1415903765390Before starting my own business I made a great number of huge mistakes – who never did? – but I did some things right things too, but my missteps were legendary (at least in my own mind). When I look back on my 25 years of working, and the careers of the hundreds of folks I train, coach and teach, five blunders stand out from all the rest as the most negative, damaging, and irreversible in your career and professional life:

1. Speak, behave or quit out of rage or revenge

Most people spend more hours at work than anywhere else, so it’s normal and expected that we will experience the full gamut of emotions while engaged in our work. I’m all for bringing our whole selves to work as well, and being as authentic, honest, and transparent as humanly possible at our jobs. That said, I’ve watched the inevitable destruction of losing control of your emotions and acting out rashly and impulsively from rage or despair.

2. Backstab your colleagues

I’m astounded at how many people today feel completely comfortable ridiculing, disparaging or undermining their colleagues, co-workers and even their friends. I used to be that kind of person, talking behind someone’s back if I felt they were behaving poorly, meanly, or less than professionally – you never did? come on! I learned later that this is called triangulation – telling a third party about something that makes you anxious or upset instead of dealing with it head on with the individual in question. Why do we do that? Because we lack the courage and fortitude to address the problem directly, or we feel it just won’t work out if we do. It relieves our anxiety to share the problem, but it does nothing to resolve it.

You may call this “gossip” (gossip, by the way, is another “must not do” in the workplace). But backstabbing your colleagues is a special brand of negative behavior because it aims to hurt. And when you desire to hurt others, it will be you who suffers. In one job, I backstabbed a colleague because it seemed that he received all the accolades, promotions and perks because of his family name and his obsequiousness to our bosses. All of that might have been true, but trying to take him down behind his back didn’t work. That behavior never will, in the long run. You’ll only embarrass and humiliate yourself and it will come back around to bite you eventually.

3. Lie

We tell lies most often when we think that the truth will hurt us somehow, or when we want to avoid facing the consequences of our truth – this is the corporate world, no matter what you think! The problem with lying is two-fold: 1) When you tell yourself you’re not capable of facing reality or dealing with the consequences, you make yourself right – you’ll grow less powerful, capable, bold, respectable, and trustworthy over time, and 2) the lies you tell must be perpetuated, which is exhausting and drains you from vital energy you need to reach your fullest potential.

Gossip-is-badIf you have told lies at work – I’m sure you have – about your skills and talents, experience and background, about the status of work you’re overseeing, or about who you are and what you are capable of, I’d highly recommend taking a long, hard look at what you’re afraid of, and instead of keeping up the front, get in the cage with those fears and begin working through them.

4. Proclaim that you’re miserable

Just the other day, I was talking to a former client who had marched into her boss’s office that week and shared that she was miserable at work and volunteered for a severance package. I’ve done that myself – been so unhappy at work that I put my hand up for a package. I didn’t get it, and neither did my client. After sharing that news and not receiving the package, you’re stuck in a deeply unsettling situation of the employer knowing you’re a terrible fit for your role. There are a few specific instances where this might be the right move, but in general, sharing that you hate your job is not the way to go.

But what if it’s the truth? My father used to say that there are 10 different ways to say anything, and I think he’s right. Phrases like “miserable,” “unhappy,” “fed up,” “ready to leave,” and “need to go” are not helpful when you’re talking to your colleagues, bosses, or HR staff.

What is the better way? Talk about what you’re great at and love to do, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’re ready for. Share your work highlights and new directions you’re excited and committed to take your career, and discuss your plans and desires for growth and change. Open the door for new opportunities at your current employer that will expand our skills, your resume and your talents. Try to find ways at your current job (where you’re already getting paid) to grow, stretch and build yourself. Explore every option available to you for becoming what you want to without walking out in anger and disgust. Your employer might very well be able to sponsor and support your growth and change, but it won’t happen if you stomp in and say “I’m miserable and it’s your fault.”

5. Burn bridges

Literally the biggest lesson I’ve learned in business is that success is all about relationships. It’s truly about who you know, and how they feel and think about you (and how you make them feel). I’m not saying that your amazing talent and skill aren’t important. Of course they are. I am saying that we don’t thrive and succeed alone. We need other people. And these people are not just our former bosses – they are people who reported to you, teamed with you, shared coffee and drinks with you, took training sessions with you, got yelled at alongside of you, and weathered tough times with you.

Every single one of your relationships is vitally important to you and your future, so craft them with care. Avoid people you don’t trust or like, but don’t burn bridges. After 30 years in business I’ve seen that there are hundreds of people we interact with daily who eventually could become our strongest allies, advocates and fans, if we protect and nurture our relationships as the key, enriching asset they are.

And you? Yes, you! Could you share any of your mistakes?




image001We’ve all read the stories about successful and iconic CEOs with volatile personalities – about leaders who use fear to drive performance, like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, ruling over the Springfield power plant with an iron fist.

A few of these executives are better known for their bad behavior than their business achievements. And while in some cases their antics may be their downfall, many others go unpunished by their boards and shareholders as long as they’re delivering results.

The theatrics of badly behaved business leaders provide a constant stream of headlines for the media, so you couldn’t blame people for thinking that such aggressive behavior is a routine part of being a successful CEO. Sadly, we seldom read about the many mild-mannered but equally – if not more – effective executives. About those who foster commitment, loyalty, and inspiration. Maybe they’re not as newsworthy, but they’re certainly the ones we should be taking notes from.

So what can they teach us? In my 30 year career, I’ve known many kinds of executives, from the most outrageous to the most gracious and I keep coming back to five traits, which, in my view, are shared by the most inspirational and most effective among them:

1. Inclusive leaders commit to diversity

They use the insights brought by different people from different walks of life to spark discussion and create innovative solutions. They seek to build consensus and commitment, yet they don’t shy away from making the tough decisions.

Forget any notion that inclusion is simply a Human Resource initiative: a survey of executives conducted by Forbes identified workplace diversity as a major driver of internal innovation and business growth.

2. Creative leaders encourage employees to take risksceo

Their companies place a high value on innovation and often lead their industries as a result. Creative leaders cut through hierarchy and empower even the most junior team members to speak their mind. They create a culture which is energizing to be part of.

Innovative businesses are the most sought after by potential recruits. According to a survey of Millennials by Deloitte, 78% consider how innovative a company is when deciding if they want to work there.

3. Ethical leaders have the highest standards

They lead by example and serve as role models for transparency and openness. The companies they lead have a clear and defined societal purpose beyond profit. Their employees feel they’re making a difference in the world.

Ethical leadership is possibly the most important of all the five traits, as it underpins all the others. A leader can spend decades building their career and reputation only to have it destroyed by one scandal or lapse in judgment.

4. Balanced leaders don’t keep employees chained to their desks

They know long hours don’t necessarily improve productivity and profitability, and in fact can be counterproductive. They embrace the flexibility technology has provided the workplace, despite its ability to keep us connected 24/7. Balanced leaders aren’t afraid to unplug for a few hours or even a few days.

I believe it’s really important for a leader to take time to disconnect. For example, I might travel to three countries in a week, but I’ll block out the weekend to spend time with my two sons and my wife. Or an evening for dinner with friends, or an event for the nonprofits I work with.

5. Grateful leaders are never too busy to say “thank you”

They remain grounded, stay human, and never forget where they came from. These leaders create a culture where people are recognized and valued for their contribution. They don’t just acknowledge the department heads or top sales people, but also those unassuming people behind the scenes, maybe the ones who make their coffee, or deliver their packages, or record their videos.

Gratitude is something that’s very important to me personally. In the past I’ve found many small but meaningful ways to say thank you, including personal letters and company awards.

ceo-and-data-analyticsEvery CEO is different, and none of us are perfect, but the most effective and inspiring fall into one, several, or all of these groupings.

By a wide margin, these leaders will get the least press, even though they far exceed in numbers their peers with volatile personalities. Regardless, through the strong example they’re setting, they’re increasing customer loyalty, attracting the brightest talent to their companies, and inspiring the next generation of leaders.


autojulgamento---um-direito-a-liberdade.htmlWe all know our words are powerful. We can slice someone to pieces with just a few syllables. That’s bad enough, but what happens when we turn that power on ourselves?

As a young writer Peter Leonard showed a short story to his famous father, novelist Elmore Leonard. Instead of encouraging his son, Elmore Leonard wrote a lengthy critique saying his characters were flat and lifeless: “I didn’t write another word of fiction for 27 years,” Peter recalled. But as sad as that story is, we do the same thing to ourselves, don’t we?

How many potential writers, artists, athletes, speakers, and performers have chopped themselves off at the knees with self-criticism? Not long ago, I was playing darts with a friend. Every time he threw one, he berated himself. “Ugh,” he said when he really duffed one, “I’m such an idiot. I never hit it straight.”


What do you think that did for his game? Exactly! It got worse the longer we played. It got so bad in fact, I started paying more attention to his words than the game. They were: “I can’t hit anything!”, “You idiot!”, “I knew I was going miss that.”...

Thinking about the game now, I’m stuck on this question, and I wish I had stopped things long enough to ask my friend: “Would you ever talk like that to one of your children?” Maybe some, like Peter Leonard’s father, would. But we usually strive to protect our kids. We recognize that words like that are harmful. So why don’t we protect ourselves the same way?

Some self-criticism is useful. But accusatory, abusive, and self-defeating criticism is useless and destructive. If we wouldn’t say it to our kids, it’s best to steer clear of saying it to ourselves. Proverbs says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Our language reveals our thinking, and if it’s the deadly kind, we need to change the way we address ourselves.

There are some pretty deep psychological and spiritual reasons for this, but it also affects practical questions of accomplishing our goals. Our words can set us up to fail if we’re not careful. Here are three steps I’ve found helpful in my own life for controlling my words:

  1. I record disempowering words and sentences I catch myself using. Awareness is crucial to controlling our words. Whenever I catch myself saying something negative, I make a note of it. If there’s a pattern, I can address it.
  2. I craft words and sentences to use in place of negative ones. We all know the best way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. It’s the same here. When I default to a negative thought, I now have phrases and affirmations I can use instead. It makes a huge difference.
  3. I ask an accountability partner to call me on it. I felt odd calling my friend on his words when we were playing. I was’t invited to. Instead of letting that stop someone in my life, I’ve let certain people know I want them to hold me accountable for my words. Sometimes it hurts, but it’s worth it.

how-to-be-a-good-mentorOur success is too important to allow hurtful words – especially our own – to derail us. We have to learn how to do for ourselves what Elmore Leonard was unable in that instance to do for his son: Use the power of words to encourage and give life.

Language shapes our perception of reality. It’s a powerful tool we can use for good or bad. It only makes sense that we would give ourselves the best advantage imaginable with the words we use.

Have you noticed the affect your words have on your performance? What could you do to build yourself up with your words? 



Emotions are powerful, especially if we let them work in our lives without paying full attention. They can derail our goals if we let them.

In my experience there are four emotions that usually come mixed in a powerful cocktail, sure to undermine our goals: fearuncertaintydoubt, and shame. Most of us succumb to these from one time to another. I certainly do.

Early in my career, I used to suffer from social anxiety. I couldn’t go an office party without getting clammy hands. I’d sweat like crazy. It was embarrassing. My only defense was to avoid going. But of course that avoidance meant I missed opportunities to advance my career. Later, when I was made CEO of AGN Schools, I was hammered by pretty intense feelings of inadequacy, which is just another name for that dangerous cocktail. It’s only a matter of time before they find me out, I thought.

It’s a universal challenge. As it turns out, most leaders are like that. Whenever I speak on this topic, they admit it. It’s a universal affliction. And it’s natural. There’s no playbook for leaders, no manual. We’re all making it up as we go. Under those circumstances, who wouldn’t feel like they might blow it?

To this day I feel it every time we start a new product. It’s the most natural feeling in the world. The truth is that any leader that doesn’t feel that way should probably get fired. They’re obviously self-deluded. But just because I wrestle with these four emotions doesn’t mean I have to succumb to them. Two realizations have helped me develop some immunity to this deadly cocktail.

Two Powerful Realizations

The first is something my mother always said: “Nobody is thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about you.” It’s a simple but powerful statement. It takes the teeth out of any fear I feel because I realize everyone is probably just as nervous as me. And if that’s true, they’re thinking about themselves, not me.

Once you get that everyone’s thinking about themselves and wondering how they’re coming off you can stop worrying. It actually makes the whole thing seem kind of comical.

The second realization is that nothing good ever happens when I’m tucked in my comfort zone. If I’m not struggling with all these emotions, I’m probably in my comfort zone – and I’ve learned that’s an unprofitable place to be. Going outside my comfort zone stretches me. It causes me to grow and be more creative. I might hatch an idea in my comfort zone, but to bring it to reality requires the bravery of stepping out.

Fearuncertaintydoubt, and shame can sink our dreams and derail our goals. But they don’t have to. It’s up to us how we respond. If we’re aware how they’re working inside us, we can face them down and overcome their negative influence.

Do you ever face these four emotions? What do you do to combat them?


neymar.jpgWhat do you do when you find yourself down on the track while the race goes on without you? We all trip and fall. The question is what comes next?

How often do we use our setbacks as an excuse to check out? We walk off the field before the whistle blows because it’s easier on our bruised egos and depleted resources than getting back in the race.

Here’s a recent example from my own business. A few years ago I ran a campaign for my own school. It was a start up then. The initial response was far below my projections, but I was tempted to let it go. The results wouldn’t have been stellar, but they weren’t terrible either.

Then my coach challenged me. Was I quitting before the whistle sounded? There was still time to reboot the campaign and change the outcome, he said. And he was right. I rolled up my sleeves, retooled the campaign, and drastically changed the results. In the end I actually beat my projections.

  1. Our response builds our character. Very often in those moments where we are tempted to bail, our character is a stake. Character isn’t fixed. As Oscar Wilde said, it’s made and unmade by our decisions. When we push through difficulty and see things to the end, we’re developing our character in a positive way. When the urge to walk off the field comes – and it will – ask yourself what kind of person you want to be.
  2. Our response tests our true abilities. Whatever we think about ourselves or the future, if we walk off the track, we never really know what we’re capable of or what was truly possible.
  3. Our response impacts others. I wasn’t just running for myself. I was running for my team, for my school, for my family and community. The impact of my decision was far-reaching – even down to us discussing it today.

There’s something at stake in every decision to stay in the game that goes well beyond ourselves. Quitting not only robs ourselves of needed character development and a deeper understanding of ourselves, it has an immeasurable impact on those around us.

The issue in all of this isn’t wining or losing, but whether we’re willing to play full out. There are real things at stake – personal, professional, and beyond. We can’t afford to cheat ourselves or the people counting on us buy walking off the filed before the end of the game.

Have you faced a moment recently where walking off was easier than staying in the game? How did you convince yourself to stay in and see it through? 


When it comes to work and life, most of us know what it feels like to be out of balance. But do we know what it feels like to be in balance? It’s not a trick question – even if it seems so at first.

A few months ago I took my mentoring group on a ropes course. For one of the challenges, we walked a long stretch of rope that wound around several trees. We had to hold onto each other as we worked our way across the line.

Here’s what I remember most of all: when we were balanced, it never really felt like we were. Our legs constantly moved and wobbled, and we strained to grip each other and the nearest tree. But we stayed on that line a long time, making little corrections, adjusting our weight, and trying to stay upright. It didn’t feel like balance, but it was.

That’s exactly how life is, right?

We’ve been speaking the last week about the symphonic life – the idea of allowing all the parts of our life to play at the right pace and volume. It’s a metaphor for balance. But what about the people that say work-life balance is a myth, an unattainable condition we all hope for but need to forget about?

It’s only a myth if we misunderstand what balance means. Here are three vital aspects of balance we need to keep in mind, especially as we apply the concept to our work and life:

  1. Balance is not the same as rest. If we think that attaining balance means finally getting a much-needed break, then we’re missing something important. It’s not about rest, though it does include it. Balance is about distributing demands so we can stay on track. And sometimes that takes a lot of work. If that’s where you’re at right now, don’t be discouraged. It’s just part of the challenge.
  2. Balance is dynamic. “Life is like riding a bicycle,” Albert Einstein said. “In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” We’ve all experienced this. The slower you go, the more trouble it is to keep your bike up. Momentum helps us stay on course. It’s the same for all the corrections and adjustments we make along the way. Balance requires tweaking our schedule, task lists, and more. If you have it right one week, it still requires attention the next – which lead us to No. 3.
  3. Balance is intentional. Our bodies are programmed to stay upright, but it takes a bit more focus when it comes to the complex responsibilities and relationships that make up our lives. We have to make purposeful decisions and actions if we want balance. It’s not accidental. Those decisions and actions will look different for each of us, but they’re essential for all of us just the same.

If we’ve bought the myth of fun, fast, and easy, then we might be tempted to look at work-life balance as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card. If we just get the right combination of job, family, rest, and hobbies going in our favor, then we’re home free. But that’s just magical thinking.

Balance isn’t easy, fast, or always fun. It requires constant movement, constant attention. That’s why it can feel like we’re not truly balanced even when we are. Sometimes when we’re doing exactly what is required to keep our balance, we feel the most unbalanced. That’s only because we’ve misunderstood balance and expect it to do something for our lives that it can’t.

But once we adjust our perspective, we can see it for what it is – a difficult but necessary way to approach our lives. Rather than be discouraged when the challenge becomes hard, we can recognize the difficulty as just part of the course.

What do you think about the possibility of work-life balance?


traffic lightAre you waiting for someone to give you permission to lead, grow, or move in your organization? What if you already have all the permission you need?

I was recently invited to sit on a board and observed something there I’ve seen countless times in other settings. Some people around the table had no trouble making themselves heard, while others seemed hesitant, withdrawn, even sheepish. It was as if the quiet people were waiting for someone to give them permission to speak. But the truth is that their presence on the board was all the permission they needed.

The scene reminded me of a story I once read about a farmer who rented a donkey to take some produce to market. Along the way, a traveler joined the farmer and the donkey, and when they got tired the three stopped for a rest.

Unfortunately there were no trees around so the traveler reclined in the donkey’s shadow. The farmer protested that he’d only rented the donkey, not the donkey’s shadow. The traveler insisted that use of the donkey assumed use of the donkey’s shadow too. It wasn’t a perk, it was part of the deal.

It’s the same on a board or in a company. Unless you’ve been told only to observe, speak up! Act. Play your part. Whether it’s a seat on a board or a cube in the corner, the permission you need is assumed by your invitation. If it’s not, that’s a good sign you’re in the wrong organization.

It’s easy to retreat behind a kind of phony humility, as if not speaking were really a virtue. Some religious people might even twist a few Scripture verses to validate their sheepishness.

But not speaking up, not acting, not leading cheats everyone in at least three ways:

  1. It cheats your superiors. It’s a disappointment to the people who wanted you there to contribute. No one gets invited to suck up the room’s oxygen.
  2. It cheats the group. Important learning is on the line. If you speak up and your ideas are good, everyone benefits. If you speak up and you get corrected, there’s still a benefit for everyone. The truly humble are capable of serving the team regardless of the outcome.
  3. It cheats you. Holding back might feel like a benefit to you, but it’s a cheap win: The only thing you buy is your comfort. No personal improvement. No esteem in the eyes of your colleagues. No contribution to the organization.

I’ve been at this a long time, and so I’ve developed some confidence. But the only way to develop that confidence is to step out and speak up. Assume permission and go.

The traveler was right. If you’ve got the donkey, you’ve got permission to use his shadow. If an organization has entrusted you with a position, assume you have permission to use it. If you’ve been invited, that’s all the permission you need. Just go.

Have there been times you’ve held back in important meetings or events when your voice could have made the difference?