Next Level Blog

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Mindful Mondays: Old Memories and Fresh Perspective October 5 2015 no responses


This past weekend I attended the Capital Coaches Conference to give a couple of presentations on “Coaching Your Clients to Mindfulness” and to share with a few hundred fellow coaches how our Life GPS® personal planning model makes it easier for busier people to be more aware and intentional. Along with many other factors, one of the most fun parts of the conference was getting to visit with a lot of old and new friends who have been long-time readers of this blog.

It’s really humbling and gratifying when people tell me they got something out of a particular post (sometimes years ago) or how they share the blog with their friends and colleagues. One of my friends, Eric, told me how much he enjoyed the series of posts I did over five years ago about my overnight visit to the aircraft carrier, USS Harry S Truman. Our conversation surfaced some good memories for me.

I spent a few minutes today reading the opening post of that series. As I wrote back then, I was beyond impressed by the capabilities of the crew of the Truman and how everything was organized to set them up for success. From the perspective of the way my own work has evolved over the past five years, I recognize now just how mindful – aware and intentional – the sailors and airmen on that ship were.

There are mental vignettes that stand out for me.

One was the conversation I had with the 20 year old seaman who was responsible for making sure that half a billion dollars worth of aircraft was properly parked and positioned in a hangar bay below deck. He explained the process he used to make sure that everything was in its place and how important it was to ensuring a safe and reliable operating environment for everyone involved. It was an impressive display of awareness and intention.

Another was when our group was on the bridge watching night flight operations. It was a pitch black night and the rain was blowing sideways. I remember watching an aircraft director guiding an F/A-18 to its parking space after it landed. The pilot followed the signal flashlights of the guy on the deck until his jet was parked with its nose hanging two or three feet out over the side of the ship. That was one heck of a lot of awareness and intention on both of their parts and, for the pilot, a lot of trust and confidence that the guy with the flashlights wasn’t going to send him and his $61 million jet into the drink.

So, thanks to Eric for the conversation and for prompting me to go back and look at an old memory with a fresh perspective. I learned a little from that and had a lot of fun in the process. Thanks Eric!

Mindful Mondays: What Any of Us Can Learn from Pope Francis September 28 2015 no responses


Like a lot of Americans, I spent a lot of last week transfixed by the coverage of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States. I’m not Catholic, but found myself moved by his words and images several times.

The pictures were what really got me. The look of joy of people in the crowds as Francis passed by or moved to touch them was unadulterated. The happy grin of the Pope as he waved to the crowds out the back window of his Fiat as it left Andrews Air Force Base was priceless. There’s a picture in the New York Times this morning of the white robed arm of Francis extended for a handshake with the tattooed, ID bracelet wearing arm of an inmate in Philadelphia. How can you not be moved by that?

Because I work with a lot of leaders in very visible, demanding roles (not the Papacy obviously), I’ve spent some time thinking about what any of us who are trying to make the most of what we do in life can learn from Pope Francis.

As the Pope was in New York last week, I had a call with a coaching client who works in the city. We shared a few jokes about whether or not he was caught in Papal gridlock and then found ourselves immersed in a conversation about why this Pope has had the impact he’s had on the heart of the world. The reasons are probably too numerous to count but a few stood out for us.

First, it seems like Pope Francis almost always shows up at his best. Whatever the situation or circumstance is, he seems to do or say just the right thing. He appears to be one of the most mindful people on the global stage today. He is usually exquisitely aware of what’s going on around him and, I suspect, inside of him. He then seems to act with focused intention based on that awareness.

This last week in America was a tour de force for the Pope. How does a 78 year old man with one functioning lung keep the schedule and pace that he kept? What are the routines that he follows that enable him to show up at his best so consistently? We have a little information on what he does to take care of himself and can make some educated guesses to fill in the gaps. For instance, in the physical domain of routines, I read that in the middle of a typically packed day in New York, Francis took several hours to rest. In the mental domain, it’s clear that Francis reads broadly and makes a habit of thinking deeply. Relationally, this Pope seems to draw enormous energy and perspective from connecting with and listening to people in all walks of life. And, of course, in the spiritual domain of routines, Francis ceaselessly asks the people he meets to pray for him or, if they don’t believe in prayer, to think good thoughts for him (a strong relational routine there as well).

When it comes to the outcomes Pope Francis is trying to create in homes around the world, in its millions of workplaces and countless communities, he seems very clear about his answer to a vitally important organizing question – who are you doing it for? Through his words and actions, Francis makes it clear that he’s doing it for the “least of these.”

Whatever your belief system is, I think there’s a lot any of us can learn from Pope Francis about what it means to show up at our best, the routines that make that possible and the outcomes we help create by showing up that way and being aware and intentional about who we’re doing it for. And the really cool thing is we can get all of that education just by watching him in action.

Mindful Mondays: Don’t Write Yourself Off September 21 2015 8 responses


Last week I had a vivid reminder of why, when a health crisis or some other kind of major life setback occurs, you should never write yourself off.

As I shared here last year, I was diagnosed with MS in the summer of 2009. My primary form of exercise, head clearing and general sanity maintenance before MS was distance running. In the months surrounding my diagnosis, I went from running six or seven miles at a time to barely being able to walk around the block. Thanks to the therapeutic benefits of yoga and other routines I’ve adopted over the past five years, I’m in much better shape now and able to live a very active life. The distance running, though, has pretty much been in the rear view mirror. I’ll run a couple of miles once a week or so but have found that I’m generally better off by spending most of my physical time on the yoga.

Last Wednesday, I found myself in Boston on a beautiful late summer morning with nothing scheduled until noon. Boston is a special place for me and a lot of other people. Two of the most fun years of my life were at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge across the Charles River from Boston. I was there from 1985 through 1987 and was a super serious runner back then. Along with some good friends and faculty members, I regularly took 10 to 20 mile runs on the path along the Charles. Those runs are among the most vivid memories I have of my time at Harvard.

sep21-bWhen I woke up last Wednesday, I stretched for ten minutes in my hotel room and, on the spur of the moment, decided to go outside and jog over to the Charles about four blocks away. I ran through the Public Gardens by the Swan Boats and a few minutes later was on the Esplanade by the River. I turned left down the path and headed toward the bridge that crosses over to Cambridge and Harvard Square. I had no intention or even a thought of running that far. I knew the bridge was about five miles away and I was just out to get some fresh air – out and back in around 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, I was still running toward Cambridge. Memories and emotions came flooding in. It was such a beautiful morning. My body felt great. I was running in one of my favorite places in the world on a route that I once was sure I would never run again. I cannot fully describe how grateful I felt to be there doing that.

As I rounded the bend in the river that offers the first view of Harvard, I stopped to take the picture that leads this post. Then I kept running. A little while later I was walking over the bridge to John F. Kennedy Street and past the Kennedy School. I stopped in a Peet’s Coffee for a yogurt, tea and a bottle of water. Then I walked further up the street and had my breakfast on a little table on the plaza by Out of Town News and the Harvard Square T stop. When I finished eating, I got on the T and rode back in the direction of my hotel to get ready for the rest of the day.

It was a simple but beautiful little thing that I got to do last Wednesday. And it was a great reminder of a couple of lessons I’ve learned and relearned since the summer of 2009. The first is to be present. I’m so grateful I had the presence of mind to go for that run last Wednesday. It may sound silly, but it was one of the highlights of my recent life. The second lesson is don’t ever write yourself off. When setbacks occur, whatever is happening can feel like the “new normal.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past six years, it’s that “normal” constantly changes. It’s pointless to try to predict what’s next. You literally have no idea. In the depths of my early struggles with MS, my wife, Diane, gave me a small paperweight with a quote from Winston Churchill. It says, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I am so grateful that I kept going – both six years ago and last Wednesday morning.

Don’t write yourself off.

Mindful Mondays: What I Did and Learned on My Summer Stay-cation September 14 2015 one response

Scott Eblin - Speaking ReelIn case you haven’t noticed, summer is more or less over. As we look back fondly on the somewhat lazier days just ended, it’s a good time to ask, “What did I learn this summer?”

One of my big lessons learned is that stay-cations can be fun, mind-expanding and energizing. That’s what Diane and I decided to do the last week of August. The calendar was completely clear which gave us time to catch up on some projects that required extended blocks of uninterrupted think time. Around mid-afternoon each day, we set out for a new neighborhood, walked around looking at stuff and wrapped up with dinner at a restaurant we hadn’t been to before.

It was the perfect balance of think time and fun time. One project that totally hit the sweet spot for me between think time and fun time was putting together a short highlight reel of a big keynote speech I gave on Overworked and Overwhelmed back in March. This was one of those projects that’s kind of been hanging around in the corners of my mind for the past four or five months saying, “You really need to do something about me. I’m still here.” (You have those kinds of nagging projects, right? I seriously hope I’m not the only one with little voices in his head!)

So, on one of our stay-cation mornings, I set my MacBook up under an umbrella on the patio and started reviewing the hour-long recording of the keynote. As I watched, I wrote down time cues for segments that could be candidates for a three minute reel. About four hours later, I had a list of 15 minutes worth of segments. Way too much. After lunch, I edited the list from 15 minutes to about six. Then I thought through what the order should be for those segments. My iMovie knowledge was below basic at that point but I figured out how to dump those six minutes into a working file and got a very rough cut of a reel. Then it was time for fun with Diane and dinner out.

When we got back from dinner, I showed her the reel and she was very kind in the way she told me to cut it in half. I went back and cut it down to just over three minutes in another hour or so of editing. And, here comes a good example of why you don’t want to a lot of heavy duty think work a few hours before bed. I woke up around 3:30 am thinking about how I could improve the video and could not get back to sleep. I decided to just get out of bed and finish it. The only problem was I didn’t know how to do title cards, add music, and make clean transitions in iMovie. YouTube to the rescue! I watched a great tutorial and got to work.

To make a long story short, here’s my new highlight reel:

In addition to the basics of video editing, what did I learn on my summer stay-cation? A bunch of reminders and ah-ha’s about the value of uninterrupted time to think without the deadline pressures of getting ready for a particular meeting. They include:

1. It’s fun to learn new skills and create something that you’re interested in.
2. You can be more creative when you have open blocks of uninterrupted time.
3. Your brain works much more efficiently when you’re totally absorbed in a project.

So, this year’s summer vacation or stay-cation season is over, but my video project experience has left me hungry for more time to go deep on some other projects. It’s a little harder to find that time during the normal busy flow of business but I’m also reminded of the power of choosing to leave time open for things that are important to you – renewal, time with friends or loved ones or going deep on projects that are important to you but not necessarily urgent.

It leaves me with the question, “What would it take to create mini stay-cations throughout the year?”

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.