Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

Mindful Mondays: Hug the One You’re With May 4 2015 no responses

goldbergAs I was skimming through the headlines from the New York Times on Saturday morning, I was stunned to read the news of the death of Dave Goldberg. You may not have heard of him until this past weekend. He was the 47 year old CEO of the online questionnaire company, Survey Monkey. He was also the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of the mega best-seller, Lean In. Goldberg died while he was on vacation with his wife.

By all accounts, most especially Sandberg’s in her book, Dave Goldberg was a great guy. It appears he was one of those people who spent his life encouraging others while doing interesting things himself.

It’s a tragedy when anyone dies unexpectedly in the prime of life. What literally took my breath away when I read the news of his death was the stark reminder that tragedy can happen to anyone at any time. Power couples don’t get much more powerful than Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg. Wealth, fame, friends, access, interesting work, a beautiful family, a vibrant marriage – they seemed to have it all.

None of that, of course, could protect them from the tragedy of sudden loss. When it comes to that, we’re all in the same boat.

I’ve written a lot about being present in these Mindful Monday columns over the past month. What Are You More Likely to Remember? and What Do You Have to Share? are the two most recent examples. The subject of today’s post is one more reminder to be present with the people you care most about.

Take some time today to hug the one you’re with. There’s not going to be a better opportunity than the one you have today. Don’t wait.

Mindful Mondays: What Do You Have to Share? April 27 2015 one response

nepal-eqThe news from the devastating earthquake in Nepal this past weekend is tragic and heart rendering. It’s a natural impulse at times like this to want to help. Most of us, of course, are not qualified to offer help on the ground. Fortunately, there are organizations with volunteers who are. If you want to contribute to their efforts by sharing some of your own resources, this link provided by the New York Times will provide you with the donation links for over two dozen organizations that are moving to help the people of Nepal.

Tragedies like the one in Nepal spark our desire to share what we have with those in need. On a day to day basis, you likely have other causes that are important enough to you that you share your time and resources with them.

As we begin another week, I’d like to encourage you to also consider what you have to share with the people you come in contact with everyday. I’m talking about the people you live with, work with and come in contact with in the normal course of life. The situations I’m thinking of aren’t particularly dramatic; they’re just little opportunities that make a difference. They don’t require special skills or heroic efforts. We just need to be mindful enough to be aware of them and intentional about acting on them.

For instance, you might spend some time caring for a sick friend or family member. You might take a few extra moments to really be present and offer encouragement for someone going through a tough time. You might share what you’ve learned about working through a challenging experience that someone else is just starting. You might share your appreciation with someone who does an everyday job in an exceptional way.

Interested in investing a few minutes of your time that will practically ensure that you and some of the people in your life will have a qualitatively better week? Before you move on to the next thing on your to-do list, take five minutes to make a list of what you have to share this week. It could include time, money, encouragement, appreciation, care, compassion, knowledge, connection, coaching – your list will be uniquely yours. After you’ve come up with a list of what you have to share, make another list right beside it of the people with whom you want to share. Then, connect the dots – match what you have to share with the person you want to share it with.

As you go through your week, act on at least one opportunity each day to share what you have to share. As you do, I’d love to hear through your comments on this blog about the difference it’s making. Happy sharing.

What’s the Difference Between Executive Presence and Leadership Presence? April 23 2015 7 responses

exec-draperThe title of this post is a question I was asked yesterday during an interview for the book summary service Get Abstract. (Audio excerpts from the interview will be available in a few months.) While I guess I’ve thought about the difference between executive and leadership presence over the years (I wrote a book on the latter after all), I have never had the question put to me that directly.

My answer was that, depending on the situation, executive presence can be a subset of leadership presence. As I unpacked my answer, the interviewer referred a couple of times to Don Draper of Mad Men as someone who embodies executive presence. As a fan of the show, I could see what she meant. No one wears a business suit better than Jon Hamm as Don Draper. When Don Draper is sober and in full pitch mode he embodies what the very traditional picture of executive presence looks like.

And that, in essence, is the difference between executive presence and leadership presence. The simplest distinction between the two is that executive presence is about how you look and leadership presence is about what you do. If you want to take it further, executive presence is about how you talk and leadership presence is about what you say when you do.

First impressions count so advice on executive presence often focuses on how one dresses, enters a room, makes eye contact in conversation and other behavioral nuances. The challenge with advising or coaching on executive presence is that one size doesn’t fit all. Every person is different; organizational norms are different and cultures are different. What works in one setting doesn’t necessarily work in another. As I wrote here earlier this month, it’s possible to have too much executive presence. If you’re too polished and too slick, you create distance. And the judgment on too polished and slick is in the eyes of the beholders. Because almost every leader is operating in a global context today (social media and web conferencing makes that the case even if you never leave your hometown), executive presence doesn’t travel like it used to.

Leadership presence, on the other hand, is much more portable. That’s because it’s about the people and not the leader. Taking the perspective of the leader, it’s about you, not me. As Harvard professor Dean Williams and I discussed in a recent audio interview on this blog, the most effective leaders use their presence to help the group identify the work to be done or the adaptive challenge to be overcome. They help set the agenda. They help organize the team. They coach. They ask questions that help people come up with their own answers. They encourage accountability. They celebrate success. They applaud effort. They help the team learn from failure, self-correct and move on. In all instances, the leader’s focus is on them – the people.

So, those are some of the distinctions I’m making between executive presence and leadership presence. What do you think? What’s the difference between the two? What’s the impact of one vs. the other? What have I missed?

Mindful Mondays: Look for the Space Between the Waves April 20 2015 one response

ocean-wavesOne of the great things about having old friends is that they can remind you of things that you said once but have since forgotten. That happened to me last week when I spent time with my dear friend, Rae Ringel, at a training program for faculty members of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program. In an early conversation last week, Rae told me that she still remembered what I had shared with her about “bardo” when she was a student in the program 9 or 10 years ago. The blank look on my face said it all. I had totally forgotten about bardo.

Since we live in an age where no question has to go unanswered, I got out my iPhone later in the morning and looked up the word. Bardo is a Tibetan word that translates into English as an intermediate state. In the Tibetan spiritual tradition, bardo is the state one is in between death and rebirth. Depending on one’s level of preparation, bardo can either be a great experience or a terrible one.

Once I refreshed my memory on the concept, I remembered that I first read about bardo in an article in which the author described it as the space between the waves. (I lost the article long ago and couldn’t find it online this morning. So, apparently some questions still do have to go unanswered!) Thinking back, it was the idea of being aware of the space between the waves in our lives that really appealed to me. It still does.

In an always-on world, it’s too easy to lose sight of the rhythm of the waves in our life. We’re often so busy applying the gas pedal to get more and more done that we don’t tap the brakes to slow down and appreciate what’s already been accomplished. We push through the next wave and then the next without pausing to process what we’ve learned, thank and recognize the people who are supporting our journey or just give ourselves enough of a break to simply rest and digest to be prepared for what’s next.

In his classic book, Managing Transitions, the late William Bridges made the point that before anything new can begin, something else has to end. There’s a space in between the ending and the beginning that he called the neutral zone. You could also call it bardo or the space between the waves.

Whatever you call it, why not look for it this week? Here’s a tip for you as you look: it’s not about finding balance, it’s about noticing the rhythm. There are moments in your day or hours in your week where, if you’re looking for them, offer space in the rhythm of the waves. When you find the space between the waves, take your foot off the gas for a little while and see what else you notice.

Are You Ready to Change the Way You Think About Leadership? April 16 2015 one response


When you think of the word “leader” what comes to mind? For lots of people, the picture that comes to mind is the charismatic visionary that sets a direction that people want to follow. All too often, that model of leadership fails because the followers inevitably end up disappointed and disengaged when the leader is incapable of delivering everything he or she promised.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Dean Williams, my guest on this episode of The Next Level podcast, offers a different way to think about and practice leadership. In his new book, Leadership for a Fractured World: How to Cross Boundaries, Build Bridges, and Lead Change, Williams makes a compelling case that the most effective leaders are the ones who help groups identify the adaptive challenge and take on the work of change themselves.

Leaders who do this are what Williams calls “global change agents.” As he says in our conversation, it’s not that they necessarily take on global-scale challenges but rather that they look at the world and act in an integrated way.  Global change agents stand in contrast to those who practice what Williams calls “the Big Man” model of  leadership. Big Men and Big Women leaders set themselves up as the focal point of hopes and aspirations.  In a complex, multi-modal world, that’s a recipe for failure.

This interview is a little longer than my average podcast because Williams has a lot of thought provoking stories, ideas and suggestions that require a little bit of soaking time. When you have 30 minutes for a conversation that would well change your own approach to leadership, give it a listen.


Mindful Mondays: What Are You More Likely to Remember? April 13 2015 4 responses

scott-diane-vegasSo the original plan for this past weekend was to get caught up on some work while my wife, Diane, was away at a conference in Las Vegas. To some degree, that was the plan for both of us. We have a couple of big new projects coming on line so Diane took her computer with her and planned on doing some work in the evenings as well.

And that’s pretty much how Friday night went down. She had dinner, played roulette for an hour or so and went back to her room to work on our website. Meanwhile, I was in our apartment in Los Angeles clearing out emails and other tasks while an HBO documentary on Sinatra played in the background. It was when Diane and I had a good night FaceTime call later in the evening that I knew that could not stand.

After we were done talking, I asked myself, “Do you really want to be doing this again tomorrow night when you could be hanging out in Vegas with the love of your life?” The answer was easy and obvious – hell, no. Then the little voice inside my head countered with, “Yeah, but there’s so much work to do.” Of course, there’s always going to be so much work to do. More in any given week than I could do even if there were three of me.

The conversation inside my head ended when I asked myself, “What are you more likely to remember 10 or 20 years from now? A weekend at home grinding out the work or driving over to Las Vegas, surprising your wife and hanging out with her?” The answer was a no-brainer. So, just after lunch on Saturday, I got into the car and drove to Vegas to get there as Diane’s conference meetings were ending at 5:00 pm. Just as I was I pulling into the parking garage at the hotel, I got a text message from her.

Here’s the exchange we had as I was walking from the garage into the hotel with the mission of finding and surprising her:

Diane: What are you doing?

Me: Hanging around.

Diane: Around what?

Me: The usual. What are you doing?

Diane: I’m walking around the casino.

Me: Are you going to play a game?

Diane: Not now. Maybe later or maybe not. Just need to move. They have this cool fountain here.

Me: In the casino?

Diane: Yes in the middle. People throw money in it. Best odds.

Me: Odds of what?

Diane: Knowing you’re not getting your money back.

Me: Ha ha. So I see the fountain but I don’t see you. Where are you?

Diane: What are you talking about? I’m not at the fountain.

Me: So where are you?

Diane: Wait, what?

Scott: Where are you right now?

So, it turned out she was about 10 yards away from the fountain and was super surprised (in a good way!) to see me. We had a fantastic rest of the afternoon and evening including the moment in front of the fountains at the Bellagio where the low quality selfie that accompanies this post was taken.

Even for someone who’s written a book called Overworked and Overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to just put your head down and your foot on the gas and keep working when it feels like there’s so much to do. Here’s the thing – there’s always going to be so much to do. I’m grateful that in a moment of mindfulness this past weekend, I asked myself, “What are you more likely to remember?” and made the right choice in that moment.

It’s a question that worked for me that might work for you too. That’s why I wanted to share it.

Three Signs That You Have Too Much Executive Presence April 9 2015 2 responses

vincev-exec2It’s common for leaders who want to make a bigger impact to work on building their executive presence. It’s so common, in fact, that my company offers a seven month group coaching program for high potential leaders slated for executive roles. Our goal in that program is to make the often discussed but rarely clearly defined topic of executive presence a tangible and actionable thing to develop.

We try to move away from the “I know it when I see it,” definition of executive presence by focusing on specific behaviors and tactics related to factors like showing up with an appropriate amount of confidence, tailored communications, building great teams and working with colleagues to get bigger things done.  Along with all of that, we focus on the idea that it’s possible to have too much executive presence.

Too much executive presence? How, you may ask, could that possibly be a problem?  It’s a problem when the leader’s executive presence creates distance between them and the people they’re leading or working with. In my experience, this usually happens when the leader puts too much emphasis on “executive” and not enough emphasis on “presence.”

Is it possible that you have too much executive presence? Here are three signs that could tell you the answer may be yes.

Too Many Perks:  If you find yourself grooving on the perks that come with an executive level title or perhaps viewing them as an entitlement or even taking them for granted, then you probably have too much executive presence. If you can’t come up with a list of the perks that come with your job, that’s a sure sign that you need to step back and look at things from a different perspective. Try looking at it from the perspective of the lowest paid people in your organization.

Too Many Meetings in Your Office:  Do they come to you or do you go to them? If you’re taking most of your meetings in your own office, that’s a sign that you have too much executive presence. Again, look at it from their perspective. Is it possible that they feel like they’re being summoned for an audience on a regular basis? And, by the way, what are you missing or overlooking by not getting out of your office?

Too Much Structure:  So, yeah, you definitely need to have processes and systems in place that enable you to be accountable for results without having to be personally responsible for all of the results. Definitely put those in place, but don’t over do it and don’t put yourself as the focal point of the structure. It’s not all about you. Too much structure that is focused on channeling information to you is a sign that you have too much executive presence.

What do you think? Is it possible to have too much executive presence? What are some other signs that a leader has too much executive presence?

Mindful Mondays: Five Simple Ways to Feel Better and Perform Better April 6 2015 one response

Sitting at your desk for hours on end can take a toll on a lot of things – your mental performance, your overall outlook on life and your general health and wellbeing.  There’s a reason that researchers have concluded that sitting is the new smoking. Unfortunately, for many of us, the nature of work today leads to a lot of sitting and the subsequent declines in health.

And it’s not like sitting is a stress free endeavor.  After all, you’re not just sitting to take a load off your feet.  You’re sitting there trying to solve one or more problems and the constant stream of all of that can leave you in a low grade state of chronic fight or flight. When that happens there are systems in your body that either elevate or de-elevate and, over time, they compound the effect of all that sitting with high blood pressure, digestive problems, stress-hormone-induced insomnia, anxiety and weight gain, blood clots, decreased immune response and premature aging.  Yikes!  Not a pretty picture.

All of this is on my mind today after reading a New York Times article that reported that, for the first time in 16 years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is going to start requiring its agents to pass a fitness test.  The work of the FBI has changed a lot since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As the Times reports:

“After the attacks, many agents who were accustomed to working normal hours and had spent their entire careers investigating crimes like gang violence or drugs — work that took them into the field to make arrests — began working 20-hour days as the F.B.I. changed its primary mission to fighting terrorism. Many agents were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Around the same time, the bureau drastically expanded its efforts in two areas that emphasized long desk hours: cybersecurity and intelligence.

The increased demands manifested themselves in different ways. Some agents put on weight, while some suffered from anxiety and depression. “You could see that health and fitness was not the priority it used to be,” said Zachary Lowe Jr., the chief of instruction at the F.B.I.’s academy in Quantico, Va., which created the (fitness) test.”

So, 13,500 FBI agents around the world are getting ready for the fitness test by running, sprinting and practicing their push-ups and sit-ups. That’s admirable but it may not be enough. Showing up at your best over the long run doesn’t come from prepping for a fitness test like you’re cramming for a test in college.  It comes from adopting and building on routines that help you feel better and perform better on an overall, longer term basis. That means not just physical routines like working out, but routines in other domains like the mental, relational and spiritual. That integrated, holistic approach is what helps you show up at your best as a leader and a person.  It’s the premise of the Life GPS® personal planning framework that I cover in my latest book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.

Here are five simple ideas from the book that will help you feel better and perform better starting this week.

Mindful Mondays: Five Ways to Clear the Decks March 30 2015 2 responses

sailor1I’m a little late writing this post this morning because I’ve spent the past 45 minutes clearing the decks.

When I sat down at my desk this morning, it looked like it had been through a hurricane. I’ve got lots of reasons (excuses) for that. I’ve been away on business a lot this past month, we have multiple projects underway, there have been deadlines to hit for clients and, finally, we’ve had a ton (that’s probably a literal word) of stuff to sort through that’s come back into the house following a fire in our storage units last year.

The effect of all of that is that stuff has just been thrown on my desk by me and others in my family for weeks as the incoming exceeded our capacity to generate the outgoing. When I sat down this morning, I knew something had to give. The mini-mountains of clutter were distracting, demoralizing and draining my focus. I could either try to keep ignoring them or I could remove them. I chose the latter and, wow, do I feel better.

My guess is that I’m not the only one who faced a cluttered desk at the beginning of the day. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that a cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind. When you see all of those piles you can’t help but wonder what’s lurking in there that’s overdue, almost due or waiting to surprise you in some way. If you want to think clearly for the rest of the week, it’s worth taking 15, 30 or 45 minutes to clear your desk.

Here are five things I did this morning that helped me clear the decks for the week ahead:

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.