political skillset.
  • Sincerity – This where integrity comes in and the ability to be open, honest, and genuine with others is the difference in those who are sincere and those who are not.

Navigating office politics is about being authentic and understanding that there will be ambiguity in work relationships. Both are required to build alliances, which is what provides you with political skills you need to succeed.

It’s vital to manage up well. This is not only about your boss but also other senior leaders who are gatekeepers for your career growth. These are the people who need to see you demonstrating all your political savvy skills.

Rejecting office politics means you won’t rise into senior leadership. Make peace with office politics and recognize that although it may in fact be a game, it’s a game you need to learn to play it well.

Don’t reject office politics because some people don’t play fair. While any game can include unfair players, engaging in office politics and playing with integrity, enables you to grow your leadership and advance your career. Say yes to office politics.