Image Busters: Eight Common Leader Mistakes

There’s no shortage of ways to ruin your image as a leader. Here are eight common mistakes executives make – and you should avoid – that have a negative effect on leadership image.

  1. Too much seriousness. Leaders don’t need to be serious to be taken seriously. Leaders who are overly reserved look wooden, stiff and uncaring. A smile goes a long way. Show that you can take a joke or handle pressure with graciousness and warmth.
  2. Weak speaking skills. In a media-saturated world, people know a good speaker when they hear one. A flat or monotone vocal style, inappropriate volume or poor diction usually isn’t tolerated. Whether talking one-on-one or speaking to a crowd, pay attention to how you speak, not just what you say.
  3. Lack of clarity. What you say is enormously important, too. Leaders who speak with clarity of thought and message covey an image of effectiveness in a way that a leader who rambles or speaks disjointedly does not. If the message is unclear and non-specific, listeners tune out and assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  4. Self-absorption. Overuse the words I, me and my and you isolate yourself and don’t engage your audience. People prefer to be a part of something, not just the recipient of your efforts. Even if something is your idea, your vision and your responsibility, keep in mind that your job as a leader is much bigger than yourself.
  5. Lack of interest. Think back to when you were in school – which teachers captured your attention and imagination? The energetic teachers who seemed to loved their job or the ones who lectured dispassionately from the podium? Energy, interest and passion for your work are incomparable assets.
  6. Obvious discomfort. It’s painful to watch a leader who is uncomfortable in front of a crowd or awkward in conversation. If you are tentative or uncomfortable in the roles you play, people begin to doubt your ability to be an effective leader – especially in difficult situations.
  7. Inconsistency. Over time, your image becomes tied to your larger reputation. If you have a reliable pattern of behavior – one that is reflected in what you do and how you do it – your leadership image will be seen as genuine. Inconsistencies, in contrast, form an image of a leader who is flaky, insincere or dishonest.
  8. Defensiveness. An unwillingness to consider other views, a knee-jerk defense of your position or decision, or an inability to seek and hear feedback can undermine your image as a capable, effective leader.

This article is adapted from the guidebook Building an Authentic Leadership Image, by Corey Criswell and David Campbell (CCL Press, 2008).

Posted in Coaching & Feedback, Communication & Leadership Secrets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Credible Feedback: It’s Not About the Right Words

I get a kick out of some leaders who want to be better at “giving feedback.” Some are like seven year-olds who can’t wait to tell someone, “You got a booger hanging ow-cher nose.” The news they’re holding burns their palms until they can unload it. And yet, we want other people to be just as thrilled with our bad news as we are.

The question of how to give and receive feedback is usually near the top of leadership skills I’m asked to teach. What’s so hard about giving feedback? Certainly, fear of others’ reactions. We say, “He doesn’t want to hear it” or “She gets so upset.” We rightfully worry about how the news will affect our relationship with that person. It’s just as hard to receive it. When someone says, “May I give you some feedback?” I hear ”May I trash your self-image as a competent person?” I don’t really care that it is good for me (although it is).

The fundamental problem is this: the way we usually think about feedback ignores the power dynamics that shape our emotional reactions. Much of our emotional life originates in the dynamics of survival and dealing with threat. While criticism may not appear to kill or maim, it has much in common with the experience of blunt force trauma. Both put us off-balance and can leave bruises. Both can lead to avoidance, even when the feedback is given with the best intentions.

All through primary and junior high school I was told by teachers, “You’re capable of so much more than you’re doing.” This feedback was no problem for them because they were teachers and in charge, and I was the student and supposed to be powerless. Let’s leave aside the fact that, as feedback, it was nearly useless. It was so vague I could only conclude that I should try harder (at what, I didn’t know) or simply feel bad about my profound waste of presumably valuable intellectual resources. Since, I already put lots of effort into anything remotely interesting or challenging, I wasn’t persuaded that lack of attention was a good diagnosis.

In fact, I decided my problem was that too many teachers wanted to give me feedback. Unfortunately, I figured out a solution. The last time a teacher (9th grade) told me about my unfulfilled capability, I agreed with her, expressed dismay, and invited her to help me correct my defect. This changed the power dynamic, however. She wasn’t clever enough to tell me high potential and low performance were really my problem or sufficiently insightful to create more challenging learning experiences for me. Also, she had no idea what I should do with my unfulfilled potential. The result: outside of class she avoided me the rest of the year, thus solving my “feedback problem,” while leaving my sub-par performance untouched.

The easiest way to think of power dynamics in relationships is to think how actions  tend to move us “one up” in relationship to another or “one down.” Giving someone feedback or drawing attention to the problem their actions create always moves us “one up” and defines us as more powerful than they are. At least, that’s how it feels to the person getting the feedback. No one likes to feel less powerful. If you don’t want to be making an inadvertent power play, then you have to develop a different relationship before trying to give feedback.

Once we understand the power dynamics involved, I think the issue of feedback has a relatively simple solution. If I want to give people feedback, I must ensure that I am really good, really persistent, in asking for it from them. I have to make sure that I respond to the feedback I get with appreciation and thoughtfulness; that I don’t get over-wrought and don’t feel the need to explain why they are wrong or how I’m misunderstood. Once I’ve shown I have no problem taking a “one-down” position relative to you, I’ve moved the conversation away from the power assertion of unsolicited feedback toward mutual improvement.

It also helps if I can be explicit about why I do what I do. That’s because some of the things others don’t like about my behavior are intentional and represent a choice I’ve made; but others are unintentional and I may not be aware of how others are affected. Either way, no one will receive my feedback well if I’ve not solicited their perceptions and judgments. And why should they?

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What I Learned From Interviewing 30 Leadership Development Experts Around The World

This article was originally posted on

I know I have been quiet for a while but it has been with good reason. Over the last four months I have interviewed 30 leadership development experts from China, Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., New Zealand (yes, we have some), the Netherlands and Australia. The goal has been to work out what are the newest, most interesting and breakthrough approaches these experts are using to develop leaders in their countries. I’ll be publishing the results in an upcoming whitepaper, but over the next few weeks I’ll start outlining the main points of what I learned from them, as well as 15 tools and methods that they are using.

To get started here is an overview of the key principals I discovered.

Principal 1 – It’s about Mindsets not Skillsets

According to the experts I interviewed far too much time is spent in leadership development programs teaching people leadership ‘skills’. What actually derails or stalls most leaders isn’t a lack of skills, it is the combination of a changing environment and a stuck mindset. The most successful leaders are what is known as ‘learning agile’. They continuously evolve and adjust which means they can; get comfortable with a lot of uncertainty, learn quickly from other people, shift their leadership identity as their role changes.

The future of leadership development will focus less on skill set expansion and more on mindset expansion. New skills are easy to learn, but new mindsets are the future. [tweet this]

Principal 2 – Get Focused on What Really Works: The Three Levers of Development

Warren Buffett tells the story that the first time he and Bill Gates met they were at a party when Bill Gates Senior asked members of their table, what was the one thing that most helped them succeed? According to Buffett, he and Gates both gave the same answer, “I know how to focus”.

Most leadership development programs aren’t focused. They are a grab bag of different tools, techniques and methodologies thrown together, which don’t really coalesce around any guiding principles. But if you really want to help leaders develop you must begin with one simple fact – development is hard. And when things are hard you can’t afford to waste time and energy doing things that don’t work. Instead you must learn the levers that really lead to development and focus everything on them. In my interviews with the thirty experts I found that they used a wide variety of methods, but they believed development took off under three key conditions:

1. Heat Experiences: The leader puts himself into complex situations that disrupt and disorientate his habitual way of making sense of the world. The leader needs to grow to survive.

2. Colliding Perspectives: The leader creates ‘collisions’ with people from different functions, backgrounds, occupations, ethnicities and worldviews. These encounters open the leader’s mind and increase the number of perspectives through which she can see the world. She is growing a ‘bigger mind’.

3. New Map Making: Using these new experiences and perspectives, the leader works with a person or process to build new beliefs, stories and mental models that are more advanced and better suited to the emerging leadership context.

Many leadership programs contain one or two of these elements, but it is when you combine all three that you really create a strong container for development to occur. So how do you actually help leaders do these things? Based on the interviews I learned 15 approaches that the practitioners interviewed found the most powerful for helping leaders grow. There are five under each of the three levers . Over the next few weeks I’ll share my favorite ones with you. More soon……

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Experience-Driven Development, Talent Management & Development | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

CCL Hosts Cutting Edge Conference on Networks and Leadership

Attendees at the Thought Forum on Network Leadership and Leadership Networks

Organizers of the event

As our clients face new complex and interdependent challenges, we have been looking for better ways of understanding the role of formal and informal leaders in weaving and activating informal networks. How do we do it? Who is involved? How will we know when we are successful? These questions are part of the reason CCL (in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati) hosted a conference on the convergence of networks and leadership. This conference brought together 30 thought leaders from across the world to discuss the science and practice of networks and leadership, as well as gain new perspectives on the field.

Even though this conference was two years in the making, it was unbelievably timely. John Kotter’s new book, Accelerate, is bringing substantial attention to the role networks play in our organizations (not to mention how much they impact individual performance and community resilience).

Finally the long-standing traditional leadership guru embraces networks! Woot! (For a mini-review of this book, see my other blog post.

Heated Debate – Not about the basics – but about the future

The basic question – can networks help individuals, organizations, and societies be more effective – has already been answered. Yes. They can and do. We’re living and working in the networked age, and there was no question about this basic fact during the conference.

However, the participants made it clear that the answers to more interesting and more difficult questions about the emergence of leadership in networks are still ahead. The members of the conference challenged the status quo when answering these questions. I would like to say we reached consensus and had little disagreement, but then I would just be making stuff up to make this post sound nice. In reality, there were heated debates, significant disagreements, occasional raised voices, and of course, individuals taking seemingly intractable positions. The process was messy, but we know this is what happens when you bring intelligent, strong, opinionated people from different domains together.  And as usual in these rare instances, the outcome was impressive. Many participants left reporting that their viewpoint had been fundamental challenged and they felt renewed energy to engage in this work.

We didn’t agree on much but we did have some insights

We need network approaches to leadership, NOT Network Leadership [click to tweet]

We agreed (mostly) that our field of topic is leadership, and we don’t need another sub-set of leadership studies. We already have collective leadership, shared leadership, authentic leadership, ethical leadership, transformational leadership, transactional leadership, leader-member-exchange and probably more. We all study and practice leadership – this is fundamental. We are applying the lens and science of networks to the topic of leadership.

We had more questions than answers, but I think the questions were quite meaningful and provide a future area of work. These questions include:

Under what conditions is it effective/ineffective for the leadership role to be distributed in the network?

How do we make networks operate more effectively, and how do we identify who to work with?

What kind of leadership is needed in a network organization (i.e. in this unique structure)?

What can a team do to effectively change/build their network in order to be maximally effective?

How do network approaches uniquely help us understand the leadership phenomenon?

What this means for the science and practice

Drawing from our years of research on interdependence and collective leadership, CCL is pushing leadership scientists to discover answers and solutions to these questions. CCL is already integrating a network perspective in many of its custom and open enrollment programs. We have also created an aggressive research agenda to answer the critical unknown questions in this space. You will see much more of this research, writing, and networks and leadership content in the near future. A network perspective on leadership may hold many of the answers our clients need in order to remain competitive in this highly connected and complex world.

What you’ll see in the near future.

  • CCL White Paper on Networks & Leadership based on the conference
  • CCL hosting another follow-on discussion on this topic to take initial ideas into action at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA next month
  • A special issue of the Leadership Quarterly on Collective and Network Approaches to Leadership guest edited by CCL Research Faculty, Kristin Cullen and Francis Yammarino (State University of New York at Binghamton)
  • Applied Research Opportunities for those interested in partnering with CCL (please contact Kristin Cullen for more information on this)
  • Community and societal applied network solutions – helping the most interconnected sector tackle our societies biggest problems (please contact Chuck Palus for more information on this)
  • Organizational and Executive network solutions – what every organizational leader should know about how their own network impacts their success and how to create strategic advantage through activating their organizational networks (please contact me, Phil Willburn for more information on this)
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Go Where the Fruit Is

Why Not Go Out on a LimbIn this blog post I wrote about how playgrounds and organizations are remarkably similar, and how they both constrain intrinsic motivation and innovation.

The essence of the problem is that organizations (like children’s playgrounds) work to reduce risk and economize.  In playgrounds that manifests itself in rubberized surfaces, small slides, immovable parts, and structures cemented into the ground.  Children can play around the structures and on the structures, but can do little to move anything or change the structure to provide a new format or structures for their games.  They must be willing to stay within the prescribed format of the play structure and work their play around it, rather than alter the structures they are playing with to more fully engage in their play.

In many ways this is a metaphor for the way most organizations work.  There is a (perceived to be) immovable structure which people learn to play around and use as best they can.  Whether or not the structure is actually cemented into the ground is debatable; what matters is that most people think it is.

At the same time that the structures are immovable, leaders keep talking about the need to innovate, and bemoaning the lack of real innovation within their organization.  Seriously, how easy is it to really innovate – to either create something new or to use something old in a really new and innovative way – if the structure is presented as being immovable?

The message many people get is, “Innovate, as long as you do so around the current structures, don’t move anything, and don’t add anything to change the structure significantly because that would potentially be risky and we don’t want that level of risk.”  Is that the message leaders mean to send?  If so, that’s fine – and they should understand how much that limits the innovation and not bemoan the lack of truly “innovative” ideas.  After all, if nothing can change, how much innovation can you really expect?

For those leaders who don’t intend for that to be the message, what do you want people to do, and how much are you willing to risk to provide an environment where intrinsic motivation and innovation – and the potential payoffs from those improvements – is higher.  How much of the structures are you willing to unlock from the cement?  Are you willing for people to attach possibly risky structures to the currently stable structures?  Or would you prefer to keep the current structures in place and provide a completely new area where participants can create and innovate, understanding that whatever is created is likely to be both less stable in the beginning and more likely to change frequently as people try new things?

Just like the people designing and constructing playgrounds, leaders need to understand how the perceived and real structures in the organization constrain what their employees believe is possible, and how structures that are unchangeable reduce (crush?) innovation and the intrinsic motivation that goes along with it.  For leaders who really want the outcomes of innovation and intrinsic motivation, how much are you willing to risk to get it?  As Will Rogers said “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”  If leaders want their organization to collect more fruit, leaders need to help their organizations provide employees the license to go out on a variety of limbs.  How can you as a leader provide enough flexibility in the organization you’re your people to try new approaches to getting the fruit when they find a limb with potential?

Posted in Creativity & Innovation | Tagged | 2 Comments

Bucket List: 10 acts of leadership to undertake before you go

Bucket List: 10 acts of leadership to undertake before you go

We’re all familiar with the “bucket list,” a compilation of a few deeds we’d like to accomplish before we depart this mortal sphere.

Bucket lists are usually framed in terms of personal dreams: climbing Mt. Everest, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, wandering the galleries of Angkor Wat, and so forth.


But what if you came up with a Leadership Bucket List, describing acts of leadership you absolutely must carry out at least once? What would that look like?

Obviously we’d all have different lists, but here’s one for your consideration:

1) Spend meaningful time – a day, a week – doing the job of the lowest-paid employee in your department or organization. What better way to practice “servant leadership” than by actually experiencing what the “servants” do day after day?

2) Pick out the most important task you currently have on your agenda, and ask a trusted subordinate to do it for you. (Offer your help where necessary, of course, but put the task on their plate.) If you’ve trained and prepared your people as you should, this person will be up to it.

3) Identify a pressing business problem and get your team to create a solution. Don’t suggest a solution and solicit comments. Tell the team you will go along with whatever they come up with, as long as it’s serious and not ruinously expensive. Do you trust them enough to keep your promise?

4) Give an important (but not business-critical) task to a low-performing member of your department or team. Tell the person it will be a challenge, but you’re confident they can achieve it. Note: The worst that can happen is that the person fails. This won’t harm your perception of them as a low performer. The best is that the person succeeds. This could transform their opinion of themselves.

5) Schedule two or three weeks of vacation and ask a trusted subordinate to take your place while you’re gone. Empower the person to act for you in any capacity — appointments with customers or vendors, high-level executive meetings, etc. Don’t just slot them in as a caretaker.

6) Take your team on an offsite retreat, for a week or a long weekend. Prepare by making a list of your five most critical functions, and explain – in detail – what each entails. Tell the team you want every one of them to be prepared to step in for you, should the need arise. Use the non-instructional time for low-key team-building exercises, like bowling, pool, horseshoes or other non-strenuous activities that all can enjoy.

7) Ask each of your subordinates to draft a mission statement for the team or organization. In a meeting, compare each person’s contribution, with each other and with the official mission statement, if any. Be prepared to change the latter if the team’s work is more visionary, more evocative, or more precise.

8) When your department or team meets an important goal, present it to higher management as an achievement in which you played a minor role and the team took the lead.

9) Hold a meeting and ask each team member to enunciate their greatest strength and greatest weakness. Go first. Afterward, in individual meetings, use the strengths to build each person’s confidence and the weaknesses to challenge them to improve.

10) Make a difficult promise – one that stretches you to your team and then be sure to honor it. By honoring your promise, we mean either keeping it or, if that turns out to be impossible, explaining honestly why you couldn’t.

One more thing about this Leadership Bucket List: Even if you aren’t going to be leaving anytime soon (the organization or the world!), carrying it out will help you be a more aware, more effective leader for the time that remains to you.

Read more from Dave on the The HR Café Blog or connect with him on Twitter @TheHRCafe.
Posted in Experience-Driven Development, Teams | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t let fear get in your way of change

Everybody has something about themselves they would like to change.  If you’re like me, you probably have multiple things you should change.  If change is constant, why is it so hard?

Before you answer, let me share an experience I had earlier this year with a good friend and colleague of 20 years.  My friend called to let me know she was leaving for another job.  Yes, it’s a great opportunity for her and I do wish her all the happiness in the world, but what about me?  Did she once think of the impact her job change would have on me?  Surely, she knew the cascading affects her departure would have on the overall leadership and productivity of the group?  She had to know how terrified I’d be, losing an advocate and trusted colleague at this stage in my career?

As if this news wasn’t crippling enough, what transpired next was eye opening.

Change Now! Five Steps to Better Leadership

Jean is one of the authors of the new book, Change Now!, a five step guide to achieving the changes you seek. Click this photo for details.

The moment my mind moved beyond its temporary paralysis, my mouth went into overtime, shocking my ears.  My words were full of self-doubt, anxiety, and guilt.  Not my guilt—her guilt for blindsiding me and hurting me in this way.   I was anxious and full of fear.  I must have needed air because at some point, my mouth stopped and my friend began to speak.  She simply said, “I have turned down promotions to avoid dealing with ill feelings from colleagues.  I have let my fear of upsetting you and others limit what I want to do.  Not anymore.  I am through resisting change and now it’s your turn.”

Fear of change can stop us from reaching our goals.  The lack of anticipation and planning for obstacles is a common reason why development fails.  Having a clear sense of the effects change can have on you and others is critical to reduce anxiety and increase success.

Lesson learned.

Posted in Change & Crisis Leadership, Experience-Driven Development | Leave a comment

WAR (the Baseball Statistic), What is it Good For (in Leadership)?

No, I’m not talking about the song by Edwin Starr, the really good cover by Bruce Springsteen, or one of the funnier scenes from the movie Rush Hour. WAR is a baseball statistic that stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” Through calculations, WAR tries to summarize a baseball player’s total contribution to the team. So how does WAR work? Let’s say you were interested in how valuable a player really was to a baseball team, what that player’s real overall contributions were to a team. To find that out, replace that player with someone who gave minimal effort and did so at minimal cost. WAR would be used to calculate just how many more wins a player would provide the team over-and-above that replacement player that gave minimal effort under minimal cost. Just look at the equations in this snapshot from the Wikipedia website:

For quant-geeky researchers like me, this is cool. I love this stuff, particularly when stats and sports merge together. It’s a beautiful thing.

So what does the WAR statistic have to do with leadership? That’s when it gets even better in my opinion.

1) You as a leader, think about how valuable you are to your organization. How much more value do you give to your organization over-and-above a person who could be slotted into your leadership position who would give minimal effort at minimal cost? Is it a lot? A little? You have a lot of control over that, so think about how you can contribute to your organization through your leadership.

2) Now, think about the people who work directly for and with you. Use the logic of WAR. If your people could be replaced by others who gave minimal effort at minimal cost, how much more value do your people give your organization over these replacements? A lot? A little? If you said a little, you have control over that too. And frankly you may be failing at your job as a leader. You are gagging when it comes to the engagement of your workers. Our CCL research shows that when people feel supported by their organization and their leaders, they are less likely to leave, more committed to their organization, and more satisfied with their job. [tweet this]. You as a leader must foster the engagement of others at work.

So, I encourage and challenge you to think about how you can give your best effort and provide your best contribution to your organization as a leader. And then do it.

More importantly, I encourage and challenge you to think about how you can get the best out of the people who work for and with you. And then do it. [tweet this].

How are you answering both of those questions? Please share your thoughts below so that others can learn from you and continue the conversation using #LeadershipSolutionsCCL on twitter.

Posted in Influence, Talent Management & Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Who do you blame for work stress, your smartphone or your organization?

Who do you blame for work stress, your smartphone or your organization?As we saw on NBC news on Tuesday, some organizations have initiatives to give people time away from work by telling them to turn off their cell phones. Organizations are doing this because many of their employees spend their lives connected to work, and leaders are worried that their employees will become burned out or too stressed to make good decisions and be effective.

We’ve heard from many people at every level that it is a real concern. In a follow-on survey we have been conducting (World Leadership Survey), 87% of respondents said that they read work emails on their smartphone.

Those who use smartphones for work are dedicated employees who work substantially more than 40 hours a week and say they are committed to their organization. In fact, 34% of those who read work emails on a smartphone pay for the privilege to do so, since their organization doesn’t pay for their smartphone.

At the same time, only 63% of those who carry smartphones say that they are satisfied with their jobs, 55% say they have to change their personal plans because of work, and 33% say that their job is so stressful it affects their personal life.

But is the smartphone the culprit, or just a convenient target?

In our work on this in 2013 (Always On, Never Done), we found that people were annoyed and angry that they had to be in constant contact with their workplaces, and that the smartphone facilitated this contact.  But they weren’t angry about the smartphones.  In fact, they appreciated the flexibility the smartphones afforded them, while at the same time being stressed by the unceasing contact with work.

What stressed people out wasn’t the smartphone, it was what necessitated using the smartphone: their organizations expecting the work to be done in a timely manner despite wasting their time through unnecessary meetings, inefficient decision making processes, unnecessary emails, and inadequate infrastructure.

The people in our sample are highly committed employees who want to do a good job.  They take pride in their work and care about the people they work with, and don’t want to let anyone down. So when they don’t get everything done at work that they think they have to, they use the smartphone and their time at home to catch up on everything they were prevented from doing during their work day.

The fundamental cause of the stress for good employees is wasted time that has to be made up somewhere so the work gets done. That isn’t a technological problem, and I don’t believe it can be fixed with a technological solution.  The problem is a leadership problem, and needs a leadership solution – such as implementing effective smartphone connectivity policies.

As a leader, what is your solution to this problem?  How are you implementing it in your organization?

Posted in Work Life Balance | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Change Now!

If your approach to leading is “show up and see what happens,” you might want to give that some thought. You can accomplish an awful lot without goals and planning. But you might surprise yourself if you became focused and intentional about the changes you want to make in life — whether at work or at home or wherever you feel the need for change.

For the longest time, I thought I didn’t have the temperament for planning how I might learn, grow, and change. I’ve always approached things pragmatically — working out what needs doing in the moment, and doing my best to remember what I did when I found myself in a similar situation.

A couple of years ago while talking to a friend, I jokingly said we didn’t need plans and goals to get things done (notwithstanding my own career as a writer and an editor, full of deadlines, project plans, strategy sessions, and the like).

My friend has a way of tilting her head down and peering over her glasses at you when you say things like that. She fixes you with a look that says, “You don’t really believe that, do you?” Sometimes she even says it out loud.

Change Now! Five Steps to Better Leadership

Pete is one of the authors of the new book Change Now!, a five step guide to achieving the changes you seek. Click this photo for details.

“What about your degree?” she asked. I had returned to university a few years ago to pursue an advanced degree. “What about playing guitar?” I taught myself to play as a teenager because I was crazy about music. My friend got me to thinking. What about all of the other goals I’d set throughout my life? Learning to drive. I studied a book and drove around with my dad for that. Learning to write clearly. That took years of practice (still does).

Sometimes we develop without really thinking about it. But what happens when we put our minds to it? How much could we grow, and how quickly, if we focused on one change we wanted to make? I never thought of myself as a much of a planner. But my friend has me thinking differently. Developing a skill, learning to take a different approach with other people, helping a team push itself over the finish line—all these things can be focused and planned. You just need to practice with your eyes open.

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