The Power of Transparency

They sure didn’t have classes like this when I was in college. Sociology 119 is the most popular class at Penn State, and Professor Sam Richards is the reason why. When Sam asked me to co-create a ruse on his class, I learned what a master does to create conditions where learning flourishes.

The topic was income inequality—specifically, who’s to blame. Sam wanted the class to see beyond the prevailing media reporting. Our goal was to craft a powerful lesson through unexpected transparency, and I was the ploy.

Sam began the scam weeks before I arrived, with lectures focusing on the impacts of inequality. He dwelled on questions like how the class felt about the top 1% having almost 40% of the country’s wealth. He purposely riled them up each time.

Just before I entered the classroom, he read my selectively edited “elitist” bio:

“Rick Miller grew up outside Boston, Massachusetts. In high school he played three sports, was President of the National Honor Society, and graduated third in his class. At Bentley University, he played soccer, was selected for the Hall of Fame, and again graduated third in his class.

Rick began his career as a sales trainee in tech firm Sperry Corporation where he climbed the corporate ladder. He was sent to a company-sponsored MBA program at Columbia University. After graduation, he was promoted several more times, rising to Vice President and General Manager.

Later, he held positions as President of Global Services at AT&T, President and Chief Operating Officer at internet startup Opus360, Chief Sales Officer at Lucent Technologies, and as President at Lucent’s Government subsidiary.

Rick served as a board member at the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and is currently CEO at his own consulting company, Being Chief, LLC.

Class, meet a member of the one percent.”

As I walked into the room, the class applauded politely and I remember thinking, “I’m glad they don’t have anything to throw at me.” The animosity was palpable.

Sam started the session by asking me questions that reinforced the attitudes already held by many in the room.

“How many people have you laid off in your career? Did your Ivy League degree give you any advantages? Do you ever feel guilty because of all the advantages you’ve had in your career and life?” Ouch!

After 20 minutes, Sam told the class I had to leave because “my helicopter was waiting.” After I left the class, Sam conducted a real-time survey. Each class member responded to three questions on their smartphones.

Rick Miller is like everybody else in the “one percent.”

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

When you think about the impact of inequality and power on ordinary people’s lives, Rick Miller “gets it.”

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

Rick Miller cares about people other than himself.

  1. Agree
  2. I’m not sure
  3. Disagree

The class overwhelming concluded that I was like everyone else in the 1%, I don’t “get it,” and I only care about myself.

Then Sam flipped the switch and let the class in on the game. He shared that I hadn’t really left, there was no helicopter, and I was coming back in. But first he wanted to reintroduce me with information you won’t find on my LinkedIn bio.

“Rick grew up in a lower middle-class family, the eldest son of three boys, raised in effect by a single parent since his mother was in and out of mental hospitals for much of his youth.

Rick’s family moved numerous times as his father was laid off several times. Always the new kid, Rick was regularly beaten up by neighborhood bullies. All the while, he took responsibility for keeping things running at home and worked very hard in school.

Rick chose Bentley to be close to home so he could support his Dad when needed. He covered room and board costs by working as a Resident Assistant but he left Bentley with a large five-figure debt. During his junior year Rick contracted type-one diabetes. Doctors believe the trigger was stress that occurred during finals, after Rick’s mother attempted suicide, his grandfather died suddenly, and a close friend who was gay killed himself shortly after Rick made it clear that friendship was all Rick could offer.

After graduating, Rick took a commission-based sales job even though it scared him that his paychecks wouldn’t be guaranteed. Growing up with no money, he was afraid of any job that did not offer predictable pay. Rick lived at home after graduation. He saved money for an entire year from a meager $25-per-day meal allowance that he received during training at Sperry, eating hotdogs for lunch and dinner in order to purchase his wife’s engagement ring. They married a month after she graduated, although she didn’t attend her graduation because her parents could not afford to attend both the graduation and the wedding.

At Sperry, Rick was unconventional from the start. When he got to his first management job, he not only hired the first female sales rep in the office, but since there were no female role models for her to learn from, he also convinced senior management to pay $10,000 for a customized training program to help her succeed.

Rick’s unconventional approach caught the attention of a top executive at AT&T and soon he was the first outsider in 100 years to be hired as a line Vice President at that company.

Rick’s unconventional approach worked again at AT&T, and he was later promoted to President. Unfortunately, Rick got a new boss whose values did not align with his own values of truth and honesty. Rick made a tough decision and decided to leave the company.

Rick was recruited to work for the internet startup Opus360. However, the NASDAQ crashed just one month after he started. Rick got an apartment in NYC and saw even less of his wife and children, ages 9 and 7 at the time. He left Opus360 after a merger.

During Rick’s first break from work in 20 years, he volunteered at a rehab center working with therapists helping kids with cerebral palsy, coached kids with diabetes at summer camps, and founded a nonprofit to help other nonprofits be more effective.

Rick was later recruited by Lucent Technologies where he stayed for five years. He finally left corporate life when his children entered high school so he could finally spend more time with his family.

Class, here’s Rick Miller once again.”

This time the class applauded much more enthusiastically when I re-entered the room. Having shed my suit and tie, I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And the mood had shifted.

Sam’s questions shifted too. “What tips would you have for anyone trying to balance the demands of work, health, and family? What do you wish you knew when you were a college student that you know now?” After 30 minutes of great interaction, Sam announced it was indeed time for me to leave. There was an audible sigh from the class. They didn’t want me to go!

Sam then repeated the survey questions, but the results differed. The class overwhelmingly shared I was not like everyone else in the 1%, I do “get it,” and I care about a lot more than myself. Thirty minutes changed the view of over 800 intelligent college students.

If you’d like to increase your impact on others, be more transparent. If you’d like to get a gauge more broadly on how powerful you are take a short survey to find out.

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What Are SDGs and Why Should We Care?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around for over a half century. Generally, CSR has come to include six types of corporate social initiatives:

  • Corporate philanthropy – company donations to charity
  • Community volunteering – company-organized volunteer activities
  • Cause promotions – company-funded advocacy campaigns
  • Cause-related marketing – donations to charity based on product sales
  • Corporate social marketing – company-funded behavior-change campaigns
  • Socially-responsible business practices – ethically produced products and services

With the exception of the few companies truly engaging in the last initiative (socially-responsible business practices), until recently most companies have administered their CSR program from the staff side of things in human resources or public relations departments. It simply hasn’t been central to line operations in most organizations.

Oh my, how the world has changed.

Today, constituencies including customers, employees, shareowners, and the community at large take great interest in CSR. And for the last several years a fast-growing number of companies have stepped up to an even higher bar—Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG > CSR 

The Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations in 2015, are 17 bold, broad-based goals that cover social and economic development issues.

[bctt tweet="Sustainable Development Goals are taking corporate responsibility to the frontlines." username="beingchief"]

Here are the SDGs:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption, and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  • Partnerships for the goals

There are 169 specific targets that, if reached, accomplish all 17 goals. While somewhat overlapping, the SDGs are gaining momentum and attention.

Employees, customers, shareowners, and the community at large increasingly care about these issues. As a result, companies are increasingly caring too.

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Powering Through Friendly Fire

Challenges from inside your own company can require you to be powerful.

When Mike Armstrong joined AT&T as CEO years ago, change accelerated at the company. He had inherited an organization that was ill equipped to deal with the competitive threats. Mike began an acquisition phase to add the people and other assets he needed to compete on all fronts. As part of the change, Mike also shifted several executives into new jobs.

When it was my time to meet with Mike, he opened the meeting with news that made me want to shout out loud. “Rick, you’ve done a great job and I think you can do more to help the company. I’d like you to become Global Services President.” I was tasked to lead a 10,000-person organization that generated close to $12 billion in worldwide revenue. I was happy and stunned at the same time.

I knew that leading a Global unit was going to be a challenge, but I had a secret weapon. I had a compass. I knew the key to success was to build a team of Chiefs, but there were many things I could not know.

From outside the company, I couldn’t know that our primary competitor, MCI/Worldcom, was engaged in illegal activities, giving them unfair advantages in the market that would result in their CEO going to jail. From inside the company, I couldn’t know that my biggest challenge would come from my own boss. This is when I learned that my compass would help me deal with “friendly fire.”

Mike needed lots of cash to pay for the acquisitions he wanted to make in the consumer segment of the market. He turned to the business segment for that cash—and our new benchmark for success was Worldcom.

To my boss’s credit, he pushed back on Mike and asked for more reasonable targets and accurately carried the message that Worldcom’s aggressive pricing seemed inconsistent with their quarterly reports of improving revenues and margins. Unfortunately, nobody was listening, and my job in Global was about to get a lot harder.

My first blow came when the business segment was burdened with irrational growth targets and expense cuts that needed to be distributed among the business sub-segments. For reasons known only to my boss, he chose to place a disproportionately high level of the expense cut load—a 50 percent headcount reduction—on Global Services just one month into my new assignment.

Blow number two came shortly after when I learned the company had decided to move some of Global’s largest accounts into a new international joint venture with partner British Telecom. We now needed to convince a number of my Global Service customers, and the employees who served them, that joining this new entity would be preferable to remaining with AT&T.

Blow number three came with a decision to transition account control from Global Services to the separate AT&T Solutions unit for all outsourcing contracts, and I felt like my head was spinning. This new direction would have a major negative impact on my team’s earnings.

Finally, when my boss chose to move smaller Global Service accounts to yet another unit, I felt like a knockout had been delivered. In this case, customers would need to adjust to a reduced level of service and build new relationships with a new group of AT&T leaders, creating a great opportunity for a competitor to step in.

Any one of these adjustments would have been challenging for a unit to absorb. Together, they signaled to the entire organization that Global Services was being taken apart. It did not take long for rumors to start circulating that my boss was behind the effort to dismantle the organization. Everyone was nervous.

How could we succeed and build a team of Chiefs when everyone thought the organization was being taken apart? In Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title I describe what we did to drive record levels of employee engagement in spite of this dire situation, but it was every bit as important for me personally to “keep my head.” And my compass was the key.

Looking back now, the influence and impact I needed to have with my team could only be generated from inside me. Help wasn’t coming from anywhere else. It was the support I provided for my team that kept my influence strong, just as it was the internal and external creativity I demonstrated daily that preserved my ability to have an impact on my team.

To keep me strong, I focused in three areas. To keep my energy high I focused on staying present, increased my daily meditation routine, and worked to accept the situation as it was. To keep my clarity I focused on the vision I had for Global and on the strategy and tactical plans that I could control to realize that strategy. And to keep my confidence, I reminded myself regularly about the values I stood for and took great comfort that I was living them.

At the end of the year, Global Services was indeed split apart, and we did miss the growth targets that had been established for us based on the misinformation of our primary competitor. We did have a large number of our team members select the voluntary force reduction plan and many more follow their clients to units outside of Global.

But employees who remained with Global sent a clear message to senior management by responding to the employee engagement survey that year with the highest engagement and confidence in unit management scores in AT&T history.

And with energy, influence, clarity, confidence, and impact I remained true to myself. I’m grateful for the experience.

How powerful are you?

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Be All-In! Here’s How

Ever since my first blog on the topic of All-In Leadership in 2011, the concept has led readers to ask for more. I obliged with blogs on All-In Women Leaders, 10 Reasons to Be All-In at Work, 12 Ways All-In Leadership Increases the Value of Any Team Meeting, and All-In Leadership—NOW!

The All-In concept advocates that we all have leadership potential, but too many of us are looking to others to lead. We need to stop looking “up” when we all should be looking in. All-In Leadership is a term I use to remind all of us about our individual choice to lead and how we can best approach this opportunity to be more powerful today.

But your feedback has been consistent: Rick, can you make it easier for me to see my All-In choices? Well at long last I can say YES!

I’ve just added a simple tool to my website that can provide you with a super-quick way to assess how All-In (powerful) you are today, and to decide what you might change to be more All-In tomorrow.

All-In Power

I believe that All-In power comes when we connect what we do to who we are. All-In power is comprised of five elements that can be found in every one of us:

  • Clarity – the quality of being certain or definite in a process or course of direction.
  • Influence – the capacity to have an effect on the development or behavior of someone or something.
  • Energy – the drive and vitality to live and engage fully.
  • Confidence – the feeling of self-assurance that comes from an understanding of one’s own priorities, abilities, and qualities.
  • Impact – the strong and/or immediate sway on someone or something.

I believe strongly in equality and that these opportunities can be available to everyone. I also believe we are all connected and that when we go All-In it affects those around us.

All-In Power Spreads

Research supports my view that once anyone in a group goes All-In, the chance that others will too increases.

Specifically, research has found that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. An individual’s or group’s emotion plays a strong role in the behavior of an organization. Studies show that positive mood or emotion enhances creative problem solving, cooperation, decision quality, overall performance, the search for creative solutions, and confidence in being able to achieve positive outcomes. One study by Yale researcher Sigal Barsade, PhD, found that a spread of positive emotion is associated with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and better task performance at work.

I’ll close this blog with the same paragraph that closed my first All-In blog 7 years ago: “All-In Leadership also requires courage. The serious challenges we face individually and collectively can feel daunting if they fall to only a few to solve. We need leadership from senior executives, group managers, and individual contributors. Together, our combined leadership capabilities and skills can make the difference. Why not start today?

Take the survey to get started!

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Are You as Powerful as Melissa?

In my recent blog about Be Chief’s charity partner, Sammy’s House, I referenced a six-year-old wheelchair-bound girl, “Melissa,” who taught me what a true power looks like. After several requests from readers to learn a little more about her, I thought I’d share her story here—and challenge you to see how powerful you are.

Years ago, I volunteered at a rehabilitation facility in Morristown, NJ, working with a gifted physical therapist in a 100-degree heated pool. I assisted as the therapist used the warm water to stretch the muscles of children challenged with cerebral palsy and other muscular disorders.

We’d already worked with several kids on the day I first met Melissa. I remember her waiting patiently for her turn in the pool. Her calm demeanor and watchful eyes caught my attention. She seemed to be quietly taking everything in. When we got her in the pool, her smile lit up the room.

When we started the session, she was as focused on her task as anyone I had ever seen. She had one goal—she wanted to extend both arms together to enable her hands to grasp a small sponge basketball toy, drop it in a floating net, and score two points. At first, both of her hands were rigidly held close to her shoulders. During her first session, we were able to get just one arm to relax—and it moved just a few inches. Melissa gave it 100%, but this was going to be a long process.

I remember being struck by how each member of the rehab staff was affected by Melissa. I remember how Melissa entered the water with that same enthusiasm and focus every time, and after each session she made a point to say thank you to both her therapist and me.

It took Melissa nearly six months of weekly sessions to meet her goal. When she finally succeeded she let out a cry of joy that I can still hear to this day, as staff members in the area applauded.

She was confident. She was clear about her goal. Her energy was contagious. She influenced each of us and has made an impact to this day. She served others as a role model in so many ways. She sure served me, even when I started out with the belief that I was there to serve her.

And she reminded me that those with disabilities have amazing abilities to share with those of us whose challenges aren’t as visible. She is what I refer to as a Chief.

Your Power

How powerful are you? Do you give 100% like Melissa? Did you know you can actually measure your power and find ways to increase it? I created a brief survey to help you do just that.

The power you will measure has nothing to do with your title or position. It’s focused on influence, clarity, energy, confidence, and impact—the measures of real power.

Take the survey.

And no, Melissa never took the survey. Good thing too, because nobody would beat her score!

Melissa taught me to give 100%, so I’m giving 100% of the author proceeds from Be Chief sales to Sammy’s House.

Sammy’s House is a nonprofit agency that provides services for children with and without special needs. The organization operates a child development center, a respite care program, a summer camp, as well as family support services to fill the gaps in services for children and their families. Sammy’s House believes that all children have the ability to learn and to contribute to the community. The organization is particularly focused on children who are medically fragile and/or developmentally delayed. Children at Sammy’s House learn the values of acceptance and compassion, and the art of caring for one another. And like Melissa, these special kids each have a lot to teach the rest of us.

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Do You Know When to Quit?

“Never give up.” “Persistence alone is omnipotent.” “When the going gets tough . . . ” and on and on. Our culture is awash in historical reminders to keep our “nose to the grindstone” until the job gets done. We’ve gotten good at the hustle. But the truth is that our culture doesn’t know when to quit, literally.

What if the best decision is to give up? In his book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit, Seth Godin reminds us of the strategies that can help us stop working in a dead-end job or project. There are times when it’s best to cut your losses.

The business world understands how the law of diminishing returns works; at some point additional investments of time, money, and resources are not justified by the return. The best strategy in many cases is simply to stop.

But how will you know when to quit?  The answer is to focus on two costs, and ignore a third.

Opportunity Costs

In The Dip, Godin suggests it is time for “strategic quitting” when the opportunity costs are greater than the benefits of continuing on your current path. An opportunity cost is a big deal. But what is it?

An opportunity cost is the value of what you’d lose by not pursuing a better alternative. As I shared in my recent TED talk, I decided to quit my job as President of Global Services at AT&T when it became clear that the benefit of staying wasn’t as high as the benefit of doing something else. The result of leaving in fact became the opportunity to run an internet startup that gave me a very different set of skills and experience that are critical to my current role today.

Figuring out what you could do at any point isn’t easy, but it’s crucial.

Personal Costs

Sometimes, we wrap too much of our own ego into a project to be able to step back and say with conviction, “It’s time to quit.” But, according to research from Northwestern University cited in a recent New York Times article, “. . . when we discard unrealistic goals and switch to alternate goals we’re happier, physically healthier, and less stressed.”

That means separating failure from your sense of self-worth and viewing it as a needed stepping stone to success. Such a perspective can help you calculate personal costs you’ve already invested into a project.

Sunk Costs

While opportunity and personal costs are often difficult to quantify, it’s a third set of costs—sunk costs—that are the easiest to quantify and, as a result, often become the biggest problems.

As people get overly invested in the decisions they’ve made in the past, sunk costs from the past loom larger than they should as we look forward. The best advice I can offer regarding sunk costs is, ignore them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Translation: Know when to cut your losses and go build something better.

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Meditate at Work

“Don’t Meditate at Work.” When I read that headline in the print version of last Sunday’s New York Times I was stunned. The online version of the article’s title went even farther by asserting, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.”

“Mindfulness meditation, a Buddhism-inspired practice in which you focus your mind entirely on the current moment, has been widely embraced for its instrumental benefits—especially in the business world,” write authors Kathleen Vohs and Andrew Hafenbrack.

“A central technique of mindfulness meditation . . . is to accept things as they are [emphasis mine]. And the very notion of motivation—striving to obtain a more desirable future—implies some degree of discontent with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.”

To support their view, the authors share that they conducted five studies to see whether there was “a tension between mindfulness and motivation.” They report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that they found strong evidence that “meditation is demotivating.”

But as a mindfulness meditation advocate and business turnaround specialist, I simply could not disagree more with that generalization. Here’s why:

Apple, Google, Nike, and other leading companies encourage brief meditations during the day to increase mindfulness. The authors do acknowledge that fact. They also acknowledge “the practical payoff of mindfulness is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience.” These factors all increase the important factor of employee engagement. They have also been proven to reduce health care costs.

Additionally, along with all of these proven benefits, the author’s studies conclude that meditation had no impact on performance.

The study participants were less motivated simply because they weren’t concerned with the future or the past. They were engaged in the moment. In fact, the study “showed that mindfulness enabled people to detach from stressors, which improved task focus.”

Essentially, the study participants still got their work done, and under a state of calm and serenity.

The crux of the issue seems to come from differing views on the word acceptance.

In the view of many mindfulness experts, acceptance of “what is” allows individuals to channel their energy toward the change that they are committed to creating, as opposed to wasting energy on the needless frustration of whatever led to the current reality or what might result from it.

In my experience, with mindfulness people can both accept the reality of any situation and at the same time be totally motivated toward action to change the future.

My counsel: Don’t be misled by a headline. Mindfulness and meditation are both great tools that can lead to better health and greater productivity. While the scientists figure out exactly how and why mindfulness works (and the media continue to misconstrue those results), just know that it does work and is worth the effort.

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What Power Really Means to an Entrepreneur

How does an entrepreneur increase their power? If you believe, as some do, that power is all about title, position, authority, control, and supremacy, you’ll find it a challenge.

Entrepreneurs can give themselves any title or position they want. They have complete authority to do whatever they want whenever they want, and they have ultimate control.

Ask any successful entrepreneur how much time they spend thinking about this type of power and they will laugh. Because the answer is zero.

But ask these successful business people about the importance of energy, clarity, confidence, impact, and influence, and you’ll get a very different response. Entrepreneurs know their success is almost totally dependent on this definition of power.

In my work with many great entrepreneurs, we focus on how they can be powerful by increasing their:

  • Clarity with simple choices around discipline.
  • Influence with simple choices around supporting others.
  • Impact with simple choices around creativity.
  • Energy with simple choices around self-understanding and insight.
  • Confidence with simple choices around values.

Successful entrepreneurs are optimizers. They don’t have time to waste.

Entrepreneurs starting out don’t have the benefit of cadres of help. They need to be as powerful as possible.

How about you?

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Do We Need Another Executive Row Chief? No!

Should the C-suite make room for another Chief? According to Luis Gallardo, a global brand and marketing leader and author of the just-published book Brands and Rousers, companies should add a Chief Reason Officer (CRO) to executive row. I thought I had seen every Chief title possible, but I was wrong.

Luis makes his case in a recent Forbes article, where writer Bruce Rogers asks why companies need a CRO. Gallardo asserts, “[Companies] need to develop new executive positions like this in order to stay focused on their purpose and culture as progress occurs.”

While I’m one of the biggest advocates for added focus on purpose and culture, this is the craziest idea I’ve heard in a while. In my humble opinion, another executive position in the already crowded C-suite is the last thing companies need.

What we do need is more focus on the practices, skills, and tools required to enable all workers to be more agile in already top-heavy companies. And we need more investment in training, communication, and enabling technology that allows for broad decentralization, self-directed teams, and sustainable growth.

I’ve worked with teams that have consistently TRIPLED the growth rate of million- and billion-dollar organizations with just this approach.

More Chiefs do drive better results, and we need many more of them. Just not in executive row.

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Is Work-Life Balance the Wrong Goal?

My clients used to struggle with an issue that many people face. Both those with Chief titles and those without share the challenge of demanding jobs and a commitment not to let their jobs define them. At the same time, they constantly encounter the ever-present objective of “work-life balance.” We all do.

I’ve long relied on the wisdom of the book Sequencing by Arlene Rossen Cardoza, PhD, who wrote primarily for women. Her central premise was, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” In my work today, Dr. Cardoza’s words resonate with truth for both the men and women that I work with.

The Sequencing view is a longer-term view, one I believe makes the work-life balance issue finally attainable. Over decades, it’s logical to see life as a series of chapters in which different experiences fold together to create a book of a life well lived. With a longer view, there is time for marriage, family, care of children, career, care of parents, friends, travel, and personal growth.

Conversely, when the time horizon is “today” or “this week,” the work-life balance goal loses its utility, and many believe they are failing. But it doesn’t need to be that way. In my experience, a goal shift to “work-life integration” has offered my clients huge relief from what might be considered an otherwise impossible goal.

Many people view work-life balance as unattainable, offering up an image of the scales of justice with plates on either side that seek perfect symmetry; equilibrium only attained when things are still. But things are never still. More than that, many report a feeling of being judged by others or judging themselves with an unstated standard for what work-life balance should be. There are no shoulds.

Using the term work-life integration has proven to be helpful to my clients primarily for two reasons. First, it enables people to feel better about the constant change and seemingly accelerating pace of both work and life. Second, while the term balance brings up thoughts about a law of nature, the term integration brings with it a feeling of flexibility and permission.

Could a simple word choice help you? I hope so.

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Emerging Office Trend—No Offices!

Twenty years ago this month, Harvard Business Review wrote about the very latest in workplace trends for office space. At the time, innovative companies were adopting the Alternative Workplace Strategy of hoteling—the emerging office trend of dynamically scheduling the use of workspaces—as a means to saving money and working more efficiently. Under this approach, employees (particularly sales people and remote workers) were encouraged to limit their time in the office and share office work stations when they needed to come into the office.

The Harvard Business Review article highlighted my work as the initiator and implementer of this very approach at AT&T. In our situation, we needed money to invest in our employees, and headquarters said we needed to find it ourselves. We found it in hoteling.

Fast forward to today. With a commitment to sustainable growth and workforce flexibility, a new group of innovative companies is raising the bar again by utilizing enabling new technologies. I am honored to play a role at one of those companies, whose goal is even more aggressive: eliminate office space completely!

As a member of the Board of Directors of eXp World Holdings, I have had a front-row seat to the spectacle and brainchild of CEO and founder, Glenn Sanford. Significantly, his vision for an agent-focused real estate company included the seemingly radical idea of an organization without offices.

The company describes their virtual world this way:

“eXp World is the eXp Realty online interactive campus. Agents from across 49 states and 3 provinces in Canada as well as staff working around the globe create digital avatars that at first blush might remind you of popular video games like Minecraft or Fortnight. But in the fast-moving world of real estate, they aren’t playing games. Rather, agents visit virtual offices on a “campus” complex for support on everything from transactions in progress to IT support. Staff welcomes agents into these “offices” or may simply initiate a casual chat on a “bench” overlooking the “water.” 

Agents can embody the eXp core value of fun by dressing their look-alike avatars as they wish or even taking a speed boat out on the lake for a spin. Most of all, agents appreciate the flexibility of a virtual office space. As all of this communication is happening online, the participants are actually working from their home office or on the road. By providing this 24/7 access to tools, training, and socialization for real estate brokers, agents, and staff, eXp Realty carries no expensive leases and can reinvest in additional agent support and technology.”

This game-changing company has caught the attention of many media. What has been described as a “virtual reality real estate company” became very real this month when eXp joined the NASDAQ exchange—and flirted with its first billion-dollar valuation.

How might your company redirect the expense associated with bricks and mortar to better serve your clients, invest in your employees, and create sustainable growth for your firm?

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Two Ways to Catch a Bus—Use Both

Military and business best practices have a lot in common:

  • Discipline
  • Commitment to teamwork
  • Focus on adapting to change
  • Seeming obsession of the top to meet the needs of those on the front lines
  • Focus on values and service

But many business leaders are missing out on one particular best practice in the military that would offer huge benefits—the after-action report process, a retrospective project evaluation used to determine effectiveness and efficiency, and propose adjustments and recommendations. It answers one question: What can we learn from the past that will help us be better in the future? In my work with Chiefs with and without titles, I encourage the adoption of this practice in business. In my view, it’s more important now than ever.

With the current “fail fast”/agile focus of many businesses today, managers are encouraged to move quickly forward. And while I am a fan of speed, experience has shown me that too much speed also has a downside—you don’t learn all you can from your mistakes.

I work with business leaders to integrate this valuable practice.

In fact, my counsel to business leaders at all levels often includes many lessons that may seem obvious, but part of my job is to help them retain and apply lessons that will help them succeed. Founder Tom Watson famously used a single word to guide managers at IBM to “Think.”

I often use the statement, “There are two ways to catch a bus: either leave early or run like hell,” toward the same goal. The understated message is, start early whenever you can. (At several client offices, managers distribute small buses as a reminder to employees to start early whenever possible.)

My clients also hold “bus reviews” to retrospectively discuss lessons learned after a project is completed. When did we run like hell, and could we have started out earlier to catch the bus? Growth and wisdom come from learning. And learning takes time.

When could you or your team benefit from a bus review?

There’s no doubt that there are times when running like hell is the only way to catch the bus. Companies should be comfortable failing fast and using speed as an asset. But there are also times when leaving early—and reviewing when leaving early could have made sense—is the best option.

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The Power of This Year’s Graduating Class

If you are a graduate celebrating this month or next, you have a lot to be proud of. You put in a lot of work to make it to the end. Congratulations! You should feel great. In fact, you should feel powerful. The power of this year’s graduating class is unconventional.

Power is traditionally associated with superiority, authority, title, position, and control. But in my view, this association is perhaps one of the biggest problems—and opportunities—we have today. Too many people are looking for the easy way out by asking others for answers to important questions when they should instead own the responsibility to take their own position.

I believe power is a choice available to everyone. My definition of power differs from conventional thought and aligns with what power really is today. To me power is clarity, influence, energy, confidence, and impact.

I created the Power Compass to show you how to increase real power in five main ways:

  1. Increasing discipline leads to increased clarity.
  2. Increasing support for others leads to more influence.
  3. Increasing insight and self-understanding leads to improved energy.
  4. Increasing alignment with your values leads to higher confidence.
  5. Increasing alignment of your creativity choices makes a bigger impact.

Members of the class of 2018 understand what real power is. And more importantly, whether you are a high school or college grad, increasingly you are using your power to effect change.

College campuses in the United States have long been places where individuals have challenged conventional power centers. More recently, high school students have joined the fight to challenge the status quo. My hope is that you keep it up. We need your clarity and energy to make us all better.

As you celebrate your accomplishments, remember to thank those who taught you what real power is. And wherever you go from here, please pay it forward.

The rest of us need you to be powerful.

Congrats to the graduating class of 2018!

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The Avengers Are Powerful—You Can Be Too

Many are enjoying the latest, record-setting Avenger blockbuster movie because it’s great fun to escape into a world where fantasy figures can wield a shield or a hammer, or wear a suit to fly, turn invisible, or display super-human strength. Who will reign supreme? We are fascinated by power.

In the real world the power that fascinates is also a perceived supremacy, but in the form of title, position, authority, or control. People are captivated by the power of others: who has it, how they got it, and how they use it.

In my work, I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the most powerful people on the planet. These amazing individuals have taught me not only a different definition of power, but also a means to increase mine. One was a six-year-old girl with special needs.

These wise individuals taught me that real power is available to everyone by the choices they make in five areas:

Real power is influence, and it increases as we offer more support to others. Being powerful is more about giving support than getting support. Contrary to what you may have thought about power, service is the highest form of leadership. Serving others is a key to sustainable growth. And it creates the kind of influence that truly powerful people wield—the kind that resonates and uplifts.

Real power is clarity, and it gets stronger with discipline. Having power is more about creating an environment that encourages every individual to engage in their own form of self-discipline. That’s not to say discipline never comes from above, but by empowering each member of an organization to be accountable, discipline from above will not be required as frequently. Discipline brings clarity to any situation, increasing an individual’s power.

Real power is energy, and it intensifies from inside as our insight grows. Insight is an integral element of being powerful. A person with real power does not influence the world around him or her without consideration of the bigger picture that begins inside. From my experience with this vantage point, true growth—both personal and professional—is far more likely. Insightful individuals are able to tap into an internal energy that is felt by others as power.

Real power is impact, and it grows as we focus on our creativity. Creating the future is not about waving a magic wand. It is a concrete practice that serves the purpose of being powerful with a purpose. Creative solutions make an impact—on people, organizations, and societies. Real power sometimes comes from the unlikeliest of places.

Real power is confidence, and it rises as we better understand and live our values. What do you stand for? When you speak about your values and act accordingly, you increase your power because you are confident in your assertions. The power is palpable—and effective.

I hope you enjoy the Avengers if that type of movie is fun for you. Either way, I also hope you’ll think about the (super) powers of people in your life. Reflect on their energy, clarity, influence, confidence, and their impact.

You may want to ask yourself two questions: How powerful do you want to be? And who would you like to share your (super) power with?

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