When Working Harder is Not Smarter


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“We are being pushed to our physical and psychological limits because we are under such acute time pressure. We’re being driven out of our minds with the stress of speed. Everyone understands this on a basic level and complains about it. No one defends it as healthy or sustainable. But we seem to be helpless to address it”

Peter Whybrow in American Mania

We live in Mexico where the per capita work output is amongst the highest in the world. But Mexicans sure know how to celebrate, relax, and balance work with life.

The numbers are in. In American business the hours employees spend at the office have gone up.  So, with an increase in the number of hours worked each year, Americans must be more productive than ever, right? Wrong! According to the US Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics there was only a slight increase in productivity in the last few decades. And the productivity increase has been attributed to advances in technology, especially the internet as well as the fact that business is doing more with less.

Nonetheless, American business still operates under the belief that: “The more hours employees work, the more productive they are.” In addition, as we will see, business also (falsely) assumes that: “The faster employees work, the more they accomplish,” and “The more employees are paid, the more motivated they are to be productive.”

Based on the increase in productivity in relation to the significant increase in hours worked, we may conclude—at least on this point—that we were wrong on what makes employees productive. Now what? Certainly not push harder. Unfortunately, that’s what corporate culture is continuing to do. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. It’s no wonder that employees are feeling pressure.

Consider a typical employee’s work situation. He or she grinds out twelve-hour days, with up to two-hour commutes, and less than three weeks vacation per year. Moreover, with the advent electronic devices and social networking capabilities, the distinction between personal and business time has become blurred. How many people do you see calling work or sending text messages while they’re taking a walk or sitting at a restaurant? How often have you heard people being called  at parties or ball games? Employees are now on an electronic leash to the office making it impossible to relax from work or be fully present in their personal relationships.

We may conclude from all this that employees are heading for burnout. So where do we go from here? How can we restore employees so they feel inspired rather than used up? First, we need to question our beliefs about productivity. Next, we need to look deeper to discover what really motivates employees to be productive. Finally, we need to know how an employees’ deeper needs relate to the quality of the work they produce.

Consider the belief “The more hours employees work the more productive they are.” It is common knowledge that most people who are rested and healthy can work at optimal levels for six to seven hours a day. Occasionally, in a burst of energy or inspiration, employees can perform optimally for an additional two or three hours. Then they need to rest.

Employees also need to have a life outside of work. It may seem a surprise to learn that many employees would forgo a salary increase (with a longer work day) for time off for themselves and their family. A study conducted by the International Labor Organization concluded that employees “would happily accept lower incomes in exchange for working fewer hours.”

If working longer hours is not the answer to increased productivity, then what about working faster? This belief was challenged by psychologist Guy Claxton in his book

Claxton summarized research which strongly indicates that some problems are better solved by slower paced, intuitive thinking which originates from the unconscious mind rather than the fast-paced, analytical, “meet-the-deadline” thinking with which we are all more familiar. This finding flies in the face of prevailing business practices which demand fast, logical thinking as the way to solve business problems. Contrary to popular belief, at times we need to learn how to slow down our thinking rather than speed it up.  This is especially true, Claxton argues, for the development of complex and original ideas.

The last belief that pay is the chief motivator for productivity has also been challenged. For example, Alfie Kohn in his book, Punished by Rewards (1993) reviewed over thirty years of research which examined whether better employee performance follows from higher pay. Overall, the research indicated that pay was not the primary factor in productivity. Interestingly, many countries like Japan and Germany who do not reward individual performance with pay increases often outpace the USA in productivity. In considering financial rewards for increases in work productivity, Kohn concludes:

“Pay people generously and equitably. Do your best to make sure they don’t feel exploited. Then do everything in your power to help them put money out of their minds.”

Why? Because when people were surveyed on what they are looking for in a job they consistently ranked not pay but interest in the job, or the sheer pleasure of working, and the opportunity for collaboration through group decision making well above financial compensation. So, if employees are not more productive when they work longer, do not accomplish more when they work faster, and are not primarily motivated to work longer with financial incentives, what drives people to work at their best?

First, it needs to be emphasized that productivity, obviously, is a good thing. If companies were not productive, as measured by a healthy financial base, we would all be out of work. However, that said, productivity should not be the only way of viewing our relationship to work. Consider the words of Henry Ford:

“Business must be run for a profit….else it will die. But when anyone tries to run a business solely for a profit…then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence.”

What is the reason for the existence of a business if it is not just for profit? The answer is to be found within the true assets of every business, its people, and their deeper needs—the need to be not simply productive, but fruitful.

The heart of fruitfulness is that one’s work flows from the essence of oneself to the essence of the other. The quality of the relationship assumes, what philosopher Martin Buber calls, an I-thou relationship rather than an I-it relationship: “I do this because of who I am in my inner self and I show reverence for who you are in your essence (I-thou).” In contrast, the attitude of the I-it relationship is “I do this to gain something from you, regardless of your needs.” Once we focus on the notion of fruitfulness, and all that it entails, we begin to think differently about what it means to optimize employee performance as well as the nature of our work relationships. But how does fruitfulness differ from productivity?

The ‘fruit’ in fruitfulness refers to a product that flows from the life or essence of a tree. Productivity, in contrast, often comes from outside the person, from the employer trying to coax or even manipulate better performance with some quid pro quo arrangement; for example, “Work more or harder and I’ll pay you more.” In the end, we don’t motivate people; rather, they have to find it within themselves. In short, people are more motivated by a good job that does the following: expands one’s mind and skills (content/creativity), involves individual initiative (choice), provides the chance to work on a team committed to the same task (collaboration), has value to others or the world (meaning), and sparks the desire to make a difference in the world (contribution).

As human beings, we have a deep need to express our uniqueness and talents in the work we do.  The ancient philosophers viewed three aspects of persons that need to be expressed in their work: nous (mind), psyche (the instincts and emotions), andpneuma (spirit).

According to this model, fruitful people are those who effectively engage  all three levels in their work. Like the wheels of a car needing to be in balance to insure a smooth ride, these three aspects of being need to be in balance for healthy living and fruitful work.

Let’s consider each of these three aspects of fruitfulness, in turn:

The nous (mind) is the rational part of our humanity. It is that part of our being that is inspired by the content of our job and the opportunity to choose our mission at work. We love for our minds to be engaged, expanded, and challenged in accomplishing this mission. It is this capacity that makes sure we think before we act, consider the consequences of our actions, and ask questions such as “Is this the most prudent course of action?”

Nous operates best when there is a program of lifelong education. Nous is stimulated by curiosity and makes a habit of seeing the world with a different set of eyes (creativity). It has a need for solitude (hence the stress that results when one is constantly interrupted), and cannot always be rushed (it needs time for quiet reflection).  Finally, nous thrives in a climate of dialogue where people are willing to learn from each other throughcollaboration.

The psyche—instincts and emotions –  is the often unconscious part of our nature which also needs to be engaged and expresses itself as a passion for our work. The sheer excitement about the job and the opportunity to collaborate with others drives us through discouragement and obstacles to accomplish far more than we realize possible. It is also that intuitive part of us that knows something to be true even if we can’t exactly put it into words.  The psyche recognizes that work is an art as well as a science.

The pneuma (spirit) of the person, often neglected or disregarded, is a capacity of humanity that causes us to reach for principles and a power deep within and beyond ourselves. We can also describe the pneuma as the ethical force behind the “golden rule”—that force which shapes character. What exactly is this character factor? It can best be described as people who operate by a ‘higher’ principle—beyond self-interest and ego-gratification—a commitment to a set of values which some view as transcendent. In pneuma, people sense a calling being expressed in their work. They often have a clear-eyed vision of their goals based on this calling. They draw on a power beyond the self of nous and psyche for inspiration and creativity. They express their calling to make a difference for good in the lives of others (contribution). The consequence of such expression is to give one’s life meaning.

Whatever our view of  the power beyond or within we can draw on pneuma to bring significance to our work and our life.  Author and poet Julia Cameron, writing about spirituality, says it this way:

“It’s [spirituality] not something that belongs to an elite few, and it’s not something that can be intellectually calibrated. For myself, I don’t make the distinction between being human, being spiritual, and being creative.”

What then are the signs of a fruitful person, engaged at all three levels: nous, psyche, and pneuma? Maybe this is best answered by a series of statements about our work. We are fruitful in our work when we can say ‘true’ to the following:

In the area of nous (the mind)

  • There are ample opportunities for intellectual growth and development.
  • There is a continual quest for intellectual or professional mastery
  • My opinions are valued and taken into account.
  • My curiosity is continually stimulated.
  • Creativity is encouraged and rewarded.
  • I am encouraged to come up with new ideas.
  • I have uninterrupted time to think deeply about challenges.
  • I have a clear career development plan.
  • I know (or, I am willing to learn) what it takes to get the job done.
  • I am continually learning in the work I do.

In the area of psyche (the instincts and emotions)

  • I take time and attend to deep personal relationships.
  • I value time for reflection.
  • I like working with my colleagues and clients or customers.
  • I am grateful to be a part of a team or a collaborative effort.
  • I am seldom bored at work.
  • The work environment is exciting.
  • I feel joy at work.
  • I am gratified that my contributions are recognized.
  • I share in the benefits and gratification of corporate success.
  • I am loyal to my company and our clients or customers.
  • I am proud of what I do.

In the area of pneuma (the spirit)

  • Business is conducted by the Golden Rule.
  • My values and that of the company are mostly in harmony.
  • I am of service to others.
  • I am making a contribution to society as a whole.
  • I draw strength from the highest aspects of myself or from a transcendent source.
  • I have a deep sense of meaning or calling in the work that I do.
  • I am energized by my spiritual principles and practices.
  • My personal calling finds expression in our corporate mission.
  • I have reverence for the environment.

Perhaps, now you have the tools to evaluate your own work situation. Are you overworked but unproductive? Are you productive but unfruitful? How well do you integrate the three aspects of your person in fruitful work? What specific steps do you need to make towards fruitfulness? As you begin to imagine possibilities of fruitfulness, plan and act towards that end, you will experience the ‘flow’ where you enjoy the job for itself and not just the pay. A new energy will fill you where work hours will fly by.  Your self-consciousness and fear of failure will evaporate. Is this just a fanciful dream? On the contrary, it is the experience of all who enjoy a life of fruitfulness.

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Making Your Leadership Brand Shine

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You have a personal brand (the impression others have of you and your abilities)  whether you think so or not.

To some people the marketing of one’s brand is of little importance. Their “let the chips fall where they may” seems to be aligned with the life they want to live.

For others the brand is a “look at me” quest (self-promotion)

And yet others it is, “Look at what I can do for you” (a service orientation). The focus of this article is important if you are,

  1. Crafting a career where you can be where you want to be professionally.
  2. Focusing on the leadership areas you want to develop.
  3. Positioning yourself to be assigned to inspiring tasks.
  4. Differentiating yourself from other equally strong leaders.
  5. Defining your unique value proposition to customers, partners, and colleagues.

Here are eight steps you can take to develop that brand.

  1. Be very clear with yourself and others what career path or area of service you want to follow. Intentions must be clearly communicated. If you are passionate about international business situations get an overseas assignment at some time in your career.
  1. Identify what differentiates you from other leaders. What is your value proposition? One leader I know defines himself as someone who “breaks glass”. His disruptive innovations are just what his company needs at this time.
  1. Seek alignment between your personal and organizational brand. If “getting a life” and “getting the job” clash, opt for the former. Don’t sacrifice anything of yourself for your brand. If you love being in nature don’t let long hours at the office squeeze out this love.
  1. Define and grow the leadership and professional skills necessary for success in the expression of your brand. Are you aware of the “gold standard” leadership skills that you need to be chosen for a particular task or position?
  1. Ask how you want your customers, investors, and colleagues to benefit from your brand in the next 12 months?
  1. Be intentional about educating your boss and other stakeholders about your brand. If you want to be a strategist get to the table where strategy is discussed. Ask questions that demonstrate that you “get it” when future planning takes place.
  1. Express your brand statement in a brief story that will give it emotional impact. (See blog posting on Telling Powerful Stories). Let the theme of the story be about times when you made a significant impact on a situation or when you were particularly passionate about an assignment. Condense the story into a one-line statement.
  1. Share your brand statement with others who know you well and ask for feedback on its effectiveness.

My Leadership Brand Statement

Helping global leaders change their world by discovering what inspires them and others

 What is your brand statement?

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When You Come To The Fork in The Road…

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 Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D


…. Take It!

Yes, Yogi Berra, if only it was that easy…. no difficult choices, no missed opportunities, no regrets.

In life, we all come to a fork in the road, a point at which we have to make a choice. Sometimes we are sure. But other times, we are filled with doubt.

With each path, there are upsides and downsides, certainties and uncertainties. We struggle. We make our decision.

Then comes the fallout. Did we make the right decision? Is there a right decision?

For those transitions imposed upon us such as the loss of a job or life partner, we may feel completely unmoored and uncertain about the future.

But transitions we choose to make, such as a house move, can also make us anxious: doubt can sink in, making us question our decision, adding to our stress, and making the move more difficult.

Since change is a fact of life, how can we learn to ride the inevitable emotional bumps along the way and not let our anxieties and doubt make these times more difficult than they need to be?

We are in the middle of such a transition right now. We sold and packed up our home in California to begin the drive back to central Mexico where we have lived part-time for the last five years. As we said goodbye to our home of 14 years and our wonderful friends, here are some of the things we learned:

  1. No matter how rational we try to be, change stirs up strong emotions.

Transitions can elicit a roller coaster of rapidly shifting emotions — excited to sad, confident to scared, trusting to skeptical — all within a very short period of time. Though such swings in emotions feel destabilizing, they are perfectly typical and to be expected. After all, conflicting or vacillating feelings do not mean we can’t trust ourselves or need to reconsider our decision.

Transitions also resurrect old feelings and issues even if they are currently resolved. When we recognize the origins of our negative or destabilizing emotions we can put them into perspective and refocus on the opportunities inherent in change. This allows us to also take better care of ourselves as we cross the high wire to solid ground.

Questions: What complex emotions have you experienced in important life transitions? What memories of other transitions or life events are they attached to? 

  1. It is only a bad decision if our mind tells us so.

It is quite common to question a decision to make a significant change in our lives and necessary too; it makes sense to think through everything carefully so that we make the best choice.

The fact is, though, that we cannot control the future, which can take us into a downward spiral of What if? thinking. “What if” thinking can be paralyzing. It can stifle our imagination, hope, and the faith we need to move forward with our lives. How many people do you know who are afraid of taking risks because of the bad outcomes they imagine may befall them?

With all the scary scenarios that our minds compose we need to remember that we author those stories. Our minds, not the world, are our biggest spooks. However, we can turn around this ruminating. Instead of letting our negative fantasies run amok, we can ask ourselves rationally based questions such as

What are the positive outcomes of making this change?

What opportunities might I miss if I did not make this move?

What did I do in similar situations in the past to make a successful move?

In sum: What rational, positive thought can replace my scary, irrational thought?

Decisions, transitions, and changes are the inevitable stuff of life. The good news is we don’t have to regress to a place of anxiety or fear in making them. In making a choice about which path to take, we also have a choice in how we are going to respond to the consequences of our decision.






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Ten Signs of a Humble Leader

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Some of the most successful leaders in history display humility as one of their inspirational qualities.

Humble people display character traits where they;

1. Are grateful for the contribution of others and give them credit for their success.

2. Are aware of their strengths without being arrogant or grandiose.

3. Gladly seek out and act on accurate feedback from others.

4. Are lifelong learners.

5. Practice detachment from praise. (Sometimes living with success is harder than failure).

6. Refuse thoughts of entitlement.

7. Leverage their strengths with an eye on their development needs.

8. Take their mission but not themselves seriously.

9. Laugh at themselves without being self-denigrating.

10. Live more from the soul than the ego.

So what do you think?

How can a person be humble when they have to market themselves and develop their brand?

Are there sex differences when it comes to humility?

What about cultures where humility is seen as a weakness?


Do you have a story of a successful leader that you know and admire that was humble as well?


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Try Self-Compassion

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Written with Kristine S. MacKain, Ph.D

At times we can be so hard on ourselves!

Why can’t we give ourselves more slack? Think about it.

You set several goals for yourself: you are determined to complete five important tasks within a particular time period; you promise yourself to respond with more control when you child starts whining; you are determined to walk 15 miles this week.  And then what happens? You fall short of your expectations for yourself.  We don’t mean a stunning earth-shattering failure but you simply don’t reach your goals.

Then, you beat yourself up. Your thoughts take a self-accusatory turn:

  • “Why did I let myself become distracted when I wanted to finish those tasks by 5pm?”
  • “Why can’t I stop snapping at my child and be more understanding?”
  • “Why am I such a lazy slob—I’ll never lose weight!”

It’s stressful enough being so self-critical but there’s another problem with being this hard on ourselves: in doing so, we become completely caught up in our own drama, which unfortunately tends to bleed into other aspects of our lives, affecting the way we perceive others and the way we begin to view our lives, in general.

For instance, let’s say you are having a down moment because you haven’t reached those goals we were just talking about. You find yourself fixating on that and soon you are generalizing—all of your life looks bleak:

  • “My career is a dead-end.”
  • “I should have never had children.”
  • “I’m too old for exercise!”

Down the slippery slope you’ve gone. You have just blown that one incident into a personal catastrophe.

So, what happens when you consistently do this to yourself? Perhaps the answer is best captured by a quote we read recently: “People wrapped up in themselves make for a small and miserable package.”

Before we show you a way out of this downward spiral, let’s examine the root causes of this painful and, at times, disabling condition.

 Why do We Beat up on Ourselves?

Why do our perceived shortcomings lead to self-flagellation? Why do we catastrophize the minor peccadilloes in our lives? Why can’t we be more self-compassionate?  Below, are some explanations that may resonate with you:

  1. We set the bar unrealistically high for ourselves, sometimes to the point of perfectionism. Then, we don’t cut ourselves slack when we fall short of a perfect performance. The roots of this behavior often go back to childhood where we were shamed by parents who themselves experienced shame. We may have heard messages like: “You got 5 A’s and one B” – what happened?” Or, “If you continue doing that, you will never amount to anything”. Unfortunately, we still believe those messages, re-running the tapes in one heads when we fail to meet our objectives.
  2. We live in a culture where winning the silver, rather than the gold medal makes you a loser—where only the winner receives affirmation. We function under the myth that winners never fail and that failing is taboo.
  3. We fail to think rationally; we generalize that we are failures based on one incident of failure, instead of seeing failure as part of the learning and mastery process.
  4. We think that self-criticism helps keep us from becoming self-indulgent, according to recent research on self-compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., from the University of Texas, Austin.

The Way Out: Give Yourself a Break with Self-Compassion

The healthier, more productive way of relating to ourselves when we fall short of our goals is to substitute self-compassion for self-judgment.

Let’s start first with compassion for others. When you have compassion for others, you notice their suffering, you care, you feel empathy for them. This leads to a desire to do something on their behalf to relieve their suffering and make life better for them. In self-compassion, you do the same for yourself.

How skilled at self-compassion are you? In her work on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., has developed a free, web-based test for self-compassion that you can take to see where you fall on the self-compassion scale. (Also, read more on her website for additional information on what self-compassion is and is not):


If you score low on the self-compassion test and are inclined to self-hate and pity parties, here are some things you can do for yourself:

  1. See that the true value of your person lies in who you are, not what you do.
  2.  View failure as your “training wheels”—the way you reach success. Instead of thinking, “I was so bad at that!” ask yourself: “What can I learn from this experience that will help me succeed in the future?”
  3. Examine the logic of your self-loathing evaluation. For instance, you failed in one instance. Does that really mean that you will fail in every similar instance in the future?
  4.  Treat yourself the same way you would treat others with a similar shortfall, hopefully, with compassion. Recently, we heard someone remark: “If you treated others the same way you treat yourself for your own shortcomings, you wouldn’t have any friends!”
  5. Don’t try to deny or stamp out harsh self-judgment—suppression may only increases the intensity of the negative feeling. Instead, step outside yourself and observe and acknowledge the thought by saying “I’m judging myself again.” 
  6. Forgive yourself for harsh thinking. It helps here to see that what you think as unique to yourself is part of the general human condition.
  7. Replace your negative thought with a positive, reality- based evaluation like, “This was just one instance of a failing–it does not mean that I am always this way or that I cannot learn from this experience.”

Becoming more compassionate with oneself is a skill that can be learned. By integrating these seven new ways of thinking about yourself, you can learn to be a friend to yourself rather than your own worst enemy.

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What It Takes To Be An Exceptional Leader

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My whole professional career has been devoted to trying to understand what it takes for a person to be an exceptional leader. And I have worked with some of the brightest and the best of such leaders in every industry around the world.

What does leadership success look like?

What does it take for people to want to follow a leader?

The other day I interviewed two senior leaders about two future executives in their organizations. Here is what they told me.

“She is the most impressive leader I have met in my whole career”

 “This person is going to become another..(name of a very effective company president)”

What was it that they saw in these two leaders? In each instance it was a pairing of two complimentary abilities. These individuals,

  1. Have the intellectual ability to address the most complex business strategies and emerge with simple but elegant solutions.
  2. Get stellar results but never sacrifice their highest principles
  3. Display a self-confidence paired with humility that inspires people to follow.
  4. Drive change through relationships based on trust.
  5. Leverage incredible business knowledge and collaboratively solve problems.
  6. Reflect high levels of optimism even in the face of extreme adversity.

What do you think makes for a great leader?

What leadership attributes would you include?

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got soul?

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

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Our natural inclination as humans is to live from the perspective of our ego: our thoughts and behaviors revolve around what we are getting or not getting from life or other people. We seek satisfaction; however, we never fully realize it because the ego is insecure and insatiable—it is never satisfied.  Consequently, we are often left feeling somewhat empty or disturbed, as if there is something missing from our lives.

Interestingly, many of us go through our lives never realizing that we can make another choice, a choice that allows us to see our lives and relationships with others through a very different lens, the lens of the soul. Switching from an ego-based to a soul-based perspective is a powerful paradigm shift. It dramatically changes the way we experience the world, improving the quality of our experiences and leading us to a deeper understanding of life and the great gift that it is.

How do we make the shift to living from the perspective of the soul?

First, we need to learn to distinguish ego-based versus soul-based thoughts and actions.

Second, because the ego is a constant presence in our lives, we need to recognize when it threatens to derail us.

Finally, during these destabilizing moments, we need to intentionally choose to view our life’s circumstances differently.

Here’s an everyday example of making a different choice. One of the authors had a long and frustrating travel day. The following morning, feeling exhausted and very grumpy, he left a popular hotel chain to meet a customer. As he exited the elevator, he read the hotel’s slogan, “Wake up on the bright side” and thought, “You must be kidding!” After he met the customer, however, he felt inspired to collaborate and help solve her problems. Suddenly, he found that he was engaging and energetic.

What happened? He made a choice. (Grumpy consultants are unemployed consultants!) But moreover, in choosing to be the best he could be for this customer, he discovered he had inner resources he wasn’t aware of.

We are all capable of viewing life from a soul-based perspective because it is an inherent part of who we are. It does, however, tend to be overshadowed by the insatiable needs of the ego.

At work and at home, it takes an intentional focus to respond to life’s challenges from a soul-based perspective. It also takes time to develop this awareness so that we can choose to shift our perspective at will.

As Thomas Moore notes: “Soul doesn’t pour into life automatically. It requires our skill and attention.”

Let’s take a look at some of the wiser soul-based choices we can make:

▪   We can choose kindness in responding to others (especially when they irritate us) rather than being judgmental

▪   We can focus on using our talents and abilities to serve others as opposed to showcasing our accomplishments.

▪   We can be present now, accepting what is and embracing it, rather than ruminating about the past or distracting ourselves with fantasies about the future.

Following is a checklist of typical life situations and our responses to them. Approach each category as an exercise, thinking of instances in your life where you acted from an ego-based or soul-based perspective and the impact it had on you and/or others.


Signs of the Ego                                       Category                          Signs of the Soul

Self-gratification                                    Personal actions                      Benefit others

Performance-based                                 Self-esteem                              Values-based

Conditional                                                  Love                                       Unconditional

Entitled                                                        Attitude                                  Grateful

Getting love                                              Relationships                           Giving love

Personal comfort                                        Religion                                 Compassionate action

Chattering mind                                         Meditation                             Transcending ego                         

Intellectual pride                                       Wisdom                                   Humility

Despair                                                           Loss                                       Hope

Promoting self                                            Education                               Serving others

Domination                                                  Conflict                                  Resolution

Parents’ agenda                                          Parenting                               Child’s aspirations

Advance self                                                Contribution                          Benefit others

What choices are you making to live a more soul-based life?

What impact has this choice had on you and others?

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The Limits of Our Knowledge

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“The more we know, the greater we find is our ignorance” – Gardiner G. Hubbard

The world is full of pundits sprouting off their expertise in one field or another. Everyone seems to know where the Malaysian Airlines plane crashed. But nobody can locate the aircraft.

In science there is the scientific method that is a valuable tool in the search for truth. But there is also scientific dogma where some “experts” hold to their views even in the face of contradictory data (an ego attachment to a position?)

In religion there are those who claim they have ultimate truth. I love what the Dalai Lama said that if science contradicted some of the tenets of Buddhism, he would give up those beliefs.

So what should this tell us?

  1. Be cautious of people claiming to be “experts” without a credible knowledge base. Retain a healthy skepticism even to a blog like this one.
  2.  Adopt an open mind: challenge your most cherished opinions and consider contrary points of view.
  3. Appreciate that with greater knowledge comes the realization that one still has so much to learn. The more we know, the more we come to understand how little we know.
  4. Recognize that people who hold themselves up as authorities may have hidden agendas such as the need for certainty, to be right, to be superior, or to have status in or respect from their social communities.

If we find ourselves with these impulses, how can we approach interpersonal communication in a healthier, more productive way?

1.  Humbly let go of the need to be right and listen carefully and engage people in dialog.

2.  Define yourself as a student rather than an expert; continually challenge your knowledge and remain open to learn, even from unlikely and/or opposing sources.

3.  Defer to those who are more knowledgeable in an area but at the same time question authority.

4. Boldly proclaim your convictions but have the intellectual humility to surrender them in the face of contradictory evidence.

This does not mean we should refrain from being assertive about expressing a position, decisive about an action, or confident about a knowledge base we have acquired.

However, we need to achieve balance by expressing a humility that recognizes the scope and/or limitations of our own knowledge and a self awareness that understands and monitors our underlying drives, such as the drive to be right.

Two excellent articles on this topic are,

“Beware the Everyday Expert” by Daniel Gulati in the HBR Blogs.

“The Folly of Thinking That We Know” by Pico Iyer; The New York Times, 3/21/2014

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The Power of Giving

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In the “What’s in it for me?” generation what have we GIVEN lately?

In a recent team-building exercise I commented to a group of senior executives “instead of asking what your team is giving to you ask what you can give back to other members in your regional group”.

Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson of Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers fame talks about the importance of giving in his book “Sacred Hoops”. When he started coaching the Bulls he had a team of super stars like Pippen and Jordan. But the team was not consistently winning championship titles. One of Jackson’s first tasks was to sell the team on the virtue and practice of being less selfish. He told them in effect, “The name of the team is on the front of the jersey. Your name is on the back.”

What does it mean to live from a place of generosity and practice giving in deeper and soulful ways? Giving this way implies that

  1. We have an abundance mentality. Giving does not deprive us of our resources. Rather it multiplies them not necessarily in material things but in richness of spirit. It also, despite challenges, sees life not as a struggle but as a magical adventure.
  2. We know that life has everything we need. The giver sees the unlimited potential in the universe. In that light we live the life of the affluent in areas like love, friends, and physical and mental vitality. And yes, also in financial resources.
  3. We focus habitually on giving rather than taking. This is the antithesis of the suspicious person who constantly feels “What are people going to take from me?”
  4. We relinquish the attachment to outcome. We don’t use our giving as a PR tactic. It is more important that people receive than we acquire a good reputation. Giving is not a marketing strategy. If you want to be known as a philanthropist you will be a poverty stricken one indeed.
  5. We “slip into the gap between our thoughts” because every self and other-limiting thought is a story of our own creation. And as authors we have the power to move into the space of our true self, in the gaps.
  6. We consistently substitute kindness for judgment. When I am tired and insecure I often revert to judgment by placing people and situations into good and bad categories. My internal storytelling then converts the world into a miserable and chaotic place. Next time you feel inclined to judge. Stop. Substitute a kind act or thought.

What has the intentional and conscious practice of giving brought to your life?

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Improving Your Listening Skills

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(Updated from June 2012)

Highly effective listeners are few and far between.

Reflect on these statements;

“Can’t he just listen and validate my feelings? Why does he try to always fix the problem?”

“Every time we are on a conference call she is checking her email.”

“All people want from me is to be their audience”

Here is a tool you can use to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of your listening skills.

(I used this checklist in my Executive Development Workshop in Mexico City this month.)

How to Use the List

1.   Tell someone you trust that you want to improve your listening skills.

2.   Ask them to observe you in a group situation and rate you on how well you listen.

3.   Spend time with the observer going through the checklist and identify areas where you need to improve your listening skills.

4.   Evaluate each area as: Highly effective, Effective, or Needs Improvement.

Listening Areas to Assess


Eye contact. You consistently made eye contact in a natural, attentive manner. You did not appear distracted by, for example, fidgeting, looking around the room, or staring.

Body language. Your relaxed body (for example, open arms or arms at your sides; eyes focused on the other) invited the person into a conversation. You did not shut them out or show you were distracted (by, for example, yawning frequently, staring off into space, or having your arms crossed in a defensive manner).

Not interrupting. You let the person finish a thought before speaking. You did not appear on the brink of wanting to say something.


Door openers. You invited the person to express himself or herself honestly. For example: “You say it was a difficult situation; do you want to elaborate?”

Attentive silence. You sat quietly and attentively. You were not afraid to sit together in silence. You did not break that silence with a nervous statement or question.

Occasionally asked open-ended questions. You did not solicit yes/no answers. If the person said, “I don’t like my job” you responded, for example, with: “What about your job don’t you like?”


Summarizing. Using the other person’s words, you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.

Paraphrasing. Using your words, you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.


Accurate empathy. You showed that you were aware, understood, and appreciated how the other person felt. You showed that you understood the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Reflecting the other’s feelings. You reflected back (or “mirrored”) how you interpreted the other’s emotions or reactions by saying, for example, “You seem really hurt by the negative feedback you received.


So after people observed and rated you, how effective were you as a listener?

What two skills are you willing to practice to become a better listener?

 Your comments are valued.

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