Why Gratitude is Smart Business for Leaders

Why Gratitude is Smart Business for Leaders

One of the most prominent experiences I’ve had as an adult was the year I spent in Afghanistan, where I advised the Afghan National Police in 2013. 

And one of the biggest reasons why it was a prominent experience is that it gave me a fresh perspective and sense of how good my life was in America. Being around poverty and people who had live through various levels of armed conflict for the past three decades has a way of making your “problems” seem a little less consequential. It makes you grateful for what you have. 

But it doesn’t take a trip to Afghanistan to develop a sense of gratitude. In fact, I’ve come to realize how gratitude is a daily choice: You must

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Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Modern factory floors fascinate me. There’s something about the clang and whoosh of the myriad machines, the hum of an overhead crane gliding along its tracks, the intricate yellow lines demarcating where it’s safe to walk and the ambiguous chemical aroma punctuating the air with hints of solvents or grease or paint or maybe all of them mixed together.

There’s something about the delicate dance of interdependent and interconnected parts and processes that somehow—amazingly—produce that which we and the entire world outside the factory walls often takes for granted. 

When I’m in a factory, I still get the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I had when I was 8 or 9 years old, touring the Rohm and Haas plant in Louisville, Ky. And this week, I had the opportunity to visit one of Cleveland’s (and Ohio’s, for that matter) oldest and largest manufacturing firms: Lincoln Electric. 

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Leadership Advice for the New Administration

Leadership Advice for the New Administration

On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 9, one day after the general election here in the United States, I met with my graduate students who are in my course on leadership and interpersonal effectiveness. 

Up until this point, we hadn’t talked much about the U.S. presidential race in class. But I felt that on that one class the day after the election, it might make sense to do so. It just felt weird to not talk about it. Our course is about leadership, after all.

In particular, we’ve talked at length in the course about the agility required for leaders to pivot into new roles. This is particularly true for people who have never managed or led people before—that first-time manager job can be tough. 

And although both Secretary Clinton and now President-Elect Trump have extensive experience leading people and projects, transitioning from presidential hopeful to President of the United States must surely be a dramatic shift personally and professionally. 

For anyone. 

And so, on Nov. 9, with my class, we

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What a Professor Learned by Taking Online Classes

What a Professor Learned by Taking Online Classes

Taking classes while working full-time is tough. That’s one of the lessons I learned firsthand during the past two years. 

But there’s more. 

To begin, I’ve been a business professor since 2011, so I’ve had the opportunity to teach many students—about 1,000 to date. And I’ve taught in the three primary formats: solely face-to-face, solely online and in a hybrid structure, which is a combination of face-to-face and online. I’ve taught both graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom were extraordinarily busy with part- or full-time jobs, families and other time demands outside of their coursework. 

I always knew that these students were busy, but from January 2015 to October 2016, my appreciation for their balancing-act of responsibilities grew. 

Substantially.

That’s because during that time, I became the student. I became the juggler

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Destroy Your Credibility in One Easy Step

Destroy Your Credibility in One Easy Step

“This is ****ing bull****,” Dave said. 

“What’s going on, guys?” I said. 

“They kicked us out of our office.” 

“What? Who?” I knew that Dave and Chris, along with a Turkish lieutenant colonel, shared an office around the corner from me. They had occupied that space for quite some time, and it made sense given that they all advised the Afghans on the same topic. 

Let’s back up.

During the year I spent working in Afghanistan, 

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You Already Won the Lottery

You Already Won the Lottery

A few weeks ago, I was discussing the topic of stress and well-being with my students in class. Our focus was on the importance of monitoring your well-being and managing your stress when you’re in a leadership position. Being a manager and having to get work done through a team is tough work, and it’s often full of stressors which, left unchecked, can take a toll on the manager. 

That toll can include negative outcomes such as:

  • Irritability,
  • Reduced productivity,
  • Burnout
  • And a host of physical symptoms, from higher blood pressure to weight gain.

So it’s critical for managers of all levels to take care of themselves, both mentally and physically. 

As the class went on, I discussed the importance of self-care for managers and how it can include many techniques, but one that I find particularly interesting is something that’s free and relatively easy. That technique?

It’s

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Never Give Up, Never Stop Learning

Never Give Up, Never Stop Learning

Although I teach courses on various topics related to leadership, I’m quick to admit it: Learning a lot about leadership won’t necessarily make you a great leader. 

Similarly, just because someone has 20 years of experience doing something doesn’t necessarily make him or her an expert. It’s quite possible—and common—for people to have the same experience, 20 years in a row. 

What oftentimes elevates truly great leaders above the rest is their tenacity, their commitment to never give up—and to never stop learning. It’s their ability to persevere through adversity with an open mind, applying the lessons they acquire along the way. 

One such leader whom I’ve always enjoyed listening to and reading about is United States Marine Corps General James Mattis (ret.). Among recent military leaders, Mattis is a legend, particularly if you talk with other U.S. Marines. 

Stories about his selfless, direct style of leadership abound. 

Additionally,

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What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

Imagine that you’re about to interview for the job of your dreams. Or that you’re about to give a high-stakes presentation. Or take an important test. Or simply focus on getting a few things done in the next hour. 

What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself in your mind? 

If you’re anything like 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, you’re telling yourself, “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” 

Coleman is widely considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, which is impressive enough, but what I find compelling is how he talked. In particular, how he

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Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Incentives matter. Rewards motivate people to behave in certain ways. Using incentives, therefore, is one great way to influence the form, direction and intensity of how people act. 

Goals also matter. They help us clarify where we’re headed and how to focus our efforts. Setting difficult, specific goals, therefore, is one of the best ways to motivate yourself and others (see the numerous studies on the topic, particularly those by Gary Latham and Edwin Locke). 

But goals and incentives can—and sometimes do—run amuck. 

And when that happens, it’s often in the form of

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On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

Years ago, as a young junior officer in the U.S. Navy, a few hundred of my peers and I shuffled into a large auditorium to hear an admiral speak. I don’t remember his name or his title. But I remember one phrase, one nugget of “wisdom” that he provided. 

He said, “Leaders are people who know stuff.” 

At the time this seemed like a simple, yet compelling insight. And it’s certainly the case that one source of people’s power and influence over others can be their expertise. In many situations, we follow those people who know the most (or at least seem to know the most) about how to solve problems. 

We also tend to follow people who have definitive answers. People who are decisive, outspoken, direct. 

But such tendencies grossly oversimplify

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What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

Some people really like to create lists. Often, these take the form of things “to do.” Some people even get such satisfaction from crossing items off of their to-do lists that if they accomplish something that wasn’t on their list, they’ll write it down and immediately cross it off. 

Know anyone who does that? (Sometimes, that’s me. I’ll admit it.) 

These types of lists are great. They help us stay apprised of what needs to happen in various parts of our lives, both professionally and personally. My weekly to-do list helps me immensely in providing structure to my week. 

But there’s another kind of list that can be helpful. It’s one that can be particularly helpful for those whose work has reached a level of complexity that’s overwhelming, a level of busyness that’s forcing them to do everything at a level of mediocrity that’s highly dissatisfying. 

That list is

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The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

My morning routine gives me comfort. I get up at the exact same time almost every day. My coffee maker is set to turn on 15 minutes earlier, so I go downstairs, pour my coffee and fill my 1-liter water bottle. I then head to my home office and get oriented for the day’s activities. 

After about 40 minutes, my coffee cup and water bottle are empty. Then, it’s time to get ready for some exercise. That lasts for about an hour, after which comes the remainder of my tasks to prepare for the day prior to the stampede of our four soon-to-awaken children. 

And so on. 

These are comfortable routines; they are generally productive habits. 

But sometimes habits can become too comfortable. We can stick to routines for the sake of sticking to the routine—when in fact, change is necessary. 

For example, 

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Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

“I’m going to leave the room. When I come back, you will each need to be able to introduce five of your classmates to me.

"You have five minutes, starting now.”

This is frequently how I start a class at its first meeting of the semester. Sometimes, but not always, I stick my head back in the classroom after a minute or so if I don’t hear robust conversation and yell, “Get talking! You have three more minutes!”

The outcome is predictable. It’s a breath of energy and fun that kicks off the semester in a wonderful way. 

But the action itself is certainly not predictable. And that’s part of why it works.

Most of the time, most of us like clarity. We seek predictability in those around us; we engineer predictability into our daily routines. Such tendencies are helpful because they can help us be efficient and save our decision-making brain power for matters that truly need it. 

But being unpredictable has its place, its time and its value. 

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Orienting New Employees Starts Well Before You Meet Them

Orienting New Employees Starts Well Before You Meet Them

My fascination with the military—and the U.S. Navy, in particular—started before I was 10 years old. And during the decade between then and when I was commissioned as an officer in 2002, I acquired a whole set of ideas about what actually being in the Navy would be like. 

These ideas came from books, movies, stories from veterans and myriad other information sources around me. 

Some of those ideas turned out to be accurate; others weren’t. For example, most of what you experience on a day-to-day basis in the U.S. Navy—especially if you’re a ship driver like I was—bears little to no resemblance to Maverick’s job as a fighter pilot in the 1986 movie Top Gun. 

But other patterns of behavior such as respect for rank structure, commitment to teammates, and aspects of selfless leadership that I’d learned about turned out to be

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Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

"While I was in the middle of the room, the attic floor and beams collapsed onto the second floor crashing down to the first floor where I was standing. The time between us entering the building and the time of the collapse was no longer than 90 seconds. I was knocked to the floor and was trapped under the debris. I suffered a head injury and a torn patellar tendon. The contents of the upstairs ended up in the first floor room and I could have been killed. By my judgment, approximately 80,000 gallons of water was pumped into that structure and we were ordered in anyway. This was after a previous call to evacuate 45 minutes earlier. This should not have happened!"

Mistakes happen. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt or kill people. I’ve studied them among fire fighters, who sometimes experience events like the one described above (which comes from Report 07-0001036, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2014). The mistakes that people in the fire service and other high-risk occupations make often have important safety implications. In other industries and occupations, mistakes may not hurt or kill people, but mistakes often derail projects or anger customers. They create conflict and they degrade the quality of what we make or do. 

Mistakes aren’t exclusive to any industry or sector. 

Mistakes also almost happen. These close calls or near misses—when discussed well and integrated into a learning program—can serve as powerful wakeup calls for people and teams.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about mistakes or near misses, learning from the past to improve future performance is

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Your Most Precious Resource

Your Most Precious Resource

I recently heard someone quote a deceptively insightful short poem. Titled, “How did it get so late so soon,” it’s one of many gems penned by the late Theodor Geisel, and here it is. 

"How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, captures here the feeling that I get frequently when I think about seasons ending, new years beginning and everyone (including me) aging. 

It’s not just about nostalgia; it’s not just about how even a 100-year lifetime is but a flash in the course of history. 

It’s more than that. 

It’s about how there’s one thing

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Why People Just Don’t “Get It”

Why People Just Don’t “Get It”

“This is important,” I said. “But it’s not hard, and I only need you to do this for a minute.”

He looked at me from under his furrowed brow, not convinced. 

“Please. Everyone else is smiling for the picture, and we want you to smile too.”

Still no luck. Just a strange noise of stubborn disobedience, something akin to a growl mixed with a whimper. 

Such went my pathetic attempt at 

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On Gratitude, Agility and Career Transitions

On Gratitude, Agility and Career Transitions

When I was a teenager, I thought I had it all figured out: My life and career would be a logical series of steps and accomplishments. I’d go to college, earn an officer’s commission in the U.S. Navy, see the world. Then, I’d probably go to law school and enjoy another set of logical steps of accomplishments toward “success” in the civilian world. 

Reality, of course, is different. 

Life—and careers—are often full of twists and turns, punctuated by triumphs and failures. Some of those ups and downs are big and public, most are

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The Higher Calling of Managing People

The Higher Calling of Managing People

As my students can attest, I have a tendency to get rather enthusiastic in the classroom. The reason for that is twofold: (1) I find the topics I teach rather interesting and important and (2) I think that if I expect anyone else to get excited about the material, then I have to demonstrate that excitement myself. 

And there’s one part of one class lecture in particular when I get especially fired up. 

It’s in my concluding comments regarding the topic of

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Don’t Mess Up This Management Moment

Don’t Mess Up This Management Moment

I watched in horror as the supervisor attempted to explain how it wasn’t “that bad.” “You really are doing a good job, and this piece of paper isn’t everything.”

The guy to whom he was speaking wasn’t buying it. 

The supervisor was holding a feedback session with this technician as part of his annual performance review. I was—fortunately, for me—only a 

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