So You Want to Be A Strategist

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You want to be known as a strategist. It would benefit your career for you to be seen as someone who can lead your organization into the future.

But there is one problem.

Exactly what does it mean to be a strategist?

Generalizations like “Make more time for futurist thinking” don’t actually help you on the path to actually doing strategy. You need more help than that.

What exactly is a strategist? Let’s first look at what it is not.

  1. A practitioner of magic. You don’t have to be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat to be a strategist. That notion alone places strategy into the realm of the mysterious and unachievable. Most strategists I know think very concretely, base their decisions on solid data, and communicate their ideas in very simple terms.
  1. The work of a creative few. I often hear people discount taking on a strategist role by saying “I’m not a creative type.” The fact is that anyone can learn how to solve pressing business and social problems. We all have sparks of creativity in us.
  1. The task of very senior leaders. One of the myths of strategy making is that one has to be at the table with people in the C-Suite or be a Chief Strategy Officer to influence the birth of an innovative idea. Some of the best ideas come from the bottom up and percolate their way to the senior leadership. You have a ton of novel concepts right now. Let them see the light of day.

Here are some ways you can “do” strategy.

  1. Find something that will add value to others that is not already being done.

In this way you will make the news instead of just reporting it. Keep a diary of these ideas and then wait for one of them to jump to the top of your list. Partner with your customers and listen to their future needs. This will shape your innovative ideas as well.

  1. Express your idea in a clear, concise, and compelling picture.

Begin your strategy statement by completing the following sentence

“Imagine a day when….”

That approach puts your idea solidly into the future. Some of the best comments I have heard have been from,

An employee at a credit card company who said,

“Imagine a day when we will live in a cashless society and all people will use for financial transactions will be credit cards (now of course it is Smartphones).

An IT person at a major railroad who mused,

“Imagine a day when all of our trains will be operated remotely (the driverless car idea.)

All of these ideas are at different stages on their way to becoming a reality. But each individual did more than come up with an idea. They,

  1. Sell the idea to “deciders” in the organization.

You will not execute on a strategy by yourself. Find a sponsor in the organization who believes in you and your concept and who can help make it happen. All great leaders are in a constant search for people with great ideas that will add value.

The time has come for your great idea to see the light of day. But be persistent because you will run into naysayers. Bypass this negativity, take all input as a way of making your idea stronger, and nurture that idea like you would a developing child.

See you on the path to your becoming more of a strategist.


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Take Down the Wall – Ending Gender Inequality at the Top of Organizations

A big divide between the sexes in the corporate world is evident at senior leadership levels where men are in the overwhelming majority.

Despite the advent of feminism, the fact that there are a handful of women CEO’s in large corporations, and the huge population of highly competent lower-level women executives in every industry, the fact is that women leaders still

Run into an invisible wall that, consciously, unconsciously, and due to intentional ignorance, keeps them from consistently rising to top leadership positions.

How can organizations take down that wall of inequality?

Here are three steps that organizations can take to ensure that woman reach senior levels of leadership.

  1. Get out of denial that there is a problem.

Despite some progress in promoting women in some sectors and the awareness of the problem on the part of certain male leaders, the C-Suite and corporate boards still are mostly an all male club.

When the statistics come in many organizations like Google were shocked to see how women trail in promotion to higher levels of leadership (as well as just working in the IT Industry).

However it is one thing to be shocked by the numbers but there needs to be intensified action in rectifying the problem. And a factor that can spur us on in this effort to end bias is our attempt to build more effective teams.

  1. Examine what makes for effective teams.

The data are in. Teams with more women members are more effective. In an article in the NY Times Jan 15th 2015 Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others” authors Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone, and Christopher Chabris cite studies that indicate that having more women on a team makes it more effective. This was partly due to a second success factor for an effective team, emotional intelligence. The latter is generally found at a higher level in women.

Could the above factor spur on the needed changes by organizations when they

  1. Establish a percentage of qualified women who will be promoted to such positions in a certain time frame?

Some corporations set goals that by a certain date a higher percentage of qualified women will be represented in their senior leadership. This has been a very effective strategy for diversity balance.

Now is the time for more organizations to follow suit and establish a quota system for qualified women.

Other strategies for dismantling the wall of gender bias like court cases and newspaper reports raise the awareness of the problem but generally lead to bad feelings and resistance from corporate leadership.

By just starting with the above three actions a new day could be dawning for women in leadership.

 Burning Questions

When will we see gender equality on your senior leadership team?

What are you doing (or have done) to make this so?  

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Delegation – How to Catch Monkeys

Some villagers in Africa were having problems with monkeys stealing their crops.

One resident devised a plan to place several large pumpkins in the vegetable patch. He then carved a small hole in the thick skin of each pumpkin through which the monkeys could slide their hands to grab the seeds. What he knew was that the monkeys would take a hand full of seeds and then try unsuccessfully to withdraw their hands.

Because the monkey desperately wanted the treat it WOULD NOT LET GO. AS A RESULT IT WAS TRAPPED.

What then do monkeys and pumpkins have to do with delegation?

Delegation challenges often occur when  leaders will not let go of a task where they are very skilled. As a result they do not have the bandwidth to move on to other leadership tasks like devising strategy. Such over committed leaders

  1. View this domain as their primary identity.  They mistakenly believe that they are the only ones who can competently do that job and forget that knowledge transfer is a key part of effective leadership.
  1. Restrict themselves from moving on to other important leadership tasks.  Recently I encouraged a leader to fill his schedule with visits to customers where he would engage them in discussions as to how he could become more of a strategic partner. This would leave him little time to get down into the weeds with his reports in attempting solve their problems for them.

The discipline and skill of delegation is so vital for leadership effectiveness in more senior positions.

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A Case for Silence

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

Whether we know it or not we need silence in our lives. It is essential for so many things; for example,  generating creative thought, reducing stress, restoring our sense of well-being, and maintaining our sanity in a noisy world….

However since there are so few places on earth where complete silence is available we have to create such opportunities. Moreover, when we find them we need to avoid contaminating them with noise (the 24-hour news cycle, loud music, jet skis, leaf blowers!).

About a week ago, we visited a Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico, far up the side of a mountain. This is the final resting place for the annual migration of 150 million Monarch butterflies starting in eastern Canada and ending here, in south central Mexico. For several months, great masses of butterflies occupy this almost sacred forest, leaving visitors breathless with wonder.

Most of the time people observe this amazing phenomena in complete silence. However, on this occasion, there were a group of North Americans sitting on the grass next to us talking very loudly on a topic that seemed so out of sync with this context. One person complained,

“In my lifetime we will never see another US Congress with a majority of its members from the Democratic Party!”

We thought to ourselves:

“In this wonderful sanctuary with millions of butterflies swirling around us right now, who cares about your political opinion? Can’t you just be silent and fully in the moment?”

Having to listen to such chatter when the occasion warranted complete silence led us to reflect on the destructive power of noise.

In life, as in music, when there are no spaces between the notes, all we have is noise. The racket in our world (and in our heads!) is destroying our experience of sacred and necessary places, places where the only sounds are the sounds made by Nature. It is over stressing us and keeping us from deeper thought and conversation.

Burning Question

How can we create conditions where we can slow down the noise inside our heads and outside in our environment so that we can  be quiet? How can we make this a regular part of our lives?


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Experiencing Wow at Work – Follow Your Ball

oaxaca ball

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A wow experience at work is something we all desire.

Remember the time when you came up with a novel idea and then made it happen. Recall your natural high after you delivered an “impossible” solution for a customer.

Are these long forgotten memories for us?

It is more likely that we have those ecstatic experiences as we encounter the wonders in nature.

I felt that overwhelming wow this week when we visited the Monarch butterfly sanctuary here in Mexico. As we observed 150 million of these exquisite creatures in their natural habitat I felt myself on the brink of tears most of the time. How can we rekindle this sort of magic at work?

  1. Recall why we entered a calling in the first place. For me it was a combination of curiosity as to what made leaders great plus my deep sense of satisfaction in helping them realize their leadership goals.
  1. Look for significance in small things. When it comes to inspiration at work we often look to big events like the release of an innovative technology or the publication of our book to inspire us. Enjoying the small stuff is almost a lost art. Celebrating our small daily wins with moments of gratitude is a path to wonder.
  1. Learn to “Be here now.” We live such distracted lives. We go way beyond multi-tasking as our minds go in a thousand directions at one time. It takes practice, discipline, and a quiet mind to be pulled back into the present. And it is in that place of rest and reflection that one can begin to be fully open to wonder and realize our leadership greatness.
  2. Chase your ball. The photograph is of our dog Oaxaca and her ball just before she died. She lived to chase that ball. Even a few days before her death she summed up her energy for one last time to fetch the ball.

What is YOUR ball?

What energizes you to do what you do?

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Managing Fear

Nature has equipped us with an internal red alert system. Fear.

When an out of control truck careens towards our car we get that rush of adrenaline that helps us think fast and take evasive action. Fear saves the day.

However, there are times when the same alarm bells go off and scare us unnecessarily.

Recently a group of university students from the USA travelled to a small town in Mexico. They were there to learn Spanish and supposedly learn about the culture. The problem was that they had been programmed to believe that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. On the first week of their visit they were alarmed when they heard the loud explosion of fireworks that often accompany local fiestas.

Nobody could persuade them that the explosions were from fireworks and not gunfire. They were terrified and took the next plane back to the USA.

Their fear was real but based on a faulty premise.

Reflect on the following acronym.


E= Evidence

A= Appearing

R= Real

Fears based on false evidence feel VERY real. Your gut churns as much as it would with the runaway truck scenario. Our physical systems cannot distinguish between false or true fear situations.

But our minds can be trained to distinguish between the two.

Here’s how.

Years ago when I worked as a psychologist I learned a powerful strategy Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). Use the ABC’s of this theory to analyze your irrational fears that feel very real to you. Then learn how to choose a more productive response.

A = Activating event. The trigger in this case was the explosion from fireworks

B = Belief. What they believed about the situation, “Those are gunshots”

C = Consequence. Their fear drove them to the airport.

Now did A cause C? Obviously this is not the case.

It was the interpretation of the event that scared them. It was the B=Belief part of the sequence that kicked in.

Let’s continue to follow the ABC process.

D = Dispute your belief. Engage in some reality testing. Do a sanity check with a colleague with a question like “Is it just my perception or should I go to the town square and check out the fireworks?”

E = Establish a new belief. After a thorough sanity check you may receive information that contradicts your belief that they heard gunfire. The fear is then extinguished.

Recognizing and managing the fear factor does not happen overnight. Some of our old hurts and beliefs run very deep. They have morphed into bad mental habits. Don’t stop at C , learn ways to move to E.

 How have you managed your fears?

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Love Your Job – Is That Possible?

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We all feel ambivalent about our job at times.

However, unlike Disneyland employees, we seldom portray our office to be the happiest place on earth all the time. It’s not so much about us having a perpetual smile on our faces but a deeper sense of fulfillment.

The truth about the quest for fulfillment at work is that,

  1. No one is happy all the time.

Even the most talented and productive people feel at times that they are drowning at work. We all have days when a dark cloud seems to linger over our heads.

That’s just life.

However it is helpful to identify and manage common energy drainers.

One downer may be that at times we assume undue responsibility for others. In an article in the NY Times “ Women Doing Office Housework” Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg point out that women are socialized to “take care” of others to the point that they over commit and exhaust themselves with their helping behavior.

Setting limits on our helping behavior is easier said than done. Assisting others is part of being a good team player. However sometimes we go too far. But the answer  to “just say no” can get us into hot water. This is especially true of women where they may be judged to be selfish if they decline assisting others voluntarily. By contrast, men who do the same are judged to be good boundary setters.

  1. You play to your strengths

Do an analysis of your signature strengths at This free test will quickly tell you what you love doing the most.

For me it is the quest to find wisdom (best practices that produce the best results in life/work).

If you spend at least 80% of your work time using these strengths more likely than not you are a happy and fulfilled camper.

  1. The job is not all there is to one’s life

The most common feedback I get is that “you spend too much time talking about your work.” And here I am doing it again! But seriously, what other priorities do you have in your life other than work?

Nurturing your relationships?

Following your curiosity?

Developing your artistic self?

Exploring aspects of your spirituality?

Venturing into the world beyond your culture? (Only 20% of people in the USA have passports)

Again, it is very likely that a multi-faceted life will be lived from our center and bring deeper sources of fulfillment.

What course corrections have you made to make your work/life more fulfilling?

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Got Soul?

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

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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What Self-Aware People Don’t Do

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There are certain people who appear to be comfortable in their own skin. When you meet them they seem to have a “what you see is what you get” authenticity.

What don’t these self-aware people do? You seldom find them,

  1. Seeking love from accomplishments

Many live their lives on the assumption that since they cannot be loved for what they are they will then be loved for their accomplishments. The root of this type of personal insecurity is the belief that we are not lovable, worthy of love, or good enough. This sort of stuff, generated in childhood and reinforced by a performance oriented and conditional culture, creates havoc in our heads and in relationships.

Here are some of the symptoms. Self-aware people don’t

  • Wear their resume on their sleeve. They don’t use their accomplishments to garner approval from others.
  • Bend over backwards to please everyone in sight no matter how much it costs to do so.
  • Compete with everyone in an endless game of one-upmanship.
  1. Defined by other’s opinions

At times we all run focus groups in our minds where the burning question is “Of what value am I to others?” The trouble with such an approach is that we provide our own answers.

We have faulty assumptions of what we think others think of us. Even though this data is not objective or scientific we flagellate ourselves with the results. In order to diminish the self-inflicted pain we seek to prove to others how smart, beautiful, valuable, or socially acceptable we are. The symptoms are that we

  • Name drops to validate our status
  • Flash our knowledge or intelligence
  • Put others down to lift ourselves up
  • Stay angry to push others away
  • Showcase our possessions to boost our value
  • Look for a guru to tell us what to be and do

Heaven knows we all have our weaknesses. But in the end our self does not need fixing or self-improvement. At a very deep level we are loved unconditionally by the Universe.

In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside.”

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Bouncing Back After Tough Times

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Change and tough times are inevitable for all of us.

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks asked readers to reflect on their lives. Interestingly, many spoke of the challenges they faced and how hard life could be. These same readers also reported how they managed to be resilient in the face of their struggle.

How successfully we are able to navigate through those tough times often depends on our internal resources and the external support we receive from others. If we find ourselves in situations like this,

How do we remain strong?

How can we use reason to help guide us when we’re flooded with debilitating emotions and confusion?

How can we remain flexible and make the best decisions in the midst of life-disorienting change or pressure?

Below, we discuss a number of steps we can take to improve our resilience.

Find a supportive community.

Studies demonstrate again and again that people who do the best in times of loss, transition, and tragedy have one thing in common, the support of a caring community.

In our society, there is an interesting tension between the need for independence and the longing for connection. We want to say we can make it on our own and yet, at the same time, we have a deep need for each other. Social needs, of the sort tapped into by the creators of Facebook, is not what we’re talking about here.

Rather, we’re addressing the kind of  foundational interdependence that results from a commitment to each other in times of vulnerability and real need; a moral obligation to be there for that individual who needs our help; a laying aside of our own needs and preoccupations to listen, seek to understand, and provide emotional support for another who needs our help. This social web of support is to be found in a different sort of community.

As Jacob Needleman noted in a recent interview in The Sun Magazine, in this interpersonal context, there is “a higher quality of attention [that results in] a transformative energy that passes between people when they genuinely listen to each other.”

A famous example of this “transformative energy” at work is the huge success of alcoholics supporting and helping to transform and restore other alcoholics’ lives in Alcoholics Anonymous. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of people who provide the best support:

  1. They are not so preoccupied with their own lives that they cannot listen to your story.
  2. They do not judge you for the tough time you are facing.
  3. They are not defensive but, rather, truly open to who you are and what you say.
  4. They don’t revert to clichés as in: “It happened for a reason…”
  5. They align themselves with the ‘wise’ person in us (i.e., our essence).
  6. They don’t give up on us when our circumstances don’t change right away.

In addition to a supportive community to help us through our crisis and facilitate our resilience, there are other things we can do ourselves to bolster our resilience.

Discover what is really important.

Once we’ve moved through the initial crisis and have achieved some control over our situation, we can begin to address ourselves at a deeper level. For example, we may begin to ask these questions of ourselves:

  1. What is it that I really need for my life now?
  2. What am I most grateful for?
  3. How can I contribute to the greater good?
  4. How can I restore beauty, balance, and a sense of wonder to my life?
  5. Where will I experience the greatest mastery and creativity?

Times of difficult transition can be an opportunity to reengage with the deeper needs of one’s soul.  “Bouncing back” becomes a time of renewal and growth. As we move ahead with these priorities to guide us, we can begin to take concrete actions to improve our situation.

 Make specific changes, one step at a time.

  1. Remind yourself of your abilities and the strategies you have used to navigate past transitions.
  2. Brainstorm your ideas with trusted individuals. They can help you with reality testing as well as give you those “go for it” messages.
  3. Be willing to consider a paradigm shift or look for solutions in totally different places, especially soul-based solutions based on the answers to your questions about what you really need for your life.
  4. Get facts about your situation from reliable sources and not from those who repeatedly say: “That cannot be done.” For example, we were told, “You can never live in Mexico and have a consulting practice” (but we did).
  5. Look for role models of people who have successfully navigated through similar transitions. Study their best practices.
  6. Give yourself holidays from scary “what if” thoughts and focus on short-term “can do” strategies that are likely to produce success.
  7. Learn to laugh at certain aspects of your circumstance. There is always something funny about your situation; laughing about it releases tension and puts things in perspective. If you can say, “I’ll laugh about this some day”, why not laugh about it now?
  8. Turn to the spiritual resources of your religious faith or spiritual tradition to sustain and empower you. That always works to get you back in touch with what is really important.

Tough times don’t last. Resilient people do.

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