I Made a Startling Observation about Leadership

I recently noted something I want to talk about. A little while ago I attended a “town hall” meeting of a group to which I have been a member and one-time leader for well over a decade. At this meeting of about 200 people, I experienced a phenomenon that may have always been there. Let me explain.

There are members who feel comfortable in criticizing the leadership, the direction and other parts of the organization. They are vocal in their criticism, sometimes sparking controversy and sometimes adding fuel to fires already lit. But, often, something changes within them, that they do not see, when they become titled leaders of the overarching organization of the group.

Suddenly, as if a switch has been activated within them, their criticism transforms into a call for peace and understanding, for tolerance and respect. Those who criticized now call for an end to “negativity”, the negativity they had sparked or fueled, themselves, at one time.

Until recently I had not noticed anything askew about this change. But, for some reason, I now focused my attention on a question. I asked myself: “Why, as leaders, do we shut down criticism, when as followers we initiate or support criticism?” As leaders we tend to seek harmony and while as followers we tend to seek a voice. But so often, neither listens to the other. Each merely wants to shut the other down.

I find it interesting that we cannot look at both criticism and the role of “leadership” as being two sides of the same coin. Neither are inherently “better.” Neither are inherently “right.” I believe voices want to convey something even if their expression, or the words themselves, seem divisive. Leaders are not necessarily parents or moral authorities but can think they are, because they have been given implicit responsibilities or titles.

How do you view criticism? Do you try to shut it down? Do you tolerate it? Do you know how to speak to it, so it feels heard, while still maintaining your center? How do you view leadership? Does it have an implicit authority that overrules a “voice?” How do you build a bridge to listening and collaboration when criticism and harmony live together?



Finding My Way Back to My Core… I’m Ready

There are unexpected and unwelcomed times when I find that I am “off.” What do I mean by “being off?” It is those times that I feel off balanced, feel like I am reactionary rather than thoughtful and somehow, for some unexplained (to me) reason, cannot get back to my center, my core. I find myself mucking around in emotional states and unable to get out of them.

I try to trick myself by putting myself into another emotional state but that doesn’t bring me back to my center. It merely creates more gunk. It is so weird. Eventually, I remember what I must do. I have to say, when I first discovered this, twenty plus years ago, I was stunned by its power. I return to what is at the center of my being, my values.

Values represent the core of who we are. They represent our essence and when we lose sight of, forget or deny our core, we lose our focus. When we are adrift from our center, we take on different characteristics and find ourselves in the world of emotions with their endless judgments, pushes and pulls a circus-like universe of joy, disappointment, criticism, comparison, etc. None of it forwards the core of who we are.

I have been swimming in my emotions for the past few weeks, and only now, by writing this, am I realizing that I have abandoned the guidance my values provide and the compass they are in my life. Okay, I am ready, wisdom, go ahead, rule!

Share with me how your values lead you in your life, how you recognize when you have deviated from them, and how returning to them brings you back to the center of who you are.

Trust is like a Spider Web

In a book I recently read, trust was defined in one word: predictability. That was powerful. And I began to inquire: “Is that all? Maybe that’s what trust comes down to.”

So, I started looking at trust more carefully, or more specifically, my use of trust, I understood it to be more than predictability. But what more was it? I looked at trust for me and saw that what was missing in this one-word definition were the additional components that give trust its almost mercurial characteristic. I would like to mention them here.

I have found that trust includes a sense of reliance in someone’s character. Where predictability infers expectation, reliability infers consistency. Whether it is a sense of reliance in their sincerity, their competency, or the way they show up, reliance in someone is a major ingredient to trust.

Another component to trust rests in understanding one’s motivations. Motivations reveal intentions, priorities, goals and needs. When I understand someone’s motivation, I can bestow trust.

Yet another component to trust is the feeling of true authority born by experience and not merely by knowledge. When I sense that someone is a student of what they are talking about, rather than a transmitter or information, I can grant trust.

What I find interesting about trust is that we can provide trust quickly, slowly, or not at all. There seems to be a continuum for the application of trust. I have found that this continuum revolves around feelings of safety, feelings of reciprocity, and feelings of being understood. Trust is a mighty bridge to building and sustaining connection. And like a spider web-strand which is ten times stronger than steel at its same weight, trust is a strong bond between people. And again, like the spider strand which can be easily broken and change the nature of the web, trust can be broken or withdrawn suddenly, and like the spider web, changes the nature of the relationship to which it was bound.

Let me know your thoughts on trust. How do you experience trust? How do you dole out trust? What causes you to withdraw trust?

The Rider, The Elephant, and the Path

A while back, the owner of the fitness studio where I do my High Intensity Interval Training, posted a message. I thought it was relevant to this month’s theme of L.I.F.E., Living in Full Expression, where life is lived with purpose, meaning and significance. Initially, I was going to just highlight a few points in his message to us, but instead, after reading it again, I have decided to share it with you as he sent it to his H.I.I.T. members. I liked it that much. Now, before I do share it with you: Thank you, Josh Cooper and Embody Health for this message.

Have you ever acted against your better judgment? Ummmm, of course you have. We all have. Sometimes you do things that you later regret. And this keeps you from achieving that healthy, energetic life you want.

• You hit snooze rather than waking up early to exercise before work.
• You blow off your healthy eating plan to indulge in a hamburger and fries.
• You start an exercise program only to drop out two weeks into it.
• These regrettable actions prevent you from achieving your goals and keep you stuck.

Most of us are all too familiar with this frustrating paradox. It’s almost as if there are two sides inside of you, raging war on each other. Your sensible side versus your emotional side. What you want versus what you do.

A psychologist named Jonathan Haidt came up with a mental model that explains exactly why you do things that you wish you hadn’t – and how to take control to finally do the actions necessary to get what you really want.

“The image I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness [of willpower], was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him,” explained Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

Human decision making is like a tiny rider on a massive elephant. The rider may think he’s in charge, but the elephant’s will always wins. The Elephant, The Rider, and The Path are a great framework for understanding yourself and what drives you. All human change depends on it.

Here’s Haidt’s mental model for creating lasting change in greater detail…

The Rider: is your rational and analytical side. The Rider is a visionary that has the ability to think long-term, to plan, and that is willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs. The Rider loves to contemplate and analyze, has limited reserves of strength, suffers from paralysis by analysis, and relentlessly focuses on problems rather than solutions. Most crucially, the Rider is so small compared to the six-ton Elephant that anytime they disagree about which direction to go, the Rider will lose.

The Elephant: is made up of your emotions and instincts. The Elephant prefers the comfort and security of a well-trodden path, even if a new path leads to a better outcome – this is why it’s so difficult to change your habits. The Elephant has enormous strengths: love and compassion and sympathy and loyalty. The Elephant is the one who gets things done.

The Path: is your surrounding environment, the context in which the Rider and the Elephant operate. A rocky Path makes change hard, if not impossible, even when the Rider and the Elephant work together.

There are three steps to lasting change:
• Direct the Rider
• Motivate the Elephant
• Shape the Path
1) Direct the Rider:
Change begins with a plan, and it’s the Rider who comes up with plans. Direct your Rider to analyze what’s right, on what works. When you’ve lost weight and made progress towards your fitness goals in the past what worked for you? Focus on these bright spots rather than on potential problems related to your desired change. Once you’ve come up with a plan, move on. It’s important to move quickly and to avoid getting bogged down with paralysis by analysis.

2) Motivate the Elephant:
In order for the plans of your Rider to succeed, your Elephant must feel emotionally invested in the outcome. Find an emotional connection that you feel deep down in relation to the goal. Don’t just think about why you want to achieve your goal – feel why you need to achieve your goal.

3) Shape the Path:
Make change easy. Reduce obstacles in your life, so that the new desired behavior is frictionless. Move the barriers between you and the actions that you want to take. Lay out your workout clothes the night before. Spend time in the morning to prep all of your healthy daily meals. Get a trainer to hold you accountable to showing up to your workouts.

The key to effective change is getting the Elephant and the Rider moving together on a smooth path to success. Do this and you’ll stop doing things that you later regret.

Now, how will you use this metaphor to keep yourself on your path, the one you are shaping for yourself for your L.I.F.E. of significance?

Starbucks Offers More than Coffee and Tea

In his book, Onward, Schultz wrote: “Stick to your values, they are your foundation.” He said these were key to rebuilding Starbucks.

Schultz demonstrated the fundamental benefit to a company having values, and using them to build their presence. “It is our mission to make sure the world sees us through those lenses.” He wrote.

Starbuck’s values are: Community, Connection, Respect, Dignity, Humor, Humanity, and Accountability. “They are visibly evident and often referred to in meetings and prior to key actions.

Values not only impact a company; they also impact our individual lives. What are your values? What role do they have in your life-are they directors in your life, or merely white noise around your life?

In a fast-paced world of deadlines and expectations, where impatience can override wisdom and expediency overrides understanding, values can get swept aside for “later.” This can have disastrous consequences in communication, in decisions and in the choices one makes.

Values are part of an intentional life. They form the foundation of success. Howard Schultz recognized the essential nature of this. Like Starbucks, how do you make your values the cornerstones to your life?

Partner with your Strengths. They Are Ready to Serve You

Without our strengths, we would not be able to dispel threats, dangers and alarms. We would not be able to demonstrate skill, or show off, or be able to intercede when necessary.  Strengths are like breathing. We need to use them and often do, without thinking. The problem is like breathing, if we don’t know how to use them in various conditions, they may not be able to serve us when we need them most.

If you were in a smoke-filled house, wouldn’t it be important to know how to hold your breath as you got past the smoke; the smoke that kills more people than fire?  Your strengths are also how you show yourself to the world around you. When you want to impress, when you want to show off, when you want to make a statement or add value to a situation, you call on your strengths to “introduce” you. Your strengths are how people see you. They are a tangible representation of who you are.  We use them to perform and most people judge us by our performances.

Researchers in positive psychology have discovered that when we identify and regularly use our signature character strengths, life becomes more satisfying and meaningful.

Strengths are what I call your “Outer Cloak.” They are what you “wear” when you are out in the world expressing yourself, when you want to make an impression, when you need to accomplish a task or serious endeavor. You use your strengths. For example, you might express your strength in generosity when you are out with friends, your ability to organize in accomplishing a task, or your ability to persevere when undertaking serious endeavor.

Most of the time, however, you are unaware of the strengths you are applying. Most of the time you are unaware of how others see these strengths in you.

How do your top three strengths add meaning to your life? Let me know as I would like to hear what you say.

The Importance of Living a Meaningful Life Through Your Values

Values provide us a compass by which we live our lives. Although values are always present, we rarely give them much thought. Much like a compass we use on an unfamiliar hike, values provide us the platform from which we direct our lives. We judge based on the consistency of values utilized by someone.


The Barrett Values Center, in 2010, found, in researching more than two thousand private and public institutions in more than sixty countries, that: “Values-driven organizations are the most successful organizations on the planet. They found that values drive the culture as well as contribute to the employees’ fulfillment. In the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, the noted the same outcome in companies they observed over several decades.


Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, found, through his questionnaire, that signature strengths and values fundamentally contribute to a meaningful life.


I remember, many years ago, thinking that emotions were fleeting and mercurial. They seemed to be missing a key ingredient to living fully.  When I was first introduced to the concept of values I thought they were a wonderful state to aspire to.  Years later, when I identified my core values, I felt a strong resonance and connection to my life. I realized that I could live from my values and when I did, life was clearer and more satisfying, with richer meaning and depth. I realized that they were my compass, the one I had been missing and to which my emotions could not relate.


What are your values? How cognizant are you of them on a daily basis?

Being “The Greatest” Lets You Shine

Remember the phrase: “I am the greatest!”? It was a statement proclaimed repeatedly, in different ways, by the great boxer Muhammed Ali to reporters and to his opponent. He believed it and he became it. Which came first, his belief or his statement? I do not know. I do understand it was one of the tools he used to become the icon he became.


You may not be a boxer who needs to pump yourself up before the fight, however, you are someone who I would like to consider the phrase “I am the greatest!” for a moment and say it to yourself, for you are the greatest. You are unique and the greatest in something you do, how you do it or in who you are. The question is: How are you the greatest?


To find out the answer to this question, ask yourself: “What are the values you hold dearest to your heart?” and then list your top three. These are the values that identify your greatness. So, take the time to identify and define them. Then, use them to guide your decisions, your actions and your movements.


You are the greatest. Now, let that part of you shine.

The First Step to Living a Significant, Relevant, and Connected Retirement

The 2016 professional tennis season is winding down. The final Masters 1000 tournament is underway and will determine the final two singles players and final doubles team who will gain admission in the prestigious world tour final tournament in London later this month.  Sampras, Agassi, Becker, Lendl and McEnroe may be familiar names of a few retired players who have won this tournament more than once. But I want to draw our attention to Agassi, who won this year end tournament once, and what he had to say about retiring, because for some, the thought of retiring is daunting.

Preparing for retirement filled Andre Agassi with dread. As he said: “It’s like preparing for death. Nobody knows what it’s going to feel like and nobody knows when it is going to happen and when it does, it’s your time.”  Agassi was not ready to retire.

I hear a similar thought of dread from those I talk to nearing retirement. They do not want to satisfy someone else’s “to do” list, they do not want to become recluse travelers. They do not want to be the default baby sitters for their grandchildren. They want to be engaged with their children and grandchildren. They want to travel and pick up dormant hobbies. They do not want to a life directed by someone else. They want to live relevant, significant and connected lives. But how?

Leaving a business you built or a career you designed can be a tough proposition.  How can you transition out of your company to a new chapter of life where you can keep the feelings that matter to you-significance, relevance, and meaningful connection alive?

The first step to take is to look at the footprint you want to make that you will then leave behind. Find the outline of that footprint by reconnecting with what is most important to you, your values, and finding a way to express yourself through them. Take the time to look at the meaning of your values to you and build a personal mission statement that reflects these profound meanings you have for them.

Remember, retirer merely means to draw again. So, now, draw that outline of a footprint you want to have and to leave behind as your legacy.

Agassi focused on the outline of his footprint, his values, and then created the footprint he is now developing and building. You can too.

For more tools, click here: http://www.focusandsustain.com/life-focus to see what would be wise for you to focus on so you can live a rich and meaningful retirement.

Tell me what you have observed as you engage with those reluctant to or avoiding retiring.  I would love to read your comment.  \





The 2nd Most Important Day in Your Life Is…

Millennials, currently under the microscope of researchers and data collectors, have been found to want to be involved in something that matters. Studies say that 87% of Millennials take into account a company’s commitment to social and environmental causes as they decide where to work.  That’s a big percentage of people looking to plug in to what matters.


Baby boomers, moving into retirement in huge numbers fear that retirement means retreating into irrelevancy. Shell Oil and independently the University of Zurich, found that there is a strong correlation between a rudderless retirement and early death. They each found that there is an 89% chance of death within 10 years for those without a purpose than those who have one.


As Mark Twain brilliantly stated: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…and the day you find out why.”


Having a purpose provides a foundation for motivation and for developing the meaning in our lives that one day becomes our legacy.


How have you found a purpose in your life benefit you? Let me know by leaving a comment.