Tag Archives: Leadership

What Are You Selling?

Carolyn Hiatt was the President of the Honolulu Rotary Club when they invited me to speak at their annual charity fundraiser last spring. This week she sent me an email with a concept I found brilliant and profound.

She said she considers herself to be an attitude salesman.

I love this concept.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all attitude salespeople. I had to drive to the event location for a speech I gave last week in upstate New York. When I arrived my host asked how the drive was.

I told her, “It was great. This area is extremely beautiful.”

That was true and led to an energized conversation about the area.

It also would have been true for me to say, “I got lost. I stressed out. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it here in time to be properly set up before my speech.”

These are both true stories. One sells an attitude of appreciation and optimism. The other sells an attitude of frustration and anxiety.

As a speaker, I know without question what attitude I need to sell. Think about the various roles you play. What attitude do you need to sell as a boss, a direct report, a parent, a friend?

And remember, no matter the situation, you’re selling your attitude all the time.


How to Empower

In my last post I defined empowerment. Now I’ll share my 3 favorite paths to creating empowerment.

1. Refuse to help. This seems so unleaderly. It’s almost cruel. When someone asks for help, you give it. But giving help can be a bad idea. If the help is for a decision or action that the person should be empowered to do on their own, then helping encourages them not to act in the future. In fact, not only shouldn’t you help, but you shouldn’t even talk about it with them.

When the question is raised tell them to leave immediately. Have them make the decision on their own and report back to you later what happened. Even speaking through it with them you are sending the message that they shouldn’t take these actions without checking with you first. Your refusal to help today, while possibly painful in the moment, will empower your employees for the future.

2. Reward BOLD behavior. Toward the end of my tenure in my last corporate job I saw something I didn’t like. I went to a member of senior management and expressed my concern. I was polite and respectful. The following day the powers that be told me that I was not to speak to senior management again. Message heard. Get in line. Do nothing you weren’t instructed to do.

Even if the behavior isn’t desirable, even if the outcome is problematic, if the intention is pure and the action reflects empowerment, reward, reward, reward. Praise it. Recognize it. Show the actor and everyone else that you don’t want people to simply do as they are told. You want bold, and you are prepared to reward it.

3. Ask for what you want. Fourth grade was the time when my elementary school got kids into playing instruments. My mother had me take the viola. (Not a great choice for a kid hoping to get beat up less.) My instructor told me how to hold the instrument, where to put my elbow, with which fingers to hold the bow. It was awkward at first, but it eventually became quite natural.

Anyone who has worked with a golf or tennis pro knows this feeling. They tell you to do something. You comply grudgingly and awkwardly. Then after practicing it for a few weeks it feels natural and has transformed your swing.

Empowerment is the same. It is a new behavior pattern. Ask for it specifically, even in a way that is bound to be awkward. “I’m looking today for someone to challenge me on one of my decisions.” “Tomorrow I’ll be on the lookout for someone making an important customer decision without escalating to me.” This may be uncomfortable to start. But eventually these uncomfortable initial steps will lead to people feeling naturally empowered to act.

Empowerment Defined

Earlier this year I created one sentence definitions for leadership and success. Recently I received an email asking for advice around empowerment. So let’s begin with a definition. As usual, let’s keep it to one sentence so we can focus on the essence.

Empowerment is the feeling of being willing and able to take action.

If someone isn’t empowered it probably means that there is a problem with either ability (i.e., they feel the action is impossible to perform) or willingness (i.e., they feel the consequences would be too great or the benefit would be too small).

In reality everyone could do more than they do. They simply choose not to because the risks (failure, punishment, irrelevance, ostracizing) outweigh the rewards (satisfaction, recognition, fulfillment).

So if you want to empower, you have three levers. Build skills/resources. Remove consequences. Increase benefits.

Heroic in Tough Times

I received the following email:

I have no choices right now. I hate my job. I am overloaded. There are fewer people doing the same amount of work and no one is getting any bonus or any appreciation. I can’t risk leaving my job or showing dissatisfaction. How am I supposed to handle the rule-changes that have happened in the last two years and show no signs of letting up?

There is no simple answer, but there are two factors that can make the situation easier. These factors are perspective and choice.


If your expectations of what work should be like were forged during a booming economy, it is time to revise them. Sadly, one of the keys to happiness is indeed – low expectations.

You have a lousy job, but you have a job. You aren’t getting a bonus, but you have a salary. Your home may be losing value on paper, but you have a home. Be thankful.

Gratitude gives you energy to feel better about yourself and perform more effectively in your work and your relationships. Seeking out those aspects of life (and work) that you can be thankful for is more than just a feel good triviality. Focusing on gratitude on a daily basis has been shown to lead to better sleep and physical health and higher goal achievement.

We need this in tough times more than ever.

[Tomorrow I will address choice.]

True Success

In January I shared my definition of leadership and on Saturday I wrote about John Wooden defining success. I was impressed by Wooden taking 14 years to come up with his definition of success. So I decided to try to create my own. After considering this for 3 days perhaps my definition doesn’t have quite the same depth, but I promise I’ll continue to think about it for the next decade and a half.

Here it is for now.

Success is finding satisfaction and pleasure in what you’ve achieved, what you do, and who you are . . . today.

In defining success I realized how much this concept influences me on a daily basis. The idea is very important to me that success occurs in how I react to the present rather than in waiting to achieve some goal for the future.

Your definition of success is probably influencing you, whether or not you are aware of it. So let me know. How do you define success?

Jury Duty Lesson #3: Make a Great Case

I didn’t get to watch the lawyers make their cases. That doesn’t happen during jury selection. But I did get to watch numerous potential jurors make a case for being let out of jury duty. I was not impressed. They were alternately huffy and squeamish. Had they been on the witness stand the jury deliberation would have unanimously determined that they were lying under oath. Plus, even with the obvious falsehoods, they utterly failed to make their case.

The lawyers asked straight out, “Can you set aside your past experiences and be objective in this case?”

If you want out of jury duty and you are asked this question, sit straight up. Look the lawyer directly in the eyes and say clearly and in a strong voice, “No.” You might even add a flourish. “No. My experiences have left me with feelings far too strong for me to remain objective.” There. You’re done with it.

Instead, these potential jurors scowled and made great displays of how annoyed they were to answer these questions, and said things like, “I don’t know.” “I’ll do my best, but . . .” “I can’t absolutely promise you.” Of course, then the lawyers had to ask each one of them a dozen more questions. It wasted all of our time and these individuals who so clearly wanted to get out of jury duty had utterly failed to make their case to do so.

BROADER LESSON: If there is something you really want, make your case clearly. Don’t waffle. Don’t be huffy about it. State your desire or belief as directly as you can.

In my case, I told the lawyers I had a speech to give that would require me to be out of state. I thought my speech was pretty important and a great case for not serving. Little did I know at the time how much better that same case could be made.

Cast a Wide Net

I attended a bat mitzvah yesterday. The girl (my cousin’s daughter) performed beautifully. The ceremony was very nice and the Rabbi was terrific. With one odd exception.

There were two prayers, one for healing and one for mourners, for which the Rabbi spoke at length about the meaning of the prayer and named people and groups to include in our prayers at this time. What I found surprising was that he didn’t mention Haiti. This wasn’t a sad event he missed. Rather, he omitted what will go down as one of the greatest natural disaster tragedies in history.

This got me thinking about how people deal with sadness and grief. Not their own, but that of others. After 9/11 Giuliani suggested you should never miss a funeral. He seemed to mean this literally, but we should take it figuratively. Never miss an opportunity to reach out and support those in pain. This could be someone who has lost a loved one, and it could also include the more mundane – a colleague who missed a promotion or lost a sale or is just having a bad day.

“Hey, I’m sorry for what you are going through. That’s a tough situation. Is there any way I can help?”

It can even apply to people you don’t know or barely know. The person behind the counter at the coffee shop, the crossing guard at your kid’s school, or the receptionist you usually just walk past.

“Wow. I bet this can be a tough job sometimes. Thanks for always taking care of me.”

These actions are good for their own sake, but they’re also valuable to your future. After all, what is going to happen when you need support, when you lose a sale or get a flat tire on the way to work or just had a fight with your spouse or lost a loved one? Who will notice and support you?

The wider the net you’ve cast in the past, the more people will include you in their own nets.