Are These 7 Things As Effective As I Think? (Season 2021, Episode 03)

I’m a solopreneur. In 1994 I read my first book (I think) about being a one-person business. It was a book by Terri Lonier entitled, Working Solo. I’m not even sure why I bought the book because I was leading a fairly sized company at the time. Working solo wasn’t even on my radar. At least consciously. Maybe I wondered what it might be like to not have employees. But for some reason, I bought the book, read it, and kept it. I still have it. In fact, thanks to Linkedin I connected with Terri recently after telling her about reading her book when it was first published. Today, she’s focused on innovation.

Here we are about 27 years later and I am working solo. In fact, I’ve been working solo for the past 12 years. As with most things, extended experience can alter your point-of-view. Not that I had very many preconceived ideas about it because I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Before going solo my entire career had been spent being part of a team, an organization. Forming, developing, and maintaining high-performing teams was something I’d done for years. Maybe that’s why working solo seemed tempting. No employees. No organization, at least as far as people were concerned. No assets (’cause I was focused on a professional services business model, which began as “roll-your-sleeves-up, get-your-hands-dirty” consulting, and thankfully it naturally morphed into coaching).

But it turns out “working solo” isn’t quite literally working solo. It takes a village and all that. Yes, it can be lonely. Incredibly so. The pandemic has shown lots of people how lonely it is to work solo, even if you’re digitally connected via Zoom. But true working solo is different because you have no cohorts. No actual teammates.

Instead, you have comrades, strategic partners, friends, collaborators, and others who have to fill in to be your support system. This brings me to the conversation which sparked today’s show.

I’m asked about working solo and what is required to pull it off. I jokingly tell my questioner, “I’m still not sure I am pulling it off, but I’m trying.” 😉

It was a good question and one I hadn’t spent much time considering. Well, that’s an understatement – or maybe overstatement. I’ve given it NO thought.

Here’s the good thing about growing older. You’ve got a fair amount of experience and know-how from which to draw. And those of us who are reasonably good on our feet can leverage that to come up with answers. And sometimes – just sometimes, mind you – our answers can be pretty solid. Yes, we often stand amazed at our own prowess, we older folks! 😀

I snapped to attention at the question and said I could think of 4 things off the top of my head (I meant that literally) that were likely required. And I was not claiming to have mastered one of them, much less all four. But I confessed I’m trying very hard. Still. After a dozen years.

I replied to my inquisitive guest that I could think of these four things and I think they belong in this order.





Let me explain.

Humility has more components than I’m able to name, but I know it’s vital to our ability to improve and increase our understanding. People who lack humility need no help, no advice, and no support. They only need minions. They have all the answers. They just need people who will acknowledge their prowess and say, “Thank you, sir. May I have another!”

I began with humility because from it stem so many positive things. And without it, there are countless negative things!

If there is one single character trait that ruins higher human performance it has to be arrogance, or whatever your favorite term is for a lack of humility.

Gratitude follows because hubris prevents it while humility fosters it. When we look at ourselves and all the circumstances of our lives with humility we’re compelled to focus on the many things for which we ought to be thankful.

For an exercise, try listing all the things for which you’re thankful. When you think you’ve exhausted the list…keep going! See how long you can make your list.

Optimism is fueled, in part, by gratitude. I mean, when you count your blessings and understand how benefited you are, how can you not be optimistic?

Whenever I encounter a challenger to my optimism I often ask, “What’s the downside?” Mostly, people have no answer. Sometimes I’ll run into a smart aleck who’ll say, “You’ll be more disappointed.” To which I counter, “Well, you’re gonna be disappointed anyway!”

There is no downside to optimism. But until or unless you can embrace humility and gratitude, you’ll never be optimistic. Look at anybody who is a victim, or devoted to a “woe-is-me” life. These poor folks wrap themselves up in pessimism day after day. What a miserable life!

By this point, there’s no reason to not be confident about your ability to persevere, endure, or overcome.

Confidence is the missing ingredient for so many people who might otherwise grow great. Every week I encounter leaders, people who have achieved some success, who struggle with belief or confidence. Privately, they question themselves. They make declarations, “This won’t work.” If I didn’t see it firsthand regularly for the past dozen years I’d have a difficult time believing it. But we all have our struggles with it.

In my life, if I find myself challenged to be as confident as maybe I should…I can trace it all the way back to the beginning, humility. Or gratitude. Or optimism. And trying to shortcut it has never worked for me. That’s what we do whenever we try to front – pretend to be something we’re not. It’s what you see whenever you encounter some cocky, arrogant person.

Maybe you can fake it ’til you make it, but that seems pointless. Why not just be the real thing? Why not genuinely be humble, thankful, optimistic, and confident?

Can you imagine how impactful these 4 elements, put together in this order, might be for your life? When we think about the recipes for higher human performance, this has to be one of the better ones. I’d add two other components: curiosity and understanding. Whether the list is 4 or 6, all the others hinge on the foundation of just one. HUMILITY.

So maybe 6 is the ideal number, not 4. Maybe it should look something like this instead.

This list makes sense to me because our curiosity – the quest to seek understanding – is absolutely driven by humility. Leaders who think they’ve got all the answers lack any curiosity. They’re the smartest person in the room. Every room. Their hubris prevents them from being curious, which in turn, stymies their understanding. No matter. They think they understand and for them, that’s all that matters.

But before I wrap it up let’s insert the 7th component. It’s the one at the top of the pyramid. I intentionally put it there because the foundation may be among the toughest ones to create in our lives. And certainly one of the hardest to maintain. The cherry on top, the pinnacle of it all is equally difficult and never happens without intention, or understanding. It’s the one most lacking in our society, likely because the others are also missing.


Literally, it means “to suffer together.” It differs from empathy because compassion drives us to help. It compels us to take action beyond merely feeling whatever we’re feeling.

That’s important to the conversation because each of these 7 isn’t just words or components. They’re actions. You may be predisposed toward some of these, but if you’re going to incorporate all of them into your life — you’re going to have to work at it. You’ll have to intentional. Every day you’re going to have to think about them and do them. They can become good habits, but they’ll quickly slip the second you take them for granted. The good news is you can begin right now. The bad news is you can’t stop. Not if you want to be the most effective human possible.

Do you agree? Would you put them in a different order? Would you omit something? Did I leave something out? Hit me up on social media with your ideas or insights.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

This Is Always The Path To Improvement (Season 2021, Episode 02)

Yesterday’s Know-How May Not Answer Today’s Challenges. That was my original title for today’s show but I changed it.

I have the following quote on my About page…

Do not assume I’m going to take issue with the late, great Peter Drucker because I’m not. I believe he was right.

However, I’m not terribly anxious to speak in absolutes because life has taught me how dangerous it can be to think we know the answer only to realize we don’t fully understand the problem. So I’m careful, but I did use an absolute – ALWAYS – today. See if you agree.

Call it know-how, knowledge, or logic – it may not single-handedly give us the answers for which we’re searching. That doesn’t mean it’s useless. It just means we’re blitzed with new data points every hour (or every minute…maybe every second).

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis is, according to Fortune one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders. He’s earned degrees in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering from MIT and a degree in medicine (that’s right, he’s both kinds of doctors) from Harvard. He’s also the author of the book, The Future Is Faster Than You Think. This man has likely forgotten more than I’ve ever learned. When you encounter big-brained folks like him, you take notes. Me? I work hard to try to understand what they’re talking about.

Well, the good doctor has written three books and one of the things I most enjoy about his work is his optimism. He has a viewpoint that the world is largely better than you may think. As he dives into a variety of topics in this latest book, the title reveals the focal point that speed is – well, getting faster! But you knew that already. You feel it every day. Not just in your work, but in your personal life. What once was described as a hamster wheel more closely now resembles a bullet train or a rocket!

When Peter Drucker made that statement yesterday was a different concept. Today, “yesterday” could mean the last hour. Confused yet? Yeah, me, too.

I’m a speed freak meaning I like to figure things out quickly and I like to fix things fast, but…today’s challenges require a bit of time to process. And one of the biggest hurdles facing many of us is the self-imposed pressure we put on ourselves to get it done right now. Or the opposite. The pressure to wait, wait, wait, and wait some more.

Social media reveals how we’re all likely heavily influenced to behave with a knee-jerk reaction – proving that speed isn’t always the most effective component toward growth or improvement. Or wisdom.

Dr. Diamandis’ book reveals a big truth – things are happening so much faster than we even realize. And the shocker is, we all know things are happening blazingly fast. I suspect few of us have considered that we misjudging the speed by thinking it’s slower than reality.

As you know, I do a considerable amount of work in the city government sector. City managers and HR directors have battled keeping updated on this pandemic in order to ideally serve their communities. The vaccine has proven as challenging as any element of this pandemic. How many are we going to get? When will we get them? It’s the daily question vexing those tasked with serving towns and cities throughout America. That unknown contributes to the turbulence of our times. And that’s just one albeit a big component of our world in January 2021.

“Nothing is new,” he says to me.

I’m compelled to respond, “Maybe nothing is new, but the circumstances – the combinations – sure might be.”

Case in point, the extraordinarily low home mortgage rates, the negative impact of government/politics on business and a host of other factors (an unprecedented combination of circumstances) have contributed to driving real estate prices higher and higher making it hard for some to afford to buy a house. Some are predicting a widening of the gap between the have’s and the have not’s sparked by more banks requiring a 20% down payment (so they can protect themselves from foreclosures). The wealthiest people – and companies – are gobbling up real estate in what may be unprecedented fashion.

Speed. The unknown. But another part of turbulence is complexity. Nothing seems simple. I struggle to remember any time when things were even simpler – forget being “simple.” It may be among the reasons why you see more and more younger people embrace minimalism – something that I’ve always found intriguing. I’m a non-practicing minimalist. 😀 I love the idea of it and would happily embrace it. I just don’t want to put in the work required to do it. Yet!

We’ve all long known the fact that what got us here won’t necessarily get us there. So we keep on adding to our arsenal of knowledge, skill, and experience.

Today’s challenges seem to demand a new way of thinking though. A completely different approach.

Or do they?

Could it be that our existing know-how might not have been as ideal as we thought?

Well, of course, that’s possible. Nevermind that it worked for us at some level. Tyranny and foolishness can work. We all know people who have succeeded in spite of themselves. But it’s also possible that yesterday’s know-how worked even though it wasn’t ideal.

Growing up in retailing I quickly realized how lots of retailers in the 1970s practiced bait-and-switch. They’d advertise a low-end product at an attractive price and not have it, or have only one…then shoppers would be shown something at a bit higher price because it had a substantially higher profit margin. And this wasn’t an outlier behavior. It was commonplace. It worked.

But even being taught this in my earliest days of retailing I wondered how much more success might be had if retailers behaved with greater integrity. Would customers appreciate greater honestly? Would they be more drawn to a retailer they trusted more? I thought so.

Is that know-how or something else? Well, for our purposes today I’m rolling everything into know-how. Knowledge. Decision making. Philosophy. Approach. Perspective. Whatever else you’d like to include.

This brings me to the bottom line for today’s show – when it comes to leveraging the power of others, it’s ALWAYS the correct path to improvement. Always!

You cannot have a high-performing career, team, group, or culture alone.

You need the help – the skills, experiences, know-how, perspectives – of other people to fill in those gaps that exist in your life. You’ll find greater understanding, deeper learning, fewer blind spots and so much more when you stop trying to go it alone.

Think about any accomplishment in your life. Got one in mind?

Who helped you? Keep adding names to the list. I’m betting more than one person made a sizeable contribution to your ability to achieve it.

This past weekend I spent some time learning some web design things with the WordPress theme I’m using for this website. Like most website owners I was bored with this site. Rather than just diving in I went out the web and sought out YouTube videos, tutorials, and forums to learn from other people who already know more than me. I’m not a professional web designer, but many of these folks are. It compressed my learning curve substantially. By who knows how much? No, you don’t see a new design here, but I was doing it while watching NFL playoff games so I wasn’t quite as intentional as I might otherwise have been. But I know much more than I did before and it’s not because I’ve got mad dog skills or a big brain. It’s because I’ve got Dirty Harry Syndrome – “a man’s gotta know his limitations” (and I know mine).

Every high-performing career I know personally – including my own – AND every high-performing culture I know personally resulted from listening to frontline people. It included asking questions and listening to the answers. The people closest to the work seem to always have the best answers. Funny how that works. Go figure. You mean somebody who performs a task for 8 hours a day, week after week, year after year – they know more than me?

You mean if the rookie employee seeks out the top performer in that same position she might more quickly learn what it takes to succeed?

I know it’s a novel idea for some, but it’s so obvious it’s often overlooked. It’s certainly underappreciated. And I suspect I know why.

It’s too simple. It seems too easy.

Our world is more complex requiring complex and sophisticated solutions.

Or is it?

Don’t let the American political scene drive you to knee-jerk reactions, stopped up ears, and an open mouth. That’s not the path to improvement or growth. And I don’t care if you’re blue or red. I’m pro-small business and anti-big government. So there’s my bias. I’m happy to confess it. I’ve just seen it play out too many times – and you have, too – where our lives are enhanced, improved, and made better in every way by working together to figure out what ails us and how to fix it.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Two Important Questions Every Leader Must Ask & Answer (Season 2021, Episode 01)

During the early stages of morphing yourself into a high-performing culture, you can embrace a new level of creativity (aka innovation) when you commit to taking a harder look at what you’re doing. That means you individually and you collectively. Being too close to things is problematic because it robs us of the ability to see things as accurately as we might. Assumptions sort of automatically take over. We stop questioning what we’re doing because it’s become such a repetitive auto-pilot kind of thing. Enter the power of the pause.

Hit the pause button on the work. This doesn’t have to be the complete cessation of work, but it does require you to stop long enough to ask and answer two critical questions that can determine whether you’ll succeed in elevating performance.

For you and every other individual person in the organization: “Why am I doing this?”

For the collective: “Why are we doing this?”

For you and every other individual person in the organization: “Why am I doing it this way?”

For the collective: “Why are we doing it this way?”

The courage is unearthed not by asking the question, but by taking the time to answer it. So how courageous are you willing to be?

As you look at the first two questions, which are really the same question – just one is focused on the individual YOU and the other on the collective YOU begin by emphasizing the first word of the question, “Why?”

Concentrate your attention on trying to discover the value of what’s being done. And yes, I’m talking about everything that is done by you and others inside the organization. There must be a valid reason for everything that’s done. If not, then how foolish do you feel?

Is everything being done important? Does everything being done impact success? Know why it’s being done.

Then emphasize the pronoun of the questions, “I” or “We.”

As you examine the work being done focus on who is doing that work. Should it really be you? Should it really be the person currently tasked with doing it? Is somebody else better suited to do it? Who else could do it, perhaps better? What are the current costs associated with you or somebody else doing it versus having somebody different doing it?

Then emphasize the thing being done, “This.”

Now we’re down to the brass tacks of the thing being done – this! Is it the most important thing to do right now? What else might be important – or more so – and going undone because of it?

Now moving onto the second pair of questions whose aim is to dive into the how of it all, we’re provoked to ask more clarifying questions.

Is there a better way to do it? Is there a faster way? Is there a way that will result in higher success?

I talk quite a lot here and with clients about the importance of humility and curiosity leading to greater understanding. It’s because in our humility – our ability to wonder about what we don’t see or what we don’t yet know – our curiosity stirs us to ask questions so we can better understand.

There are days where I feel like a pestering 2-year-old because I’m asking question after question after question. Usually, that’s because of one of two things. Either the other person isn’t being very forthcoming or the topic is so fascinating to me I can wait to learn more. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. And sometimes it’s because my eagerness to understand is much higher than the other person’s eagerness to help me understand. 😉

But questions stimulate us. They foster deeper curiosity. These 2 questions aren’t sophisticated. They seem rather basic because they are. But high performing cultures aren’t nearly as sophisticated as we often think. In fact, sometimes – perhaps more often than not – we overthink it. We spend money diving into things that won’t have any lasting impact on our career, team or organization. We neglect to invest in some simple, but profound things that can make all the difference in the world.

Consultants often enter an organization with the intent to dazzle the client with volumes of reading material whose aim is to justify the high price tag of their service. But at the end of the day, it’s just a lot of words on a page. You don’t have to pay anybody anything to ask these questions. Not me. Not anybody else.

Hit the pause button sometime today and start asking these questions. Get everybody in your organization to ask them, too. Then stay paused long enough to do the hard part – LISTEN. Make note of the answers. Let me leave you today with two quotes.

“Being willing is not enough. We must do.” -Leonardo da Vinci


“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

You must act on the answers. Else, it’s just an exercise in futility – taking up time in everybody’s life. The purpose of establishing and sustaining a high performance culture is efficiency and effectiveness. It’s the pursuit of greater success.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Grow Yourself, Grow Others & Make A Difference – Season 2020, Episode 40

Van is a manager. Experienced. Being a boss is important to Van. He enjoys having people answer to him.

Beth is a manager. Inexperienced. She never thinks about being “the boss.” She’s busy helping her direct reports do better.

Based only on this information, which one do you think is making a difference – a POSITIVE difference?

Of course. We all in unison say, “BETH.” And we’d be correct.

If we can all so readily see this, do you wonder why Van can’t? We’re prone to think, “If only Van could see that it’s not about being the boss.” But I’ve already told you THAT is what he enjoys. That’s an understatement really because it’s what he most enjoys! Because that’s what matters most to him, that directs all his choices, decisions, action, and language.

We lead people.

We manage the work.

That’s my viewpoint. Not everybody agrees. Van doesn’t. He believes in managing people. As for the work, well, if it’s done well then Van is quick to take credit. If it doesn’t, he can distance himself from the result by blaming the people. He covers all the bases that way.

I grew up in my business leadership childhood admiring people like Jack Welch of GE, Andy Grove of Intel, Sam Walton of Walmart, Robert Townsend of Avis, and Fred Smith of FedEx. CEOs and founders who built great organizations were always topping my list. I’d study others like Harold Geneen who could achieve financial success through tyranny, but I’d always wonder, “How much more successful could they have been if they’d grown themselves, their people and worked hard to have a positive influence on others?”

My interest in high-performing culture began with the thought – the question – how much better can I be? How much better can I help others be? How much more can we get done together?

What might have been was always my biggest apprehension, fear, or regret.

From that was born my lifelong fascination with “the ideal outcome.” The book I’ll write one day will likely bear that title.

I’m especially fixated on anticipating and pursuing the ideal outcome because I know that’s where the joy and fun are. Because that’s also where productivity, efficiency and effectiveness are found.

Contrast that with the perspective Van, and many others, hold. Control. Constraints. Restrictions.

“Everything goes through me,” says Van to his team. It’s about authority, power, and all the other behaviors that insure people understand he’s the boss. Sadly, the reality for Van – the one he has no awareness of – is that the more control he exerts the less he truly has. But he sees what he most wants to see. Even though it isn’t working for him.

So let’s flip this thing and talk about how we can stop strangling people by growing ourselves as leaders, by growing others, and by making a difference for our organization through our positive impact on others.

Good leaders require good work. It’s a reasonable and correct expectation.

To accomplish that work, people have the right to be free to perform well. They also have the right to expect resources that afford them the opportunity to succeed in achieving good, if not GREAT work.

One of the biggest hurdles to good work is organizational constraint – all the speed bumps or roadblocks we put in their way because we think command and control are the paths forward. The reality is that when we free people to think, behave, and act in ways where they can achieve more, we free them up to be more creative and figure out how to do things better. In turn, that relieves management of the unnecessary burdens of command and control.

Happy Holidays From Inside The Yellow Studio!

A Conversation With The Organization Whisperer, David Childs, PhD – Season 2020, Episode 39

Serendipity happened.

I was traveling. Part business, part pleasure.

I walked into a place to get some information and came face to face with a man who had spent decades in Texas. The fact was, he lived in the DFW area for many years – the place I had driven from for this trip. He introduced himself. David Childs.

As we chatted it was apparent we had a number of things in common. He was mostly – but not altogether – retired. A few years earlier he and his wife had left the DFW area and come here, the place of their encore home. It was closer to her family in St. Louis.

Turns out David had extensive experience in building high-performing cultures inside teams and organizations. Upon learning about my work he said, “Wait here a second, I’ve got a book I’d like to give you.” Always on the prowl for a good book, I happily waited.

David handed me an over-sized paperback book titled, “The Organization Whisperer.” The author? David Childs, PhD.

“Look at you, Mr. Big Shot Smarty Pants,” I jokingly said. “I didn’t know it was YOUR book.”

We talked a bit about the book and what had prompted him to write it. Then I asked him to autograph it for me, thanked him and told him I’d like to keep in touch.

Which I did.

Find Dr. David Childs at his website, TheOrganizationWhisperer.com, or at Linkedin.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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