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Stop Stress Before It Stops You

March 23, 2017 0 Comments

I live in the United States, and everyone I speak with recently seems incredibly stressed. Mixing a contentious political environment with a high degree of uncertainty about our workplaces and economic and social environments has pushed many people to the far edge of anxiety.

And this is a global issue.

A little stress keeps you laser-focused and productive, but higher levels do long-term damage. Too much stress narrows your thinking and diminishes creativity, reducing your capacity to deal with, well, the stress! Worse yet, stress releases Cortisol into your system, keeping your body on constant alert and, if sustained, eating away at your organs and leading to disease and breakdowns.

Managing your stress is a critical skill AND you should also know how to prevent stress. The degree to which you balance your attention and energy can dramatically downshift how much stress shows up and how long it sticks around.

Adequate exercise and proper nutrition are essential to building a more resilient system. Today, however, I’m going to focus on going deeper in a few areas that are less talked about.

Four Ways to Prevent Stress by Going Deep

  1. Breathe Deeply. Do you appreciate how much breathing helps you? It purifies your blood and releases toxins. It can relieve pain and reduce lactic build up in your muscles. When you breathe into your core, the act massages your internal organs, relieving pressure and aiding digestion. Breathing deeply strengthens your lungs and your heart, and when done well improves your posture, which allows you to access more confidence.

    Best of all, every time you take a deep breath, your body always sends that extra bit of oxygen to the brain first, which slows your thinking, improves your central nervous system processing, and increases awareness and concentration.

    Conversationally, breathing deeply is a powerful tool because, well, think about what you can’t do when you are taking a deep breath… talk! When you manage yourself more effectively in conversations, you reduce stress-inducing conflict and potentially eliminate the regret that accompanies reactive behavior. Breathe into your deep belly and notice that you listen better and respond more effectively.

  1. Drink Deeply. You’ve got enough stuff going on in your head to give you stress aplenty. But don’t forget that stress is both an intellectual and a physical response. Besides air, water is the second most necessary element to sustaining life and a balanced body. If you’ve ever found yourself under-hydrated, you know that it feels terrible.  Your mouth goes dry, you get a headache, your joints stiffen, you get cranky, and you can’t think straight.

    For the first 30 years of my life I suffered terribly from debilitating migraines, which finally went away when I learned how to use two powerful tools.  First, I was trained in the use of biofeedback, which is essentially a controlled breathing and mindfulness-based tool.  But the second thing I learned was that, under stress, I tended to stop eating and drinking, which literally shoved my body deeper into stress/survival death spiral!

    The incredibly simple solution? Whenever I felt even the tiniest inkling of a headache coming on, I learned to head straight to the nearest water source and immediately drink 12 to 20 ounces of plain cool water.  Giving my body enough liquid allowed it to relax out of famine mode. I’m not saying that’s always the answer, but given that our bodies are mostly water, can you see how it makes abundant sense?

  1. Sleep Deeply. Once you’ve taken care of air and water, sleep is the third most essential element for self-care. I have seen dozens of articles recently about how we sleep improperly today. We love our technology, but 99% of technology is mission-driven to keep us alert and engaged, not to help us nod off. We skip sleep to get “important” stuff done.

    We learn more every day that far more important things happen in the brain and nervous system during deep sleep. The brain uses that time to sort through the million moments of your day, get rid of the rubbish, and organize & file your long-term memories. Your body is quite busy during sleep, regenerating cells and healing the body so it’s ready for a new day. A 2016 global study found that people who sleep less than six hours a night have a 13% higher mortality rate compared with those to get 7-9 hours. Sufficient sleep has been linked to a 40% reduction in heart disease risk and a substantial improvement in life expectancy. Yet, only 16 to 20% of adult Americans say they get sufficient sleep.

    Simple, though perhaps not easy: sleep for at least seven hours a night in a cool, dark room, without technology.  And challenge the myth that you have to sleep less to be a superhero, supermom, super CEO.  Unfortunately, the 2% of the population who have a gene that allows them to function well with less sleep are the people who tend to be glorified. If you are in the 98% and you are not getting adequate sleep, you are deliberately stressing your brain, reducing your creative output, and in the long run, killing your productivity.

  1. Hope Deeply. Nurture your positive emotions. Hope is having trust that The Universe is doing its work on your behalf, even if you can’t see it.  The assessment of Hope is, “I believe things will get better, that something good may happen.”

    When you have Hope, you are predisposed to act or stay in action, even despite expectation that the action may prove futile.  When you nurture hope, you can better deal with uncertainty while giving stress and despair less to work with.  Hope is the emotion that sustains you till every Tomorrow.

Finally, Remember The Rule of Threes: A person can live for three weeks without food, three days without sleep or water, and three minutes without air…but only three seconds without hope. 

Do This For Yourself:

Keep it simple: Breathe Deeply, Drink Deeply, Sleep Deeply, Hope Deeply; and occasionally visit the dark side, because Chocolate.  

As Happiness Principle #7 reminds you: Choose to Respond. What happens is going to happen, regardless. Accept constant, discontinuous change as reality and instead of reacting, respond with curiosity.  The 13 Principles of Happiness offer a framework for a less-stress life.  Print a copy here, and post it on your workstation or fridge as a reminder to live your life deeply and from a happy space.

You can’t change people but you can always eat Chocolate!

February 23, 2017 0 Comments

Every coaching client is unique, yet occasionally I fall into situational vortex in which (it seems) everyone I’m coaching shows up with the same issue.  In the past few weeks that challenge has been Other People:  “My director this, my coworker that, my boss is, my partner should, I wish she would, I’m frustrated he won’t….” and so on.  The theme: “They should be different from the way they are!”

Sometimes it feels trite to say, “You can’t change other people.  You can only change you.”  Yet that is the (capital T) Truth of it.  So I offer an invitation: “Let’s bring it back to you.” When the coaching continues from a client-centric space, it always leads to realization that the client CAN change the situation — by changing something about her/himself.

Seeking some more clever or useful ways to make this point, I posed the challenge to my Facebook tribe, and received dozens of alternatives (thus this month’s essay is partially crowd-sourced).

What Is Also True?

True: “You can’t change other people.”  Assuming you want a situation to change, what options do you have?  Here are six.

  1. 1. You can Choose To Respond differently.  Notice your pattern of behavior and consider that you may be more than half the “issue” because you allow yourself to be triggered by their predictable behavior, or because you’re doing something that triggers them.  Remember that you are half of every conversation, so if you change your part, the conversation will still shift.Maureen shared a story: “I was dealing with my aging parents and my dad not doing anything re: my mom’s Alzheimer’s.  A friend and social worker told me I needed to “detach,” change the dance. So I changed both my outlook and my behavior (not theirs, didn’t criticize) and Voila! What happened? My dad changed his behavior because I stopped trying to “fix” him and the situation. It didn’t happen immediately, but within a month we had a better relationship and I wasn’t stressed all the time over what I couldn’t control!
  1. 2. You can change your perspective, or the “story” you’re telling.  I challenge my clients to look at the situation from the other person’s point of view.  What do “they” value?  The other person’s behavior often becomes “logical” thru that different lens. They’re not being difficult, they just don’t see it like you do.  Once you honor the other person’s story, it opens up new possibilities about finding common ground or changing your own tactics.
  1. 3. You can make better Requests and/or you can explain yourself differently.  A frequent whine is “they aren’t doing like I want them to.”  Well, how have you asked?  Are you assuming they see it your way?  Can you be certain they hold the same values?A Request is more powerful than a wish or an expectation.  Try this: “I Request you do X (action) by Z (deadline) using Y (metrics of success).”  When you spell out the details and the other person agrees, you’ve got a commitment.  So change how you ask.
  1. 4. You can learn something from them.  If you believe The Universe only sends you what you can handle, seek the lesson in your challenging relationship.  If this person triggers something in you, practice Patience.  If their disorganization drives you crazy, maybe you need to work on Flexibility.  Or work on your Compassion.
  1. 5. You can accept and love them, exactly as they are.  Suffering is the result of arguing with reality.  If your partner is not (and never has been) skilled at giving positive feedback, why do you continue to expect them to be your source of affirmation?  Who is really the problem?OK, in the workplace you can argue that your boss should be better at affirming you, but if every day you picked up a rattlesnake and got bit, whose fault is that?  If you choose to keep living with a rattlesnake, or a negative Nellie, notice that you can “suffer” or you can admire what a great rattlesnake they are and look elsewhere for your daily dose of honey.
  1. 6. You can speak the truth and trust others to be adults.  This is the toughest.  When you find yourself “stuck” I challenge you to consider if you might be using “it’s about them” as an excuse to avoid your own discomfort.  You’re a strong person AND so are they!  Trust they put on their Big Girl pants this morning, and if you do something that challenges them, they’ll figure it out.  You don’t always have to “take care of” everyone else.I close with a client story: My client’s company is on the verge of huge changes that will force reorganization (and not everyone can be in charge, right?!).  My client has the assignment to design a new org chart.  The boss keeps stalling.  The uncertainty is causing key leaders to polish their resumes.  The team is swimming in assumptions that “others” can’t handle the conversation.  So, do you wait for “them” to change, or do you step up and make something happen?  What would you do?

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who works first on self, and takes responsibility for the clarity of conversations and expectations.

Footnote: Life Wisdom Need Not Be Heavy

I close with some humorous suggestions:  You can’t change others, but you CAN…

…make a mean grilled cheese.

…mind your own business.

…rearrange the furniture.

…get back on your medication.

…unfriend them on Facebook.

…marry them (because love).

…change your address.

…review them on Amazon.

…change a diaper.

…build a wall.

and my personal fave: …you can always eat Chocolate!**

**Lest you doubt the value of chocolate to change your life and relationships, this page offers curated links to articles offering hundreds (if not thousands!) of proofs and reminders that dark chocolate is one of the most profoundly useful and fun foods on the planet.

Who Are You Being As a Leader?

January 25, 2017 0 Comments

The story you tell yourself about WHO you are has a huge impact on your leadership style. For example, if you declare yourself to be Efficient, your personal filters may zero in on deadlines and use of resources. Decisive may show up as moving fast and being in control.

The more your work outcomes depend on other people, the more important it is that you nurture your ability to influence and build relationships. In that realm your Presence speaks more powerfully than your Expertise.

It will serve you well to write goals that honor others and expand your capacity as a human being to Lead from a place of strength and abundance.  

Notice how simple tweaks to the language of your goals can change your emotional space and your behavior. Try these on or use to model one of your own using positive voice, present tense language.  Some examples:

Practicing Leadership Skills

  • I ask others for others’ opinions before I make decisions that affect them.
  • I am courteous to my coworkers.
  • I clean up after myself.
  • I give others the space to feel heard.
  • I watch my body language in meetings; I face the person who is speaking.
  • When I hear rumors I strive to verify the facts before I pass anything forward.
  • I share at least three compliments or gratitudes in the workplace every day.
  • When I offer feedback I clearly separate my appreciation for them as a person from whatever I think of their performance.
  • When coaching, I focus on the needs of the person in front of me and say what needs to be said for their development versus my personal comfort in saying it.
  • I strive to fix problems not assign blame.

BEING a Leader

  • I am a caring, connected leader.
  • I am confident in my ability to do my job and figure my way out of any challenges I encounter.
  • I look for the good in others.
  • I live my life from a place of gratitude.
  • I am a kind person.
  • I honor the creative wisdom in others.


Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who works on BEING a better person before asking the same of others.


January 20, 2017 0 Comments

In January many people create new goals for their work and life, most of which focus on achieving a metric, e.g. starting or stopping, completing or letting go, or making progress in a specific direction. They are about DOING (Or NOT Doing) Something.

There is a place for DOING goals. Life is filled with projects that need to be done once or for a finite time, from taking a course or learning a new skill to growing a company. They are all about progress. Good Doing goals have a target, metrics, and a timeline.

BEING goals are different. They are declarations of how you want to exist in the world or the mood or mindset you want to hold…for your whole life.

If Forever seems like a long time, consider the commitment you made to brush your teeth or to shower regularly. Neither of these feels burdensome because they have become habits, and you recognize each time you do them that they support your living a good life.

If you can make dental care a lifetime goal, what about finding space for kindness or courage or happiness?

To Begin, a Three-part Primer on Writing More Powerful Goals

Primer Part 1: The Six Ps of Powerful Goals

  1. Write it as an I statement. Own it.
  2. What do you want versus what do you not want?
  3. Declare it in the present tense, as though it is true now. (see Language, next section)
  4. When you can declare a goal as an ongoing behavior versus episodic, you will achieve it more quickly because you will do it more often.
  5. Design goals you can in some way practice/think/behave every day, for in repetition you create new neural pathways in your brain.
  6. Declare your goals aloud to someone and ask for support. If your goal is to share three positive piece of the feedback every day, for example, you might ask a coworker or your coach to check in daily and simply ask “how did you do?”

Primer Part 2: Language Matters

These Words diminish the power of a goal statement. Avoid them.

  • Will: always gives you permission to put it off till tomorrow. I will, someday, maybe…
  • Should: implies there is a standard that you—or someone else—holds for you. “Should” signals a goal that is imposed, which you can then ignore because it’s not really yours.
  • Try: Decide if your goal is effort or success. “I dressed to go to the gym but it rained, so I skipped it.” If “try” is your goal, you nailed it! “Try not; do you must” Yoda reminds us.
  • Want to/Need to: implicit in any goal statement, yet if every time you speak your goal you precede it with “I want to/I need to” it will always be an aspiration. If wishes were fishes we’d never go hungry, but intention is very different from action.
  • Not/Stop: The way our brain processes language, verb modifiers show up last. So if you say, “I will NOT X.” you’ll still be thinking X. Instead, express the goal as what you seek versus what you are going away from, e.g. if you stopping procrastinating or eating sweets what is the behavior instead?

Compare: Notice how simple tweaks to language change the meaning of each statement.

  • I want to save 5% of every check for retirement (this is a wish)
  • I will save 5% of every check (an intention; you can push it till tomorrow and have it still be true)
  • I try to save 5% of every check (an assessment of effort. Go you, you tried!)
  • I should save for retirement (An expression of guilt)
  • I save 5% of every check; I pay myself first (a declaration of Being)

Primer Part 3: Create Clear Definitions

Be clear about your terms. For example, if you say you want to be a better person, what does “better person” mean to you? In what ways might you think or behave differently when you are better? Perhaps, for you, it means paying more attention to others’ needs before your own. Instead of “I will be a better person,” what about “I am thoughtful and considerate,” or “I ask others what they need.” Notice how the present tense positive version of this goal is clearer and more urgent.

Back to Being more Kind, Confident, or Happy

Apply those three filters to your goals, and you create powerful declarations that feel more compelling. If they are not true yet, your systems—head, heart, body—strive to shift until your thinking, emotions, and actions align.

The following samples come from work I’ve done with clients over the past few years, both in coaching and in workshops. See what inspires you, then proceed to the Do This section for tips on making them real for you.

  • I surround myself with positive people; I honor my boundaries when around toxic people.
  • I seek other points of view so I am not living in a bubble.
  • I make good, balanced choices about what I put into my body.
  • I move my body for at least 30 minutes, every day.
  • I accept responsibility for my own actions.
  • I treat other people with kindness.
  • I am a kind person
  • I am confident; I believe in my abilities and myself.
  • I am polite and respectful.
  • I love myself. I am comfortable in my own skin.
  • While I honor my ambitions, I accept myself as I am right now.
  • I have positive conversations in my head. I accept that critical self-talk is just myself wanting me to be better; I balance that with reminders that I am wise and courageous.
  • I smile often.
  • I hold strong boundaries. I know what to say yes to, and am able to say no to people and commitments that drain me
  • I spend my money responsibly; I only use credit as a convenience and buy something only when I can afford to pay it off at the next bill.
  • I am courageous. I am strong and bold and step bravely into the world.
  • I am a loving person. I accept and love others for who and where they are.
  • I look for what is right and good, first.
  • I assume positive intent regardless how others behave towards me.
  • I am calm. I know how to breathe myself back to calm when I feel knocked off balance.
  • I never “like,” share, or otherwise endorse words or images in social media that disrespect others.
  • When I face a fork in the road, I choose the more positive or happier path.
  • I am optimistic; I expect good things to happen in my life and I believe in my own resilience to bounce back when bad things happen.

Do this for yourself

You probably have a full plate already; you don’t need lots of new goals. Honor that in yourself and follow a simple process:

  1. Name it. Create just one new declaration that resonates for you and how you want to show up in the world in 2017 and beyond.
  2. Start small. Consider one tiny thing you can practice to build a new pattern in your thinking, feeling, or behavior. That one thing may be as simple as reciting a new belief, initiating conversations in a new way, or changing how you sit, stand, walk, talk, or take a breath. It’s all about you and how you choose to Be.
  3. Do it daily. The key is that you live in that declaration, and read it/write it/say it/do it every day, intentionally creating new neural pathways and habitual responses to the world.
  4. Persist and be patient. Remember it takes 100 repetitions of a new pattern for it to not feel “weird,” 1,000** repetitions to make it an unconscious habit, and 10,000 repetitions to achieve mastery.

Happy new year, and May this be your best year so far.

**(If that sounds like a lot, consider that you have between 12K and 70K thoughts per day, so if you shift just 1/10 of 1% of those—less than once an hour—you’ll hit that 1,000 in less than three months. Worth it?)

Photo credit: Steph Vora, UK


WHO will you be next year?

December 21, 2016 0 Comments

Questioning Blocks 5W+H

Leadership is Personal

I had a stimulating conversation with an amazing person the other day.  She is the president of a company striving to build a better world, and many of her observations and questions revolved the topics of social impact, making a difference, and the power of Leadership.

We really connected around a descriptor she used for her company: we don’t fit into the boxes.  What her company does is outside the “norm” and I related to that, as my brand has puzzled many people for years (Happiness? What does that have to do with work?).  We talked about the need to find and serve the people for whom we CAN make a difference, people with passion and purpose and a desire to make the world a better place.

She is also coach, insofar as great leaders use coaching as a key skill to engage and develop others and facilitate decisions. Her questions challenged me to be clearer about myself and what I offer.

One of those questions was, “What is the key learning that your executive clients take from working with you?” My response was, “Who you ARE is who shows up.” As I said that aloud, I could feel how true it is for me.

Leadership is Personal, and the clients who most benefit from working with me are those who bring their whole self to coaching, who understand that unless they change, nothing changes.

Who You Are Is Who Shows Up

The conversation forced me into reflection — exquisitely well-timed as I am writing my 2017 business plan and preparing to fully reengage with my business after cutting back to part-time to manage the build of our new multi-generational home.  We’re now moved in and it’s time to… well, that’s the question.  What is next for me?

I am at a place of many decisions.  My wife and I are redefining everything in our life, adjusting to new roles, new responsibilities and routines, even new shopping and commute patterns.  Years ago, after the death of one of our children, we adopted a philosophy of “new normal.” New Normal means accepting that things will never be back to normal, and giving yourself permission to re-create normal in this new world.  Even though the disruptions in our life emerged from choice versus tragedy this time, the impact is still the same — we are in a space where we get to—and indeed, must—consciously decide what’s next.

Over the next few weeks I will be reflecting on this and other powerful questions, and right now I don’t know what is going to emerge. My friend and colleague, Michelle James (, is a pioneer in the field of emergence, and she often uses a birthing metaphor to describe the creative process, in that “birth involves pain and screaming and blood” before the baby (or idea) is born, and that’s exactly where I am today.

The questions I’ll be working with:

  • Who do I WANT to be in the future?
  • What needs to change for that shift to occur?
  • What am I being called to do?
  • What IMPACT do I want to have in the world?
  • How do I want to put myself “out there” in the world?
  • What is next for me? What do I want as my New Normal?
  • Where do I want to be a year from now that is different from today?
  • What will it mean to stay True to who I am?

What’s Next for The Executive Happiness Coach®?

I don’t know what’s going to emerge. I don’t know what will need to change. I don’t even know if this newsletter will remain, or remain the same.

Stay tuned.

2017 Planning – What’s Next for YOU?

Want to do a little work on yourself or your relationships? Assess your happiness? Review or renew your Core Values? Audit your life as part of your planning for next year?

Go here, to my resources page, and scroll to the bottom to access my Annual Planning Kit for Individuals or Couples. Cheryl and I take a day in January each year, just before she “disappears” for the tax season (she’s a CPA) to work thru this process. It helps us recalibrate, clear out any Tolerations that have accumulated, and create joint goals for the year. Have fun getting to know YOU again!


Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who gets clear about where they are going before they invite others to follow.



Give Thanks, Get Results

November 23, 2016 0 Comments

gratitudeDear tribe members:

If you celebrate the Great American Holiday of Thanksgiving, you will soon gather round a meal and give thanks for your blessings. Enjoy that moment. Know also that I appreciate you; Thanks for being part of this conversation.

AND that’s not what this quick note is about. This is about the workplace, and what you need to do before year-end.


Here’s a simple reminder that science has now proven what we have sensed all along: People work harder, offer more and better ideas, and stick around longer in work environments where they feel appreciated and believe they are making a difference.

Yet the vast majority of the workforce NEVER FEEL THAT WAY. Oh, it’s not because no one appreciates you and your output (forgive the double negative) – it’s because no one takes the time to Say It.

Out loud. As in, conversation.


By the way, let’s get victim mindset out of the way before we dive into this topic. You say your clueless boss never says Thanks? Well boohoo, poor you. First, if your boss is so clueless, why do even care what s/he thinks about you? Second, when was the last time you said Thanks to your boss for something?

You may not be able to change your boss’ personality, but nothing is stopping YOU from building a bubble of gratefulness around you. Try it – you’ll find it’s contagious, plus it’s entirely in your control.

Like forgiveness, gratitude (or ingratitude) is about YOU, not them.


Here are five things you can do to build a more Thanks-filled workplace:

  1. Annual Re-Recruitment. If you manage others, I hope you let them know regularly what you value about them and their contribution to the team and company. Between now and mid-January is a great time to chat with your team members and say, “I’m glad you’re here. I hope you’ll still be with us next year.” Then ask them three questions (and pay attention to the answers):
    What keeps you here? Where would you like to grow or develop? What could I do to better support you in the next year?
  1. When You See It, Say It. The best way to offer appreciative feedback is immediately (same is true of critical feedback, by the way). If you want to reinforce what someone did or said, tell them specifically what you saw, e.g. “Thank you! I appreciate that you did X!” Do this with coworkers, partners, and kids. They all respond to positive feedback!
  1. Count to Five (to One). From Neuroscience we’ve learned that positive feedback releases Dopamine in the brain (a pleasure rush!) while negative stimulates Adrenalin (the fight or flight chemical). The negative affect lasts five times as long as the positive, so it basically takes five positive remarks to offset every one negative. Pay attention to the balance of each in the conversations you have with others.
  1. Say You’re Welcome. Are you someone who brushes aside compliments by saying things like, “oh, it wasn’t me, it was the team” or “It was nothing, really.”? Modesty and humility have merit, but if every time someone gave you a wrapped gift you immediately pushed it back or stuck it in a drawer, eventually they’d stop trying. So when someone takes the time to offer you thanks, please accept it graciously, saying, “You’re welcome,” or “It was my pleasure.”
  1. Make It About You. The real power of gratitude comes from you connecting to another human being. Using “I” statements allows you to upgrade your expression of Gratitude. Notice the difference between a polite “Thanks” or “that was nice” versus “I really admire that you….” or “I am so grateful to you for…”

Finally, the more often you exercise your Gratitude muscle, the more you will notice the good things that happen in your world, supporting an upward spiral in your world view. Bonus: if you’re in a leadership role you pull others along with you!

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who offers feedback to others in a way that helps them feel valued and appreciated for who they are and what they do.

How to Lead – Back to Basics

November 11, 2016 0 Comments

{Note: I write my own material, sharing other people’s great stuff in my social media streams. But while writing this month’s edition, a blog landed in my inbox that is so provocatively written and so resonates with my core message that I cannot just tweet a link – I feel compelled to share the entire piece with you, my tribe.

If you are one of the many people who read Seth Godin’s blog ( based on my recommendation, then you’ve already seen this; AND I invite you to stop and read it again, then pass it around your company. This is the essence of what I teach, preach, and coach. It is important. This is how you build a culture.}


300px-pieter_both_mountainI suggest that the ascension into leadership is like climbing a mountain. It’s hard work, and not everyone is capable of (or interested in) the climb. Once you’re on the mountain, you have a fabulous view and you “own” the territory you’ve conquered in your ascent, right? At the same time, the higher you are, the better the target you make for snipers – meaning, people are always watching you: how you show up, what you DO vs what you say, and every sin you commit, whether that is a sin of commission or omission (failure to act).

What follows is Seth’s blog from 16 November, which can be read in the original at

P.S. If you’re not in charge, share this with someone who is. Start the conversation.

It’s not the bottom, it’s the foundation

Organizations are built on the work of people who don’t get paid very much, don’t receive sufficient respect and are understandably wary of the promises they’ve been hearing for years.

Calling these folks the bottom of the org chart doesn’t help.

Imagine that throughout your career you were paid as little as legally possible, the last to be hired and the first to be laid off. Imagine that the boss gets more vacation days, doesn’t have to clock in and out, and is actually given control over how he spends his time.

Why is it surprising to bosses, then, that some workers respond to this arrangement by doing as little work as possible?

Here’s the thing: people actually want to do a good job. They want to be proud of their work, they appreciate being engaged, they thrive when they have some measure of control over their day.

Too often, though, the optimistic leader meets the pessimistic front line and distrust undermines all the good intent. The boss loses patience and reverts to the test-and-measure, trust-no-one, scientific-management tradition of dehumanizing the very humans who make the whole project work.

And so, back to being mediocre. Back to high turnover, low trust, no care. Back to workers who don’t believe and bosses who are now cynics.

Mostly, back to an ordinary organization that’s like so many others.

There’s an alternative. But it’s a process, not an event.

Step 1: A commitment, from the top, that this place is going to be different. The commitment is open-ended. It involves leading and showing up and keeping promises, for months and years into the future. It’s non-cynical, and it views leadership as an opportunity, the possibility of serving customers at the very same time you inspire and enable employees.

This is going to take a long time, and it’s not going to be the cheapest path. It turns out, though, in industries where people matter (which is more and more of the work we do) that this path pays for itself eventually.

Step 2: Hire for attitude, not for learned skills. You can teach someone to do just about anything. It’s far more difficult to build an instinct to care. When you hire trustworthy people who are willing to trust you, you have an opportunity to build trust, which enables communication, which allows you to teach, which upgrades everything.

If you are in a hurry to assemble a group of people who can ‘do the work’, you will end up with folks who merely needed a job. On the other hand, if you are willing to invest in people who are enrolled in the journey you’re on, you will end up with a team.

[Corollary: Fire for attitude, fix for skills. The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated]

Step 3: Be clear in actions and words about what’s important. It doesn’t do any good to hire for attitude but only reward for short-term results. If you reward a cynic merely because he got something done, you’ve made it clear to everyone else that cynicism is okay. If you overlook the person who is hiding mistakes because his productivity is high, then you are rewarding obfuscation and stealth.

Who gets the employee of the month parking space? Who gets laid off?

People are watching you. They’re not listening to your words as much as they’re seeking to understand where the boundaries and the guard rails lie, because they’ve learned from experience that people who do what gets rewarded, get rewarded.

Hint: if you tell people something is important but fail to give them the tools and the support and the training that they need to do that important thing, you’ve just told them that it’s not actually important.

Step 4: Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here. It’s going to be a long time before people act like they own the place. After all, you own the place and you don’t even act like you do most of the time.

This job is important. It feeds my family. It pays the rent. It’s connected to my self-esteem. I will act in the interest of my family, not your invisible shareholders.

Step 5: Your problem is not their problem. The people who build the foundation of your business have plenty of things to worry about. Your narrative about your day is not one of them.

Over time, it’s reasonable to expect that an engaged and respectful working environment will lead to ever more big-picture thinking. But it’s naïve and self-defeating to expect a 20-year-old who’s been on the job for a week to make a connection between the customer who just walked in, your big wholesale account, the loan that’s due soon and the espresso he just pulled.

Every day, you’re going to be tested on these five principles. Every day, there’s going to be a moment of urgency, a shortcut presented, a confusion. And in that moment, the first principle is going to come into question.

But this is the foundation, it’s not the bottom. This is the source for all your possibility, for the change you seek to make.

Isn’t it worth it?


Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who shows appreciation and respect to others and consistently models what is right and what is important.


September 23, 2016 0 Comments

In the past eight weeks I’ve spoken at conferences in six states, slept in ten different beds, flown four different airlines, negotiated three different time zones, and lived in two different homes.

Yes, it happened. We finally moved into our new home…  


…and a new, multi-generational living arrangement.





For over a year I’ve managed to fit the build project into my schedule. But starting two months ago (unnoticed by me at first) things rapidly morphed into something much bigger

A Perfect Storm of Distractions

It was like I was playing on the beach for two years, and one day the sea calmed and became still. I thought, “everything’s going according to plan.” What I forgot is that just before a tsunami arrives the waters recede, then BAM — you get hit hard and fast and all your attention shifts to staying above water while it just keeps smacking you around.

This metaphor should in no way indicate the move was a disaster–on the contrary, it is a long-anticipated and positive change in my life. But it is a BIG change and a huge distraction. I moved homes, offices, and lifestyle, anunnamedd I fantastically underestimated the degree and duration of the disruption to my routines in every domain.

Add to that the travel and I was thrown completely off balance by a perfect storm of personal and professional events, and as a result, I have been missing commitments left and right.  

Including this newsletter. Thus you’re reading September’s essay in October. Maybe I’m finally catching up!

Forgiveness is hard; and it’s the First Step Forward

My inner Gremlin had a great time beating me up over missed deadlines and broken promises. Then one of my coaches helped me to remember that I am only Human, and I was/am probably judging myself far more harshly than anyone else would!

So I shifted to a place of love and appreciation to notice all that I HAVE accomplished in the past eight weeks. I’ve worked to forgive myself for missing commitments, and now I ask you, my clients, friends, and tribe members, for forgiveness as well. (Thank you in advance.)

22 Ways to Choose Love When Life Comes At You Like a Tsunami

  1. Get a different perspective. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, your attention becomes laser focused on the “problem.” Other people have a much wider lens and can help you pull out of your judgment-filled head.
  2. Forgive yourself. You know that Gremlin that’s always saying “You Idiot?! What were you thinking?” Yes, that’s your own voice, serving as judge and jury to convict you of a ‘crime.’ Geez. Let it go and move forward. Acceptance is a powerful healing emotion.
  3. Remember that nobody cares about you. No, not like that — it’s just that everyone else is in his or her own head, thinking about her/himself. Most likely, 90% of the “issue” that you’re making of your overwhelm other people don’t even notice.
  4. Take responsibility, but don’t take the fall. There’s a huge difference between saying “I did/did not do this, I’m sorry” versus “I did this. I am such a horrible/unworthy person!” Distinguish between what you did versus who you are.
  5. Meet the commitments you can, and challenge the ones you can’t. Ask yourself, “Do I really have to do <this> or am I feeling burdened by it simply because it’s on my list?” Sometimes things fall away once you realize that you’re the only one who knows it needs to be done.
  6. Renegotiate promises with your self. In what ways might you shrink or shift the deliverable (e.g. 80% is probably good enough)? Does it need to be done Now, or could Later work? To whom might you delegate some/all of it? Who might you ask for help?
  7. Renegotiate your promises to others. A promise is based on the Conditions of Satisfaction you discussed when the promise was made. Unless they are carved in actual stone tablets, a reasonable partner will re-open the discussion about those conditions — if you ask.
  8. Pick one thing at a time. If you suffer from Shiny Ball Syndrome (SOS) like I do, you sometimes feel like an over-caffeinated squirrel at a nut festival. Over there! Over there! No, over there! Just stop. Pick. One. Thing. Use a 20-minute timer to keep focus.
  9. Get help prioritizing. If your task list has expanded into multiple post-it notes and napkin scraps, it’s a sign the SOS is winning. Find a friend or coworker who will give you 15 minutes in exchange for a cup of tea, and talk thru your priorities aloud. Even if your partner says nothing, you’ll end up more organized simply because you had to review your thinking in front of a witness.
  10. Revisit your gratitude practice. Remember Happiness Principle #9: Pay Attention. When we are on autopilot, life just happens around us. Look. Listen. Notice. The sunset in your own backyard is just as wondrous as the one at the beach. Even when you feel underwater, there is much to be grateful for as long as you still have air in your lungs.
  11. Focus on what you accomplish versus your task list. If you only go outside at midnight, you might eventually believe there is no sun. But there is, sweet pea — it’s still shining, every day.
  12. Take a break/step away. I’ve long conducted a short exercise in my stress talks: Pick up an object and hold it at arm’s length. How much does it weigh? A few ounces, maybe? OK, keep holding it up. <…> What do you notice? It gets heavier and heavier the longer you hold it. The learning? When you set it down and rest for a short time, the object returns to its original weight. Same with emotional and intellectual burdens. This is why the gods invented vacations and long weekends – because it will be there when you return, but lighter.
  13. Remind yourself of this: even if you fail, YOU are not a failure. I’ve coached countless people who were unable to look in a mirror and say, “I love and accept you, unconditionally.” If that describes you, practice standing by the mirror in a grounded, confident body and start with “I like you.”
  14. Apologize but don’t Catastrophize. What happened; it doesn’t make you an evil or incompetent. Confess that you forgot or got distracted or got overwhelmed, and move on. Other people, you will find, are often far more forgiving than you expect.
  15. Remember that everything is temporary. This, too, shall pass.
  16. Keep taking your own oxygen. Exercise your body. Eat food that fuels you. Take time outs. Breathe on Purpose. Read an escapist story. Take a TV break. Or a hot soak in the tub or lunch with a friend or time with a toddler.
  17. Just be Present. Anxiety only exists in the future. Focus on what you can do in THIS moment or at most the next 20 minutes. You will find at least some of your overwhelm drops away at temporarily and in that space, you can flow rather than fear.
  18. Get grounded. Stands tall, breathe deeply, and smile. Shifting your body will shift your emotional space.
  19. Reach out and help someone else with their own challenge. It may not do anything to address what’s on your list, but for a time you can get out of your own story and into a more positive emotional space where you can believe you can make a difference in the world.
  20. Dance with it. Put on your favorite music work standing up. Or just dance. Really.
  21. Use the skill of Yes, And. Embrace what comes at you, saying Yes!, then seek ways to build on it. (one example: even as I’ve been living through my most stressed time in 12 years, I’ve been keeping notes — this will make a great essay one day!)
  22. Choose Love. It’s worth saying this twice. Remember that you are not broken, not a “project” that needs to be fixed. You are whole, creative, wise, capable, and fabulous. Regardless what you do or do not do, you matter to The Universe.

Final note: Happy people are not happy all the time. EVERY emotion has value to help you connect with others, move you forward or keep you from harm, so enjoy them all. The goal is less about constant positivity than it is about knowing HOW TO GET THERE when you need it.

Remember that resilience is a skill. Some people may be born with a bit more of it to start, yet everyone—I’m looking at you!— can learn how to strengthen your resilience muscles by practicing any of the above at any time in your life so that when life really kick your butt, you have the skill set to bounce back.

So that’s my story and my learning to share this month.

Butt: Kicked. Bounce back: In Process.

What’s YOUR Story?

In the Workplace: You’re Never Done– So What?

September 23, 2016 0 Comments
Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

A typical salaried professional has between 80-100 hours of backlog on their desk at any time. There will ALWAYS be something to do, and you may NEVER feel “done.” If you take that too personally you can feel stressed 100% of the time. It’s all about the story you tell yourself.

In the workplace, it’s almost always about priorities. In 20 years of coaching, I’ve never (except in one highly dysfunctional company) had a client who did not end up feeling more settled when they asked their boss or a coworker to help them get their task list prioritized. Why is that? Because everyone has been there.

(Hint: another reason it works to ask your boss to help is that few bosses wants to admit they are unable to set priorities, else it would be tantamount to announcing they are unfit to lead. So take advantage of that story!)

Remember, Leadership is not about a title: anyone can be a Leader who creates a workplace where people feel safe admitting they are human and can’t be great at everything. That’s why The Universe created Teams (Together Everyone Achieves More)!

10 Simple Yet Powerful Ways To Escape Victim Thinking

August 26, 2016 0 Comments


There are moments when Life Sucks, when failure is the only option, or when it’s easier to blame your problems on everyone else… because it’s just too damn exhausting to take personal responsibility. I get, I’ve been there. Just last week, in fact.

BUT if you find yourself living in those spaces a lot, it’s time to look in the mirror, sweet pea. Look deep into your own eyes and notice that behind all that resentment and loss is a super hero—who looks just like you—with super powers to make different choices and bring you back to a more positive place.

 Let’s begin with a quiz.

Score the following ten items in a way that serves you: either check off the ones that are Always True (and skip if not), or use a 1-5 scale where 5 is Always and 1 is Never.

 ___ I realize that every day I have the power to choose the mood I live in.

___ I choose my actions rather than blaming others for what I do; I am not a victim.

___ I typically view events through a positive lens.

___ I rarely dwell on past mistakes.

___ I know what happiness feels like, and I recognize and enjoy the time I’m in a happy mood.

___ I look for – and usually find – happiness and contentment in everyday tasks and events.

___ I focus on what I can control or influence rather than on what I cannot control.

___ When things go wrong I do not beat myself up.

___ I believe that I will find what I expect; therefore, I focus on expecting good and positive outcomes.

___ I do not accept television’s view of the world.

___ Total

Interpretation: if you scored at or below 7/10 or 35/50, you may be living more of your life as a victim than is healthy for you.

Let’s explore what these life practices mean, and how you can make more powerful, positive choices!

You Always Have the (Super)Power to Choose

  1. I realize that every day I have the power to choose the mood I live in. Your moods and emotions may often be reactions to what others do, but once the immediate reactive impulse has passed, you have the power to step away, let that emotion move on, and choose something else.                                                                                                                                                                                 To nurture your capacity to choose differently, start with noticing which emotion(s) you most often “exercise.” Do you dwell on wrongs inflicted upon you? Your Anger reflex is strong: try to spend equal time noticing the good things in your life, so your Gratitude muscles can balance you. Do you worry? Anxiety can be balanced by nurturing your sense of Security/Safeness. Does Depression come on strong? Spend time each day focused on something you CAN do or have, and over time strengthen your Hopefulness muscles.
  1. I choose my actions rather than blaming others for what I do; I am not a victim. I used to frequently teach a class in team communication, and in one exercise the class would brainstorm tools to move from React to Respond in conversations. The three most common were: take a deep breath (because when you’re breathing IN, it’s impossible to talk!), walk away (take a moment), and silently recite The Serenity Prayer (pictured here) or a similar mantra.
  1. I typically view events through a positive lens. You do not need to register as an Optimist to practice this skill. As with other items on this list, it’s about creating balance for you. When faced with crisis or challenge, remember that for every debit there is a credit, somewhere. Take a moment to seek something good or positive about the situation, however small. If you do this consistently, you’ll notice it’s easier to see the upside to a downer or the silver lining in those dark clouds.
  1. I rarely dwell on past mistakes. Reviewing mistakes can be your most powerful learning tool. However, setting up camp and living in them, over and over and over, is not productive. Ask yourself two questions: “What can I learn from <this>?” and “What will I do differently next time?” Your history is real, but your life is in the future – focus forward.
  1. I know what happiness feels like, and I recognize and enjoy the time I’m in a happy mood. Remember, Happiness is only one emotion among hundreds, and every emotion is legitimate. You need Ambition, Fear, Sadness, Impatience, Perseverance, and so on to keep you safe and moving forward. Do you know how to find and visit Happiness when you need it, though? The trick with Happiness is that you are often so busy or so focused on The Next Thing that you miss the lovely little moments along the way. Enjoy that tart lemonade, the warm tea, and the smile of a friend, the sun peeking from beneath a rain cloud. Practice saying, “this is nice!”
  1. I look for – and usually find – happiness and contentment in everyday tasks and events. Happiness is not a bolt of lightning from the sky. It’s the tiny raindrops that barely get you wet and quickly evaporate. So you have to notice it when it happens. My favorite definition of Happiness is, “the quality or state of being joyous, glad, or contented.” You’re probably “there” more often than you realize. Sit back and say, “This is enough. I’m good. I like this!” Enjoy making the formulae in that spreadsheet sing; enjoy the simplicity of doing the laundry; notice how you can lose yourself in chopping carrots for dinner or mowing your lawn. It’s OK, really.
  1. I focus on what I can control or influence rather than on what I cannot control. My favorite mantra is “you can’t change other people; you can only change yourself.” Notice where you expend energy – is your focus “out there” on other people and events, or do you focus within your own circles of influence and control and work to change how YOU show up? Remember, you are 50% of every conversation, so when you change, the conversation changes even if the other(s) don’t.
  1. When things go wrong I do not beat myself up. The most common self-talk I encounter in my coaching clients – yes, including many senior leaders! – is self-deprecation, based on the master assessment of “I’m not good enough.” Practice balance here. Holding yourself to a high standard is worthwhile; noticing only your flaws is counter-productive. To help my clients get better at objective self-analysis, I offer this instruction: “let’s first start by noticing what you did well. Once we’ve covered the positive, we’ll move to what needs to improve.” By first acknowledging the pluses, the review of minuses always feels more constructive than destructive.
  1. I believe that I will find what I expect; therefore, I focus on expecting good and positive outcomes. Every day, terrible things happen in the world. AND. AND every day, wonderful things happen. Both optimists and pessimists are correct in their assessment of the future. Your experience of life depends on which of those perspectives you choose to give the most attention. Which brings us to the final tip:
  1. I do not accept television’s view of the world. “If it bleeds, it leads!” This has always been the way media chooses what to put in front of you. Whether you watch television, read hard copy journalism, or follow the world through Twitter screaming (I mean streaming…), you are blasted with disaster, rarely with reminders that you have a 99.997% chance of NOT being killed, robbed, or drowned. Because Fear sells. Don’t buy it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I include Reality TV here. There is almost nothing “real” about intentionally-created dramatic moments with people either dropped into impossibly-weird jungle sets or living in staged mansions with an army of invisible staff/servants to keep it clean. Again, TV is playing on your FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – with a goal of making you feel “less than” because you’re not as beautiful/smart/clever/strong, etc. Please don’t buy what TV sells. It is entertainment marketed to make money for sponsors. Not. Real.

When you practice living into these ten statements, you need never be a victim; instead you will live more fully into your potential as a Super Hero in your own life!

Remember, Leadership is not about a title: anyone can be a Leader who nurtures their own sense of balance and creates an environment in which others can feel safe to choose a balanced and healthy path to success.