Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

How to Avoid the Disaster of Leadership Vertigo December 17 2014 no responses


Is there a gap between how you view the impact of your leadership and the way others view or experience it? If there is, then you’re suffering from what leadership expert, speaker and author Tanveer Naseer calls “leadership vertigo.” That’s actually the title of a new book that Naseer has co-authored with S. Max Brown. As Tanveer explains it in a recent conversation he had with me, leadership vertigo occurs when your brain tells you one thing and the facts tell you another. Just as vertigo can lead to disaster in the rest of life, leadership vertigo can lead to disaster in organizational life.

In this recording of our brief conversation, Tanveer clearly outlines four principles that can help you avoid leadership vertigo. Even if you don’t think you need to, you’ll want to give this a listen. It might just save you from a leadership disaster.


Mindful Mondays: Reflect, Then Project December 15 2014 one response

rear-view-2We’re very close to the time of year when people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. There’s just something about that blank calendar (or at least more blank than your end of 2014 calendar) that makes hope spring forth that the coming year will be different in the ways that matter most. It’s a good exercise for sure. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” It makes sense to set some goals for a new year and to reverse engineer back from those goals to identify the specific actions that will likely get you there.

I’m going to lead you through a process for doing that on December 29, the last Mindful Monday of 2014. That process will be based on my new book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative (which is now out in an audio edition – perfect for those who are too overworked and overwhelmed to read the book and just in time for those holiday road trips!) In the meantime, though, I want to encourage you to take some time to reflect before you project.

Between now and the end of the year is a great time to look back on 2014 and do a lessons learned analysis. I’ve come up with a few short questions (think of it as a virtual coaching session) to help get you started. So, when you’re ready, grab your favorite cup of coffee or tea and take a half hour or so to take some notes on these questions.

Leaders Behaving Badly December 12 2014 no responses

Leaders Behaving BadlyYou don’t have to look very hard in any given week to find examples of leaders behaving badly. This week had a couple of doozies.

First, we had the story of Heather Cho, the vice president of inflight customer service for Korean Air. She was travelling on her own airline and as her plane from taxiing away from its gate at JFK, a flight attendant gave her macadamia nuts without asking if she wanted any and, (worse!) left them in the package. Cho flipped out and called the lead flight attendant to her seat to dress him down. She ordered him to look up the correct macadamia nut procedure in the KAL customer service manual. When he couldn’t produce the manual, she fired him on the spot and ordered the pilot to take the plane back to the gate so the lead attendant could get off the plane. The story went viral and created a PR problem for the airline. They apparently didn’t see it as that big a deal, however. Cho lost her job as head of in-flight service but is still a vice president with KAL. The fact that her dad is chairman of the conglomerate that owns the airline likely has something to do with that.

Then, there’s the case of Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman. As first reported on and later on Slate and in the Washington Post and elsewhere, Edelman was overcharged four dollars on a $53 order of Chinese takeout from a local restaurant who had some out of date information on their website.  Over the course of several days and what had to be many hours of e-mail writing, Edelman escalated a simple and honest oversight into the threat of legal action and gave boatloads of grief to a guy who’s running a family restaurant and was trying to make things right. When the story went viral, Edelman backed off and posted a short statement on his own web site saying he had gone too far. Some great role modeling there for his students at the B School.

Maybe one of the good things about the 24/7, go-viral-in-a heartbeat age that we live in is that’s somewhat more difficult to be a jerk as a leader and get away with it.  It used to be that the question leaders needed to ask themselves before doing something untoward was “Do I want to read about this on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? The likelihood of that actually happening back in the day was pretty small. Now, it’s exponentially larger and, as I wrote here last year, the impact of your freak-out can have such a big ripple effect.

If someone can Tweet about what you’re doing, post your emails or shoot a video of you freaking out on their cell phones (and they can and will do all of those things), you really have to stop and ask yourself,  “Do I want to present myself this way to a large part of the world?”

Not a bad question to ask before you head down the path of behaving badly.

Mindful Mondays: A Simple Way to Manage the End Of Year Rush December 8 2014 one response

Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. A simple act like taking three deep breaths can make a world of difference in how you show up at work and at home. As the pace becomes more hectic in these last few weeks of the year, slowing yourself down with some intentional breathing is a great idea.

I was reminded of this last week when I was meeting with a couple of dozen rising executives of a well known retailer. We’re in the middle of a four month leadership development program based on my books, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success and the new one, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. In the first session we spent a lot of time talking about and working on the routines that can help busy leaders show up at their best. As we began the second in-person session last week, I asked the group what they had been working on over the past four or five weeks.

Almost everyone said they’d been working on their breathing. When I asked them to describe the work they talked about taking deeper breaths from their belly, taking deep breaths when they were feeling frustrated and noticing that sometimes under stress they even stopped breathing. (That last one is pretty common actually. You might want to pay attention to whether or not you do that too.)

When I asked them to talk about the impact of paying more attention to their breathing, I heard some good stories about how they were staying more calm in the midst of packed days and making better connections with colleagues because they were showing up more centered. My favorite response, though, came from a woman in the group who had a sly smile on her face. I noticed it and asked her what she was thinking.

She laughed and said, “Well, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I’ve been doing it with my kids.” She explained that in those times when her five year old and eight year old had gotten a little crazy over the past month, she started taking three deep breaths. It changed her response. She stayed calm with her kids instead of getting crazy herself. Her kids picked up on what she was doing and have started breathing intentionally themselves. So, now the three of them are intentional breathers and the kids are recruiting their father into the mix by telling him, “Daddy, you need to breathe.”

Out of the mouths of babes, right? As you move towards the end of the year, don’t forget to take time to breathe. Here’s a link to a short video where I teach you how to breathe from your belly. If you’re already an expert at that, here’s a link to another video that offers about three minutes of the waves lapping against the shore at Pebble Beach. If that doesn’t make you feel like taking some deep breaths, we need to talk!

Five Things to Do to Find a Great Mentor December 4 2014 2 responses

luke-skywalkerOver the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune to have a number of mentors who have helped shape my life and career. I wrote about one of them in a pre-Thanksgiving post I wrote last week.

I don’t think I ever set out to recruit a particular person as a mentor. The relationships just sort of naturally evolved with the people who ended up being my mentors. At this point in my career, I’ve been both mentor and protégé (I can’t stand the word “mentee” – it sounds like a candy you’d eat after dinner.)  Considering both of those perspectives, I’ve identified five things to do to find a great mentor. With the hope that they’re useful to you or someone you know, here they are:

Mindful Mondays: Consider The People You’re Grateful For November 24 2014 one response

visit-holmesAs we approach Thanksgiving Day in the United States, I’m coming off an experience this past weekend that reminded me of what I’m most grateful for.  It’s the people and the experiences I’ve been blessed with in my life.

In the middle of doing a bunch of chores on Saturday, I got an email from Holmes Morrison saying he was in town and wondering if I could break away for a visit.  Holmes is on the very short list of the most influential people in my life.  I would have stopped doing almost anything to spend some time with him.  He was just five minutes away from where I live, so I walked over and spent the next hour talking with him and his son John.

Holmes and I first met back in 1989 in Charleston, West Virginia.  I was working for the state’s governor, Gaston Caperton, and Holmes was the president of the lead bank of a holding company called One Valley Bancorp.  I was young and had way more ambition than experience.  Holmes asked me to consider joining his bank but I was deep in to my work for Governor Caperton and didn’t want to leave.  He asked me again a year later and that time I said yes.

That was the beginning of a six year stint that opened up so many opportunities for me.  I worked closely with Holmes as he was promoted to be the CEO of the entire holding company.  He always gave me more to do than I had any reasonable expectation of doing.  He had me run a company wide quality improvement initiative, he got me involved in acquisitions of other banks, he asked me to make presentations to the company’s board of directors, he had me help him with his speeches and presentations, he made me responsible for the development and communications of the company’s annual strategic plan.

I think the most important opportunity I had with Holmes was all the hours we spent in the car together traveling to other banks talking about business and life.   It was such an incredible opportunity to learn how a CEO thought about things and viewed the world.  I also learned that Holmes is one of the most decent and gracious human beings I’ve ever known.  He truly shaped the rest of my career and life.

One of the main points that Steve Jobs made in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech was that you can never connect the dots prospectively, you can only connect them retrospectively.  It’s only from the perspective of the present day that you can look back and see how the mix of decisions, experiences and relationships over time have led to your life today.  When I connect the dots of my own life, there are a lot of blessings that have flowed from the years I spent with Holmes Morrison.  In this week of Thanksgiving, I’m particularly grateful for Holmes and the handful of other mentors that have helped shape my life.

Undoubtedly, you’ve had your own mentors in life.  During this week of Thanksgiving, why not take some time to think back on who they’ve been and how they’ve influenced you?  If they’re still alive, consider writing them a note, making a call or arranging a visit to tell them how important they are to you.  I’m pretty sure you’ll find the gratitude to be deep and overwhelming in the best possible way.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I’ll be taking a break from the blog over the next week or so.  See you back here soon.  Safe travels if you’re making them.

Which Matters Most? Ambition or Talent? November 20 2014 5 responses

fishbowlsOne of my favorite Saturday routines is spending an hour or so browsing through the weekend edition of the Financial Times on my iPad. There are often fascinating long interviews with newsmakers in a feature called “Lunch with the FT” and usually some interesting reviews of books I won’t read but am interested in learning a little bit about.  Without fail, though, my favorite feature is a short one called “The Inventory.”  Each week, the FT asks a person of note twenty questions, most of which are the same week after week.  Two of the most intriguing to me are, “Are you environmentally conscious?” immediately followed by “Do you own more than one home?”  Others I like include, “If your 20 year old self could see you now, what would he or she think?” “If you lost everything, what would you do?” and “Do you believe in an afterlife?”

My favorite question in “The Inventory”, though, is “Which matters most?  Ambition or talent?”

While the occasional few interviewee tries to fudge it by saying both or by redirecting the question, most come down squarely on one side or the other.  Of those with a clear point of view, it seems to be about evenly split between ambition and talent.

Lately, I’ve been asking colleagues and clients this question.  One of those folks spent close to ten years as a bat boy for two major league baseball teams when he was a kid.  One of those teams won the World Series.   This guy has seen a lot of talent in his life.  When I asked him the ambition or talent question, he immediately answered, “Ambition, no question about it.”  When I asked him to explain he told me he’d seen a ton of major leaguers with plenty of talent wash out after a year or two.  His observation is pretty much everyone at that level has a ton of talent.  The differentiator between the stars and the journeymen is ambition.  The stars work harder.  They put in the hours on the practice and the reps.  They block out the distractions.  They focus on what they’re there to do.  (Derek Jeter comes to mind as I write this.)

As I think about my own observational experience in business and other fields, I’m inclined to agree with my former bat boy friend – ambition matters most.  Sure you have to have a certain amount of talent to get in the game but the differentiator is ambition.  Another word for it might be relentlessness.

What’s your take? Which matters most? Ambition or talent? Would love to read your opinion and why you have it in the comments.

Mindful Mondays: What’s on Your De-Stress Checklist? November 17 2014 no responses

ChecklistIn a meeting with a group of CEO’s last week, we were talking about how to show up at your best under conditions of high stress. One of the group shared a checklist of that a wellness expert had given him. It was a list of activities you could do either indoors or outdoors that would lower your stress. Each activity has a point value assigned to it. The goal is to get in 100 point points worth of de-stressing activities a week.
Here are some examples of what was on the list and the point values assigned to them:
Activity Points
Massage 50 points
Meditation 50 points
Yoga 40 points
Warm Bath 30 points
Social Interaction 25 points
Swimming 25 points
Walk 25 points
Gardening 25 points
Music 15 points
Reading Fiction 15 points
So, I don’t have any research for you that explains how the points were assigned to these activities or why the goal is 100 points per week. Still, the idea is interesting. What if you had a personal list of activities that you knew would even out your fight or flight response with some rest and digest? And, what if you incorporated a few of those into your routines each day? Pretty soon, you’d have 100 points (or whatever the number should be) a week of activities that will make it more likely that you show up at your best.
Some of the items on my de-stress checklist include time with my family, yoga, reading, meditation, deep breaths and laughing and connecting with people.
What’s on your de-stress checklist? Which activities get the highest number of points?

Seven Things Leaders Can Learn from Bill Clinton About Connecting with People November 13 2014 9 responses

bill-clinton1Delivering his monologue after the midterm elections last week, David Letterman was talking about President Obama’s low approval ratings and landed a great line:

“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.”

As Letterman said, before delivering his punch line, being President of the United States is a “lonely, lonely gig.”

Being an ex-President of the United States? Not so much. According to Gallup, the most popular ex-Prez is Bill Clinton. His approval rating earlier this year was 64%. There are probably a lot of reasons for that. Most Presidents are more popular out of office than in. In Clinton’s case, he likely gets a lot of credit for the work he’s doing through his Foundation. He also does a lot of public appearances and is a master communicator and connector.

Earlier this week, I got to see exactly how much of a master he is when President Clinton spoke to a packed house for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. For just under 90 minutes, Clinton held an audience of 1,500 people rapt as he answered questions on everything from Ebola to education to Putin to what his most favorite thing was about being President (that last question was submitted by the moderator’s 4th grade son).

There were a lot of things I noticed Clinton doing that makes him world class at connecting with an audience. There were a lot of lessons that leaders can use to connect with their people. Here are seven of them:

Mindful Mondays: How to Relax Like a Baby November 10 2014 no responses

relaxed-babyOne of my guiding principles in life is to look for and act on the stuff that’s easy to do and likely to make a difference. Even the smallest mindful breaks can make a huge difference in reducing the overwork and overwhelm that comes with modern life.

If you are looking for a super simple way to get started, you’ll want to listen to my recent conversation with Mimi Sommers. Mimi is the author of a children’s book

called Relax a-bye Baby. Following the classic advice of write what you know, she wrote the book after she used what she had learned about body scan meditation to help her young son settle down, relax and go to sleep after a busy day. When he kept asking her to repeat the process every night, Mimi knew she had to write a bedtime book that other parents could read to their kids.


As I said in my conversation with Mimi, you don’t have to be the parent of young kids to benefit from this book. It’s a beautiful little introduction to a process that anyone can use to center themselves at the end of or in the midst of a busy day.

I think the best part of the conversation is when Mimi reads a few passages from the book. Enjoy this opportunity to relax like a baby!