Gender Equity is Not a Zero-Sum Game

May 31, 2024

For far too long women have been unfairly treated in the workplace. Whether it is lower pay or fewer advancement opportunities, senior leadership positions or corporate board seats, women have been held back from achieving their full potential. This is not only bad for women, but also for organizations that miss contributions from half the population.

Zero-sum thinkers will view the world as binary: either you win and I lose, or I win and you lose. A mutually beneficial solution is not even considered, and this is often the problem when we discuss gender equity.

In a recent announcement, philanthropist Melinda French Gates says she plans to spend $1 billion over the next two years to support women and families, and that she is committed to advocating for women and girls.

“For too long, a lack of money has forced organizations fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offense,” said French Gates. “I want to help even the match.”

This is incredibly good news and long overdue in supporting the advancement of women around the world.

But many men are struggling to reach their full potential, and this is also important.

According to Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, for the first time in American history, in 2019 the balance of the workforce tipped toward women. In 1972, women earned just 42% of bachelor’s degrees and by 1982 women were as likely as men to graduate from college. During the next 20 years, women’s enrollment rose quickly while men’s did not. And by 2019 the gap reversed: women earned 59% of the bachelor’s degrees, while men earned just 49%.

Women are on the rise and that’s a very good thing. At the same time, men are losing ground and that needs to change.

Granted the diminishing number of manufacturing jobs has certainly contributed to this lack of opportunity for many men. The number of service jobs have outnumbered manufacturing jobs for years. According to Statista, as of 2021, nearly 80% of US jobs are now in some type of service.

Richard V. Reeves, author of the book Of Boys and Men, writes that we are now facing a labor shortage in two of the largest and most important service sectors of the economy—health and education—and we are trying to solve this crisis with only half the workforce.

STEM vs. HEAL

Reeves recommends that in the same way women are seeking to make further progress into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, we should find ways to encourage and assist men into opportunities in HEAL (health, education, administration and literacy) fields.

STEM careers currently account for 9% of all jobs in the US while HEAL careers account for 15%. Those in HEAL careers include nurses, lab technicians, dental hygienists, teachers, librarians, social workers, and childcare workers, are currently dominated by women. In theory, these jobs could become more attractive to men. Higher pay would certainly be important, but that’s not everything.

Making these careers more appealing and accessible to men would benefit both them and the people they serve. Reeves suggests that male teachers might provide role models for boys. Male nurses might make men more likely to take responsibility for their physical health. Male psychotherapists may make it easier for men to seek help and follow through with tending to their mental and emotional wellbeing.

This is not a zero-sum game. Women don’t have to lose their jobs at the expense of men getting theirs. It’s more about changing the stereotype that men are computer programmers, engineers, and CEOs, and women are nurses, teachers, and social workers.  

30 by 30

Reeves suggests we should set a 30 by 30 Goal: 30% female representation in STEM jobs and 30% male representation in HEAL jobs by 2030. This would certainly improve the lives of both men and women.

Doing this would take a concerted effort to shift how we currently think about the roles men and women play in the workplace. It would require the media, government officials, teachers, administrators, parents and communities to honor and support the work of every individual based on their skills and abilities rather than their gender.

Let’s stop thinking in terms of zero-sum when it comes to gender equity. Provide opportunity and support so that everyone can contribute to the best of their abilities, and we can improve our organizations and the overall economy.

Stay Curious with Statistics

April 10, 2024

Today we are bombarded by statistics presented to influence how to interpret our world. These can be thoughtful and well-meaning attempts to help us better understand or they can be malicious and deliberately meant to obfuscate or deceive.

It’s therefore important to be curious whenever you encounter a statistic. Rather than take the information at face value, see if you can pause and reflect on its message before drawing a conclusion.  

To become more critical of the stats you come across, it may help to become familiar with the basic concepts of statistics. These include measures of central tendency (mean, median and mode), measures of variability (range, variance and standard deviation), and probability. It’s important to understand how these concepts relate to data and their interpretation.

Without having to become a statistician, however, you can increase your understanding by following the advice of Tim Harford, author of The Data Detective: Ten easy rules to make sense of statistics. These are:

  1. Search your feelings – Being human means being emotional, but it’s important to detach your feelings from the data you’re seeing. Don’t jump to conclusions just because your emotions are triggered.
  2. Ponder your personal experience – Learn to leverage the worm’s eye (your personal experience) view with the bird’s eye (more broad but dry scientific) view.
  3. Avoid premature enumeration – Be sure to fully understand before drawing conclusions. If inequality is said to have soared over the years, be sure you know what kind of inequality is being measured.
  4. Step back and enjoy the view – Slow down the process to fully understand the context to determine the main takeaways correctly.
  5. Get the backstory – Try to understand the story behind the data: where does it come from, is it reliable? Are all the findings crystal clear?
  6. Ask who is missing – Big data is now all the rage, but that can still lead to bias in data selection. As the author warns: do not let “N (dataset observations) = All”.
  7. Demand transparency when the computer says no – Big data brought with it advanced algorithms that typically brings better results but aren’t necessarily easy to interpret. Be careful not to take new methodologies as the Holy Grail.
  8. Don’t take statistical bedrock for granted – Though politicians and business leaders may bend statistics to fit their needs, this doesn’t mean that independent statisticians and economists are necessarily bad.
  9. Remember that misinformation can be beautiful, too – Behind every graph is someone likely trying to convince you of something. I think most of us have done this ourselves, which is the purpose of presenting statistics in the first place.
  10. Keep an open mind – Things change and therefore so should the conclusions that you draw. Remain curious and when the data changes, so too should your takeaway from the data.

You can become a lot more discerning of statistics if you remain curious and keep these rules in mind. And this is just important if you are the one presenting the statistics as well.

Really Knowing Others at Work

February 27, 2024

The ability to deeply see other people is important to develop and sustain relationships. This is beneficial in your personal life in order to live a long and happy one, but it is also important in the workplace if you want to successfully collaborate and lead others.

A vast amount of research has determined that the secret to a long, healthy, and happy life has to do with the quality of our relationships. This has been found to be more important than diet, exercise, genetics, wealth, education, and other factors.

Perhaps most famously, the Grant Study—a longitudinal study begun in 1938 that followed 268 Harvard sophomores—found that close relationships and social connections are crucial for our well-being as we age. That’s because supportive relationships help us cope with stress and protects our overall health. This finding proved true across the board not only among men in the Harvard study, but also participants studied from the inner-city.

In the workplace we may diminish the importance of how we relate to each other. Some may think it should only be about the work and that if we simply focus on the task at hand, the messiness of people won’t complicate matters. The problem with this perspective is that we are all emotional human beings and cannot simply show up as logic-minded, “Spock-like” characters in the workplace.

David Brooks, author of How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, says this ability to really know another person is all too rare.

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society,” writes Brooks. “The ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

Brooks goes on to describe some people as Diminishers, who make others feel small and unseen; things to be used, not as persons to be befriended. Diminishers use stereotypes and ignore other people because they are so involved with themselves. Qualities of these Diminishers include egotism, anxiety, objectivism, and a static mindset.

On the other hand, Brooks highlights Illuminators as those with a persistent curiosity about others, knowing what to look for and how to ask the right questions at the right time. “They shine the brightness of their care on people and make them feel bigger, deeper, respected, lit up.” The qualities of Illuminators include tenderness, receptivity, active curiosity, affection, and generosity.

Do you recognize Diminishers or Illuminators in your workplace? If you’re fortunate, you work for an Illuminator who really sees you and supports your growth. They are the ones you should strive to work for and follow.

Diminishers are those who may be holding you back from being your best self at work. They are more interested in themselves than those around them. These people may be in leadership positions, but they are not true leaders. You should shun Diminishers whenever possible.

What about you? Do you show up in work relationships in a curious, attentive, and empathetic manner or do you show up in a manner that is more transactional, competitive, and self-focused?

True collaboration and teamwork require more of the Illuminator qualities. And leaders who embrace these qualities are more likely to build solid teams and organizations that are based on psychological safety, trust, rapport, and productivity.

Until artificial intelligence replaces us in the workplace, we will need to get along by recognizing our own emotions and those of the people we interact with. This requires elements of emotional intelligence to really know others in a way that helps them feel seen and to help others to really see ourselves. Seek to be an Illuminator in all your relationships so that you live a long and happy life, and you are more effective in the workplace.

Work & Happiness

January 12, 2024

It’s a new year and time to reflect on whether your job is serving to increase or decrease your happiness. In an era where there seems to be little loyalty to employees or to employers, perhaps taking a more active role in your career can lead to greater satisfaction in what you do and greater happiness in your life.

In 2014 economists determined that a one-percentage-point increase in unemployment lowers national well-being by more than five times as much as a one-percent increase in the inflation rate. Is our well-being impacted more by our jobs than the overall value of our paychecks? Given how much time we spend at our jobs, what we do for a living greatly impacts our satisfaction and enjoyment.

“Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are positively related, and causal: liking your job causes you to be happier all around,” writes Arthur C. Brooks in his book Build the Life You Want, which is co-authored by Oprah Winfrey. “Engaging in work with your whole heart is one of the best ways to enjoy your days, get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and see meaning in your efforts.”

The authors explain how four factors help determine whether you can live a happy life: family, friends, work, and faith. No one of these is more important than the others. And, assuming you’re earning enough money from your job to provide for your basic needs, you should seek to make your work “love made visible” in the words of Brooks and Winfrey. Among other things, this means choosing extrinsic rewards only to the point of providing for your economic requirements and intrinsic rewards for your overall happiness.

To do this with your career, the authors suggest putting some space between your job and your life by making friends outside of where you work. Take weekends off and partake in true vacations to ensure your life is more than what you do for a living. Your career or job should be an extension of who you are and not vice versa: work to live rather than live to work.

Specifically, with regard to enabling your work to be love made visible, Brooks and Winfrey suggest the challenges are:

  1. Figure out your career goals. To do this, seek intrinsic rewards from what you do to ensure that you are not simply motivated by financial motives or fancy titles. Intrinsic rewards will lead to inherent fulfillment and enjoyment when you do your work. You can often determine whether you have enough intrinsic rewards by reflecting on how you speak to other people about what you do for a living.
  2. Decide whether your career path is linear, steady state, transitory or spiral. Is your path a ladder, a lattice, or something else? Then actively pursue that path by paying attention to your internal signals as a guide for whether and when to move from one position or company to another.
  3. Determine whether you have a work addiction by honestly looking at your patterns and assess the health of your habits. Are they serving your mental and physical health, your relationships, your overall happiness? Depression and anxiety are strongly associated with work addiction—either the cause or the result. Making time for family and friends, hobbies, and exercise can reduce the likelihood of these and improve your happiness.
  4. Own up to whether your identity is defined by what you do. It’s all too easy to lose your true self to a representation of yourself that is based on your job title or duties. Avoid this self-objectification, which is allowing your job to determine who you are. Make sure you get space from your work and have people in your life who see you as a person and not just as a professional.

While your work is not the only factor that can determine your happiness, it can certainly play an important role. Therefore, reflect on whether you are taking an active role in your career. Ensure you don’t let your identity define who you are based on what you do. And, most importantly, don’t neglect your family, friends and faith as these are equally important for building the life you want and one that is happier.

Reform Necessary to Remain Informed

October 31, 2023

Maintaining a democracy requires citizens who are engaged in contributing to the health and vitality of the country. At a minimum, this means following the news to best understand the issues and concerns, and then voting in federal, state, and local elections.

Although participation soared in the U.S. 2020 election—nearly 63% of voting age people cast ballots—this democracy is far behind many others. According to Pew Research Center, compared with turnout among voting-age population in 49 other countries, the U.S. was 31st.

Perhaps low participation in voting is at least partially due to the challenge of being well informed. Newspapers are struggling to remain viable as people are often choosing to learn about the issues of the day from the internet or social media.

The internet, of course, makes it possible to find “evidence” for just about anything you want to believe. This is why I have so much trouble when I hear people with conspiracy theories say they don’t trust the media and do their own research. This “research” is often collected from unreliable sources and not based on verifiable facts, but on opinions that are backed by random and often disparate supportive information.

Social media was identified as a primary source for news for as many as half of Americans. This is obviously alarming: whether it’s climate change, Covid vaccines, wars in Ukraine or Gaza, you can’t rely on social media platforms for the truth. But as news is slowly disaggregated from companies like Meta and Google, the question becomes where will people go to stay informed?

Perhaps the workplace is a new place where we can learn civics. In Germany, companies are launching seminars on civics and democratic principles—the importance of voting and recognizing the dangers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech—as a way to ensure healthier relationships at work as well as society as a whole.

These Business Council for Democracy workshops are hoping to fill the gaps in employees’ knowledge of the democratic system, including digital civic culture. The programs hope to help people recognize and question conspiracy theories and disinformation, and also reinforce personal responsibility and resilience.

Twitter was once a beacon of great hope for citizen journalists to report on events as they happened. The Arab Spring uprising was a pivotal moment for the platform. Now Elon Musk has run afoul of the European Union’s Digital Services Act that requires social media platforms to restrict misinformation and other violative content within the union’s 27 nations.

The value of X is now less than half of what it was when Musk acquired it as it’s lost both users and advertisers. In its new incarnation, Elon Musk now wants to make X into an everything app.

What if instead of relying on “everything apps” there were more dedicated social media apps we could actually trust and rely on for specific information? Rather than companies seeking to profit merely from eyeballs and stickiness, there could be a financial model built upon either ads, subscriptions, or some combination.

  • Imagine opening your news app and finding strictly verifiable facts in context that helps you understand events of the day? Or at least provide a useful filter such as Snopes or FactCheck to immediately check on what you read or hear. USA Facts app?  
  • Sports fanatics are currently X’s most loyal users representing 42 percent of the X audience, according to the platform. What if there was an app strictly designed for athletes and fans that would enable focus and community. The Athletic are you listening?
  • A pop culture app could dominate all things celebrated in the entertainment world and be designed to follow artists, musicians, actors, etc.

This should not be exclusively tied to apps, but could include podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and other emerging technologies to keep us informed without the deceit and bile. Certainly, we need to beware of artificial intelligence and all that can go wrong.

I suspect there are many reasons why what I’m suggesting won’t work, but there’s got to be an opportunity to reform the way we stay informed. This country depends on all citizens being knowledgeable about current events and engaged in voting so that our democracy remains.

Rethinking Retirement

October 18, 2023

I have reached the age where many of my siblings, friends and colleagues either left the workforce or are headed in the direction of what we call retirement. But this is not your parent’s retirement as people today are living longer than ever and looking to remain active, healthy, useful and, in many cases, engaged in work long after retirement age.

Many factors could be at play here as our longer lifespans have fueled our desire to remain relevant. For many people, fishing, golfing, travelling, and hanging with the grandchildren are no longer fulfilling on their own. Whether it’s about identity or purpose, many want to further contribute, give back, be of service.

According to a report titled The New Age of Aging, based on a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults with more than 900 adults age 50+, here are five key insights:

  1. The demographic makeup of the U.S. is turning upside down as older adults will soon outnumber youth under 18 for the for the first time in our history.
  2. The definition of “old” has been pushed back by twenty years, driven by a new breed of older adults. People over 60 are now more active, open-minded, and curious, and far less rigid and isolated than previous generations.  
  3. Seventy-one percent of today’s modern elders, adults 65+, say the best time of their life is right now or in front of them.
  4. We need to re-imagine purposeful roles for older adults, as 83% of adults 65+ say it’s more important to feel “useful” rather than “youthful” in their retirement years.
  5. There is a need and desire to better match our healthspans to our lifespans.

The survey found that a majority of today’s retirees and pre-retirees say they want both work and retirement: full-time, part-time, or cycling in and out of work. Flex-work, remote-work, sabbaticals, and paid leave should no longer be restricted to younger workers. And keeping older adults working could fuel economic growth and promote greater lifelong financial security.

Age Wave further uncovered five keys to thriving in this longevity:

  1. Actively take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  2. Build and nurture strong relationships with family, friends, and loved ones.
  3. Maintain a clear sense of purpose and pursue meaningful involvements.
  4. Be willing to course-correct as needed to achieve your dreams throughout life.
  5. Commit to saving and investing for lifelong financial security.

A sense of purpose and connection to others enhances your well-being and can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke. On the other hand, loneliness can be more deadly than cigarette smoking.

Purpose can be found in many ways as people choose to volunteer time and expertise to organizations or causes that are most meaningful to them. Consider joining an organization like Third Act where you can contribute your time to protecting our planet.

Try replacing the notion of “aging” with “longevity.” Rather than ask an elderly person how old they are, ask them how many years they have lived. You get the same answer, but I think this may signal a recognition of what they have accomplished rather than simply endured.

Regardless, whether you are in you 65, 55, 45, or even younger, the sooner you rethink retirement, the sooner you’ll be prepared to make the most of it when it arrives.

ABG: Always Be Growing

July 9, 2023

Many professionals finish their undergraduate or master’s degree and conclude they can rely on that institutional knowledge alone to thrive in their careers. Yet those most likely to reach personal and professional goals are always growing and learning.

This includes not only book (articles, podcast, lectures, TED Talks, etc.) learning, but also experiential learning that is available to you all the time. This means learning from setbacks by making changes, so you don’t repeat mistakes in the future. It means continually taking a “beginner’s mind” perspective so that you remain curious and open to innovation and ideas.

A huge part of this continual growth comes from knowing yourself so that you can continually recognize where you are in relation to where you want to be. Welcome both positive and critical feedback as information to help you better understand how you’re showing up.

“Become the world’s greatest expert on yourself so that you can become the very best version of yourself.” This is the advice of Greg Harden, author of the book Stay Sane in an Insane World. Harden, the executive director of athletic counseling at the University of Michigan, has a track record of working with high profile athletes including Tom Brady, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Michael Phelps and many others, who were able to use his advice to reach incredible athletic goals.

Harden’s guidance includes the idea that you should practice, train, and rehearse by giving one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. “Because if you make this your mindset, then on your absolutely worst day,” he writes, “you’re still going to be better than the average person on their best day.” Harden sees no shortcut to greatness.

This doesn’t apply only to Olympic and professional athletes. Giving one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time can be applied to everything we do on or off the field.

And all too often we can be our own worst enemy by being overly critical when we should practice self-love and self-acceptance. By doing so, we’re more likely to welcome the opportunities we face every day to learn and grow.

According to Harden, it is our attitudes and behaviors that can either support or detract from our growth. We should recognize that:

  • Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors hold you back from reaching your goals.

while . . .

  • Self-supporting attitudes and behaviors help you cultivate reaching your goals.

All too often our self-talk is critical or dismissive of our efforts. This can undermine our ability to grow. Instead, we should treat ourselves the way we would counsel and support a close friend or family member. We should be compassionate and supportive.

“Become the very best friend you ever had in your life, because your very best friend has to be you,” writes Harden.  

To always be growing means taking this advice and using it to assist you. Reduce your self-defeating attitudes and behaviors; embrace your self-supporting ones. Be your own very best friend and give one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time. Do so and you will always be growing and reaching your goals.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Personal Accountability & Social Responsibility

January 10, 2022

Do you feel your life and career are within your control? Do you accept accountability for your actions and your inactions? Are you doing your part to better your workplace and community in which you work and live? Or do you feel that you’re a victim without agency, and complain about how bad things are while failing to take responsibility?

It’s all too easy to make snarky comments on social media then stand back and complain about how the world is going to hell. Harder is when you take responsibility for yourself, and actively get involved to be part of a solution. This is when you are more likely to bring about change and feel better about your life.

Many people refuse to take responsibility for their own situation and/or take part in helping to improve our communities. Both are important and necessary and it’s not about which side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Personal Accountability

In the workplace, this means doing your job. Say what you will do and do what you say you will do. Assume positive intent. Respond rather than react. Remember that you are entitled to your feelings, and you are responsible for your behavior.  

To be personally accountable means to get your vaccines and booster shot. It means wearing a mask and practice social distancing to protect yourself. This is not a political decision. It’s a health decision and it can be one with life-or-death consequences. Choose to read and listen to factual information from reliable sources rather than mere opinions from unreliable ones.

Social Responsibility

In the workplace, social responsibility is about encouraging trust, respect, and collaboration. Innovation and efficiency will not happen without these, and you can’t operate independently from others.

Like it or not, your freedom is not about doing whatever you want wherever you want. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there’s no valid reason to do so. Wear a mask to protect your family, friends, neighbors, and the surrounding community. Public health is about all of us, and it requires each of us doing our part. This doesn’t diminish your freedom. In fact, it helps ensure it.

Tufts political science professor, Eitan Hersh, in his 2020 book Politics is for Power, wrote that many Americans participate in “political hobbyism” as a national pastime.  

“A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” Hersh writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”

For Hersh, real political work is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage.

Action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. I encounter so many who complain about their lives: at work, at home, with politicians, and with the state of our government. They so often complain via social media where “likes,” memes, snarky comments, and trolling is all too easy and has become all too socially acceptable.  

In the past two months alone, I’ve encountered several people who complained to me about different situations that I am directly helping to resolve and asked for their commitment to join me to help fix. In every case they either declined or simply went silent on me.

Be the Change You Want to See

I know it’s not easy for people to find the time and energy to devote to a cause outside of paying rent and putting food on the table, but I suspect just about all of us could make time and put forth effort towards improving something in our communities. Whether it’s simply volunteering at your children’s school, a local foodbank, or any number of other valuable organizations, you can make a difference and gain a more optimism in your own life.

Personally, when I reflect on my adult years, I feel my time and energy as a community volunteer, PTSA president, Big Brother, adult literacy tutor, and Braver Angels workshop facilitator, have improved my perspective on life. I feel that I am part of something bigger than myself and this has had a positive impact on both me and on my community.

Just this month I joined an advisory board to help steward a nearby community forest. For too long I found myself complaining about things related to this. After attending a virtual board meeting and found they were looking for new members, I put my name forward and will soon begin helping to balance various constituencies to help solve big and challenging issues.

The fact is you do have enough time. Just become aware of the time you spend on activities that don’t bring you joy or can make you feel worse. By reducing the amount of time spent staring at a screen can free up time. This doesn’t mean working less, but reducing the time spent on social media, streaming movies and series, and especially doom scrolling. Continual rumination is a cause for deep concern and should be a wakeup call.

To feel better about yourself and your community requires that you take control of your time and your energy. It means taking accountability for yourself and responsibility for our shared community. The sooner we all do this, the sooner we will reach the change we wish to see.

Milestone: 300 Blog Posts

December 26, 2021

During the past 12 years, I’ve written and posted articles about leadership, workplace communication, managing employees, executive coaching, organization development and other workplace topics. This blog post marks my 300th since I began writing them in 2009.

From my first post Operational Inefficiencies are Hurting Your Business regarding a trip to Denver that highlighted deficiencies with an airline and car rental company to my most recent Civility in the Workplace, these blog posts are primarily related to what I’m experiencing in my personal and professional life as well as what I’m reading or thinking about. I don’t follow an editorial calendar but instead write about whatever is present in my life at the time.

Though I receive no compensation, there are many benefits for this bi-weekly practice. These include providing potential clients the opportunity to better understand who I am and my expertise. Perhaps more importantly, this encourages my continual learning. (Full disclosure: About half the books I read and reference in these posts are sent free from publishers and publicists hoping I will write something positive.) Every year I read about 25-30 books related to these topics and, by writing about them, feel I am better able to retain the information and pass along to others what I’ve learned.

I wrote about leadership most often as this was tagged 178 times followed by employee engagement (79), organization development (79), workplace communication (75), and lower down was emotional intelligence (39), trust (38), and collaboration (34). The post where I received the most views and comments was Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership written in the summer of 2019. It seemed to strike a chord during and after the Trump presidency.

Over these past 12 years, I see that I frequently discussed the topic of intentionality as well as listening when it comes to effective communication. This was first explored in Turn Signals and Talk Signals where I compared not using turn signals to not being clear in our communication, and in Leader as Listener among others.

Last year, I was able to leverage the work I do on this blog by expanding upon a particular topic into a full book. I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in December 2020 and I’m thrilled to see it has found a larger audience.

This month I self-published a collection of my short fiction, something I’ve worked on for more than 20 years. I Remember Clifford and Other Stories is about exploring identity, the loss of a father, finding one’s voice, and feeling and processing emotions, especially around grief.

Here’s an example of something I’ve learned in just putting this post together. It turns out 300 is the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151) as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). Perhaps only my daughter and a few others might find this of interest. Regardless, writing 300 posts feels like a big milestone for me.

I am extremely grateful to my clients and the many authors and thought leaders who continually inspire me. To my regular readers, I truly appreciate your continued interest, and I welcome your comments and feedback. Happy New Year!

Cultivating Purpose

August 31, 2021

In the early 1960s, while on a tour of NASA, President Kennedy saw a man walking in the hallway with a broom and bucket. The President walked over to him, introduced himself and said, “what do you do here?” The man, who was clearly a janitor, replied, “Sir, I help put a man on the moon.” This was a man with a sense of purpose.  

What about you? Do you feel your life has a clear direction? Do you feel your daily activities are important?

While meaning is about looking back on your life, purpose is about looking forward. Purpose is about guiding you as you make choices in what you do and how you live.

Research has shown that purpose offers direction in life in the same way a compass provides direction when trying to choose the right path. This is essential as having a sense of purpose is sustainable unlike happiness, which is fleeting.

Purpose isn’t something to be found, but something we can only develop from within, and needs to be cultivated, according to Cornell University psychologist Anthony Burrow. He says a sense of purpose is not an objective truth, but more of a subjective experience. You can’t outsource it to someone else.

While you can’t hold your company responsible for you finding or fulfilling your sense of purpose, there are certainly things it can do to help cultivate it in you. But you too have responsibility as well.

Organizations can help foster a sense of purpose by connecting what the employee does to the impact they are having, says futurist and author of The Future of Work, Jacob Morgan, and when the employee shows up with an open mind, ready to contribute and give it their all.

There are physical and cognitive benefits of those with a sense of purpose as you’re more likely to have reduced stress, better coping skills and choosing health-promoting behaviors. And when you’re pursing something that is meaningful to you, it actually can make you more attractive to others. Individuals reporting a sense of purpose in life report being viewed as a more likeable persona.

What if you don’t have a sense of purpose? Burrow suggests three ways to help you to cultivate purpose. These are:

  1. What do you find yourself pursuing whether it’s an activity, passion or hobby? This may be something where you ultimately lose track of time and you do it primarily for intrinsic value. This is a pro-active approach.
  2. An event may happen that causes you to be called into a certain pursuit. Perhaps a family member gets sick, and you pursue something initially to be helpful, but ultimately find it more fulfilling. This is more reactive.
  3. You see someone else who inspires you to follow a certain direction. This is a social learning pathway where you find yourself identifying with someone and cultivate your own purpose by learning from them.

Burrow says when cultivating purpose, it’s not so much a mental exercise, but more typically by actively engaging with the world. It takes some effort, but ultimately will fulfill and sustain you unlike anything else.

When you cultivate purpose and pursue work that aligns with it, you will have greater satisfaction in your career and very likely your entire life.

Anxiety at Work

July 28, 2021

Do you feel anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety is on the rise and blamed on everything from COVID-19 to political instability to economic insecurity to social media to unstable weather conditions due to climate change.

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life. While stress is a response to a threat in a situation, anxiety is a reaction to the stress associated with it.

According to Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States.

Anxiety disorders are more than the simple anxious feeling you might get about an upcoming presentation or other relatively minor situation. Anxiety is a problem when it goes beyond logical worry into a more unreasonable or uncontrollable way when a minor event can be felt as thoroughly embarrassing or seems life-threatening.

Fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, according to Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and author of Unwinding Anxiety. He developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including app-based treatments for smoking, eating disorders and anxiety.

“When my students or patients are suffering under the weight of never-ending anxiety, a stubborn habit, or out-of-control addiction, I encourage them to see if they can envision these experiences as teachers,” writes Brewer. “Teachers help us learn. When we learn something, we feel good (it is rewarding).”

Brewer identified a reward-based learning process that includes first identifying the trigger that leads to a specific behavior, which then results in some type of reward. Analyzing this reward is key to understanding how to change your habit or your control anxiety.

Raising your awareness and staying curious can be vital. Brewer suggests the following: “Instead of asking why something is the way it is, get curious. It doesn’t matter what triggers worry or anxiety, but it does matter how you react to it. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are showing up in their bodies?”

In the workplace, anxiety can prevent you from being your best and—at a minimum—can be disruptive to feeling relaxed and under control in how you go about doing your job. When anxiety becomes a problem at work, it can be associated with any number of types of anxiety. Among Americans, these can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects some 6.8 million, yet only 43% are currently receiving treatment for it. And GAD often co-occurs with major depression.  
  • Panic Disorders affect 6 million and women are more than twice as likely as men to have it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million and can begin as early as age 13.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults and often begins before the age of adulthood.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million and rape is the most likely trigger for PTSD. Some 65% of men and 46% of women who are raped will develop the disease. PTSD and OCD are closely related and many experience them at the same time along with depression.
  • Major Depression Disorder (MDD) impacts more than 16 million adults, is more prevalent in women and the average age for onset is about 33 years old.

If you find your anxiety is impacting you more than it should, it’s important to get the help you need. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and you should seek professional assistance rather than ignore it or go it alone.  You can quickly assess your overall mental health and find resources at Mental Health America.

To be your best at work, you need to look after your health and wellness: physical, emotional, and mental. Pay attention and take action. You deserve it.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

Saying “No” for Better Time Management

April 9, 2021

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau

In spite of your career success, you may find you are a slave to back-to-back meetings, an overflowing email inbox and never enough time for the strategic work you should be doing.

Until someone figures out how to squeeze more hours into a workday without impacting one’s personal life, you will never get it all done. But that’s just it. No one will. And time management may be about saying “no” as much as anything else.

“Highly successful people don’t prioritize tasks on a to-do list, or follow some complex five-step system, or refer to logic tree diagrams to make decisions,” says Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “They don’t think about time much at all. Instead, they think about values, priorities and consistent habits.”

Changing your mindset so that every minute of every workday is spent in alignment with your values, priorities and good habits will enable you to have much greater control over your time. And stop doing things that eat up valuable minutes in your day.

Travis Bradberry, author and co-founder of TalentSmart, offers up Ten Bad Habits You Must Eliminate from you Daily Routine in order to better manage your time. These are:

  1. Using your phone, tablet or computer in bed
  2. Impulsively surfing the net
  3. Checking your phone during a conversation
  4. Using multiple notifications
  5. Saying “yes” when you should say “no”
  6. Thinking about toxic people
  7. Multitasking during meetings
  8. Gossiping
  9. Waiting to act until you know you’ll succeed
  10. Comparing Yourself to Other People

If you have any of these bad habits, then this is a perfect place to begin. In fact, not having enough time starts with gaining an honest appraisal of where your time is currently being spent. More than likely, there are things you can stop doing.

Take saying “yes” when you should be saying “no.” This is all too common for many leaders who want to make themselves accessible and not be a bottleneck. However, when you say “yes” to one thing, you are also saying “no” to something else. Are you making the right decision agreeing to attend a meeting when a more important task requires your attention?

Meetings are one of the biggest time sucks in a workday. Many meetings are longer than they need to be, have the wrong people (or too many) in attendance, and some are not conducted in the most effective manner. Do what can to avoid meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Next time you’re invited to a meeting, at a minimum, ask yourself these important questions before agreeing to attend:

  • Why is this meeting being held? – Ensure you have a clear agenda beforehand to determine if your contribution is necessary to what is being discussed in the meeting.
  • Can I delegate someone to attend on my behalf? If yes, then be sure the person representing you is clear of your thoughts on the topic being discussed. Request that you be included on minutes taken regarding decisions/actions made at the meeting.
  • May I attend for only the part of the agenda I’m needed? If you need to attend, ensure that you are not spending unnecessary time when your participation is not needed.

Since there are only 1440 minutes in a day, how you spend each of them is very important. Get your priorities straight: be sure you’re working to live rather than living to work. Remove bad habits from your daily routine and say “no” whenever possible to guard precious time.

The Art & Importance of Small Talk

February 24, 2021

I’ve recently discovered that while many people don’t feel comfortable making small talk, some minimize its importance as a leadership trait. Why bother chatting about insignificant things when more important business matters should be prioritized?

The verbal interaction between two people who just meet is an opportunity to make a connection. It has the potential to expand your network by discovering what you may share and how you may be able to help each other. It’s good to remember that you can learn something from anyone. You just have to open up and discover what that may be.

Perhaps most important of all, small talk enables you to establish rapport and build trust, both of which are essential to being able to influence, motivate, collaborate and lead others.

In fact, the more successfully you use language, the faster you can get ahead in life. This is the finding of Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone. “. . . small talk—the kind that happens between two people who don’t know each other—is the most important talk we do.”

Thomas Harrell, professor of applied psychology at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, years ago conducted a study to identify the traits of their most successful alumni. In this group of MBA students, a decade after graduation, he found that grade point average had no bearing on success. Instead, the one trait that was common among the groups’ most accomplished graduates was “verbal fluency.”

Those who had built businesses and climbed the corporate ladder with amazing speed were those who could confidently make conversation with anyone in any situation. This ability to make small talk enabled them to succeed.

“Mustering the audacity to talk with people who don’t know me often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions,” says Ferrazzi. “Everyone has something in common every other person, but you won’t find out what these are unless you open up an expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”

And to get comfortable with small talk, you need to lean into it. The more you do it the easier it will become to continue doing it.

There are things you can do to make way for a more receptive interaction. Beyond what you say, it is how you show up with regard to your body language and your ability to listen well. How you are perceived is determined by many things before you even speak. Here are Ferrazzi’s suggestions:

  • Give the person a hearty smile. It says, “I’m approachable.”
  • Maintain a good balance of eye contact between 70 and 100 percent of the time. You don’t want to leer nor do you want to appear disinterested or rude.
  • Don’t keep your arms folded. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or closed. It also signals tension.
  • Nod your head and lean in, but without invading the other person’s space. You want to show that you’re engaged and interested.
  • Use a handshake optimally. One way to break through the distance between yourself and the other person is to touch the other person’s elbow as your shaking their hand. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy. (I recognize that this will have to be delayed until we are capable of moving beyond merely bumping elbows during COVID-19.)

It’s vital to listen well. This cannot be overemphasized, especially in this narcissistic time we’re living in. You will stand out by giving others the gift of your full attention. Discover and practice active listening skills.

In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People and his simple ideas are as relevant today as they were back then. They include:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Be a good listener by encouraging others to talk about themselves
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  • Smile
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation

Others include showing empathy and repeating the other person’s name when you’re speaking to them. Both enable greater intimacy that builds further connection. All of these play an important role in the art of small talk and the big opportunity found in doing so.

The Peril of a Post-Truth Society

January 13, 2021

The January 6, 2021 attack on our nation’s Capitol should be a wake-up call to all those who fail to realize the severity of accepting and encouraging the post-truth world we’re now living in. Regardless of political affiliation, when we no longer trust reputable news sources for presenting factual information, we are doomed to lose our freedom and our democracy.

When alternative facts are taken seriously, they undermine our ability to discern fact from fiction. The notion of “fake news” is not new, yet it is extremely dangerous to our country.

As an undergraduate student, I studied journalism and learned that although complete objectivity was unattainable, we should nevertheless continually pursue it. Also, the so-called Fourth Estate is essential for holding truth to power.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our great founding fathers, wrote about the importance of a free press keeping government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just as important, in his very next sentence: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.” Perhaps therein lies our biggest challenge: Reputable news sources require investment in investigative reporting and verifiable fact-checking. If citizens are not interested in paying for this service, we are subject to the misinformation so prevalent in the conspiracy theories and proliferation of lies that are somehow defended as “free speech.”

In his book, Head in the Cloud, author William Poundstone found that people who get their news from social networks are less informed than audiences for other media. He conducted a simple survey that included a general knowledge quiz with questions such as:

  • Which came first, Judaism or Christianity?
  • Find South Carolina on an unlabeled U.S. map.
  • Name at least one of your state’s U.S. Senators

Average score for those who said they got some of their news from Facebook was 60 percent. This was 10 points less than the average scores for those who listed NPRThe New York Times, or even The Daily Show as news sources. Scores were lower for Twitter (58 percent) and Tumblr (55 percent).

The point is that a reliance on social media to keep you informed will only lead you to be fooled and subject to misinformation that results in your relying on someone else’s opinions rather than facts to fully understand. And others’ opinions often have malicious intent.

Choosing not to pay for news and information means you are left with unreliable sources that are not vetted and validated. The result is misinformation often compiled as clickbait that undermines your ability to function as a well-informed citizen. When you no longer trust the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or CNN, then people can take whatever they see on Facebook, Breitbart and QAnon as equally or perhaps somehow more reputable. 

Despite the internet’s ability to provide us with more content from different points of view around the globe, it’s difficult to discern what to believe. We should continually ask: Is it true or is it false? Is this source credible? Just because something has gone viral doesn’t mean it is accurate. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Perhaps having a Politifact or Snopes filter overlaying your newsfeed might help, and maybe this is what some enterprising company should develop. Without that, each of us has to be our own editor to filter the unregulated information coming in. This is an important and vital responsibility if we want to be informed citizens who can maintain our freedom and democracy.  

Gray Market Opportunity

August 30, 2020

Marketers target the youngest generation in order to capture spending by those early in their careers, starting families, buying their first home and generally seen as having the most disposable income. With a focus largely on the millennial generation, marketers are missing a huge opportunity with older consumers.

In addition, employers should recognize the value older employees provide in the workplace in helping to best serve the wants and needs of people over the age of 60.

In a new book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, author Mauro F. Guillén presents a compelling case for thinking differently about older consumers both today and ten years from now. Consider the following:

  • Currently, 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day; in 2030, those 60 or older will represent more than a quarter of the US population.
  • According to the Economist magazine the “older consumer will reshape the business landscape,” and Boston Consulting Group estimates that only one in seven companies are currently prepared for the growing spending power of this gray market.
  • Durable consumer goods such as appliances, tools and cars should assure older consumers that these products are geared to their needs, including that they are easy to use, provide legible instructions and controls, and offer leasing options.
  • According to AARP, a majority of seniors are optimistic about their overall quality of life, including financial well-being, mental and physical health, recreation and leisure time, and family life. When people feel optimistic, they tend to spend more.
  • Today’s expenditures on healthcare, home care, assisted living and similar service industries will accelerate over the next decade.

Technology certainly plays a part when it comes to aging as the breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition, biotechnology and other fields that help more people enjoy longer and happier lives. “By 2030,” according to Guillén, “the average seventy-year-old will live like today’s average fifty-year-old.”

If companies want to capitalize on this rapidly growing gray market, it’s important they recognize that those over 60—employees as well as customers—cannot be ignored. In fact, organizations should recognize the value employees can bring to serving similar aged consumers. Because they are of the same generation, older employees may be better able to define the feature set, user interface and overall value proposition.

As people live longer lives, the idea of early retirement becomes less attractive—either due to it not being financially viable or because people like working and want to continue being productive as long as it is enjoyable.

Older employees can bring experience and wisdom to complement the expected new ideas and tech savvy of younger people. And employees in their sixties and beyond can often provide stability, predictability and reliability other generations cannot. This is something HR departments should take into account when looking for job candidates.

These older workers are not going to be the best fit for every position. Recognizing those individuals who are will be vital in order to take advantage of this growing gray market. Similar aged employees will best be able to understand and meet the needs of such older customers. That makes good business sense now and in the coming decade.

Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction on what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. Authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Thoughts on Troubled Times

June 4, 2020

As a middle-aged straight white man, I recognize the privileges I have simply due to my gender, sexual orientation and light pigment of my skin. I grew up in racially mixed suburbs of Chicago in a loving family where I learned the importance of hard work, self-reliance and compassion for others.

I’ve struggled with many challenges throughout my life, yet they pale in comparison to what I would have had to deal with were I not so privileged. I acknowledge my good fortune and recognize that I should do more for those who are not so fortunate. I love my country and believe we have a right and duty to speak out and to protest when our country is not living up to the ideals it was founded upon. All men (and women) are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Speaking out should not be left to those not so privileged.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on my 10th birthday, and 1968 was one of great turmoil in our country with some similarities to what we’re experiencing now. While segregation officially ended, racism and poverty continued to make life difficult for many Black people. Back then there were large-scale peaceful protests regarding racial injustice as well as against the war in Vietnam, which was diverting necessary funds away from the President’s Great Society programs. We also had rioting in the streets.

It was an election year and President Lyndon Johnson surprisingly decided not to seek re-election on March 31. King was assassinated four days later. Bobby Kennedy ran for the Democratic nomination and was shot and killed in June. Later that summer, the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago resulted in Hubert Humphrey, Vice President at the time, winning the nomination even though he had avoided primaries during the campaign. The following November, the former Vice President for Dwight Eisenhower running on a platform of “law and order” was elected President. His name was Richard Nixon. His election represented the beginning of mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of Black men and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. If you haven’t already discovered it, I highly recommend you watch the powerful documentary 13th currently streaming on Netflix.

In 2002 my mother informed me of a rising star in the Democratic party who represented the 13th district in the Illinois Senate. He had a funny name, and she felt great kinship with his message. His name was Barack Obama and he went on to become our nation’s first black President in 2008.

Some people claim that as a result of electing a Black person President we now live in a post-racial society and that there’s no longer need for Affirmative Action. Many of these same people say they don’t see color when it comes to race. This inability to acknowledge that they do indeed see color is both a privilege as well as delusional. In fact, race and gender are the very first characteristics we all take note of when we see someone for the first time.

Dr Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, found that even people who never had sight still use visual representations of people—including perceived racial or ethnic identity—as a major indicator for how they interact with them. His research determined that race and racism aren’t about what you see, but what you perceive and how you’re told to behave.

As we all know, white babies don’t come out of the womb with racist attitudes toward people of color. They are taught to behave this way. It is a choice to believe that one race is superior to another and there is a certain irony in the fact that citizens in Germany are currently protesting the racial injustice here in the United States of America. It appears Germans are able to learn from history, so why can’t we Americans?

Though we weren’t struggling with a pandemic in 1968, we did have a downturn in the economy, social unrest, racial injustice and incompetent leadership in government. Let’s hope this November we are able to elect another former Vice President, who will provide the healing and progress on racial reforms this country so desperately needs right now.

Behavioral Change & Social Distancing

March 29, 2020

Even in the best of times, changing one’s behavior to break a bad habit, learn a favorable one or develop new leadership capacity is hard and takes time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to change behavior is vital to the health and safety of everyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with changing your behavior in order to lose weight or workout more regularly, you know that it takes a lot of discipline and persistence. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller parts so you can see regular progress rather than have one all-consuming goal. Rather than lose 10 pounds by summertime, focus on losing three pounds in the next six weeks. It also helps to have a partner to help you stay motivated. And it’s helpful when you can be compassionate with yourself if you slip up or fall back into old behaviors.

Behavioral change comes into play during this time of social distancing. When we are forced to isolate ourselves, it can be traumatizing as we are biologically social beings. Those fortunate to have loving partners, families and housemates who can be supportive are at an advantage. For those who live alone or are living under less than ideal circumstances, it is important to reach out and find community in whatever ways possible. New behaviors may have to be developed and practiced quickly in order to maintain your emotional well-being.

As a leadership coach, I help my clients identify the behaviors that may be holding them back from becoming more effective leaders. For example, these could be in communication such as appropriately giving or receiving feedback, effective presentation skills or body language, tone of voice or other behaviors that may be reflecting poorly on them. Once identified and accepted that they need to change, the next step is to create a development plan and then execute upon it.

For those interested in changing their behavior in order to ride out social distancing during this health crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

  1. Identify what is bringing about the most anxiety. Is it food, housing, job or other economic insecurity? Try to get to the root of the anxiety rather than just an overall label of fear in what may happen. Talk to a professional or close friend about this.
  2. See if you can identify what behaviors are helping or hurting your current situation. If you are concerned about food, are you doing what you can to budget yourself? Since you can’t go to restaurants, are you reducing expenses by cooking?
  3. Connect with others differently than before. Since you cannot socialize face to face, don’t just rely on texting and social media. Use your phone to talk or FaceTime with others. I’ve been Zooming with friends and extended family to stay connected.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Just because you can no longer workout at the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Get outside to take in fresh air by walking, jogging, running or biking around your neighborhood. Do this every day as it will lift your spirits, especially now that we’ve entered spring.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that we are living in extraordinary times and there is no playbook to follow. Give yourself the space and time to do what you need to do in order to get through this. There will be an end to this crisis, and you will be stronger having lived through it.

Life on our planet will be forever impacted by this pandemic and, hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next one. By practicing social distancing and taking care of ourselves as we ride this out, we will all help flatten the curve and save lives.

The success you have in changing your behavior during this time may also enable greater confidence in your ability to change other behaviors. Use this time to learn and grow in your capacity to change behaviors so you can thrive throughout the rest of your life.