A Happy Company

The American Psychologist and Author, Martin Seligman, is a strong promoter of positive psychology and well-being.  His five-part recommendation for increased happiness and life satisfaction consists of:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

This prescription (remembered with the acronym ‘PERMA’) works to make happy and successful individuals; it can work just as well to make happy and successful companies.

Positive Emotion

The first step to having positive emotions in our companies is to eliminate the negative emotions (pessimism, anger, annoyance, frustration, etc.) at our companies.  This often means either changing or parting ways with the cynic, the pessimist, the Debbie and Donald downers in our companies.  Without the negative people, we can focus on reducing everyone’s negative emotions by focusing our teams on taking the initiative to make things better.   As leaders, we then need to lead by example by emphasizing (through our actions and interactions) such positive emotions as support for one another, enthusiasm, laughter, fun, and good humor, all of which are critical to having a happy and productive workplace.


Our companies cannot be all happy, kumbaya, TV sitcom places of business where nobody seems to do any work.  In good companies, good work gets done.   The best work gets done when employees and the team are focused, absorbed, and engaged on tasks that are critically important to the business and that these individuals do well.  This comes about by having our people working at their highest and best use.  This means streamlining process to minimize low-value added and monotonous processes and creating a workplace culture that minimizes unnecessary distractions and disruptions.  When people are engaged and working without needless disruptions, productive work gets done well in less time. 


Positive, constructive relationships are critical to individual and company’s success and happiness.  Survey after survey has shown a direct correlation between having friends at work (even if just work friends) and employee satisfaction and productivity.  We spend 35% of our awake lives at work.  As such, our people and our team’s anxiety and stress is reduced significantly if we are spending this time with people we like and get along with.


The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is quoted as saying: “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”  To weather the daily, weekly, yearly challenges and difficulties in business, all companies need a purpose (a ‘why’) that is more than just to make money.  This meaning can be about serving the customer, making the world a better place through the company’s products or innovations, or providing for the company’s employees to enable their families to have better lives.  In any event, this meaning, this purpose, this why, helps employees get up every morning and come to work ready to do what is needed to make the company successful and to realize their own and the company’s purpose.


A good and happy company also needs to achieve consistently.  This means being profitable, proving good customer service, and accomplishing the company’s goals.  As we see in sports, failing teams are rarely happy teams.  Achievement is fundamental to individual and company happiness because it gives us pride and self-esteem when we accomplish something and are part of a larger, successful, long-lasting entity. 


Martin Seligman’s prescription for a happy, successful, and flourishing life – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement – is valuable for all of us to keep in mind as we strive to make our companies happier and more successful.

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Best Version of Ourselves

The Australian Motivational Speaker and Catholic Author, Matthew Kelly, focus his message on people becoming the best version of themselves.  This message should resonate with all of us as leaders.

As leaders, we have strengths, and we have weaknesses.  We have great success, and we make mistakes and have failures.  To lead by example and to lead our teams effectively, we do not need to be perfect.  We just need to be the best version of a leader that we can be.

To be the best version of ourselves, we first need to banish all negative and childish behaviors from our lives.

A quick list of what we should never do includes:

  • “I Told You So”
  • Gossip
  • Criticizing Other People
  • Talking Behind People’s Backs
  • Being Impatient
  • Not Listening
  • Being the Smartest Person in the Room
  • Bragging
  • Taking Too Much Credit
  • Passing the Buck and Not Taking Responsibility
  • Not Admitting Mistakes
  • Being Unethical
  • Getting Angry
  • Being Ungrateful
  • Not Caring
  • Not Trying

By avoiding these and other similar bad behaviors, we become closer to being the best version of ourselves.  We become better people. And we become better leaders.

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What To Think About

Studies from social psychologists have concluded that the media (contrary to common opinion) is not effective at changing how we think.  Instead, it is quite effective in determining what we think about.

As leaders, it can be helpful to focus less on trying to change how our employees think and more on changing what they are thinking about.

As countless others have remarked, getting our employees to change is difficult.  We usually try to change how they think.  This works only rarely because our employees’ current modes of thinking have been well-honed over many years, and they resist change.

The more effective method is to change what they are thinking about, keeping front of mind what we, as leaders, want them to be thinking about on a daily basis.

Keeping Front of Mind

As leaders, we need to use goals, reminders, best practices, training, and a cadence of regular follow up so that the employee knows what topics are important and need to be addressed regularly.

In one organization where I worked, the team focused on profitability alone with little attention on collecting the money and cash management.  Several leaders commented that our cash management was as good as the competition and that it could not get any better due to the industry and customer dynamics. 

At first, we tried to change their thinking to convince them that cash management could be significantly improved.  Alas, this did not work.

Instead, we changed what they were thinking about by keeping cash management front of mind.  We…

  • Created goals related to cash management
  • Instituted training on effective cash management
  • Shared best practices about effective management
  • Followed up weekly about cash
  • Evaluated and compared (a little healthy competition) the cash management performance of different divisions

As a result, we were able to reduce dramatically the cash requirement in the business making the business much stronger and capable of greater growth.


The successful strategy was not to change how they think about cash management.  Rather, it was to keep the idea of cash management in their heads so consistently that they knew they had to focus on cash management.  This unrelenting attention to cash management led to the improved results.

The irony of focusing on what our teams are thinking about (rather than how they think) is that once our teams are continuously thinking about something and keeping it front of mind, that something become more important and becomes ingrained in their way of thinking.  In the end, we have changed how our employees think.

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Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds

Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds, written by Steve Casner, is an excellent discussion of safety in our lives, both at home and at work.  It is a straightforward read, and I highly recommend it.  Below I share some of the key take-aways that can help all of us improve safety at our companies and in our employees’ lives.

A good safety program focus on our employees lives at both work and home:

  • The safest place in nearly all of our lives is at work.  In the U.S., we spend 50% of the hours that we are awake at home, and 50% of our unintentional injury fatalities occur at home.  By contrast, 35% of our awake hours are spent at work, but only 2.9% of our unintentional injury fatalities occur at work.

To be safer, each of us needs to do the basics every day:

  • Pay attention to what we are doing
    • The challenges to paying attention are that we can’t pay attention to two things at once, we get distracted, and our mind wanders
    • To conquer this, we need to stop multitasking, to pay attention to what is most important, and we need help at times (a co-pilot or someone who is watching out for us).
  • Avoid making errors through using reminders and checklists, and by having someone else check our work
    • In addition, we need to ensure that the errors we do make (and we will make them) are not fatal and that we have a plan in place to survive them if they do happen.
  • Know the odds when we take a risk
    • We need to understand the relative risk of our actions; texting while driving and jaywalking (especially at night) are far more likely to get us killed than turbulence on a flight or shark attacks.
    • Get a second opinion when we are about to take a risk
    • Think through the consequences of things going wrong and (as above) ensure that the risks will not be fatal
  • Think ahead to the consequences of our actions
    • Listen to our “spidey sense” when we feel that there is a danger
    • Before acting, consider the basic safety questions:
      • How could this go wrong?
      • Should I really do this?
      • What can I do to prevent this from going wrong?
      • What would I do if it did go wrong?
  • Look out for one another
    • In thinking ahead, we need to see the consequences of our actions on other people
    • We need to “read minds” of other people to predict their actions
    • We ourselves need to be predictable (especially while driving, walking or biking) so that other people can predict our actions
    • We need to intervene and help others (when appropriate) and realize that being in a hurry will always bias us away from helping
  • Be willing to take and give advice
    • We need to swallow our pride and be more open to listening, especially to those with experience
    • When giving advice, we need to explain why we may be qualified to give that advice (our experience and our expertise) so that it is more likely to be listened to

We need to be particularly aware of the most common ways that we get injured or killed at home and at work:

  • Driving (especially while speeding, texting, drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted)
  • Falling
  • Using the wrong tool for the job
  • Using the right tool the wrong way
  • Hurrying
  • Not following rules, processes and good practice (through ignorance or complacency)
  • Medical errors (patient noncompliance, medical and medication errors, mis-diagnosis, errors from hand-offs)
  • Over-doing it and not knowing our limits.  This often occurs while we are denying our cognitive and physical decline from aging


The book delivers three key messages:

  1. Despite all the attention to and advancement of safety in the last 30 years, we, as a country, are no safer.  In fact, the rate of unintentional injury deaths has rebounded from its low in the early 1990’s.
  2. Yet, workplaces have gotten safer to become just about the safest place during our day with an unintentional injury rate that is one-tenth the rate experienced outside of work.  As such we leaders need to continue to work to improve safety and the safety culture in our companies, while also reminding and cajoling our employees to be safer at home
  3. Finally, we need to remember that nearly all accidents (outside of the occasional meteorite that lands on our heads) are preventable.  As the author, Steve Casner, concludes:

“We stopped using the word ‘accident’ many years ago and replaced it with the words ‘preventable injury.’”

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Three Cheers for Foresight

To be successful, leaders need to develop and hone their business foresight.  Used effectively, foresight focuses our attention on the time and space between the immediate, day to day tactical execution and the long-term strategic vision and planning.

Foresight in Action

Foresight involves thinking through our actions and behaviors and planning ahead to see the potential short-term, medium-term and long-term problems or consequences of these actions.  In simple terms: we need to think twice before doing once.

When we use foresight effectively, we:

  • Think through all the implications and complications of an issue
  • Consider how employees or customers will react to an action, today and over time
  • Think through competitor reactions
  • Reflect on the possible unintended consequence of our actions or behaviors

The Benefits of Foresight

  • Better Execution: As the cartoon shows, by using foresight and planning ahead, we can better get the job done.
  • Seeing a Problem Before It Becomes a Problem: If we see a problem before it is a problem, we are able to modify our course of action or we could focus on…
  • Nipping the Problem in the Bud: With foresight, we can defuse issues before they become issues.  This usually involves proactive communication to address issues before they fester and/or magnify.
  • Discovering an Opportunity: With foresight, we may be able to detect a business opportunity before our competition.

How to Develop Foresight

Developing foresight comes from experience and learning.  Full stop. 

Before any course of action or important conversation, we just need to spend the time to:

  • Think through the issues and possible unintended consequences that might occur in the short, medium and long term
  • Consider the possible reaction of stakeholders (employees, other leaders, suppliers, competitors, the press)
  • Role play (in our heads or with a fellow employee or supervisor) different scenarios that might arise due to the course of action
  • Develop a plan to avoid or mitigate the issues and consequences and to address the concerns of stakeholders


Developing strong business foresight is a crucial step in leadership development.  As leaders progress from front line managers to CEO’s, our attention shifts from what is happening today to what will happen in one week, in one month, in one year, and then finally at the most senior level, to what might happen in five years.  Without effective foresight, leaders will not be able to make this shift in attention.  Instead, we will remain focused on the day to day problems, limiting our career advancement and the potential and success of our businesses.

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The Curse of Knowledge

As leaders we are bedeviled by the Curse of Knowledge:

The Curse of Knowledge is the difficulty we have in imagining that another person does not know what we know.

The Curse of Knowledge rears its ugly head in three vital areas: communication, training, and sales.

Why are We Cursed?

Leaders are cursed because of the high level of our knowledge.  We usually have deep and specific knowledge and insight that has been honed over years of learning and experience.  Many complicated issues related to our business seem simple and easy to us because we know these issues so well.  As such, we cannot relate or understand when someone does not understand what to us is obvious.

Combatting the Curse

To combat our curse of knowledge, we need to do a better job when communicating, training and selling by keeping the following in mind:

Know That We Are Cursed:  We need to be aware that we are the experts and that others do not have the level of understanding that we have.  In the cartoon, Dilbert clearly does not have that awareness; he blames the other person for their inability to understand rather than looking critically at his inability to explain.

Know the audience: We need to know the capability of our audience and communicate in a way and at a level that the audience would understand.  In sales, we need to avoid the mistake that too many salespeople make in assuming that our customers understand our products and services.  Our customers are experts on their life or their business; they are not experts on our products or services.

Keep It Simple and Short: The simpler that we can make our communication the better.  As non-experts, our audience will have limited understanding and may have limited interest in what we are communicating.  So we need to be attentive to the limits of their attention span and their limits in understanding more than a few key points.

Use Understandable Language: We need to avoid technical language, jargon, abbreviations, and complex words in order to communicate clearly.

Plan Ahead:  Whether communicating orally or in writing, we need to plan ahead to organize the material in a way that is simple and easy for a non-expert to make connections with and understand.

Edit and Revise: We need to continuously improve our communication to ensure that we are understood.  This starts with critiquing and editing our own work: if the communication is written, we should go back after some time and re-read (aloud if at all possible) to ensure that our writing is clear; if the communication is oral, we should reflect and critique our presentation and improve. 

Get Feedback: We should get second opinions on our work.  For written work, this involves having another person read what we have written.  In a presentation or selling situation, we get feedback by reading the body language of the audience or asking questions to ensure that we have been understood.


The Curse of Knowledge muddies the waters and prevents us from communicating effectively; our written messages, our training, our sales presentations are not easily understood and are thus less effective.  Through combatting the Curse of Knowledge, our communication will become clear and understood.  And, as Marcus Buckingham writes, being clear is fundamental to being an effective leader:

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant…They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear.

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Four Ways to Overcome Confirmation Bias

overwhelming-disproof-confirmation-bias-1The biggest decision-making bias for all of us is the confirmation bias.

Wikipedia explains it well:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making.

As a leader, we are tasked with making effective decisions for both the long and short term.  To do this, we need to base our decisions on the evidence available to us.  As such, we need to overcome our natural confirmation bias.

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Avoid Fair Fights (But Fight Fair)

Whether we are competing in our core business, starting a new business venture, or looking to win a new, large job or project, we need to focus our energies on areas where we have a competitive advantage.

We need to dispassionately assess the competitive landscape and determine where our competitive advantage lies and whether it will truly differentiate us from the competition in the eyes of our customers.

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The Necessity of a Good Cadence

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, cadence is defined as “the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or action.”

In the business context, cadence is used to describe regularly scheduled activities, specifically regularly scheduled meetings, follow-ups, visits or other actions.

As leaders, we need to set up a cadence of activities with our team to ensure that we are following up, checking in on them, assisting them, and holding them accountable.

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Use the ‘Base Rate’ for Better Decisions

Data - Base RateThe IT project took twice as long as planned.  The construction project to expand the plant went over budget.

Why does this always happen?

Too many decisions are made with too much self-confidence and too much optimism.  As a result, poor decisions are made and objectives are not realized.  The decision-making flaw in all these situations is that we do not consider the ‘base rate.’

The base rate represents the statistical average of what happened previously – what were the actual results for people who made similar decisions in the past.

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Flexible“Predictions are difficult – especially about the future.”

This quote from Yogi Berra sums up the challenges we all face in today’s dynamic and fast-changing world.

None of us has a crystal ball that allows us to predict the future and the rapid changes in our business environment that the future will bring.

The best response to an uncertain future is to build a culture of flexibility and rapid adaptability in our organizations.

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10 Fundamentals of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvementWhen continuous improvement is a fundamental part of our company culture, our business gets better every day and will soon out-run and out-perform the competition.  Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford wrote:

The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is difficult.  This is especially true for currently profitable and high performing organizations who are content and follow the old adage of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Ten fundamentals to consider when trying to become a continuous improvement organization. Continue reading

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Crisis Leadership

Uncertain WorldAs I write this blog, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Each day brings changes to how and where we can conduct business; we have little visibility into what the next month, three months, or six months will bring; and many of our employees are fearful.

To help those leaders during this and other crises, I offer some suggestions to how we can lead our businesses in uncertain times.


Keep Calm

First of all, we need to keep calm and project an image of calm and confidence.  Our employees look to us for guidance.  The calm and confidence comes from the certainty that we will survive this.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow and we do not know when this uncertainty will end.  But, we do know that (with the collective efforts of our great team), we will do everything to make it through.

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To Improve Our Meetings, We Need to Do Our Homework

Homework 2The consultant, Stan Sipes, once commented:

“The most common weakness I see in organizations is the lack of work that is done in a meeting.” 

Today, more than ever, so little work is done in meetings because no one has done their homework to actually prepare for the meetings.

As a result, a meeting with the objective to discuss and make a decision morphs into a meeting that is 95% informational (getting everyone up to speed) and 5% decision-making (which usually becomes just a rubber stamp because we have run out of time and attention).

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Be Opportunistic

Opportunities“There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? Jim Collins (Great by Choice)

Being opportunistic means that we take advantage of those opportunities that unexpectedly cross our paths.  To best position ourselves to capitalize opportunities, we need to:


Be Prepared

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11 Keys to Better Decision-Making

Decision1Successful leaders make good decisions… consistently.

Good decision-making is dependent on a number of factors: understanding, experience, intelligence, foresight, and just plain luck.  There is no guide that will tell you how to make the perfect decision.  But, there are some keys to better decision-making that, when followed, will help to improve the quality and consistency of your decisions.

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For Effective Communication, Listen… Really Listen

Listen Weakness“It’s not always what we say; often it’s what we allow the other person to say. By listening, we gain trust and make other people feel more comfortable with us.”  Rick Pitino


The ability to listen well, to really listen well, is one of those “soft skills” that distinguish effective leaders from run-of-the-mill managers.

As leaders, effective communication requires that we listen well to understand the true views and opinions of our team, our customers, and other stakeholders.

Four keys to such effective communication include:

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Three Ways to Develop Strategic Thinking Skills

Strategic Thinking SkillsStrategic thinking skills differentiate middle-level managers from effective upper level leaders.  With excellent strategic thinking skills, the leader is able to make effective decisions that benefit their companies in both the short and long term.

Developing strategic thinking skills requires practice.  It requires us to think strategically and see the consequences of our thinking.   Three ways to get this practice and develop great strategic thinking skills include:

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Survival of the Fittest and Leadership Flexibility

Oh Crap Was That TodayHawaiians and other Polynesians are the descendants of peoples who traveled by boat from East Asia to settle their islands.  Those most likely to survive the long and arduous journey were those with “thrifty genes”.  They were those ancestors who were best able to process and use the limited food on their boat trips.  Today, in a world of cheap and plentiful food, these same “thrifty genes” have led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among their descendants.  What worked in one time may not work in another.

I share this anecdote to drive home the point that “survival of the fittest” does not mean survival of the toughest or meanest in a dog eat dog world.  Rather, the survival and success of the fittest requires that we be flexible and adaptive in our leadership focus, style, and vision depending on the needs of the marketplace and our companies. Continue reading

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A Good Leader is a Good Follower

mindless followerEven as leaders, we all have bosses.  Perhaps, it is a Vice-President.  Perhaps, it is the CEO.  Perhaps, it is the Board of Directors.

To move our companies forward, we need to be good (but not mindless) followers to our good bosses.

Support the Boss

The success of any organization requires that everyone is rowing in the same direction.  So, our job as followers is to ensure that we devote ourselves to following and supporting the direction in which our boss is taking us.  This means supporting their key initiatives and doing what is required to further the goals and objectives of our boss.

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