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Standards of Success

Anyone who has been to a school reunion knows the pressure to look successful. In business, we often define external yardsticks and measure performance against them. But that same logic is not always appropriate when it comes to measuring the success of your professional life. As long as you use external standards to evaluate your success, you are guaranteed dissatisfaction—you’ll always find someone who is doing more, making more, or has more.

Instead of focusing outward, ask yourself what your standards of success are. Write them down and share them with those closest to you. This ensures you measure what matters to you, not to others.

Keep Your Cool

Are tough times making you irritable and short-tempered?

It makes sense: the economy is stressed and so are we. When things get tough, we tend to tap into our worst selves. Try these three ways to be your best self and keep your cool under the increasing pressure:

  1. Stay alert. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and take action. But don’t panic; panic only inhibits your ability to make good decisions.
  2. Focus on must-do’s. It’s easy to feel swamped with a to-do list a mile long. Decide what is absolutely necessary and focus on those items. Try not to let the fire drills creep onto your “non-negotiables” list. Balance it with those things that will ensure your company’s survival in the long term.
  3. Ask people about what they’re going through. Demonstrate care and concern. It may not be in your power to fix others’ problems but you may hear a story that helps you feel less alone in your own thoughts.
…and remember: you’re not alone.


Could It Be?

When I was working at a hospital years ago, I used to go into morning staff meetings and see problems so clearly, when others could not. I didn’t think I had the right or the capabilities to speak up sometimes – whether it was a management challenge I had an opinion on or a patient care issue. I worried about being seen as too new, or too inexperienced, or too arrogant, or too whatever to offer a solution to the team.

But mostly, I worried about being… too wrong.

So, I kept quiet most of the time and learned to sit on my hands lest those hands rise up and betray me. I would rather keep my job by staying within the lines than say something and risk looking stupid.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve consulted at high levels with organizations like Bank of America, Citibank, Exelon, Honeywell, Office Depot, The New York City Fire Department, Raytheon and Time-Warner. And I’ve learned one simple thing. As companies are figuring out their tough problems like which new markets to go into, how to to boost sales in a recession, or ways to increase employee engagement the thing that stops any of these good teams from being successful is not stupidity.

No, when an organization’s problems are tough (and really interesting problems are all tough) the issue is rarely stupid people. Rather, what limits success, growth, and winning is something more like blindness. Blindness, as in we don’t know the whole context, or see an issue in its full complexity. As in, we are blind in not knowing what we don’t know. Smart people know how to solve most problems and so when they are failing, it’s usually the fact that we can’t see what we can’t see because we are experts and we stopped looking at it fresh a long time ago. And perhaps you can identify how this happens where you work?

Perhaps you were attending a new strategy rollout and you “knew” big chunks of it wouldn’t work. Or the latest re-org focuses on optimizing the delivery of X, when you know the market is really looking for Y. Or your leader never seems to address the one thing that is stopping a bunch of other things from being successful.

Maybe you’ve heard the hallway chatter such as “don’t they get it?” and “will they ever deal with this?” The thinking goes like this… the plan seems crazy and the issue is Z, but since it’s plain to me, well they must see it too.

But tragically, their blindness can make us silent. We conclude that a topic is mysteriously “taboo.” We say to ourselves how busy we are, telling ourselves that the issue is theirs and not ours. If we do ponder what best explains the unmentioned elephant, we notice that one option obligates us to be a bearer of bad news to the powers that be. And what if we’re wrong? As Lincoln said, “better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than speak up and remove all doubt”. And so, in the end, 99 times out of 100, we choose silence. We don’t express our viewpoint and offer what we think could help.

And here’s the cost to our silence…when issues stay unaddressed, stagnant, broken…we all fail. We ship bad products, our brand suffers, and our company performance plummets. In general, things suck. Not just for “them” but for all of “us.” The cost of silence is total suck-ness.

When we are silent, we are hurting the outcome. You see, minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.

And so here’s the opportunity to avoid suck-ness, and the thing I’ve learned along the way to speak your truth without losing your job. Rather than saying, “This is the problem” which can risk looking the fool and quite possibly pissing someone off, ask this:

“Could it be …that this is the problem?”

“Could it be” is a conversation starter, rather than an assertion. It is the way you put it out there without having to defend it.Could it be allows the issue to be a question for everyone. allows for a dialogue exchange rather than a yes/no argument.

The blind need you to see. The silence needs to be broken. And perhaps risking being the fool is necessary to move forward. Underlying all that is courage: courage to speak, courage to risk, courage to stand up and speak rather than sit down and listen. Courage to break the silence…and when you do, the blind will see, the different viewpoints will be heard, and we can reduce suck-ness where we work.

Could it be….you’re ready to speak up?


Three Basic Elements of a Real Team

The word “team” is so commonly used in today’s organizations, most managers I come across are oblivious to its true meaning. Here are three key elements a group must have to be considered a real team and to maximize its potential:

  1. A meaningful and common purpose. This is more than an outside mandate from the top. To be successful, the team must develop and own its purpose.
  2. Adaptable skills. Diverse capabilities are important. Effective teams rarely online casino poker tournament have all the skills they need at the outset; they develop them as they learn what their challenge requires.
  3. Mutual accountability. You can’t force trust and commitment. Agreeing on the team’s goals is the first moment at which team members forge their accountability to one another.
One of the best books I’ve come across in my work with my teams is Pat Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. You’ll enjoy it…

Something Has to Change

I recently visited a large company to give a talk about the guiding principles in my book. From all appearances, it was a well-run company doing good things.

Many of the employees came up to me afterwards to chat, and I asked each of them, “How are things at __________?” Most of them said that things were good, and I had no reason to doubt them.

Others had a different response, and either from what they said or how they acted, it was obvious that they weren’t happy. Several of them talked with me confidentially and said variations of the following:

“It’s not a bad job, Dave, but my creativity is very limited”.
“I find myself constantly daydreaming of [something else]“.
“I liked it here at first, but now I feel stifled”.

These statements were invariably followed by something like: “I shouldn’t complain, because everyone tells me how good I have it. Lots of other people have been laid off or can’t find a job in the first place. Besides, I have good benefits here.”

Hmmm. Yes, it’s good to be grateful for what you have. Lots of people do have it hard these days, and that’s unfortunate. But here’s the thing: it can be a good job at a good company, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, if Buy Ativan you’re constantly daydreaming of something else, having a good job can be dangerous. A good job can keep you from a big life.

Sometimes what makes sense during one season doesn’t make sense in another; a commitment that was fulfilling at one time loses its allure. In these situations, pretending all is well is usually the wrong answer. If you’re discontented, it’s up to you to make a change. And if it really is a good company or organization that has treated you well, you’re not serving it well in return by giving it less than your best.

Aside from remaining stagnant and trudging along, when you find yourself in a good job that no longer meets your needs, there are only two options:

1) Find a way to bring the joy back to the good job.
2) Find a way to say goodbye to the good job.

You might think that leaving is hard. Of course it’s hard — it would be much easier if it were a bad job. Then the situation would become urgent and you’d do everything you could to get out as soon as possible. But because it’s good enough, you stick around.

That’s why, one way or another, something has to change.

Question: Have you ever found yourself discontented in a good job? What did you do?

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I admit it – I’m an impatient person. I can’t stand sitting in traffic or waiting in long lines; it just drives me nuts. Equally aggravating for me is waiting in a short line behind interminably slow people as I watch longer lines of people or cars move quicker than mine. Just the other day, I pulled up to the bank and picked the lane with the fewest cars in it, only to take nearly twice as long as it would have been had I just picked the nearest lane to where I drove up, as opposed to the shortest line of cars. Happens every time.

My impatience is a shortcoming and I’m working on it. As part of my seemingly unending quest to ease up a little, reduce my own stress and make life easier on my family (my daughter, Lauren, recently implored me to read my own book as I got impatient and frustrated in 90 minutes of traffic…classic) I’ve done some reading on this whole waiting game.

I discovered some research by David Maister in an piece entitled The Psychology of Waiting Lines. The paper is aimed at people who operate stores, restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other places where people (just like me) hate to be kept waiting. Of course, most of us are the ones standing in line, not the ones controlling the line, but I’m always interested in learning more about myself and the psychology of my behavior.

Maister’s main point is that the actual time we’re waiting may have little to do with how long that wait feels. Two minutes can pass in an instant, or those two minutes (like mine in the bank line) can feel like an eternity. Here are eight factors that make waits seem longer:

  1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time. When you have something to distract yourself, time passes more quickly. Some hotels put mirrors by the elevators, because people like to look at themselves.
  2. People want to get started. This is why restaurants give you a menu while you wait, and why doctors put you in the examination room twenty-five minutes before your examination actually begins. Tricky.
  3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer. If you think you’ve chosen the slowest line, or you’re worried about getting a seat on the plane, the wait will seem longer. Hello?!
  4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. People wait more calmly when they’re told Cialis, “The doctor will see you in thirty minutes” than when they’re told, “The doctor will see you soon.” Maister gives an amusing illustration of a phenomenon that I’d noticed while sitting in my doctor’s office recently for a check-up: if I arrive someplace thirty minutes early, I can patiently wait without a problem, but ninety seconds after my appointment time passes, I start to feel annoyed. “How long are they going to have me sitting here?” I start to wonder; as I glance at the receptionist nine times a minute.
  5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits. We wait more patiently for the pizza guy when there’s a thunderstorm than when the sky is clear. We wait more patiently on the plane when we know that there’s another plane at the gate.
  6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits. People want their waits to be fair. I got anxious, for example, when my family and I waited to get into the Florida Marlins baseball game this past Saturday night; where there’s no clear, fair way to determine who gets through the turnstile first.
  7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait. You’ll wait longer to talk to a doctor than to talk to a sales clerk. You’ll stand in line longer to buy an iPad than to buy nail clippers.
  8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits. The more people engage with each other, the less they notice the wait time. In fact, in some situations, waiting in line is part of the experience. A few years ago, Lauren and three of her friends waited happily together for five hours in a block-long line to see Taylor Lautner for six seconds at the premier of the movie Twilight. I asked her the next day how long she thought she’d waited – she knew it was “a while” but never looked at her watch and could only hazard a guess at about “three hours”.

Since I read this paper a few days ago, I’ve been a little more patient about waiting in line. I’m occupied (see #1) with analyzing my own experience of waiting in line. Have you found any good ways to make waiting more bearable? Or, on a different subject, have you found that understanding an experience better has made it more interesting or helped you to cope better?

Send me your thoughts to

Organizational Rehab: A 12-Step Program for Dysfunctional Companies

Many people have emailed me about a blog entry I posted back in December, 2010. It seems that the insight I shared, describing many organizations I’ve worked with (and for) as being “addicted” – hooked on self-centered policies and practices that mirror an active drug addict’s destructive behaviors; really resonated with a lot of people.

One on hand, I feel a sense of humility and deep gratitude for the positive feedback I’ve received on this topic. Equally profound (and surprising, even to me) is the enormous number of emails, phone calls, Facebook posts and Twitter DM’s I’ve received over the last three months from employees around the world. Messages from many, many people whose personal and professional lives have become unmanageable as they struggle to cope with life inside an addictive organization.

To those readers, and to you as first-time visitors to the Live the 8 Blog, I offer you hope in the steps that follow. Because there is hope for you and the organization you work for, just as the possibility exists everyday for the thousands of addicts that will find a new way to live a happy, healthy and productive life free from their drugs/behaviors of choice.

Here are my 12 Steps to Organizational Recovery.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our dysfunctional behaviors, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that only WE could restore our organization and our people to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to stop doing things just because we’ve always done them that way.
  4. We made a searching and fearless assessment of all of the policies and practices we did well, and the things we needed to improve.
  5. We admitted to ourselves, and to each other, the destructive behaviors that we had to surrender.
  6. We prepared our organization for how tough it was going to be to stop destroying our company, and the employees and customers we said we loved.
  7. We asked every one of our employees for forgiveness.
  8. We made a list of all of our team members, and made amends to them by getting to know them individually, and learning about their strengths.
  9. We redefined people’s roles and responsibilities around their unique talents.
  10. We continued to take an organizational inventory every quarter, and where we had relapsed into dysfunctional behavior, we promptly admitted it.
  11. We established new processes to continually measure success, and recognized those team members that were exceeding the company’s expectations.
  12. Having had an awakening as a result of this cultural transformation, we tried to live our new healthy, happy, productive behaviors daily, and to practice our guiding principles in all that we did.

To continue to do my part, I’ll revisit this topic often throughout 2011. In the meantime, share your story with me at Whether it’s passing along your own experience (in organizational addiction or recovery) or posing questions related to this topic, I’m obligated to be of service to you and always happy to help.

Oh…and FYI:

This version of the twelve steps is an adaptation of the original twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous which can be found here.

The 8 Movie

Welcome to The 8.

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The 8 Movie

Let Differences Become Your Direction

Welcome to Day 8 of
 The 10 Commandments of Leadership Blog Tour!

“Let Differences Become Your Direction”

Today, I’m hosting The 10 Commandments of Leadership Blog Tour, by For 10 days, 10 blogs are highlighting and discussing each of The 10 Commandments of Leadership, a new book by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura.

Every leader can learn something from this book. – Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager

Based on over sixty years of combined professional experience working with leaders in organizations of all types and sizes, The 10 Commandments of Leadership, written by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura, provides a powerful collection of universal best-in-class leadership beliefs and behaviors. Regardless of if you are leading a large organization, a small group of peers, or your own family, you need to be effective. Read on. Lead on. Choose to be the most effective and respected leader you can be.

EXCERPTED from Chapter 8 :: “Let Differences Become Your Direction”

Here’s the reality: Each of us is unique … no two people are exactly the same. So, if being different equated to being wrong, EVERYONE WOULD BE WRONG – including YOU! That would definitely be bad. You see, diversity in the workplace (in all its forms) is not something to be feared or squelched – it’s an advantage to be nurtured and encouraged.

7 Ways to Make Differences Your Direction

1. Hire and Promote People Who Are “Different”

 Staff your organization – and your team – with people who bring unique backgrounds, experiences, ideas, skills, and abilities to relate to a diverse customer population. And, by all means, avoid any temptations to search for and bring on your personal clones. You really don’t need more people thinking exactly like you or doing exactly what you do. You’re already here!

2. Encourage “Out of the Box” Problem Solving

 Teach, use, and reinforce creative thinking and problem-solving techniques like brainstorming. Get in the habit of using phrases like: “What if we …” and “Here’s a crazy idea …” – and avoid verbiage such as “That will never work.” Don’t be quick to evaluate or discount ideas and suggestions – allow them to be expressed, considered, tweaked, and built upon. And never “run” with the first idea you have or hear unless you’re absolutely positive that it’s a winner.

3. Keep the Environment “Safe”

 Make sure that all team members feel comfortable sharing ideas without fear of criticism or being laughed at. Make it clear that behaviors which inhibit or discourage the free-flow of creative ideas are unacceptable. And set the expectation that everyone will participate. With few exceptions, each team member has something to contribute … something that can benefit the group’s and the organization’s mission.

4. Support Intelligent Risk Taking

 Let everyone on your team know that taking risks in trying new things is not only okay, it’s encouraged – as long as it’s done intelligently. That means doing appropriate research, considering alternatives, and thinking things through before taking action. It means having a belief, an educated hunch, a reason for doing something – rather than merely shooting in the dark. And, for you the leader, it means accepting that with risk comes failure as well as success.

5. Provide Freedom with Fences

 Set the parameters (timetables, budgets, goals, etc.) for projects and assignments, but allow team members discretion on how they tackle those tasks. Of course, proper procedures – especially those that relate to safety and ethics – must be followed. That’s a given. But what need not be a given is the way people operate within established guidelines.

 6. Cherish the Challengers

 Think team members who periodically question procedures and challenge the way things get done are a disruptive pain? If so, you might want to do a little re-thinking. Those folks just may be some of your most valuable business assets. Why? Because, typically, they’re the ones who refuse to blindly accept the status quo … they’re the ones who willingly share their thoughts, beliefs, and concerns … they’re the ones who pave the roads to improvement and success. So, the next time someone on your team questions an approach or strategy, don’t roll your eyes – extend your hand, say thank you, and ask the person for his or her thoughts on what types of productive changes might be made.

7. Do a “Uniqueness Inventory”

 Write down the names of all of your team members. Next to each name, list what’s unique and special about the person that could be beneficial to the team and your organization. Include things like skills, experiences, languages spoken, creativity, analytical prowess, ability to perform under pressure, etc. Ask each employee to identify their own personal strengths and add those characteristics to your list. Then, review your total list. Chances are you’ll be surprised (and quite pleased) with all “the differences” at your disposal that can help you meet today’s and tomorrow’s business needs. Finally, strategize ways to tackle your biggest challenge of all: taking full advantage of what you have!


QUESTION for Chapter 8

In your organization/team/family, what behaviors can you adopt/what things can be done, in order to encourage more creativity and innovation?


Now is your chance to win! Here’s how!

1. By 12 midnight (Eastern) tonight: Post your answer to the above question (as a comment) on this blog and your name will be entered into a drawing to receive a FREE copy of The 10 Commandments of Leadership. Your name will be entered into the drawing a second time if you send us a tweet by copying and pasting the following:

@Leader_Solution I commented on Day 8 of The 10 Commandments Blog Tour

2. By 12 midnight (Eastern) on January 28: Post your answer to each day’s question (10 comments in total) for a chance to win a $100 Gift Certificate to

Be sure to click here to learn more about the book and see the schedule for The 10 Commandments of Leadership Blog Tour.

The Addicted Organization (Pt. 1 of 3)

Before founding Ascendi in 2004, I spent the better part of two decades in various clinical and administrative capacities in the field of addiction. Having been privileged enough to share in the lives of thousands of recovering addicts and their courageous families, I left that helping profession and transitioned to another – as an executive and organizational coach – which I anticipated being a fairly drastic departure from my previous career path. Little did I know…

What I’ve learned, in the thousands of hours I’ve spent working deep inside some of the world’s most well-known companies, is that addiction is rampant. On the surface, that statement should come as no surprise. But I’m not talking about the prevalence of employee substance abuse or its impact on productivity or profits. I’m talking about addicted organizations – workplaces that, just like the individuals I worked with in the past, are institutions that are experiencing chronic unmanageability. Companies who are seemingly powerless over their behaviors, who are increasingly involved in pathological processes, whose organizational lives have been dominated by destructive relational practices, who have lost a sense of their values and who function primarily out of characteristics such as chaos, crisis orientation, codependency, manipulation, self-centeredness, secretiveness, avoidance, feeling suppression, disconnectedness, denial, dishonesty and dualism.

The more time I spend consulting with organizations today, the more obvious it’s become that more than just “toxic” or “dysfunctional” (pick your euphemistic label du jour) many workplaces function in the exact same manner as the addicts I’ve treated most of my professional life. These organizations are hooked; and when some of them call my company in to help, they’re often (quite literally) just looking for another fix. So as a “corporate therapist”, what do I do in my work with these companies? Naturally…I conduct an intervention.

Over the next three posts, I’ll pass along some of what I’ve learned in my work with these organizations; and many of them (like so many of the gifted yet troubled addicts I’ve worked with) are good companies. They just can’t seem to quit doing bad things.

First, by reflecting back to the leader(s) in these organizations the behaviors they’ve shared that got them here, I help bring them to Step 1 - and (hopefully) to their admission of powerlessness over the old, destructive practices. This is best accomplished in two ways, much like an addiction counselor would intervene with, say, a heroin addict Viagra 100mg.

  1. I ask the “family”. In this case – the employees. Through interviews and surveys, I gather real (read: verifiable) data about the organization’s destructive behavior and deliver the findings back to the CEO. I’m always sure not to attach any of the emotion the employees may have brought to the disclosure and simply list the behaviors and the apparent consequences to their business, internally and externally. Example: “According to 60% of your Account Managers Sally, the Sales Manager’s attempts to boost product sales through intimidation and/or negative reinforcement such as [insert example of said negative behavior] has made them afraid for their jobs. Salespeople trying to build trust and elicit customer appreciation while conversely feeling mistrusted and under-appreciated by their boss (whether real or imagined) will eventually lead to their disengagement.”


  2. I assess the “patient’s” willingness. When I first started out as a consultant, I wrongly assumed that a Service Agreement for some of the organizational development work we do constituted an organization’s admission that they’d reached “bottom”. I soon learned that a signed piece of paper is no more an indication of a real willingness to change than being admitted to rehab signifies an alcoholic’s desire to stop drinking a fifth of Vodka a day. Sometimes the “patient” seeks help to appease a nagging spouse (employee). Other times, a client will involuntarily enter treatment as what we used to call a “nudge by the judge” – mandated to seek help after a DUI conviction or drug-related arrest. In rehab, or in an organizational development project, this might just be an attempt to create the appearance of willingness and to lull the “family” into a false sense of (job) security.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share more insight into the chronic problems facing the addicted organization and my experience in helping to bring these companies into “recovery”.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you worked in an addicted organization? Are you powerless over the actions of an out-of-control boss? If so, consider the Serenity Prayer that has helped millions of people before you as you try and slay the dragon today…


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

The good news is…there’s hope. Contrary to popular belief, people (and good companies) do change.