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What Are You Planting for Your Future?

October 18, 2017 0 Comments

Reflecting on a Transition

In January I will celebrate my 20th anniversary as a business owner. Before becoming a solopreneur and The Executive Happiness Coach(r), I spent 20 years as a leader in the corporate space, so I’ve called myself “a recovering corporate executive.” As I shift toward having more time OUT than IN the corporate space, it’s time to abandon that descriptor.

Letting go of labels that no longer serve me feels like an issue of integrity, in two different ways. One definition of integrity is, the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles — don’t lie, don’t misrepresent, right? Thus I’m dropping that old label, and in the process am examining all the labels I apply to myself.

I’m also challenged by the other definition of integrity, the state of being whole and undivided, which is causing me to consider everything I’m doing in my life and work and ask, “how does this all fit together?” I’m sure much of this journaling and reflection will show up in my 2018 plan, so stay tuned.

In my research around what it means to be integral, I took inspiration from a retelling of the following Folk tale, which speaks to the power of Integrity.

I invite you to read the story and consider which of the players most reflect you: the Emperor, Ling, his mother, or one of the other aspirants. 

The Emperor and The Seed

Once there was an Emperor in who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The people were shocked! But the Emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor!”

A boy named Ling received his seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the news. She helped him get a pot and soil, and he planted the seed. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kids laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”

When the Emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the Emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed my successor!”

The Emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. “The Emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The Emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the Emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today.

But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you.

Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

Integrity Creates Strong Roots!

What are you planting for your life and your business? When you plant integrity, you will reap success. It may not come in the form of $$, but it will show up in how you feel about yourself, how you treat yourself, and how you are perceived by others.

“With integrity you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt. With fear and guilt removed you are free to be and do your best.” – Zig Ziglar

Remember: Leadership is not about a title. Anyone can be a leader who has the courage to show up in integrity, for from a place of being whole and solid yourself, it is far easier to respect and honor others.

What You Expect You Get; Do You Get It?

September 20, 2017 0 Comments

A Story About Leadership

I’m currently working with three clients who, in different ways and for different reasons, are working to improve their organization’s Performance Management systems. The three cultures differ dramatically, as do the issues that need addressing. Yet a common issue has emerged at all three: we need to do a better job of setting expectations.

Attention to expectations is not merely a Human Resources exercise. Good conversation about clear, challenging goals can make a HUGE difference in performance and workplace outcomes at all levels and all roles.

Performance Moves To Match Expectations

In a frequently reported study undertaken in the 1960s, psychologist Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues provided elementary school teachers in an inner city school with a list of their students who, based on testing, were predicted to blossom academically. In fact, the names on the list were randomly selected but, of course, the teachers did not know this. At the end of the year, the students on the list did blossom compared with those not on the list. Rosenthal found that the positive effect was even greater for Latino and African-American children than Caucasian children.[1]

The teachers in the Rosenthal study may have thought that they were responding to all children in the same way.  However, if you expect children to succeed, you will behave in ways to reinforce this expectation even without being aware of doing so. For instance, if you ask students considered to be “budding superstars” to answer a question and they cannot, you are more likely to support them, help them think through the problem, and eventually arrive at the correct answer. You do so since you expect that they can learn and when they do not, you consider how best to assist them.

In contrast, if you ask children who are not perceived as having great potential a question and they do not know the answer, you are apt to call immediately on another student. Also, budding superstars compared with their peers are more likely to elicit smiles and a positive tone of voice. They will respond in kind.

Syndicated Boston Globe columnist William Raspberry addressed the issue of expectations. In the article titled “Kids Won’t Learn if We Expect Failure,” he wrote of a conversation he had with Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education (2001-2005). They discussed factors that contribute to student failure, especially for children from poor homes. Paige offered the following opinion:

“One difference is expectation . . . . If a teacher does not believe every child can learn, and the evidence is that some children are not learning, the world seems all right. But if the teacher believes all children can learn, and some children aren’t learning, then there is a problem that demands answers.”

Bosses Are Teachers, Too

I see the so-called “Rosenthal Effect” show up in the workplace just as in the classroom. Suzy is labeled the “up-and-comer” and suddenly all her ideas are brilliant and her mistakes are deemed “great risks, learning opportunities.” Meanwhile, John is stuck with the “unreliable” label because he missed an important deadline two years ago, and he is continually frustrated because he can’t get his boss to pay attention to his ideas.

Case in point: One of my current coaching clients is a high-achieving, confident, scary-smart executive who has in just a few months under a new leader found herself questioning her future with the company. Why? For whatever reason, her executive leader has taken to correcting her in public, and requiring her to do twice the work of proving her ideas have merit. At first she rose to the higher challenge, but as that behavior has persisted, she is shrinking back from greatness and disengaging from the organization. Her boss has signaled that he believes she’s not capable, and it’s almost like she’s living into his expectation (coaching helps, but the pervasiveness of her boss’ doubt feels corrosive).

As I’ve watched this happen, I’ve reflected on Google’s recent (and controversial) decision to terminate the employment of the engineer who wrote about his belief that women are not capable of being engineers. Imagine what it would be like to work with someone like that, who fundamentally doubted your capability? How likely would you be to do your best work for someone who, even on your best days, would spend all their energy to prove you screwed up? I can picture my own response: “why even bother?”

What’s a Leader to Do?

When you consistently set clear, challenging goals for people, then coach them from a place of “I expect that you will deliver. I’m here to help you succeed,” then guess what? You have a lot more high performers than in a work group where the manager calls every success “a lucky break.”

Expect more – from your team, from yourself, and from life – and let others know your expectations. You’re more likely to have a happy experience than when you expect only mediocrity or–worse–don’t communicate anything at all.

Remember: Leadership is not about a title. Anyone can be a leader who creates clear and positive expectations and holds every person as capable and high-achieving.


[1] Portions of this and the next three paragraphs were adapted from an article by Robert Brooks, PhD, which can be read in its entirety here:


August 23, 2017 0 Comments

Story:  I’m sitting in a coffee shop, writing.  Background music creates a white noise, masking multiple streams of conversation I only half-notice from within my envelope of concentration.

Whenever a new customer walks in, the bright-eyed, caffeinated barista asks, “How are you this morning?” Most respond with a simple “fine,” or “okay.”  Some brave a “great!” or the oft-obvious “I need coffee, first!”

One guy loudly replies, “Shitty!”  A pause (2, 3, 4…).  “Oh….” Then, falling back into her usual patter, she asks, “Well, what can I get for you today?”  Ah, but he doesn’t want to let it go.  In what can only be described as his ‘stage voice’, the patron continues: “You’ll find out when you’re older. It’s shitty being old.”

By now, all other conversations have paused while everyone in the shop watches this mini-drama unfold (he’s being too loud to ignore). I look up to see who’s talking. The gentleman is probably my age, plus or minus; he sports grey hair around the temples and a bit of a paunch.  He seems to be walking fine, all his limbs work, he has a nearly full head of hair, and apparently he has enough discretionary cash to afford a large mocha cinnamon latte thingy.

Yet he chooses to describe his mood as “shitty” as he pinches his face into a scowl.  I wonder what sort of day he’s having, as he shuffles grumpily along, proclaiming his mood as though it is an unbearable weight, an inescapable consequence of aging, a mood he is condemned to carry.  No one really wanted to continue conversation with him.

Is his day REALLY shitty?  Well, as soon as he spoke it into reality, it was.


Two days later, I’m having breakfast in a diner when three older gentlemen are seated at the table next to me.  One of them trails behind, his walker stuck on a chair leg.  He sits slowly and carefully, using gnarled hands to pull his legs around underneath the table.  The server for our section sweeps by with a tray full of food for another table and chirps, “I’ll be right with you guys. How y’all doin’ today?”

The walker guy bounces right back with, “Not bad, for a kid!”

 Wow, what a contrast!  I’m betting that walker guy is having a much better day than the coffee guy – and so are the people around him.


“But Jim,” some say, “it’s just words.  Not everybody is all chipper and positive.  I’d rather tell the truth than lie about how I’m feeling!”

OK, I hear you, and I agree that ‘lying’ is not usually a good strategy.  Yet I believe they are more than “just words.”

There is great power in language.  Language is an action – what you speak creates a new perspective on whatever reality existed a moment ago. Words and the energy they carry can create or destroy – and they define us as individuals in addition to defining our world.  Yet even though we know this, we often let them flow out unattended, until suddenly we encounter negative consequences.

So much of the pain we cause ourselves and each other could be avoided if were just a bit more attentive to what we say.  Our relationships, our work environment, even our feelings about ourselves, can be transformed simply by taking time to think about how words create our reality.

Do This For Yourself

The first step in changing your world is to start becoming conscious of what you say – both aloud to others and (in your head) to yourself.

For the next week, be aware of not just what you say but also the way you say it.  See if you can sense the emotional effect your words create.  How do you feel after you speak?  How do other people react?  How is what you’re saying changing the mood of the conversation?  What “spin” are you putting out there to shift the way you or others are looking at a situation?

I promise you that when you observe, you’ll notice new opportunities for yourself.

The 13 Principles of Happiness offer a framework for a happier 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.

Why Should Your Boss Care If You’re Happy?

July 19, 2017 0 Comments

Happiness is Noticed for its Absence…

Picture this: I am sitting in a room with a leadership team who are frustrated with high levels of behavior often associated with employee disconnection: turnover, absenteeism, gossip, backbiting, lack of discretionary effort, cliquishness, zero input during meetings, constant griping about even the tiniest things, and a pervasive sense of overwhelm. They “admire the problem” from multiple perspectives and declare, “Fix this, we must!”

Yet when the conversation turns to potential solutions, we are suddenly in a conversation of “oh, we can’t afford that kind of expense.”

Really?!  But you CAN afford to have a revolving door of employees, a workforce that is unengaged, and people in leadership roles who feel stressed and overwhelmed?

Since I was a CFO in a past life, I have little tolerance for conversation where people focus only on expense without calculating potential return on their investment.

Most of my posts over the past 10 years have addressed the HOW you create more happiness in life and at work. This post is about the WHY leaders need to pay attention. 

Because dollars. Happiness and dollars. 🙂

The Value of Happiness

This slide summarizes the outcomes impacted when you and or your organization hold a positive perspective on life and work.

Individuals who nurture happiness and positive emotions report feeling better in all domains of their life (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual); have better health outcomes (sick less often–and when they are sick, quicker recovery); better short-term and long-term relationships; more energy, and a different relationship with stress.

It’s not that happier people don’t experience challenges in life, rather that they have a different relationship with them. Happier individuals tend to look at obstacles and setbacks as temporary, whereas individuals who do not nurture positive emotions tend to see obstacles or setbacks as permanent, and happiness as temporary and elusive.

How do those individual benefits accumulate at the group level? Here are 11 Organizational Benefits to nurturing Happiness in the workplace:

1.    Creativity. Being creative is a natural talent we are all born with. Fear and stress cause us to shrink back and avoid risk, stifling creativity. Happy people feel more comfortable offering their best ideas.

2.    Productivity: Here is a 2014 study which suggests that raising people’s happiness makes them more productive by between 7% and 12%. What CFO is going to turn their nose up at a 10% return on investment? Remember that this increase in productivity is achieved without increasing payroll. We’re talking Big Dollars here! If you had 50 employees, averaging $60,000 in base pay ($3MM payroll), you could invest $100,000 a year in leadership development, employee perquisites, working conditions, and teambuilding ($2000 per year per employee) toward improving your culture and workplace positivity, and still have a 200% return on your investment, despite having “expensed $100,000,” which feels like a lot of money until you think about it as an investment.

3.    Problem-solving. Happy people find it easier to step outside of their own perspective and look at situations from multiple perspectives. Combined with a higher level of comfort in the creative space, happy people are better at solving problems.

4.    Resiliency. Again, it’s not that happy people don’t experience the same life and career setbacks that plague us all. It’s just that those who practice gratitude and optimism find it easier to regain their balance and bounce back. This leads to the next point about employees which is:

5.    Dealing with change. Organizational and environmental change–at the speed of life–is a constant. Humans are biologically programmed to resist change when they first encounter it. Those who are better at bouncing back or quickly adjusting their stories to accept a new reality find change easier to absorb. Organizations that understand this may even screen for happiness as they hire and promote people. The larger the percentage of positive-minded people in an organization, the more rapidly that organization can dance with change.

6.    Physical health. After payroll, medical benefits are the second largest people expense in most organizations. Even before Positive Psychology came along, most healthcare professionals could tell you that those who entered the healthcare space with a positive mental attitude recovered more quickly than those with a negative or victim mindset. Happier people, basically, get sick less often and recover more quickly, which decreases healthcare expense.

Most human resources and finance professionals are familiar with the incredible numbers associated with nurturing wellness in their organizations. In organizations with a more positive workplace culture and higher trust levels, a higher percentage of employees take advantage of those wellness programs, which translates into reduced healthcare dollars, a virtuous cycle any CFO will love.

7.    Turnover. People in a more positive workplace want to stick around longer. Period. I recently worked through the numbers for a client experiencing 50% turnover. They only have 50 employees (well-compensated professional staff) yet we found the cost of avoidable turnover exceeds $850,000 a year — what it’s costing that organization to lose people they want to keep BUT who are leaving because they feel unhappy, disconnected, and overly stressed. What’s your number? 

8.    Absenteeism. Happy employees, again, are sick less often and for less time. That means they are on the job more.

9.    Safety. Studies in manufacturing environments show strong correlation between positive workplace morale (a.k.a. happiness) and incidence of rule violations and workplace accidents. Happy employees care more and make fewer mistakes.

And a few new findings that are not on the above chart:

10. Morality/ethics. A happier person finds it easier to think about the welfare of others and tends to cast a wider net of concern about the impact of their actions. Now, think about any high profile corporate meltdown/corruption story from recent history. Can you think of a single case where the description “dysfunctional” or highly stressed did not occur in the description of the workplace culture?

Do you ever hear about happy workplaces with high incidence of on the job harassment, ethics violations, or embezzlement? No. You do not. And there is a reason why you do not. People don’t treat others poorly when they’re themselves happy!

11. Acceptance of others/non-judgmental. When you look behind nearly every story of exclusion, discrimination, harassment, or systemic prejudice, you will find a story of scarcity and fear (e.g. “There’s not enough for all of us,” it’s a zero-sum game). Happy people live more often in a story of abundance and gratitude, and find it easier to hold the possibility that everyone can benefit in some way from any potential solution.

Happiness has Value; Unhappiness has a Cost

Whether you are a CFO, a business owner, a steward of your corporate culture, a manager at any level, or a frontline employee who is interested in the success of your organization, notice that taking care of your happiness and paying attention to the happiness of those around you will benefit both you and your team.

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a Leader who makes their own Happiness a priority so that when they come to work, they serve as a positive influence for others!

Be Happy. Lead Well.

A Happiness Reading List for Beach or Business

June 28, 2017 0 Comments
2017 Happiness RL image

Click image to download pdf list

Summer is in full swing in my part of the world… and aren’t you excited about the long, warm summer ahead, where the evenings are long and breezy and you can sit on your porch with some cool lemonade and a good book?  (or in my case, iced coffee or dark beer, and my Kindle!)

For 12 years, from 2000-2011 I compiled and published an annual summer reading list.  Then one day I realized two things: one) WAY too many other people were doing the same, and two) it was a helluvalotta work.

So I stopped.  

But I did not stop reading!  I love to learn and I love to escape, and books serve both purposes.

Recently I’ve had several requests for a reference list on Happiness, and while I had a short list from years ago, I realized my shelves (and my Kindle e-reader) are overflowing with new positive titles.  So I decided to update and curate my list and share with my tribe, in the spirit of a summer reading list.

Most people gravitate to escapist fiction for their holiday reading, and this list is nearly all non-fiction (Hector being the exception)… but in case you want to be enlightened on your holiday, I’ve curated the list into three segments:

  • Easy Reads (quick, fun, maybe on the beach?)
  • More Complex Reads (research and tools and stuff), and
  • Really Deep Reads (philosophy, ontology, and limbic resonance, Oh my!).

Many of the titles in the first two categories are written in essay format, so you can pick them up for a few minutes and read just a chapter or two between your escapist fiction.

Click the image above or right here to access the list.  Feel free to share.

Happy Summer!


Happiness Is Wanting What You Have

May 18, 2017 0 Comments

Happiness lives here

Back to Basics – What is Happiness?

For my 150th newsletter I decided to revisit a basic: what is it?  When I deliver a keynote talk on Happiness I start by asking, “How do YOU define happiness?” Once audience members share their ideas, I offer two definitions I favor:

One is from the dictionary:  Happiness, hap-ee-nis, n. the quality or state of being joyous, glad, or contented.

The other comes from my own research and experience: Happiness is wanting what you have.

Happiness is Wanting What You Have

Think about it: Happiness is the capacity to sit with what you have right now and say, “This is nice.” Once you shift focus to what’s next you leave Happiness and move into something else: Ambition, perhaps, or Desire, Insufficiency, Hunger, or even Discontentedness.

I’ve defended these two definitions for years. An incident two weeks ago challenged my definition, however, and caused me to consider variations on my main theme.

A Short Story That Could Have Ended Badly

I was in Jacksonville, Florida for a speaking engagement. Wednesday evening I’d arrived and had dinner with my hosts. On Thursday morning I delivered my program to a roomful of Human Resources professionals. After some post-talk Q&A I headed to the airport for my 2 PM flight to Cleveland, with arrival at 4:45 PM.

My plane finally landed in Cleveland at 10:30 PM – on FRIDAY. Yes, 30 hours late.

The delay unfolded as a slow drip-drip-drip of tiny breakdowns. First a delay. Then another. And another and another. Then we boarded the plane. A mysterious “computer issue” surfaced. After two hours we were served water and snacks. At three hours we deplaned. Then vouchers, shuttles to a hotel, and return to the airport for a new flight the next morning. A new plane arrived. More “computer issues.” One delay, two delays, three delays, each one perfectly spaced such that it felt far away yet close enough to generate Hope.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

While I felt some frustration at the delays, I had my technology, so was able to complete a full day of work on Friday from my hotel and the airport. That gave me the opportunity to turn the event into a case study of emotions, both my own and others’.

All About Me: At each delay I took a breath, got myself grounded, and looked for the positive. I had what I needed to function. My meals were paid for. I got to spend a lovely night in Jacksonville’s 72°F breezes while Cleveland endured a chilly sleet. I focused on being happy with what was available.

All About Them: Fellow passengers had to miss connections, company functions, rehearsal dinners for weddings, or even days of work. Yet I witnessed little correlation between the degree of inconvenience and the emotions provoked. It turned out to be a stellar demonstration of the teaching: “we see the world not as it is but as we are.”

A young and highly excitable woman who was making the trip “just for fun” reacted as though the entire Universe had conspired to make her life miserable. Her Anger was bright and hot and needed to be shared with everyone. She made loud phone calls, yelled at people, and in the end vowed vengeance on the airline, even as she cancelled her plans and went home.

Some posted nasty things on social media, seeking to star in their own film titled, “Victimhood!” Several declared “I will never fly this airline again!” (while accepting $200 in vouchers).

Yet others simply opened their Kindles and curled up with hot tea and a good story. One woman was traveling alone with a nine-month-old baby (who was better behaved than many of the adults), and she confided in me, “I know that she will pick up on my emotions, so as long as I remain calm, so will she.” An enterprising young man “attended” a bachelor party via Skype, toasting the groom from the airport bar.

This latter group represented those who found Happiness in their circumstances despite obstacles.  They found a way to be content with what they had.

Happiness is having what you want (sometimes).

The opposite, having what you want, is really not the path to Happiness. Lust, Jealousy, Entitlement, or instant Gratification tend to travel with needy people for whom Happiness is a fleeting sense of pleasure.

Still, I gotta tell you that when I took my seat on Friday evening and the plane began to taxi for takeoff, I was truly happy getting what I wanted — to go home!

While reflecting on this tension in my definition of Happiness, I noticed two other corollaries:

Happiness is not wanting what you don’t have.

While Happiness can be wanting what you have (contentment), it can also be the opposite: not wanting what you don’t have. 

We are bombarded with imagery and messaging that reminds us we are entitled to have better technology, newer versions, prettier stuff, and have bigger, better adventures.  My mailbox (both the actual and the virtual) is stuffed with “deals” every day, and I could spend considerable time and money in acquisition of stuff.

What my fellow passengers and I wanted was control but we had none. Letting go was key for those of us able to find happiness in the situation.

By managing your awareness, you empower yourself to ignore all the rest and let go of wanting what you don’t possess.

And finally:

Happiness is not having what you don’t want.

Having something can be a joy AND it can be a burden. You have to clean it, water it, store it, talk about it, put fuel in it, or make payments on it. When you are surrounded by clutter – literal, digital, or interpersonal – it weighs you down. I’ve written in the past about managing your tolerations; when you take action to dump or delegate or otherwise get rid of what you’re putting up with, you create space for Happiness and other positive emotions to show up in you.

Arguing with reality is a form of toleration, or suffering. All the passengers wanted the problem solved, but nobody really wanted the responsibility to make it happen. I was happy it was not my problem!

Which most resonates for you?

Happiness is:

  • wanting what you have
  • having what you want (sometimes)
  • not wanting what you don’t have
  • not having what you don’t want

Try applying one of these to a current situation where you’re seeking happiness, and look for the opportunity to change the conversation you’re having with yourself.

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who can (at least occasionally) nurture a sense of satisfaction and joy in themselves and others.

Practice Happiness

The 13 Principles of Happiness offer a framework for a happier 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.


April 20, 2017

I sense so much tension in the world, today.  I know that there have been times in human history when conflict was uglier and more violent, and that, statistically speaking, the world has never been safer; and yet…

The ugliness that exists today feels so pervasively personal. Internet trolls have affected our ability to have civil discourse, even about important issues.  Politicians scream at each other from ideological fortresses, lobbing insults across the aisles instead of having the tough conversations of governance.

Where are the Leaders?  What has happened to Respect?

I revisited a book that inspired me in 2002 and which always reminds me of our (collective) capacity to elevate others and ourselves every day through the way we behave:

Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M.Forni.

What is Civility?

The author writes: “as we grapple with the complexities of our age, I suggest in this book that we agree on one principal: that a crucial measure of our success in life is the way we treat one another every day of our lives. When we lessen the burden of living for those around us we are doing well; when we add to the misery of the world we are not.”

“Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect, and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness. Civility is a form of goodness; it is gracious goodness… It also entails an active interest in the well-being of our communities and even a concern for the health of the planet on which we live.” He lists a full page of examples, ending with, “…these diverse behaviors are all imbued with the spirit of civility.”

On page 15 Forni reminds us: “…our happiness doesn’t spring from the events of our lives but rather from how we choose to respond to those events. If we have control over what we think about what happens to us, we have control over how we feel about it as well. This means, in turn, that we can be the makers of our own happiness. [Can you see why I love this guy?!]

‘While happiness involves choosing how we interpret the world around us, restraint is a behavior that is required for civility. Restraint is an infusion of thinking—and thoughtfulness—into everything we do. We choose the behavior that, although it may not seem the most gratifying now, will make us feel good five minutes from now, tomorrow, or next year. Restraint is the art of feeling good later.”

“To be civil—to behave, that is, in a manner that takes into consideration the feelings and the comfort of others—means practicing the art of giving. <…>  By treating you the best way I know how, I appeal to the best in you, urging you to do the same.”

Rules of civility have been around for a very long time. They appear in the text of all religions from Judaism and Christianity to Confucianism, from Islam to Hinduism. They are found in Renaissance writings, Victorian-era manners books, and in the works of philosophers from Plato to Kant.

Following these rules may not feel like a shortcut to a good life. Civility requires work and dedication. But so does Happiness.  If you want to strengthen any muscle (intellectual, physical, or emotional) you must stretch and work it regularly.

Forni believes that one major consequence of civil behavior is to “lower the amounts of stress in everyday life, especially in the workplace.”  Hmm – we can all use a good dose of that, eh?!

What follows are the 25 Rules followed by my tiny summary.  As you scan, notice what resonates for you.

The 25 Rules of Civility

  1. Pay attention. Attention is a tension connecting us to the world around us; only after we notice the world can we begin to care for it. Open your eyes and observe the world around you. Take in the fullness of that amazing person sitting across from you in conversation. When you shift from superficial and transactional to truly “seeing” the world around you, it feels more natural to engage in behavior that will deepen your relationships.
  2. Acknowledge Others. Avoid treating anyone—from coworkers to anonymous retail clerks—as invisible. When you make eye contact, offer a simple “good morning,” or use someone’s name at the beginning of an email, you acknowledge their existence and legitimacy.
  3. Think the Best. Assume positive intent: most people are doing the best they can with the resources and the wit available to them.
  4. What stops us from good listening is that we focus on ourselves and our own needs instead of focusing on other people. Remember that most people don’t need you to solve their problems; they just want to feel heard and safe.
  5. Be Inclusive. When you create boundaries, draw them around ideas, not people. Strive to push past your discomfort with the unfamiliar to be curious, instead.
  6. Speak Kindly. Learn how to be direct without offending, both in word and tone. You can deliver even critical feedback in a kind, caring way.
  7. Don’t Speak Ill. When you gossip or speak unkindly of people when they are not present, you say far more about yourself than you do about those others.
  8. Accept and Give Praise. Compliments and appreciation cost you nothing, yet have great value when given to another. In like manner, when someone else gives you that Gift, accept it graciously.
  9. Respect Even a Subtle “No.” Honor other people’s boundaries. It’s not always about You.
  10. Respect Others’ Opinions. Respecting what others think does not mean we are being untrue to ourselves; it simply honors their right to look at the world differently than we do. This rule is a prerequisite to civil discourse and healthy debate.
  11. Mind Your Body. Good grooming helps us to feel better about ourselves and shows respect for others with whom we interact.
  12. Be Agreeable. If you are always the stubborn cuss who won’t go along with anyone else’s plans or ideas, you are being uncivil. You need not always say Yes, but look for opportunities where you can at least compromise in service of the group or a relationship.
  13. Keep It Down (and Rediscover Silence). Even in today’s always on world, there are places (houses of worship, libraries, theaters, public transportation) where loud talking and digital noise are inappropriate.
  14. Respect Other People’s Time. Wait your turn to speak. Manage your calendar so as to be punctual and available for commitments you have made. Begin and end on time.
  15. Respect Other People’s Space. Whether with coworkers in their cubicles or with partner/kids in your home, understand the prevailing culture and honor the norms that exist around entering or using other peoples’ space and things.
  16. Apologize Earnestly and Thoughtfully. Badly handled, high profile apologies make headlines. When you apologize, make clear that you know what you did was wrong, that you understand the effects of your actions, and that you are not looking for excuses.
  17. Assert Yourself. A healthy attention to your own needs is required for you to be happy in the world. Assertiveness is that space where are you honor your own Yeses and No’s without violating the needs or rights of others.
  18. Avoid Personal Questions. Civil conversations generally do not inquire into religion, politics, money, personal relationships, health, or physical appearance.
  19. Care for Your Guests. Be gracious in your hospitality yet clear about responsibility. If you expect a dinner guest to bring a dish, offer guidance; if a houseguest is expected to do their own laundry, make sure they are familiar with the washing machine!
  20. Be a Considerate Guest. Clean up after yourself, show respect for other people’s stuff, and don’t overstay your welcome.
  21. Think Twice Before Asking for Favors. Consider the impact on others before you ask. Strive to keep the system in balance—say Yes to as many favors as you request of others.
  22. Refrain from Idle Complaints. If you are more interested in finding Blame then in finding a Solution, then you are whining. Don’t do that.
  23. Give Constructive Criticism. If your intention is to help with the problem, please share. If your intention is to humiliate, manipulate, or exact revenge, better to hold your tongue.
  24. Respect the Environment and Be Gentle to Animals. A Native American saying goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” For thousands of years, humanity’s relationship with nature was fear: nature is dangerous, so we must defend ourselves from it. Over recent decades, that attitude has been replaced by, “Nature is in danger, so we must defend it from ourselves.”
  25. Don’t Shift Responsibility and Blame. If you did it or caused it, own it.

The Happiness Connection

Notice that none of these rules require that you be a conformist or in anyway subjugate your own needs. You can live your life fully, authentically, and creatively, AND do it in a way that elevates you and everyone around you.

Put another way, your Happiness never needs to be at the expense of someone else’s.

If you serve in the role of a Leader, seek balance. You can exercise power AND be civil. You can command AND respect others.

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who shows consideration for others and the greater, long-term good.

Keep that in mind as you Lead or when you assess the skills of those who lay claim to the mantle of Leadership.

Do This For Yourself:

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.

Four Clever Things Leaders Do to Reduce Stress at Work

April 5, 2017 0 Comments


When you are a key influencer, leader, or manager in a work unit, however you show up affects your team. Like water, your mood flows downhill and across flat areas, always seeking to level the space. Whether you show up happy or stressed, it spreads.

Use these four quick tips to change the energy you bring to work.

  1. Breathe.  Before you enter a meeting, pause at the door and take a deep breath. Take another as you take a seat. When you are centered on your presence and your agenda, you are less likely to get distracted or knocked off balance by the unexpected.Bonus: with extra oxygen flowing to your brain, you might show up as the most creative person in the room!
  1. Always bring water. When your brain feels fuzzy, take a drink. When you feel compelled to respond emotionally to something your colleague or boss just said, take a sip to let reaction pass so you can respond more logically.Sidebar benefit: if things do not go well in the meeting, you’ll always have something heavy to throw. J
  1. Get Good and Enough Sleep. Turn off your technology 30 minutes before bed and don’t turn it back on until 30 minutes after you arise. Your sleep will be of a higher quality and a rested mind will take less time to process your inbox when you do address it.To your advantage: won’t it be great if you are the most calm and rested person in tomorrow’s standup meeting?
  1. Spread Hope. No matter how far underwater your project may be, speak about what is going well and right at every opportunity. Do you have to solve the problems? Absolutely! Yet if you and the team are trapped in darkness, it won’t hurt you if you’re the one who can point to the end of the tunnel and remind people that the light they see is the end of the problem.

Remember, Leadership is not about a title; anyone can be a leader who works to defuse stress and foster hope

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.  //