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Make it Happen

As a leader who coaches top talent every single day, I am often asked the question: “What is the secret to your success?” Every time I am asked, I am reminded of the words I so often heard from one of the most impactful leaders I ever encountered:

“Make it happen, Private Hughes! Make it happen!” –Drill Sergeant Butler

These words that once tortured me are now my Holy Grail of success. Hence, my response is always those three words – Make. It. Happen.


Army Basic Training is a reprogramming of sorts. You are taught the importance of leadership, discipline, and a variety of other things (ex: pushups!), but Basic Training’s most important lesson is really one of eliminating the artificial limits that we all place on ourselves. These limits are not apparent to any of us until we blow through them, set the new ones, and then blow through those…and so on.

A great example of this is dreaded 25km road march – one of many elements of Basic that teaches you to see beyond your artificial limits. For the 25km road march, you start out before daylight with a 60lb rucksack on your back, a canteen on your hip, and an M16 assault rifle in your hands. And then you march…fast…very fast…in formation.

As the miles wear on, your mind feverishly tries to convince you that there is no way for you to continue. But you do. Your feet are bleeding (literally), and you are reduced to tears as you see the next seemingly endless hill come into view. But you somehow finish…not only with a sense of accomplishment, but with a kernel of perspective that will grow into an understanding of what your true potential really is.


In short…everything. Another leader (Brian Kibby) who has had an extraordinary impact on me often points out that most people will never reach their true potential. I completely agree, largely because of the artificial limits we all place on ourselves. These limits are toxic, success-killing cancers that have a profound impact on our ability to achieve our dreams. Success really comes down to three words: Make. It. Happen. Nobody else can make it happen for us, and the world owes us nothing. Period.

In business, the most successful people are the ones who simply make it happen…regardless of the obstacles in the way, regardless of the effort required, and regardless of the sacrifice. Real success starts with the core belief that you can (quite literally) accomplish anything, and it can only be achieved by incorporating the all too often missing ingredient – action. It all starts with placing one foot in front of the other, with constant correction to stay on course.

Do you want to achieve your true potential? Follow these three steps to Make It Happen:

  1. Maintain an optimistic attitude. The second you go negative, all success will cease. Period. This means no complaining (ever), and always being success and solutions oriented. It also means eliminating those around you who are negative, as they will drag you down.
  2. Action. The greatest secret to accomplishing any dream or goal is to get to work on it. Not by thinking about it, but by acting. You can course correct as needed, so don’t wait until you have all the answers to start acting. Start right now!
  3. Remove all artificial limits. This sounds harder than it is. Here’s my simple recipe – anytime I feel like quitting, I just keep going. The moment I quit, my artificial limits have won. There are very few things that are actually legitimate reasons to quit. If you think you’ve hit one, email me and we can discuss ways around it.

While the above seems simple, it is certainly not easy. As are all things – it is ultimately up to you. Make. It. Happen.

Lead. Courageously.

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Follow me @doughughes3


Leadership - Think Less

This is going to sound crazy, but…when making leadership decisions, it is often best to minimize the use of your brain. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, let’s take a quiz. Answer all questions instinctively and truthfully.

1.) A relatively new employee wants to take vacation during a time that is not in the best interest of the business or its customers. However, this individual’s family has already paid for the vacation and it is the only chance that she will have this year for the vacation with her entire family. If you deny her request, she is likely to resign. What do you do?

A) Provided you can cover her work, make an exception and let her go. She is in an important job, and her resigning is worse than being out for a week.

B) Deny the request for vacation, as it is well known that there is a no vacation policy at the time she is requesting it.

C) Tell her to make up an excuse, such as a family wedding, for why she is out so you can justify letting her go.

2.) You issue a challenge to your team to have all open positions filled by the end of the year, as having zero open positions in January is critical to your success. Furthermore, your boss is evaluating you based on your ability to accomplish this goal. In late December, you are conducting a final interview on a candidate that has made it through a very rigorous 9-step process with your team. During your interview, you spot a couple of potential red flags with the candidate. What do you do?

A) Reject this candidate, thereby missing your objective of being fully staffed by the end of the year, upsetting the hiring managers that put the candidate forward, and disappointing your boss.

B) Make a short-term decision for the sake of meeting your immediate business objectives of having a fully staffed team and deal with the issue during a time when there is less business risk for carrying open positions.

C) Ignore the red flags you sensed, as those that interviewed the candidate before you would have caught them if there was something to be seriously concerned about.

3.) You are at an annual awards banquet wherein you award performance for the previous year. It was an exceptionally tough year, but there are lots of awards to hand out; however, none of the senior leaders on your team achieved goal…but one clearly outperformed all other senior leaders. What do you do?

A) Pick the person that performed the best on the team and award that person with a top performer award, as that truly is the top performer on your team.

B) Do not present an award to anyone on your senior leadership team, and risk upsetting and potentially losing the individual that clearly performed the best.

C) Award the person who performed best on your team during the awards banquet, but acknowledge that he/she did not actually achieve goal for the year.

4.) You are in a senior leadership position managing a large team in a large organization laden with bureaucracy, process, and policies, and you are asked to complete a major task that will distract your entire leadership team during the busiest, most critical time of the year. This is your first year in the job, and every single person before you has been able to get this task done during this same timeframe. What do you do?

A) Comply with the request to complete the task during the historical time frame, as that’s clearly the way it has always been done. You do not want your name to be the only one on the list for not getting it done.

B) Submit a formal request for changing the task during future years, register your discontent with the timing, and just get it done this year as requested.

C) Make the decision not to complete the task in the given timeframe, and instead elect to complete it later in the year when the timing makes more sense…and assume all professional risk associated with this decision.

How did you do? Here are my answers – 1) B. 2) A. 3) B. 4) C.

These are hard questions to answer, especially when emotion is involved. As leaders, we confront similar situations every single day. If we overthink them, we will undoubtedly make mistakes.

Let me be clear about something – When I suggest to think less, I’m talking leadership, not business strategy. Basic leadership decisions should not be very academic in nature. Most leadership mistakes occur when the brain (or emotion) is given primary governance, rather than strong leadership principles. Here’s my hypothesis – principled leadership reduces the amount of brain needed to make day-to-day leadership decisions, as your core leadership principles inform and govern most decisions; consequently, your brain is less likely to “talk you into” bad ones.

“But wait! I use my brain all the time and it doesn’t talk me into bad decisions!” Perhaps, but I’d wager you are making mistakes on the most basic of leadership decisions if you are relying on your brain, rather than strong core leadership principles.

Here are my core principles – they govern 90% or more of all leadership decisions I make…and they are especially useful when making the tough ones.

1.) Achieving Goals/Driving Results. Above all else, most jobs are about results. There are all sorts of things that can distract from achieving results, and we must be vigilant about keeping all distractions out of the way. I used this one to make the decision on #1 and #4 (above).

2.) Rewarding Top Performance. I hold rewarding of top performers very dear, and only top performers. I will not compromise on this core value. I used this one to make my decision on #1 and #3 (above).

3.) Never Settle On Talent. Of all of my core leadership principles, this is easily the most critical. Whether it is a hiring decision or a tough firing decision, I will never settle for anything less than excellence when it comes to talent. Ever. Many people lack discipline on this principle…and they do so to their inevitable demise. I used this one to make my decision on #2 (above).

There you have it – my core leadership principles. Without these guiding principles, I would have undoubtedly made different decisions on the four scenarios at the beginning of this post. By the way – they were all real decisions I faced within the last year.

Given that we do not lead in a vacuum, it is critical that your team is aligned on whatever set of core leadership principles make the most sense for you and your business. Take a full day with your team (offsite, if possible) to discuss and establish your own, as you have to be very deliberate about such things to achieve consensus…and, ultimately, success as a leadership team.

Please respond with the core leadership principles that you hold most dear; I’d love to see them.

Lead. Courageously.

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Holding Others Accountable

Last week, I was confronted by Airrion – someone who knew who I was, but that I’d never met. As soon as the pleasantries and the introduction were behind us, she got right down to business. Yes, she had a bone to pick with me. Her chief complaint (challenge) was that she and her team have grown accustom to reading my blog, to which I normally post new articles every 1-2 weeks. However, it has been over a month since my last post (oops!), and she made it a point to hold me accountable for that. She also inspired me to break my silence and write this piece.

Thank you, Airrion!

As I walked away from our brief encounter, I was immediately thankful for the courage Airrion demonstrated in confronting me and holding me accountable. Especially as leaders, we have a fundamental responsibility to teach and develop others as often as possible, and we must be extremely disciplined about following through on our commitments to others. In this case, I had made an implied commitment to post new articles frequently…one that I am recommitting to at this very moment. One that Airrion, as well as countless others, are evaluating me on every single day.

As I reflect on this issue of holding each other accountable, I am reminded of a time when, as a relatively junior member of our company, I stepped into the middle of a political match between two Presidents. While that may not seem very smart, I earned a great deal of respect and trust for doing it…because I was right.

These two individuals were at war with each other and they were putting their selfish battles on display for the entire company to see. Whereas most people did something between cheering, spectating, and ignoring, I chose the path to hold them accountable as leaders. I pulled them both aside, let them know I was disappointed in their behavior, and encouraged them to keep their petty politics out of the day-to-day business of our organization. Risky? You bet. But it worked. As a general rule, holding each other accountable almost always does.

Holding those around you accountable can be very difficult for many people; however, it doesn’t have to be. Here are my tips for creating a culture of courageous accountability:

#1 – Keep Your Commitments. This seems simple, but it is the most often violated principle of success and leadership. Commitments are easy to make, and they are even easier to break. Be disciplined about the commitments you do make, and ensure that you do everything possible to keep them.

#2 – It Takes A Village. No matter how hard you try to abide by #1, you will never succeed alone. We live in a world more dynamic and challenging than at any time before, and there is absolutely no shame in accepting (even asking for) help every day. In fact, there is only harm in not doing so. The next time you hold someone accountable (or vice-versa), remember this – it takes a village. He who tries to do it alone, will always be just that…alone.

#3 – It Is Never Personal. If someone challenges you by holding you accountable for something you committed to (or to a behavioral standard/ethic), always remember that it is never personal. In fact, the more personal it feels, the more right that person likely is. Being held accountable is a gift, and you should always treat it as such.

#4 – Own It. There is no better way to handle a courageous accountability challenge than simply owning it. Thank the person for holding you accountable, and spend your energy on getting back on track. Just owning the accountability will undoubtedly set you apart as a leader, and it will make those around you feel comfortable helping you by holding you accountable. Remember #2 and #3, and this one is easy.

As with all things, discussing and living by the courageous accountability tips above is the only way to make it work. Consider openly discussing the above as a key cultural value on your team, and you will undoubtedly reap the benefits.

As I write these final lines, I am reminded of the greatest gift of accountability – I feel so much better for getting back on track. Thank you, Airrion, for your Courageous Leadership.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


Leadership and Enemies

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” –Sun Tzu (adapted)

Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for Sun Tzu (The Art of War). Not only was he a brilliant strategist, he was also a brilliant teacher. BUT…every time I hear this quote in business, it gives me pause. Perhaps it is less about the quote and its original intent, and more about the way I hear it tossed about carelessly in offices, hallway conversations, and business circles around the globe.

Have we really become such political animals with our D.C.- style agendas that we would dare to adopt this way of thinking in business? Unlike in war, your first step should be to minimize your enemies…not by killing them, but by finding like agendas and working together. War is destructive, and this is especially true in business.

Let me be clear – I fully appreciate the war that businesses wage against their competitors, and I am not debating the merits of that. In fact, I relish in it, as we all should want to inflict as much “damage” on our competitors as possible. But that’s just the point – the cannons should always be pointed out…for if they are not, they can only inflict internal damage.

Back to the point…I am addressing the way I hear this quote most often used – as an internal business strategy for dealing with political opponents. I realize that making friends with all of your internal opponents is not feasible, as that is just the way of the world. Politics are everywhere, and they only thicken as you accumulate more responsibility. Perhaps I am being too literal here, but there is no way I would want an internal opponent closer than my friends. To me, this is simply unthinkable. Here’s why:

  1. Authenticity. I firmly believe that authenticity is a secret weapon. Most people are not comfortable just being themselves, even though to do so is seen, felt, and appreciated by all. Being an authentic leader is a core value of mine, and I am uncompromising on this issue. Pretending that an enemy is someone I want to be best buddies with flies in the face of authenticity, so I refuse to do it.
  2. Respect for my friends. If my friends see me making choices to place my enemies above them, they would take that as an affront to our friendship. As a result, we would likely not be friends for much longer. As friends, we have earned a certain amount of respect from one another, which must be treated accordingly, lest my friends become my enemies.
  3. Safety. As I see it, allowing my enemies closer proximity to me only means they will “stab” me sooner. I have learned this lesson time and time again. Getting too close to my opponents does nothing but give them more opportunity to distort and use things that I say (or that they make up) against me. No thanks.

Does this mean that you completely ignore your opponents as if they do not exist? Of course not! I am merely suggesting that you acknowledge them for what they are – your enemy. Don’t take it personally, and treat them accordingly…respectfully, but never disingenuously. For if you are disingenuous even once, your enemy is not the only one who is watching…everyone else is as well.

Courageous Leaders are not lured into compromising their core values for the sake of personal or political gain. Take the high road, believe in yourself, and don’t fall prey to those who seek to ensnare you in political maneuvers. Rather, pour your energy into being better than your opponents by demonstrating real results.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies…just close enough.

Lead. Courageously.

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Leadership and the Status Quo

A sales leader (Chad) on my team recently shared with me a quote from his college basketball coach – “There is no such thing as status quo; you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”

Chad’s words hit me like a ton of bricks, as they apply to everything from personal growth and development to business process to product strategy. Change, growth, development, and improvement wait for no one. If you stay the same, the rest of the world will continue to improve around you. Hence, you will actually be getting worse…not staying the same.

Think of it like this:

 Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.05.54 PM

As you can see, a status quo strategy results in a significant competitive gap. In fact, after considering this idea further, it is prudent to view the above in a slightly different way.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.10.03 PM

I am sure you noticed the change in orientation of the lines, but did you also notice the change made to the Y Axis label? Unless you have a specific business reason and plan in place for addressing the competitive (and revenue) gap resulting from status quo, you better rethink any and all status quo strategies before it’s too late.

Perhaps what I am saying here seems painfully obvious, but here’s the catch – most organizations do not even know they are employing a status quo strategy. In fact, my money says that you can think of plenty of areas in your organization that substantiate this assertion.

We typically fall into the status quo mindset by accident as our natural human instinct to protect all that we hold dear kicks in. As we become increasingly comfortable with our surroundings, we tend to hold them more and more precious. In other words, we are, at our core, creatures of habit. We are naturally seduced by keeping things the same…even when they are in obvious need of transformation.

Why on earth would we accept the status quo? Here are a few reasons:

We get used to it. Think about the dent in your car that becomes virtually invisible to you once it’s been there for a while, or the repair that needs to be done on your home. We get used to these things that are in obvious need of repair because they become familiar to us. It is far more work to actually fix than it is to just ignore it. This is our natural coping mechanism, which very often works against us.

Change is frightening. As humans, we are wired to seek out and embrace familiarity. We learn this as babies, as our mother’s familiar touch soothes and comforts us. Even years later, familiar smells and surroundings take us back to a place of comfort. Stepping out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar is often an unnatural, uncomfortable act, so we tend to avoid it.

Risk. Businesses are chock-full of people who are mostly interested in minimizing risks, not taking them. In fact, the forces of risk mitigation are so strong in most organizations that new ideas for innovation often get shut down before they ever have a chance to fully develop. The status quo represents safety and certainty, while changes to it represent risk and uncertainty. Hence, change and innovation are often avoided until the pain gets so intense that change is the only viable option. Unfortunately, this is far too often too late.

I am basically saying that accepting the status quo is a normal human condition, and that we are actually wired this way. Does that mean that we should just accept this way of thinking and move on because it is normal? Absolutely not! After all, who wants to be normal?

A friend and mentor of mine taught me that talent, culture, and strategy (in that order) represent the recipe for success in business. As it turns out, the same three principles (in the same exact order) are your best bet for eradicating the status quo from your organization.

Upgrade your talent. Attracting new talent into the organization is the fastest way to bring about swift and meaningful change. Strike a balance between promoting within and attracting talented people with new ideas/perspectives from the outside. Rarely is change brought about so quickly as when new leaders join an organization, as they are free from the aforementioned reasons that lead to status quo thinking.

Change your culture. As leaders, we are directly accountable for the culture of our teams/organizations. If your organization is not actively and aggressively pursuing change, you must first look in the mirror. Are you truly making change a cultural priority, or do you personally accept the status quo? Healthy cultures that embrace change and push the business envelope are hard to create, and even harder to maintain.

Change your strategy. Once you have the right talent and the right culture, be certain that your business strategy is one that drives constant change and innovation. If you are not directly driving change in your business via your vision and strategic direction, the forces of status quo will bare down on you like a pack of hungry wolves. Free your team from the business-as-usual shackles by setting strategic priorities to innovate and blaze new and interesting trails.

“Let’s just maintain the status quo for now.” If you speak these words in today’s world of fast and dramatic change, they may very well be your last.

Lead. Courageously.

Follow me on Twitter @doughughes3


High Pos

High (adj) – Exceeding the common degree or measure.

Potential (adj) – Capable of being or becoming.

In the professional world, we frequently refer to top performers with significant upward mobility as “Hi-Po’s” (short for high potentials). Today’s post is fueled by the reality that every one of us has the ability to be a Hi-Po – in our lives and in our careers.

One might fall into the self-limiting way of thinking that only certain people, who have certain pedigrees and/or family networks, are Hi-Po’s. This could not be farther from the truth. While every single one of us will not actually achieve greatness, we all have the potential to.

Allow me to use an example: Brian Kibby.


Age – 47

Occupation – President, McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Record – Stellar

Education – Western Illinois University (far from Ivy League)

Got His Start – Private, United States Army

Family Background – Humble beginnings

Brian’s background is average. However, his achievements thus far in life are nothing short of spectacular. Why? Because Brian dreams big for himself, and he dedicates himself to excellence.

I was recently reading a Forbes column by one of the most renowned leadership experts in the world, and I happened upon a list of ten leaders who are CEO-ready. Guess whose name I found on this list? Brian Kibby’s.

Most people have never had their name mentioned in Forbes, much less with a picture in a column proclaiming they are one of ten CEO-ready leaders.

Congratulations, Brian, on achieving greatness thus far, with even more greatness to come. More importantly, thank you for inspiring greatness in countless others, and for reminding us that we can all be Hi-Po’s…provided we are willing to work for it.

Lead. Courageously.

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A Lesson In Leading (And Following) From Migratory Geese

Follow the Leader

At least a couple of times a year, most people in the United States catch a glimpse of migratory geese. As climate, food, and habitat conditions change, these birds make the journey either north or south – depending on the season. So what can we learn from these migratory geese? As it turns out, a lot!

Migratory geese fly in the famous V formation. The bird at the front of the V is the leader, and he/she is taking the brunt of the wind drag for the entire formation. The result – dramatically improved range by reducing the drag on the entire flock.

Here’s how it works:

  • The lead bird cuts through the air and assumes the brunt of the drag produced by the wind.
  • The rest of the birds are perfectly spaced so that the wind drag is reduced by up to 65%.
  • The birds flying at the front and at the tips (back ends) of the formation are rotated regularly to reduce fatigue.
  • As a result, the entire flock can increase their range by up to 71%!

NOTE – This exact technique is used in military flight missions for precisely the same purpose…to increase the range of the formation, as well as to maintain visibility and coordination.

Lesson 1 – Leadership

Far too often we associate leadership with a position of power and/or authority, but this is a grave mistake. Every person in every organization has the opportunity to be a leader…literally every single day. The migratory geese provide us a great example of this, as well as the power a culture of leadership yields to an entire team or organization.

As soon as the lead bird fatigues, one of the other birds systematically (and without complaint) takes over. As a result of this focus on the team and leadership, the birds are able to fly up to 71% farther! Imagine what your team could accomplish if you were able to go 71% farther than you otherwise would have. Imagine beating your competition by 71! A culture of leadership, while requiring lots of hard work and nurturing, yields these kinds of results.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – Cultivating a culture of leadership requires lots of effort and commitment, but it is actually straightforward. Frequently challenge those on your team to lead key initiatives or projects, make it cultural that everyone presents/challenges ideas, and constantly seek out opportunities to give everyone the opportunity to lead at the next level. Not only does this develop leadership ability and increase job satisfaction, but it also creates one of the Holy Grails of business – scale. There really is very little to lose and everything to gain.

Lesson 2 – Cheering Your Leader(s) On

There are few mistakes I see made in business more often than people waiting on their leaders to make mistakes so they can criticize and armchair quarterback. Take a close look (and listen) at the migratory geese the next time you get the opportunity. What you’ll notice is that birds in the formation are constantly honking.

Why are they spending energy honking? Shouldn’t they save that energy for the flight? Actually, they are spending their energy wisely by cheering the leader on, for they know that the farther he/she can go, the better off the entire flock will be.

In business, we are far too often content with waiting (even hoping) for a leader to falter, only to pile on and criticize. In reality, the best possible action is to step in and help, provide encouragement, and ultimately cheer him/her on. If you are not pulling for the success of your leaders (regardless of your level of affection for them), you are ultimately rooting for the failure of yourself, as well as the entire team.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you actually did something to lend the leaders of your organization a hand? Not because you were asked, but because you genuinely cared about their success? Don’t assume that your boss doesn’t want/need help, as I can assure you he/she does. As a leader of a team of over 400 people, I can tell you that I want (and need) those around me to help me succeed. For if I fail, we all fail. And if we all fail…well, you get the idea.

It’s almost spring now, and I look forward to seeing the geese return to my hometown of Chicago. They provide a reminder that great lessons of leadership are all around us – we just have to look for them.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


Leadership | Learning | Laughter | Love

The idea for this article took root as I prepared a keynote to welcome a class of approximately 80 new salespeople to my team. This was a big opportunity, as it would set the stage for the week together at new rep training, as well as influence every rep’s future experience with the team. As I prepared for my keynote the day before, I started by thinking of words our team holds as culturally important. Four words immediately came to mind – leadership, learning, laughter, and love.

Later that night at dinner, my friend Matt asked me what I was going to speak about the next morning. I eagerly responded, “The 4Ls! – Leadership, Learning, Laughter, and Love!” Matt, who is a corporate tax attorney, just stared at me as if waiting for me to laugh at my own joke. Once he realized I was not joking, he counseled me to quickly go to work on a speech that was more business-like and less “kumbaya.”  Unshaken, I chose not to follow Matt’s advice.

Leadership – Leadership has much more to do with behaviors and attitudes than it does with title or position. I often see people defer all leadership responsibility to those in positions of authority, which is an excellent way to ensure that their team never performs optimally… and that they never personally get promoted to a position of authority. The very best teams embrace a culture of leadership, from every single person on the team… regardless of rank or position. So why doesn’t every team and every organization pursue a culture of leadership? There are many reasons, not the least of which is because it’s hard, and it requires constant energy, effort, and attention. An ongoing and fervent commitment is the only way to achieve a true culture of leadership.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you set aside time to discuss leadership, culture, and other non task-oriented topics with your team? This kind of leadership development is free – the only cost is a bit of time and energy.

Learning – Continuous learning is absolutely critical for long-term success. The moment you stop learning, obsolescence will hunt you down with a vengeance. The key to a winning team is ensuring that learning is a cultural priority. This means creating time and space for it, supporting it (financially and otherwise), and placing a direct and continuous focus on it at every opportunity. Learning as a team is an investment – in every single person on the team, as well as the team as a whole. Like all investments, it’s never too late to start.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you required your team to read a book, take a class together, or participate in some other form of professional development activity… as a team? It is far too easy to let this slip on the priority list, which is why so few teams actually embrace a culture of learning and professional development. Those that do will be rewarded handsomely.

Laughter – While this may sound funny (pun intended), laughter is a key indicator of a healthy, thriving culture. Every single high-performing team in the world will perform even better if they have fun together while doing it. Furthermore, as a leader, one of the worst decisions you can make is to take yourself too seriously. Don’t get me wrong – you should take your work, results, leadership, and a whole host of other things very seriously… but avoid taking yourself too seriously. People gravitate to those who are authentic and fun – it’s human nature.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – Look around your team. Do you see people truly having fun? Are you putting as much energy into creating a fun and exciting culture as you should be? Remember – long-term satisfaction at work is much more about connectedness and engagement than a paycheck. As a side benefit, fun and laughter makes for healthier people. It has been said that a good belly laugh adds significant time to your life. If that’s the case, I’m going to live a long, long time!

Love – This is where my friend, the tax attorney, really raised an eyebrow. “Love? Really?” What I mean by this is simple – you have to love what you do in order to reach your full potential. Whether you are working at a Q-Tip factory or saving lives every day, seek out ways to find purpose and passion for what you do, and share that purpose and passion with your team.

Think about it – could you imagine all of the people who would have ear infections if it weren’t for Q-Tips? Talk about impact! People use Q-Tips every single day!

Loving what you do is often more about your own internal perspective than it is the job itself, which means that you can start loving what you do any time you want to. The important thing is that you find something you love, pour yourself into it, and then reap the rewards of purposeful work.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you authentically inspired those around you about the work that they do? I am the Chief Sales Officer of the world’s premiere Learning Technology Company, and I love the fact that lives, communities, and ultimately the world are changed every single day as a direct result of what we do… and I share this enthusiasm publicly every chance I get.

So there you have it – the 4Ls. The most rewarding part of giving this keynote was that the rookie rep class came up with a brand for themselves at the end of the week – L4. Very cool.

This article is dedicated to all the corporate tax attorneys of the world.

Lead. Courageously.

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Keys to a Winning Offense

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens squared off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, considered by many to be one of the greatest sporting events in the world. In football, it is sometimes said that the best offense is a good defense. The theory here is simple – if you prevent your opponent from scoring, your team only needs to score once to win the game. In business, however, the opposite is true. The best offense is a great offense… period.

In business, it’s not as simple as scoring the most points. Sure, that’s part of it, but it’s really about growth. For example, you could score one more point than your competition in a sales year and technically “win” the game against them. However, your investors are looking for much more than that. Your investors are looking for growth. If you only score one more point than your competition, you are simply not growing. The key to growth is a high-powered offense that basically obviates the need to play defense at all. Let’s face it – if you are playing defense, you are losing.

The 5 Keys To A Winning Offense

Talent – As the great John Wooden often said, the team with the best players almost always wins. This is true, but there is an “almost” in this statement for a reason. Even the best players will not win if you do not support them with spirit and motivation, a great culture, sound strategy, and focus.

Spirit and Motivation – The spirit and motivation of both you and your team is arguably the most important aspect of a winning offense. History is rich with stories of otherwise outmatched armies that rose to the occasion and defeated larger, better equipped forces because they were highly motivated and believed in their cause. As a leader, the spirit and motivation of your team is your direct responsibility, so look in the mirror if morale is low. A demotivated and/or demoralized team is destined to lose. The key to spirit and motivation is an authentic belief that you can win, and this has to permeate the entire team.

Culture – Culture is a choice, and it is a direct reflection of the leaders in the organization. Every team has a culture, and it is guaranteed to be one of two things: good or bad. If you choose to be an uninspired leader who does little to create culture in your organization because “that’s just not your thing,” you are dooming yourself and your team. Culture is the glue that holds your team together, which is especially important during the most challenging times. Courageous Leaders work hard to create (and nourish) culture… every single day, as part of every single decision.

Strategy – Offensive strategy is critical. Great offenses are explosive, well executed, and hard for your competition to defend against. Consider San Francisco and the highly touted pistol offense they ran in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The key to this offense is that it is innovative, and it gives the quarterback the option to adjust on the fly, choosing from a variety of weapons. The intended result – a disoriented Baltimore defense that, despite knowing San Francisco will be running this offense, will have a very hard time defending against it. While San Francisco did not execute well on this offense in the first half, great execution in the second half brought them to within three points of an historic comeback. Lesson: you cannot wait until the second half to get your offense firing on all cylinders… it has to be flawless from the first play. I see this all the time in business: the offense ends up being great, but it wasn’t great from the start.

Focus – Even with all of the above in place, the best teams in business will lose without focus. Teams can have the best talent, highest motivation, a great culture, and a great strategy, but it will all fall apart without focus and commitment to the things that matter in the here and now – planning, organizing, and executing flawlessly. The “here and now” is the hardest part, as even top performers get distracted by things that are very important, but not for the game they are playing at this moment in time. Short-term focus must prevail when the game is on the line, which often means dialing back on longer-term thinking. For without winning today, there may be no long-term.

As leaders, getting the offensive mix right is critical to success. That’s because the complexity of the “real-world” and day-to-day obstacles (as well as other people in the organization) work to distract us from a pure focus on the fundamentals of doing what’s right to ensure our teams win. Whether you agree with my offensive mix or you have a better version of your own, stand strong as a Courageous Leader and let nothing pull you away from flawless execution of your offense.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – engage below and add at least one thing that you think I missed in my offensive mix.

Lead. Courageously.

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Leadership and Policies

“My policy is to have no policies.” – Abraham Lincoln

I recently saw the film “Lincoln” (excellent, by the way), and was once again reminded that there is much we can learn from Honest Abe, not the least of which is his perspective on policies. Policies have a way of squeezing out judgment, creativity, thought, and all sorts of other things that are required for success in life and business.

To be clear, I fully grasp the reality that some policies are needed. For example, policies against discrimination, harassment, and all things illegal/unethical are of paramount importance. These policies are more like laws, as they govern fundamental behaviors and human interaction. I’m not arguing against these types of policies. I am, however, arguing against policies that obviate the use of good business judgment.

First, let’s consider the origin of the word “policy.”

Policy ultimately stems from the Greek word “polis,” which means “city” or “body of citizens.” Citizens are governed by “politicians,” who dictate “policy,” which is enforced by “police.”  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to work anywhere that feels like politicians are dictating policy governed by the “policy police.” Unfortunately, I am describing most companies!

Simply put, excess policy stifles creativity, original thought, and judgment. I prefer guidelines to policies, as the latter tends to disengage otherwise useful brains.

Policies vs. Guidelines

The best way to deal with the notion of abandoning policies is to instead issue guidelines, and ensure that your team fully appreciates the difference between the two.

Policies are hard and fast rules, never to be broken. If you don’t think that policies are interpreted this way by your organization, you are severely out of touch. Policy-laden organizations tend to produce automatons. Think: anytime you go to the DMV to get your license renewed, or worse yet…when you need something that deviates even the slightest bit from protocol. This is when the blood pressure tends to rise. Policies achieve compliance (rather than commitment), often to the detriment of the business.

Guidelines, accompanied by real empowerment to make good decisions, achieve commitment (rather than compliance)…to doing what’s right, rather than doing things right. Guidelines are best practices and roadmaps for how to deal with familiar situations, but they are not hard and fast rules. For many leaders, this is a scary notion. How do you get people to do what they’re supposed to without hard and fast rules? Easy – you hire the right people, and then inspire and empower them to gain their commitment to doing what’s right on behalf of the business and its customers. The payoff for this is huge!

Get Courageous

It is quite natural for businesses to over-adopt policies as they grow, as there are plenty of reasons to take this path (and plenty of people who LOVE to author policy). The issue is that policies become a brick wall for too many people, with no way over or around. Nowhere are policies more dangerous than when they get in the way of moving swiftly, doing the right thing, and (especially) meeting your customers’ needs.  If you take nothing else from this post, take the following three Courageous Leadership tips:

1 – Challenge every rule and policy you encounter. This doesn’t mean all rules have to change, but understand that rules and policies tend to become obsolete as the business environment changes. When you find a rule that needs to be broken, break it publicly for all to see!

2 – Ask people why they are making certain decisions. This is a simple test. If the answer even slightly resembles, “because that’s what I was told to do,” or, “because that’s policy,” you have some work to do. The answer to this question should always resemble this – “because I felt it was the best decision for our business and our customers.”

3 – Listen to your gut. What I mean by this is simple – we all have experience, instincts, and judgment. We typically feel it in our gut when we make suboptimal decisions based on policy. When you have this feeling, abide by it, rather than policy. If you are leading people, empower them to do the same.

Remember this – courageous leaders never hide behind policy. Not Lincoln, not Grant, not me, and hopefully not you. If you catch yourself or your team making business decisions based on policy alone, you have a serious problem on your hands. The best leaders empower their teams to use good business judgment to make good decisions – for the business, and especially for their customers.

Lead. Courageously.

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Leadership | Courage and Conviction

Courage (n) – mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

Conviction (n) – a strong persuasion or belief.

This week, as we recognize the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded of one of the greatest leadership attributes of all – the courage of one’s convictions. Whether you are leading a product development effort, a team of people, or pursuing a personal dream, the courage of your convictions is required to accomplish greatness.

Simply put, the courage of your convictions is doing and/or saying what you know is right, no matter how stiff the opposition. This seems straight forward, but it is a trait rarely found – especially in the face of the courage-killing insecurities that so many of us face on a daily basis.

Dr. King provides one of the best examples of courageous leadership and, specifically, the courage of one’s convictions. MLK led a Civil Rights movement (with the help of many others, of course) that resulted in a forever-changed world, and certainly a forever-changed people. He did this in the face of opposition far stiffer than you or I are likely to ever face – opposition that ultimately claimed his life.

So I ask you – what do you believe in so passionately that you would be willing to sacrifice for it? Let’s face it; in most cases the only thing we have to lose is a bit of “face.” What business idea or vision do you champion with the courage of your convictions, no matter how many people stand in opposition to you? Are you courageous enough to actually challenge the masses, rather than safely taking sides with them?

Having a dream is a great start, but actually doing something about it matters most. Dr. King had dreams of freedom and equality, but it was his courage and conviction to realize his dreams that changed the world.

I have a dream of revolutionizing education by exposing textbooks for what they are – obsolete – and replacing them with the most advanced learning technology in the world. I champion this vision publicly at every opportunity, even though I risk alienating large groups of people every time I do. I pursue this dream passionately, because the students of the world deserve it.

What is your dream? More importantly, are you pursuing it with courage and conviction?

Lead. Courageously.

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You cannot lead people through fear – you can only scare them. And while scaring people can get them to do the things you want them to do in the short-term, it is an unwise leadership strategy. While this seems obvious to me, I often see leaders choose fear as a tactic to achieve a desired outcome. I also often see those same leaders fail in the long run.

Let me be clear – there is a big difference between fear and accountability. I am 100% behind holding those we lead accountable, as that is the only way to keep the wheels from falling off. A-players want, and actually expect to be held accountable, and they want to see everyone else held accountable for excellence as well. But accountability and intimidation tactics are not one in the same, and A-players do not respond well to the latter.

Consider this – 90% of the battle is won by spirit and motivation of the Army. Strategy matters, too, but a highly motivated Army is what really makes the difference in the end. If you are relying on fear to win the battle, consider surrendering now.

Use the following strategies to eradicate fear from your leadership repertoire:

Forget Rank – In most cases, you do not need to remind people of rank. In fact, doing so immediately shuts down engagement and creativity. It’s safe to assume that everyone knows who the boss is. Unless truly needed to keep order or avoid catastrophic decisions, seek out ways to make rank invisible in your organization.

Lift – Positive, inspirational leadership prevails over oppressive leadership every single time. Seek out ways to inspire and motivate your team through positive, inspirational leadership, rather than threats.

Treat Everyone The Same – We tend to treat our bosses with great care and respect. Use the way you treat your boss as a benchmark for how you treat those who report to you. If you are not treating everyone the same, you likely have a problem… not the least of which is authenticity.

Make Room For Others – Allow others in and allow them to help lead and make decisions alongside you. If you run a “my way or the highway” shop, you are in trouble. We all need help, so you might as well engineer it from the outset.

Publicize Your Leadership Philosophy – Have regular conversations about your leadership philosophy and make it public… then live up to it. Invite any and everyone to challenge you and keep you honest about it. Hint – the leadership philosophy you make public will likely not include fear.

Culture of Candor – Take on the long and hard job of creating a culture of open and honest communication in your organization, as this creates the fundamental basis for a culture absent of fear. If everyone is consistently open and honest (in a professional, non-threatening way), there are no surprises and nothing to be afraid of. Fair warning – getting this right takes a long time and a lot of commitment.

Seek Feedback – Conduct a thorough 360o review of yourself and your leadership style. Ask deliberate questions of your team to discover how you are perceived/received as a leader. Most importantly, take the feedback to heart and make changes as needed. If you’ve never done this, consider that it may be because you simply do not want to know.

Bottom line – if your people are scared of you, you are not leading them… you are only scaring them. Another word for this is oppression, and you do not have to look far to see what oppressed people do at the first opportunity – they turn on their oppressor. In the world of business, turning on your oppressor means one thing… leaving them.

Lead. Courageously.

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Many years ago, a great mentor taught me a valuable lesson that I draw on every day. His name was Bob Gosdeck. At the time, I was a new sales leader, and Bob was Vice President of Sales. The lesson came during a tense time when Bob and I were in his office hashing out some very tough details during a very tough day. In the middle of what appeared to me to be the most important meeting in the world, Bob’s phone rang… and he answered it.

“Bob Gosdeck speaking.”

“Hey, Rick!!! How are you doing? I’m great! Really?!! Sure – I have time. Tell me all about it!”

I sat and listened, somewhat perplexed. The Bob that just answered the phone certainly didn’t seem like the Bob that was in the middle of a very tough meeting, in the middle of a very tough day. After he hung up the phone, Bob noticed the look on my face and passed on a little piece of wisdom to me.

Always avail yourself for your people and lift (aka, inspire) at every opportunity.

Sure, Bob was having a not-so-great day, but Rick didn’t need to know that. What Rick needed was for the Vice President of Sales to answer the phone and celebrate the business he’d just closed. That’s exactly what Rick needed, so Bob wisely and enthusiastically afforded him that.

Whether you’re leading salespeople, accountants, doctors, or lawyers, the same principle applies. When you interact with people on your team, it’s a big deal to them; and it’s an even bigger deal for you to interact with them in the right way. If you do not, they will eventually leave you.

Consider for a moment the times when you’ve interacted with your boss, your boss’s boss, or even your boss’s boss’s boss. How does your mood, confidence, and outlook change based on the way they make you feel? Do they tear you down or lift you up?

The difference in good management versus great leadership often comes down to how well you lift. Keep the following things in mind during every interaction with those you lead.

Begin with the end in mind. When starting a conversation with someone, consider how you want him or her to feel when you’re done. Do you want them to feel great about their interaction with you, or do you want them to feel beat up and defeated? Hint – you never want the latter.

Crucial conversations don’t have to be negative. In fact, your goal should be for even the toughest crucial conversation to be positive, because you are helping the person get better. If you find that your crucial conversations end badly, take an honest look at yourself and your delivery.

Morale is your accountability. Leaders sometimes tell me how bad morale is on their team, as if they expect me to fix it. My reply is always the same – the morale of your team is your accountability. Period. Then I turn my attention to helping them lift.

Your problems are your problems… not theirs. Just as Bob Gosdeck taught me many years ago, there is nothing to gain by letting your bad mood/bad day rub off on anyone else. In fact, there is only downside in this. Make the decision – are you going to be someone who charges people’s batteries or drains them? It’s your call.

Lifting is free, but the returns are immeasurable. It’s hard to stop a team flying high with confidence, optimism, and a belief that they can win. Lifting is free, so the only reasons not to make it common practice are selfishness, laziness, or simply not caring.

I am reminded of a poignant quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget almost everything you say to them, but they will not forget how you make them feel.”

Answer this question honestly – how do you make people feel?

Lead (and lift). Courageously.

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Fact – as humans, we are better at deluding ourselves than we are at multitasking. Perhaps this explains why so many of us trick ourselves into believing that we can perform multiple complex tasks at once, despite the fact that research clearly dispels this myth. In reality, we are incapable of multitasking in even the most routine situations. Just ask my wife – she busts me 100% of the time when I attempt to read emails while on the phone with her!

Multitasking vs. Multi-thinking

While it is possible to do multiple basic tasks at once (hammering a nail while singing), it certainly is not possible to focus and think about multiple things at the same time. This is especially true when the things we are attempting to do simultaneously (answering email while on a conference call) rely on the same part of the brain (e.g., the part that is responsible for communication). Research shows that we actually have to stop thinking about one thing and switch to the other, but that we cannot do both at once. As it turns out, these “switching costs” are not worth it when the stakes are high.

Multitasking becomes especially problematic at work, and specifically in meetings. One glance around any meeting room reveals a variety of activities going on, from paying attention and contributing, to texting, emailing, and Facebooking. The most surprising part to me is that this behavior seems to get worse as we progress in our careers… at precisely the same time that we are paid more to be fully engaged thought leaders.

Think about it!

Do you think Peyton Manning is texting and reading emails while on the field practicing with his team? Absolutely not. And he certainly is not texting and emailing while on the field playing in a live game. Why, then, do so many professionals do this when “on the field playing?” It simply does not make sense.

I’m not suggesting that there is no place for multitasking in general. I am, however, suggesting that there is no place for multitasking when you are in meetings, on calls, or interacting with people. Your business, and your people, deserve your attention… as does your professional health.

Top Five Reasons Not To Multitask

Focus – Anyone who is the best at what they do is able to do something very well – focus. From professional athletes to the best leaders in the world, focus is a key differentiator.

Thought Leadership – As leaders, a major part of our value is thought leadership. You simply cannot be a thought leader if you are splitting your thought between multiple tasks/activities.

Engagement – The more you divide your attention, the less engaged you are. This is simple arithmetic, and it is indisputable. If you have 100% of your potential engagement to give, you give less than 100% to any one activity when you divide your attention. Do you want to be known for giving less than 100% to anything?

Respect – While not convenient, apply the golden rule here. Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. If you’d like people to engage and pay attention during your meetings or when you are speaking, afford them the same courtesy.

Advancement – Meetings are public, and they are an audition for promotion. Never forget this. If you stop multitasking for no other reason, remember that the better you perform in public, the more likely you are to get promoted.

Get Courageous

  1. At meetings you host, establish a policy of focus, attention, and engagement at the outset… and enforce it!
  2. When participating in meetings (yours or others), challenge everyone to give their full and undivided attention to the meeting… because the business needs and deserves it!
  3. Lead by example, and stay away from email, the Internet, and text messages during meetings. Most business meetings have breaks every couple of hours, which provides ample opportunity to scan and respond to critical messages.
  4. If a given meeting or conversation is not important enough for you to focus while attending, simply do not go. Stay in your office alone, where it is just fine to text, email, and Facebook – all at the same time!

Lead. Courageously.

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I recently hired The Second City ( to conduct an improvisation (improv) workshop for a team of about thirty leaders in my organization.  So what can the #1 comedy club in the nation teach us about leadership? As it turns out, a whole lot!

Business, like virtually every human interaction, is improv.

  • Your boss asks you a surprise question – Quick! Improv!
  • A client asks you to solve a problem – Sweet! Improv!
  • You interact with your team – Hopefully it’s improv.
  • Big sales presentation – If it’s any good, it’s improv.
  • Being authentic and real – Improv.  All day long.

Let’s face it, business is a constant cycle of high stakes improvisations.  If we’re not improvising, we’re in serious trouble.

Nowhere in business is improv more important than when developing new ideas.  In most cases, new ideas get shut down faster than you can blink an eye, which all but guarantees that people are afraid to bring up new ideas in the future.  The good news is that you can fix this with the most fundamentally important rule in all of improv.

“Yes, AND…”

Let me explain.  When responding to a new idea, you have three basic choices.

No, because…

Yes, but…

Yes, and…

90% of the time (at least) teams use the first two when encountering new ideas, which is precisely why so many great ideas never fully develop.

The word “no” shuts down improv faster than anything else, so improv actors know to stay away from it.  Regardless of the idea or concept that comes out, professional improv actors use “yes, and” to support ideas and develop them enough to have the absolute best chance at being successful.  In business, we’d be wise to follow this same principle, as it would ensure that all ideas get fully developed, thereby increasing their odds of being the next big idea.  It’s not about whether the idea is perfect upon introduction; rather, it’s about what happens to ideas when creatively supported and developed as far as possible.  Only then do you make the call on whether or not to execute on the idea.

Try this exercise with your team – it will change your life.

  1. Break up into groups of three or four.  If your team is already small, do it as one group.
  2. Pick a topic…any topic…as long as it’s casual.  Try this – the group is deciding where to get together for an offsite meeting next year.  It can be anywhere in the world.
  3. Each person thinks of a place to go, and they will get several turns to introduce it.

Round 1 – Each person introduces their idea (Bangkok, Thailand, for example), and the other members of the team respond one-by-one with a “No, because…” statement.

  • Example – “No, because Bangkok is way too far to travel.”

Round 2 – Each person introduces their idea, and the other members respond one-by-one with a “Yes, but…” statement.

  • Example – “Yes, but I heard that the weather is very hit-or-miss in Bangkok.”

Round 3 – Each person introduces their idea one-by-one, and the other members respond with a “Yes, and…” statement, supporting and building on the idea.

  • Example – “Yes, and we’ll save on food expenses, as it’s very affordable to eat in Bangkok.”

When you get to Round 3, you will be amazed at how well (and creatively) the ideas get developed.

Every business starts with ideas, and every business needs new ideas to stay relevant and healthy.  Especially as businesses grow, the environment for supporting and developing ideas often seems to disappear, and “wisdom and experience” shut the ideas down before they ever get a fair chance.  Making “yes, and…” a fundamental cultural value in your organization or team takes courage and work, as it is not natural until you practice it.  Consider starting your next team meeting with the exercise above, and lay the ground rule that before deciding not to pursue an idea, you’ll use “yes, and…” to fully develop and explore it.  Your team, your culture, and your customers will thank you for it.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


I interview hundreds of people each year, and one of the most common questions I get is, “how did you get to where you are?”  My response is always the same.  It comes down to three very simple (not easy) things: record of achievement, the desire to do more, and the aptitude to do more.  Let’s examine each one a bit closer.

Record of Achievement – As the great John Wooden said, the team with the best players almost always wins.  Truth – the best leaders relentlessly focus on attracting the absolute best players.  Past performance is the most reliable indication of future performance, so your record of achievement is everything in business.  If you work in an organization that promotes those without a record of achievement, consider going to work for an organization that takes this seriously.  Provided you are a winner, you deserve to be on a winning team.

Tip – Your record of achievement is the most valuable asset you own, and it can never be taken from you.  Focus on building a real record in every position you occupy, as this gives you confidence and credibility when you do get that next promotion.  Be patient and resist the urge to seek promotions too quickly, as your record and your experience are often the only things you can take with you into your next job.

Desire – Quite a large number of highly successful professionals are content with the position they hold, and they are uninterested and/or unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to assume the next level of leadership.  And let me be clear – sacrifice is always necessary.  Always.  Before raising your hand for that next promotion, be very honest with yourself about why you want it.  Is it just for money?  If so, don’t do it.  Only take the next step if you really want it, as it will require long-term sacrifice…long after you’ve stopped noticing that extra money in your paycheck.

Tip – The best way to communicate true desire to take on a promotion in the future is to demonstrate leadership and seek out opportunities to contribute more in your current position.  Always demonstrate a positive, constructive attitude, and be a substantive contributor at every opportunity.  Raise your hand to solve a problem or lead an initiative now!  If you wait to show desire by raising your hand for the promotion, you’re way too late.

Aptitude – Honestly assessing your own aptitude can be tough, as we are rarely prepared to openly admit to ourselves that we need more experience…or worse yet, that we simply don’t have the “goods” to take on a certain role.  If a hiring manager tells you that you are not ready for a specific job or promotion, don’t take that as a negative. Take it as an opportunity to learn and grow as fast as possible.  I’ve been “passed over” for multiple positions, only to find myself in even more senior positions before I knew it.  The grace with which you handle not getting a promotion is nearly as important as how you handle actually getting it, as it is a clear sign of your maturity.

Tip – Attitude, leadership, and maturity are three of the most important aptitude criteria you will be evaluated on when seeking a promotion.  Here’s the secret – you’re being evaluated on these every single day, so you cannot afford to wait until you are seeking a promotion to demonstrate them. Combined with a real record of achievement and the desire to do more, demonstrating these attributes will land you in a bigger job before you know it.

Landing promotions is hard and often very competitive.  Maximize your odds (and your overall professional success) by following the three step plan – build a winning record in every job, demonstrate your desire to do more through your actions, and demonstrate your aptitude to do more through your behaviors.

Good luck!  Write to me with good news about your promotions!

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


My dad is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever known. He climbed telephone poles in the sun, rain, wind, and snow for for BellSouth (now AT&T) in Nashville, TN.  If there was an hour of overtime available, he worked it…every time. He’s a good man…smart, witty, and lots of other things.  He still lives in the general vicinity of where he was born, and he literally refuses to leave – even for a short trip.

I’ve never known my dad to read a book, take a class, or pursue professional growth.

In short, my dad probably stopped growing and developing at age 25, which is unfortunate (and all too common), given his potential and ability. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best telephone lineman in the world…and he earned an honest wage pursuing a trade. However, he had self-imposed limits on his success.

My mom is awesome. Her work ethic is also tremendous. Unlike my dad, she reads vigorously…literally devouring novels. She had a relatively brief run as an entrepreneur in the 1990s when she and my stepdad owned several stores called The Herb Shop (since put out of business by GNC). Herbs are medicine, so knowledge was critical. I was always impressed at the amount of knowledge my mom had about all the various herbs, their effects, etc.  She’s a very smart cookie.

Having never saved for retirement, mom now works long days at a sewing and vacuum cleaner store. My mom never stopped growing and developing, but she didn’t take big enough steps to realize her full potential. Luckily for me, she encouraged me to reach my mine.

I also have two older sisters, Monica and Melody.

Monica (Master’s Degree) runs the Pre-K program for the state of Georgia.

Melody (Bachelor’s Degree) is a Senior Vice President at Bank of America.

I (M.B.A.) am a Senior Vice President at McGraw-Hill Education, the most recognizable learning company in the world.

Monica, Melody, and I are just getting started.  When I consider the difference between my sisters and me vs. our parents…it all points to one decision – education. We made the courageous choice to pursue an education and a life of learning.

My sisters and I know first hand what it’s like to grow up poor…in an environment that placed little value on learning and personal/professional growth. You could say that we got on-the-job training in that way of life, and that we all decided on a different, better path for ourselves. Our story is played out over and over again around the world – education and learning changes lives…families…futures…the entire world.

The point I am making doesn’t stop at the value of a getting a college education – that is virtually undisputed. The real point is that if you are not aggressively learning every day, the divide between you and your peers (even your subordinates) will quickly become as great as the divide between my dad and me.

CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day.  If that sounds like a lot, first ask yourself what premium you place on your own success.

If growth and success are important to you, consider these options for continuing your education and committing to lifelong learning:

  1. Go back to school. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree…get one. If you don’t have a master’s degree…start one immediately! Also, consider shorter professional certificate programs from well-regarded schools in your area…or online.
  2. Read a book. You should have at least one professional development book you are reading at all times…period. Carve out time to read every day (or at least every week). You’ll be amazed at how fast you develop. If you don’t do this, understand that those around you are, and they will pass you by.
  3. Read blogs. There are loads of real-time thought leadership in the blogosphere, and you can learn a great deal by following just a few bloggers. Just be sure to follow the right ones!
  4. Write. When I started writing this blog, I was amazed at how much my thought developed when I sat down, focused, and actually wrote about it. The next thing I knew, I was better prepared for all sorts of business conversations, as I’d already thought through and crystallized my thoughts on a variety of topics. Even if you don’t publish it right away, just try writing on something that interests you.
  5. Travel the world. Learning happens in a variety of ways. One of my favorite ways to stretch my mind and develop my experience is by traveling the world with my wife, Kate. We challenge ourselves to go to interesting places (Europe, of course, but also Tanzania, Morocco, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, and countless other places). Don’t let excuses get in the way of this one, as it is essential to developing a global mindset…and it’s fun!

When you learn, you have more to offer. When you have more to offer, you are more substantive and interesting. When you are more substantive and interesting, opportunities are limitless. It really is that simple.

Commit to lifelong learning and education. Your success depends on it.

Lead (and learn). Courageously.

Doug's Signature


A great friend, mentor, and one of the best leaders I know is a role model in inspiring action. His name is Brian Kibby. He approves investments faster than anyone I know (often on the spot), he leaps into action as soon as he sees opportunity, and he keeps his team moving much faster than most in the world of business.

What’s Brian’s secret? He comes from a place of “Sure! Why not?” In other words – he is looking for reasons to act, rather than reasons not to act. Is this risky? It’s not nearly as risky as not acting this way, lest your competitors and your customers will literally pass you by.

Too often, when we do not have 100.00000000% of the information that we could theoretically get our hands on, we put off decisions that present even the most microscopic amounts of risk. We “thoughtfully” delay decisions in the spirit of doing even more research and analysis, when all that we really need to make the call is readily available – guts and instincts. To no surprise, we often end up making the same decisions days, weeks, or even months later…only to have slowed our teams down and wasted the most precious of resources – time.

If you think this does not apply to you, it does. We all hesitate…all the time.

The most common of hesitations occurs when new ideas and suggestions of trying something completely different arise. We are naturally wired to resist and ask countless questions before trying something new. But the best (and most motivational) approach is to ask just a couple of questions…and then surprise the person with a simple response – “Sure! Why not?”

Try my “Sure! Why not?” recipe the next time you are presented with a new idea:

  1. Ask a series of questions to develop your understanding of the idea, but ask them in the spirit of looking for reasons to approve action.  Try this – “Wow!  This sounds really interesting.  Let me make sure I fully understand.”
  2. Add at least one idea of your own to make the original idea even better.  Try this – “Yes, and we could even do…!”
  3. Say, “Sure! Why not?”
  4. Reward their courage by challenging them to quickly (within one week) formalize a plan for your review, to including funding, timeline, anticipated revenue/savings, etc.
  5. Provided the proposal makes sense, approve it and challenge the person or team to take full ownership of driving the idea forward with your full support.

Embrace “Sure! Why Not?” and you’ll be surprised at not only what you see in the form of innovation, but by the overall sense of excitement and entrepreneurial spirit you quickly build in your organization.

Repeat after me…

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Now – go looking for ideas and use these three simple words as often as possible.  Your team, your customers, and, ultimately, your shareholders will thank you for it.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


When I was in the Army, I noticed two kinds of officers – those that led from the front with their troops, and those that led from the rear.  I trusted both from a battlefield strategy standpoint, but I was much more willing to sacrifice for those who I actually knew.  In fact, I often thought about it in these very simple terms – either I’d be honored to lay down my life for this person, or… well, you get the idea.

In the Army there were far more officers who led from the front than not.  In an organization that places a higher premium on leadership than any I have experienced since, frontline leadership was a cultural norm.  Why, then, do so few business leaders participate in the fight, get to know their people, and lead with their boots actually in the mud?

Here are a few of the excuses I often hear when I broach this topic:

  • Image. “I have a big office, and I am supposed to have big meetings in my big office.”  Baloney.  The best meetings happen outside of our offices… with our people and (dare I say) our customers. Fact – most senior executives spend very little time with either.
  • Time.I am so busy with so much to do that I just don’t have time to get to the front lines as often as I’d like to.”  We all make time for our priorities… that’s just the truth.  If you don’t have time for frontline leadership, then it simply is not a priority for you – plain and simple.
  • I’m too important! “I have big decisions to make, and I need to be available to make those big decisions.”  If this applies to you, you are not empowering your people.  You should be pushing decision-making to the fringes of your organization.  Be careful not to become a bottleneck, as you need your organization moving at the speed-of-battle, lest you face certain defeat.

The list goes on and on. The most important thing is not what we do today, but what we do from this day forward. Use the following strategies to break your reclusive management habits and become a frontline leader before it’s too late!

  1. Understand Your Factory Setting – If you lead from the rear, understand that this is your factory setting… but don’t accept it.  Remain conscious of your factory setting and refocus yourself at every opportunity.
  2. Schedule It – This is the simplest of all strategies. It’s hard to make time for anything if we do not plan for it in advance… especially the things that take us away from our factory setting. The easiest way to ensure you do something is to commit to it and schedule it.  Stop reading! Do this now!
  3. Embrace the “Bullets” – Stepping onto the frontlines exposes you to the same enemy fire your team is facing on a daily basis. Embrace it, as these bullets will not actually hurt you… they will help you! The world is changing at an incredible pace, so don’t assume you understand what your team is facing because you were once in their shoes…that’s naive.
  4. Engage – One of the worst mistakes you can make is to go to the front and not engage once there. Your team deserves your full and undivided attention, and they will remember whether or not you give it to them. Clear your schedule, stay off the phone, and let the emails pile up – the rest of your world will wait for you, but those you lead will not if you do not engage.
  5. Chow Time – One of the best ways to build trust and rapport with those you lead is to break bread with them… often. Make it special, and spend a little extra on a nice bottle of wine and a great restaurant. Reality check – if you’re not doing this with your best people, somebody else is.
  6. Say “No” – Leading from the front means you have to say no to the rest of the things that are currently getting in the way, which takes courage.  Remember – you’re the boss. Don’t fall victim to the volume and velocity of meetings and projects coming your way. Delegate and get out of the way.
  7. Open Up – Schedule one-on-ones regularly with your team… several levels down. If you lead a very large organization and are struggling to make time, do what I often do – open yourself up for a day or two of 15 minute 1:1s, available on a first come, first-served basis. Aside from getting a very strong pulse on your organization, you will also get a sense of talent and engagement by seeing who actually raises their hand.
  8. Communicate – I am amazed at the lack of communication from senior leaders. Presence is everything in leadership, and your team expects it of you! Use a variety of tools to be present and visible – town halls (in person or via phone), email, social media, etc. I suggest communicating in some form at least once every week (every other week at a minimum). If you are not a natural communicator, enlist help from those who are.
  9. Keep It Real – Be yourself.  Be comfortable letting people see the real you, rather than the “corporate” you. We naturally follow those who engage us, inspire us, and connect with us.  Remember – you are a real person, and your team deserves to know you.
  10. Style – I’ll leave this one for you to define, as the real key is doing it all in your own style…just as long as you do it.

Step out from behind the glass and join your team in the fight today! They need you… more than you might think.

From the Front,

Doug's Signature


Aristotle believed courage to be the first true virtue, and explained that without it none of the other virtues could exist.  This is never truer than when it comes to leadership. Courage is the first virtue of leadership, and without it we cannot lead our teams and enterprises to success.

Why then do so few business leaders consistently exhibit courage? Perhaps it is in relation to the idea that a lack thereof (or cowardice) is a corporate survival requirement.

In business, fear (of failure), danger (of getting fired), uncertainty (of acceptance), risk (of losing money), and opposition (to virtually every new idea) are rampant. We are all confronted with these “courage killers” on a daily basis. These events and emotions should inspire courage, yet they often inspire the opposite. And the opposite of courage is cowardice… there is no in between.

“I’m no coward!” Perhaps you are not. Consider this, however…

  • If you do not challenge the status quo in every aspect of your business, you are a coward, afraid to step out and challenge business as usual.
  • If you do not stand up and fight for ideas with a sense of optimism and energy, you are a coward, afraid to take on the new.
  • If you do not vigorously lead your organization to the future (rather than simply through today), you are a coward, afraid of failure if you get “the future” wrong.
  • If you stop pursuing ideas just because you encounter opposition, you are a coward, unwilling to face conflict in pursuit of doing what is right.

If that seems a bit harsh, consider the good news – courage is a choice. Put these five simple strategies to work to increase your Courage Quotient immediately!

  1. Engage – Don’t sit back and watch as the people around you are engaged and contributing. Get in the game and be a part of every conversation… and every solution. Tip – the single biggest threat to engagement is multi-tasking. Be intentional and focused in meetings, phone calls, conversations, and important tasks, and get all the way engaged. This often means leaving phones and computers behind. When you are courageous enough to do this, your contributions (and perceived value) will improve dramatically.
  2. Raise Your Hand – The next time there is an opportunity, be the first to volunteer to lead a team or solve a problem. Proactive volunteering demonstrates a selfless dedication to the greater good. Tip – Stop reading right now and think of one thing your organization needs to do better and/or differently. Spend some time developing your thoughts, and volunteer immediately to lead the effort. The benefits are twofold – your organization gets better, and you are recognized as a courageous leader.
  3. Challenge – We have the opportunity to challenge the status quo every single day. How often do you hear that your organization cannot do something due to X, Y, or Z? Guess what – you don’t have to take it anymore!  Tip – The next time you hear “we can’t,” “it doesn’t work that way,” or “that’s just not the way we do things,” ask a few simple questions in return – Why not?  Is it illegal? Is it unethical? Will we go out of business? If the answer to these questions is “no” (which it almost always is), break all the rules of business-as-usual and do the right thing – rather than just doing things right.
  4. Start Up and Stand Up – Become an idea advocate. Be courageous enough to voice your ideas regularly, and also to stand up for other’s ideas. Tip – challenge yourself (and others) to come from a place of support for every idea, as this allows ideas to get fully developed before being judged. When you see ideas getting shut down prematurely, jump in and provide support (see #3 above). Also, volunteer to lead a team to develop the idea and report back (see #2 above), as almost every idea deserves exploring.
  5. Encourage Courage – Ask yourself what you are doing to encourage courage, which is much different than saying that it’s okay to be courageous. Tip – open yourself up to feedback from others, both in one-on-one and group settings. Resist asking general questions, and instead ask specific questions to get direct feedback from your peers, your direct reports, and your boss. Be accepting and thankful for the feedback, and encourage more on a regular basis. Finally, lead by example and pay it forward by giving feedback as often as possible to these same people…even when it’s a bit uncomfortable (which is pretty much every time).

Remember, you should be somewhat nervous and fearful when being courageous. Without fear, courage would not be required… which is precisely the point. In the words of John Wayne (who played some of the toughest, most courageous fictional characters in history) – “courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” My challenge to you – saddle up anyway!

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


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