Leadership Archives

I want to give you four magic words that will transform your performance the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone. Yesterday I was driving to a funeral where I had been asked to share a few words. As I reflected on what I was going to say I remembered the first funeral I had ever spoken at. I was in my mid 20′s and at the time I was a young minister in training. I had been asked to conduct a funeral service for a young woman who had been tragically killed in a subway accident.

I remember agonizing for days about what to say, how to say it, and worried myself sick that I would mess it up. I will never forget the day that I arrived at the funeral home. There were people sobbing, and crying. It was a terribly sad occasion. I also remember how insecure and out of my element I felt. Everyone there was looking for me to take charge and I was looking for an exit. I thought about how draining this whole experience was and how I wished they had picked someone besides me to do this.

While I was cowering in a side room having my own pity party, it suddenly hit me. I was not the one having the tough week; these people who just lost their friend, their daughter, their sister; they were the ones having the tough time. My problem was miniscule compared to theirs. And with that simple thought came a mind shift that completely transformed how I performed. I realized that it’s not about me, it’s about them. I had become so self-focused and self conscious that I was not able to effectively do the job I was brought here to do. Once I had this on straight, it completely changed how I thought, how I felt and how I acted. In short, I forgot about me and got focused on them.

I see this same thing happen everywhere I go. I might ask someone to lead a meeting or get up in front of an audience to say a few words and their first reaction is much like me at the funeral home back when I was in my 20’s. People groan, drop their shoulders and say things like, “Can’t you find somebody else?” But what’s really going on is they have been hit with a wave of self-doubt and it’s become all about them; what they’re afraid to lose, what mistakes they’re scared of making, and how stupid they might look if the blow it. And when this is our focus, we never bring our best to the table. Self-focus steals our presence, our happiness, and causes us to play it safe. The result? We don’t get a chance to perform at our best and those around us don’t get a chance to be impacted by what we have to offer.

So the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone, and you are feeling afraid and wishing someone else could do it, simply repeat these four little words, “It’s not about me.” Doing so will lift your eyes off of yourself, allowing you to see the needs around you. It will also give you the courage to take action and make a difference in the lives of those around you.

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Here is James Robbins speaking on leadership.


Mandela is a hero of mine.

Last week the world mourned over the loss of a great leader. It’s very rare that someone’s life touches so many. Nelson Mandela will always be an iconic symbol of grace, forgiveness and inspirational leadership. But for all of his accomplishments, there is one that stands above the rest, at least for me. It was his decision to forgive his enemies who had thrown him in jail.

President Clinton once asked Mandela how he was able to forgive the men who had imprisoned him. Mandela apparently told President Clinton that if he didn’t leave his hate at the jailhouse door, he would never be free.  He decided to let it go. To me this was his defining moment.

Can you imagine how his story would have been different had he not forgiven his enemies? He would not have been much different than any other revolutionary who took power, eliminated his enemies, while making more in the process, only to have the entire cycle repeated all over again.

In forgiving his captors, Mandela exemplified the highest level of leadership; he put the needs of others above himself. By not seeking justice, he was able to pursue a much larger goal of healing a nation with a pure motive. This inspired not only a country but also the entire world.

On a more personal note:

More than once in my life I have had people wrong me, and letting go of it is never easy. But several times I have turned my thoughts to Mandela and found inspiration in his example. “If he could forgive his enemies,” I reason,” Then surely I can forgive mine.”

This is why Mandela is a hero to me.



Ever had a boss who wouldn’t stop what they were doing when you went to speak with them? How’d it make you feel? Like an interruption? Probably. The challenge in today’s hectic world, is that it can be all too easy to fall into the same bad habit. If I’m honest, I hate interruptions, especially when I have a ton of work to do or I’m in a creative groove. The temptation is to keep working even while a staff member is trying to talk to me. This split focus however, divides your attention and steals your presence, and presence is what makes an employee feel respected.

One of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is when people feel they are valued at work. People need to be more than a number. One of the best ways you can help your staff feel respected and valued is by giving them your full attention. Your staff know that you’re busy, so it means even more when you can stop what you’re doing and look them straight in the eye.

So this week, practice presence. Whenever one of your staff needs your attention, stop doing whatever you’re doing and give it to them.  If you are in the middle of something that is too important to interrupt, simply tell them you can’t give them your full attention right now and ask them to come back later. Being fully present will separate you from the rest of the pack, who are too busy multitasking to notice that they’re only half there.

There are plenty of apps I find useful but one of my favorite is Evernote. If you lead anything I would encourage you to check it out. Evernote is a filing system that allows you to organize information on your computer, or your mobile device. Think of it as a filing cabinet that holds your documents, ideas, photos, receipts, and notes that you can access from anywhere. In Evernote, you create separate notebooks for different topics and then fill these notebooks with individual notes or entries. The best part is that it’s free.

There are thousands of ways to use Evernote and leaders can benefit from many of them. Here are some of the ways I currently use this app as a leader. I hope you find them helpful.

Strategy Sessions
I have a large whiteboard in my office. I use it everyday. Whenever I am pouring out my thoughts during a brainstorming session I will take a photo and store it in Evernote. I have a notebook called White Board Sessions This way I can erase the board and not worry about losing any of the ideas. If I need to bring it up again, I can print out the photo or project it onto the whiteboard using an LCD projector.

Leadership Ideas
When I come across a creative idea on let’s say recognizing employees, I will copy and paste it into a notebook on Employee Recognition. At anytime I can pull up the notebook and scan through the collection of ideas. Leaders can create notebooks for topics such as: employee recognition, coaching tips, effective meeting ideas, fun at work ideas, principles of motivation, etc.

Employee Coaching
I recently started using Evernote in staff coaching. I have notebooks for each leader I mentor and before we meet for our weekly one-on-one, I review what we discussed in last week’s coaching time. This helps me walk into these meetings more prepared and clear on what items we need to discuss or what I need to hold them accountable on from last week.

Whenever I find a great anecdote that I could potentially use in a speech or a meeting, I will copy and paste it into an Evernote notebook called Anecdotes. You can even tag each entry by topic to make finding them again even easier. You can also record voice memos in Evernote as well.

Client Meetings
I am still a paper and pen guy. When I am on the phone with a potential client I like to ask a lot of questions to assess their needs. After the phone call I usually have two pages of notes. I simply snap a photo and load into Evernote under my notebook Client Calls. This allows me to access these notes anytime I want. If a potential speaking client happens to call me and I am sitting in Starbucks, I simply bring up my notes on my phone.

Books I want to read
Whenever I see a title of a book I’d like to buy I simply snap a photo of the cover and then store it under my Books to Read notebook.

How do I get Evernote?
To get Evernote simply search your app store, or Google it and then follow the instructions for installation. Once it has been installed on your computer and/or phone, you want to set up separate Notebooks for your big topics. These notebooks will then contain all of your individual Notes (or files).

Get Evernote here.

For those of you who already use Evernote, please leave a comment below outlining some of the ways in which you use it to help you lead?

A simple method for reducing anxiety when confronting an employee.

Do you hate conflict? Do you cringe at the thought challenging an employee on their productivity or work ethic? If you do, you’re in good company. At least 50% of us possess the personality styles that illicit dread when having to confront someone. I must confess, every time I need to challenge an employee, not only do I feel anxious before, I usually feel uneasy for a short time after. Yet as a manager, calling others higher and enforcing standards are crucial aspects of your job.

To make the job of confronting someone a little easier I created a script that I use to set my thinking straight before I ever open my mouth. It’s part pep talk and part reminder of my role as a leader. While it won’t make those hard talks completely painless, this four-part formula will reduce your anxiety and lessen the chance of you chickening out.

I have reduced it to an acronym I call G.R.I.T.

  1. Great Leaders are Servants
  2. Respect their Strength
  3. Ignore the Smokescreen
  4. Trust the Cycle

The next time you are feeling anxious about confronting an employee, first read through these four points. Once your talk with the individual is over, re-read them again.

1. Great leaders serve others by speaking the truth.

Great leaders put others before themselves. When you fail to speak the uncomfortable truth you are actually hurting that individual. If you allow them to continue with sub-par performance, you are not working in their best interests or in the best interest of your organization. Great leaders must be able to put their own comfort level aside in order to serve others and do what’s best for the team.

2. Respect their strength

You may be hesitant to challenge an employee because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. This seemingly altruistic motive to avoid speaking truth is usually cowardice in disguise. Respect that your people have the strength to hear what you have to say. After all, do you have the strength to hear hard truth spoken to you? I know you do. So extend the same respect to others. They are not made of glass.

3. Ignore the Smokescreen

The anxiety you feel is a smokescreen. Do not listen to it or let it bother you. It only exists inside your mind. Once you are past this event it will dissipate.

4. Trust the Cycle

There is a predictable cycle that happens whenever people are confronted. It has three general stages.

Stage 1. Resistance

Most people don’t like being challenged. There are many reasons for this but essentially it shakes them out of their comfort zone. Resistance has many faces from defensiveness, anger, sulking, and even retreating. Some people are better at hiding their discomfort than others. Don’t let resistance bother you. It should be expected.

Stage 2. Processing and Action.

After people have moved past their feelings of defensiveness, anger, or insecurity, they usually allow your words to sink in. It is important to remember that people need time to process what you said. Some need more than others. As they process they begin to make the necessary changes.

3. People experience success

As they make changes, they reap the rewards. This turns any ill feelings they had into ones of gratitude and respect towards you.

This cycle is common yet leaders often try to interrupt it. Don’t get bent out of shape if your employee seems distant for a few hours after you have challenged them. They are processing. Resist the urge to step in and fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed.  Trust this cycle.

Next time you have to challenge an employee and you are feeling nervous about it, use G.R.I.T. to set your mind and calm your anxiety. The acronym spells GRIT because, let’s face it, challenging others requires some inner fortitude. Recite the four steps to yourself both before, and after you have to challenge someone. The more you use this the easier tough talks will become.





Have you seen the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi? It’s fantastic. It’s a documentary about Jiro Ono, an 87 year-old sushi chef, reputed to be the best in the world. Jiro owns a Michelin three-star restaurant in the basement of an office building in Tokyo—and he really does dream of sushi.

Every leader should see this movie. It will inspire you to become a master of your craft. Jiro has devoted his life to his, and yet still feels driven to improve.  As he puts it, “Even at my age in my work I haven’t achieved perfection. I’ll continue to climb trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”  While most people his age are working on their golf game, Jiro continues to pursue perfection.

The movie inspired me to think about my leadership and how I could get better. Regardless of what your company does, if you’re a manager, you’re in the people-moving business, and what a thrilling adventure that can be. Leading others is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding jobs a person can have. It requires passion and continual improvement, the kind Jiro exemplifies with sushi making. One of the biggest mistakes a manager can make, is to believe he has arrived. The best leaders are the ones still trying to grow and master the art.

This week, embrace your role leading others, and commit yourself to continuous improvement. What area of your leadership can you improve? What small thing could you do this week to lead at a higher level? If you are feeling tired, reinvest yourself, and commit to mastery. Finally, love what you do. It will make everything seem a lot easier. As Jiro says, “You have to love your job, you must fall in love with your work.”

Love to lead.


To watch a trailer of Jiro Dreams of Sushi click below.



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