Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

Mindful Mondays: How to Live a Life That’s “Beyond Happy” August 24 2015 no responses


Being happy is a fundamental life goal for most people. But is it possible that by setting the bar at “being happy,” that we’re aiming too low? In her new book, Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being, Beth Cabrera makes a compelling case for striving for more. Better yet, she offers practical and actionable steps on how to do it.

Cabrera is a senior scholar at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well Being. She is also an expert and has conducted extensive research on the particular challenges that professional women face in managing the many demands on their time and attention. She does a great job of summarizing what women are up against in the first couple of chapters of Beyond Happy. The strategies and advice she offers in the rest of the book apply equally to both women and men.

In the recording that accompanies this post, Beth and I talk about her approach to moving beyond happy. The preview is that it comes down to hitting the sweet spot between feeling good and doing good. If you’re interested in learning more about how to do that, listen to my interview with Beth.

Mindful Mondays: The Case for Competitive Civility August 17 2015 no responses

golfers-civilThe executive that signed professional golfer Jordan Spieth to a long-term endorsement deal with Under Armour should get a raise. In the year, since he signed on, the 21 year old Texan has won two major golf championships, missed winning the other two by a total of four strokes and, with his second place finish in the PGA Championship yesterday, captured the number one ranking in the world.

He did all of this while remaining calm, steady and friendly. In short, he’s an absolutely killer competitor who is, by the standards of any era, remarkably civil.

I paid more attention to the PGA Championship this year because I had the very cool opportunity to be at the tournament site in Kohler, Wisconsin last Tuesday to speak at a program called Beyond the Green. It’s a day-long event that the PGA puts on for women executives and business owners. The setting at Whistling Straits was so stunning and the organization of the tournament was so impressive that I watched whenever I could over the weekend.

Here’s what I noticed about Jordan Spieth in yesterday’s final round. He started the day three strokes behind the tournament leader, Jason Day. They were paired together in the last grouping and went head to head with some masterful golf. The stakes for both were as high as they could be. If Spieth won, he’d be one of only three players (Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods being the other two) to win three major championships in one year. Day was trying to win his first major after some heartbreaking near misses earlier this year. Spieth did everything he could to press Day throughout the afternoon. Day never wavered. He finished where he started, three strokes ahead of Spieth, and won the Championship.

It was thrilling competition but what really stood out for me was the civility of both competitors. In spite of the tension and the stakes, they actually talked and laughed with each other. They interacted with fans lined up on the ropes for fist bumps and high fives. When Day boomed a drive on one hole 80 yards past Spieth’s own 300 yard drive, Spieth laughed and said to Day, “Holy ****, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” Day grinned back and flexed his biceps. By the time they got to the 17th, it was clear to Spieth that, barring a disastrous 18th hole, Day was going to win the tournament. As Day rolled a 40 foot putt within a couple of feet of the hole for an easy par, Spieth gave him a big thumbs-up. On 18, after Day tapped in his last putt to win the tournament, the two of them hugged it out on the green.

One of the things I said to the women at the Beyond the Green program is that golf, like so many sports, can serve as a metaphor for life. There are often times in professional life when we find ourselves in competition with others. It’s easy to get sucked into the competitive dynamic and lose sight of the humanity of the players involved – theirs and ours. Yesterday, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day reminded those who watched them that it’s entirely possible to be a killer competitor and still be a civil, decent human being. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Good on them for providing the reminder and good on us if we heed it.

Mindful Mondays: Quit Trying to Solve for Work-Life Balance August 10 2015 no responses


Do you know how many results come back when you do a Google search on “work-life balance”? I just did one and the answer is 176 million. That’s an awful lot of discussion on a problem that no one has really solved. You could keep trying to solve for work-life balance or you could try to solve for something else that is more attainable, accessible and would likely make a bigger difference for you anyway.

What if you started focusing instead on how you are when you’re at your best? The self-knowledge you’d gain from really considering how you are at your best might be enough by itself to make it worth the time. What kind of outcomes would you generate in the big arenas of your life – home, work and community – if you showed up at your best more often? They’d likely be better. What are the easy-to-do, likely to make a difference routines – physical, mental, relational, spiritual – that you need in your life to show up at your best? On the premise that something is better than nothing, how could you capture a little bit of the benefit of those routines even on the days when your work-life balance couldn’t be more out of whack?

Those are all questions I take on and offer advice on in my latest column for Fast Company magazine. The article is a basic introduction to how to use our Life GPS® personal planning tool. It’s already been social-shared more than 1,400 times. Chances are there’s something in there that will help you show up at your best more often. Take a look and let me know what worked for you.

This post was originally featured in our monthly newsletter, Leadership Insights. If you’d like to get regular tips on how to be more effective at leadership and life, you can subscribe here.

Mindful Mondays: The Surprising Benefits of Being More Fully Present at Work August 3 2015 no responses

here-now1Whenever we run a 360 or self-assessment based on The Next Level model of leadership presence, one of the lowest rated behaviors is usually “Gives others his/her full presence and attention during meetings and conversations.” If you take a little time to observe your own behavior and that of others you work or live with, you’ll understand why the behavior of being fully present is often rated so low. The increasing levels of addiction to checking smartphones and other screens throughout the day are well documented. If you’re paying attention to or distracted by what’s on a screen, you’re not fully present for the people you’re actually talking with. The same goes for picking up your phone and checking the caller ID when it rings during a meeting. Same thing with allowing someone to stick their head in your office or conference room to interrupt for “a quick question.”

Earlier this summer, I wrapped up a coaching engagement with a senior executive who, based on his 360 results, decided to work on being more present for his team. He made some simple changes during the day that were relatively easy to do and definitely made a difference in being more present for his team. Some of his go-to moves included:

1. Putting his smartphone in his desk during meetings.
2. Turning off his computer screen during meetings.
3. Conducting meetings away from his desk so he wouldn’t be distracted by what was on it.
4. Asking people who stuck their head in his office for “a quick question” while he was talking to someone else to come back later.
5. Negotiating a call back time with his boss rather than stopping what he was doing for an “important call.”

When I asked him in our last call to reflect on the impact of making those changes to be more present for his team, he said what surprised him most was that, “I feel like I’m a better person.” That was a pretty strong statement so I asked him to elaborate. He told me that after a few weeks of showing up differently he realized that his visible distraction had really been a lack of respect for the people he was working with. As he put it to me, “How do you treat the people you’re really depending on?”

The real surprises for my client came after he had been practicing being more present at work for a few months. By being more present at work, he’s found that he’s more patient outside of work. For instance, he used to regularly experience road rage on his commute and now he doesn’t. His daughter has been home from college this summer and he’s strengthened his relationship with her by giving her more of his undivided attention.  He summed it up for me by saying, “I’ve found out so much more about what’s going on around me.”

That’s a lot of positive leverage out of something as simple as deciding to be more present at work.

Here’s a suggestion. This week, work on being 10% more present with your co-workers. Pick a meeting or two every day where you’re going to put the smartphone away, turn off your computer and silence the ringer on your desk phone. Then notice what happens. Then do the same thing again tomorrow. If you do that every day for a week, you, too, may be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of being more fully present at work.

Mindful Mondays: Three Easy Ways to Unplug on Vacation July 27 2015 one response

phone-in-poolOne of the big reasons you need a vacation this summer is to take a break from the chronic state of fight or flight that an overworked and overwhelmed lifestyle generates. By doing some quick math based on email statistics collected by the Radicati Group, I’m ball parking that the average business person gets 113 emails per day. When I ask the people in my leadership workshops how many they get in a day the responses are usually in the range of 200 to 300. Whatever the actual number is, for most professionals, it’s a lot.

All of that constant input ends up putting your sympathetic nervous system in a state where it’s constantly generating a sense of threat. That’s what leaves you in a chronic state of fight or flight. If left unchecked, the impact of that on your productivity and your health and well being is pretty devastating. When your blood pressure and stress hormones spike and stay there and your digestive and immune systems drop and stay there, bad things happen.

Your vacation goal should be to do things that activate your rest and digest response (your body’s parasympathetic nervous system) so that you can relax while you’re away and set yourself up for a saner approach to work and life when you come back.  If you’re one of those people who are getting 100 or more emails a day, here are three ideas on how to unplug so you remove that source of stress while you’re away (and none of them involve throwing your smartphone in the pool):

Make your out of office message a real thing. Don’t be one of those people who “will have limited access to email while I’m away” and then responds to an incoming message five minutes after you get it. Instead, set up a rule in your email manager that sends all of the incoming you get while you’re away to a special vacation folder in your inbox. When you get back to the office, don’t open it. Wait on people to follow up with you when you get back. Only access the folder when you have to follow up on something someone is asking you about. After you’ve been back a month, delete the whole folder. Following this strategy will allow to relax without worrying about the 1,000 emails you’ll have to plow through when you get back. Now you won’t have to.

Designate a backup. While we’re on the subject of out of office messages, designate a backup who’s got you covered while you’re away and include his or her contact info in your message. Of course, you’ll want to get your backup’s buy-in and brief them on what’s going on before you leave. While you’re away, they’re going to cover your conference calls and handle any emergency situations that come up. (And, realistically, what’s the likelihood that there’s going to be an emergency? Do you have one every week? If you do, there’s a bigger issue there.) Ideally, your backup should be the only person at the office who has your cell phone number. If there’s a real emergency that they need your input on, they’ll call. My guess is there probably won’t be and they won’t call.

Read a real book while you’re away. The tactile feel of turning pages while you’re sitting by the pool will take you away. Stay away from all screens other than sun screen.

The point here is to disrupt your digital routine. The best case scenario is to take a complete break from email while you’re on vacation. If you can’t imagine doing that, set aside a limited amount of time in the afternoon to check in and then leave your phone in airplane mode the rest of the time. Don’t check your emails in the morning as it will just have you thinking about work all morning and you’re more likely to get sucked in.

Your best bet, though, is to follow the first few tips here and not check email at all while you’re on vacation. For extra rest and digest bonus points, stay off of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too. You’ll probably go through some withdrawal pains the first couple of days but you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel by the end of the week.

What’s the ROI on Your Leadership Capital? July 22 2015 no responses


The science of economics is often described as being about the division and allocation of scarce resources. Any leader has been through a corporate budgeting or capital allocation process has experienced this first hand. A lot of time and attention gets spent on the division and allocation of financial resources. Decisions about how to deploy them often turn on a expectation of return on investment.

What many leaders don’t spend as much time considering is the return on investment on how they deploy their leadership capital. Like everyone else, leaders have only so much time and attention they can deploy in any given week. It just makes sense, then, to consider the return on that investment and to make an effort to deploy it in a way that generates the most leverage.

With their new book, Lead Inside the Box, veteran leadership coaches and consultants Mike Figliuolo and Victor Prince, offer a simple yet powerful framework for how leaders can get the greatest return on the time they invest in the people on their team. Working from the premise that one size doesn’t fit all, Mike and Victor teach leaders how to assess who they’re working with and then, based on that assessment,  offer practical tips on how to lead and coach their team members.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mike about  Lead Inside the Box. In this brief recorded interview he offers some takeaways that you can put to use right away. If you think you might be able to get a greater ROI on your own leadership capital, you’ll want to give it a listen.


Mindful Mondays: The Surprising Benefit of Comparing Yourself to Others July 20 2015 2 responses

fruit1Every so often you hear a story that’s the exception that proves the rule. In this case, the rule is don’t compare yourself to others; just do your best and play your own game. The exception is the story that David Duval shared this past weekend at the British Open.

Even if you follow golf, you may not know or remember David Duval. He used to be the number one player in the world back in 1999. In the latest world rankings, he was 1,268. You don’t make the cut very often as a pro when you’re ranked 1,268.  As reported in the New York Times, earlier this year, Duval began leaving his playing career behind and signed up as an analyst for the Golf Channel.

When he got up in the broadcast booth, he started comparing himself to the other players and his perspective shifted. As Duval told the Times:

“When you’re playing well, you forget immediately about the bad shots, but when you’re not playing well and you’re struggling, you feel like everybody else is hitting it beautiful and perfect all time.”

Sitting up there when you’re announcing and recapping the tournaments, you realize, ‘Man, these guys hit some really ugly shots.’ Seeing that, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, everybody screws up and does bad things,’ and so it removes a little bit of the pressure of ‘I have to go out and play perfectly.’ ”

Duval started working on his game again with a different mindset. This past weekend, he made the cut at the British Open and stunned himself and the golf world when he shot a five under par 67 in the third round of the tournament. The tournament is still going on as I write this. Duval is finished and currently tied for 50th. He’s not going to win the British Open but that’s not really the point. The point is the perspective shift Duval got from comparing himself to the other players got him back in the game.

What if we all had a chance to get up in the broadcast booth and see life as it really is? It would look a lot different from up there. We’d see that everybody flubs shots now and then. We’d see that flubbing a shot isn’t as big a deal as what we do after we flub the shot. We’d see that the best players aren’t the perfect ones (there are none) but the ones who let go of mistakes and focus on making the next shot a good one.

That sounds like a much more fun and productive approach to life and work.


Mindful Mondays: How to Be Present and Win July 13 2015 one response

ticketsWe are all familiar with the phrase, “You must be present to win.” Here’s a story from one of my clients, Jessica, about how that idea can play out in real life.

“I made dinner for my family last week. That usually happens like once a quarter. But I’ve been thinking about and doing things differently lately and decided on the way home from work that I was going to leave my phone in my purse and just be present with my family for three hours. I made a quiche. The great thing about making quiche is you just use whatever is your fridge – the vegetables you weren’t going to use, the leftover breakfast sausage, fresh eggs. You put it all in a pan and bake it. It couldn’t be easier. While the quiche was baking, I goofed around and had fun with my daughter. I use Instagram as a kind of gratitude journal. I post pictures of things I’m grateful for. My quiche was very photogenic so I posted it. It wasn’t just the quiche, though, it was gratitude for dinner with my family and fun with my daughter. I was so grateful to stop and take time to appreciate the goodness in my life.”

Jessica is one of around 30 participants in a Developing Leadership Presence program I’m doing for rising leaders at a well known Fortune 500 company. Like a lot of professionals, she’s working in an environment of constant change that can quickly consume all of a person’s time, attention and energy. Jessica shared her quiche story during a check-in video conference we had for the participants. They’ve all been working on practical ways to build their leadership presence. Almost all of them have also been working on being more present.

To help with that goal, all of the leaders have created a Life GPS® to get clear about how they are at their best, the routines that reinforce that and the outcomes that should result from showing up at their best. Those outcomes aren’t just at work; they’re at home and in the community too. When I asked everyone on the video conference to talk about what difference their Life GPS was making for them, what I heard about was making the choice to be present.

Jessica made a choice that evening to unplug and spend quality time with the people she loves most. Michelle talked about the dance parties she’s been having with her pre-schooler in the early evenings. Susan talked about the choice she’s made to spend her first 10 minutes after waking up each morning with her bare feet in the grass. She’s found that doing that literally and figuratively grounds her. She used to start her day worrying about what was happening at work. Now she starts it by feeling grateful for the beauty of nature and the other good things in her life.

When I asked the group what kind of impact these personal choices were having on their work, just about everyone had a story about that too. James, one of the guys in the group said he’s realizing that if he holds on to what he needs to do for himself to show up at his best, it helps his team. Another guy, Josh, said that the routines he’s outlined in his Life GPS are “the only thing that’s keeping me in the game. The difference for me is I can bring joy to the room at work rather than anxiety. That makes me feel like we’ve got a shot.” Many of the leaders said they’re sharing the Life GPS® with their team to show that they care about how the people they work with feel.

Stories like that are overwhelming – in the best possible way – for me to hear. I’d love to hear your story. If you’ve read Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative and have been using the Life GPS®, let me know what difference it’s making for you. If you’ve been thinking about using it or want some guidance with it, consider downloading a copy of the Life GPS® Personal Planner. No matter how you proceed, remember that you can make the choice to be present this week and win.

Mindful Mondays: Change It Up This Week July 6 2015 one response

cineramaIf you’ve been reading anything I’ve written over the past few years, you know what a big fan I am of routines. I’m especially fond of the routines – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – that help you show up at your best. Mindful routines help us groove the behaviors that lead to incremental improvement. Incremental improvement consistently achieved leads to big results. So, yay for routines! That said, every so often it’s important to change it up.

scott-diane2Here’s a simple example from yesterday, the Sunday after the 4th of July. My anniversary present from Diane was two tickets to a Dodgers game. (Here’s the proof that we were there.) We had a great time even though the Dodgers were shellacked by the Mets. As we were getting ready to drive home after the game, Google Maps wasn’t kicking in on the smartphone. Instead of continuing to futz with it, I said, “Let’s just drive West on Sunset Blvd. We’ll get home eventually.” So that’s what we did and just past Sunset and Vine saw the minions attacking the movie theatre that you see in the picture accompanying this post. Diane is crazy for minions and there were some interesting restaurants around so we parked the car, got out and started exploring. An hour or so later we had had dinner at Blue C Sushi ($3 a plate happy hour pricing got us out of there for $24 – a record low for dinner out in LA!) and Diane got a picture of herself in front of the minions (which she has made me promise not to share here).

So, a simple little example of changing it up. It reminds me a lot of (and was probably inspired by) the stories my friend Per Wingerup shared with me when I interviewed him for Overworked and Overwhelmed. Per has a lifelong history of changing things up. That can be as ambitious as taking a year off to travel the world with his wife and daughters. It can be as simple as a smartphone-free exploration of a new town with one of his daughters as they walk to see her sister perform in a dance competition. Professionally, it looks like walking a different route every day from his hotel to his office when he’s away from home or scheduling as many meetings and conversations as possible away from the office or during a walk.

Routines are awesome but if they’re all you do, you can miss a lot that can spark creative insight, energize you or see things that you might have been overlooking. When routines become more mindless than mindful, that’s a good sign that’s it time to change things up.

Inside or outside of work, what are some simple things you could do to change it up this week?

Mindful Mondays: Love Casts Out Fear June 29 2015 5 responses

obama-charlestonIn a first century A.D. epistle to believers in Ephesus, John the Evangelist wrote that “perfect love casts out fear.” In the United States over the past two weeks, we have witnessed remarkable example after remarkable example of love triumphing over fear. As we begin a new week, it seems worthy to reflect on recent events and how they might inspire our actions going forward.

This extraordinary fortnight began on June 17 with the horrific murders of nine parishioners of Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young white supremacist who sat for an hour in their Bible study before he pulled out his pistol and started firing. Two days later, the family members of those murdered publicly offered their forgiveness to the killer through their grief and tears at his bail hearing. Five days after that, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley stood with other leaders of her state to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds. In recognition of the pain that the flag represents to African Americans, the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee soon followed suit and ordered the removal of the flag from state grounds and license plates. Dylann Roof, the confessed shooter in Charleston, acted out of fear. The family members of his victims forgave him out of love. That love compelled public officials to disavow an historical symbol of suffering and fear.

The day after Haley’s press conference, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional as written thereby assuaging the fears of 15 million newly insured Americans that they might lose their health coverage. Reasonable people can, have and will argue over the structure of health care reform, but one can hope that the Court’s ruling will put an end to fear mongering arguments over “death panels” and the “job killing” health care bill and that the conversations and work will continue on a higher plane.

And then, a day later, the Court issued its ruling that all Americans have the right to marry the person they love. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion:

“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

In Rose Garden remarks after the ruling was announced, President Obama began by saying:

“Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal…  The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times — a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.  And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

How did we arrive here as a country with such relative speed? There are a number of reasons but the biggest is that public opinion on marriage equality shifted as more and more Americans realized that they have family members and friends who are gay and that they want them to have the same right to liberty and happiness that they themselves have. Love won over the fear of change.

And, finally, just eight hours after he delivered his Rose Garden remarks, President Obama stood in the pulpit before 5,000 mourners gathered in Charleston, South Carolina for the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel Church. The theme of the President’s eulogy for Clem Pinckney was grace. (You’ve likely seen the video of him leading the assembled in an impromptu singing of Amazing Grace at the end of his remarks.) The President said a lot worth considering last Friday. He gave a lot of examples of how love casts out fear. This passage in which he refers to the families forgiving Dylann Roof captures some of the essence of what he said:

“It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism…

Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.”

And, that, an open heart is the prerequisite to love casting out fear. It’s been an extraordinary two weeks in the life of America. We’re unlikely to have many more fortnights that are so supersaturated with import and emotion. Let’s not let that stop us, though, from acting with open hearts this week and in all the weeks to come.

Individual action leads to collective change. What if each of us, in our own ways small and large, acted out of love instead of fear throughout the day? Our workplaces, our homes, our communities, our country, our world, our lives would be different.

It has to start somewhere. Why not with each of us starting today?