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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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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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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.

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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.

Doug's Signature


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.

Doug's Signature


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.

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.

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I am the Chief Sales Officer at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. More
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