Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #16 – Heidi Grant Halvorson On Why No One Understands You


A common theme found among the numerous books and articles on successful leadership is that leaders need to be more open, more transparent with those they lead in order to improve communication channels and drive forward initiatives that are key to an organization’s success and growth.

But what if we’re not as open or as easy to read as we might think that we are? What if the actions we’re taking overlook a key aspect of how our brain operates?

That’s the premise and focus of this new episode of my leadership show, “Leadership Biz Cafe” where I welcome Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson to share her insights from her latest book “No One Understands You And What To Do About It”.

Heidi is a social psychologist whose research and writings focus on the science of motivation. She is also the Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School and a member of many esteemed scientific communities and organizations. In addition to authoring several books including “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals” and “Focus”, Heidi is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today.

You may also recognize her name from some of the guest contributions she’s made to my leadership blog as well.

Over the course of our conversation, Heidi and I discuss a number of interesting points and insights from various studies shared in her latest book that can help leaders become more effective in their roles, including: Click here to continue reading »”Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #16 – Heidi Grant Halvorson On Why No One Understands You”

Understanding The Power Of Our Words


If I were to ask you what you thought was the greatest invention in human history, what would be your reply? I imagine for some of you, your answer would be the personal computer and all the technological marvels that now make up our digital world. For others, I could imagine hearing the invention of the light bulb being our greatest invention.

The interesting thing about this question is that there’s no right answer and that, if anything, it reveals more about the respondent and their perception and relationship to the world around them. For myself, I would say our greatest invention is language and our use of words to communicate with one another.

Granted, this might seem like an obvious answer from someone who regularly writes and speaks about leadership. But what really sparked my thoughts on this has more to do with something I heard in a talk and what it reminds us about the critical nature words play in our ability to successfully lead those under our care.

The talk in question is one given by Mohammed Qahtani, a security engineer from Saudi Arabia, which won him the 2015 Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. In his speech, “The Power of Words”, Qahtani shares a number of personal examples of how the words we use can have a dramatic impact on how others understand and view the relationships we have with them.

But what struck me the most about his talk was this comment he made about how our words can influence those around us:

“Words when said and articulated in the right way can change someone’s mind. They can alter someone’s belief. You have the power to bring someone from the slums of life and make a successful person out of them, or destroy someone’s happiness using only your words. … A simple choice of words can make the difference between someone accepting or denying your message.”

Listening to Qahtani’s words, I was reminded of two leaders and how their words served to shape how others viewed and responded to their leadership. The first leader was Click here to continue reading »”Understanding The Power Of Our Words”

Are You Inspiring Those You Lead To Be Extraordinary?


As a writer, one of the things that I enjoy discussing and sharing are stories. After all, a great story can entertain, inform, and inspire us, and sometimes even shape our understanding of how we can make a real difference in the world around us.

It’s in that vein that I wanted to share a story with you about a volunteer firefighter and what we can learn from it about how leaders can help their employees to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and maybe even that they are a part of something extraordinary.

In addition to his role as one of the senior vice-presidents of a non-profit organization, Mark also serves as the assistant captain for the volunteer fire company in his town. Now while this voluntary role certainly sounds exciting, Mark is the first to admit that for the most part, his role is pretty much to offer any support the professional firefighters might need.

One night, Mark gets the call that there’s a house on fire nearby and he rushes to the scene to offer assistance, expecting to pretty much stand on the sidelines while the firefighters go to work. As it turns out, Mark was one of the first volunteer firefighters on the scene and the firefighters were still working to put out the fire, so there was still plenty to do.

Realizing that he had a chance to put his training to work, Mark looked around for the fire chief to offer his help. He soon spotted the fire chief holding an umbrella for an old lady who was standing barefoot in her pyjamas in the pouring rain – clearly this was the owner of the home the firefighters were working to save.

Just as Mark reached the fire chief, another volunteer firefighter had presented himself to the fire chief asking if there was anything he could do. The fire chief told this volunteer firefighter to go into the burning house to save the homeowner’s dog. When Mark heard this, he became excited thinking how he could now participate in helping to fight a blaze and so, he asked the fire chief what he could do to help.

The fire chief looked at Mark and said, ‘Mark, I need you to go into that house and retrieve this lady a pair of shoes.’

Clearly, this was not what Mark had expected after hearing what the other volunteer firefighter got assigned to do. But he was still happy to be able to lend a hand and to do something other than standing by on the sidelines.

Unfortunately for Mark, any excitement he had for this task soon disappeared because just as he was leaving the house carrying the pair of shoes he got for the homeowner, the other volunteer firefighter came out carrying the old lady’s rescued dog in his arms. Within moments, there was an eruption of cheers and applause as the old lady was reunited with her beloved pet.

Although Mark’s efforts were not met with as much enthusiasm by the onlookers, he still made sure that the old lady was comfortable with the shoes he got for her before he headed off to see how else he could be of help.

Naturally, Mark didn’t give this encounter much thought, that is until a few weeks later when he received a letter from the fire chief. In it, he included a copy of a letter the old lady had written thanking the firefighters for helping to save her home. The old lady also wanted to let them know how grateful she was that in her time of need, one of them had been so thoughtful and attentive as to get her a pair of shoes from her burning home.

Now one of the reasons why I love sharing Mark’s story is because it reminds us of Click here to continue reading »”Are You Inspiring Those You Lead To Be Extraordinary?”

How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress


In much of my work with leaders and organizations in various industries and disciplines, there’s a common issue that they seek help on addressing. Specifically, how do we keep employees invested in the long-term goals of our organization?

For these leaders, the question is not so much how to improve employee engagement as it is how to sustain that enthusiasm and drive over the life span of a project or change initiative where it takes months or even years to achieve a successful outcome.

While I’ve shared strategies and insights based on what successful organizations like Pixar Studios and the European Space Agency do to sustain employee motivation over a long period of time, I wanted to explore what researchers have learned to date about what keeps our motivation going for goal completion when the end point is not so clearly defined or visible.

That exploration lead to a fascinating study done by researchers at the University of Chicago which looked at how a frequent-buyer reward card offered by a local coffee shop could motivate coffee drinkers to become repeat customers.

For this experiment, the researchers created two different kinds of rewards cards where customers would be rewarded a free cup of coffee after 10 purchases. The first reward card version relied on giving customers a coffee cup-shaped stamp with every purchase. With this reward card design, the customer’s focus would be directed towards how many purchases they had made to date.

For the second reward card, 10 coffee cup images were featured on the card and in this case, the coffee cup images would be punched out with every purchase, thereby putting the customer’s focus on how many purchases were left to be made to get the free cup of coffee.

Researchers then told the study participants that they would be given cards that were started by university students who had recently graduated so these cards would be at various levels of completion.

The researchers grouped these partially completed reward cards into two groups – group 1 had only 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “low-progress condition”. Group 2 had 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “high-progress condition”.

The researchers handed out the different scenario and design reward cards to the various participants and then evaluated how motivated research participants would be to finish the reward card to get their free cup of coffee.

What the researchers found was that when the participants received a card that had 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots punched, the ones that got the card design that emphasized how much progress had been made so far were more motivated to finish the reward card than those who got the reward card that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to purchase to get the free cup of coffee.

Conversely, for those participants who got cards where there were 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots punched, the ones with the card design that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to buy to get the free cup were more motivated to get that free cup of coffee than those whose card focused on how many cups of coffee were purchased so far.

Now for those who run coffee shops or other types of stores that use these kinds of reward cards, this finding is definitely of much interest. But how does this apply to how we can become better at creating those kinds of conditions that help keep our employees motivated over the long run in achieving our shared purpose?

The answer to this question can be found in understanding what’s behind this motivation phenomenon. Click here to continue reading »”How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress”

Learning To Focus On What Matters Most


One of the things that I enjoy about speaking at conferences and at various organizations is the opportunity to meet new people. In the case of the MHLC conference I spoke at last week, it was being able to meet up with friends I made from speaking at this conference for three consecutive years, as well as meeting colleagues in the leadership sphere who I had previously only connected with by email and on the phone.

Being able to spend time with these good friends was certainly one of my personal highlights from this conference. But there was something else that I came away pondering about, and it wasn’t my now infamous encounter with the drummer from ZZ Top (that’s a story for another time).

Looking back at the numerous conversations among those attending this conference, there was a couple of times where people told me how impressed they were with how well I remembered people’s names.

Now the reason why this caught my attention is because remembering names of people I just met is something I’d hardly say I’m good at, a fact I’m sure my wife will be happy to attest to given the number of times she’s had to remind me of the names of the people she works with.

The problem is that when I meet someone new, my sense of curiosity takes over and I become focused on asking questions to learn more about the person in order to develop that connection. Consequently, I end up remembering many details about the person’s life and their work – while their name tends to be a bit fuzzy around the edges.

As such, whenever I meet someone new, I do have to work at making sure I grab ahold of their name so that it sticks in my mind for more than a few minutes.

And yet, in thinking about those moments where people were impressed with my ability to recall the names of people I met a year ago, I realized that the common thread connecting them together had less to do with remembering their names and more to do with something more significant.

Something that leaders need to adopt if their are to be successful in tapping into the collective talents and experiences of those they lead.

Now to be clear, remembering a person’s name is important, but it’s only the first step in the bigger process of Click here to continue reading »”Learning To Focus On What Matters Most”

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