Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

Mindful Mondays: Three Easy Ways to Unplug on Vacation July 27 2015 no responses

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?

Mindful Mondays: What I Learned About My Emotions from Pixar’s Inside Out June 22 2015 no responses

insideoutLast Friday night was movie night for our family and I got to pick. The fact that I chose the new Disney/Pixar movie, Inside Out, instead of Jurassic World probably tells you all you need to know about me. In case you’re not familiar with the premise, Inside Out is an animated tour through the mind of an 11 year old girl who’s struggling with her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Five core emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, are struggling, competing and ultimately working together to get her through a tough time in her life.

It’s a sweet and fun movie that’s sneaky in the way it makes you think. I have to confess that I probably didn’t process as much of Inside Out as I could have in real time because I was so busy thinking about what was going on with my own emotions as I watched it that it was like I was playing my own movie inside my head.

Friday was one of the rare days when I crashed with my multiple sclerosis. Most days I get along just fine with it but when the weather is in a certain state (I think it’s some weird combination of humidity and barometric pressure), I just feel like crap. My wife, Diane, has told me that I look like I’m being squeezed through a tube of toothpaste on days like that. Everything hurts and everything’s stiff. Still, we went to the movies. Diane drove and I dragged myself from the car into the theatre.

The two primary emotions in Inside Out are Joy and Sadness. As I watched the movie, I thought a lot about Sadness while I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt bad. I found the character of Anger (voiced by one of my favorites, Lewis Black) hilarious but didn’t really feel anger myself. I’m pretty much past that as far as the MS goes. I definitely related to Fear because when I feel like I did on Friday, I invariably start projecting into an “Oh no, what if the way I feel right now is my new normal?” kind of mindset. After 20 or 30 minutes of dwelling in that, a different emotion that wasn’t featured in the movie emerged in my mind. I’m not sure exactly what to call it; maybe it was Calm. When Calm came to the forefront, I remembered that over the past six years there have been days or weeks when I felt awful and they always passed. Every time they started, I started worrying that I was entering a painful and uncomfortable new normal and then, literally or figuratively, the weather changed and I felt better again.

That’s exactly what happened this weekend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I felt great. It’s Monday morning as I write this and I still feel great.

My point in this post, though, is not to give you an update on my health. My point is to encourage you this week to pay attention to your emotions. Recognize and name them. If you do that, you’ll think more clearly and likely make better decisions. You’ll be less likely to get yourself in a funk or do or say something stupid.

You may think that your emotions don’t affect you – especially at work. Or, you may think that emotions have no place at work. Whether you think that or not, they’re there. You’re going to be in much better position to manage yourself and others if you name and recognize the emotions at play. If you feel like you need to build your muscles on that front, sneak out to your local theatre and watch Inside Out. It’s only 90 minutes long so it won’t take a ton of your time. You’ll likely enjoy it and just might learn a few things about yourself.

In the words of the late, great Siskel and Ebert, see you at the movies!

Five Ways Leaders Can Make It Easier to Let Go June 17 2015 no responses

ropejump2Earlier this month, I wrote a post titled What Makes It So Hard to Let Go? In this recent post I wrote for Fast Company, I outline five proven ways that leaders can make it easier to let go:

In my 15 years of executive coaching and running leadership development programs, I’ve worked with thousands of leaders charged with getting different results.

A number of scenarios can drive the demand for new results. How many of these apply to you?

  • You’ve been recently promoted.
  • You’re in the same job you were in a year ago, but the scope is a lot bigger today than it was then.
  • You’re working in an organization where the performance bar has been raised dramatically.
  • You’re operating in a constantly changing competitive environment.

Based on my experience, I’ll bet that you could check two, three, or even all four of those boxes. Most leaders check more than one. What they all have in common is that, when you’re in those situations, you have to get different results. Of course, it logically follows when you have to get different results, you have to take different actions. Otherwise, you end up living out that well-known definition of insanity.

Sure, you’ll be bringing strengths to the table that will help you achieve those new results. You might have to dial those strengths up or down depending on what you’re trying to do, but they’re assets you have and you should definitely use them.

But when you have to get new and different results, you can’t just rely exclusively on your existing strengths. You usually have to pick up some new skills and behaviors to accomplish what you’re expected to do. You also typically need to let go of some skills and behaviors that used to serve you, but are no longer the best use of your time and attention.


If you’re like 98% of the leaders I work with, your answer is letting go. Why is that? Picking up is usually a cognitive exercise. It involves learning how to do something new. Most successful professionals flourish because they’re very good at picking up new skills.

Letting go, on the other hand, is more of an emotional experience. It plays out as: “I’m not comfortable turning that over to my team,” or “I’m skeptical that it will get done correctly if I’m not involved,” or “I’m nervous about letting go of control.”

What’s the underlying emotion in any of those statements? It’s fear—of not being needed, of finding a new path, and above all, of failure. To succeed at your next level, you have to mitigate and overcome your fear of letting go.

Here are five actionable strategies for doing that:

Read the rest of the article at

Mindful Mondays: Choosing How You Want to Show Up This Week June 15 2015 no responses

forkedroadAs I wrote here earlier this year,  a word that’s working for me this year is the Sanskrit word sankalpa.  As explained to me by one of my teachers, Sara Ivanhoe, sankalpa encourages us to focus less on what we’re going to do and more on how we’re going to be. Of course, those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. How we show up in any given situation has an enormous impact on what we actually accomplish.

A great example of how that works was cited recently by Tony Schwartz in one of his regular columns for the New York Times.  Schwartz recently met and spent some time talking with Lynn Doughtie, the recently appointed chairman and CEO of the public accounting firm, KPMG. She is the first woman to hold both of those roles in one of the Big Four accounting firms. Obviously, you don’t end up in a position like Doughtie’s unless you have a stellar track record of getting big things done.

What struck Schwartz the most in his conversation with her was how present and connected Doughtie was with him. As great leaders do, she made him feel like she had nothing more important to do in those moments than talk with him. His conversation with Doughtie reminded Schwartz of recent research from Zenger Folkman, a pioneering firm in the field of leadership competencies.  In an analysis of 360 degree assessments on 16,000 managers and executives – 2/3 men and 1/3 women – the firm found that the women leaders scored higher than the men in 12 of the 16 competencies.

I’ve said for years that leadership competencies can basically be broken down into two big categories – the behaviors that drive results and the behaviors that build relationships. As Schwartz reports, the women in the Zenger-Folkman study scored highest in both broad categories.  When you score high on both results and relationships, you get stuff done over the long run.

The good news (for the men reading this) is you don’t have to be a woman to show up this way. It really depends on making a choice to emphasize relationships as much as you do results. There are a lot of relatively easy things you could choose to do this week that would likely make a big difference in helping you show up as a well rounded leader like Lynn Doughtie.

For instance, you could put your smartphone in airplane mode to keep you from being distracted in a conversation. You could count to five before jumping in with your opinion. (That might give someone else time to contribute or give you time to realize that what you were about to say wasn’t really that brilliant.) You could notice how hard a colleague is working and surprise them with a small gift that says you noticed. You could ask questions of others that help them reflect and generate new ideas rather than questions that put them on the defensive. That’s just a short list off the top of my head. I’m sure you can come up with a better one with a little bit of thought.

The really cool thing about sankalpa – choosing how you want to be – is that the ripple effect of doing it well is so huge. If you’re a leader, you control the weather. How you show up this week determines the climate for everyone around you. Why not choose to show up in a way that helps others be at their best?

How to Be a Coaching and Mentoring Ninja June 10 2015 3 responses

ninja1One of the elements I love the most about our leadership development programs like Next Level Leadership® group coaching and Developing Leadership Presence is the peer coaching. In both of those programs, the participants are expected to pair up with a peer colleague and spend 20 minutes a week coaching each other.

That might sound complicated, but it’s not. What I want them to do is to take ten minutes each to ask their partner questions that get them off the dance floor and onto the balcony.  One of my favorite ways for them to do that is ask each other three questions:

  • What’s the most important meeting or conversation you’re going to have this week?
  • If that meeting is a wild, full-on success, what happens at the end?
  • How do you need to show up to make that full-on success likely?

The beauty of that coaching model is that they don’t have to know each other’s business to help each other. In fact, I prefer that they not work in the same function, because I want them to draw the insights out of each other, not just give each other advice.

Coaching is a brilliant way to go when you want to help someone develop and act on their own insights. Mentoring, on the other hand, is a great approach when you want to share experience and knowledge that can help the other person leap frog their learning curve. The most effective mentors know that they have to go beyond saying, “Here’s what I think you should do.” Instead, they talk about times when they faced situations similar to the protégé’s, how they thought through the situation, the approaches they tried, what worked and what didn’t and what they learned from all of that. The ninja level mentors then flip into coaching mode by asking things like,

  • What’s the same or different about your situation?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • What else could you try?
  • What are your next one or two steps?
  • How can I help?

So, if you know the distinctions, you can be both a coach and a mentor. I find myself toggling between those roles in my work. When you think about it, you probably do in yours as well. They’re not mutually exclusive roles; they’re complementary roles.

From either the giving or receiving end, what are the ninja level coaching or mentoring moves that work for you?