Monthly Archives: July 2012

10 Great Lessons from 10 Great Leaders

Usually, this site consists of me giving you guys advice based on my own personal experiences in business and in life.  But today, I want to turn the tables and share some of my favorite business lessons from some of the greatest leaders throughout history.  I hope you find them as motivational and inspiring as I do!

Lesson #1 – “Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity.”  –Cyrus the Great

We’re all working towards something in our personal lives, whether it’s a corner office, a better title or a higher salary.  But while it’s fine to have these goals, I think it’s also important to keep these things in perspective.  Pursuing wealth is fine, but should be done in the context of providing liberation, freedom and dignity whenever possible as well.

Lesson #2 – “America is too great for small dreams.”  –Ronald Reagan

From time to time, I catch myself thinking too small.  The world – and this country in particular – is full of opportunities, so it’s important to keep in mind that thinking small serves no one.  Shoot for brilliant, inspiring, passionate projects – that way, even if you fall short, you’ll still have accomplished something worthwhile.

Lesson #3 – “As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!”  – Lao-Tsu

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing newly-annointed leaders in their first professional managerial roles trying to bludgeon others into accepting their authority.  I love this quote because I believe it underscores the true role that leaders should play in their positions – supporting, challenging and motivating others without letting their egos cause them to disrupt group productivity for personal gain.

Lesson #4 – “The price of greatness is responsibility.”  –Winston Churchill

Responsibility isn’t always a fun concept to wrap your mind around, but it’s essential.  While I’d love to stay out late every night, eating rich foods and drinking good beer, I also have to accept that the other priorities in my life make this a bad idea.  It isn’t always fun to acknowledge these competing priorities, but I also recognize that it’s the price of achieving greatness in other areas of my life.

Lesson #5 – “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  -John F. Kennedy

Realistically, you’re never going to reach “the top of your game,” because your game should be changing as you continue to grow, learn and reach new heights in your career.  However, even if you’ve attained the leadership roles you always envisioned, it’s important to keep in mind just how important learning is to continued growth and success.  Never stop learning!

Lesson #6 – “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”  –Richard Branson

I can’t tell you how many great ideas I’ve had – and then failed to act on…  And yes, while it’s easy to get down on myself for missing out on these opportunities, I try to remind myself that there will be more chances in the future.

Lesson #7 – “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”  –Steve Jobs

I truly wish that we, as a nation, could get over the crippling fear we have of failure.  If anything, failures are lessons that help us to achieve greater things down the road – so they should be celebrated, not despised!

Lesson #8 – “The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.”  –Confucius

Although this lesson might seem “wordy,” what it really boils down to is that it takes practice and consistent effort to succeed in the long run.  When approaching any new challenge, I try to remember that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to attain mastery in any subject – and that those 10,000 hours of tool sharpening are just as important as reaching my final goals will be.

Lesson #9 – “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Thoughts are things! And powerful things at that, when mixed with definiteness of purpose, and burning desire, can be translated into riches.”  –Napoleon Hill

I love the idea that “thoughts are things.”  While I’m not going to go down the whole “Secret” route (really, I’ve never heard a bigger load of BS), I do think that mindset matters when it comes to success.  If your thoughts aren’t in-line with the business priorities you’ve set for yourself, you need to either reevaluate your goals or get your thoughts on board with your aims.

Lesson #10 – “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”  – Adlai Stevenson

A big part of achieving great things in your life – whether in your business activities or personal endeavors – is visualizing yourself in your desired role.  If you can’t even take this image seriously in your mind, how can you ever hope to make it a reality in your life?!

Of course, these are just a few of my favorite lessons.  Now I want to hear which ones motivate you!  Share the business or life lessons you’ve used to guide your career in the comments section below.

Are You Intriguing? 3 Ways to Seem More Exciting

Boring people don’t go very far in their careers.  Boring people don’t get invited to the best parties.  And boring people definitely don’t get to go home at the end of the night with the best looking singles in the bar.

Long story short – if you’re boring (or, even if you simply come across as boring), chances are good that you aren’t living the life you could be!

Think about the people in your life that seem exciting or intriguing.  What perks do they have access to, simply because they appear to be doing more with their lives?  Maybe they’re offered more interviews or promotions, simply because people want to be associated with them.  Or maybe they have an easier time meeting new dates, as their larger networks make it possible for them to receive more recommendations.

If you don’t feel like you’re as exciting as you could be, take a look at the following three tricks on how to seem more intriguing:

Trick #1 – Do something different

The fastest, easiest way to make yourself seem more exciting and confident is to simply do more stuff.  Sounds too easy to be true, right?

In fact, what often makes people interesting is the activities they involve themselves in.  The cute girl down the hall might not seem nearly as intriguing if she didn’t spend her nights salsa dancing, while the fact that the guy in the next department over spent his vacation surfing in Australia gives him definite brownie points when it comes to being exciting.

So if the key is doing something, what should you do?  Here are a few options to consider:

  • Do charity work for an organization you support
  • Take a cooking class
  • Learn a new language
  • Take up a new instrument
  • Attend dance classes
  • Try new restaurants in your area
  • Join a book club
  • Travel to somewhere new

Really, your chosen pursuit doesn’t need to be glamorous.  As long as there’s something that’s captivating your attention and providing fulfillment beyond going home at night and watching TV, you’ll automatically seem more interesting to your peers.

Trick #2 – Meet new people

The second key to coming across as more exciting is to meet new people.  Here’s why…

As adults, many of us fall into ruts.  We hang out with the same people and we do the same things over and over again.  As a result, we know pretty much all there is to know about our chosen companions – and this loss of excitement threatens to make our relationships boring.

The obvious solution is to get out and make new friends.  When you have different groups of friends, you’ll naturally appear more intriguing, as you’ll occasionally find yourself in the position of having to turn down invitations to events.  And when you turn down these requests for your company, people tend to assume that it’s because you have bigger and better things on your plate – thus, making you more exciting by comparison.

Fortunately, meeting new people is easy and will likely occur as a result of taking up any of the activities described above.

If, however, you find that invitations to get together aren’t forthcoming from the groups you’ve decided to join, don’t panic – you have two other options:

  • Check out any groups in your area.  This service offers tons of different get-togethers – from hobby groups to outdoor enthusiasts to business networking clubs – all of which have been expressly formed to help people meet others.
  • Be the first to suggest an activity.  You never know who in your life is simply waiting for an opportunity to do something fun, so don’t be afraid to be the person who puts an invitation out first.  Remember, the worst thing your new friends can say is “No,” which leaves you in no worse of a position than you were in before you made the request!

Either of these options will help to broaden your social calendar and make you seem more exciting compared to your inactive peers.

Trick #3 – Keep your ego in check

Finally, keep in mind that – even if you’ve followed these recommendations and immersed yourself in new activities and new groups of friends – part of being intriguing is keeping things to yourself.  Really, there’s nothing intriguing about the guy who spends all Monday morning holding court by the water cooler and sharing every detail of his weekend exploits!

Though it can be tempting to berate your colleagues and acquaintances with tales of how exciting you’ve become, keep your new experiences close to the vest.  Don’t brag about all of your newfound passions, and don’t bully your way into conversations in order to showcase your new hobbies and friends.  Sharing your pursuits in a modest way – and only doing so when it’s appropriate from a conversational standpoint – is the best way to automatically appear more intriguing.

How to Form New Habits Quickly and Easily

Although we all have goals and dreams, the reality is that if it were easy to change our habits, we’d be a nation of skinny, attractive people with great jobs and great personalities!

Of course, the fact that few of us have succeeded on all of these levels doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to change our habits.  Really, it just means that we need to be more conscious of the struggles involved in meeting goals through the creation of new habits.  Here are a few habit-forming tips you’ll find useful if you’ve ever struggled to adopt a new lifestyle:

Step #1 – Set realistic goals and timelines

Before you can start changing your habits, you’ll want to identify the major goals that you’re working towards.  Although goals and habits are two sides of the same coin, it’s important to note the distinction between these two concepts.  Goals are the overarching visions you have for how you want your life to be different; habits are the specific actions you take in order to bring about these changes.

For example, if your overall goal is to lose weight, the specific habits you’ll want to change might include taking a walk every afternoon or cutting out fast food.  Alternatively, if you want to be more persuasive, making it a habit of speaking in assertive tones or using positive body language are the habits you’ll want to adopt.

Now, in general, one of the biggest traps that many people fall into when it comes to goal-setting – and, consequently, determining which new habits they’ll attempt to implement – is to try to do too much, too quickly.  Realistically, if you want to lose 100 pounds, you won’t be able to do it in a few short months!

Instead of setting yourself up for failure by attempting to do too much, pare back your goals to more realistic timelines.  As a rule of thumb, try to change no more than 3-5 habits at a time.  Only when you feel comfortable with the new habits you’ve adopted should you try to add more!

Step #2 – Break desired changes down into measurable pieces

Once you’ve identified the overarching goals you’re working towards, you’ll need to identify the individual habits you’ll need to either adopt or eliminate in order to achieve the visions you’ve created for yourself.

To do this, closely examine your own lifestyle and the existing habits you have that have led to your current, undesirable state.  Unfortunately, because everybody’s unique challenges are different, there’s no single set of universal habits that can be adopted in order to bring about positive lifestyle changes.

As in the case of our weight loss goal above, one person attempting to lose weight may need to focus on adding regular exercise to his daily routine, while another person may benefit more from consistent dietary changes.  Only by taking careful note of the unique factors in your own life that have led to an undesirable state will you be able to identify the specific habits you’ll want to change.

Step #3 – Make use of accountability systems

Once you’ve identified the habits you want to change, you’ll need to find some sort of system to keep yourself accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself.  Fortunately, there are plenty of different options available to keep you on track!

If you’re a fairly self-motivated individual, consider a mobile app like “Way of Life” or “The Habit Factor” that’ll give you a place to record your habit-making progress.  The best apps in this category offer motivating tools and reporting features that show how well you’ve managed to stick to your goals.

On the other hand, if you respond more to external encouragement, consider a website like StickK.  Through this program, you’ll partner up with an accountability coach and put money on the line in order to motivate you to stick to your new habits.  If you’re afraid you’ll be tempted to fall off the wagon, check out the StickK feature that will send money to a charity you dislike if you don’t follow through with your chosen habits!

Finally, while the process of creating new habits and breaking bad routines can be made easier by following the steps listed above, keep in mind that integrating positive changes into your life isn’t always easy.  It takes regular, consistent effort to make meaningful changes in your life – especially if you’re shooting for a goal that’s a tremendous departure from your present self.

For this reason, if you happen to fall off the wagon when it comes to regularly practicing your new habits, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Instead, pick yourself up and remember that every new day gives you an opportunity to adopt the habits that will bring about the changes you desire.

Small Talk 101: How to Make Conversation with Anyone

There’s no arguing with the fact that situations requiring polite small talk can be incredibly uncomfortable.  Whether you’re trying to chat up a new business contact at an industry networking event or simply make casual conversation with distant relatives at a family wedding, finding the right words in a nerve-wracking situation can put some people off of socializing informally entirely!

Don’t be that guy!  Because the strength of our connections often determines how successful we’ll be in our business and personal lives, it’s important to learn how to make conversation with anyone.  The following are a few steps to follow if the thought of making small talk leaves you shaking with fear…

Step #1 – Set Reasonable Expectations

The first thing you need to remember about making appropriate small talk is that nearly everyone feels uncomfortable while doing so.  Sure, you’ll encounter the rare chatterbox who’s as comfortable making conversation with strangers as he is tying his shoes in the morning.  But for the most part, the people you find yourself conversing with are likely every bit as nervous as you are when it comes to speaking with strangers.

So what does this mean for you?  Basically, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to be the most eloquent conversationalist in the world in order to make small talk successfully.  If everyone feels uncomfortable about making polite chit-chat, your conversation partners will likely be so grateful that you’re taking the lead that they won’t even think about judging the topics you’ve chosen!

Step #2 – Identify Environmental Cues

So now that you’ve set your expectations, what should you talk about?  Probably the easiest way to find topics of conversation for use in small talk is to rely on environmental cues.  For example…

  • If you’re at a business networking event, you could ask a new contact, “How’s business going for you?”
  • If you’re at a sporting event, ask your conversation partner, “How often do you come to these games?”
  • If you’re at an industry conference, consider asking, “What do you think about the latest new [product, company or service] announcement?”

If possible, try to stick to topics that require your new contact to expand beyond a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.  Doing so will prevent the conversation from stalling out by giving you the information necessary to expand further on your chosen topic.

Step #3 – Stick with Safe Topics

Of course, in addition to relying on your physical environment to provide clues for your conversations, there are a few topics you’ll want to avoid in all situations.  These include:

  • Anything related to politics
  • Anything related to religion
  • Anything related to issues of race
  • Anything too personal

The idea here is to keep your conversation on a level that all participants can feel comfortable with.  If you don’t know someone’s political preferences or religious background, prying into these areas may result in painful moments.  As an example, asking in-depth questions about a person’s family life may force him into discussing sickness, infidelity or other serious issues that have no place in casual banter.

Step #4 – Ask Questions

While learning to become a better conversationalist is an important part of making good small talk, try to keep your chats from becoming entirely one-sided.  Small talk should be a two-way street, so if you fail to bring the other person into the conversation, you risk coming across as too self-involved or self-interested.

Unfortunately, new and unfamiliar contacts are often hesitant about jumping into the conversation.  To compensate for this, get in the habit of asking questions.  No matter what your contact says throughout your conversation, pay attention to the small details your contact shares that could be used as jumping off points for future questions.

As an example, if – continuing with one of our previous examples – your conversation partner states that, “Business is going well, thanks to our most recent marketing campaign,” you could follow up with additional questions on the elements involved in the campaign, the type of clients its attracted or what partners were involved in the creation of the marketing materials.

Step #5 – Smile

One final tip when it comes to making small talk is to simply smile.  People want to interact with those who seem happy and confident, and a smile goes a long way towards making a good first impression and helping to form these initial connections.

Of course, it’s important not to get too enthusiastic.  If you smile like the Joker or laugh maniacally while attempting to make polite conversation, you’re going to clear the room as quickly as you would with an off-color joke or inappropriate comment.  However, by maintaining a pleasant appearance and demeanor, you’ll be better able to make your contacts feel at ease, resulting in successful, engaging small talk.