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Leadership Versus Series: Thoughts vs Feelings

Like my previous Leadership Versus posts, thoughts and feelings are as much about you understanding yourself as it is about you understanding others. In fact, the more and better you know yourself, the better you can lead and positively influence others.


Language Challenges


Thoughts are linear, but also logical or illogical in my experience. Thoughts are of the mind or a function of the brain. The “mind” is not an organ and does not have a physical form. People will often state “I think we should…”. The thought is a result of some type of observation or conclusion based on experiences that tend to be factual in nature. Or, someone on the team may say, “I don’t feel we should.” As Joe Dispensa writes in his book, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself,” feelings are the language of the body. For example, “I think we should move ahead with the marketing campaign. A thought like this is likely based on the fact that the marketing campaign has been well-developed, rehearsed, and refined, creating great confidence in execution. Or, the statement could be, “I don’t think we are ready to move ahead with the marketing campaign.” Again, this is likely based on observations and experiences that inform the person making the statement that all conditions have not been met. Often, the person making the recommendation may say, “I don’t feel we should move ahead with the marketing campaign.” Or, “I feel we should execute the marketing campaign.”. Is this a thought, a feeling, or both?


The Differences


What’s the difference? Do you, as the leader, care that much about a simple difference in someone’s choice of words? Experience tells me that people will often express a thought as a feeling, and present a feeling as a thought. The value to you of knowing the difference is that when thought and feeling are in alignment, the chances of success are greatly increased. And, the opposite is also true. We have all felt, or sensed, that something was just not right, in various situations. This is where listening to your gut makes sense, and is worth a delay to review all relative information. Have you ever left your home, or work, or some other location and had the notion that “I feel like I am forgetting something?” then, long after you departed, you remember the thing that you forgot that gave you that uneasy feeling? 


Thoughts and Feelings as a Leader


Once you have addressed your thoughts vs feelings as a leader, the more you can help your team flush out their thoughts vs their feelings, resulting in the likelihood that you will accomplish your objectives faster and with greater accuracy. When the mind and body are in opposition, consistency will not occur. When mind and body are in alignment, confidence is heightened, decisions become clearer, and any remaining fog lifts. Some may call this “being in the zone.”


Being an Empathetic Leader


There is a lot of thought, feeling, and discussion on being an empathetic leader. Many would consider this to be a leadership style, but not me. Being empathetic is a valuable trait of a leader but not a definitive leadership style. Why? Let’s look at other emotions in this setting:


  • Empathy: 1) Em – to be with or to be in with, 2) Pathy – to feel, I feel with you, I’m in this with you. 
  • In contrast, Apathy: 1) A – without, pathy, feeling…I have no feeling for you. 
  • Finally, there is Sympathy: 1)  Sym – meaning “together.” 


It is a regular occurrence in the workplace to send mixed messages by thinking one way and feeling another. As you lead, know which “pathy” you should apply given the situation. It is generally very good to be empathetic. How to be empathetic, according to Chris Voss’ book about being an FBI hostage negotiator “Never Split the Difference” is to be a good listener. Listen intensely, demonstrating a desire to understand what the other side is experiencing. Use Tactical Empathy, which is active listening.


I like John Maxwell’s three levels of listening. 


  • Level 1: Listening long enough for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you have to say.
  • Level 2: Empathetic listening. I am here with you. I am in this with you.
  • Level 3: Level 2 with the observation of body language. Do the words agree with the body movements?


You can significantly improve your ability to lead simply by listening in a very deliberate manner, not interrupting,  asking questions, mirroring (repeating the last 1-3 words of the speaker), and letting the other person speak until they feel that they have been heard.


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Leadership Versus Series: Leadership vs Management

This age-old discussion about leadership and management will never go away, nor should it. It is critical for leaders to know the difference between leadership and management and when to apply each. While management is necessary for all work settings, it differs from leading. 


Lower-Case “l” versus Upper-Case “L”


My friend Marty Strong (USN SEAL retired, CEO and author), in his book titled Be Nimble, and on my podcast, describes leadership with a lower-case l in contrast to leadership with a capital L. The small l, known as management, is monitoring preset conditions and parameters and implementing preapproved corrective actions in order to correct matters that are considered to be out of parameters. Managers have great technical competence. Leading people, on the other hand, requires a detailed understanding of the organizational goals and inspiring everyone on the team to pursue those goals with vigor. People want to be led, not managed, and certainly not micromanaged. 


As entrepreneurs, we start as the subject matter expert delivering the product or service while developing and refining the business plan as the company’s chief executive. Over time, we have to evolve our leadership by not delivering the product or service directly. Rather, we should enable others (by the way, enabling others is my definition of leadership) to directly interface with customers while we create the conditions for our teammates to be successful. 


It is critical that you lead, especially when a situation demands leadership. As indicated above, people are not machines. Those you lead have lives outside of the workplace. We all have wives, husbands, children, house payments, unexpected visits to the emergency room, unanticipated expenses, illness, death of loved ones, and on and on. In some cases, such as the death of a family member, this will most likely be a life-changing event. In my experience, particularly in the military, your ability to lead the person and the organization through this life-changing event is one of the hallmarks of leadership. 

The following is from a Forbes article:


9 Differences Between Being A Leader And A Manager (FORBES 2016)


Leaders create a vision, managers create goals

Leaders are change agents, managers maintain the status quo

Leaders take risks, managers control risk

Leaders are in it for the long haul, managers think short-term.

Leaders are unique, managers copy

Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes.

Leaders coach, managers direct.

Leaders grow personally, managers rely on existing, proven skills

Leaders create fans, managers have employees


I define leadership in my terms and hold myself to account.  Those you lead will let you know if you are in the leadership zone and if you are not. Seek their feedback when you think it would be helpful. This will also contribute to the high culture, which is the magic within any organization.


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Leadership Versus Series: Voice vs Vote with Employees

Leadership Versus Series: Voice vs Vote with Employees

In my organization, all employees’ voices will be heard. If you have something to say and can present it in a manner that does not attack your teammates, I am all ears. If you think it is necessary to attack your teammates, experience tells me that you are probably wrong, but I will still listen. I want to hear from everyone, from the newest member of the team to the most seasoned.  


Employees Can Have a Voice


It has been my experience that the best ideas for product or service improvement come from the customer-facing folks, the front line, tactical level people who deliver the product or service. In the military, junior enlisted are the workforce and their voice is critical. Therefore, I want to hear from them often. However, not every idea is good or even executable, so I ask three questions when presented with ideas for change.


  1. Will it enhance the employees’ experience? 
  2. Will it enhance the customer experience? 
  3. Will it enhance the bottom line? 


If the answer is yes to all three questions, we are most likely going to do it. If the answer is yes to one of the three questions, we will look more closely at the situation to see if the concept can be further developed. 


It is any leader’s responsibility to hear from everyone under their charge. It is also the leader’s responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization first and foremost, and this does not include putting major decisions to a vote, such as hiring, firing, allocation of dollars to budgets such as investment in professional development, marketing initiatives, facility improvements, renovation, travel, employee retention incentives, healthcare, and retirement benefits…the list goes on. Accountability for those types of decisions rests with the leader. You, as the leader of your organization, are expected to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. After receiving input from the subject matter experts on your team, you will make the best decision possible. Rarely do we have one hundred percent of the information we need to make a decision, but every situation reaches a point where it is decision time. Indecisive leaders hold up the rest of the team. 


Employees Can Vote


Is there a situation where a vote is in order? Sure. Items that make the workplace more accommodating such as what type of coffee machine, where to have the Christmas and holiday party, and other items that do not directly impact cardinal direction or profitability. 




Finally, valuing all voices promotes an inclusive environment and is good for business. You will derive a more diverse demographic, be more innovative, responsive, and resilient to changing conditions. 


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Leadership Versus Series: Performance vs Behavior in Employee Management

Performance vs Behavior in Employee ManagementWhen it comes to employee management, why are some people forgiven while others are fired for issues at work? Utilizing a performance versus behavior approach answers the question with great clarity. I have found this to be one of the most valuable tools at a leader’s disposal in making decisions regarding retaining, retraining, reassigning, or letting someone go. 


Let’s begin with definitions of performance and behavior as it relates to employee management. Performance is defined as the execution of an action. For me, performance is the level of quality and quantity that members of the team produce. High performance should result in high ROI. 


On the other hand, behavior is simply moral and ethical character. It is a willingness to have the consideration of showing up on time every day with a great attitude and giving your employer and your coworkers your best effort. This great work ethic demonstrates a commitment to the team, not just compliance. In my experience, behavioral traits are developed throughout childhood and perhaps very early in one’s professional life, meaning people either show up with a great work ethic or don’t. 


In employee management, performance and behavior can easily be broken down into 4 categories:


  • High performance, high behavior
  • High performance, low behavior
  • Low performance, high behavior
  • Low performance, low behavior


High Performance, High Behavior


Let’s begin with the easiest approach to performance vs behavior – high performance, high behavior. High-performing, high behaving individuals are who businesses seek out. When you discover that you have a high-performing, high behaving person on the team, reward them. Keep them on task and make sure their plate is full. This is what high-performing, high behaving individuals seek. They take pride in their work and feel satisfied by making significant contributions to the mission of the organization and to their teammates. 


Low Performance, Low Behavior


Next, let’s look at low performance and low behavior. Ideally, all members of your team are high-performing and high behaving individuals, but this is not always the case. Put simply, low-performing, low behaving individuals have to go. How did a low-performing, low behaving individual get hired to begin with? If your HR or other hiring process hired this type of person, perhaps a review of the hiring process is in order. A low performance, low behavior person is a drag on the rest of the team. Once you have identified low performance and low behavior in someone, act quickly to terminate their employment.


Now let’s look at the two more difficult scenarios – a high performing, low behaving person, and a low performing, high behaving individual…


High Performance, Low Behavior


As leaders, high performance is what we notice more than anything else. High performance is great for ROI, which is the mission of most commercial enterprises. However, high performance can often mask low behavior. Low behavior is poison, it is a toxin that will spread throughout the organization, ultimately undermining the efforts of leaders. Low behavior takes many forms, you will know it when you encounter it, and you must address it immediately. I was blinded by a high-performing person early in my private enterprise experience. When I finally let this person go, a few others asked me what took me so long. I was also informed that others recognized the low behavior but thought I was giving this person a pass for other reasons. Several other smaller issues disappeared along with the person I fired. Eventually, a few other people loyal to the terminated employee left as well. This was a pivotal experience that significantly improved workplace conditions for everyone else on the team. So, under any circumstance, a low behaving person has to go.


Low Performance, High Behavior


What about the low performance, high behavior teammate? This is actually the most challenging of the four scenarios. As I mentioned earlier, a high behaving person is what employers should be looking for. Hire for behavior and train for performance. When it is apparent that one of your teammates is underperforming, it is the leader’s job to figure out why. We all have lives outside of work and sometimes one’s personal life can interfere with job performance. I recommend a candid discussion with the underperformer to get to the root cause…using the “five why” approach perhaps. 


I once managed a US Navy Chief Petty Officer who began to underperform. Upon my questioning, we discovered that he had become very tired at work as of late and he did not know why. He would doze off at a red light on his way to work in the morning. Upon discovery of a sleep disturbance, I referred him to the appropriate medical professionals who discovered that he had the sleep disorder of sleep apnea.  After the underlying issue was identified and addressed, his high performance returned.


Sometimes, a high behaving individual has performance issues as the tasks they were hired to perform are simply beyond their capability. This is also a very difficult situation as high behavior is the gold standard for me. Almost anyone with great moral and ethical character has something to contribute to the team. When you have high behaving teammates who fall short on performance, you have three options:


  • Train to the expected level of performance.
  • Reassign them to tasks where the level of performance is less stringent.
  • Terminate. 


As a one-time Officer In Charge of a Counter-Terrorist response team, I had to remove one of my men from an upcoming deployment due to a lack of technical skill. He was a great guy, liked by everyone, but when the stakes were high, he was unable to deliver at the level required to quickly and decisively identify and disable terrorist explosive devices, aka IEDs. (Improvised Explosive Device).


On another occasion more recently, I had to let a manager go. She is of the highest moral and ethical character but simply could not perform consistently at the leadership level required of her position. In both cases, each person accepted the disqualification and owned their shortcomings which is perhaps the hallmark of high moral and ethical character. 


Employee Management Conclusion


Having a defined structure is important in employee management because it allows you to be more objective in your decision-making and provides a level of efficiency in your leadership. How do your employees line up in these categories?


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There’s No Money for That

There's No Money for That

You have heard this before…”There’s no money for that.”  You ask your boss for a raise, or a new piece of equipment such as a computer or other new technology, or to attend a training event or to hire another team member, or for a working air conditioning system, or a first aid kit, or for a water fountain with water that is fit for human consumption, and the response is “there’s no money for that.”  

Your bureaucratic manager usually doesn’t even look up from the perch where he is seated when giving the monotone response. He will look up after a few seconds hoping to see that you have departed in one form or another. I served in US Navy Special Operations for 26 years, and we were often told “there’s no money for that.” Wait, what? The Department of Defense has a trillion-dollar budget and there’s no money for that? From my perspective, there’s plenty of money for that. In most organizations, there is money for that if you can justify the expense.

2 Components 

Your company might be performing less than optimal if all team members’ ideas and contributions are not given due consideration, or if their voices are not heard through several channels. There are two components to “there’s no money for that.” 

The first component is the perspective of the person denying the request. In an attempt to get you to go away quietly, “there’s no money for that” is the go-to statement. Managers who are settled into their titles and positions know that 50% of those requesting funding will drop the request immediately upon being told: “there’s no money for that.” It’s the other 50% of requestors that middle managers fear, for they will not go away quietly. They will try to justify the expense. They will say silly things like “our drinking water has failed health standards testing for three years in a row.”  

This brings us to the second component of ‘there’s no money for that – the requestor. If you are requesting funding for something that is outside of the pre-established budget, you will be told that there is no money for that until you have presented the benefits to the company.

The cost of this bureaucratic red tape (I’ve seen red tape dispensers and they can be more effective than a bazooka) is reduced input (creative thinking) from your customer-facing employees. The most recent Gallup and Glassdoor surveys indicate that employees want to make meaningful contributions to the mission of their organization. Tell them “there’s no money for that” enough times and they will likely move on to another organization. This creates turnover costs, especially at the management level and higher. It also throws off the work-life balance as workers want to be proud of who they work for. Saying “there’s no money for that” without due consideration can create tension that may go home with a valuable member of the team. It has been my experience that not every idea brought forth by the troops is good or executable, but the best ideas for product or service improvement often come from our front-line customer-facing teammates, and now and then one of those ideas may cost a lot or a little, and result in major improvements on three fronts. 

3 Questions

In my business,  I ask three questions when my teammates ask for funds:

  1. Will it enhance the employee experience? 
  2. Will it enhance the customer experience? 
  3. Will it increase the bottom line? 

If the answer is yes to all three questions, then we most definitely have money for that. If the answer is yes to one of the three questions, we might have money for that after a more thorough review of the situation. I then add a fourth question- How much money do we have for that?

Most inconsequential managers do not want you to rock the boat, or otherwise create more work for them. But, if you can do all the research, all the work necessary to capture their attention, there will likely be money for that. Even if your requested expense gets in a queue for execution in the near future, or maybe in next year’s budget, alas, there is money for that. 

I have learned many lessons over my 26-year military career and in the 11 years that I have been in the private sector. One of those lessons is that good leaders never stop learning. Lifelong leaders are lifelong learners. I suspect that you are a lifelong learner since you are reading this treatise. Whether you are honing your leadership edge or enabling professional development for those under your charge, working with a variety of coaches is critical for personal/professional growth, team growth, and the growth of ROI. My management team has been in place now for 8 years. We certainly went through learning curves along the way, but because we focus on sound principles of leadership, we are thriving. You too can thrive by regularly attending leadership development events or retaining coaches with business experience and success. With so many to choose from, it should not be hard to find someone you will be very comfortable working with. The relationship is usually very rewarding in ways that you were not expecting, as long as there is money for that.


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Defining Leadership

Defining Leadership

When I think of defining leadership, I think of a time when I visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa when I was stationed in Italy. It was great fun as we rode our Harley Davidson motorcycles from Sicily Italy to Silkeborg Denmark. In Italy, I remember marveling at The Leaning Tower of Pisa with its nearly four-degree lean – the result of an unstable foundation…

Great leaders have a solid foundation that has been carefully constructed over time, and without that foundation, you may find yourself with a four-degree or more lean creating instability. The main purpose of a foundation is to hold the structure above it and keep it upright. A poorly constructed building foundation can be dangerous to the occupants and the neighborhood. A leader’s foundation must support the immediate team, the business operation, and the stakeholder expectations. With high-rise buildings touching the sky these days, it has become all the more important to have powerful foundations. High visibility leaders have the same requirement…a powerful foundation that is both deep and wide, a foundation that will survive the onslaught of attack from both internal and external sources, while simultaneously recognizing and creating opportunities for the business and the team to flourish. A solid leadership foundation begins with your personal definition of leadership.

Your Personal Definition of Leadership

Let’s begin this construction project by examining a few definitions and observations regarding defining leadership.

  • “Leadership is the knack of getting somebody to do something you want done because he wants to do it” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – JFK
  • Warren Bennis said, “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
  • The Air Force defines leadership as “the art and science of
  •  influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission.”
  • Oxford Dictionary lead·er·ship /ˈlēdərˌSHip/  noun, The action of leading a group of people or an organization
  • The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development – John Maxwell
  • Pizzini: “Leadership is enabling others to achieve their objectives, and requires comprehensive awareness, developed through experience, education, and training.”
  • The USAF definition includes the words art and science. There are books written about the art and science of leadership but it all begins with personally defining leadership. 

At this point, you should begin formulating your own definition of leadership. Some leadership organizations recommend that you develop a personal mission statement. My observation is that this is the same as developing your own definition of the word leadership. If you develop and adhere to your own personal definition of leadership, you will know when you are leading, and when you are not leading. I can break my definition down into two words – Enabling Others. John Maxwell does it even better with the one-word definition, Influence. As you can see in my full definition above, I believe that leadership is “enabling others to achieve their objectives”. Those objectives can be for the good of the workplace and ROI, professional and personal development, or other interests. I further believe that every highly capable leader has gone through the crucible of formal education, years of experience (Gladwell’s 10,000 hours comes to mind), and has attended hundreds of micro training events up to the point of becoming an influential and memorable leader. You can simply adapt to an existing definition that suits your brand, or you can develop your own definition.

Now that you have a personal definition of leadership, you have the cornerstone of your foundation in place. 

The Three Pillars

In my personal definition of leadership, I mentioned the three pillars of experience, education, and training. Let’s take a moment to break down these pillars beginning with experience. 


Leadership experience often occurs early in one’s life. You may have held leadership positions on your sports team, scouts, school clubs such as debate and band, or perhaps babysitting. These childhood experiences are the seeds of leadership. As you planted these seeds, your experience as a leader began to take shape and even grow. You probably adopted a style of leadership that resembled your parents, teachers, and coaches. This was also probably unconscious leadership, in that, you did not view yourself as a leader. Now let us look at the experience in the workplace. If you are responsible for anyone other than yourself, you are in a leadership position. In my consulting work, I often encounter small to mid-sized businesses that do not pay attention to leadership development until there is an issue. In a typical small business, the entrepreneur is focused on the product or service and leadership development is not on the radar. Fast forward a few years, after the company has grown and hired additional staff. These new hires are likely proficient at the skill set you hired them to perform, but they also need to be led. They need to see a strong leader who can communicate the corporate vision. This is also a time when mistakes are made as leadership is not given its due. All of us, myself included, have made mistakes that we regret in leading our teams. We have also made great decisions that resulted in success. These early experiences in leadership should be captured in the conscious mind to build upon. Take a moment here to reflect on your early experiences as a leader which will help you be empathetic in developing those you currently lead, or those that you will be leading soon. 


Formal education is a key component of defining leadership in my experience. Education gives you, the leader, tools in decision making, whether or not you recognize this aspect of your leadership. Education develops among other things, your ability to communicate across the various mediums of communication such as internal, external, horizontal, vertical, written, spoken, and many others.  Reading this book falls under both education and training from my perspective. I also firmly believe that education alone is not nearly enough to prepare someone for a leadership role. As Joe Dispenza wrote in his book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, “education without experience is mere philosophy.” Education has many forms, from university-level instruction to simply reading books. I believe that a balance of formal education along with other educational experiences enables the best leader within you to emerge.


Micro training events throughout one’s career are critical to leadership development. Training topics are varied and can include almost anything. Email etiquette for example is one such micro training event. Email is considered official business communication. What does this have to do with defining leadership? As the leader of an organization, department, or simply leading others, you will be well served to require those you lead to use proper email etiquette. Email can easily be forwarded for the world to see. Ultimately, the author of an email represents the organization, which reflects upon the leadership within that organization. Other micro training events that I have attended over the years include communication, decision making, team building to include forming, storming, norming, and performing, just to name a few. My one-day seminar, two-day off-site, and three-day retreat are leadership training events. Franklin Covey, Dale Carnegie, John Maxwell, and various other training organizations offer hundreds of micro training events and topics. Deep dives on these various topics are a great way to develop your subordinates if you have them research the material and present it to your team. In my weekly staff meeting with my leadership team, we review aspects of leadership through book reviews and other micro training events.

Ultimately, you are the best leader you can be when you are leading from the conscious mind executing your personal definition of leadership. For me, that is enabling others to accomplish their objectives.


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DE&I from Military to Private Sector

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from Military to Private Sector

Given the recent report that the US Navy is not battle-ready but is 100% trained in DE&I initiatives, I am compelled to share my DE&I experience during my 26-year career in US Navy Special Operations as a Deep Sea Diver, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD Technician) contrasted against what I see and experience as a private sector business owner.

Over the past decade, and certainly, this past year, given the George Floyd incident among others, the initiative of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has gained renewed focus. Working toward improved DE&I is an inherent element of being a good leader—it simply makes sense. If you think you are already being inclusive, chances are you have good foundational principles in place. If you are feeling a bit ambivalent as we approach this discussion, rest assured you are not alone. 

In addition to the timeliness of the topic for our nation, it has been a significant evolution for me as a leader, bringing my prior military experiences and expectations related to DE&I into the private sector. As an enlisted servicemember for 16 years, then as a commissioned officer for 10 years, my perspective on building and leading teams evolved. We made sure we paid attention to each other as teammates. The Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment apply to the ship, shipmates, and self in that order, and we swear an oath to uphold these values. Although these are not referred to as elements of DE&I, upon reflection I realized our core values are DE&I—in action. While it is not perfect, it is an excellent model and the most diverse and inclusive environment that I have ever been exposed to. How can you shape your business to infuse these values to advance DE&I? How can you make it your organization’s standard practice, informing everyday work?

In my current role within the business community, and as a community leader and public figure, I witness DE&I initiatives gaining traction daily as companies, communities, and government agencies develop and implement DE&I programming. I currently serve on the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce DE&I Committee, to develop DE&I initiatives that will further enable conditions for businesses to succeed and thrive. Certainly, DE&I can be difficult to get right, and I will admit that I am ambivalent regarding certain assumptions and beliefs coming from those who have been appointed as subject matter experts, but who may lack some critical boots-on-the-ground experiences in functional diversity and inclusion, as well as the business owner’s perspective. One of the tasks within the committee was to develop our working definitions of each of the three words that encompass DE&I. We reduced each of the definitions to one sentence, making them easier to understand and execute.

  • Diversity: The characteristics that make individuals unique.
  • Equity: The process of allocating resources, programs, and opportunities to employees, customers, and residents.
  • Inclusion: The process of ensuring that every voice is heard, and all have a sense of belonging and are respected in the workplace, irrespective of their backgrounds.


DE&I in the Military

I am dedicated to a diverse and inclusive work environment. How does that look in 3D and 4K? I spent 26 years serving the world’s greatest Navy, and my experience, especially within Special Operations, was one of diversity and inclusion. The sailor or soldier next to me was my teammate…literally a brother or a sister. We would die for each other if we had to. The memory of the young and brave black, Hispanic, and other American women that I served with in Iraq will be with me forever. No matter what their job was in the military, these young warriors were there to fight alongside me if need be. They knew it and so did I. For example, the admin clerk had a loaded weapon at her side while doing paperwork. She was trained and ready to use that weapon if necessary. Even before and after my time in the war zone, my experience with DE&I within the military was based on the core values of the services. The Navy and Marine Corps, for example, hold fast to the core values of honor, courage, and commitment. The Army’s core values are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. The Air Force’s core values are Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. General Ryan, USAF Ret., elaborates on these core values as follows: 

“Core Values help those who join us to understand right from the outset what’s expected of them. Equally important, they provide all of us, from [the rank of] Airman to four-star general, with a touchstone—a guide in our own conscience—to remind us of what we expect from ourselves. We have wonderful people in the Air Force. But we aren’t perfect. Frequent reflection on the core values helps each of us refocus on the person we want to be and the example we want to set.” —General Michael E. Ryan, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force (CSAF), 1997-2001

The US military has codified a set of core values that are constantly reinforced, and which reinforce the standards for interpersonal actions. Through this experience, DE&I has become part of my DNA. Is this adherence to common core values possible in society, writ large? To varying degrees, yes, but the outcome is somewhat dependent on early childhood experiences. We know that things like education and life experience add up to disparate lifelong trajectories. As I adhered to these values in establishing my business, I looked for ways that I could alter those trajectories for the better. For example, my management team developed programming within our community to work directly with disadvantaged school children. In a very deliberate way, my team is going above and beyond to open doors and inspire students, developing pride and confidence in the next generation.  

Enough said? Nope. 


DE&I in the Workplace

As positive as my experience has been with DE&I throughout my military life, there have been times when the outcome was less than ideal in the workplace in the private sector.

While I question the assertion of white privilege, I agree that it is more difficult for certain people to accomplish their objectives. As a business owner, my priority in hiring is moral and ethical character because with these traits, competency can be developed. An employee’s moral and ethical character, and competency, are not qualified by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and the many other diversity descriptors. 

As an employer of 35 people who depend on me for their livelihood, I must make decisions that are in every teammate’s best interest. In other words, I see my business as an organism needing certain elements to thrive, and I propose that DE&I demands that we ensure all teammates have sufficient sunshine, water, and oxygen to flourish. If leaders can integrate DE&I fully in the workplace, the outcomes are fundamentally good for business. However, I have seen the topic of DE&I become mired in resistance because of how it is positioned in forums mainly because there is no widespread agreement on the definition and execution of DE&I. Universities have differing definitions as do federal and state, and municipal governments. DE&I is often restricted to skin color as I often hear or read about the needs of black and brown employees. Certainly, the DE&I initiative is born of the plight of blacks, Hispanics, and other racially oppressed groups, but as a leader who put DE&I to practical use while in uniform, I can attest first-hand that the true value to be realized from DE&I goes well beyond skin color. You may be asking, how is this accomplished? 


Inclusivity Leads to Diversity

I propose that you focus on inclusivity first. This upends conventional thinking, but I believe it unlocks true diversity and equity. Put methods in place to ensure everyone’s voice can be heard, especially by the leaders within the organization. It has been my experience that the best ideas come from the front lines, your customer-facing teammates. Not every idea is good, but the good ones often come from engaged teammates who want to help the organization succeed. Ideally, this includes every single person, regardless of skin color, background or experience, ability, education, or training. Rely on your employees’ instincts and learn to be an empathetic listener.

A more inclusive organization has more room to maneuver. It is more innovative. It responds and adapts more quickly to changing demands, such as the COVID-19 pandemic we are living through as of this writing. It is more responsive to all the voices around your table. By truly seeing and hearing everyone, your organization becomes resistant to the structural barriers that prevent the promotion of the best ideas and people. What does this sound like? During an all-hands last week, I discussed how DE&I is owned by everyone in the organization. “As a point of entry for our continued conversation on DE&I, I want you to know two things: 1) you have a voice, and we want to hear what you have to say, and 2) we are who we are because of you, and for us to diversify as we grow, we need you to bring more people to the table.” Although it is incumbent on the leader to promote DE&I in the workplace, it is imperative that every team member act with inclusivity as well.


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What is Conscious Leadership?

Conscious LeadershipWhat is conscious leadership? What is a conscious leader? Why is conscious leadership important?

In discussing conscious leadership, and discussing everything regarding leadership, I like to refer back to the basics, and the basics, in this case, begin with a definition.  Merriam-Webster defines “conscious” as:

1: having mental faculties not dulled by sleep, faintness, or stupor: AWAKE

  • became conscious after the anesthesia wore off

2: perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation

conscious of having succeeded

  • was conscious that someone was watching

3: personally felt

  • conscious guilt

4a: likely to notice, consider or appraise

a bargain-conscious shopper

b: being concerned or interested

a budget-conscious businessman

c: marked by strong feelings or notions

  • a race-conscious society

5: done or acting with critical awareness

  • a conscious effort to do better

6: capable of or marked by thought, will, design, or perception

Items 5 and 6 above resonate with me from a leadership perspective – critical awareness and marked by thought, will, design, or perception.  For me, this means being in the moment with tools at your disposal to enable others to accomplish their objectives. “What tools?” you may ask… 

Leadership Tools

The leadership tools are no different from the tools of an artist, a mechanic, or a neurosurgeon. First, a leader must have a foundation. This foundation for me is a personal definition of leadership (enabling others). Next is knowing your preferred leadership styles and power types, and having the ability to use the non-preferred leadership styles and power types when the situation warrants. Finally, I have nine critical leadership traits that can be more scientific in nature in that the outcomes are observable and repeatable. 

With this foundation in the conscious mind, you are much better prepared to deal with the near, intermediate, and long-term issues that leaders face every day. When a teammate brings an issue to your attention, seeking guidance, you could unconsciously give your teammate direction along with the solution. Or, you could consciously take that moment to coach, mentor, or discuss your vision and how this situation embraces or challenges that vision, and allow that person to arrive at the proper solution. In this case, you are consciously developing a subordinate, something I seek to do every day. 

When someone makes a mistake, large or small, I assume the miscue was in good faith and not intentional. With this tool of leadership in the conscious mind, we can identify the root cause of the miscue, resolve it quickly, and emerge smarter, better, stronger. 

Empathetic Leadership

There is a lot of discussion surrounding empathetic leadership, or being an empathetic leader. What the heck is that? Once again, we turn to Merriam-Webster for help: 

Empathythe action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner…

Em: is to be with + Pathy: feeling = Empathy is to be with feeling. 

Being an empathetic leader requires the conscious mind to focus on this most valuable aspect of leadership. A conscious leader has the tools and traits of leadership in the conscious mind and reviews them frequently to ensure that when the situation presents itself, the proper principle of leadership is applied.


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How Leadership Traits Create a Lifelong Reputation

Leadership Traits

Do you remember the great people that you worked for and their leadership traits? How about the not-so-great ones? What about your teachers and coaches? I certainly remember the leader who had faith in me when I did not have faith in myself. I remember the hockey coach who, rather than scream at me in the typical coaching style of the 1970s and 1980s era, would ask me why I did what I did and would I do it differently next time? I certainly remember my military leaders, particularly in the war zone, who created confidence in our team when executing high-risk missions. Unfortunately, I also remember the foul-mouthed screamer, the controller, and the completely incompetent leader who relied on rank and title alone to lead. Your reputation as a leader is a lasting legacy whether you are aware of this or not. 

Why Is This Important? 

The answer is quite simple, but too often overlooked. Be the leader that you want to work for. Conversely, do not be the leader that you did not like did not learn from, and did not remember for positive reasons. Consciously avoid being that person. 

Leadership Traits

One of my tasks in my “Elevate Your Leadership” breakout sessions is to think about the above-mentioned leaders, coaches, teachers, etc… and develop a list of the positive and the negative leadership traits. Each Elevate Your Leadership event produces the same positive and negative traits, every time. On the positive side, we have compassion, vision, integrity, trust, confidence, decisiveness, courage, wisdom, articulation, communication, humility, strong will, patience, willingness to teach, and finding the value in failure. Among the negative traits are poor listening skills, selfishness, ego-driven, arrogance, manipulation, indecisiveness, loss of self-control, insecurity, and dishonesty.  For good, and for not-so-good, I can put a name and face to all of the descriptors. 

Leaving a Legacy

What legacy have you left thus far and what legacy will you leave when you decide to leave professional life behind? I certainly have “haters” – those who simply seemed to clash with me no matter what the issue was. My friend and global business celebrity Jeffrey Hayzlett wrote about haters in his book “Think Big, Act Bigger.” Jeffrey states that every successful person, leaders, in particular, have haters. It is almost a rite of passage. As unpleasant as haters can be, they do force us to be introspective and metacognitive, meaning we care about being good and influential leaders. 

No Thanks

I am at the point in my professional life where people from the past have reached out for various reasons, a business deal, a request for help with something, or a job opportunity. I also have reached out to people when I think a win-win is a possibility, but only if their reputation is one of honor. Probably most importantly, there are people that I cannot have a business relationship with as their damaged reputation would negatively impact mine. 

So, if you care about your reputation in the short, intermediate, and long term, chances are that you will have great people and opportunities circle back. The opposite is also true.


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Why Culture and Values Matter Most in Leadership

Culture and Values

What does leadership have to do with culture and values? Culture and Values in the workplace matter more to U.S. workers than all other categories including pay and compensation. The same is true for France, the UK, Canada, and Germany. 

What enables culture and values? Consider the second most important factor – Senior Leadership. If you are not investing in training for your leadership team, culture and values will be lower in ranking and turnover will be higher in percentage. I have learned this lesson from all perspectives, from being the newest member of the team to owning a multimillion-dollar business.

Culture and values are enabled from the top down and owned from the bottom up. Said another way, the most effective leaders enable high culture and model high values, but each teammate must genuinely feel ownership and make positive contributions to the culture.


Components of Culture and Values

Components of a thriving culture include: 

  • Everyone having a voice. 
  • A sense of meaningful contribution to the company’s mission. 
  • Recognition as a subject matter expert.
  • A genuine concern for the well-being and success of all teammates. 

There are many more components of a thriving culture depending on the mission of the organization…


Enabling Your Team

Culture can ebb and flow which is fine, as long as we are talking about varying degrees of good culture. Enabling your team to develop and contribute to a positive culture is a key component. The more ownership teammates represent in the culture of an organization, the better the culture will be. 

 One approach I use, within my organization of 35 teammates, is to ask each of them what a positive culture looks like and what we can do to enable it. Within my annual strategic vision mission, vision, and values document is a section dedicated to culture. This section is largely written by anyone on my team that wants to have input. 

The cultural items that are written by my team include:

  • Build community through mentorship, leadership, and motivation.
  • Promote and enable a mindset of physical fitness.
  • Develop confidence and respect.
  • Intentionally incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Create and recognize opportunities for professional and personal growth.
  • Encourage creative thinking to advance individual and company objectives.
  • Deliberately bring people together.

These components of a positive culture are revisited each year. Then throughout the year, we discuss culture at our group meetings and make adjustments as necessary. If my leadership team does not monitor culture, it can very quickly move in the wrong direction, especially with a team of younger and lesser experienced people. I personally revisit the items mentioned above at team gatherings. 


Experience is Everything

Throughout my 26-year military career (and now after 11 years in the private sector), I have been on all sides of positive and negative cultures. I will admit that as much as I have tried to contribute to a positive culture, I know that there were times where I negatively impacted the culture. This is because I was not conscious of the impact my words and actions had at the time. 

We all should be in it for the long haul. By focusing on culture and values, the long haul will be longer, ROI will be notably higher, and teammate engagement will be personally and professionally more rewarding. 


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Why is Leadership Important?

LeadershipHow do you define leadership? Do you have a personal definition? Some leadership institutions employ a personal mission statement, which is your first step in defining leadership. 

There are many facets to leadership, including your personal brand (or style), how you enable others to lead, and how you develop future leaders, just to name a few… 

What is Leadership? 

I define leadership in two words – enabling others. John Maxwell has an even shorter one-word definition- influence. My full definition is, “Enabling others to accomplish their objectives through the application of my education, training, and experience.” 

I firmly believe that the most effective leaders have a combination of 3 critical components:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience 

Education without experience is philosophy. Many ‘certified’ coaches and trainers lack the depth of experience required to develop a leader in a credible, meaningful, and long-lasting manner.

If you have your own personal definition or a personal mission statement, you then have a means of knowing if (and when) you are leading. Sharing your definition of leadership with those you lead will help them align to your expectations while providing the coveted ‘transparency’ that many leaders strive for. 

Styles and Power Types

As leaders, we should have guiding principles that provide a solid foundation for our approach to leadership. I like to compare being a leader to being a skyscraper. Skyscrapers are highly visible and have a foundation that is both deep and wide. Without this foundation, the building would topple. My foundation is a combination of the aforementioned personal definition and the deliberate application of leadership styles and power types… 

A simple Google search will reveal dozens of leadership styles- the ‘four types’, the ‘seven most common…’, the ‘six main’…The same results are common for power types, such as the ‘three types’, the ‘four types’, the ‘six types’, and the ‘seven types’, and so on. Regardless of which leadership style and power type you subscribe to, it is imperative that you build your foundation based on a select set of leadership styles and power types that align with your personality. 

I have experienced people in leadership positions who did not have a deep and wide foundation, and those leaders eventually toppled. Once you are comfortable with (and fully understand) your chosen leadership style and power type, you can blend them to deliver the proper leadership that any situation calls for. To do this, your leadership style and power type must reside in the conscious mind, meaning that you are thinking of the people you are leading often, perhaps daily…

Conscious Leadership

Do you remember the great leaders that you worked for? How about the not-so-great ones? What about your teachers and coaches? Many people in leadership positions have a style that they largely inherited from early experiences rather than consciously developing their own style. This leads us to consciousness… 

For me, a conscious leader has tools of leadership in the conscious mind and deploys these tools deliberately based on a situation. For example, I consistently use the ‘five why’ questioning method to get to the root cause of any issue. The cause of an issue and the solution usually present themselves by the third or fourth ‘why?’. 

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong leaders are lifelong learners. The best leaders are dedicated to learning throughout their careers. Musicians and athletes always practice for the main event. Because of this, even coaches use coaching. Leadership is no different. As a matter of fact, leadership is a perishable skill… use it or lose it. Like any skill, the basics must be revisited often, and advanced training must be recurring and timely. Just as an athlete routinely practices and a musician rehearses, leaders must practice or rehearse. 

Lifelong Reputation 

The importance of solid leadership cannot be overstated. Again, think about the influence both good and not-so-good leaders have had on you. A great leader will influence you long after you no longer work together. 

In remembering some of the great leaders in my life, I recall them having a steady hand in times of crisis, a deliberate approach to complex issues, and a willingness to let me assume greater authority and responsibility. In one case, I even remember one of my leaders putting me on a path for recovery, when he probably should have fired me. These people have never been forgotten in my lifetime…

Now let’s talk about some of the poor leaders in my life. I remember the screamer, the excessive use of foul language, the ones who led by threats and coercion, and the absent leader who was never around when the team needed a decision. The sting of working for a poor leader can also last a lifetime. 

Regardless of your leadership role, you are relied on to make good decisions that are in the organization’s best interest first, the people within the organization second, and yourself last. 

Culture and Values

The importance of leadership starts by establishing and modeling high culture and values. Studies have shown that Culture and Values in the workplace matter more to workers than all other categories, including pay and compensation. 

What enables culture and values? Senior leadership. If you are not investing in training and education for your executive team, your culture and values will suffer, and turnover will be higher. From all perspectives, I have learned this lesson from being the newest member of a business to owning a multimillion-dollar business. 

Being a leader with a solid moral and ethical character enables solid culture and values. Culture and values are shared from the top down and owned from the bottom up. The most effective leaders enable culture and model values, but each teammate must genuinely feel ownership to make positive contributions. 

Components of a thriving culture include: 

  • Everyone having a voice
  • A sense of meaningful contribution to the company’s mission
  • Recognition as a subject matter expert
  • Genuine concern for the well-being and success of all teammates 

Leaders need teammates who want to show up every day and do a great job. Anything less is not good for the organization or the individual. If those you lead are excited to come to work every day, the potential for success is high. If, on the other hand, members of your team have a lack of energy because they are in compliance mode, the output or the product will suffer. 

Leadership is Full-Time Requirement

Defining leadership, and understanding the significance of your actions as a leader, is a daily requirement to have the greatest impact on the most people within your organization. Leadership is a full-time requirement for success to flourish.


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