Tag: Leadership

Winning in Times of Crisis

Winning in Times of Crisis

Winning in Times of Crisis.

As a crisis response manager for a television network, I experienced dozens of crises during my tenure from in-studio floods, earthquakes, gas leaks, stalking of our on-air talent, power outages, winter storms, and even a deer crashing into our studios. Somes crisis lasted an afternoon, and others lasted months.

There are seven succinct steps you can take to win in times of crisis.

  1. Build a coalition of support: In a crisis, there will be hundreds of decisions and actions that will be necessary to make, too many for a singular person or team to do. Go beyond your organizational walls and tap into experts, business partners, and customers to develop a coalition of support that you can lean on to help make the right decisions.
  2. Know what recovery looks like for your organization*: By defining what recovery is for your organization, it will give you and your team clarity for the actions you need to take. Recovery isn’t just about the results you expect; it is also about the values you will use as guidance to achieve your goals. Those organizations that already have strong organizational values and a distinct, well-communicated vision, are those that will be most successful in a crisis.
  3. Develop a plan for stakeholders to follow: In a crisis, there are at least three stages to recovery; the crisis stage, the restoration stage, and the “normalcy” stage. Your goals should focus on reducing the impact of the crisis, improving organizational value, and celebrate your progress to normalcy. Every plan should consist of well-defined milestones to recovery and those individuals who are responsible for achieving the milestones. Because your employees are looking for guidance, providing them with benchmarks will give them steps they can take to be successful.  
  4. Consistently concise communication: In any crisis, uncertainty threatens recovery. In an emergency, people look to their leaders to calm their fears, give them direction, and to provide information. When there is a lack of communication, people naturally will fill the gap with misinformation or rumors. Messaging should address what you know, what you don’t know, and the next actions everyone should take. It should also tap into people’s intrinsic motivation by sharing stories from the frontline of the crisis.
  5. Empower Ownership: As stated earlier, there are hundreds of decisions that will be made during a crisis. A single person or even a leadership team can’t make all the decisions during an emergency. By demanding accountability from your stakeholders, you empower them to handle their assigned responsibilities. For your employees to be successful in a crisis, you will need to make sure you give them the knowledge, ability, and systems they need to handle their responsibilities.
  6. Celebrate Wins: This is particularly important during the restoration stage, where things are getting better due to the hard work and dedication of your team. Recognize their effort through celebration; it can be as simple as having pizza delivered, giving them gift certificates to a restaurant, or providing them with additional time off.  Research shows that marking progress with a celebration increases an individual’s motivation, builds a sense of community, and improves productivity.
  7. Do An After Action Report: Ask yourself these three questions;
    1. What did we do well?
    1. What did we not do well?
    1. What changes will we make in the future?

Note: In seven years as a Crisis Response Manager, each crisis was an opportunity for my team and me to improve our response. This simple activity of asking ourselves these three questions always lead to insights in which we put in place for the next crisis.

A crisis is a disruption in our routine. It makes us feel uncomfortable, anxious, concerned, and even fearful.  Yet, every time I was in a crisis, I saw ordinary people rise to the occasion, fight through their fears, put others before themselves, and do what was necessary to succeed.

These seven steps helped the organizations I guided during crisis come out on the other side stronger, better, and more prepared to handle whatever the world would throw at them. They will help you as well.


*Is it time to Pivot? We can find opportunity in a crisis to pivot to a new direction or handle a new role, or to provide a new-found service. I have heard hundreds of stories from organizational leaders how they pivoted during and after a crisis to improve their overall mission.

 John Thalheimer

Your Manager’s Guide to Excellence

At the intersection of performance, accountability, and inspiration.

Winning Crisis is now an interactive workshop to teach your managers how to lead in times of crisis. Contact John at John@johnthalheimer to bring this fun and interactive virtual seminar to your organization.

With over twenty-five years of experience working with supervisors, managers, and leaders to improve their performance, John Thalheimer understands the dangers of poor management, and the impact it has on organizations. His core belief is that every organization and every employee deserves great leadership. He works tirelessly to help supervisors and managers to be the best leaders they can be through interactive workshops and seminars, individualized coaching, and business masterminds.

Challenging Assignments for High Performing Employees

Challenging Assignments for High Performing Employees

Last week, one of my coaching clients asked, “How can I continually challenge my high performing employees?” It’s an important question. Interesting and challenging work motivates our employees to put in extra effort, learn new skills, and decreased the likelihood that they will leave our organization.

Business People Meeting Conference Discussion Working Concept

For work to be challenging, it must meet the following three requirements.

Three Requirements of challenging work:

  1. The work requires the employee to develop and use a new skill set. For instance, I had a manufacturer production manager who excelled at his job, instead of letting him become stale, I assigned him the task of training the sales managers on the manufacturing process. It was a stretch assignment where he learned facilitation skills while using his knowledge of the manufacturing process.
  2. The work is a step to a higher purpose. The work should connect to the employee’s career or personal goals. I had an employee who wanted to move into a managerial position, so I asked her to lead a small project for the department. During the project, she had the chance to prove to me that she had the necessary leadership skills to become a manager. It also gave me an opportunity to mentor her on where she could become a more effective leader.
  3. The work should have a risk of failure built into it. The employee should feel that if they do not succeed, there would be a negative consequence on their career. This external pressure increases the employee to focus on the challenge at hand. I was once asked to develop and present our department’s twenty-six million dollar budget to the chief financial officer. I knew if I did not do my job well, I would impact our department for the next fiscal year and probably hurt my standing within the organization.

Note of caution: What may be challenging for one employee might be overwhelming to another or might be trivial to another. It is essential we know our employee’s performance level and what will motivate them and what won’t. The goal of providing an employee with a challenging assignment is to improve their value to the organization.

Ways to challenge employees:

  • Require the employee to learn something new. This act puts the employee in the role of the novice, asking them to start anew, focus on the foundational information that will challenge them to more significant insights about their present level of performance. In the process of learning something new, our brain triggers changes in neural pathways, providing us different ways to look at old problems.
  • Change the parameters of their job: What is easy to complete in one hour is much more challenging to achieve in thirty minutes. Shift parameters such as time, budget, supplies, number of clients, etc. to challenge the employee to work at a higher level. In working with one company, the general manager and I continued to add responsibilities to the team until the job was increasingly challenging. We finally stopped when we notice a reduction in overall performance.
  • Push the employee out of their comfort zone: All of us love living in our comfort zone, it is where we are secure, psychologically safe, and most confident, but we are not challenged. By asking an employee to step outside of their comfort zone by doing a new responsibility, working with a new team, or giving them a stretch assignment, challenges them to improve their performance.
  • Involve the employee in higher-level decision making. Asking the employee to think at a higher level, requires them to change their perspective challenging assumption they may have. For instance, I had a supervisor whom I knew was ready for more responsibilities, so I ask him to manage the department’s accounts. This task not only required him to learn new skills, but he also challenged him to work at a higher level of decision making.
  • Have them mentor another employee: Working with another employee to help improve their performance can be challenging to our high performing employee because they will need to use different influencing skills to help the other employee be successful.
  • Ask them to change behavior. One of the most challenging things we can do in life is to change one of our behaviors. Unfortunately, all of us have behaviors or habits that are holding us back from being successful. The best approach to this is to use Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Center Coaching process where the individual’s stakeholders help the employee identify one behavior if changed would positively impact the employee’s performance. Then working with the employee, the manager can develop a plan to change the behavior. For most us, this will be the hardest thing we do in our career.

Motivation is necessary for an employee to reach a higher level of performance. Based on my twenty-five years plus managing employees, challenging assignments are one of the most effective ways to help high-performing employees continue to be motivated. Challenging projects tap into an employee’s intrinsic motivation; where they ask themselves to perform at a higher level.  

Before Challenging the Employee Questions to Ask Yourself?

  1. Is the employee ready to take on an additional challenge at work? Is their performance strong enough that would allow them to take on additional responsibility?
  2. Is the employee motivated to take their performance to the next level? Alternatively, in other words, what reason does the employee want to perform at a higher level? What we have found is that those employees who have a high level of intrinsic motivation will be the drivers of their organization and will want to improve. Extrinsic motivation is a short term fix but will not keep employees performing at a high level.
  3. What knowledge, skills, abilities, or experience do they need to have to advance their career? (Career advancement should not always be about moving up in the hierarchy of the organization but giving them opportunities to try new things, oversee different areas, and of course get prepared where they can make more money.)
  4. What task, responsibility, project, or assignment will stretch them while at the same time, not hurt the organization too bad if they fail?
  5. What support can you offer, so they are prepared for this challenging time? Are there classes/seminars you can send them to? Is there knowledge you can share? Is there a mentor in the organization that would help them be better employees?
  6. Can you build milestones/path for them to get ready to take on a much bigger responsibility?
The Lost Art of Empathy

The Lost Art of Empathy

Empathy at Work

She had lost her husband; her sadness weighed her down as she walked out of the grocery store. The little boy held his father’s hand as they walked by and watched the elderly lady walk towards her car. After a moment of thinking, he asked his father, “What’s wrong with Mrs. Clare?”

“She lost her husband?”

“Oh. Can’t she get another?”

“How would you feel if our dog, Jake died?” The father asked.

“Sad. Terrible.”

“Would you want another Jake?”

The boy looked at his father, point well made, and said, “She is sad.”

They walked into the grocery store and started shopping. As the boy walked by the boxes of macaroni and cheese, he stopped and put a few boxes into the cart.

“Put them back,” his father said.

“No,” the boy responded. “We need to make them for Mrs. Clare.”


“When I am sad, you always make me, Mac and Cheese to cheer me up. I want to do the same for Mrs. Clare.”

Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, thoughts, and situations and to experience them as your own. In the above story, the boy’s father guided him to understand how Mrs. Clare felt by imagining what it would be like if he lost something dear to him. Unfortunately, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective is becoming a lost art.

We no longer take the time to think about how the other person might be feeling; how their situation may be different from ours; how their perspective is unique to them. We create mental short cuts to say this group acts this way or that group always behaves this way. It is easier than taking the time to get to know the person.

At a large corporation, I worked at there was a program called “Walk-a-Mile.” Each employee had the opportunity to work in another department for the afternoon with the hope that if they better understood what the other department did, they would be more than willing to help them out. Guess what? It worked. Employees would come back and explain the challenges the other department had and how their department could help them out.

Can we increase Empathy at work?

I believe so, and I am not the only one. In his article, Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric provides us insights on how to do precisely that.

  1. Cultivate Curiosity: People who are talking to individuals outside of our usual social circles have a higher level of empathy. Increase opportunities for your employees to interact with each other. In one situation, a manufacturing company moved their offices to the center of the manufacturing floor; this allowed the management staff more opportunities to interact with the production employees and to see the work through their eyes.  
  2. Discover Commonalities: We have more in common than we don’t. Create opportunities for employees to discover things that they have in common through work activities or team building. (Note: I am working on a program to do this; let me know if you are interested in beta testing this in your organization.)
  3. Teach Active Listening Skills: Active listening skills help the listener understand not only the words the speaker is saying but also the non-verbal cues as well to have fully enriched conversations. Being able to sense other’s emotions will help employees be more empathic in their responses.
  4. Build Trust: When two employees trust each other, they are willing to be more open and to share their perspective with others. Trust is a critical element in the success of high performing teams.
  5. Provide New Experience: As I mentioned above, the “Walk-A-Mile” program we used, provided opportunities for our employees to see things from another perspective. It doesn’t have to be limited to inside the business; give the employees opportunities to experience how a customer uses your services and products.
  6. Tell Stories: Stories help people relate. Go back and read the story above. Did you feel for Mrs. Clare? Did you feel for the father? How about the boy? Stories help people relate to others.

If we can’t measure it, we can’t improve it. Use this quick quiz at Berkely’s Greater Good to measure your level of empathy. If your empathy is high, how can you help others be empathic? If your empathy is low, use the six habits above to increase it.

In the world filled with misunderstanding, empathy is the antidote. It builds a positive corporate culture; it reduces stereotyping; it improves team performance; it teaches kindness.

Enjoy the Journey

John Thalheimer

PS: Are your managers effective in leading their teams to a high level of performance? According to the Gallup Organization, eighty-one percent of managers are not successfully leading their teams. This needs to change. I work with organizational managers so they can be a positive influence on their employees’ performance. At True Star Leadership, we coach, workshop, and mastermind with your management team to improve their leadership skills.  To learn more reach out to me at john@johnthalheimer.com

Most Expensive Lunch Ever

Most Expensive Lunch Ever

This week someone paid $3,300,100.00 to have lunch with Warren Buffett.

Now that is an expensive lunch.

It was for a charity auction, in fact, it is the 19th time Warren Buffett has auctioned off lunch.

It got me to thinking about what questions I would ask Mr. Buffett. Figuring, this is your typical business lunch, I would have approximately ninety minutes to learn as much as possible from the Oracle of Omaha.

Most of us will never get the chance to have lunch with Warren Buffet. However, we will all have an opportunity to meet with people who could influence our careers and our lives. Every month, I talk with individuals who are looking for advice in their careers, or their leadership skills.

I hate it when people ask stupid questions, like how long have you been working at True Star Leadership? It means that they haven’t taken time to check my LinkedIn Profile or website (truestarleadership.com). Maybe it’s not stupid, just lazy.

For us to use the time wisely, we need to have a plan. Here are six things we should always do no matter whom we are meeting.

  • Decide on Your Goal: What information or help do you need from this person to help you move closer to your goal? What is their expertise or area of interest that you want to utilize?
  • Do your research: Learn more about the person you are meeting. Even if you just do a review of their LinkedIn Profile, at least get to know them. If they have a book, blog post, interview or website, check it out. The better you know them, the better questions you can ask.
  • Be Prepared with Questions: Based on your goal and what you know about your subject, prepare some questions to start the conversational ball rolling. For instance, I once had the opportunity to meet Marshall Goldsmith, because I knew he had accumulated millions of airplane reward miles, I asked him his advice on how to make the best use of plane time. This lead to a conversation about time management and its benefits.
  • Listen More: If you talk a lot, you will miss hearing the wisdom of the person who you are meeting and will not move any closer to your goal. Let them speak and carefully guide the conversation, so you get what you need.
  • Act: In your meeting, most likely you will get advice or useful information that will help you be more successful. Take thirty minutes after the meeting to put the advice into action, even if it is just making a note to yourself about what you need to do the next day.
  • Thank them. When you leave, thank the individual with whom you met. When you get home, send a handwritten thank-you note expressing your gratitude.


If I were paying almost $37,000 per minute to talk to anyone, I would want to get my money’s worth. Even if I am buying coffee for someone, I want to make sure I am using my time and their time wisely.

Good Luck Networking,


PS: I am always open to good conversation – click here to schedule time with me.

There is no law against stupid

There is no law against stupid

There is no law against stupid

For the past few weeks, I have been traveling the United States talking to Human Resources Professionals, and Business Leaders about Employment Law. What I learned from listening to the audience is that there are stupid people in the world. Of course, this was no surprised.

There is no law against stupid.

However, there are thousands of laws that govern the relationship between employer and employee.

Listening to the Human Resource Professionals and Business Leaders in my seminar, I realize that stupidity is not reserved just for our front-line employees. These professionals told me about hiring manager’s asking questions of applicants about their family life. The one I heard most often was, “Do you have any children or are you planning to have any children?” (Just in case – you are not allowed to ask people about their family life during the interview process?)

Are your managers, supervisors, and HR people up to date on the laws that govern the relationship between you as an employer and your employees?

I will admit what I call the alphabet soup of acronyms used to describe employment law, can be confusing. ADA, HIPPA, COBRA, FLSA, FMLA, OSHA, GINA, etc. However, ignorance of the law is not a legal excuse. It is our responsibility to make sure we are familiar with the rules that govern our relationship with our employees.

Here are the seven examples of the most misunderstood laws based on my seminars over the last few weeks.

Employment Verification: All Employers must use the I-9 form to verify the employee’s identity and ability to work in the United States. This document must be kept on site and be available if the USCIS request it. Click here for more information.

Interview Questions: As employers, we need to know what to questions we can ask and what ones we can’t ask. For instance, do you know that it is illegal to ask if a person owns or rent their home, or what year did you graduate from high school? Click here for more information

Concerted Activities: when our workers gather and discuss compensation, working conditions or shift schedules, what could go wrong? Though it might be a thorn in our side, employees can join in these concerted activities with their co-workers as protected by the National Labor Relations Act. (click here for more information)

Employment at Will: According to most states, our relationship with our employees is at will. Employment at will means that either party can sever the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, no reason, with or without notice. It sounds to go to be true, and it probably is by the number of wrongful termination suits in the news. For us to keep the privilege of employment at will, we need to be very careful with the information we put in our employee handbooks and the conversations with our employees. For instance, if you say something like, “We treat everyone as family, you will never be fired unless you mess up,” you are telling the employee that you will only fire them for just cause, no longer employment-at-will situation.

 Job Advertisements: If you read any of the summers want ads you might see hiring college age or young people for the summer. These ads are illegal under Title VII because they discriminate against a protected class. In this case, people who are over 40 years old. If you are not aware of Title VII and how it protects certain types of people, read more about it here.

Sexual Harassment: How are you training your managers/leaders to understand, prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace? Do you have an anti-harassment policy? The EEOC states, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” More importantly, your organization can be held liable for the actions of your supervisors and managers, specifically if you haven’t offered them any training or provided a process for employees to report sexual harassment on the job. Learn more here.

Family Medical Leave Act: Do you have over 50 people in your organization that are working within 75 miles of each other? If so your organization falls under the FMLA, which means that you need to provide to your employees up to twelve weeks of unprotected unpaid job leave. According to many managers and supervisors, this is one of the most confusing law governing the relationship between employer and employee. If your employee is welcoming a new child into his family, did you let him have off? Learn More here.

​There are thousand laws and regulations that regulate the relationship between employer and employee. The more I travel the more I realize that leaders, managers and supervisors are unaware of how these laws impact them. And as my friend the judge says, ignorance is not a legal excuse.

Then again, there is no law against stupid.


John Thalheimer is the Executive Director of True Star Leadership and has been traveling the country talking to business owners and leaders about the importance of understanding the laws that govern the relationship between employer and employee. He has a master’s in organizational leadership and dual-certified in leadership coaching. He believes that every organization and every employee deserve a great leader. Are you prepared?

Mastermind: The Most Effective Tools for Improving Your Business in 2018

Mastermind: The Most Effective Tools for Improving Your Business in 2018

Julie and the others settled into their seats at a small conference table waiting for the meeting to begin. Julie is a small business owner and has been coming to these meetings for the past year. She looks around the room at the other business leaders she has come to know over the past year and can’t believe how lucky she has been to be part of this group.

“This meeting changed the way I am as a leader. For the better. My business is successful because of the suggestions and ideas I have gotten in this meeting. And let’s face it, without the accountability of this meeting, I would not be where I am today.”

About a year and a half ago, Julie was selected and joined a mastermind group. Although Julie had not heard of it until she joined the Mastermind Group, Masterminds have been around for hundreds of years. In 1727, Benjamin Franklin formed a group with twelve other tradespeople named the Junto. In early 1900’s Thomas Edison and Henry Ford started a group called The Vagabonds whose members included Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, and Warren Harding. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Sherly Sandberg and others all participate in mastermind groups.

A Mastermind Group is a group of like-minded individuals who work together to help each other be successful. It provides a comfortable, confidential and challenging space where participants can discuss the issues most pressing to them. Their peers will ask deep clarifying questions to understand their challenges and then provide insight based on their experiences.

Mastermind can be formed around any topic that makes sense for the participants. As an executive coach, I use masterminds to help leaders within the small business community to improve their leadership. Other people use masterminds to support first-time parents, business owners, librarians, police officers, and even coaches*.

Each mastermind runs a little different but has some common traits. Most masterminds are small groups with no more than fifteen individuals in each mastermind. This size group allows each participant a chance to experience “the accountability seat” or “the hot seat” during each session. The accountability seat gives everyone an opportunity to share their challenge and listen to the perspective of other members as they ask curious questions and provide insights from their experience. At the end of a meeting, each member commits to some action that will help them overcome their challenge.

There is power in the mastermind as it provides a variety of perspective, increases accountability and fosters better outcomes for all the individuals involved. In one of my mastermind groups, it took only a couple meetings before; I started seeing improvement in the leadership skills of the participants.

As part of my mastermind groups, I offer individualized leadership coaching to all members if they are interested. I can help them create a plan of action and hold them to it between meetings. Most participants opt-in for this as they see the benefit of having a professional coach work through their problems with them.

The longer the tenure of the meeting the deeper the participants are willing to go to improve their outcomes. In time, friendships usually develop and become part of the process to help each other grow.

There are a few organizations who do this as a business including TAB (The Advisory Board), Vistage, and CEO Focus. Each organization has it is strengths and challenges, and I would suggest researching them before joining to make sure you have the one that fits you best. In the end, I decided to run my own because I believe that I could provide a different type of experience and wanted to reach a different kind of business owner.

John Thalheimer is the Executive Director of True Star Leadership. He has a fundamental belief that every organization and every employee deserves a great leader. Since early in his career John wanted to understand why some leaders were successful and others were not. Moreover, what he found surprised him. He earned his Master’s in Organizational Leadership and is dual certified in business coaching. John is working on his book titled, The Behavioral Algorithm, the secret formula for success. He currently runs masterminds in middle Tennessee and online to help leaders within the small business community succeed.

*If you are interested in learning more or interested in joining one of my mastermind groups, please reach out to me at john@johnthalheimer.com. Also if you are a coach, please think about joining my coaching mastermind group, as the benefits will apply to you as well.


Five Steps to Take After Vacation

Five Steps to Take After Vacation

It is Tuesday after Labor Day, and millions of workers are returning to work. Emails have piled up. Meetings have been scheduled. Reports need to be finished. 2017 Budgets have to be reviewed and approved.

It is less than thirty days to the fourth quarter and the year’s end.

Stress starts the minute you arrive at work. The vacation glow is gone.

However here are five things you can do to be more productive after a vacation.

  1. Print out and display one or two photographs of you and your loved ones on vacation. The photograph will remind you of what is important in life.
  2. Share your best vacation memory with coworkers. No one wants to view all your vacation photos but sharing a story helps build rapport with the team, especially if it was a positive or funny experience.
  3. Start a new habit. Because you have gotten out of the work routine for a few days, it is a good time to start a new habit. Maybe it is taking a walk on break, or eating lunch with a different coworker every day, or reading leadership articles on a daily basis.
  4. Ask for and listen to the challenges and victories that arose while you were gone. Did one of your direct reports handle a project while you were gone? Did one of your coworkers get budget approval for hiring a new employee? It is a great time to express gratitude to your team.
  5. Focus on your long-term goals. When you return to work after vacation, it is easy to focus on “getting things done,” like deleting emails. It gives you a temporary sense of progress but won’t move you closer to your long-term goals. Take a half hour and review your long terms goals for 2016 and 2017 and make a list of ten accomplishes you will have by the end of the week and then focus on them.
  6. Bonus: Check in with your boss. I am surprised how many people return to their workplace and don’t check in with their manager right away. They can give you an idea what the hot issues are and what to focus your time on.

Take a deep breath – you have this.

Be Productive – Go On Vacation

Be Productive – Go On Vacation

Going on Vacation might seem counterproductive to all the Type A’s in my reading audience; “I can’t be productive if I am on vacation.” Without vacation, you cannot be productive at work for the long term. In one period of my life, I was managing the studio operations for a major television network, and we were launching a new state of the art studio. During this time, I was working thirteen to fourteen hour days, seven days a week; it was a fun and exhilarating work, but after two to three months, my productivity at work was about seventy-five percent of what it had been when we started the project. Additionally, I was making judgmental mistakes and becoming irritable. In fact, all of my colleagues and I were. The vice-president sent us all home on a Friday afternoon and told us not to return until Monday morning. It was the best thing he could have done for the team and our productivity.

In today’s work environment, we tend to focus our energy on the tasks at hand, churning through the day’s to-do list and moving on to the next “important” item. As we do this, our brain is consuming twenty percent of the energy our body is producing and even more when we focus on high-level problem solving (Raichel, University of Washington). It is no wonder; we are all exhausted at the end of the day.

In looking at high performing athletes, musicians, and artists, researchers noted that most engage in deliberate practice for periods of no more than four hours. Researchers found that any amount of time above this, negatively impact performance, increasing physical injuries and mental fatigue (Ericson, Florida State University). Now, I don’t think we will change the eight-hour work structure any time soon, but I do believe that we need to look at the lack of rest on our performance.

Without rest (time away from work), our brain and body are challenged to produce the necessary energy to perform continuously at a high level. The side effects of too much work, not enough play, include poor decision making, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of performance. In Europe and other industrialized economies vacation is highly valued with mandatory vacation days reaching as high as twenty days per year. In the United States, only half the working population gets any paid vacation days and those that do average around eight days.

Going on vacation, allows us to reduce stress, recharges our bodies and gives our brains a chance to replenish itself. According to Ferris Jaber at Scientific America, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance. . .” If we don’t have downtime, our brain continues to work but will slowly reduce its output impacting all areas of our lives.

My advice – take a long vacation and enjoy some downtime, reset yourself for the fourth quarter push we all know is around the bend. You will thank me later.

Lessons from the Big Swim

Lessons from the Big Swim

The rain fell from the silver-grey sky onto the group of us. Standing on the windswept beach, we listened to the words we did not want to hear. The Big Swim was canceled due to the weather conditions. My brother and forty-five other swimmers had spent the better half of the year training to swim the 17 kilometers (10 miles) across the North Cumberland Strait from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island only to be disappointed.

The lead organizer had talked about the difference between our expectations and reality and defined it as the feeling of disappointment.  On that Sunday Morning, there were many disappointed people on the beach, some cried, some sighed, some bent their head in quiet prayer. A few optimistic souls shouted, “next year,” a rallying cry to know the effort, discipline and sacrifice had meant something.

As a support kayaker and a witness to the hard-work it takes to prepare for such a quest, I too was disappointed, for me, for my brother and for all those you had worked hard to be left standing in the rain on the beach; our goal was just out of reach across 17 kilometers of turmoil and lighting.

On my way home, I could not help but think that there were lessons to be learned from the Big Swim about how to achieve our own dreams. Below are the six lessons I learned and how they can help us achieve our goals faster.

  1. Preparation: The North Cumberland Straight, 17 kilometers wide at its narrowest, is known for its strong tidal currents and roaring winds. It is not a place to take for granted. Preparation is critical to the success of any who plan to swim across it. Training started with rising early every day and swimming. First in the pool, then in a lake, and then in the ocean until the swimmer was physically and mentally prepared to make the attempt.
  2. Support: The bigger your goal, the more support you will need. The support will come in a variety of sizes, from the little to the large. Before the event, my brother’s wife gave him support to train by watching their two young kids every Saturday morning. The organizers provided constant communication to make sure the swimmers had everything they needed to be successful. The day of the event, hundreds of supporters from kayak carriers, check-in volunteers, boat captains, and family members made sure the swimmers had everything they needed to be successful.
  3. Community: Community is essential to success. My brother met and trained with a group of like-minded swimmers from his home town. He learned from their experience; shared his expertise and leaned on them as the training took its toll. In the early Sunday morning dawn, together they lessened the disappointment of not swimming with laughter and hugs, sharing the loss to diminish its impact.
  4. Limitations: We all have limitations. We can choose to let them define us, or we can push against them. In the group of swimmers who were attempting the Big Swim, the ages ranged from 11 to 73 years. None of them let their limitations define them. The eleven-year-old could have let those who said it was too dangerous for her to stop her from doing what she wanted. She did not; she was in wave three – the elite swimmers; ready to go.
  5. Drive: The swimmers who had completed the swim before said that there is a time in the middle of the straight when exhaustion has crept into your muscles, and the sky and ocean have blended into one, you think about quitting but you continue till your feet hit the sand. No matter the goal, we have all reached that place where we want to stop. Those that are successful keep going pushing forward by an inner drive toward their goal.
  6. Celebration: Soon after the announcement of the cancellation of the Big Swim, a quiet applause rose from the crowd on the beach and slowly turned into a standing ovation for the swimmers. The applause was recognizing the effort they had made to reach this point on the beach, the hard-work, the dedication, and scarifies they made. We too need to recognize our progress and celebrate our wins.


Goals are just dreams without wings.


Even in disappointment, there are lessons to be learned. Thomas Eidson once said, “I have not failed 10,000 times, I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” No matter what we dream of accomplishing, we can not do it without a lot of hard-work, dedication, and sacrifice. As you plan your next business adventure, think about these six lessons and how you can apply them to achieving your dreams. As a leadership guide, I help people plan their dreams and provide the necessary skills and tools for them to be successful. If you are ready to start your journey, let’s get together and begin the work required for you to reach your dreams.

Are You Ready to be Coached?

Are You Ready to be Coached?

“Are you ready to be coached?”

“Yes. Of course, I am. I mean, I think I am. Is it that hard?”

Being coached is hard. You need to open yourself to change your behavior to improve your performance. Coaching is the ability to listen to another’s perspective and use that information to make internal adjustments to your behavior to better your performance. Marshall Goldsmith, the #1 Executive Coach in the World, has an exercise he taught me called the Daily Questions. In short, it is a list of behavioral changes that you agree to work to improve every day. When he gives out this assignment, he notes that only fifty percent of individuals last more than two weeks using this system. It is not difficult. The system is not time-consuming. It takes no more than ten minutes to complete. All you do is rate yourself on a scale of one to ten on this simple question for each behavior, “Did you do your best to change your behavior?”

So why do people fail in completing this simple task?

For some, it is a lack of discipline. Although the individual knows that changing these behaviors will allow them to reach their goal, they cannot find the discipline to do this on a regular basis. In fact, Marshall falls into this category. He had to hire an accountable coach who is responsible for calling him each evening to make sure he has completed this simple task. This may seem like an extreme measure but think about how important your goals are to you and what success looks like.

For others, it is hard to recognize our habitual failures. We don’t want to look in the mirror and admit that we were not able to resist that last chocolate chip cookie or do a better job delegating at work, or the ability to listen well. I fell into this category when I first tried doing the exercise, I was afraid of admitting that I was not doing my best to reach my goal and I was responsible for not being successful.

So how do we continue to improve if we can’t handle this simple exercise? The best way is to create a level of accountability that will help you move toward your goal. This can be done by asking someone to invest in your improvement, this could be a mentor, coworker, friend, or even spouse. Unfortunately, we need to remember that they are not as invested in obtaining our goal as we are.

Another way is to find a group of like-minded people who are also on the same journey as you. Your Tribe. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, go to a gym and find like-minded people and work out together to reach your goals. Or join a mastermind group or peer advisory group that is working toward similar goals and that will hold you accountable. I am always amazed at the number and diversity of mastermind groups available to people.  (Learn more about mastermind here).

Lastly, you can invest in an accountability/personal coach to work with you to help you reach your goal. The benefits of working with a coach are that they are trained to help individuals improve their performance. They know how to ask insightful questions, open you up to what is holding you back and provide you the support you need to be successful. (Learn more about coaching here)

So, I leave you this question — Are you willing to be coached to reach your goals?


Triggers – Marshall Goldsmith

In this book, Marshall Goldsmith shares his experience coaching executives and how they create behavior that lasts to become the person they want to be and how we can do the same. Click here for more information

Tribe – Seth Godin

In this book, Seth Godin introduces us to the importance of like-minded people and how by working together we can achieve better results than we can by working alone. click here for more information

How to Get Better at Things You Care About – Eduardo Briceno

Great Video on being our better selves. Learn the difference between the performance zone and the learning zone and by switching between the two we can start improving the things we most care about. click here for more information