Being Courageous In The Workplace

Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others - Winston Churchill

Lance Secretan states that courage is the foundational ingredient required for leaders.

It takes courage to speak your truth in environments that may not be ready to hear what you say.

It takes courage to admit you don’t know the answers, to apologize, to make mistakes, to be authentic, to take the first steps towards the unknown.

It takes courage to risk rejection, to face criticism, to rise above intimidation.

A recent conversation had me thinking about courage in the workplace.

What is it about the environments that we are in that makes it so scary to be our authentic selves?

Why does it take so much courage, in so many workplaces, to be truthful?

During that conversation, I realized that I have been in something of a privileged position in the workplaces that I have functioned in.

  1. Being the “trainer” in IT departments usually means being the least technical (and therefore dumbest) person in the room. Since expectations of my understanding are low, it’s easier for me to ask what appear to be obvious questions.
  2. The environments I’ve worked have rewarded that behavior from me – if not with the usual social awards such as promotions. The reward has been in the conversations after the fact and the relationships built as a result. The one-on-one thank yous for opening up the conversation. The built reputation for being a “truth-teller.” The meetings with new executives whose first sentence is often “they told me to come talk to you.”  And, occasionally, the changes that are made to projects or policy or activities as a result.  I didn’t see this when I was in the environment. Only now, with some distance, am I seeing the rewards for what they truly are.
  3. I was lucky to be in an environment in my most recent job where I wasn’t the only truth-teller.  I have been blessed with colleagues who were masters at taking the air out of the room by exposing the elephant in it.  We had each other’s backs.  That was a blessing.  Not many people have that in their workplace.
  4. My last boss encouraged my truth-telling and helped me find the language so that the message was more palatable.
  5. In my current work, people are paying me to be courageous and tell the truth to them. It’s my job to tell people when things are going off the rails. It’s my job to help them avoid disaster, or show them how the decisions they are making may not lead to the outcomes they expect.
  6. Since I’m also working as an outsider, it’s easier for me to be truthful.  I don’t have promotions or bonuses on the line.
  7. I’ve concluded that it is more important to me to work with people and organizations who are willing to engage openly and authentically than it is to keep a client no matter what.  I am the scarce resource.

I’ve come to recognize that it is easier in some environments to be courageous than in others.

It’s easier to be courageous when you aren’t gunning for promotion and you have people in the environment who have your back.

It’s easier to be courageous when you have immediate managerial support and you are working from a place of inspiration.

The next question – how can we create those environments for others?

Overwhelmed by busywork?

Want more time to focus on the things that are most important to you?

Join the Flowbox – a subscription service containing short videos, tools, and templates to help you overcome overwhelm, reduce meaningless busywork, and find flow in your work and your life.

Use the coupon betatestmonthly for 20% off the first 6 months of your subscription.

10% of all subscription fees received through December 31, 2018, will go to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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#52books The Spark, The Flame, and The Torch

#52 Books – The Spark, the Flame, and the Torch:Inspire Self. Inspire Others. Inspire the World. (Amazon affiliate link)

Format: Kindle

“Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it” Ernest Holmes

Lance Secretan argues that we are now seeing in our economy and our workspaces exactly what we have been thinking. And it’s not working.

“Our social and corporate cultures have developed into ones that brilliantly reward the metrics of performance while overlooking the measures of the heart, and this has caused an evaporation of inspiration.”

So what?

People want to be inspired.

Inspiration, Secretan argues, is a result of a leader who is clear about WHY they are here (Destiny), how they will BE while they are here (Character) and what they have been called to DO (Calling).

“There are two givens that we all share:

  • Our passion is drawn to the things that excite us – positively and negatively
  • At our core, we all yearn to serve and improve the world”

Inspiring others means serving others.

Motivating others, as Secretan defines it, means serving self.

Practically everything we talk about in business and education is about “motivating”.

How do I get others to do X?

Secretan wants us to look within first and get clear on your destiny, character, and calling.  Then demonstrate that through your moment-to-moment interactions and consistent action.

He then moves out into the corporate environment and provides a few techniques for developing an inspirational vision for your organization.

For an inspirational vision to work, leaders need to prioritize employees, then customers, then shareholders (think Disney, Southwest Airlines, Nordstroms).  Too many organizations, Secretan noted, focus on shareholders first, then customers, and then (maybe) employees.

Secretan wrote that well before the recent tax law changes. In multiple surveys and summits, the majority of CEOs planned to spend the money for stock buybacks and dividends or mergers and acquisitions. Investing in the company (capital spend) or its workers was not as high a priority.

We’re hitting a point in our economy where having your own company and being a shareholder (no matter how small) is more secure, less soul-sucking, and has a higher probability of financial remuneration than being an employee somewhere.  This includes the risks involved in starting your own business.

The knowledge workers who these organizations need to grow and thrive in today’s environment are coming to that conclusion themselves.  Many of them are pro-actively deciding to go independent.  By 2020, more than 40% of US workers will be independent and that number will grow rapidly.

If you are in a leadership position, Secretan has provided a toolkit to help you staunch the bleeding of your best talent and become the leader that talent needs you to be.

It starts with you.

Values at Work

I’ve been reading a lot of leadership literature recently. A theme keeps appearing.


Personal values.

Define the values you want to live by. Use them as the foundation for your career and leadership style.

Typically, they will define the values you should follow for you.

And some will focus on how to get others to share those values.

Interestingly, I haven’t been in too many workplaces where values are deeply discussed – beyond “You really ought to have these values.”

  1. I don’t know how many people have deeply thought about the values they hold.  There’s not much in our society that encourages this.
  2. If they have thought about values, it’s more because someone has told them they should hold these values vs. questioning why they hold these values and whether the values they are holding (that they may have gotten from elsewhere) still work for them. Again, there is not much encouragement in our society for this level of reflection.
  3. If they are confident in the values they hold, their workplace is not a safe place to discuss these values.  Especially if the values they hold contradict either the stated values or the behavioral values.

I’m thinking that helping to cultivate a safe environment for deeply reflecting on, then sharing, personal values is key.

If I’m going to try and create this space for someone else, this looks like questioning, staying curious, and being open to the answer.

Most importantly, not trying to shift someone else’s values to look like mine.

I’m thinking more 1-1 time, being clear and open about the values I hold, and doing my best to deeply listen is part of it too.

What are the values you hold?

Why do you hold them?

What does a safe space for discussing values look like to you?

Want more time to focus on the things that are most important to you?

Join the Flowbox – a subscription service containing short videos, tools, and templates to help you overcome overwhelm, reduce meaningless busywork, and find flow in your work and your life.

Use the coupon betatestmonthly for 20% off the first 6 months of your subscription.

10% of all subscription fees received through December 31, 2018, will go to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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Worry and Disasterizing

Just stop worrying. Really.

from Sarah’s Scribbles

I don’t know about you, but there seems to be an awful lot of “danger” in the environment today.

Purposeful instability and insecurity have been designed into many of our organizations – often in the name of “agility.”

Noise and exposure have been designed into many of our working environments – often in the name of “collaboration.”

The fear-mongering in our society seems shriller and inescapable.

The demands for our attention are higher, greater and louder.

Is it any wonder that more than 300 million people suffer from depression and more than 260 million people suffer from anxiety globally? (2017 World Health Organization study)

1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness in a given year. 

A …given…YEAR.

My suspicion is that the number is higher – given that less than 20% of Americans with moderate depressive symptoms seek help or say anything and less than 41% of adults with ANY mental health issue sought help. (Fortune, October 2017)

I’m beginning to think that anxiety, depression, and PTSD – rather than being mental illnesses – are really humane reactions to the environment we have created for ourselves.

I’m beginning to think that anxiety, depression, and PTSD are appropriate reactions to the major and minor traumas we experience, often on a daily basis.

I’m glad that there are now conversations about de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Maybe we should start having conversations about creating environments and workplaces that don’t trigger anxiety, depression, and PTSD in the first place?

Maybe we should start having conversations about developing relationships built on support, respect and, dare I say it, love, regardless of the context?

Overwhelmed by busywork?

Want more time to focus on the things that are most important to you?

Join the Flowbox – a subscription service containing short videos, tools, and templates to help you overcome overwhelm, reduce meaningless busywork, and find flow in your work and your life.

Use the coupon betatestmonthly for 20% off the first 6 months of your subscription.

10% of all subscription fees received through December 31, 2018, will go to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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My Why

This is the original TED talk for Start with Why.  If you have not seen this before, it is worth 20 minutes of your time.

Before I left my last job, I watched many highly skilled employees drop out.

These are the types of folks that employers say they want – intrinsically motivated, hard-working, intelligent, and creative.

These are people that have in-demand skills and knowledge.

The people that employers say they can’t find and there aren’t enough of.

These employees dropped out to pursue other interests in things not having to do with computers.

These employees dropped out because they were tired of the politics and the pushing and the treadmill.

Some went into real estate, or started their own business, or joined up with friends.

And if they didn’t drop-out physically, many dropped out mentally. Burned out.

Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace found that 85% of workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their jobs.  That means that only 15% of workers are engaged at all!

And who can blame them?  A 2016 Korn Ferry study of 800 CEOs discovered

Two-Thirds of CEOs Believe Technology Will Be Their Firm’s Greatest Competitive Advantage–Nearly Half Say Robotics, Automation and AI Will Make People ‘Largely Irrelevant’

Is it any wonder that many of our workplaces have become inhumane?  We have leadership who don’t want us there.

Furthermore, many organizational cultures purposefully attract and feed on the insecurity of over-achievers.

Does anyone else see anything wrong?

When I started my business, I discovered very quickly that my ideal customer looks a lot like my friends.

These folks are middle-aged, in middle-management or are senior individual contributors, and have been around the block a few times with a few different organizations.

They aren’t success-driven, political, ladder-climbers.

They want to create cool things, serve their clients and customers well, and keep their head above water.

They are overwhelmed with conflicting and competing demands that make no sense.

They are frustrated by tasks that never end and new tasks that keep piling up along with the expectation that they continue to do all of the old stuff too.

They are concerned about the lack of opportunities for professional development and being left behind because they are too busy doing their jobs.


My friends deserve better.  The vast majority of the knowledge workforce deserves better.

And I am going to openly admit that I am losing patience with executive complaints that they “can’t find people.”

Chances are, what you want is under your nose and desires to become that person.

Are you going to give them the time, space, focus, and opportunities to become the people you claim you are looking for?

Are you valuing what you already have?

My personal “why” (in the format: To ___ so that____)

To use my personal experience so that I can support others and help them find personal success in whatever environment they find themselves in.

And if that means helping them flee, I’m cool with that.

Do you want to reduce your current level of overwhelm?

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I hope you can join me on this journey! 



Flow-Friendly Environments

8 characteristics of flow

These are Csikszentmihaly’s 8 Characteristics of Flow

We can influence environment

We cannot MAKE someone experience Flow.

They have to do that for themselves.

I think we approach many of our change initiatives the wrong way.

We seem to be focused on changing behavior.

We don’t ask whether what we are doing is going to help provide the environment to encourage that behavior change.

  • Can they concentrate?  How many other activities are you having people do at the same time?  Is it additive? Are you subtracting ANYTHING? Or is it just “MORE.”  How much “multitasking” are you asking people to do?
  • Have you provided them clarity or at least a sense of direction?  How often does your goal change?  Do your changing goals, combined, lead somewhere – or are you still running in circles?  Do your people have any chance of succeeding?
  • Will they have some semblance of control over the new tasks?  My assumption is that you hired them because they know what they are doing or can learn quickly.
  • Are you giving them the space and the time to learn new skills so you can take on new challengesAre you complaining that your workers don’t have the skills, then not investing in the people you have? How much is it costing you to attract, recruit, and onboard new workers who come in with the skills?  How much productivity are you losing as you onboard your new employees (because that takes resources from your existing employees)?

We can’t force anyone to internally experience anything.  Why not focus on creating the right environment?


Let me help you visualize your work-in-process!

Subscribe to the newsletter and I will send you a free PDF to help you with personal prioritization.

I hope you can join me on this journey!

The Faulty Assumption of Control

Autopsy of a Failed Holacracy: Lessons in Justice, Equity, and Self-Management

The assumption behind any change model is “I can change you.”

No wonder projects fail and people are resentful.

We approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else.

Worse is when we approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else, but I don’t have to change myself.

People are going to see right through that.

In a recent Non-Profit Quarterly article outlining a failed holacracy initiative, the author identified three assumptions within that model that can easily make the actual execution of Holacracy de-humanizing:

  1. That maximizing autonomy and coordinating behavior (emphasis mine) is central to good governance
  2. That explicit, linear, and reproducible meeting structures and language is preferred
  3. The system provides space for everyone to have and use power

The problem with each of these assumptions:

  • Good luck with “coordinating behavior”, especially if you are not willing to walk the talk yourself.
  • Those structures and that language usually wind up becoming another set of acronyms and code-words that few people understand.
  • The same people who tend to go after power will be the same people who have power in this structure.  There is nothing inherently in the structure (or in any structure) that equalizes how people experience power in its various forms.

My assumption is that an organization is a networked group of individuals and that culture derives from the interactions between these individuals and how the environment influences individual behavior.

The only thing we should attempt to influence is the environment the individuals work within – much like fertilizing and mulching a garden so that your plants can thrive.

What are you working with now?

  1. What are the characteristics of the people who “hold power” in the organization?
  2. How is your organization currently treating people who act autonomously?  Is it encouraged? Discouraged?  Is it encouraged verbally and discouraged behaviorally?
  3. What is your percentage of aggressive go-getters vs quieter thinkers and how are each of these groups treated?
  4. What environmental changes can you make to make your organization more inclusive?  Are there policies that need changing? Do different people need to be in leadership positions? Do the working environments accommodate different working needs?

Let me help you visualize your work-in-process!

Subscribe to the newsletter and I will send you a free PDF to help you with personal prioritization.

I hope you can join me on this journey!

#52books The Art of Living

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It’s been awhile since I have studied Ancient Greek philosophy.  When I was studying it, as part of my graduate studies in History, we didn’t spend much time on the Stoics.  Much of my time was spent with Asclepius, Hippocrates, Galen, and the other characters in Ancient Greek medicine.

The Art of Living is an interpretation of a translation of transcribed discourses from Epictetus.

The book is easy to read and easy to pick up and put down. Strict translations from the original Ancient Greek text tend towards painful reading.

You can see the gist of some key ideas that have carried over into modern day thinking.

  • Control what you can, accept what you can’t. (Serenity prayer, anyone?)
  • You are responsible for your thoughts.
  • Don’t adopt other people’s views as your own.
  • Clearly define the person you want to be.
  • You can choose how you respond.
  • Harmonize your actions with the way life is. Don’t try to make your own rules.
  • Appreciate what you have.
  • Happiness is within.
  • Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

From this interpretation, I can see why Stoicism and Epictetus are going through a resurgence in popularity among the entrepreneurial set.  Many of the messages have been passed down through the business/sales arm of the self-help community for generations.

The academic in me is “this close” to grabbing and reading a more literal translation of Epictetus’ discourses.  The inner academic would like to see how muddied the message is in today’s translations of Stoic philosophy.  Then there is the (larger) part of me that knows it has much better things to do than slog through literal English translations of Ancient Greek.

This translation/interpretation of Epictetus strikes me as a decent start.  If nothing else, I’d put this in the category of “distraction book” – something you can pick up and put down easily in short stints, close the cover, and feel just a bit better for having spent time with it.

The Whirlwind

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors talk about the whirlwind – or “your day job.”

As I read the book, I had a nagging thought…

I think they are letting executives off the hook.

Why aren’t they asking what the executives are willing to give up to go after the wildly important goal?

Conversations around projects are about getting the project done.

I don’t see many questions about what life is going to look like AFTER it’s done.

Get the project done. Celebrate (maybe). Move on to the next thing.

Then they wonder why they aren’t seeing the expected business benefits.

Furthermore, projects are often conceived and expected on top of everything people are already doing.

The cult of “more.”

Do more. Have more. More productivity. More “lines of business.” More customers. More services. More more more!

Oh yeah, and with the exact same resources.

Then they wonder why their best employees leave and the rest have crummy attitudes on a good day.

They wonder why they can’t reach their goal.

No focus.

You keep adding.

You don’t provide any wiggle room to allow your people to adjust.

How adaptable are YOU when you are stressed out and tired?

And if you answer “very adaptable” – time to get an outside opinion. You likely won’t like what you hear.

The authors imply that by focusing on implementing the 4 disciplines and a wildly important goal with appropriate measures, focus takes care of itself.

And it might.

I think we can do more.

If we are leading a team, the least we can do is help that team gain some bandwidth to adjust to change.

Their resistance is valid.

Are you just adding on?

We need to do the hard, uncomfortable work of setting new boundaries, determining what activities need to stop, and saying “no.”

Let me help you create clarity around your goals, certainty about what to do, and demonstrate your value.

Sign up below for a free PDF containing a personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.

I hope you can join me on this journey!


#52books The 4 Disciplines of Execution

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#52 Books  – The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

Format: Kindle

There will always be more good ideas than the capacity to implement.

I’m tempted to stick this quote on the back of my business card.


Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling and Jim Stuart at FranklinCovey spent years developing and implementing this model of execution.

Their 4 disciplines are straightforward:

  1. Focus on the wildly important
  2. Act on the lead measures
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard
  4. Create a cadence of accountability

Straightforward, but not easy.

And, as with any sound change practice, the disciplines require steady, consistent effort to implement successfully.

They recognize the enemy of successful execution is the “Whirlwind”, i.e. your day job and the urgencies that appear necessary to sustain your business.  If you can’t focus on the wildly important, the other three disciplines won’t help you.

As they put it numerous times in the book:

The most important contribution a senior leader can make is to remain focused on the wildly important goal and resist the allure of your next great idea. (emphasis mine)

They recognized that the people who tend to rise to leadership positions are also the type of people who are creative and ambitious.  The type of people who are hard-wired to take on too much and, because they are in a leadership position, have their staff take on too much.

They also recognized that leaders like to hedge their bets and position themselves, and their team, such that people can’t question the level of effort.  Busy looks good.

Nothing is more counter-intuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.

How many of these 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) implementations failed because their clients couldn’t find the discipline of focus?


They kept avoiding the “whirlwind.”  Throughout the book, I hoped they would ask, “Is what you are doing in the whirlwind truly necessary?”

They stated that a focus on wildly important goals might help narrow the size and complexity of the whirlwind.  It was obvious, however, that they were keeping day-to-day operations out of scope.

They never asked about what was happening in the whirlwind.

Why did they keep skirting around the thing that was likely to derail their model?

I’m going to talk more about this book in the next couple of posts and try to unpack that.

I hope you can join me on this journey!