Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

What is the Creator’s Code? March 26 2015 no responses


What do Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank all have in common? Amy Wilkinson has done the research and knows the answer. She shares it in her new book, The Creator’s Code.

Wilkinson’s book is based on what she learned in 200 interviews with entrepreneurs who founded and built companies that have generated at least $100 million in revenue for at least five years. Drawing on her training as a sociologist, she sifted through the transcripts of those conversations to identify the six skills that these entrepreneurs have in common. She shares those in The Creator’s Code and she shared them with me in a recent conversation.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur with aspirations of starting your own multi-million dollar business, I think you’ll want to listen to the recording. The skills that Amy has identified in her research are the skills that distinguish people who get big things done from those that don’t in this new world of work.


Mindful Mondays: Are You the Firehose or the Nozzle? March 23 2015 one response

cherrypickerAs you enter into countless live and virtual conversations this week, here’s a question to consider. Are you the firehose or the nozzle? Here’s a quick description of each and a few ways to tell the difference.

To get the mental picture of a firehose, imagine the real thing hooked up to a fire hydrant on a summer day. The water is turned on full force and is just gushing everywhere and in no particular direction. There’s a lot of waste and, other than getting the street soaked, very little is being accomplished.

In contrast to that picture, imagine the last time you saw a video of firefighters using the nozzles at the end of their hoses to expertly direct the water where it needs to go to do the most good. They’re acting with purpose to target their resources for maximum effect.

In conversations and written communications you can either be the firehose or the nozzle.

On the one hand, you’re flooding the zone with everything that crosses your mind. You’re not really approaching things with a particular outcome in mind; you’re just dumping all of your thoughts out there.

With the nozzle approach to communications you’re much more targeted and effective. You’re mindful – aware and intentional – of where others are mentally and emotionally and where you’d like them to be during and after the communication event. You take time to consider what you’re trying to accomplish and how you need to direct your communications to accomplish that.

So, what’s it going to be this week? Firehose or nozzle?

Ten Ways to Lead Bigger March 19 2015 4 responses

goldfishAs I wrote here a few months ago, the biggest development opportunity for many of the rising leaders I work with as an executive coach is to play a bigger game. Once a leader achieves a level of mastery in leading his or her functional team, the next step is to play a bigger leadership role (informal, formal or both) in the broader organization.

This dynamic has come up in a couple of coaching conversations I’ve had lately which prompts me to share these ten tips for how you or the rising leaders you work with can step up and lead bigger. The list that follows are based on ten of the 72 specific leadership behaviors in the 360 degree assessment that’s based on my book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Which ones present the biggest opportunity for you? Which ones would you like to read more about on this blog? Leave a comment and let me know.

1. Take time to get to know your peers and their interests.
2. Work to understand what is important to other functions and how those priorities fit into the bigger picture for the organization.
3. Seek out the input of peers, subordinates and superiors in the organization.
4. Make offers in support of the agendas of peers and follow through on those commitments.
5. Work with peers to develop win-win solutions to cross-functional problems.
6. Choose effectiveness as a more outcome than “being right”.
7. Put the agenda of the broader organization ahead of your functional agenda.
8. Contribute or even sacrifice key resources for the good of the entire organization.
9. Scan the external environment for trends and ideas that could have an impact on the organization.
10. Collaborate with colleagues to push through ambiguity or tough times to move the organization forward.

Mindful Mondays: One Less, One More March 16 2015 no responses


We’ve all heard the phrase less is more. Perhaps it’s also true that more is less. I think that’s where Robbie Vorhaus is coming from with his recent book, One Less. One More. Follow Your Heart. Be Happy. Change Slowly.

Vorhaus is a well respected crisis expert and communications strategist with years of experience advising corporate leaders, government officials and celebrities about how to get things back on track when they’ve run off the rails. After years of building his business and reputation, Vorhaus found himself about to run off his own rails and decided to make a change.

More accurately, he began to make a series of changes. That process is what led to his book, One Less, One More. Profound in its simplicity, the big idea of the book is to commit each day to doing one less thing that keeps you from following your heart and one more thing that will enable you to do that. From there, it’s rinse and repeat. It’s one less thing and one more thing each day.

In the accompanying conversation (which is a little longer than most of my interviews), Vorhaus and I talk about what he’s learned along the way, what it means to follow your heart and why it’s best to change slowly. I think you’ll find it thought provoking and perhaps life changing.


Make Better Choices for Better Time Management March 12 2015 no responses


There’s a very high likelihood that you’ve heard the counsel to spend your time on the things that are important but not urgent. Easy to advise, hard to do, right? It’s all too easy to end up spending your day reacting to things that are both urgent and important or, worse, not that important to you but urgent to someone else. And, after hours and days of that, burnout can easily occur and you end up wasting your time and attention on stuff that is neither urgent or important just to get some relief.

The time management framework based on urgency and importance was first introduced back in 1989 by the late Stephen R. Covey in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While the principles behind the Seven Habits are timeless, the world has changed a lot since 1989. A do more with less operating environment fueled by 24/7 connectivity makes focusing on the important but not urgent more challenging than ever.

Kory Kogon and her co-authors of  The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity are picking up where Covey left off by offering a book full of practical advice for effective time management in the 21st century. I recently had a conversation with Kory in which she explains the five choices she thinks you need to make to manage your time effectively. She covers that in the brief recording that accompanies this post along with some quick win ideas that you can apply right away to start putting more emphasis on the important and less on the urgent.



Mindful Mondays: Three Good Reasons to Embarrass Yourself in Public March 9 2015 one response

diary-teenCan you imagine what it would be like to stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and read selections from the journal or diary you kept as a teenager? If you find yourself in Denver on the right evening, you could have the opportunity to find out.

There’s a great story in the Wall Street Journal this week about a semi-regular gathering at the Contemporary Museum of Art Denver called “My Teenage Angst.” Similar events have been held in Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities around the U.S. The point of them is summed up by Ben Haley, an event organizer in Seattle, “Our guideline for would-be readers is to find something where your first thought is, ‘I hope nobody finds this.’ And bring that.”

Rachel Nyce, a participant in “My Teenage Angst” in Denver offers a good example of what Haley is looking for. This quote from her seventh grade diary about a crush she had on a boy ran in the Journal story:

“I wish I could take him to a brain wash place. Then I could brain wash him to like me! Wouldn’t that be awesome! Then we could go everywhere together! He would LOVE me 4-ever and ever!”

OK, I get it that standing up in front of a roomful of people and reading from your junior high school journal isn’t for everyone. I do think, though, that there are some important parallels between what people get out of these events and what is often missing in the relationships we have at work and elsewhere in our lives.

Here are three reasons why it could be a good idea to embarrass yourself in public and create space for others to do the same.

Do the Same Rules Apply to You? March 5 2015 2 responses

hrc-emailIf you’re following the news this week, you’ve probably seen the headlines about Hillary Clinton using a private email account supported by her own private email server during the four years she served as Secretary of State. As far as this blog is concerned, I’m not really interested in speculating on her motivation or intent in doing so. Nor, am I interested in spending time here parsing the legalities of how she managed her email.

What I am interested in, though, is the prompt that this story provides to consider this question:

“If you’re a leader, do the same rules that apply to everyone else apply to you?”

In Clinton’s case, it’s pretty clear that the expectation was that she would conduct her official email correspondence on a State Department email account.  No doubt, there were plenty of people at the Department (and not just the folks in I.T.) who knew she wasn’t sending or receiving emails at a StateDepartment.Gov email address. But, how hard is it to push back on a leader with the profile of Hillary Clinton? Pretty hard apparently.

If you’re the leader of a team of any size – from 10 to 10,000 to 100,000 – do you really want it to be that way for you? I don’t think you do. When you operate by your own set of rules, you send the message that you’re above it all. It’s the biggest signal you can send that you really don’t care what your people think. When your people sense that you don’t care what they think, they disengage and hold back. If only from the practical standpoint of getting the best possible results, that’s why leaders should follow the same rules that apply to everyone else.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Mindful Mondays: Considering Spock’s Legacy and Ours March 2 2015 one response

spock1When I looked earlier this morning, more than 1,000 people had left comments on The New York Times obituary of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mr. Spock. Obviously, I haven’t read all of them, but I have looked at a few dozen. Many of them are quite moving in the way that they describe the impact that Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock had on their lives. Susan in Madison wrote that she’s a scientist at a major university and that as the news of Nimoy’s death spread:

“faculty office doors quietly closed for five to ten minutes, and then reopened, its occupant looking a little sheepish and bleary-faced. The role of Mr. Spock meant so much to many of us. Mr. Nimoy’s character made science cool, made being a scientist cool. Countless colleagues are STEM professionals because of him.”

A reader named Ron wrote that Spock “so inspired me as a child that I later went into nuclear submarines to do acoustic research then got my pilot’s license and flew for many years.”

Reading about Nimoy’s life and the impact that Spock had on so many leaves me thinking about the legacy we create with the life we live. The biggest insight for me on this came from Nimoy himself in a video interview he did for the Yiddish Book Center Wexler Oral History Project in which he describes the origin of the Vulcan salute (most often presented with the phrase, “Live long and prosper.”) You can watch it on the Times web site and you should because Nimoy tells the story masterfully.

It turns out that Nimoy first saw what became the Vulcan salute when he was a young boy taken to synagogue by his father and grandfather. The elders of the congregation conducted a mystical ceremony that ended with them extending their hands forward with the middle and ring fingers separated to make a V shape. It made a very strong impression on young Leonard.

Years later, Nimoy was shooting a Star Trek episode in which Spock was going to interact with other Vulcans for the first time in the series. He said to the director that they should have some kind of special greeting that Vulcans do. As he recalled in the interview, “Humans, we have these rituals, these things that we do. We shake hands, we nod to each other, we bow to each other, we salute each other. What do Vulcans do?”

Nimoy drew on the legacy that his father and grandfather bequeathed him and decided that the Vulcan salute would be a raised hand with the third and fourth fingers separated in a V.

In finishing the story, Nimoy recalled that:

“That just took off. It was amazing. Within days after it was on the air, I was getting it on the street. It’s been that way to this day. It’s almost 50 years later and people are still doing it. It just touched a magic chord. Most people to this day still don’t know what it’s all about. People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.”

Being present and paying attention – as a young boy and as an adult – enabled Leonard Nimoy to fully embody a character that changed lives in ways big and small. Some people chose career paths because of Spock, others have spent time extending a blessing to others without knowing it.

All of us, through being present and paying attention, have the opportunity to create legacies that can change lives. Sometimes we’ll clearly see the impact of that; most of the time we won’t. Some of us will have big platforms like an iconic television show to multiply the impact of our legacy; most of us won’t. All of it matters though.

As Spock himself might have said, live long, prosper and leave your legacy.

Three Ways to Coach the Person, Not the Problem February 27 2015 5 responses

waterbottle2Back when we were co-teaching The Flow of Coaching module at the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, my good friend, hero and fellow Davidson College alum Frank Ball used to do a funny bit with a bottle of water. To make the point that coaches and leaders should coach people and not problems, Frank would put a bottle of water on the table in the front of the room and say, “This bottle of water represents the problem.” Then he would start coaching the bottle of water. Needless to say, he never got very far. The bottle just didn’t have that many insights on what to change or how to change it.

That’s the thing. People have insights, problems don’t. If you’re a leader who cares about growing and developing your people, you have to coach them, not their problems.

That’s counterintuitive for a lot of leaders and even a lot of professional coaches. The solution to the problem is so obvious (to you) that you just want to jump in there and solve it for them.  That’s not coaching; that’s providing the answer. There’s not much growth in that approach. In fact, you might set growth back by creating a dependency that locks both of you into doing what you’ve always done. And of course when you do that, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.

So, the next time you feel the urge to coach the problem, try one or more of these three ways to coach the person and not the problem.

Mindful Mondays: What Would You Say In Your Acceptance Speech? February 23 2015 no responses

oprah-awardSo imagine this. You’re an Academy Awards nominee and you’ve just won a coveted Oscar. (Maybe even a super cool Lego Oscar like Oprah got.) You’ve got around 60 seconds at the podium to say what’s on your heart before the orchestra cranks it up and starts playing you off the stage.

What would you say?

Would you follow the lead of Best Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons and thank your wife and kids first and then wrap it up by encouraging people everywhere to call, not text, their parents and let them talk as long as they want?

Would you make a statement on societal issues like Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette did on equal pay for women or Best Song co-winner John Legend did on voting rights and sentencing and prison reform?

Perhaps you’d tell a moving personal story like Graham Moore, the winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game. Making a connection between the life of the hero of the movie, Alan Turing, and his own journey, Moore disclosed:

“I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? If, in one of the most important moments of your life, you had 60 seconds to say what was most on your heart or on your mind what would it be?

This week, why not give some time to thinking through what you would say if you were giving that acceptance speech. The odds are that you’re not going to win an Oscar but what’s stopping you from going ahead and giving that speech anyway to the person or people with whom you want to share it?  There’s no time like the present.  Say what you want to say to them.

And, if the Oscar is a vital part of the picture for you, you can always build one out of Lego blocks.

Let me know how it goes. And please send me a pic of any Oscar statuettes you build.