Tag Archives: leadership

Let your obstacle become your guide

It’s human nature to dislike things that aren’t fun. Duh.

But what if these challenging things were interpreted less as obstacles and blockades and more so as guides, path shapers, and fulcrums to embrace, pivot from, and grow beyond?

This is the idea of stoicism. If you don’t know about that term, check it out. Every leader can benefit from this healthy and mind-shaping approach to tackling adversity in a constructive way.

The last few weeks, I hit my stretching point. I normally have a very large threshold for stress and duress and hitting this point doesn’t happen often. I can handle a lot through working really hard but also working really smart. However, recently, the opportunity to delegate the great amount of tasks on my plate was compromised and I was forced to individually contribute much of this myself (hitting the top priorities and letting smaller things go for later). To make this challenge even more daunting, my life outside of work and leadership roles hit a really big rough patch.

I could feel the cortisol in my brain reaching new limits. Fun, right?

But here’s what’s cool. Even though emotionally I wasn’t happy about what was happening, I intellectually understood the stoic principles on growth and I knew that these challenges would manifest eventually as opportunities to grow my ability to handle more, be more in tune with my surroundings, better learn to govern stressful emotions, and overall to become a better and stronger person and leader for my team.

As I come out of this stormy period, I’m now able to see the bigger picture. I am now better equipped to help another person through a similar period in their life. I am much more prepared to prioritize on the fly and to select when something should be delegated, completed by myself, or simply allowed to slip for the time being. I know that I am being prepared for future opportunities, either in my current role and location or for another role that may come along- and I am a step closer to being able to execute in higher impact, more stressful situations.

My obstacles have become path shapers and I am stronger because of them.

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Filed under change management, leadership, motivation, observation

A Thought About Undercover Boss


This year I’ve come to enjoy the show Undercover Boss (thanks Netflix!!!). Perhaps I’m late to the party – since its been on for a few years – but it has a lot of relevancy towards leadership and management.

If you haven’t seen this reality show, the plotline is usually very similar: A CEO puts on a disguise and works for a week in the different entry level positions in their company. There will often be a similar collection of examples they’ll encounter: an employee overcoming hardship, an epiphany of a thing or person who shouldn’t be in the position they’re in, and some positive employees working to further the brand of their company. It’s pretty entertaining and I’d recommend it, even if it does feel a little propaganda-ish sometimes.

I was thinking about it today and I realized something: Each of these CEO’s are well-intentioned and probably good people, but they’re disconnected. It’ s not any mystery why; these high-ranking leaders control so many things at once on a daily basis and their responsibilities are plentiful. Being as extremely solution-oriented as I am, I began to ask the question “what can I do to ensure I do not become disconnected, especially as I am in my management job longer – or find myself in an even higher level position in the future?” I came up with a few ideas:

1. Engagement is a daily walk, not a monthly check-in. I need to be present in the lives of those around me, present in their careers, and to let them be present in my life as well.

2. When I am in a position where there are just too many people to know everything about, I will need to ensure my leaders beneath me can be my hands and feet, living out these engagement principles and communicating with me regularly.

3. The focus of any business or role I am ever involved in always must be largely people-based. Whether I’m selling tents at REI or stickers at my previous job at Graphicsland, everything comes back to people. As long as I am genuinely committed to facilitating a culture of excellence in everyone around me, customers will come, sales will be made, and employees will be productive and connected to the business purpose.

These 3 things I pledge. Let this be my contract 🙂

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Filed under business, change management, leadership, observation

Throw Yourself Into the Fire (But Not Literally)

I once took part in a clean up effort for local water channels. I was told that we’d be pulling out debris and litter from shallow canals to help the water flow better. When our small group of 5 arrived at the canal – armed with nothing but latex gloves, poker sticks, and hefty bags –  the methane-fart smell of the polluted waterway told us this would not be a walk in the park. However, one of the quieter people in our group that we didn’t know changed all that. He put on his knee-high rubber galoshes and kitchen gloves and jumped right into the muck. He was pulling out condoms, tennis balls, fishing line, bags, and anything else that you can imagine. Before I knew it, another group member followed him in. And then another. And another. At this point, I had to step up and join in. 

Leaders don’t talk about change – they lead it from the inside out. This opportunity might look like a conflict between a group of people you work with, a category of items that are very hard to sell and are avoided by most employees, or an intimidating change in a process that people are evading. Influential leaders ignore the intimidating or unpleasant nature of these tasks; instead they bite their lip and jump right in.

Want to be an influential leader? Put on your galoshes, jump into an undesirable scenario, and lead change from the inside out! Throw yourself into the fire!


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Running the Leadership Marathon


I recently spoke with a friend of mine about how he views influential leadership and I found his take on things to be noteworthy.

When I asked him what makes a great leader, he replied:

“If you lead for 5 years every day, that’s a good leader.

If you lead for 10 years, you’ve become a great leader.

If you lead for 15 years, you have become a special leader.”

Sure, it is simplistic and there some important details to be added into that context. However, he brought up a great point. Truly effective, influential, and life-changing leadership is a marathon. Every moment of leadership you experience, every blog post of mine that you read, every time you choose courage over safety is reminiscent of a marathon runner taking a step each time. 26.2 miles is a long way to walk, jog, or run… but no runner will get there without taking thousands upon thousands of steps.

How are you taking steps towards your 26.2? Are these the kinds of steps that sustain you, move you forward, and build you towards the leader you want to be? If I’m fully honest with myself, I believe I am jogging this marathon, sometimes running a little bit, but it’s a good reminder for myself and hopefully you as well to pace yourself and to continue onward over the long-haul.


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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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Filed under communication, leadership

Learning to love my management role

IMG_0757I was in college when I had my first management opportunity. Every Thursday night, our entire campus would crowd our 800 capacity chapel to sing/play music for an hour. The music was led by a band, which I became an active part of. First, I got into the band based on my bass-playing abilities (and because EVERYONE always needs a bassist 🙂 ). After a bit of time, however, I found myself playing guitar and singing a bit – assuming more responsibility. Before I knew it, I was one of the band leaders, planning, singing, playing, and coordinating a very large weekly gathering in one of the most coveted roles on campus. The role was loaded with responsibility, a need for attention to detail, and a need for being motivational to the people I was working with…but I could succeed largely upon my strong talent in this area.

I was in my first management job.

Everyone has ups in downs in their first management role. Heck, every management job has that – period. If someone tells you that’s not true, they’re not true. I had moments of forgetting song lyrics, missing a pitch, or breaking one (or a few 🙂 ) strings during a session…but I did well enough and I learned that, even though I loved playing music and being a part of that gathering, I moreso loved being in the driver’s seat, taking responsibility, and managing the people around me to do an amazing job at accomplishing a task… and collectively celebrating how awesome my team did in accomplishing our goal.

A year later, I fell into an awesome position, where I helped manage and run an online printing business. This company is a smallish one (15 employees give or take) and every person there has to wear multiple hats. However, as a manager at this job, I had to wear all hats at some point – well enough to teach any of those jobs. I was now in a position where I couldn’t rely entirely on my talents and abilities; I had to rely on the people around me. I learned to communicate with others, to be a leader but to be humble and to ask for help. I earned people’s respect, not by how great of a musician I was but by winning others over on a daily basis through respect, humility, and partnership.

My most recent leadership position began just over 2 years ago. I now work in a retail management capacity, functioning as a important cog on a management team of 4 people – running a high sales volume store with more than 50 employees. Like my other two previous roles, I’ve had my great moments and my “other” moments – but I’ve learned to be optimistic, consistent, balanced, dependable, bold, and decisive. I’m now being relied upon more than ever and I have no option to not succeed or to pass the buck to someone else. I have to be responsible because 50 people are relying on me to make the right decisions… and my success is now dependant upon what I do with those 50 people.

The bottom line is this: managing people is awesome but it is also not always for everyone. Each role has taught me something – the need to rely on abilities, the importance of being supported by and supporting a team, and how to view success – not just through myself – but through the collective. However, throughout all of this has been a thread of learning – and learning through a constant and borderline-obsessive desire to succeed in my role at almost any cost.

I’ve learned how necessary it is to have an inner, independent fire to succeed and an ability to adapt to and grow in any surroundings. I love the pressure, the responsibility, the challenge to succeed, and the people around me. And this is why I love being a manager.

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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