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? 


1 (1)For the last few years I’ve taken a short sabbatical each summer. I’m looking to rest and focus on intense relational time with my family. The challenge is unplugging from the office.

Anyone who’s attempted it can relate to the difficulty. I’m at the computer or on another device a large portion of the day, every day. I’m reading, interacting on social media, dealing with email, building my business. Plugging in is second nature. Unplugging is hard.

People use many different solutions with varying degrees of success. Some try hiding apps on their mobile devices. Others use parental controls. I read an article a while ago about a writer who actually locks his phone in a safe. And then there’s this idea, a walk-in Faraday cage to block digital signals.

That might go a little far for me. The good news is that I’ve learned a few things about unplugging since starting my sabbatical tradition. These five steps work for me:

  1. I enable a special emergency email that I only use while on sabbatical. Only my family and teammates have this email. I check this once a day.
  2. I disable all other email accounts on my desktop and mobile devices. I’m using an auto-responder to explain my absence along with Gmail’s filter function to delete all messages as they arrive. Details on the auto-responder and filter below.
  3. I delete Slack and TweetDeck on my desktop and mobile devices so I’m not tempted to check them. I will reinstall them when I return.
  4. I view Facebook via my browser, but I will only use my personal account to stay connected with family and close friends. This is entertainment for me not work. I’ll keep Instagram on my phone for the same reason.
  5. I set up a voicemail message for my phone that mirrors the auto-responder message I’m using for my email accounts.

Here’s the text of that auto-responder message. You might find it useful. I also explain how to set up the Gmail filter to remove all messages from your inbox as they arrive. It’s not quite the same thing as deleting them, but it’s close.

To set up the filter, go to your Gmail settings and select filters. When you go to add a new filter, you’ll see a window like the one below. In the “From” field, type “.” This mean the filter applies to ever message.

You will get an error message on this, but you can ignore it. Once you set the parameters, click “Create filter with this search.” You’ll see a window like this one.

Make the selections you see above. You can’t actually delete the message and also trigger the vacation message. Instead, mark it as read and skip the inbox. The message won’t be deleted, but it will be automatically archived so you don’t see it when you return to your inbox.

These steps allow me to get my head out of my work and my heart into my rest. In my experience these steps allow me to get my head out of my work and my heart into my rest.

What steps to you take to unplug? How much rest do you get if you don’t?


mentor (2)Whenever an organization rolls out a major change, clarity and alignment are essential. Without those two things all the best intentions amount to little more than heartburn and headaches.

As a leader responsible for a medium company, I have experienced the difficulty of getting clarity and creating alignment with my team. In one instance, we shuttered more than a dozen division of our publishing operation and restructured the entire business. But I’ve also found myself on the other side of things – outside of the leadership seat and in the role of observer. Only in this case people were making decisions about my brand!

As an example, I remember when the National Speakers Association announced a significant change to their name (about 2 years ago). They announced that they would adopt the name ‟Platform”.

They noted that their members do a lot more than public speaking and their initials are far from popular right now. I sympathized. “NSA” was tarnished brand, regardless of what you think of the federal government’s operations. Within a ten days they’d reversed course and abandoned the name. As the whole situation played out, I was reminded of five key steps for any organization before rolling out a major initiative. Each of these steps is designed to achieve either clarity or alignment. Both are essential if an organization wants to avoid a backlash to its proposed changes.

These apply to the NSA, of course, but they also apply to all of us seeking to lead in the world of social media, where everyone has a microphone and everyone is connected to everyone else.

  1. Determine what you need to communicate. This is the single most important step. You need to get crystal clear on your message. Distill it down to one sentence. What’s the headline? That’s all most people will take away anyway. Part of this step requires answering the why question. You need to provide the rationale. This where NSA got it right and wrong. They did a great job of communicating why their brand needed an update, and I’m sure we could all agree. But they didn’t explain why taking platform was the right course for their organization.
  2. Commit your message to writing – in advance. My introduction to the NSA rebrand came through watching a video recording of a public address, so I’m not sure how this worked beforehand inside their shop. But I always start by writing a press release, talking points, and FAQ document. Not only does this step bring tremendous clarity to my own thinking, it also enables me to enlist others and keeps me from having to formulate communication in the midst of a public relations storm.
  3. Secure alignment with your leadership team. It’s crucial that you give your key team members information, time to process, and space to discuss. It’s hard to overemphasize this step, and the importance increases with the magnitude of the change. Individuals may express disagreement, but they can still get behind the change if they feel like they’ve been heard. If they feel ignored, however, they may well work against the new initiative.
  4. Contact key stakeholders – personally. You cannot afford to surprise your key constituents. This is another area where NSA might have stumbled. In the blowback of the initial decision, it seemed as if there were key people in the dark about the change. It’s essential to enroll your key stakeholders, determine who will contact whom, and then start making visits or calls – in advance of the public announcement. The information should quietly cascade within the organization. Then take it to select VIPs outside the company before the public revelation. You’re doing more than communicating about the change. You’re also conveying your respect by informing your VIPs before you go public. Then, once you go public, they are able to say, ‟Yes, I knew about that change. They contacted me in advance of the announcement.”
  5. Go public through all available media channels. Now take it to the world via press releases, blog posts, and social media. This ensures you control the narrative. Without a narrative, critics will create their own. And that’s when things begin to unwind. Part of going public is staying public. Keep the channels open for public dialogue. Interviews, blog conversations, Twitter exchanges – they’re all key for managing the public response. The NSA did this well. When the backlash came, the leadership owned the problem, solicited responses, and were quick to respond.

No change is easy, especially big organizational changes like a restructure or a rebrand. But clarity and alignment through good communication are critical components of initiating major change without blowing up your business.

I was eager to see what the NSA leadership was to develop for their new brand. I wanted them to succeed. Though they stumbled on this recent initiative, I think they had the opportunity to achieve even greater clarity and alignment within their organization. This would serve them well as they serve their members and the world at large.

What good and bad experiences have you had with major organizational change? 




Envying Other People’s Success

In this world of bloggers, business leaders, and message-delivers, it’s far too easy to succumb to similar temptations. A blogger stumbles across someone with a highly trafficked, killer site and tries to duplicate his success with a redesign and eerily similar content.

A wannabe speaker hears a powerful presentation and immediately abandons her message and style in an attempt to generate the speaker’s success.

Every day, on the web, at conferences and over dinner conversations, I see individuals swallowed up in the sway of outside influence. In all the chatter and noise, they fall out of love with their own voice. I understand the tug and pull all too well.

For years I dreamed of being a writer. I’d read a great book or blog post and think, “I want to write like that!” So I’d hunker down at my laptop and do my best to write equally glorious words. The problem? It didn’t sound at all like me. And my followers knew it, even this week, as the new webinar launched, a part of me felt the tug to conform.

This business of developing and delivering our messages is far more difficult than we realized when we started, isn’t it? We know where we want to go. We can see the end result. But the path between here and there sits in fog. So we search out the well-worn paths of other’s success and jump on, hoping it will lead us to our own.

But it doesn’t work that way.

2Resisting the Tug of Impersonation

In the chatter of a market filled with messengers, you and I mustn’t give way to the tug of impersonation. Your message is too important for that. Instead, we must commit to authentic representation. You have too much to offer. Want to stand out? Here’s the three-part secret:

  • Know who you are. This is no small task. It requires time, energy, and courage to connect with who you are at your core – your dreams, personality traits, talents and passions. It requires hanging out in the quiet spaces, outside the noise of the market, to connect with the less-than-public, less-than-packaged you.

Try this: Shut down the laptop. Power off the phone. Ignore your email and analytics and social media accounts for a day. In its place, take inventory of who you are and write it down. Honor yourself and your message enough to become well acquainted with both. Only then can you expertly deliver it to the world.

  • Know who you are not. Earlier this week I listened to an interview with Dr. Henry Cloud. He was discussing his book, Boundaries For Leaders, and in the course of conversation he said words I will not soon forget: “The first thing you need to know is who you are not. Be not conformed.”

I am not a technology wizard (this fact cannot be overstated). I am not a once-a-day blogger or web theme designer. And my writing style will always be far more narrative than how-to. But my differences don’t make me less-than. They make me me. Which leads me to the third aspect of the secret.…

  • Believe you are enough. When working in a world with such talent and opportunity, it’s easy to focus on what we lack. Like you, there are moments I wish I had different gifts and talents. But to standout, you and I need to spend less time wishing we were different and more time believing we have just what it takes. It is the quirky, unique, and uncommon that makes both a product and person stand out.

Don’t dishonor the uniqueness of you. You’re far too valuable than that. Instead, deliver the one product absolutely no one else can replicate – You


What would be possible for you and your message if you focused on authentic representation instead of  impersonation?