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How Do You Know When a Conversation Turns “Crucial”?

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j04392841_thumbI’ve met a ton of leaders.  I know a ton of great leaders.  And I read a lot from great leaders.

One observation is that all successful leaders do this one thing.

Their personalities may be different.

Their vision will be tailored to their industry.

Even values will be different.

But the key differentiator between good leaders and GREAT leaders is their ability to handle “Crucial  Conversations”.  

Many years ago, I was 28 and trying to prove himself.   I confronted someone about a small thing.  But I handled the conversation poorly.   The small thing turned into a HUGE thing.  I didn’t know how to use T.A.C.T.   So this one area has been a massive growth area for me personally and professionally.

What are Crucial Conversations?   You know when a conversation is turning “Crucial” when there are:

1.  Opposing Opinions

2.  Strong Emotions

3.  High Stakes

So…how do you handle “Crucial Conversations”?   That’s the key question.  To answer, I am attempting to condense an entire book (called “Crucial Conversations”) into a few statements.

The best way to summarize is this:  We must use T.A.C.T

Talk Facts.   Share the facts, not your assumptions.   Facts are least insulting and verifiable.  Facts keep the conversation on the issue, not the person.  Facts keep you focused and helps the other person keep focus also.

Avoid Assumptions.   You and I typically know a narrow slice of facts, so our mind fills in the gaps with assumptions and “stories” about why the person did what they did or said what they said.  We guess about their intentions.   You and I will never handle conversations well if we speak from assumption rather than fact.

Collaborate.  After finding out the facts, ask how you can help.  Partner with them for performance.    Rather than playing the role of an enemy in their eyes, you are offering to be their support, their friend, their advocate.   This is servant leadership at it’s best – even when you’ve been wronged.

Talk Tentatively.   If we address the conversation with a spirit of humility, our body language says “you can trust me.”  However, if we come across direct and confrontative, we will shut them down before the conversation even starts.

Use T.A.C.T when conversations turn crucial.  Use T.A.C.T to hunt the elephant in the room.  

One thing about elephants in the room:  if you don’t address them, they have a tendency to multiply.

Then you’re really screwed.

Are Your Challenges a Tollbooth or a Roadblock?

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In our travels, we’ve all experienced both a tollbooth (especially in Chicago) and a roadblock (especially in New York). Where there is traffic—we find each of these.   I first reflected on this principle when I read Tim Elmore’s book “Habitudes for the Journey.”  These thoughts are from Tim’s book and subsequent blogpost.

At various junctions in life, we are presented with a huge problem. It seems unsolvable. This problem will either be a roadblock that stops us dead in our tracks, or it becomes a tollbooth where we pay the price and pass through. It all depends on how we approach it.

In 1962, Victor & Mildred Goertzel published a book called The Cradles of Eminence, a study of 415 high-performing people. The authors spent years attempting to understand what led to their greatness, and they searched for similarities in the stories of these outstanding and famous people. Can you guess what they found? The most stunning fact was that 392 of the 415 people had endured great obstacles on the way to becoming who they were. That’s 95% of the incredible performers! They had paid the toll by perseverance, determination and overcoming obstacles—that is, by choosing to offer what the situation cost.

So, let me ask you a question: In what area are you stuck right now? Why have you stalled? I’ve found I often stop moving forward when I sense I’m a victim of my circumstances. In other words, when I feel I have no choice in a matter, that I’m forced to do what someone else wants me to do, I may unwittingly stop progressing. The fact is, it may be there’s only one option ahead. Sometimes the tollbooth we face is on a “One Way” road. But that doesn’t mean we have no choice in the matter. Never assume that. This is when we get to decide just how we will travel. In short, you may not get to choose where you go, but you always get to choose how you’ll travel.

We can decide to engage our challenges with passion, to fully commit to a goal, to compete with our past and improve, to overcome the setbacks we face, and to enjoy the journey along the way.

Do you remember the story about the old donkey that fell in a deep well? Its owner felt horrible but saw no solution. Rescue seemed impossible. Finally, the farmer concluded: the animal was old, and the well did need to be filled in—so maybe he should just bury the donkey and be done with it. The farmer asked some neighbors to help, and before long they were all shoveling dirt into the well. When the donkey realized what was happening, it whimpered and struggled. Then suddenly, the noise stopped. The farmer peered into the well and discovered that the donkey was still alive, and rising toward him! It had discovered that if it simply shook the new dirt off, instead of becoming covered with earth, it could step on top of the dirt and eventually climb out of the well.

Just as we must not get too comfortable sitting at the tollbooth, we cannot get comfortable with dirt all over us. We must shake it off and pay the price of the challenge before us.

In short, we must be willing to leave what is comfortable to pursue what is compelling. Are you willing?

Mis-Communication Explained in Under Two Minutes

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I laughed out loud when I saw this.   Communication is a huge challenge in all types of relationships.  This video highlights some of those challenges…

Want to Inspire Someone? Start Here.

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We all have an innate desire to change the world around us. To make our mark in this space called time. To leave a legacy others will be inspired by.   But as we get sucked into the abyss called life, we become dull. 

We are comfortable with normal and satisfied with ordinary.   We are sleepwalking through a life that was meant to be lived wide awake.   We assume someone else somewhere else will take care of the dreaming. Someone else will start the business. Someone else will write the book. Someone else will run the marathon.

Until, suddenly, we are inspired. By a message, a friend, a book, or a community. We realize that thing we’ve been leaving for someone else just might be attainable. Maybe we are the ones to start the business. Maybe we are the ones to write the book. Maybe we are the ones who will run.

Those embers, that were once a flame, begin to burn again. We set goals and dream bigger dreams. Our minds begin to race with all of the things that we can accomplish. We feel like nothing can stop us.

Until, something does.

Here’s the problem with inspiration. Inspiration is only inspiration if it causes you to take a step in another direction. To make a change. To do something.

You can be inspired until you’re blue in the face but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t create a change in you, it wasn’t inspiration.

We ultimately have a responsibility when we are inspired. We must move. We must go. We must fan the flame of inspiration and create the change we desire to see. We owe it to the inspirer. Is it their fault that we choose not to move? No.

So go. Be inspired. Read inspiring books and surround yourself with inspiring people. And then do something. Live your life, wide awake. Because when you do, you will become the inspiration that someone else needs.

Why Women Prefer Working Together (and Why Men Prefer Working Alone)

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Men think they’re better off solo, even when they aren’t


My thanks to Derek Thompson from The Atlantic for these insights.  
One of the puzzles of the persistent gender wage gap is why women are highly overrepresented in certain fields, like the nonprofit sector, and hugely underrepresented in other fields, like financial institutions and executive positions in major companies. One reasonable question to ask about the gap is: How much should we blame “the system” (i.e.: clubby nepotism, sexism, lack of paternity leave) and how much should we chalk this up to women’s decisions (i.e.: leaning out in their late 20s and choosing careers that pay less even when they had options to earn more).
Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval wade into this contentious field with a new study: “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?” The short answer is, well, yes. The more complex answer is: Yes, because men demonstrate more overconfidence in their own abilities and distrust in their colleagues’ aptitude, except under key situations.
Numerous studies have shown that women prefer to work in teams, men prefer to work alone, and women perform worse in competitive environments, even when their performance was similar to men in noncompetitive environments. Kuhn and Villeval wanted to understand why. Although their experiment is highly theoretical, its real-world applications are clear. Women outnumber men in many helping occupations, from charitable organizations to nursing, both of which offer cooperative production with less financial reward.
Their most important conclusion involves perceptions of relative competence. Basically, if you think your colleagues are idiots, you don’t want to cast your lot with them. But if you think your colleagues are smart, you’ll see the advantages in working as a team. Women demonstrated less confidence about their own abilities, the researchers said, and more confidence in their potential partners’ abilities. They were also much more sensitive to increasing their potential partner’s incomes, reinforcing a well-established idea that women demonstrate more “inequity aversion” than men. That is, they’re less comfortable with their colleagues making dramatically different salaries.
But, interestingly, the researchers found that a tiny tweak in team-based compensation erased this entire gender gap.
Kuhn and Villeval cleverly ran an experiment allowing men and women to select team-work versus solo-work, and then re-ran the experiment increasing the returns from excellent team-work by about 10 percent. Once they did this, the cooperation gap between men and women disappeared, as you can see in the difference between Figure 1 and Figure 2 below (EA Treatment = efficiency advantages, or modestly increasing the gains from teamwork).
“The gender gap in the willingness to form a team vanishes when efficiency advantages are introduced,” the researchers said, “because both genders increase their team choices, but men’s increase is much larger. ” In other words, men are more sensitive than women to small tweaks in team-based compensation.
Maybe that sounds absurdly theoretical to you. But it’s a lesson many corporations are already putting to work. The number of Fortune 1000 companies using workgroup or team incentives for at least a fifth of their workers more than doubled between 1990 and 2002, and management have switched to team-pay in both the minimill and the apparel industry.
This isn’t just a story about gender wage gaps; it’s a story about motivation. In manufacturing and other complex processes, teamwork is vital. It’s not enough to focus on making brilliant women feel confident. It’s also key to make overconfident men trust that their colleagues just might be competent.

Quit Being a Critic and Go Create Something

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If you are a parent, a leader, or in some role of influence with others, you and I are often in a position where our opinions and criticism carry great weight  – and those perspectives can positively and negatively affect the lives of those around us.  Unfortunately we’re not always careful with our criticism nor are we mindful of the corresponding responsibilities that go along with our words.
I’ve been meaning to write this post since about 2008 (okay… so I got a little behind in my work).  The Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille came out around that time (and if you haven’t seen it, you MUST!).  One villain in the movie is Anton Ego – the food critic.  Hell-bent on taking down Gusteau’s restaurant, Ego makes a point of going out of his way to stage a dramatic food tasting with the intent of writing a final scathing review that dooms Gusteau’s to irrelevance once and for all.
Anyone who has seen the movie knows Ego is blown away by the meal he enjoys there.  To his amazement and chagrin, he realizes he must write a review worthy of the wonderful meal he was served.  The beginning of his review was poignant and carries a lesson for all of us:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.”
In an age where we can all be critics, whether it’s in blog post comments, on our own websites, on twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Amazon, or anywhere else we can share our ideas and opinions, the importance of understanding our responsibility as a critic is great.  Yet we often ignore this responsibility and blast away at the object of our derision with little thought for the implications of our actions.  Well allow me to offer a challenge for all of us to aspire to be something more than a simple critic…
 My question to you is are you a critic or a creator?
If you have influence, it’s easy for you to rain down criticism upon the work of others.  You don’t do the work – you simply set the direction for the work to be done, define the performance standards, and judge the quality of the work after it is completed.  Like it or not, you’re a professional critic.
What you must understand is your criticism carries weight.  It impacts the performance reviews of your people.  It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted.  It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not.  You get the picture – your words change lives.
I invite you to go a step beyond simple criticism.  Help build something beyond your words.  Instead of simply designating something as crap, offer constructive thoughts on how to improve it.  Give people the coaching, feedback, and resources to improve their average pieces of junk.  Identify opportunities to connect ideas and people so they can build something greater.  Be part of the solution rather than simply pointing out the problem.
Better yet, change your mindset from one of critic to one of creator.  Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas.  Roll up your sleeves, make your own contributions to that idea, and be open to your work being judged by others.  It’s risky.  Our insecurities hold us back and relegate us to the safe world of the critic rather than allowing us to take the chance of creating an average piece of junk.
If you’re not up for being a creator, at least be willing to put yourself out there to support and defend new ideas.  Don’t simply follow the crowd and their opinion of something.  Form your own independent thoughts and stand behind those beliefs.  Don’t bow to the criticism of other critics who might criticize you (wow… stop and think that one through).  It’s hard enough to create something new for those poor souls who subject themselves to the criticism of the world.  I’m sure they would welcome your support, encouragement, and suggestions.
Leadership is about being out in front and taking others to new places.  You can’t lead if you simply follow the conventional wisdom because it’s safe.  So the next time you consider dropping a criticism bomb on the work of another, I invite you to consider the feelings of that individual, the effort they put into creating that work, the risk they’re taking in subjecting it to judgment, and the hopes and dreams they have tied up in the idea.  After you’ve considered those things, then render your criticism appropriately and try to go beyond judgment and become a co-creator yourself.