January 21, 2019

7 Ways to Break Free From Mediocre Leadership

Listen up you mediocre leaders!

How come you still make the same stupid leadership mistakes over and over again? I know you know better but you continue to self destruct. Your organization is suffering because you can’t put your ego and pride aside.

Why is that?

Don’t you want to be successful? Don’t you want to be admired? Don’t you want respect?

It’s frustrating to see you make mistake after mistake when I know you have it in you to be great. Why else would you start your own business, volunteer to lead an organization or blog about your life’s experiences?

You need to shape up and start doing the hard work to get out of your leadership funk.

You can start by trying some of these simple ways to break free of your mediocre leadership (If you want more help, consider taking my free course Leading from Within)

#1 Hire Stellar People

This goes without saying but I will say it anyway.

Hire people smarter than you.

Don’t get tempted into hiring that dolt cousin of yours just because he needs a job. There’s probably a reason he’s out of work.

Once you hire the great people, let them work. Don’t micromanage their world or take on everything yourself. Give them just enough encouragement at the right time to be effective. You know you micromanage and it just makes you angry and burns you out. It also makes your stellar people angry, unmotivated and wondering why they work with you in the first place.

#2 Keep it Simple Stupid

Why the complexity? What in complexity makes things better?

Stop making things complex.

You know that it’s going to be extremely difficult for people to understand what you do, so break it down but don’t dumb it down. Focus on what’s important to you organization and you. You cannot be all things to all people. Focus on creating services and products that you are good at. Avoid the me too or copying a model that “works.”

Be elegant in your simplicity.

#3 Focus on the Automating the Drudgery

I’m amazed that you still use a checkbook to pay bills. How many other mundane tasks do you do that could be outsourced or automated?

You don’t have to do everything.

Again, leading your organization is about focusing on creating value — not just showing up and pushing papers. Embrace technology but don’t be a slave to it. You still need to work hard to make it all work. So, again, focus on the value you are creating and have technology do the dirty work.

#4 Don’t Complain and Don’t Explain

Everyone has it hard. You are no different than the millions of leaders all around the world. Complaining about your problems is just a sissy way to put them off.

Don’t do it.

If you hit an obstacle, break through it or move around it. No one cares about your problems except your mum. Everyone has problems. People will start to care when they see you breaking through your problems and solving theirs.

#5 Of Course It’s Hard Work

If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of leadership. Running any organization, be it a single person or a multibillion dollar company is hard work. You can’t just show up and expect things to magically happen. You have to take on setbacks and adjust when required. Don’t get lulled into complacency. There are plenty of competitors out there that are just waiting for you to fail.

Relish the work don’t shrink from it.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t give those silly speeches you don’t really mean. Everyone can see through your parlor tricks — so don’t marginalize yourself.

#6 Get It Done Already

Why or why do you sweat the stupid little decision?

Get it done already.

Don’t wait for perfect data or that last 10%. Make a decision and move on. This does not mean you do sloppy or shoddy work. Get it done quick before what you are working on is irrelevant. Once your work is irrelevant, you become irrelevant.

#7 Take Advantage of the Vibe

How come you always kill the buzz?

Let it go.

When you, your organization or your team is on a roll, run with it. Don’t over think or interject yourself where you are not needed. You created the vibe, embrace it and enjoy it. So often, you second guess yourself because you are worried about losing control.

Don’t be.

Let people do their thing and remove as many obstacles as you can. You will be amazed at what you or the people around you can do when you let them just do — it’s liberating.

Enough of the Speeches, Let’s Get Going

See, you know all of this. Why don’t you apply these things? My guess is fear. Why be afraid? You have nothing to loose. Okay, so maybe your ego gets a little bruised or you might lose a little money.

Big deal.

There are more important things to focus on then failure — like success.

So, stop wallowing in self pity and get going — your success as a leader depends on it.


P.S. Still need a little help getting going. Sign up for my Free Leading from Within series delivered directly to your in box, once a week. In it, you will learn to lead your most important supporter — you!

Navigating The Politics of Leadership

Man is by nature a political animal — Aristotle


I once worked at a company that boldly stated that it had no politics. They even openly deplored politicians. All decisions, they would say, were based on data.

Boy where they wrong.

What they should have said is that they deplored bad politicians because any company, any organization, any group over two people, will have politics — it’s in the nature of our being.

The Origins of Politics

The term politics has it’s roots in Greek. It’s etymology comes from Aristotle’s book “affairs of the city” — which is about governing and governments. It’s root polis literally means city in Greek.

In modern times (around the 1430’s) is when the word politics gain a hold in the english language and became synonymous with all things related to governing towns, cities and states.

Our more modern view of politics is more negative than just affairs of the city. In fact, some of us use “being political” as a negative character trait — one usually reserved for the sleaziest of our corporate and government leaders.

That’s a shame.

Politics is and will always be a natural part of leadership and the wise leader will learn to practice good politics or their organizations will suffer greatly.

Perception is 9/10 of Reality

One aspect of a political system is that perception, for most people, is reality. This is both a powerful tool and a dangerous mindset since often times, perception is not reality and can lead the leader astray.

Perceptions about the condition of the group, company or project are set early and often in the minds of supporters and foes.

Supporters want to believe that the leader has the situation under control and that they made the right choice in supporting them — even if reality says otherwise.

Foes want to see the project, institution or government fail so they spin their own form of reality and try to impress that upon others to sway the political agenda over to them.

This battle for the hearts and minds of supporters is the true art of politics.

Leaders Are Natural Political Targets

Anytime you step up and lead, you are a natural political target. The reason for this is simple — you have power and someone wants it.

Power or the perception of power is what all political operators want. This power is how they can get their agenda moved forward or project competed. It’s this political power or capital that leaders need to acquire and spend to build lasting value for their cause and supporters.

A leader who thinks that they are above being political will soon find themselves sidestepped, marginalized or even removed from power.

Weaving Between The Lines

By now, you should be convinced that politics is and will always be part of leadership.

Don’t think that all politics is bad or serves no purpose. You can be a skilled and compassionate political operator and still maintain your ethics and sense of self. To help you on your journey to being a better political operator, consider these techniques:

  • Listen to the “enemy”: Listening is the best way to understand someone — even a rival. Don’t get sucked into “if we talk, we are negotiating.” That’s bull. Talk is talk and negotiations are a lot different. Listen to what the opposition has to say. Learn all you can and never break off communications.

  • Hold your comments to last possible minute: It’s always best to talk last or wait for someone else to reveal their position. That way, you can read the room and respond appropriately.

  • Always focus on what you have in common: Too often, politicos focus on differences between groups. That’s a poor way to build alliances. It’s better to find a common ground. Even with groups that might appear far different from yours, you will almost always find something in common.

  • Never burn a bridge: No matter what you do, never break off a political relationship unless you absolutely have to. Issues change. People change. Heck, governments change. So don’t discount or marginalize an up and comer or an old stalwart to get ahead — it will burn you in the end.

  • Attack the issue, not the person: All leaders and advocates feel they are fighting for what is true and right — that’s a universal truth. Disagree with the issue and not the person. All leaders or advocates need to be treated with respect and dignity and not personally attacked — that also should be a universal truth.

  • Craft the message to the audience: It’s important that you deliver the message that the audience wants to hear. This does not mean you lie about facts or figures — you just talk about what’s important to them. By doing this, you avoid conflicts until you can build rapport. Once rapport is built, then differences can be debated and discussed from a place of mutual respect and understanding.

  • Build alliances: The political landscape is in constant flux and your friend on one issue maybe your foe on another. That’s why it’s important to build broad and deep alliances with diverse sets of groups and people. Again, even if you disagree on the majority of issues, you might find yourselves agreeing on something important to both of you.

  • Don’t marginalize the competition: You should respect competitors since they are acting in the best interest of their supporters — just like you. Good political sportsmanship requires that all who play by the rules should be given full and equal access to voice their issues and concerns.

You Can’t Avoid Politics But Don’t Be Consumed By It

Don’t be fooled that organizations lack politics. Anytime there is a difference of opinion on the direction to take or how to spend money or what project to work on, politics will emerge.

It’s in our human nature to fight and/or horde resources when they are scarce and look out for our own (or tribal) survival.

One trap that all leaders face is being consumed by politics. It’s an easy thing to do since so much of the leaders job is organizing supporters for a common goal and that means having to fight for resources.

If you let politics consume you, then you will no longer be a leader but a politician. For a leader, being labeled a politician is bad because most politicians really don’t get anything done — they just broker favors and peddle power and influence.

Leaders get stuff done and politically savvy leaders get a tremendous amount of stuff done and that’s what you should strive to be — an astute political leader that gets stuff done.

6 Ways to Apply Swim Lane Mojo to Small Team Leadership

Swimming is all about technique. Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle are all highly technical strokes that take years to master.

Swim practice is a group activity that creates a logistical nightmare for the lane leader who has to rapidly assess the skills of their fellow lane mates, keep count of the interval and pace the lane so that people don’t pile up. This is the fine art of lane Mojo.

Get this Mojo right and the practice is productive and rewarding. A big part of that Mojo is setting the proper pace.

Pacing The Lane

The pace of a practice lane is a combination of the workout, skills of the swimmers and the experience of the leader. The lane leader needs to keep the pace brisk so they can complete the workout but not too fast that the lane piles up. This skill is an important part of an effective swim practice and building great swimmers.

Pace plays a critical role in endurance leaders as well. Your job is to set the pace for whatever you are leading so that it gets done in a timely manner, utilizes the skills of the participates and allows you to grow as a leader. With the proper pace, projects (and workouts) are fun, useful and benefit all who participate.

Getting your pace right takes time. When you first start swimming, you soon realize that effort does not equal results. In fact, the harder you swim, the slower you get if you don’t master the proper technique.

This also applies to leading any kind effort. Your mastery of people, creativity and technology depends on your pace setting skills and those skills require knowing the strengths and limitations of all three. Consider these important steps in setting the right pace for your group.

Step 1: Who Do I Have?

In the pool, most swimmers know where they fit in. They will jockey for position in the lane depending on their skill and comfort level.

The first step is to assess the people you are working with. Who are they? What can they do? How do I motivate them?

Look at each individual and see what’s unique about them and how they fit into the overall group.

Step 2: What’s The Goal?

Swim workouts usually have a board where the coach puts up the days workout. The workout is broken down into sets that are easily remembered. Each set builds on each other until the entire workout is done.

The goal for your group needs to be crystal clear as well. This allows for the proper focus and attention when things start to get tough.

Goals should be measurable with a who, what and a when. Without such specific outcomes, the pace of the team will vary widely.

Step 3: Do I Need Other Skills?

Most swim workout consist of a lot of freestyle. Pretty much anyone can do freestyle and that stroke builds up your basic endurance. Mix in a little stroke (butterfly, back or breast) and the lane can get out of whack. Once that happens, requiring some readjustment or even modification of the workout might be necessary.

For your small group, you sometimes need additional skills to get the task or project done. If you can modify the tasks to fit the skills of your team that’s ideal but sometimes you need other people on your team to round it out.

Step 4: Start Working

You never really know how the swim workout will go until you start. The first couple of sets are usually a warmup to get you ready for the main set. The leader will get a sense of the lane and figure out if everyone is in the right place.

The only way to see how your small team will perform is to start doing something. As the team progresses, you can get a sense of the pace of work. You will also get keen insights into how the team works together and if the roles of each member are correct.

Step 5: Can I Meet The Goal?

Swim workouts are timed. Each set has a specific time criteria and that makes planning pretty easy. Sometimes you make the interval and sometimes you don’t but the lane lead figures out what times they can meet and adjusts accordingly.

With small teams, the goals are usually not as solid as a swim workout but their is usually an initial goal to meet. Take a look at the team working, the goal and then figure out if progress is being made. This will also be the first time you can take a look at the pace of progress. Is it too slow or too fast? Will the team burn out before the finish?

Step 6: Adjust the Team and Then the Goals

Sometimes, swimmers need to move up or down a lane simply because their skill set does not match the lane. With swimming, you want the lane to all finish close to each other so that the pace is brisk. When a swimmer is too fast or too slow, it throws the Mojo way off. Too slow and boredom sets in. Too fast and people panic to catch up.

With teams, you are only as fast as your slowest performer. The pace of your group needs to take that into account. You can certainly give more work to the higher performing members but also remember that the team has to finish together. If you sense that certain team members are ahead or behind, you can adjust the work load up to a certain point.

Urgency Not Panic

The ideal pace is one of urgency not of panic. Panic will make your small team rush to get a task done to keep up. A sense of urgency will keep the team sharp and motivated since they see progress and don’t feel overwhelmed.

Getting the balance right takes trial and error. You need to feel out your small team to figure out their Mojo and what motivates them to start and finish strong.

3 Things Endurance Sports Can Teach You About Leadership

A Guest Post by Joel Runyon

I used to think endurance racing was torture. Go run a marathon? Yea right. An Ironman? Ha. 100 mile race? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Then I actually tried it. And I realized: endurance racing, while it’s one of the hardest things you can do, is also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It has a ton of life lesson that happen as a result and as more and more CEOs and organizational leaders pick up the sport, I can’t help but reflect on how much endurance sports can teach you about leadership.

#1 How To Pick Hard Goals

It’s hard to pick easy goals when you set out to do endurance sports. Almost everything you do is something you’ve never done before – something beyond your limits. But once you start to do them, you realize that your limits are static – in fact, they actually stretch. So you get used to picking hard goals, things you’ve never done before and barely imagined that you could accomplish.

As a leader, you won’t get very far by setting easy goals. Easy goals tend to make you lazy, apathetic out of work as soon as you run across someone who’s a little hungrier than you are. The big goals, the impossible goals, the ones that you’re almost scared to say out loud: those are the ones worth setting. Those goals are the ones that inspire people to get behind you and want to join you. The hard goals are the ones worth doing.

#2 The Value of Delayed Gratification

It’s hard to get up every saturday and go for a six hour bike ride. It’s hard to decide to put 6 months of hard work in for 1 day. It’s hard to eat the same diet for long periods of time. Sometimes you just want a beer, ya know?

Endurance racing teaches you’re training for something much bigger than what’s going to make you happy today. You’re planning on completing a big goal and you know you’re going to need some discipline to get there.

As a leader it’s easy to do whatever seems good for the present moment, but the true test is when you  can make the good long-term decisions and build for the future. Sometimes the employee needs to let go. Sometimes you need to do an reorganization. As a leader, you don’t have any easy decisions to make, but endurance training can help you make the hardest ones when you have a clear vision of what you’re building.

#3 The Fun Part of Pain

Any endurance athlete will tell you they hate the pain that comes with the sport, but they love it. The agony of traversing 70.3 or 140.6 miles is turned into elation as you cross that finish line. You did it. And it was totally worth it. So you do it over and over and over again.

The pain is part of the fun.

Being a leader is hard. you have to set vision, take responsibility, stay late and do the work that no one else wants to do. But it’s so worth it. Getting a team to coalesce around an idea, pushing forward in the face of adversity and making it happen is painful, tough and sometimes you want to quit. But, when you finish, and it’s done and you see what your team has accomplished, you can’t wait to go and sign up for it all over again.

Want to get started in endurance sports? Run your first triathlon in 3 months with Impossible TRI (affiliate link)

Joel Runyon writes about pushing your limits through endurance activities and doing impossible things at the Blog of Impossible Things and Impossible HQ. He just released Impossible TRI to help you run your first triathlon in 3 months. Follow Joel on twitter.

Seven Simple Tips for Effective Leadership by Email


Email. Most of us can’t remember a time without it nor what we would do if it went away.

Email has truly changed the way we communicate and interact with our co-workers, family and friends.

Everyday, almost 300 billion emails are sent — around 90% of them being spam or viruses.

Genuine emails are sent by about 1.9 billon email users which translates into about 15 authentic emails per day that most of us have to deal with. For some of us (me included), the authentic email number approaches more like 150.

If you lead any kind of effort, email will be a vital tool in you leadership arsenal. Far too often, email is misused and frankly abused by some simply because they don’t adhere to a few simple tips to make emails more effective, informational and actionable These tips include:

Tip #1: Keep It to Less Than Half A Page

Most email is way too long. The trick to an effective email is to really distill down what you want to say in less than half a page. You can put additional content below the fold but don’t expect them to be read.

Tip #2: Spend Time Writing a Good Subject

Subjects make or break an email. Just ask any MailChimp or AWeber user who does A/B testing on email subject lines that get people to open and click on links.

The same holds true for your email subjects (although if you are the boss, I’m sure it will get read eventually).

A good subject will put your email ahead of all others in your teams queue. It also shows that you care enough to spend the time to inform your team before they even open it.

Tip #3: Use Whitespace, Bullets and Fonts for Ease of Reading

The physical appearance of your message helps get the message across. Use whitespace liberally. Keep your paragraphs short. Bulletize critical points. Use the proper font and don’t all cap anything — it looks awful and makes you seem aggressive.

Tip #4: Make It Clear What Action Needs to be Taken

Any email communication should spell out the action that needs to be taken. Without that, your email is just wasted and ends up clogging your teams inbox.

It’s perfectly fine to send out information only emails but put that up front so that the action is clear — read if you are interested.

Tip #5: Read and Edit at Least 3 Times

I’m really bad at self editing. I tend to send off emails too quick and that gets me into trouble.

I try to read and edit my email a minimum of three times. The more important the email, the more revisions, edits and time I spend on it.

This also helps emotionally driven email exchanges where in the heat of passion, you may say something you regret (or worst, start a flame war).

Tip #6: Choose Your Words Carefully

Email does a poor job of conveying emotion and tone. The words you use and how you use them can be interpreted in different ways by different people.

Avoid emotionally charged subjects or situations where tone, tenor and emotion are hard to express in prose. Not following this advice will usually lead to flame wars that do no one any good.

The best single advice I have received on this is to:

Picture the people in front of you and type as if you are talking directly to them.

If you keep that in mind, then you will craft emails that will be thoughtful, informational and productive.

Tip #7: Keep the Questions to One or Two

One of my pet peeves is having too many questions in an email. It’s really frustrating to have to read through and answer lots and lots of questions.

It’s actually counter productive and reduces the time saving nature of an email exchange. If you have to answer more than one or two questions, then it’s best to have either a phone call or face to face meeting with all involved.

Too often, the back and forth of questions, answers, more questions and still more answers completely tunes out other participates and leaves everyone confused.

If you have lots of questions to ask, pick up the phone and then summarize the discussion and decisions in an email.

Applying These Tips to Effective Leadership by Email

Leadership has always been about communicating the shared vision of a group of people. As a leader, your job is to clearly and accurately disseminate information so your supporters can make decisions and get things done.

One thing that I have found particularly effective is to have tags that clue your colleagues into the action they need to take. This has saved several of the groups I’m involved with countless hours of time and frustration.

The technique follows a simple set of actions that groups tend to do when they interact in person. These are: information dump, discussion/debate and action/resolution.

Informational Means Just That

A lot of time is wasted figuring out if an email needs action right away or whether it can wait. I find that a simple Info: tag at the beginning of a subject line makes a world of difference. It gives the reader a clue as to the importance of the information, is easy to filter and shows that the person thought about the value of your time.

Discussion Allows Debate and Elaboration

Typically, once information is disseminated, the next logical step is discussion.

Discussion via email can be tricky since there are usually lots and lots of questions. The best way to deal with this is to pose the discussion topic free form and have people comment on their feelings and reactions.

The subject tags for this could be Discussion: or Input: since those show that the topic is something that the group needs to pay attention to.

Another important aspect of discussion is to put a time limit on them. That can also be done in the subject line as well.

Action or Resolution so There is Closure

One thing that bogs down any group is decision making. Successful groups realize that making timely decisions (good, bad or indifferent) is why they are successful.

If you need to make decisions via email, then it’s best to call that out right in the subject.

Tags like Vote: or Action: go a long way in putting the email at the top of the list for your team to deal with.

Once a vote is taken, then a Resolution: or Decision: tag can be used to communicate that the topic has been acted upon.

Examples of Email Subject Lines

Listed below are a few examples of what I consider good email subject lines for effective leadership by email:

  • Subject: Info: Top Ranked Restaurants in Our Neighborhood

  • Subject: Info: Bay Bridge Closed This Weekend

  • Subject: Info: Latest Company Rankings in Inc.

  • Subject: Discussion by 6/7: How to Coordinate our Fundraising Activities

  • Subject: Discussion by 8/2: Best Way to Promote Gadget XYZ

  • Subject: Input by 2/25: Agenda for Off-site

  • Subject: Vote by 12/2: Where to Hold Our Holiday Party?

  • Subject: Vote by 3/4: Color to Paint the Building

  • Subject: Action by 1/15: Updated Bio For Website

  • Subject: Action by 4/10: All Expenses Submitted to Accounting

  • Subject: Resolution: Holiday Party is at Joe’s

  • Subject: Decision: The Building Will Be Painted Blue

Of course, every group is different and will respond to different tags and keywords. As a leader, you will need to experiment a little with what will make your group effective.

It is worth spending the time up front to set the ground rules, come up with your own process and refine it as you go. You will find that your email correspondence will be more effective and less time consuming. You will also find that your group gets more done and feels that their valuable time is spent on things that really matter — not a bunch of email cluttering their inbox.

When To Stop Enduring and Move On

Failure. It’s one word that most leaders (let alone most people) never want to say, let along face. Failure has an ugly stigma that can push people to endure through tough times almost like super humans.

In some cases, failure is not an option and enduring whatever hardship you are under has to happen. Usually, these situations are ones where the consequences of failure are catastrophic (e.g. Death, dismemberment or harm to others).

Take the life experience of Dr. Viktor Frankl.

Dr. Frankl is the author of a best selling book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience in concentration camps during World War II.

His insights into how to endure an almost unendurable situation created the third Viennese school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy (the other two are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology).

The primary idea behind Logotherapy is that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning to life.

Dr. Frankl’s insights help him endure through a tremendous amount of suffering and hardship because he really had no other choice — it was either find the meaning in the experience or perish.

When It’s Not Life and Death

What about the situations where enduring the suffering, discomfort or situation is not a matter of life and death? When should you stop enduring and quit?

This is a tough question to answer and an even tougher thing to achieve considering quitting usually means failing

What we can learn from Dr. Frankl’s example is that if we having meaning, even in failure, we can survive and be successful. In fact, failure is vital to our success since it’s by failing that we understand success. By failure we also push ourselves and others to succeed.

Three Questions to Consider

Any situation can have either a positive, neutral or negative outcome. For leaders, it’s about understanding these outcomes and figuring out if enduring the situation is still worth it. To help you determine when to endure or quit, answer these three questions:

Question #1: Will I Be Physically or Mentally Harmed?

Lots of times we want to press on even through pain and mental hardship. That can lead to growth but pushing too hard can result in long term damage that is not worth the pride of continuing on.

Professional athletes push themselves to the point of physical harm because they are driven to win. Even amateur athletes “push through the pain” to accomplish a goal or finish the race.

If you truly feel that you will harm yourself by pushing on then stop. It’s not worth the agony and your sense of pride or ego will only be bruised for a little while. You can always try again.

Question #2: Can I Change The Situation?

In some cases, the situation you are in cannot be changed (like what Dr. Frankl had to endure). If you can change the situation, then make an effort to. This can make all the difference even if you can’t make all the changes you want — at least you are taking control as much as you can.

If your attempts to change the situation fail and the conditions you find yourself under are just not bearable anymore, then it’s time to leave or stop. There is nothing wrong with leaving a bad situation especially if it’s harming you physically or mentally (like with an abusive spouse or boss).

It’s really not worth the agony to continue on in hopes of changing something that can’t be changed. It will just delay the inventible — you leaving anyway after being too frustrated to stay.

Question #3: Am I Able to Leave the Situation?

In some cases, you will have to stick it out simply because you can’t leave the situation (like Ernest Shackleton’s south pole expedition that got stranded when their boat got stuck). In these cases, your inner drive, mental toughness and endurance will be put to the test. You will have to find meaning and hope in whatever you can.

If the situation is not as dire as south pole survival, then you need to consider why your are staying. Is it because I’m afraid to leave or are can you really not leave. Chances are, if it’s not an exotic expedition, you can leave — it will just take courage and a little planning to do so.

Our Strong Desire To Stick It Out

The questions above really point to our desire to stick it out no matter the situation or potential outcome. We really fear failure and avoid loss at the cost of future gains. We want to take the safe and secure path even if it ends up hurting us (at least in the short term).

It’s hard to fail and even harder to move on after failure but what’s the hardest is to allow yourself to use failure as a way to learn and grow.

Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes the situation is not healthy and the best way to protect yourself and live to compete another day is to stop before you get hurt. Don’t be afraid to stop enduring — it might be the best way to eventually reach your goals.


The Hidden Leadership Benefits of the Three R’s

It used to be that good old R&R (Rest and Relaxation) was enough to recharge your batteries and get you back into the swing of things. Not anymore.

It now takes a good bit of Reflection to make sure that your R&R time is used wisely because

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it — Ferris Bueller

Leaders are especially prone to not taking advantage of the three R’s because it’s hard to turn off being a leader. This is the classic leadership trap of “my organization will fall apart if I’m not there.”

In reality, it will only fall apart if you are not seeing your organizations challenges with fresh eyes — not because you take time off. That’s why it’s a leadership imperative to get rest and relaxation while you reflect on what’s important for you and your organization.

The Burdens of Leadership

Being a leader is a tough job. The burdens associated with setting a direction, motivating your supporters, keeping an eye on the competition all while keeping the organization afloat makes it a job full of stress and anxiety.

Stress is a killer — both of people and productivity. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), stress costs American industry more that $300 billion annually. It’s also responsible for 75 to 90% of all doctor visits in the U.S.

Leaders are more susceptible to stress because they are the focal point of the organization and when the anxiety of organizational life gets too high, the leader feels it even more.

This burden can turn normally solid leaders into stressed out, ineffective ones if they don’t make rest, relaxation and reflection an integral part of their leadership style.

Rejuvenate Mind and Body

Our bodies need rest. In fact, studies show that along with stress, sleep depravation causes concentration problems, challenges with memory and job performance. In our fast paced world where the demands of daily life seem to be accelerating, most leaders neglect rest so they can keep up. This may help in the short term but over time, wearing your body out will just make you more prone to making mistakes and illness.

An additional benefit of rest and relaxation is that it plays a vital role in solving problems. Rest and relaxation allows our subconscious minds to work though problems that our conscious minds are struggling with. This has tremendous leadership and personal benefits because complex problems can sometimes be hard to dissect and deal with by our conscious minds. This subconscious mind work usually manifests itself in the “ah ha” moment in the shower, while mediating or exercising when our subconscious mind finally figures it out.

Stepping Away is a Good Thing

Rest and relaxation are an important part of an effective leaders style and approach. By taking the time to step away from the daily grind of your leadership responsibilities, you enable several personal and organizational benefits. These include:

  • Allowing others to grow as leaders: If the leader is always around, then others can’t truly develop. Developing leaders requires them to lead.

  • Finding weaknesses in your organization: Anytime you leave, weaknesses will show themselves. This gives you an opportunity to make your organization more resilient.

  • Reaffirming your organizational commitment: Sometimes, leaders can burn out because they get in a rut or can’t distance themselves from the organization they lead. By stepping away, you can gain new perspectives and reaffirm your commitment.

  • Demonstrating trust in your supporters: Nothing shows trust in others like leaving them in charge. It’s the ultimate vote of confidence and will be rewarded with their trust and dedication.

Growth Comes From Reflection

The last R, Reflection, is equally important to Rest and Relaxation because it’s how we internalize our insights, successes and challenges.

Reflection should ideally be done when you are in a state of reset and relaxation so that your mind is not distracted.

Preferably, your reflection should be done in a quiet place with minimum disturbances so that you can focus. With reflection, you can dig deeper into why certain events happened and how you reacted to them.

Reflection does take practice since it can lead to anxiety about missed opportunities or mistakes. The key to productive reflection contains these elements:

  • Focus on a certain event or behavior: Don’t try and solve every problem you have — it will be too overwhelming. Rather, focus on a specific event or behavior.

  • Being nonjudgmental: Reserve any judgement, good or bad, until you have had time to go through the entire event or behavior.

  • Consider all points of view: Put yourself in others shoes. Strive to understand the view from where they stand. This is particularly important for events or decisions that influence lots of different people.

  • Accept the conclusions and move on: Once you have reflected and come to conclusions, accept them and move on. Don’t second guess or reevaluate. Just let it go. This is important because you want to be ready for the next challenge and not be stuck in the past.

It should be stressed that reflection should be productive and not a means to beat yourself up. Reflection is a way to allow yourself to work through good and bad situations in a nonjudgmental manner. If you find yourself being overly negative or down, then only focus on your successes and ease your way into more challenging problems.

One more thing about reflection — it’s really hard to practice. Even the best people sometimes find it hard to reflect on a situation and move on from it (I’m a big offender of this). Don’t get discouraged when this happens. Just work through it the best you can — it gets easier over time.

Your Organization Will Thank You

Every leader needs the three R’s to be effective. Even one of the most important leaders in the world, the President of the United States, has Camp David where they can rest, relax and reflect on the situations they face.

Without such distance, a leader will get too deep into problems and issues to see the path to take. Details will become muddled, facts distorted and decisions flawed because the leaders perspective has been lost. The only way to gain perspective is to take a step out of the chaos. Taking that leap will make you a better leader.


The Perils of Perception Driven Leadership

Perception driven leadership is a slippery slope. When leaders just rely on perceptions, they miss vast amounts of information. In some cases, perceptions will drive a leader down the wrong path with catastrophic results.

Perception is often misunderstood for reality because it’s much easier to take in what’s in front of you then to dig deeper into the facts. For a leader, perception then becomes reality. In fact, perceptions are usually the norm while reality almost never gets consulted.

Part of why perception is taken as reality is that we want our world view to match reality even when it doesn’t. This makes us feel comfortable that whatever direction we are heading is the right one. For obvious reasons, this is dangerous.

Perceptions Distort Reality

The reason why perceptions are dangerous is because they can be used to distort reality. This then makes the leader uninformed and easily manipulated. It’s also opens up your supporters to second guess your decisions and think you are out of touch, ignorant or just don’t care.

What’s interesting about perceptions is that most people know they are being tricked — their are just too involved in the reality distortion field to say anything. This is mostly due to group think, confirmation bias and the bubble that is around most leaders.

Why Perceptions Trump Reality

The main reason perceptions trump reality is that the leader rewards the reinforcement of their world view. This takes the form of discrediting dissent, distorting facts and promoting “yes men.” All of these things reinforce the perceptions wanted instead of reality.

Most of us do this because we have been trained to take short cuts. In reality, there is way too much information to process and that overwhelms us to the point where we saturate. This saturation is really uncomfortable and fills us with anxiety.

To combat these feelings of anxiety, we take short cuts. These short cuts rely on seeing patterns that we recognize and are comfortable with. Most of these patterns are the world we want to see — not necessarily reality. Thus, we reinforce our world view by seeking the patterns we want to see (e.g. Self-Serving Bias and the Misinformation Effect. Mix in a group of people who share a common need for the same reality (e.g. Groupthink) and you have a slippery slope of perceptions becoming reality — at least within the leadership bubble.

Perceptions Can Be Deadly

Probably the most tragic example of perception driven leadership was the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. This tragedy could have been avoided if NASA’s leadership had stepped out of their perception bubbles and performed a reality check.

According to Richard Feynman, who was part of the Rogers Commission that did the investigation, NASA management was driven by perceptions not reality. This quote sums it up best:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled. — Richard Feynman in the Rogers Commission Report on the Challenger Disaster

This highlights an important aspect of perceptions — if you want something bad enough, you will believe it. NASA management wanted Challenger to launch and that led to the perception that it could be launched in cold weather with deadly results.

Moving Beyond Perceptions

It can be hard for a leader to move beyond perceptions because it’s take more brain power to seek out reality and the truth not to mention it could lead to unpopular decisions. That’s why it’s important that a leader make it a routine part of their leadership style to promote reality. That way, reality will always be present in and outside the leadership bubble.

Consider some of the most effective ways to really know what’s going on:

  • Make reality checks easy: It’s easy to get sucked into a position or situation if you let it get out of hand. Make it a part of your style to step back and ask people to confirm assumptions.

  • Reward dissent: Too often, leaders shoot the messenger. Instead, reward those who tell the truth and expose reality. This does not mean you encourage complaining, negativity or bitterness — just constructive dissent.

  • Gather independent information: There is nothing better than information that is obtained from impartial, 3rd party sources that confirms what you were told. Use it as much as you can.

  • Step outside the bubble: All leaders are inside a bubble. This bubble is created by supporters and the leader to protect the leader from reality. Step outside it. Go incognito so that you can see what’s really going on.

  • Consult outsiders: Akin to independent information but more formalized. Have outside firms or consultants at your disposal so that you can validate reality, facts and assumptions.

It Starts From The Top

Perception’s are largely driven from how top leadership wants reality presented. If a leader only wants to hear good news, shoots the messenger and does not encourage rational dialogue, then the perception will almost never equal reality.

As a leader, you need the full story — warts and all. Encourage your supporters to always give you what’s really going on and you will not only become a better leader but will encourage your supporters to value reality more than perceptions.

Tips on Practicing Just Enough and Just In Time Leadership

I’m always struck by the parallels of enduring through tough times and how leaders inspire their supporters to what it’s like to do an endurance event (the whole Be Calm and Carry On theme really captures that mindset).

Both types of situations are the same (albeit not life and death) — an apparently insurmountable challenge that will push your resolve and courage to the brink.

These types of situations (sustained effort over extended periods of time) really need a consistent and present amount of leadership that is just in time to be relevant, just enough to push things forward and not too intense to burn people out.

Just Enough

What got me thinking about just enough and just in time leadership was an article about the Painless Path to Endurance by Tim Ferriss of 4-hour anything fame (well, it certainly seems that way).

Anyway, his post had some great advice about “just enough training.” That got me thinking about my own workouts and my next big challenge — a Full Vineman.

It also sparked me thinking about leadership and how that advice makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, endurance leadership, among other things, is about being consistent in action and having longevity — no short cuts, no gimmicks and no excuses.

Another important thing about endurance leaders is that they give just enough guidance, advice, push, demands or encouragement to get their supporters to be successful. In other words, it’s just enough to get the job done — no more, no less.

Just In Time

Another aspect of leadership that’s important is the just in time leader. Timing, like in comedy, is everything and a leader needs to know when to step in and lead and when to hold off for the right moment.

Without this sense of timing, the advice, push or encouragement will not be as effective and in some cases, ineffective.

Timing is important in training as well. You don’t want to train too hard before a race and you certainly don’t want to spend too much time training. The right balance comes from knowing what your body needs and when it needs it — just like with your supporters.

Consistency and Moderation Over Intensity In Leadership

In Tim’s article, he talks about something that a friend of his burned into his brain about working out:

Consistency and moderation over intensity — Dr. Jim Wright

That’s also a valuable lesson for leaders in that most leaders don’t recognize that effective leadership is about showing up, day after day, to give your supporters the guidance and encouragement they need.

The effective leader is effective because their actions are consistent over time and don’t jump to extremes. They don’t parachute into a situation, bark out orders and then trot off. Rather, they build up a consistent and steady message of how they want a situation or project to come out. Contrast that with the intense leader.

The intense leader does no such thing. They come in and focus for a brief period of time and hope that their supporters get what they want done. Most of the time, this style just leaves their supporters discouraged, confused and feeling abandoned.

Essential Skills for Just Enough and Just In Time Leadership

We touched on a few of these skills above but now, let’s take a look at the essential skills to practice just enough and just in time leadership:

  • Be present but not overbearing: This is a real art because leaders usually want the spot light. Instead, been seen and only heard when needed.

  • Know when supporters need to struggle: Struggle is important for learning and growth. Without struggle, we would not remember the hard lessons. Resist the temptation to “jump in and fix” stuff until it’s really needed.

  • Step away when needed: Sometimes, the mere presence of the leader can make a situation worst. Know when to walk away and let others deal with the issues.

  • Keep calm and carry on: This famous British saying was used to reinforce the “British Resolve” during the start of World War II. It’s also a great way to act when faced with the need to jump in and push your supporters more.

  • Don’t overcorrect: Correction is fine but too much will just make your supporters feel inferior — especially if done in a public or demeaning way. Let them make mistakes — it makes them better.

  • Step in or up when needed: Once you recognize that a struggle will end badly, you need to step in or up to help. The trick is the timing on when so that you don’t overcorrect

  • Make things happen: One of the most important factors in just enough and just in time leadership is to make things happen when they need to happen. That makes it much easier to gradually push projects along without having to scramble at the last minute.

From this list, you can see that nowhere does it list fixing the problem or taking charge. Rather, it’s about being able to advise your supporters how to take charge and solve their own problems. Of course, sometimes you do need to take the reins but that should be a rare event if you are faithful to just enough and just in time leadership.

Just Make It Happen

One thing to keep in mind is that just enough and just in time leadership is about just making it happen. Making things happen is what leadership is all about. By living just enough and just in time leadership you can make things happen since being consistent (just in time) and moderate (just enough) demonstrates your commitment to your supporters and the cause. It also allows you to unleash the endurance leader that is in all of us.

Keep Calm and Carry On!


Lessons In Leadership: The 100th Bay to Breakers

Bay to Breakers is a San Francisco Institution. Actually, scratch that. Bay to Breakers is the most iconic event in San Francisco. Yeah, much better.

Bay to Breakers is a 12k (7.2 mile) “foot” race that starts at the Bay Bridge and ends at Ocean Beach. It’s been going on for over 100 years.

People either love Bay to Breakers or hate it. This sediment has created one of the most complex events the City of San Francisco puts on.

The 100th running of Bay to Breakers nearly didn’t happen because of the craziness that the 99th Bay to Breakers wreaked on neighborhoods. Oh. I forgot to mention. Bay to Breakers is not just a road race — its also an alcohol fueled, naked Mardi Gras that wreaks havoc on the neighborhoods it rolls through. Taming this madness took a special group of people. These people turned out to be the very neighbors that were the most impacted. I know this because I was one of them.

Angry Phone Calls

As a community leader, you sometimes get the brunt of peoples outrage. It might not even be your fault but because you are a community leader, your neighbors will naturally reach out. That’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of the 99th Bay to Breakers — my phone never stopped ringing.

The stories of disrespect and destruction were just plain bad. Participates jumping fences to pee in back yards. People banging on neighbors doors demanding to be let in. Broken bottles, destroyed trash cans, torn up plants and even lewd sex acts — it felt like an invasion.

Calming the Masses by Organizing the Stakeholders

People were downright mad at how the event not only destroyed the neighborhoods but how helpless they felt. Helpless people are anxious people. Anxious people make irrational decisions that lead to all sort of conflicts.

Calming the masses was an integral part of taking control of the situation so that rational decisions can be made. Achieving this requires the leader to bring all stakeholders together in a way that shows the situation will be dealt with. In order for the leader to achieve this, they need to do the following:


  • Find out who is responsible: This might be harder than you think given the situation. The best way to achieve this is to figure out who benefits or makes money on the event or situation.

  • Form a committee or task force: Solitary is vital to achieving a solution to a complex problem. Organize the stakeholders together and formalize the group via a committee or task force.

  • Include everyone: Even people that may been seen as the problem. Without inclusion, you will never fully understand the complexities of the situation. This will be hard but will be vital to reach consensus.

  • Ask for feedback: Angry people want to be heard. Asking for feedback gives them a voice. It’s also a great way to understand the nature of the problem.

  • Gather facts and data: Data is an important part of problem solving. The more facts and data you gather, the better. It’s also a great way to vet reports to get to the truth.


It may be tough to achieve all of these actions right away but it’s important that they get done. What is the most important aspect of organizing a group around a common vision is to make progress everyday. Any amount of progress is good and will build on itself.

Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

We quickly contacted the race owners, AEG, our district supervisor, the mayor, other neighborhood groups and even a participate group. We invited all of these stakeholders to hear first hand what it was like to live through the race and the hardships it created. We collected stories and pictures of the damage and circulated a survey. Everyone soon realized the magnitude of the problem and why neighbors were so mad. This helped solidify our position because we had proof and a lot of it.

Common Vision

Any issue or problem that has multiple stakeholders will have multiple agendas. These agendas may not become clear at a first meeting but the more you meet, the more clear each stakeholders position becomes.

Sorting through all of these agendas takes a leader who can understand why each agenda was formulated, what each stakeholder wants and where the conflicts will naturally arise.

Approaching this takes a broader attitude than just your personal agenda or the group your represent.

Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

The race organizers want to run a race. Other participates wanted a party. The city wants to keep the race going because it generates revenue. Neighbors don’t want their property damaged. All of these wants are vastly different but one common theme started to emerge — everyone wanted it to be Fun like it used to be.

This theme of fun quickly brought about the mantra “Fun for Everyone.” This single statement everyone could agree to and would form the basis of the work to come.

Formulating A Plan

Once you have some sort of structure, committee or group of stakeholders together, it’s now time to formulate a plan. The degree of difficultly in forming a plan will directly relate to the diversity of the group and their attitudes towards the situation. The more diverse in attitude and direction, the harder making a plan will be.

Plan building starts with acknowledging the common vision and setting the ground rules. These ground rules are the framework in which, hopefully, everyone will get what they want. Some of the more important ground rules include:


  • Roles and responsibilities: With big events or situations, it can sometimes be hard to know who does what. Establishing that early makes it much easier to gain consensus.

  • Establishing the creditability of stakeholders: Not all stakeholders are equally creditable nor can they affect outcomes. Knowing this sooner rather than later will allow the plan to leverage or work around creditability or lack of it.

  • Alignment with the common vision: A common vision is vital to a successful endeavor. Even if it’s not what everyone wants, a common vision will focus the effort and make it much easier to get things done.

  • Rules for dispute resolution: There will always be disputes and these disputes need to get resolved. Establish a process early for dealing with disputes and it will make negotiations go much smoother.

  • Critical timelines: Always establish critical dates and meetings well in advance. These are the milestones that need to be managed to or hasty decisions will be made.

  • Write it down: Always take notes and email or send them to all stakeholders. This is probably the most important single thing the leader can do to ensure accountability and build agreement towards goals.


Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

We soon realized that all stakeholders had one thing in common — they all wanted the race to continue on. An even stronger statement was that everyone agreed that the behaviors reported were unacceptable and could not be tolerated. In order to achieve a safe race, all stakeholders identified three major points of focus: resources, coordination (via a central command) and outreach. Once these details were agreed to, it was just a question of what and how much.

All of these decisions and discussions were captured and sent around via email. Once a critical decision was made or a position agree upon, a position paper was released. All of this communication made it hard to “not remember” what decisions were made.

Unity in Message and Action

Once the plan is formed, a clear message and action plan needs to be communicated. Nothing will muddle your efforts like mixed messages.

Doing this requires a constant reinforcement of the goals and the realization that those goals may not be shared among all stakeholders. A couple of things to do to obtain unity in message and action include:


  • Select a spokesperson: A single public focal point is your best bet for unity of message. Pick someone who can articulate the groups message while also keeping their cool under pressure.

  • Publish position papers or press releases: Once major decisions are made, publish them. All stakeholders want to know that progress is being made and that the process is open.

  • Ask others for feedback: If your situation effects a wider set of people, ask for their feedback. This engages them in the discussion and can reveal insights into how your effort is perceived.

  • Get the word out: You can never do too much outreach. As soon as the message is clear, do it early and often. You would be amazed at how hard it is to educate a wide group of people.

  • Ask for status updates frequently: In-between formal meetings, ask for status updates. This keeps the momentum going and shows that you are actively engaged and holding people accountable.


Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

The eight or so neighborhood groups involved in the 100th Bay to Breakers quickly realized that they wanted to make the event “Fun for Everyone.” This message resonated with every stakeholder and soon became the guiding principal behind all our activities.

The group selected a spokesman, which happened to be yours truly. This allowed the neighborhood group to not mix the message and have someone who was responsible for making sure things got done. This common message was also important for impromptu meetings where other committee members were asked about the effort.

Holding Others and Yourself Accountable

Accountability is a power tool to drive home a common vision and mission. By being accountable, you demonstrate that you can follow through on your actions.

It’s vital that you figure out who can make decisions. Everyone wants to be seen as the decision maker because that gives them power. Make sure to sort through all the posturing and narrow in on the key decision makers in each group. Those are the individuals you want to hold accountable.

Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

It became clear only after a couple of meetings that the key decision makers were AEG (who puts on the race), the Mayor’s office of Special Events and the Neighborhoods themselves. All three of these stakeholders had key individuals that had the authority to make decisions and get things done. Once the key decision makers were aligned, progress became more rapid and collaborative.

Enduring The Debate

Leading any high visibility effort will open a leader to criticism. Most of this criticism will be reactions to incomplete information, negative spin from opposing forces and the natural political posturing. Even the praise is a double edge sword since there is always someone who will think you don’t deserve it or are getting too “full of yourself.”

To help you endure the debate and thrive, try applying some of the techniques below:


  • Take the heat graciously: Always keep in mind that criticism is part of leadership. Admit when you are wrong and defend yourself when the facts are twisted.

  • Accept the praise humbly: It’s never about the leader — it’s about the cause. Accept the praise but don’t make it about you.

  • Stay on message: Always focus on the message. Many a leader gets caught up in the moment and says something foolish. The message always needs to be clear and the focal point.

  • Be respectful: If you give respect, you get respect. Even the worst foe deserves your respect.

  • Never take it personal: You’re the face of the cause and that makes you a target. Even if the attacks get personal, don’t take it that way. Most of the time, people can’t properly verbalize their rage, so they attack the person in front of them.

  • Keep in personal contact: Have personal relationships with all the stakeholders. You don’t have to be friends but you do need to get to know them and meet with them outside a group setting.


Applied to the 100th Bay to Breakers

If you can believe it, there was actually a group of people who wanted less control and more freedom to do what they wanted. This group was vocal but clearly in the minority.

They would turn up at community meetings and reiterate that we did not represent them and would constantly say “it’s only one day” or “you’re just a bunch of NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard).” Thankfully, other neighbors would take them on directly and recount story after story of how bad things were — sometimes with pictures.

All in all, the debate was remarkably civil and survey’s after the 100th confirmed that almost 80% of neighbors thought the race went better — a tremendous achievement.

Continuing the Momentum

Success should be capitalized upon to strengthen a group or movement. Success makes everyone feel good and yearning for more. Even mild success can spark the group to want to achieve more.

Groups tend to loose their momentum if they don’t continue operating together or have a formal agreement or structure. To continue the momentum, try a few of these simple techniques:


  • Formalize the group: Giving an effort a formal title makes it real. It also allows participates the ability to sign up for something.

  • Create a mailing list: Always gather emails and phone numbers so that you can keep in touch and rally supporters.

  • Collaborate on an event: Follow on events are great ways to solidify a groups effort. It also demonstrates commitment to broader objectives.

  • Recognize the achievement: Simple recognition shows that the group and it’s leadership values the contributions and achievements of the group. Something as simple as a plaque or commemorative pen can really make a difference.


Applied to After the 100th Bay to Breakers

The 100th Bay to Breakers was a turning point for the race. All groups involved felt that the mood of the race had shifted to being what it should be — a Celebration of San Francisco that’s Fun for everyone. Building on this success, the groups involved formed the District 5 Neighborhood Action Committee (D5NAC).

The D5NAC quickly put on a mayoral forum and will be involved in the 101st Bay to Breakers. Moving forward, the mantra has changed. It’s now “Fun for Everyone with Positive Neighborhood Impact.”