Advice to My High School Self

If someone had told me back in high school that one day I would be sharing my life experiences with business professionals, or a group of soon to be graduating high school seniors, I would have responded that that would be highly unlikely. In high school I didn’t think enough about the impact I could have on those around me or the world. This is a letter I am writing to you about the life lessons you will learn in the near future.

1. Understand the importance of knowing yourself and your personal values. Many are not given the opportunity to pursue their passions in life. Either we are told very early in life that we should have certain interests, certain friends, we should attend certain schools or universities, we should have an interest in a particular profession. You will be told, either overtly or implicitly, that your choices aren’t perhaps the best idea — that they are not the typical and known path. I am not eschewing listening to others. It is a wonderful thing to receive guidance and advice from family and friends. No one, however, will know you better than you know yourself! Hold fast to your values and let the knowledge of yourself guide your decisions.

2. Life is unpredictable. What I want to communicate is the fact that you will experience adversity, setbacks and even direct opposition. Do not be afraid of experiencing the realities of life. Wrestling through setbacks and opposition produces individuals who are able to cope with life when it doesn’t go as planned. Don’t complain or wallow in disappointment or self-pity when this happens, know that these seeming setbacks are shaping and building your character.

3. Ask yourself, what are you doing for others, and what impact are you having on those around you? Are you a force for good? Be authentic, caring deeply about people, while creating a climate where people are cared for, understood, supported and challenged. What you do matters and deeply affects others. Be intentional about your actions and words.

As I look back over my life, there are a few things I believe that have made me into the person I am today and define success for me. Knowing myself — separating who I am and who I want to be from what the world thinks I am and wants me to be — allowed me to define success on my own terms. Taking time to cultivate healthy relationships allowed me to have true friends, who supported me on the path toward success. Lastly, asking myself what I can do for others and what impact I had on those around me enabled me to help others reach success. Keep this in mind, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”

See you in the future!

Your future self

This post was adapted from David Llewelyn Samuels keynote address at Flintridge Prep Senior Horizons Retreat

Be A Better Boss – The Twenty-First Century Imperative

If you have had a boss in your professional life, which is probably everyone reading this, you are acutely aware of the impact they have on you professionally and personally. They have either helped you succeed on the job, or have possibly created obstacles to your success. They may have supported your wishes to balance your family obligations with your career, or caused you to sacrifice your family to succeed at work. They perhaps gave you opportunities to grow and develop and are partly responsible for the success you are experiencing in your career. Or, they have been ambivalent towards you and your colleagues, by demonstrating no interest in your career, but only in their success. If you are like me, I’ve experienced all the aforementioned scenarios. I think you will agree that the type of boss we have, or the kind of boss we are, is extremely critical to our daily work experience and entire career. Said another way, your boss directly impacts the quality of your life. According to Robert Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst, having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack!

I’d like to suggest the following steps to help you begin the journey of becoming a better boss.

  • Understand that you have the greatest impact on your employee’s engagement — which is both their commitment to the job and their performance on the job. The latest research from Gallup finds that 70% of U.S workers are disengaged — “checked out,” sleeping-walking through their days. Recently, I overheard two business professionals chatting at lunch, and I could tell by the conversation that they were discussing situations at work. When they were finished with their lunch, one of the individuals said, “Back to the unhappy place!” I had to ask what they meant by that comment. Their response, “You don’t want to know!”
  • The need for bosses to develop self-awareness has never been more important. Your emotional intelligence quotient should be a priority right up there with your knowledge of your business. A good boss knows themselves well, as well as knows the business well. If you’re not already aware, your employees are listening and watching everything you do and say! If that doesn’t cause you a little concern, I would question whether you are “fit” to be a twenty-first-century boss! I recently interviewed a client’s executive team, and in giving feedback to my client from those interviews, they responded numerous times with regret that they have behaved in ways that had undermined their credibility. When I asked if they were aware of their actions at the time, they often surmised that they were completely unaware. So my question to you is, are you not watching your boss closely, hopefully to learn from them? If they are thoughtful, kind, respectful, intelligent and fun, then it is likely that you will adopt some of these good qualities. On the other hand, if they are dishonest, obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant, you may have to fight your better self to fend of adopting such destructive characteristics.
  • A twenty-first-century boss listens to his or her employees. I remember a former boss who during our 1-on-1 meetings would spend the entire hour typing and looking at her screen. Either she found me incredibly dull and boring, or she was oblivious to the fact that by typing on her keyboard and glancing at me on occasion sent a strong message to me that she could not be listening to me.The twenty-first-century boss does everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride. Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants. Today’s bosses must have a keen awareness that people in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what followers need, do, and say. If you will make a commitment to listening well, you can stave of falling into the trap of becoming a bad boss. In conclusion I’d like to leave you with a selection of Bob Sutton’s “Commandments for Wise Bosses”:
  • Do not treat others as if they are idiots
  • Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say
  • Ask a lot of good questions
  • Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance
  • Do not hesitate to say, “ I don’t know”
  • Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone
  • Know your foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses
  • Express gratitude to your people.

To be a better twenty-first-century boss, you must remind yourself that you are a steward — of careers, capabilities, resources and organizational values. Challenge yourself today —  to be a better boss — nothing less should be acceptable.

Reinventing Your Career

This topic is so close to my heart that I have held off on writing my thoughts for several weeks.Forgive me for procrastinating! Many people find themselves at different stages in their careers asking, is the thing that occupies most of my time – my job – something I truly enjoy or even love? I’ve had numerous conversations with many professionals who are actively disengaged in their current job, or are looking for a new employer. Gallup’s most recent survey on employee engagement measures 32.1% of U.S workers are engaged! I was catching up with a family member recently about their job, and it was saddening to hear how completely defeated they felt, and their lack of optimism that the situation could improve. This individual is a well-paid executive who has stopped caring about their work and is disillusioned about their career.If we find ourselves at this point, we must have the courage to ask ourselves if we are in the right  career.

In my experience, career reinvention begins at the point when you recognize very deeply that it is time for change, or put differently, the current situation is no longer working for you. This realization can be very scary and overwhelming for professionals, because most of us have invested heavily in education and made many personal sacrifices to get to our current position. So to confront the fact that your gut is now telling you to do something different can be troubling to say the least. That said, it is normal to have strong feelings and potentially mixed emotions and confusion when you reach a point of deciding to follow you heart and pursue your vocation completely.

The following four steps have helped me navigate my career reinvention:

  • I had a deep recognition and full awareness that there was so much more I wanted to contribute to the world professionally, and that my current career could not allow me to express myself more fully. This was no longer an acceptable proposition, and I chose to own my destiny rather than accept second best for my career.If you believe that you have a reached a point of ‘no-return’ in your career, it is imperative that you become extremely clear about what it is that you as an individual has to offer an organization — what you uniquely bring to the table! I would recommend using proven tools 

    The following four steps have helped me navigate my career reinvention:

    • I had a deep recognition and full awareness that there was so much more I wanted to contribute to the world professionally, and that my current career could not allow me to express myself more fully. This was no longer an acceptable proposition, and I chose to own my destiny rather than accept second best for my career.If you believe that you have a reached a point of ‘no-return’ in your career, it is imperative that you become extremely clear about what it is that you as an individual has to offer an organization — what you uniquely bring to the table! I would recommend using proven tools such as Managing Personal Growth or Gallup StrengthsFinder to assist you in identifying your values and strengths.
    • You must take a genuine inventory of your experience, skills, interests and passions. This means you have to be able clearly articulate your skills and experience in a way that has no dependency on a past job. Outplacement firms call this ‘transferrable skills’ because it helps individuals in transition realize that if they are hoping to move from one company to another, it is imperative that you can speak to how your experience and skills will transfer to the new employer. Career reinvention has very little to do with finding a new gig; it’s about finding where you as an individual can make the most significant contribution in the world through your career
    • A successful reinvention requires one to be unequivocally articulate about your brand and the distinct set of services you can provide. If you decide to take the entrepreneurial route, you have to realize that you are selling yourself and not a recognized brand. I’ve  worked for medium sized and large organizations which when mentioned are recognized by most. When you find yourself needing to reinvent your career, your previous experience is not the platform to build on; but those prior experiences are a reference which validates your capacity for the new. Make sure you can draw a line between your past experience and your reinvented future.
    • To be successful in your reinvented self, you must perform and deliver results beyond that which were acceptable in your previous role. I have found that if I am completely committed to delivering the best, and the idea of mediocrity becomes anathema, and subsequently successful career reinvention becomes a real possibility. If your career path has been somewhat traditional and predictable, then career reinvention is the exact opposite. You are completely exposed when reinventing yourself, and you must be fully aware of this reality. You have to give of your very best and not settle for anything less.

      This post is hopefully encouraging as well as challenging, because the last thing I want to do is mislead people into thinking that changing careers is anything but easy! After working for corporations for almost 25 years, becoming an entrepreneur has been extremely difficult. However, as someone who has achieved success as a musician and athlete, I’ve learned that to be a successful entrepreneur of skilled musician, tremendous effort and sacrifice will be required.So if you recognize that you’ve reached the place of career reinvention, understand that it will not be easy to navigate, but the rewards are life changing and rewarding beyond imagination. 

The Balanced and Authentic Life

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“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  Oscar Wilde

I was recently asked to present a talk on the subjects of authentic living, and living a balanced life. As I typically do, I’ll look through articles and books I have read previously and also search for current articles on the same topics. I was quite surprised to find how seldom the word authenticity appeared in business and psychological literature. It appears that most of what we are reading is pushing us to do more, rather than be more. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us are struggling to find balance. Or even more unfortunate, many of us are completely out of balance, having become almost entirely focused on doing, rather than being. So how do we regain our focus, and start on the journey to getting back to being authentic people who live balanced lives?

Becoming an authentic person really requires us to adopt a holistic view of ourselves. Authors Bob Rosen and Kathie RossIn have developed The Healthy Leader Model, which is an excellent framework for pursuing authentic living. As you can see from their model, there is so much more to us than we often acknowledge. We are so much kinder to ourselves and others when we look to develop ourselves holistically. As the business investor extraordinaire Warren Buffet says, “Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do”.

The Healthy Leader Model

The Healthy Leader Model

I remember the first time I heard someone say, ‘I need to be more productive.‘ The phrase may sound like a call to live responsibly, but subtly I think our performance based culture has robbed us of what it means to be authentically human. I know I’m not the first to make this observation; we are human beings, which means we cannot be defined only by what we do. It is far more important for our own well-being to find out who we are, not just what we do, and live our lives informed by that perspective. Easier said than done you say! The late Warren Bennis, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California says in his book, On Becoming A Leader, “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.” My work with my clients is helping them identify what is most important to them, and to become more of who they are, so that they can make the maximum contribution in every area of their life.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, genuinely happy individuals are few and far between. He asks us to think about how many people we know who really enjoy what they do and are reasonably satisfied with their lot, who do not regret the past, and look to the future with confidence. Probably, not very many! In Simon Sinek’s  TED-talk, Why Leaders Eat Last, I believe the following statement captures the heart of the problem for many of us business people; “In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so they can survive.” This truly begs the question, how can we humans be happy if at the end of the day we are hurting others and ourselves? Put another way, why are we not doing more to help ourselves and others? Sound too touchy-feely? It should, and that’s because our bodies and brains have been designed to do things that make us feel good.

Our bodies contain certain chemicals which are there for the sole purpose of our survival and making us feel good. Again I fear, that many of the activities of our lives; work and relationships, are actually depleting and do not enhance our human experience. You probably have heard of  some of these biological chemicals:

  • Endorphins – the chemical released in the body which reduces pain.
  • Dopamine – regulates movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
  • Serotonin – the chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.
  • Oxytocin – the chemical released in our body when we feel trust, love, safety and empathy in the presence of a person whom your body senses is safe, as well as enabling feelings of  bonding.

The reason for discussing these chemicals is to remind us that we are so much more than what we do, and so much more about who we are and how we are wired biologically and neurologically. I think we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis the important question, are the activities of work, family, and friends allowing us to experience those “happy-chemicals”?

Have you ever thought about the connection between working in a healthy environment and the impact it has on your psychological and physical health? According to a recent study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance, contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs! According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and one of the authors of the study, “When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don’t like their lives, they don’t.” To paraphrase, when we don’t like our jobs, our lives and our health fall apart!

Recently I had the opportunity to have lunch with a former associate I’ll call Jim, and inquired as to how he felt he was doing in his career. Sadly, I heard what many of my colleagues and friends seem to be experiencing; their bosses are either unable to talk about development and growth opportunities, or worse, their bosses show no interest in their associates careers. Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “abdication management.” The most troubling part of Jim’s situation is that he is a millennial and has only been in the workplace for a few years, and has already grown cynical towards management. I encouraged Jim to talk with others about his interests and even do a little soul-searching, and begin defining his values, purpose, and goals in life. As I said earlier, if we find ourselves going through the motions (only doing), including “punching-the-clock” at work, we are not  going to be effective in our jobs, and we will never feel those life-giving happy chemicals which are so fundamental to our human experience. We need to be in environments which support and allow us to be fully human.

My own journey to authenticity has not been easy. I can think of many occasions where people have misjudged my motives, questioned my actions, but this will always be the result of living a life where you are not thinking so much about what others think of you, but asking yourself, am I being honest and true with myself? It is in this place where our relationships with others move to a different level, and ultimately we begin to experience the kind of life that is centered on life-giving activities, rather than life-depleting activities.  Just this week over lunch with a friend, we talked at about a tragic event in this person’s life — the anniversary falling on this Mothering Sunday. Our friendship could be seen as quite unlikely, because on paper we couldn’t be more different; different ethnicity, thirty-plus age difference, different nationalities. We have become close friends because of the intentional authenticity on both our parts. As we talked about this event, my friend was moved to tears and neither one of us felt any embarrassment, but rather experienced those feelings of empathy, love and connection. As Brendon Bouchard author of The Motivation Manifesto says so eloquently, “We learn that the more we are true to ourselves, the more we can connect and contribute to the world. We find that the more free and spontaneous and authentic we become, the more our motivation and aliveness returns and the more others are attracted to us and want to be around us. I’m reminded and encouraged to embrace the words of the musical artist Sting, “Be yourself no matter what they say.”

The Power of Intention

IntentionYou may recall this saying from Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” What I have found to be true for many of us, is that we may have goals and aspirations, but we often miss the opportunities to be intentional in many areas of our lives — especially in our professional and interpersonal relationships. When I use the word intentional, think of words like deliberate, calculated, conscious, purposeful, which are all words of action and purpose. I think what Yogi Berra is saying is, living a life without intention, is a life lived without purpose or direction. As an executive and life coach, one of my objectives is to help my clients articulate their goals, priorities, and the vision they have for their organization or their lives. This is where the power of intention becomes palpable and tangible. Until we begin writing down our goals and priorities, we are in ‘wish’ mode, (it’s a start); but once we can see these goals in black and white, or we can talk them through with another person, we have moved to the mindset of intentionality.

Here are some suggestions to get you started on the road to discovering the Power of Intention:

  • Ask yourself with complete honesty if you have or are making a difference in the world! This question need not overwhelm you; you are taking the time to reflect on yourself and how you are caring first for yourself, and secondly, how you are impacting those around you. My personal journey into coaching is a result of such personal reflection. I frequently receive  a calls from colleagues, clients, and friends beginning with these words, ‘You are first person I want to share this with…”When those around you want to share their successes with you, you have become someone they trust and someone they consider a cheerleader and a believer in you! Similarly, if you regularly receive kind words and compliments from those around you, take note of this — it is a reflection of how you make others feel about themselves. Corporations and organizations everywhere could stand to promote behaviors and practices that foster cultures where people are encouraged to make a difference.
  • Write down a list of your priorities and identify if how you are spending your time matches those priorities. Last summer I attempted to ride my son’s single speed bike up a steep hill by Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, CA. It became painfully apparent to me that I wasn’t in any kind of physical condition to achieve this goal. I decided at that time that I needed to do something about that. So upon returning from our vacation, I purchased my own single speed bicycle and have made it an almost daily activity to ride my bike for about ten minutes around my neighborhood. One year later, I was able to navigate to the top of that same steep hill in Newport Beach from Pacific Coast Highway with success. I became aware, that if my health and fitness were incredibly important to me, then I had to become intentional about making exercise a priority.
  • Resolve to begin living life with a new sense of purpose. Another way to say this is, get to know your true self. As Robert S. Kaplan of Harvard Business School says of staying true to oneself as a leader, “ A business career is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’ve adopted a leadership style that doesn’t suit your skills, values, and personality, you’ll wear down”. This hopefully rings true for all of us professionally and personally. When I work with clients, we engage in a Socratic dialog — a back-and-forth discussion which leads to ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moments. You can begin this journey yourself by taking personality assessments such as discprofile.com or strengths assessments like strengthfinder.com. You may want to go further to understand and test ihhp.com your emotional intelligence quotient. The power of intention, as it relates to your personal development will serve as jet-fuel in both living a life of purpose and getting to know your true self. Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a short paper (50 pages) titled People Strategies – People at the Strategic Center. As I look back over the topics I covered, I realize that this was more of journal or personal manifesto of how I wanted to lead the teams I managed, build a culture of high performance and teamwork, mentoring and coaching, employee engagement, and developing people and leaders. During this process, it became crystal clear to me what I stood for and believed to be most important to me professionally and personally. Recently I struck up a relationship with an internationally recognized keynote speaker and author, as I was curious about the revolutionary concepts this person presented. A few months into this relationship I shared the aforementioned document with this individual and they wrote the following in response; ”I hope your organization recognizes what they have in you. I have met hundreds of executives in my career and few demonstrate the courage and integrity that comes through so loud and clear in our conversations and you’re writing. Thank you for sharing David!”Reading those words right now serves as reminder to me to continue to live a life of intentional purpose, and being true to oneself!

This installment on the Power of Intention reflects an analysis of any individual who has lived their lives as difference-makers. They have made a difference, perhaps changed the world, because they were people of intention.

Be Nice – It’s Good For Business, And It’s Good For You

“Being nice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak. You can be nice and strong at the same time. Thats a character trait we need more…” Shelley Moore Capito

It is truly unfortunate that many of our workplaces are not “nice” places to work. By nice, I simply mean, places where people treat others with the dignity, kindness, and respect deserving of all humans. What is even more unfortunate than the dearth of nice work places is the lacking expectation that our places of work can be “hubs of happiness”! And if you think that being nice is somehow Pollyanna thinking, being nice can change your brain! Did you know that doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin? Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that gives us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being.

I realize that readers from the four generations in the workplace; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials may respond very differently to what I’m about to say. Those of us from Generation X (born between 1965-1980) have been heavily influenced by a wide range of cultural and political shifts as well as technology, which has greatly affected our expectations at work. My generation, and the following Millennial Generation (born between 1981-2000) are particularly concerned with the work environment and work life balance. Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) and Traditionalists (born between 1900-1945), are typically less concerned with the environment due to their concerns with adult children, retirement and other concerns related to aging. That said, many executives who are primarily from Traditionalist and Baby Boomers generations recognize that the workforce is primarily comprised on Gen-X and Gen-Y.

I believe that if you and I want to work in a nice environment, then I must be the first to commit to being nice. We can only do this if and when we take steps towards self-development and personal reflection. As the greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, “He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it.” I agree with Socrates in theory and in practice. My own personal decision to pursue my present career is a result of many years of reflection on who I am at my very core, and then making a conscious decision to change course, and focus on leadership development and organizational culture. It’s probably good for me to acknowledge that I am on a personal mission to change our expectations of what is possible in the workplace. If you can take Socrates’ advice, you can begin creating a new reality, starting with you, by being nice to others and yourself. As uncommon as it is, one realizes quickly that being “nice” is germane to and essential to human nature. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

There is a very tangible effect on the workplace when being nice (respect) is not a core operating value. A recent article states,“Study after study points to unhappy employees, leading lives of unproductivity, which hurts profits. Gallup recently estimated that symptons of employee unhappiness — high absenteeism, chronic turnover, quality control issues, lost productivity, cost companies an eye-popping $550 billion a year! So does it pay to be nice? Emphatically yes! The firms listed in the 100 Best Places To Work in America, have out-performed their industry peers in annual stock market growth by two to three percentage points. In the movie Horrible Bosses, one of the characters advises the new executive on the block that,“the key to success is taking sh#$ from everyone.”Sadly, I do believe this advice to be the implicit if not explicit belief of many. I however, take great exception to this kind of thinking and sincerely discourage anyone who currently believes this lie. The real key to success is learning how to build harmonious relationships, engaging in acts of kindness which are both centered on others and yourself. This final point is directed toward management, to whom I sincerely hope will allow your intellect, imagination and emotions to be engaged by my following comments. Our places of work were never intended to be run by “the antichrist,” as one boss was affectionately described. If you haven’t noticed, expectations of managers in the 21st century have changed from what you may see in television shows such as Madmen. Most recently Zappos eliminated the management layer all together! Managers are expected to be leaders and leaders genuinely care about their employees, and are concerned with their employees happiness. Research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by psychologist Martin Seligman, found that there are five key areas that contribute to human happiness – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.  It is commonly thought today that enlightened leaders are participative, encouraging and focused on their employees development. Leadership involves counseling  or “people-development” skills. To see transformation in the managerial role from tyrant to teacher, managers need to be taught how to adopt approaches that will make them effective counselors.

In conclusion, we are all responsible for improving our work environment. I fear many of us have stopped caring, partly because we are continually disappointed by many in leadership positions. I am deeply empathetic to those who feel this way, however, I fully embrace Max De Pree, founder of Herman Millers’ challenge; “ In the end it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining who we are.”