February 2012

Being old is better than you think. So is marriage.

30-Lessons-for-Living-200x300Being old is better than you think. That’s one chapter head for Tried and True Advise from the Wisest Americans. So far, I’m in! And who are these wise Americans who provide these juicy tidbits? One thousand people over age 65.

Our newspaper had an article that summarized the marriage points today. They aren’t so surprising, yet they are profound. Shared values, friendship, don’t keep score and talk to each other.

And number five is my favorite.

  • Don’t commit to the partner. Commit to the marriage itself.

"Seeing the marriage as bigger than the immediate needs of each partner helps people work together to overcome the inevitable rough patches."

Actually, that’s great advice for admin-exec relationships, teams and all kinds of partnerships. My assistant and I have a commitment to our partnership. If anything seems to interfere with our association, we clear it up.

Think about what commitment to a partnership instead of the partner might look like in your life. 

And while you’re at it, think about why being old is really kind of cool.

PowerPhrase: Show me

powerphrase_icon2My friend Paul (who owns a manufacturing company) declared, "I hate theory!" He avoids abstraction and very much favors concrete examples and direct experience.

Now I don’t hate theory, but I like to have enough concreteness to be able to understand how theories play out in on-the-ground reality. That’s one reason why my phrase books are so useful – they bring theory down to earth and back to life.

So, like Paul, I use this PowerPhrase a lot.

  • Show me.

My cue for that phrase is when I start to get an ungrounded feeling in my stomach. Do you know that one? Now, if I have a lot of experience in an area, I can hear theory without getting that sense. But if I have nothing to tie theory to, my reptillian brainlet starts to revolt and request grounding with an example.

Try it yourself. The next time someone is talking in ways that don’t make sense to you, simply ask them this:

  • Can you show me?
  • What does that look like?
  • How would I know when that happens?

Shall I show you? Would you like to "see" how that works in the workplace? Check out yesterday’s blog post. 

Are you “too enthusiastic”? Here’s your PowerPhrase.

powerphrase_icon2Have you ever been "accused" of being "too enthusiastic"? I have. 

In excess, our very best traits can also be our worst flaws. But what do you do when you naturally are enthusiastic and people say it’s too much?

If you’re Wanda, you ask,

  •          What would a more appropriate level of enthusiasm look like?

That question got her a useful response. Her client told her the concern was that her enthusiasm would cause her to make light of genuine issues and challenges. People simply needed to know she has critical thinking skills and is capable of having the challenging conversations that the job she was interviewing for requires.

She knew she could, and she demonstrated that quality in subsequent interviews. 

More importantly, by asking for specific information, she was able to clear up something that had confused her for a very long time. She had wondered – how could anyone be too enthusiastic? Now she understood what the deeper concern was. Now she won’t let her enthusiasm make her appear to lack critical thinking skills. (In fact, her skills were sharp enough to tell her that wasn’t the job for her.)

John Gray is still using the point system. Are you?

abacusI like John Gray. I think his Mars Venus info has its place. But I was disappointed to hear that he’s still talking about saying things to score points. He tells guys that every expression of appreciation is worth one point in girl currency. You get a point for saying, "tell me more." You get a point for working hard. You get a point for a single rose. You get a point for a dozen roses. 

John Gray’s point system misses the point.

You can go cheap or you can go deep. If you’re saying things to score points and monitoring your tone to sound sincere, you’re going cheap.

Do you live your life to score points? Think about it. I don’t appreciate the beauty of my hiking trails to score points. I don’t appreciate brilliant ideas to score points. I don’t appreciate great food to score points. I do it because I value those things. And if I’m excited about what someone does, I don’t tell them to score points. I tell them because my appreciation overflows. 

Now, it’s true that sometimes we develop a habit of not sharing our heart-felt appreciation. That’s a good habit to change.

Points feed transactional relationships

But a problem with sharing appreciation to score points is, it’s transactional. It feeds transactional relationships, not synergetic ones. It’s "give to get," not "give as a gift." And the sense of obligation it creates can be deadly to relationships. It gets people thinking they’re owed. The best relationships are ones where giving is for it’s own pleasure, not to score points.

Here’s another point problem. It turns men into little boys and women into mothers. Now there’s a turn-on for you! (In case you missed it, that was irony.)

The same is true of giving in business. I don’t weigh in on a colleague’s work because I hope they’ll weigh in on mine. I do it because I enjoy it. I often close by saying, "thanks for letting me play." If it starts turning into work for me, I reconsider. Keeping score changes the relationship, and not in a good way. 

It’s about the synergy

If you don’t feel appreciation, don’t express it. Do go deep and find out why you don’t have it. Do have conversations with yourself, and perhaps with others about how you can show up more dynamically. Don’t settle for transaction when you can have synergy. Don’t miss the point by going for points. 

Good advice gone bad

pulpitI stumbled across a video of a teacher talking about the importance of appreciation. Watching, I felt preached at.

Then my husband came in. He was eager to tell me how grateful he was for all the blessing in his and our life. I felt inspired by his heartfelt appreciation. Funny how it works.

Now, I could have started this post by telling you that great teachers show more than they tell. Great teachers give advice sparingly, and they favor giving you experiences (for example by sharing stories) so you can draw your own conclusions. 

But I chose a different approach. I didn’t want you to feel preached at. I didn’t want good advice to go bad.

Don’t buy into this self-improvement con

What’s wrong with this picture?

cat ready to pounceThere’s a world of self-improvement and how-to experts that tell their stories and give their advice in ways that imply that all you need to do is one simple thing and you will be as happy and successful as they are. Or worse, change a single thought and you’ll be as happy as they are.

Only if you know the back story, you might know they’re not as happy as you are, and their success came from paying a price you’re not willing to pay. Like telling others how to be "as happy as they are" when they’re feeling empty and alone. "Just do what I did!" they’ll say. If you know the back story, you know why their words don’t ring true for you. 

That’s when your role models become the cat and the elderly lady next door who manage to make life work in simple ways. Somehow, their very being is good advice. And they’re too busy being themselves to tell you how to be.

What’s right with this picture?

But there are plenty of successful people worth studying who earned their way to the top by seeking true excellence. You might not recognize them right away, because they’re quick to let you know they are works in progress. They’re humble enough to genuinely want to learn from you. And they might not give advice at all, but somehow you leave with answers even though they only asked questions.

And they’re not going to suggest that excellence doesn’t take practice. They know it does. 

Is it harmless? 

The tragedy is that many people invest their money and energy into emulating people who imply what they did is easy and you can do it, too. If they had honest representation, they might have made a different choice. They feel like they failed because it was supposed to be easy. The problem must be them.

Excellence takes practice

So know that improvement in any area takes time and practice. If you’re into it whole-heartedly, your practice will be easy and pleasurable – but even then you’re likely to come up against walls where you’re tempted to give it up. Is there such a thing as overnight successes, pivotal moments and magic bullets? Sure. They happen. But even "overnight success" usually is the result of deliberate ground-work and practice laid out over time.

So don’t buy into the self-improvement con that marketing experts have found sells a lot of books and courses. If what they’re telling you is working for you, go for it. But if it doesn’t ring true, don’t assume the problem is you. 

Excellence takes practice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

If you have to say this, it probably ain’t so

I received the following letter:

Dear Meryl

communication questionsI came across your website, and I want to share an experience I had at a leadership conference.

The speaker had been teaching and coaching about leadership for over 20 years to small and large groups.

He comes on stage, and says, "Hi, I’m John, and I am your friend." Then he repeats this several times throughout his talk. When he says these remarks, he is sitting down in front of the audience with a glass of water at the table. In other words, he wants to look relaxed and comfortable.

I instantly recognize this as non-authentic communication and manipulation. Accordingly, he has broken your rules for effective communication.

Then he goes on to say that he forgot to bring the books that he sells which he would autograph if he had them available. But he reminds the audience that anyone can purchase these books on Amazon, and, of course, he says again, "I’m John, and I am your friend."

Maybe he should take your course.

Hi Steve,

I got a kick out of your email. The shift in leadership communication trends can be challenging for many! Trying to be authentic is like trying to relax. Announcing you’re a friend is a lot like saying, "I’ll be honest with you." Suddenly you doubt it. And I’m reading a book that observes that if you want to win at tennis, ask your opponent how she manages her great serves. Get her thinking about it, and her naturalness disappears. The call for authenticity can be like that, too. We become self-conscious and find it impossible to drop the act – although our act might be of not having an act.

Now, wouldn’t it be ironic if someone had attended a presentation I gave and emailed John to tell him I needed to attend his seminar? Who knows – perhaps I do!

Anyway, thanks for passing this on,


Can you guess this PowerPhrase?

There’s a PowerPhrase that most business people have the opportunity to use every day, and many neglect to. Can you guess what it is?

powerphrase_icon2Many professionals consider it unprofessional to omit this PowerPhrase, and say you can tell someone is a professional who uses it deliberately. While the PowerPhrase is universal, everyone has their own version of it. Do you know what it is yet?

Some people think that not using this PowerPhrase is disrespectful, because it it causes more work for others. Neglecting it certainly can cause lost opportunity. Any idea yet?

A vendor sent me a message the other day and didn’t include this PowerPhrase. That caused a problem.

Okay… if you haven’t guessed yet (or if you have), here’s the deal. Your phone number is a PowerPhrase. Your contact info is a PowerPhrase. Make it easy for people to get back to you by stating it clearly and slowly enough for them to be able to understand it and write it down. This applies, even if you think they have it, but especially if you’re not certain that they do. 

It’s common courtesy – which tends to be pretty powerful. So consider getting in the habit of being one of those professionals who uses it. 





Keynote: The Lean Leadership Challenge

While celebrity leadership isn’t considered the road to success anymore, for Lean leaders, it never was.

Celebrities take the limelight. Lean leaders are Leader fielding questionshumble by definition.

Celebrities hang out with the elite. Lean leaders are on the floor directly observing day-to-day processes.

Celebrities live in bubbles that protect them from critical feedback. Lean leaders keep nothing between themselves and the truth – including their own egos.

What is the Lean Leadership Challenge?

Lean leaders establish unity of organizational purpose and direction. They also create and maintain an internal environment where people become fully involved in achieving the organization’s objectives. The Lean leadership challenge is also a challenge of communication excellence.

Communicating Excellence

Lean communication is highly aspiratory. Lean leaders strive to perfect their own communication as they inspire their employees to strive to perfect their processes. Lean leaders are strongest when they:

  • model the way
  • inspire a shared vision
  • challenge the process
  • enable others to act
  • create ways for people to shine

This keynote presentation defines the Lean Leadership Challenge in communication terms, and guides Lean Leaders to embrace Lean Leadership in it’s most comprehensive sense.

Key benefits:

  • Get a practical understanding of what effective lean leadership is
  • Recognize the obstacles to effective lean leadership
  • Know the difference between lean leadership, traditional leadership and management
  • Gain some simple tools to establish trust and eliminate fear
  • Understand and address obstacles to employee engagement to get people to show up and care


If you are facing a Lean Leadership Challenge, contact me, Meryl, about this dynamic presentation.