Monthly Archives: February, 2015

Happiness Primer, Part 2

This week we’ll wrap up Shawn Achor’s seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work in his book, The Happiness Advantage. Last week, we reviewed the first three. To catch up, read here.
Falling Up – Perhaps my favorite of the seven, this principle proves that resilience is paramount to happiness. No matter how many times you’re knocked down, getting up and what you make of it is what matters. There is a field of study of Post Traumatic Growth, proving the adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” In these studies, people report increased personal strength and self-confidence after facing a variety of personal traumas. Furthermore, successful people see opportunities to become better when they are faced with obstacles (Tweet This). Where do you fall on the optimist-pessimist spectrum?

540a5e6ad0a8f87d560b4175002e31feThe Zorro Circle – Limiting your focus to achievable yet increasingly more difficult goals over time can transform you into a legend, like Zorro. Really! No money back, guaranteed! I’d venture to say that one of the biggest issues many of us face is stress and anxiety about our workload, which seems to continue to increase, while resources and budgets either stay the same, or even shrink. Staying in control – or actually – thinking you have control – of what you can most definitely manage here and now, will have a directly positive result. Highly linked to emotional intelligence, this principle suggests that you take the time to write out your stresses, identifying what you have immediate control of, and then narrowing your focus on that one thing, then another (larger) thing, ever increasing to legen-wait for it-dary status. (don’t get the Barney Stinson reference? My apologies…)

The 20-Second Rule – We are creatures of habit. An interesting observation by Achor, “…if we had to make a conscious choice about every little thing we did all day, we would likely be overwhelmed by breakfast.” This principle is about choosing good habits over 187mezos1x79gjpgbad ones – and maintaining them. The kicker is, this takes work, largely because inactivity and staying the same is easier! So you must do the hard work. And sometimes the hard work takes only 20 seconds to lace up those running shoes, to fill up a glass of water instead of grabbing a bag of munchies, or in Achor’s case, simply walking to the closet where his guitar waited for him. So, even better than enduring those 20 seconds, find ways to make these good habits easier to choose. Achor bought a $2 guitar stand and set it up in the living room, instead of putting his guitar away in the closet after practicing, making his likelihood of practicing increase, therefore accomplishing his goal of playing daily. He also suggests that making your “bad” habits less convenient makes choosing the “good” habits easier. I love this, a reverse 20 second rule: He took the batteries out of his television remote, walked them 20 seconds away from his couch, and placed them in a drawer. What good habits can you make more convenient for yourself? Prepackaging healthy lunches and snacks for work? Sleeping in your gym clothes? Following this rule will add incredible value to your days and weeks, with a mere 20 second expense.

Social Investment – The final principle is potentially the most potent: relationships are our greatest asset. In the wbi_drop_in_and_social_supportmidst of crises, difficulties, challenges, stress, both at work and at home, “nothing is more crucial to our success than holding onto the people around us.” Unfortunately, many of us isolate ourselves when we feel stressed. Positive psychology studies show us that the more social support you have, the happier you are (Tweet This). And the happier you are, FIRST, the more successful you can be.

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to #choosehappiness and explore how happiness affects employee engagement and workplace productivity. And in case you missed it the other night, please enjoy Pharrell Williams’ bizarre yet fun Grammy performance of “Happy!”


Written by:
Heather Harrison
Development Manager

It Won’t Happen by Accident (Make It Happen on Purpose)

It won’t happen by accident. At least, not usually. When it does, it is so rare you cannot possibly count on it. (And, yes, when it does, you have to jump to it and take full advantage of it. But, that’s another post…).

Since it won’t happen by accident, you have to make it happen on purpose, with planning, and intention, and execution, and…

What do I mean?

Your team won’t come together by accident.
Your team won’t work together well by accident.
Your leadership won’t be effective by accident.
You won’t be received well as a leader by accident.
Your product won’t be developed by accident.
Your product won’t be delivered, on time, and just right, by accident.
Your customer service won’t become and remain excellent by accident.
Your product won’t sell itself by accident – someone has to “sell it.”
You will not have company-wide excellence by accident.

The list could go on, and on, and on…

Basically, nothing good and lasting will happen by accident.

Pick any industry, choose any arena. You will find hard work (a solid, exceptional work ethic), and the ability to work together, and an eye for what’s working now, and what will not work, and what might work, tomorrow.

At the center of all of this is a clear focus on… focus. Intention. An on-purpose approach to every piece of your work.

The Purpose EconomyPlenty has been written about “the purpose economy.” (See the book The Purpose Economy, for starters). But, to function in a purpose economy, you have to have purpose, know your purpose, and then you have to do every facet of your work on purpose.

It won’t happen by accident. You have to “make it happen” on purpose.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Consider the Mockingbirds in Your Life

I was thirteen when my infatuation with To Kill a Mockingbird began. Since then, I have read the novel countless times – Harper Lee’s words are often comforting, like an old friend.

This past Tuesday, Harper Lee announced the upcoming release of a sequel to her classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Set for release this summer, Go Set a Watchman was reportedly written prior to the original novel, and includes the same characters twenty years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird. The news surrounding this announcement brought back fond memories and lessons learned about the mockingbirds in our lives.

Set during the Great Depression when the South was plagued by racism, classism, and prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story follows three children and their obsession with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley, whom they have never met. During this time, the community is beset with a racially plagued trial in which Scout’s father, Atticus, is the defense attorney for a black male accused of raping a white woman.

As the reader is guided through the difficult topics of rape and racial injustice, the book tackles social laws and community codes.  Throughout the novel, Harper Lee uses a mockingbird to symbolize innocence, as represented by the following passage:

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said.  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

During the climax of the novel, Scout and her brother are attacked by the vengeful father of the young woman who falsely made accusations of rape. The children are saved by their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, who eventually kills their attacker. Recognizing that it would be more of a sin to arrest someone who was helping save children, the local sheriff decides that the attacker was not killed by Boo Radley; instead, noting that the attacker must have fallen on his knife. When Atticus asked if Scout could understand the decision, she said “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”

From the innocent perspective of a child, the reader learns to be a better neighbor, citizen, parent, and leader. Mockingbirds symbolize the intangible qualities and values that we want to define our organizations and communities (Tweet This). Leaders recognize those opportunities when sacrificing an acceptable decision, policy, or norm helps protect the greater good. At times, it may be against policy to waive fees for someone financially incapable of paying the fee; allowing code violations to continue for an elderly person who needs more time to correct the problem, or to allow an employee to be unproductive during a time of personal loss. While these examples are very trite, there are times when a leader needs to make a decision that benefits the greater good even though it might not be what policy states. Examples of community mockingbirds appear daily as some examples are very small and can be solved by the leader being passive aggressive about tackling an issue or complaint while others are more visible and require the leader to intentionally and publicly address the deviation from public policy. Either silently or publicly, protecting the mockingbird occurs when the foundational values for the community would be eroded by following policy.

What are mockingbirds in your community?


Written by:
Katie Corder
Executive Search Manager

Is it Time for Leadership Rehab?

What if there was a leadership rehab?  The news is often peppered with celebrity figures from entertainment, sports, and politics who are entering rehab for drug or alcohol abuse. Although it must be stressful for them when their difficulties are made public, we salute their courage to face their addictions head on, and we should all be pulling hard for their success in facing those battles.

But it makes me wonder how many functioning leaders are hurting people all around them because of poor leadership habits which should call for them to enter a rehab of another sort:  Leadership Rehab. What are some leadership habits that are as destructive as an addiction?  Here’s a partial list:

  • Blaming others for failures that are beyond anyone’s control
  • Verbally abusing employees
  • Mind games that send mixed messages so that employees never feel secure
  • Creating a moving target for success
  • Expecting perfectionism from others, while denying their own flaws

What is it like to be working with or around a leader in need of leadership rehab?

  • Employees feel powerless
  • Employees feel despair
  • Employees feel conflicted
  • Employees bond on the basis of surviving, rather than around vision

What are some things that a leader might learn or re-learn in rehab?

  • The role and importance of Emotional Intelligence
  • The importance of creating a shared vision
  • The importance of taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • The importance and ways to build or rebuild trust
  • The genuine traits of authentic Servant Leadership

The hurts and destructive effects of chemical dependence can never be minimized. My heart breaks for people I know whose lives have been traumatized due to addiction, be it their own addiction or the addictions of others around them.

Leadership expert, Max DePree, poses a provocative question in the book Leadership is an Art. He asks, “What do leaders owe?”  It’s a question that creates a lot of discussion. Amongst the things DePree outlines, I would add to it that they owe their followers a certain amount of emotional health, and that if they do not possess it, they seek to regain it with the same focus with which a person entering rehab for alcohol or drug abuse seeks to gain his or her sobriety.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

Good Content + Good Delivery = Effective Presentation

When you are asked to speak or make a presentation, then you have to ask some basic questions. Here’s one not to ignore – how should I speak in this room, to this audience, in this setting?

First, the assumption: you have something worthwhile to say (otherwise, you would not have been asked to speak). But, after that, all bets are off.

How many times have you heard a speaker with great things to say, but after the event, you described the session (whether to yourself, or others) as “boring?” Good material – but not a very scintillating, engaging presentation.

If you corner me, it is not possible to answer which is more important. Is it the content? Is it the delivery? Yes! — it is both. Definitely both. (Read this earlier post: 2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation).

In other words:


But I have a hunch that many speakers/presenters work much harder on their content than they do on their delivery. It is as though delivery is optional; not all that important. The attitude seems to be “I’ve got some important information here. It’s the audience’s job to pay attention.”

Big mistake!

So, here you go – assuming you have important, good, well-developed, useful content, then… here are some Speaking/Presentation Tips 101, with slight tweaks for different speaking circumstances.

#1 — The Basics – (these are “always” tips)

  • Sit up straight, or stand up straight. Posture matters.
  • Speak your words clearly, loud enough for the folks in the back to hear you easily.
  • Never speak in a monotone! Learn to use vocal variety and verbal punch.
  • Sound a little-to-more-than-a-little excited about your material. (Hint: it helps to actually be excited about your material).
  • Look your audience members in the eye. Aim for eyeball-to-eyeball contact.
  • Put your mouth right up to the microphone. Make sure you are projecting well through the sound system.

And, a big, big hint – all of this requires practice and rehearsal.

#2 – Some Variables

  • The bigger the audience, the wider the room, the more important it is to use big, really big, gestures. Small gestures in a big room seem…small. (In a big room and setting, with a big audience, you almost have to turn from a “presenter” to an“orator”).
  • When on a panel, make every opportunity to speak its own little presentation. Lean forward; “look excited that it is your turn to speak.” Seize the floor when it is your turn. Then relinquish the floor gladly when you finish your turn, waiting for your next opportunity.
  • Oh, by the way, look at your fellow panel members when they speak, and look like you care about what they are saying. (It helps if you actually do care about what they are saying).
  • Even when seated (behind a table or on a stool), lean forward when you speak. Gesture plenty (not with as big a gesture as when you are standing to speak to a large, full room audience – but gesture!).

#3 – About PowerPoint/Keynote slides, or other visuals.

  • Remember this principle: as much as possible, take charge of where the eyeballs of your audience members focus. If a slide is visible, they are looking at the slide, not at you. Thus…
  • Darken the screen when you want the audience members looking at you.
  • Use more images, bigger fonts – much less small print. I’m not a fan of PowerPoint “outlines.” Use PowerPoint as “visual AID,” not as the “presentation.” (Read this earlier post: A Set of PowerPoint Slides is NOT a “presentation” – a rant). I personally prefer physical handouts to on-screen outlines.
  • And, use props; physical objects, not just slides.

I suspect this is just a beginning. What else would you add to this list of recommendations?


I’ve embedded two videos here. Yes, both with Steve Jobs.

In the first, notice how Steve Jobs uses props and slides. (Carmine Gallo points this out effectively).

In the second, notice how Steve Jobs almost looks like he is about to spring right up from his stool. He is very engaging, energized, even when seated as he responds to a question.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Happiness Primer, Part 1

If you’ll recall, we’ve been looking at how choosing happiness sets the stage for your success. This is contrary to traditional thinking, where for many years, we have believed that once we accomplish our goals, THEN we will be happy. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, outlines the science behind the relatively new field of positive psychology. He also claims that through many research studies, we often sacrifice happiness in order to pursue success. This is completely the opposite of what we should do!

In Achor’s book, he identified seven “specific, actionable, and proven patterns that predict success and achievement.” Since sharing this information with Harvard and the world, these principles have helped tens of thousands of people retrain their brains, change habits, and become more productive and successful. Below are three of the seven.

The Happiness Advantage – Being happy just before tackling a project or a problem by taking a brief moment to gain a quick boost of positive emotion will increase dopamine and serotonin in our brains, even increase our vision, literally making us able to see the world better. Studies show that even receiving – not even eating – receiving a piece of candy can elicit happiness! It can truly be the small things at times. We’re all different in what triggers those happy emotions. If you’re like me, talking with a loved one, clearing the sink of dirty dishes, drinking a yummy cup of coffee, or doing a few pull-ups makes me happy. Specific things Achor lists that we can do: meditate, find something to look forward to, commit conscious acts of kindness, infuse positivity into your surroundings, exercise, spend money (but not on stuff), and exercise a signature strength (think character, not just skill). Remember, before making that call or sitting down to work on that presentation, get happy, first. You’ll be much more successful.

The Fulcrum and the Lever – This is all about your perspective. With the right mindset (fulcrum), you take the power (lever) to affect your actions as well as your reality. Basically, there’s truth to the Placebo Effect – which is that simply believing that you’ve taken a drug causes the symptom to disappear more than half of the time. Additionally, there is science behind what sounds like advice from your mom, “You can do ANYthing you set your mind to!” Our belief in our own abilities is a better predictor of job performance than the actual level of skill or training. Not only can you alter your future, you can influence the performance of others by expressing your faith in their ability. In case you haven’t heard me say this before, “I believe in you.”

The Tetris Effect – Named after a study where people were paid to play Tetris for several hours for 3 days, this principle claims that what you “train” your brain to see, it will look for those things. One test subject reported that he could see in his mind nothing but Tetris brick gaps in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, and how he could flip cereal boxes to fill those gaps following the test. Put in simple terms, our brains process patterns very efficiently, and if you focus on the negative over and over, it becomes a habit that is extremely difficult to break. One exercise proven to create a Positive Tetris Effect is to write down three good things that happened to you that day, for at least a week. This leads to an increased positive outlook on your environment, gratitude, and lasting happiness, even after the exercise is stopped.

Next week, we’ll finish looking at the last four of the seven principles. In the meantime, #choosehappiness!

As an aside: For those of you who enjoyed the Super Bowl commercials last night, I hope you spotted the positive psychology messages behind Coca Cola’s #MakeItHappy and McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin” campaigns?



Written by:
Heather Harrison
Development Manager

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