Helping Rising Stars Shine

What can we do about a manager who won’t lead? I was asked this question during a large conference recently. (I love doing the live Q&As at these things).

First, let me set the stage as to why the question was framed this way. We had been talking about “making rising stars shine”, those who might become part of a succession or executive continuity plan; the development of high potential candidates inside a company. Included with the presentation were some ideas about the key distinctions between management and leadership. In summary, I had said:

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]Management is about process. Leadership is about people.[/shareable]

I had stated that companies must decide between creating and sponsoring a management development program or a leadership development one. Do you want to build managers or leaders? It’s a key strategic choice and one that is valid depending on the job grades, corporate cultures, and industry specifics.

Back to the Question

What to do about a manager who won’t lead? This implies that the company has an expectation of its managers to be leaders. Personally, I prefer that mindset. Here are your options.

Dive In –  Begin making proactive inquiries as to what the manager is doing exactly. Track behaviors and outcomes. I was told this person has been quoted as saying “I just want to do the work”. It sounds like they were a bad choice for Manager. While they might have the skill set to make the process happen and get deliverables out, the statement would suggest a big disconnect with any notion of leadership, desire or insight.

Perhaps this person was thrust into the role due to a battlefield promotion. The job came open and they were the brightest bulb on the string. I mean no disrespect as this is the common practice in many places. However, making this kind of promotion often serves to simply snuff out the high producer. When asked to oversee other employees, the circumstances unwind. The top producer is now just a tyrant of a boss.

Make Assessments – Get specific about what the expectations are and find ways to develop the skills and behaviors of leadership you want your unit leads to use. This is a personal task. Each candidate must be evaluated for specific strengths and weaknesses.

Stakeholders need to get involved, sharing their views of the situation. A continuous feedback loop including those stakeholders must be developed and used.

Coaching –  The person needs coaching about the role and the expectations. Whether the coaching is done internally or with external resources, a coach can come alongside the person to work through the process for building awareness, designing a growth plan, running the stakeholder feedback, and getting results.

Last but Not Least –  You may need to make a change. This person may simply not be suited for the role, especially when the corporate expectation is to provide leadership, not just management. The initial selection to place the candidate in the role might just be a bust. That happens.

The offset to consider is the impact on the rest of the team. Will perpetuating this person’s role while hopefully getting some development coaching be good enough to avoid burning out the rest of the team? Of should you act more swiftly to vacate the position and select a candidate who aspires to lead more than manage?

Helping Rising Stars Shine

It’s not easy to design and operate an internal program to groom leadership talent. Whether you have to pluck unit leads from the ranks or supply a pipeline of talent that gets exposed to solid leadership development (most smaller companies cannot afford such luxury), grooming your next wave of managers and leaders is no small task.

If you would like to hear more about ways to design a high potential development program, use the link below.

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Can executives really change their behavior?

Leadership attraction

Dear Tribe,
Interesting articles are something people love to get and I love to give.  

Here is one I think you will enjoy. This note came from a coaching colleague of mine. It asks a key question about behavioral change and gives an intuitive way to explain the leadership growth process to executives.



Coaching for Behavioral Change

People often ask, “Can executives really change their behavior?” The answer is definitely yes. If the coach will follow these basic steps, clients almost always get better!

[callout]My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term, measurable change in behavior. [/callout]

The following process is highly transferable and is being used by certified coaches around the world to deliver Measurable Leadership Growth, Guaranteed. When these steps are followed, leaders can always achieve positive, measurable results in changed behavior – not as judged by themselves, but as judged by pre-selected, key co-workers. This process has been used with great success by both external coaches and internal coaches and you can do it to.

Leadership legacy

  1. Involve the leaders being coached in determining the desired behavior in their leadership roles. Leaders cannot be expected to change behavior if they don’t have a clear understanding of what desired behavior looks like. The people that I coach (in agreement with their managers) work with me to determine desired leadership behavior.

  2. Involve the leaders being coached in determining key stakeholders. Not only do clients need to be clear on desired behaviors, they need to be clear (again in agreement with their managers) on key stakeholders. There are two major reasons why people deny the validity of feedback, either wrong items being rated, or wrong raters. Having clients and their managers agree on the desired behaviors and key stakeholders in advance helps ensure their “buy in” to the process.

  3. Collect feedback. In my coaching practice, I personally interview all key stakeholders. The people who I am coaching are all CEOs or potential CEOs, and the company is making a real investment in their development. However, at lower levels in the organization (that are more price sensitive), traditional 360° feedback can work very well. In either case, feedback is critical. It is impossible to get evaluated on changed behavior if there is not agreement on what behavior to change!

  4. Reach agreement on key behaviors for change. As I have become more experienced, my approach has become simpler and more focused. I generally recommend picking only one to two key areas for behavioral change with each client. This helps ensure maximum attention to the most important behavior. My clients and their managers (unless my client is the CEO) agree upon the desired behavior for change. This ensures that I won’t spend a year working with my clients and have their managers determine that we have worked on the wrong thing!

  5. Have the coaching clients respond to key stakeholders. The person being reviewed should talk with each key stakeholder and collect additional “feed forward” suggestions on how to improve the key areas targeted for improvement. In responding, the person being coached should keep the conversation positive, simple, and focused. When mistakes have been made in the past, it is generally a good idea to apologize and ask for help in changing the future. I suggest that my clients listen to stakeholder suggestions and not judge the suggestions.

  6. Review what has been learned with clients and help them develop an action plan. As was stated earlier, my clients have to agree to the basic steps in our process. On the other hand, outside of the basic steps, all of the other ideas that I share with my clients are suggestions. I just ask them to listen to my ideas in the same way they are listening to the ideas from their key stakeholders. I then ask them to come back with a plan of what they want to do. These plans need to come from them, not me. After reviewing their plans, I almost always encourage them to live up to their own commitments. I am much more of a facilitator than a judge. I usually just help my clients do what they know is the right thing to do.

  7. Develop an ongoing follow-up process. Ongoing follow-up should be very efficient and focused. Questions like, “Based upon my behavior last month, what ideas do you have for me for next month?” can keep a focus on the future. Within six months conduct a two- to six-item mini-survey with key stakeholders. They should be asked whether the person has become more or less effective in the areas targeted for improvement.

  8. Review results and start again. If the person being coached has taken the process seriously, stakeholders almost invariably report improvement. Build on that success by repeating the process for the next 12 to 18 months. This type of follow-up will assure continued progress on initial goals and uncover additional areas for improvement. Stakeholders will appreciate the follow-up. No one minds filling out a focused, two- to six-item questionnaire if they see positive results. The person being coached will benefit from ongoing, targeted steps to improve performance.

This approach has high impact for both top executives and can be even more useful for high-potential future leaders. These are the people who have great careers in front of them. Increasing effectiveness in leading people can have an even greater impact if it is a 20-year process, instead of a one-year program.

In Conclusion

People often ask, “Can executives really change their behavior?” The answer is definitely yes. At the top of major organizations even a small positive change in behavior can have a big impact at all levels of management. From an organizational perspective, the fact that the executive is trying to change anything (and is being a role model for personal development) may be even more important than what the executive is trying to change. One key message that I have given every CEO that I coach is this…

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]To help others develop – start with yourself![/shareable]

Thank you for your time. If you would like to discuss ways I might help you with your own executive development, click below.

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Leaders: Are You a Happy Pig?

No, not trying to be mean. I once shared with an audience the story about the “Pig of Happiness” by Edward Monkton. This is a short story written and illustrated as a gift card, but the story line is profound.

It is about a pig who decides to stop being like all other pigs. He chooses to become happy. When all the others around him are fussing about the weather, their conditions, and life in general, he decides to be “happy” instead. He goes about spreading this light among all the barnyard animals. Pretty soon a funny thing happens. The whole barnyard gets happy. Things make a huge turnaround.

As simple as this story is, it reflects a serious lesson for all of us. Regardless of circumstance, there is a choice you can make daily. Do you choose to be happy or not? Circumstance and bank account should never impact true, real happiness. We CAN be happy regardless of the situation. Are you a happy pig?

So much of my coaching involves resetting mindsets. These are attitudes and opinions that can take root in a person’s soul. You can guess that most are negative. There is a tendency to focus on the bad things that have happened rather than the good that does occur.

I stay amazed at how hard it is for people to embrace the goodness and blessings in their life; the little victories that happen all the time. Rather they choose to highlight the bad things.

What About Problems?

The problem is not the problem. It is about the way we choose to look at the problem. Stuff happens, right? It happens to all of us. Things don’t go as we hoped, yet we store the experience of the moment in one of two ways.

Either we learn from the situation, taking away valuable lessons. This is a choice for growth and a big reason to be happy. You learned something!

Or we log it as a “Yep, you see. Bad things always happen to me.” What a sad choice this one is.

Snowball Effect

Momentum is a powerful force. Think of the large flywheel on a machine. It takes a lot to get it turning, but once it is in motion, it takes even more to stop it. The same is true in business and in life.

When your momentum begins moving in the right direction, you become an unstoppable force in your own sphere of influence. People can’t get enough of you.

Unfortunately, the same holds true of negative momentum. Keep thinking bad thoughts and the clouds get darker and darker.

Brain science experts tell us that our brain will hard wire itself based on the various synapse that fire together. A synapse is the gap between two nerves. Repetitive thought patterns make the synapse connect in a hardwired sort of way. Once they hard wire, it is very difficult to change our mindset because the hard wire path is the default setting of that part of the brain.


Oh and by the way, once you make your own decision for happiness, did you know it attracts others? Try it out for a while and see what you find.

Happy pigs make big changes in the world. Smiling is contagious. Genuine happiness can be a beautiful addition to an otherwise dismal world.

What do you want to choose today. Are you a happy pig?

If you would like to talk about your thoughts on this important mental attitude, join me on a free introductory call.

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Are you really a “people person”?

When was the last time you heard someone say “I am a people person”? Candidates for various management jobs often describe themselves as a people person. What is that exactly?

I have a friend who is an HR professional. He tells me the response they use is “Oh good. If you are a people person, we can pay you five people a week. Will that be OK?”

But seriously folks. Most of us know where that concept came from. Originally when someone said they were a “people person” it meant they could deal with others in a positive way. It also likely meant they liked doing it. It was supposed to indicate a sincerity for interaction, the ability to relate, a consensus builder. Do you think people really do that anymore?

I fear the truth is we have lost some of the drive, desire, and ability to truly relate with people. Of course some of us are really good at it. But I don’t see where we teach that anymore. Instead, it seems young people are being encouraged to get better with computers and automated interfaces, but they do not get the same encouragement when faced with facing a live specimen.

When have you heard about training for one on one communication? What about simple social graces like waiting outside a conference room right before the meeting starts. Instead of making small talk, faces are buried on smart phones or tablets. Leaders can build more rapport with their team in those short moments outside the meeting than they do inside the meeting once the official discussion has started.

Social media is not really that social at all.

One indication: A recent Pew Research survey of adults in the U.S. found that 71% use Facebook at least occasionally, and 45% of Facebook users check the site several times a day.

That sounds like people are becoming more sociable. But some people think the opposite is happening. The problem, they say, is that we spend so much time maintaining superficial connections online that we aren’t dedicating enough time or effort to cultivating deeper real-life relationships. Too much chatter, too little real conversation.

Others counter that online social networks supplement face-to-face sociability, they don’t replace it. These people argue that we can expand our social horizons online, deepening our connections to the world around us, and at the same time take advantage of technology to make our closest relationships even closer.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, says technology is distracting us from our real-world relationships. Keith N. Hampton, who holds the Professorship in Communication and Public Policy at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, argues that technology is enriching those relationships and the rest of our social lives.

Let’s rally together and do something different. If you struggle with making new friends, try baby steps first. Try simply saying hello to someone at the grocery store. Wave to a neighbor you haven’t spoken to in a while.

A second issue is the difference between connecting and communicating. While we may have hundreds of Facebook friends—people we never would have met otherwise, with whom we can share many new things—do they really provide the kind of human interaction that is so essential to our emotional health?

Psychologists define social capital, or the benefit we derive from social interactions, in two ways: bonding and the more superficial bridging. Research shows that virtual-world friends provide mostly bridging social capital, while real-world friends provide bonding social capital.

Larry Rosen states

“For instance, in one study we found that while empathy can be dispensed in the virtual world, it is only one-sixth as effective in making the recipient feel socially supported compared with empathy proffered in the real world. A hug feels six times more supportive than an emoji.”

To be a true people person, the number of friends or connections on social media has nothing to do with the people you can influence with your day-to-day behavior. Can you add value? Can you emote empathy and support for someone in need of encouragement during a tough time? Are you genuine?

The next time a friend or co-worker expresses something personal, decide whether you are truly a people person. Or will you simply brush it aside so you can get back to posting on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s try to be a real “people person”.

How Do I Find Personal Growth?

Personal Growth

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Every year, people spend a lot of time and money learning how to work their goals; setting goals, making goals stick, and achieving their goals. I think there’s a different, more meaningful question. What about setting your sights on growth?

When was the last time the question you asked yourself was not about setting goals to do more, but being more.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth


Have you maximized your full potential? Are you capped out? Guess what? Even if you genuinely believe you are performing at the max, I guarantee you there is another level out there. Whether the metric has to do with career, family, finances, business, faith, or any other domain we live in, there is always room for growth.

Whatever your habit and process may be for goal setting each year, try changing the context. Set sights for growth. You can still get a lot done in respect to the things that normally make the goals list, but change the focus on why you are doing these things.

Set your mind for growth. You can decide to grow personally, professionally, financially, spiritually, or most any other dimension of human existence. But please think about growth.

The first most common hindrance for growing is the fear of failure. What if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I miss the mark?

Here’s the real truth. There are two kinds of fail.

TYPE A:You try. You fail. You learn from it. You try again. This isn’t really failure. This is Learning and Growing.

TYPE B:You try. You fail. You don’t learn from it. Or you learn the wrong lessons. THIS is Failure: Trying to make the unworkable work.

Cycle to reach Growth
Cycle to reach Growth

The hard part is this:When you’re in the thick of it, with muddy boots, a scratched up face and torn coat, it can be hard to tell if you’re Learning or Failing.

Here are some observations from my own experiences both Learning and Failing to help you do more of the former and less of the latter.

When you pride yourself based on who you associate with, you’re Failing.
When your pride flows from an Inner Knowing that you’re doing what you should do when you should do it, you’re Growing.

When you try to be the person other people expect you to be, you’re probably Failing.
When you slow down and figure out what you really want first, you’re Growing.

When you look for the Right Way to Succeed, you’re probably Failing.
When you study the principles to understand why things work when they do and don’t when they don’t, you’re Learning.

When you flit from one info product or teacher to another, and never really mastering what any of them can teach you, you’re Failing.
When you read, listen, and apply what you learned from one teacher before going on to another, you’re Growing.

When you worry that you are inadequate in some important way, you are Failing.
When you know that the mind game is to see how far you’ve come – and not how far you still need to go – then you’re Learning.

When you try to do it all yourself, you’re probably Failing.
When you surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you and you learn from each other and hold each other to a higher standard, you’re Growing.

When you believe the talking heads on TV, you’re probably Failing.
When you ignore them and believe those who have done what you want to be doing, you’re Learning.

When you think the problem is your spouse, you’re Failing.
When you realize you’re probably guilty of the same actions and more, you’re Learning.

When you take responsibility for things you can not control, you’re probably Failing.
When you take full responsibility for the things you can control, you’re Growing.

When you fear man and forget God, you’re Failing.
When you remember that you are here to serve God by helping your fellow man, you’re Growing.

When you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself you’re Failing.
When you hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others, you’re Learning.

When you’re busy, busy, busy and not making time to think deeply about what you really, really want… you’re Failing.
When you regularly make time to reflect. To think. To ponder. To question…. you’re Learning.

I’ve made all these mistakes and more.

And the greatest gift is to become aware of them, so we can learn the lessons and keep on moving. Set your sights on ways to grow. Growth as a person, a mentor, a leader. We all have untapped capacity that can only be realized by stretching outside of our normal day-to-day habits and beliefs.

Go for it!

[reminder]Share ways you have recently pursued growth in your own life.[/reminder]

If you’d like to talk about this idea, just let me know some times that work for you. Click HERE

Disclaimer & Attribution: Portions of this text are attributed to Dov Gordon. Dov is a friend and fellow coach/teacher. Check out his blog too.


Leadership: Pride Is a Cruel Master


Dealing with highly successful professionals has shown me a wide variety of interesting things about human nature.

Perhaps the most significant negative attribute I’ve witnessed is PRIDE. I see pride as a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways.


Pride can be a good thing when applied in the context of positive leadership as in “I am proud of my team for what they have done.” Or “I am proud (satisfied) about the things I have been able to do for this cause.”

But there is a fine line over which one steps into arrogance. Once there, pride becomes a cruel and ugly aspect of someone’s persona.


Here’s the thing about pride. No one likes to be around the bad kind for long. The smug and self-righteous kind of pride wears out the people around it very quickly. The audience doesn’t stick around for another showing.

The right kind of pride helps leaders maintain their confidence (see my prior post on this topic). Confidence is necessary to be an effective leader. If you lose confidence in yourself, those around you won’t respect you. The good kind of pride helps maintain the self-assurance that builds one’s confidence.

Well proportioned pride can be accepted by others. If they respect you as a leader, they won’t mind the demonstration of pride in things well done. But when pride turns inward and self-serving, then the tide shifts.

Attitudes wane about prideful people. The Bible goes so far as to say “pride comes before a fall.” Now that’s foreboding!

Also, pride is sometimes hubris. Look at the other words associated with HUBRIS.


The Mirror Has Two Sides

When I talk a about a topic like this, most of us immediately think about another person who is guilty of this bad practice; boastful pride. But seldom do we think about ourselves first as being the guilty party.

Funny how that works. It’s easy to think about a boss or a colleague who is rubbing you the wrong way because of pride. The signs are so easy to see.

However, when you look in the mirror, can you see any evidence of a prideful attitude (the bad kind)? Here’s a hint. If you stare in that mirror too long, you are on the edge of being prideful.

There’s a Difference

Being confident about who and what you are is radically different from being full of pride. I’m a big advocate for finding those key values and experiences from which you can draw confidence as a manager and leader. But bragging about it stinks.

Take a moment to do a self-assessment about pride. Here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Have I alienated anyone lately?
  2. How do I feel about certain key topics?
  3. Have I re-checked my values lately?
  4. Have I compromised any core principles?

Once you’ve done this step, then go further. Ask a few close friends and colleagues about your pride meter. Let them tell you whether you have gone too far lately.

If any of that is true, it is time to adjust. Make amends to those who may have been hurt by your prideful attitude. How do you do that? Admit it. You can make it a private discussion or if it involves the whole team, then have a short meeting to let them know you have reviewed your own action.

Be real about the issue. You’ll see a big bounce in loyalty from those around you.


Convicted, Conflicted, or Confused


A leader can easily find themselves in three states of mind; convicted, conflicted, or confused. Your situation may shift between the three. Each new day brings new tests and tough decisions that have to be made. In which state of mind do you usually operate?



In this context, when I use the word convicted, I am not talking about the criminal sense. The detective Lenny Briscoe on Law and Order once famously quipped when asked about his marital status “Two priors and no convictions”. That would be the legal definition.

No, convicted here means a sense of purpose. You hold a conviction about a matter. You are dedicated to the cause. You are firm in a belief. That is conviction.

People of faith find conviction in aligning with the calling of their faith. You hear them say “I am convicted to follow this principle”.

Leaders can and should be convicted about the purpose of their role, their position, and their duty. A leader without conviction of purpose is not much of a leader at all. With lack of conviction, you can be swayed from moment to moment.

Conviction can give us confidence. It becomes the core from which you operate. Maybe it’s a set of principles, not just one idea. Either way conviction gives meaning and direction. It fuels the vision leaders are supposed to have.


Being conflicted should be pretty easy to understand. You hear people say “I am torn about this subject”. Conflict suggest two sides competing for the outcome. War is euphemistically called a conflict.

At work, being conflicted means you can see both sides of an issue, but simply do not have a strong opinion one way or the other. That is a dangerous condition for a leader to be in.

Admitting to being conflicted may communicate a sense of empathy for one side or the other, but it is not a place a leader can stay for long. Decisions need to be made.

Resolving conflict requires information and analysis. Maybe it requires coaching or mentoring. Staying in conflict over a topic, whether internal to one’s self or external with the team, is not a good condition at all.


Clearly this may be the worse of all mindsets. Simply being confused means you don’t get it. You have been overrun by the facts and circumstances. Or maybe you just cannot comprehend the situation.

Confusion is ok for a little while so that you can sort out the details. However, confusion for an extended period of time often becomes chaos. When the team that reports to you sense the confusion, they will resort to their own values and answers.

Where are you?

What is your mindset right now? Are you confused? Do you need help with the details?

Or are you conflicted, trying to choose a side?

Better still, are you convicted about the purpose and direction? Can you stand firm, moving your team toward a goal, inspiring their effort all along the way?

Think about these three mindsets. You may vacillate across all three from week to week as things change. As you grow into your role as a leader, you should move across this spectrum to more routinely reside in conviction, being distracted by fewer conflicts of ideas, and seldom confused about what you need to be doing.

If that progress is not happening for you, it may be time to seek a coach or ask a mentor for input. Just know that leaders do in fact experience all three. The key question though is how long you stay in one frame or the other.

[reminder]Share your thoughts on which state you may be operating in right now.[/reminder]


Leadership Playlist Built by Experience

Great Play List

I like a good play list as much as the next guy. Tunes I pay attention to are ones that have grown in my heart and mind over the years. Artists who hit a particular chord with me stay on my list a long time. I don’t shuffle all that often. However, I am open to new songs from young, aspiring artists.

Great Play List
Great Play List

Just like a good play list, the tapestry of leadership has been woven from experience shared with mentors, old bosses, and sometimes, younger, aspiring leaders too.

I like to look back at the influences that are now colorful threads in my own tapestry of life. I find it helpful to do a look back on a regular basis. By looking back, I get a fresh renewal of ideas and values.

Who Made You Be You?

Think back on your own story. Who contributed to getting you where you are today? More importantly, who made you who you are today?

No doubt there are experiences and little bits of perspective sprinkled all across the weaving. Good and bad, do’s and don’ts, to be versus not to be.

It is the wise who can take a bad experience and learn from it. Lessons like “OK, that’s NOT something I ever want to do again” are just as valuable as the good experiences.

If you are blessed, you will have a series of people who made great contributions to shaping you to be you. Perhaps they shaped values and principles for you. Or maybe they taught valuable lessons with tangible results. Some likely helped you set personal boundaries. Was there anyone who told you about the power in YES and NO!

Revisiting the Milestones

I firmly believe there is value in revisiting the milestones in your life. Take a moment to reflect on the mentors and their lessons. Recall the details of what they were teaching you.

Renew and refresh your own understanding of those key teaching points. Remind yourself of the golden truth you may have once learned.

We get beat up in day to day living. We forget things. Or more likely, things get fuzzy in our minds. We forget the distinct edges of the key principles we once learned.

Values get compromised and worn down.

This is why taking time to reflect and renew your core beliefs and strengths is so important.

We’re a Product of our Environment

There is little denying the fact that we are the sum of our parts. Whether good or bad, the experiences from the earlier chapters of life shape us and make us become what we are today.

You can reject the bad things that happen. That is fine. Going through a particularly bad chapter in life will make you stronger if you choose to learn from that experience. Take away a lesson. Let it simmer and ruminate into a contributing element of growth.

You can choose to be bitter, but that is very counterproductive. Rather, choose to take the best possible outcome. Even if the lesson is “I never want to be that way”, it is  a lesson that can mean something significant for your own growth as a person and as a leader.

Stroll Down Memory Lane

Allow yourself to recall the best parts of the learning you’ve experienced through life. Don’t get caught up in  a pity party of lost opportunity or bad choices. Instead reflect on the things you chose to keep. The ones that made you grow. By properly aligning the right experiences, you will see a beautiful path of stepping stones.

Look at the outcome. Celebrate a win. Rejoice in victory. Use that energy to push you forward today. Let it power you through a tough time you may be experiencing right now. Realize that the sun really does come up tomorrow.

Use the best from your life’s tapestry to mold and shape your future from here forward. Hit the replay button on that play list of greatest hits. Love it, use it.

Making Things Bigger Than They Really Are

Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp

Do you sometimes make things bigger than they really are? Managers and leaders need to be on watch for overstating what is going on. More importantly, they need to throttle their internal reaction to the things around them.

The great social activist Chicken Little was quoted as saying “The sky is falling” when he had merely been struck in the head by a falling acorn.

Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp
Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp

Blowing things out of proportion can be a problem if you are the one in charge. Yes, that would be a challenge if you do it on a regular basis.

One of my clients introduced me to a new term – “catastrophizing”. This means making a situation far greater than it really is. The way we entered this discussion was talking about limiting thoughts. I had asked the client to give me some examples of limiting thoughts they suffer. While a few of the answers were the usual, this one surprised me.


As an executive, you are confronted with problems almost daily. Things happen; often not as planned. You have to field questions, hear news, and make decisions.

What if everything you were given was turned into something far more tragic? What if something someone failed to do was declared a disaster when, in fact, it is was just a setback or a simple honest mistake?

Think about the energy both emotional and physical you would spend dealing with such catastrophes.

If you act like Chicken Little you will get yourself worked into a panic. You will be running around in a frenzy, stirring up others to join your panic party. Even if you leave others out of it, your own waste of energy and emotional can conflict and confuse the situation.

[shareable cite=”Mark Twain”]There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened.[/shareable]

Why do people do this?

I don’t practice psychology, so I cannot even venture a technical argument as to why some are prone to act this way. However, I can share observation from years of experience on the job.

People who catastrophize often do so for several reasons.

  1. A Sense of Dread –  They are convinced life has been mean to them. The proverbial cup is half empty all the time. Therefore, any new event that arises must be bad. They are blinded to any possibility of a favorable outcome.
  2. Lack of Trust –  People who lose trust in mankind look at problems as people problems, all the time. Their way of thinking says the other person is the reason these things are bad.
  3. No Hope –  Theirs is a world of doom and gloom. They are convinced things are hopeless. In their minds, blue skies are really just a funny shade of gray.

Sadly, I have run into these kinds of co-workers and professionals most of my career. Thank goodness they are not everywhere, nor are they in leadership very often. But when they are, look out.

The biggest problem I see with catastrophizing is the waste of energy and resources. Whether the energy is emotional or physical, the expenditure of energy trying to avoid the catastrophe is great.

The Solution

One of the wisest words I ever heard was the phrase “The problem is not the problem.” Think about that. Whenever you are confronted with what seems like a problem, check first see if what you are being told is a problem is really the problem. Here’s an example.

Missed deadlines are usually a problem anywhere. Unless that deadline is a life or death situation, most missed deadlines are bad, but not the end of the world. Having a missed deadline, though it seems big and real, may not be the problem at all. Rather, the real problem may be with process, procedure, or people. Are the deadlines even reasonable considering the mix of the above elements? Or has someone failed at their task?

Being able to properly discern the root cause of an issue is preferable to simply catastrophizing and running around like Chicken Little.

The sky is not falling. It’s just an acorn.

The Margins in Life

Life Margin - Changing Lives

Do you think about margins in life like a business thinks about profit margins?

For business, the different between its total/gross revenue (income) and its expenses is its margin. Without margin, you can never grow. Clearly a negative margin means you are going backwards, headed to bankruptcy or liquidation.

Life Margin - Changing Lives
Life Margin – Changing Lives

Life follows a similar paradigm. While few of us think about margins in life, the dynamic is still present.

Life margins give us a better sense of balance between work, life and faith. Rather than seeking the elusive notion of life balance as its own end game, you can seek margins and a sense balance becomes a pleasant reward.

In his excellent book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life pre-scheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.

When we run at full speed all the time, we burn out. Our tanks get empty. We suffer mental and emotional breakdowns. I’m not trying to over-dramatize this issue, but talking about these extremes gets us to a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I am overwhelmed at the number of young people who, when asked “how are you doing?”, respond “I am so tired!” Is that you? I ask tired over what?

Yes, maybe you have filled your time with countless obligations to do things, running here and there. Young, growing families feel the tug of this tiredness for having chased little kids all day long. I get that (been there, done it).

Creating margin starts with better management of obligations. The first key is to say “NO” on a regular basis. Just stop taking on all the commitments that others may place on you.

Here’s why this is important

Being a man of faith, I submit to the idea that we are all here for a bigger purpose; a divine appointment. We need to be good stewards of the things God has given us. This includes not just money, but time, relationships, knowledge, and wisdom and so much more.

We all have the mandatory commitments; job, family, and perhaps church. On top of those demands, if our days are consumed with less than meaningful trivia, we are not being good stewards. Saying no to certain people and events gives us margin to use for the greater good, which, ironically, often involves other people and events.

Therefore, having margin means we still have something to give to the greater good; our family, our friends, or our communities.

When we give in this way (again, it’s not all about money) we receive the blessing of knowing others have been helped. Getting outside of ourselves and sharing life with others brings the sense of balance. It rewards you with a new found energy for life.

I was fortunate to live this path in 2008. During the U.S. financial crisis and recession, I had to close a company I had worked for 5 years to build. It was brutal both emotionally and financially. At the bottom of the trough, I chose to create a non-profit for job seekers, called Jobs Ministry Southwest (JMS). We were a non-denominational, faith based ministry. While I could have been overcome with grief about losing my company, I chose to adjust my margins. I made an intentional decision to get out of myself and do something for others.

JMS opened in September of that year. Then, over the next several years, we served over 2,500 professionals who were in transition. They had suffered life altering job loss. JMS helped them through those changes.

Creating more margin involves making some tough choices. When those choices are made for the right reasons, not selfish ones, you will be blessed by the outcome.