Category Archives: communication

what do you practice?

I have a friend who had a bumper sticker that reads “Practice Kindness.” More that later.

At my workout today, we did sprint work. I haven’t sprinted since I was like 20 years old. Heck, I do these silly workouts so that if a situation arose, I wouldn’t have to run 🙂 Something that stuck out today, however, was a simple statement. The leader of our class said that we were going to practice sprints so that we can get better at them. Not really a mind-blowing statement, right?

However, being me, I pushed myself through those workouts but found myself thinking philosophically about this the whole time. We’re sentient, condition-able beings and the more we do something, the more we develop that behavior as a part of our being. I began to ask myself “What do I practice each day?”

If practice makes us more able to do something, wouldn’t it make sense to practice things that matter? 

Do I practice communication?

Do I practice listening?

Do I practice leading with equity?

Do I practice time management?



Do I practice anything?

Do I practice kindness like my friend’s simple but wonderful bumper sticker?


And what does what I practice matter to the big picture?


Good questions to mull over on a beautiful Spring morning.

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You CAN’T be anything you want to be


If you’re a fellow millennial, this subject probably just offended you incredibly…and there’s a definite reason why.

I’ve been studying up on the different generations of workforce. Honestly, I’m fascinated and blown away. I could write an entirely new blog on all that I’m learning but put easily, as influenced by Brad Karsh’s book “Manager 3.0”:

Baby Boomers – born 1946-64 – idealistic, competitive, smart, collaborative – if they were in a fight at school, they’d be grounded and held responsible.

Generation X – born 1965-1980 – independent, creative, fighters – if they were in a fight at school, they’d train and learn to improve so that they could win the fight next time.

Millennials – born 1981-2000 – endless potential – if they were in a fight at school, there would be a conversation about the school not being a good fit, a teacher not doing their part to foster better communication methods, etc…

Karsh makes some awesome points about millennials, including that they (we) were conditioned to believe in endless potential and a huge sense of idealism. I can remember growing up and hearing over and over again that I could do anything. Heck, I got trophies just for signing up and showing up in every sport league I was in – even if I was awful. Because of this, my dream career changed on a monthly basis. What’s funny is that I’m now 32 and still battle this conditioned response. I find that I have to remind myself regularly that I’m actually 32 and not 14; I won’t be a professional athlete when I grow up or a this or that… but I am grown up now. There’s been such a focus on what will happen someday instead of what actually is happening – the real now. Potential starts to shrink over time and its just a law of nature. It doesn’t mean I have to be unhappy about that – I’m actually really happy in my current job – but it does mean that I need to begin to look at things through a long-haul perspective.

Karsh also includes an awesome chart in his book that rings very very true to me and likely many other millenials:

Assets of employing a millennial – they’re goal-oriented, have positive attitudes, tech savvy, collaborative

Liabilities of employing a millenial – distaste for menial work, lack skills for dealing with difficult people, lack of experience, and confidence extends beyond ability

As a futurist, I have to wonder what will the next generation of workers be like? Are we still conditioning an “endless potential” mindset? Are we still sheltering our kids, over-emphasizing the cerebralness of learning, and over-stressing team-based learning? Or has the pendulum begun to swing the other way, towards the Gen X side of things where individualism is again being stressed?

This is a very interesting time to be alive and I’m genuinely excited to be a part of shaping tomorrow’s workers.

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What being a punk rocker taught me about leadership

matt and todd

I grew up listening to punk music. During my high school years, I spent much of my free time playing bass for various punk bands.

As a 16 year old kid playing my bass guitar, I knew I couldn’t be picky about the shows I chose to play at, the bands I played in, and the “fans” I talked to… so I played shows quite literally everywhere. My bands played in clubs, high school gyms, garages, basements, backyards, graduation parties, and living rooms. There was even one time that my band, Tearsome, played a show with another band, Solid State, that featured both bands wrestling each other during the show “intermission.” I wasn’t choosy… I just wanted to play punk music.

Here’s the funny thing. Some of those bands I was in were actually pretty ok. Others were kinda terrible. But people constantly showed up to shows to see us play. Even when the music was awful, the venue was terrible, the sound system was rag-tag…people came. People were drawn to our shows, to that scene, because we were incredibly passionate about what we were doing.

People can sense passion in others. People are drawn to passion.

As a leader, I am always looking for more things to be passionate about. What I am passionate about comes out in my daily actions and my interactions with others. Last night, after I closed down the store for the night, I led a brief huddle on this totally awesome new headlamp that Petzl just put out (it adjusts its light output based on what you’re looking at!). It’s super nerdy but totally cool to me. I had 6 staff with me for the huddle, who were a bit tired from a hard days’ work and from the Christmas shopping season. However, after geeking out about a headlamp for 3 minutes (a freakin’ headlamp!),  I witnessed my employees laughing, conversing, and coming alive again.

Passion is contagious. Find something that you are passionate about and – be passionate! Pursue that, let others see your passion, and share your enthusiasm! Whether it’s punk rock or headlamps, others will take notice and be intrigued.

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What’s Your Audience’s Learning Style?


As leaders, we frequently set out to teach our peers and teams important points, concepts, and skills. However, how often are we considering our audience’s style of learning?

We all learn differently. I like to learn through experience. I can read books over and over again but if I can’t experience or act something out, I simply will not retain the new knowledge (e.g. my 7 years of Spanish that have dramatically faded from my memory). However, other people may do well with a book, a diagram, audio, a list, one-bit-at-a-time, saturation (lots-of-bits-at-a-time), or through any other options.

I once had a (admittedly) very linear-minded employee whose job was to outfit people for footwear. That person’s speed of going from the sales floor to the warehouse to get a pair of shoes and then back to the sales floor was not as fast as one might like it to be. One day, I remade the signage in our warehouse to be color-coded (one brand was listed in green, another in orange, etc… at the end of each aisle) in order to make it easier for someone to find a shoe. That employee immediately became much more efficient and much less frustrated, simply because I made a small adjustment to the colors used in our warehouse… and this has resulted in happier customers, happier employees, and more efficient payroll spending in that department. What’s also cool to note is that this didn’t adversely affect employees who aren’t color-minded.

So here’s the challenge: The next time you attempt to communicate a point or teach something to someone, ask yourself “how does this person learn best?” Once you have that answer, curtail your communication in that way. You may be amazed at how a simple modification will make your lesson much more effective.

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The Most Unexpected Great Leadership Movie

enders-game-movie-posterEven though I’ve never read the very popular Orson Scott Card book ‘s novel Ender’s Game, I’ve been intrigued since seeing the trailer a week ago. The plot is that humanity narrowly staved off an alien invasion and 50 years later is looking to permanently extinguish the aggressive alien race that tried to take us over. Ender Wiggin is an adolescent child who has gone through a military leadership training and evaluation program – and has  tested off the charts. Humanity’s best hope to eradicate the enemy may lie in his hands.

My wife and I are admittedly sci-fi nerds. We saw this movie last night and honestly it was no Battlestar Galactica – but it was enjoyable. We were both, however, very surprised by the amount of leadership content in this movie. In fact, the whole movie is really about leadership.

In the movie, Ender has to win over the people around him over and over again. He does this with his courage, ingenuity, originality, and authenticity. In one scene, Ender and his other candidates are in a room with their commanding officer. In the military, it is not even an option to speak out of turn to a superior. However, Ender does this very taboo activity, asking a question that his peers in the room have also wanted answered – but didn’t have the courage to ask. He is forced to do a bunch of push-ups as punishment – but when the superior leaves the room, Ender’s new friends gather around him and express thankfulness.

I was shocked at how many little notes like this I was taking away from Ender’s Game. If you are an aspiring leader, I highly recommend dropping $10 to buy a ticket for this unique and thought-provoking film.


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Millennials and Perfectionism and Depression – and the End of Trading Up

Many thoughtful and interesting articles have recently been written on the state of millennials (30-somethings and younger) and why millennials behave differently than previous generations (check out a good one here and another here). As a member of this group and a person with a psychology, business, and leadership background, I’d like to add my experience to this compelling discussion.

We millennials were brought up with the notion that we could “be anything when we grow up.” I can remember sitting cross-legged in pre-school and my teacher, Ms. Gail, reassuring me of my endless potential on a daily basis. Like many others in my generation, I began to construct dream after dream, each a bit loftier than the previous. One day I was going to be a baseball player; the next I wanted to be a paleontologist studying dinosaurs. Every dream one-upped the previous in some way.

I became obsessed with “trading up.”

This desire affected every aspect of life, not solely my career aspirations. When I’d meet a girl who was cute, I’d be excited for a short time but then begin to wonder if there might be someone better. When I finally became good at baseball after practicing and trying for years, I became more interested in conquering the world of soccer…and then hockey…and then track… and then I wanted to be a rock star.

little kid- baseballlittle kid- soccer matt and todd

In college, I was a psychology major my first year. However, that wasn’t enough, and I picked up a second major…and then a third…and almost got a minor before it was said and done. The cycle continued on through my high school and college years and I found myself regularly looking for more.

I became greedy towards my self-improvement.

With this pattern in place, it is hard to be happy, because nothing is ever good enough. I found this cycle leading me towards moments of depression and disappointment. Nothing ever seemed to satisfy me. I think we can also see this becoming more and more a part of the millennial culture. Think about music: 20 years ago, a single would come out that was amazing and people would listen to that cassette/record/cd over and over again. The top single 20 years ago was Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover,” and it stayed in the #1 spot for more than 2 months – and was all over the radio for years (I can still hear the ear-piercing scream of her voice). However, nowadays, look at how short the longevity of music is: singles come out today, get massive radio play for 2 weeks, and then disappear (how quickly did that awful Harlem Shake appear and disappear?!). Millennials are trading up even in music they listen to and there is a desire for more, newer, faster, now.

After college, I worked at a rapidly growing church in Chicago in a musical role, using all of my talents, passions, and gifts in a relatively satisfying job, but after just a year, I desired something new. Then I landed a cool business management job for over 4 years that paid me well and was enjoyable…but I chose to leave that life to attend graduate school in California. In graduate school, I made a life-altering choice to end this cycle:

I decided to become satisfied.

It sounds simple and it was simple enough… but I had to teach myself that opportunities were not always infinite and I needed to become thankful, content, and joyful in the opportunities I was harnessing. In one of my classes, a student asked a successful guest lecturer what advice he’d give younger people and he replied “Practice satisfaction where you are now because if you don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.” He also told us to continue to grow, learn, and better ourselves as well – but to be content and at peace.

I made a decision to pursue joy and happiness in what was already in my life and not in what I didn’t have. And things changed.

I began working part-time for a great retail company that advocates the same values that I believe in wholeheartedly. The job was a blast and I felt at home, satisfied, and grateful. Instead of attempting to find another direction with a direct application of my degree after graduating, I elected to continue down the path with that same retail company. My job made me happy, largely because I recalibrated my lens of satisfaction in a counter-cultural way. Then I was promoted to a managerial role, which made me even happier…but I have continued with that company through thick and thin thus far.

Sure, there are other jobs, other companies, other roles, and other teams that would be fun to be a part of. Sure, I feel tempted like many other millennials to “change it up” every few years. However, instead of longing for something different and continuing to go from job to job, I’ve chosen to be satisfied, grateful, and content with the opportunity I’ve earned and it’s changed my whole life.

I have observed a significant trend with other millennials towards buying into the trading-up idea. I’ve witnessed 20 and 30-somethings working hard to attain a job and once they’re in, they fall into the dissatisfaction/depression of “now what should I do?” Depression, job turnover, divorce, and a sense of entitlement are at all-time highs in the Western world. Careers that our parents’ generation would fight to keep for 30 years and now voluntarily given up after a few years – and that length is continuing to shorten. Our generation is truly the never-satisfied generation.

If you are a fellow millennial, I have a challenge for you: break the temptation to always trade up. This idea is often a greedy and overly idealistic lie – and it harms us on many levels, from broken marriages, unstable social lives, and depression to careers and monetary greed. Don’t mistake this for being a call to stick with a company or job that you absolutely hate – and don’t reject a desire to better yourself in your current job or situation. The real truth is there will always be something bigger, better, sexier, faster, richer, or whatever else… but maybe where you’re at today is also pretty special.

Change doesn’t always equal improvement.

Focus on the wonderful bright spots around you in your life. If you don’t see them, look harder and they will appear.

More often than not, our satisfaction we seek is not going to be found around us but instead from inside of us.

Practice satisfaction where you are now because if don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.

To summarize all of this, give this classic Louis CK video a view if you haven’t before. He pretty much nails it.




Filed under change management, communication, motivation, observation, Uncategorized

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?


This is part 1 in a series on how to create the perfect team.

One of the fastest growing areas in business psychology and sociology right now is emotional intelligence. EI refers to a person’s ability to observe, relate to, and accurately discern the social and situational cues around them – and to react to and utilize those variables constructively. If this is a new term for you and you are actively in the business and/or leadership development business (and honestly – who isn’t?!), you need to spend some time learning about EI! Many leading experts on EI – such as Daniel Goleman – have linked EI to a person’s social, professional, and leadership success.

Forward-thinking businesses are beginning to actively seek out employees who have a high EQ. This can be done through group interviews (versus more traditional individual interviews), scenario-based questions, and active coaching around EI traits. Almost gone are the days where someone could achieve a position in a company based solely on their academic prowess…which brings me to the purpose of this article.

Many people are beginning to ask “Can EI be taught.” And – if so – how can we increase this in the people around and underneath us? The NY Times has recently published a very respectable article on this. 

Clearly EI is a big deal and is something we all need in order to succeed. What do you think? Can EI be taught? And, if so, how?


Filed under business, communication, leadership, observation