Putting on Your Oxygen Mask First

If you ever fly on an airplane, you will hear the flight attendants review the safety measures right before takeoff. “If the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling” they will advise. “Put your own mask on first before assisting others.”

For some of us, the idea of putting ourselves first is counterintuitive to what we think are our responsibilities. At home, we may be a parent or caregiver. At work, we are leaders, coaches, mentors, and trainers. Following the advice of Zig Ziglar, we believe “we can get everything we want in life, we just have to first help others get what they want.” However, the flight attendants offer sound advice; one applicable not only to plane travel, but to work and life as well.

The thought-process behind the oxygen procedure is pretty simple; you could lose consciousness in just a few seconds without oxygen. Let’s face it; if you are unconscious, you really aren’t much help to others. Caring for yourself allows you to feel and perform your best so you can be more helpful to others. Skipping means, reducing sleep, or exercise will ultimately make you feel tired, rundown, and sick. 

This is especially true this time of year as we approach cold and flu season. If you are tired and rundown, you are not operating at your best. As such, it is difficult to effectively lead, coach, and motivate your team to perform at their best. You cannot offer to others what you don’t first possess yourself. This is especially true for training and developing your staff. When I was responsible for the training and development for one of the largest credit unions in Pennsylvania, 400 employees depended upon me at my best. I would make it a point to attend three to four workshops and seminars and read at least four books every year. It was important for me to continue my development if I was to help others with their development. Last year I began working with a nationally recognized success coach. If I was going to become a better coach and trainer, I felt it important to work with a coach and trainer of my own.

John Maxwell reminds leaders that we are responsible to our people. Not only must we provide the tools for our people’s success, we must also sharpen our existing tools, and find ways to acquire new ones as well. We cannot offer to others what we don’t first possess ourselves. Take a timeout. Get some rest. Read an informational book. Attend a training workshop or seminar. Grab your oxygen mask. Then, go out and help others with theirs. 

Posted 217 weeks ago

It is About This Season, Not Last

This past August, I had the opportunity to conduct three days of training in northern Ohio.  I met many people who were fans of the  Cleveland Browns, who were excited about the prospects of the upcoming NFL season. In all honesty, the Browns haven’t experienced much success recently. Last year they became just the second team in NFL history to lose each and every one of their 16 games. The year before, they managed to win just one. The team was making progress and putting those seasons behind them. They weren’t going to lament the past, they were focusing on becoming successful in the future. The Browns shocked their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening week, playing them to a tie. Entering the fourth week of the season, the Browns’ record was better than half the teams in the league.

About 450 miles to the east, the Philadelphia Eagles were coming off the polar opposite season of the Browns in 2017. The Eagles had the best record in the league last year in route to their first Super Bowl championship. Ownership installed a large sign in the Eagles’ clubhouse commemorating their championship. A few of the team leaders went to management asking to remove the sign. They were proud of their success, but weren’t satisfied. It wasn’t about resting on their laurels, it was about gearing up to do it again.

We find constant success, not on what we did yesterday, but what we will do tomorrow. History is full of people who overcame great obstacles to achieve great results. History is also full of people who had it all one day only to lose it all the next.  Successful people use their past experiences to set them up for future success. A pessimist complains it was too windy and ruined the day at sea. An optimist thinks the wind will soon die down. A leader remembers the last time it was windy, knows how to properly adjust the sails, and continues on the course to reach his destination.

While we cannot rewrite the past, the book is not yet finished. The future is an empty page. Famed NFL coach Vince Lombardi said “the man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” No, he used the rocks behind him as stepping stones to reach a higher level. Pretty sound advice from the guy whose name is on the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl. Last year’s record doesn’t win this year’s trophy. It is what you learn and build on from the past, and how you implement new strategies, that leads to success.

Posted 218 weeks ago

Shark or Goldfish

Last month I had the opportunity to conduct two very different workshops for two very different groups. The classes were a great example of the different types of employees who are working in your company. The first workshop was on change management. A total of 40 employees attended, many of which were resistant and fearful of the changes currently going on within the organization. The second workshop was on creativity and innovation. Two dozen employees were actively engaged, learning how to become more creative thinkers and learn innovative solutions to work challenges.

Life is full of change and challenges. Oftentimes we find ourselves in an unfavorable situation. Perhaps we couldn’t control what was going to happen. Maybe we had control, but did nothing about it. Either way we find ourselves in a situation to which we don’t want to be, and have a decision to make.

We can either choose to be a shark or a goldfish.

In his book of the same name, Jon Gordon tells the tale of The Shark and The Goldfish.  The goldfish stays safe and waits. He happily swims around in his small, safe environment. The gold fish waits to get fed because he is dependent upon others to provide him food. The goldfish cannot survive outside of his fishbowl. The shark utilizes the entire ocean in which he can swim. He can travel many miles and dive to get depths. The shark doesn’t wait to get fed, he goes out and finds his own food.

When individuals think like a goldfish, they restrict their thoughts and actions to stay within their small, safe environment. Goldfish have trouble thinking “outside the bowl.” Change is difficult for goldfish. A goldfish cannot be suddenly placed into a new environment without experiencing the dangers of “new tank syndrome.” Fresh water is dangerous, even fatal to a goldfish.

People who think like a shark are constantly looking and moving forward. Sharks have a hard time staying still and feeling contempt. The unique makeup of a shark allows they to swim to great depth and requires them to continue to swim and move forward or they will die. The shark’s process of breathing gets interrupted if they are pulled backwards.

The next time you are faced with a difficult decision, decide how you are going to think and behave. Will be choose to be a shark or a goldfish? The choice is yours to make.

Posted 220 weeks ago

It’s All About Integity - Airport Delay

Recently, I was traveling from Newark to Syracuse, scheduled on a 6:59 flight with a major airline. When I arrived to the gate around 5:30, the flight was already delayed 20 minutes due to the incoming crew being delayed from their incoming flight. The reason for the delay was soon changed to “maintenance issues.” I sat, along with other passengers to watch our departure get pushed back in 20 and 30 minute increments.   

Just before 8:30, the flight delay was updated to 9:00. I had doubts the plane was ever leaving Newark. I had a class scheduled the very next day in Syracuse, so it was vital I get to my destination. I discovered online the airline had another flight to Syracuse departing at 9:40. There were a couple seats available on the flight, and the gate agent was able to to switch my flight, if I wanted. So far, so good. Before changing flights, I asked about retrieving the bag I had checked to accompany me on the flight. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t” explained the agent “Your bag is already on the plane.”

“You mean the plane out for maintenance? It never even got to the gate. Can you track it on the computer?”

The agent looked a little disturbed and typed onto her keyboard before confirming the bag was in fact already on the plane. She added “there is nothing we can do about it” before adding “that’s what happens when you check a bag.”

I really wanted to get on that 9:40 flight to ensure I could get my rental car, drive to my hotel, and have a halfway decent night’s rest for class the following day. My participants deserve me at my best to deliver an engaging, informative presentation. I asked the agent if there was anyone else I could talk to, and she pointed my to a customer service counter about 50 yards away.

When I arrived at the counter, I told my story again to the new representative. Different employee, same response.  

“Help me understand” I said, summoning my years of effective communication techniques “How does the luggage get placed on the plane when the plane never even got to the gate?” I figured more logic and reasoning would break through to the rep. “I fly a lot for work. Regardless of the airline, I always see the bags ride up the belt and onto the plane the same time we board. It doesn’t seem likely my bag would get onto the plane so far in advance, especially on a plane that is being worked on for a maintenance issue, no where near the gate.”

Logic and reasoning lost out that day. “It just is” was all the agent could respond. 

At this time, the 9:40 flight was now sold out. I would have to take my chances with my original flight, which was now delayed until 10:00. The two employees I had spoken to were finished their shift and left for the day. Eventually, we would board the plane, just 15 minutes before Wednesday became Thursday, for a 12:10 AM departure.

Sitting down in my seat in row 23, I happened to be seated across from a younger guy I met in the waiting area. He was originally from Nebraska, on leave from the Army, and stationed just outside of Syracuse. He was sitting in a window seat. Right next to him, I could clearly see the outside area of our plane. Sure enough, a luggage cart was stationed outside, and passengers’ bags were being loaded on.

When did it become perfectly acceptable to blatantly lie to your customers? That is the question I had for the person on the other end of the customer service number of the airline. He didn’t have an answer, or a resolution. After placing me on a brief hold to confer with his supervisor, he told me I would need to complete a feedback form on the airline’s website. I did, clearly detailing the situation. The automatic email response assured me that my feedback was important to the airline, and they would have a response to me in 14-21 business days. Maybe my feedback wasn’t that important to them.

This experience went beyond merely poor customer service. To me, it was an issue of integrity. When I asked when it became perfectly acceptable to lie to your customers, I didn’t receive an answer. The correct answer should have been “It’s not.” Employees, especially those serving on the front-line, are the face of the organization. Their actions and behaviors make your organization’s culture, values, vision, and mission statement come to life. Business author and expert Peter Drucker says “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is created by the top level of management, while culture is created by the employees. 

The senior team may design what they envision to be the company culture, but it is ultimately the employees who bring it to life. Imagine you are organizing a birthday party for your child. You plan for it to be fun, include games, and food. Just because you plan it to be fun doesn’t mean the kids at the party will actually have fun. If we put the plan in place and leave the room, they will ultimately dictate how the party will turn out. Employees create culture. It is our job to observe behavior and make adjustments as necessary.

I am curious to hear how the airline responds to my feedback. I’ll keep you posted in 14-21 days on their response. In the meantime, if there is an issue at your organization, perhaps I can help. Send me an email or schedule a call.

Posted 223 weeks ago

Saying “No” with Tact

Have you ever found yourself working on a project only to have your manager or co-worker ask to dump even more work on your plate? Have you found yourself wanting to say “no” but unsure how to say it without offending the other person? Here is a great, simple, tactfu, and diplomatic way to say “no” without actually saying that two-letter word. This easy script follows the acronym U.S.A.

Understanding Statement - I understand this project is important to you. Situational Statement - Right now I am working on {current project} which requires my full attention in order to have it completed by {deadline}. Alternative Action - I’ll have free time Friday afternoon if you want to come by then.

Notice you don’t actually say the word no. You will also avoid saying other restrictive words such as can’t or won’t, and pivot words such as but. It also avoids apologizing for not being able to help right away. When you apologize, you open yourself up to possibly bending on your position, and accepting the project anyway.

This script can be used for anyone, even your manager. Your situational statement lets them know your current project. Sometimes you may find yourself working on a project that is no longer relevant, but it was never communicated to you. Using this script will open that communication. 

Posted 226 weeks ago

Composing a Disciplinary Action Memo

If you spend any amount of time managing others, you will come to a time when you need to compose and deliver a disciplinary action. This is one document many managers struggle with composing and delivering to employees. A disciplinary action memo should be written clearly and directly, without being aggressive. One that is confusing or vague will not change employee behavior, which is the exact purpose of this memo. 

Here is an easy template to following when writing a disciplinary action. The memo can be composed with just four paragraphs, all focusing on specific behaviors, expectations, and results. Focused on the “what’s”, I refer to each paragraph as what happened, what was expected, so what, and now what.

What happened: Described the employee’s specific actions or behaviors. A behavior is something that is observable, measurable, and factual. When describing behaviors, avoid using absolutes (always, never) and generalities (attitude, attendance). Instead of saying an employee has “attendance issues” or is “always late”, focus on specific behaviors such as “late 5 times of 10 minutes or more during the month of June). 

What’s Expected: State the policy, procedure, or expectation violated. This can be as easy as copying and pasting from your employee handbook or procedure manual. When copying from a manual, reference the page and section, such as “as stated on page 52 of the Employee Handbook regarding dress code…”

So What: Describe the negative impact resulting from the employee’s action. This section is especially valuable when communicating to employees who may not understand the importance of following a specific policy. When I worked in banking, I would remind branch employees that dual control is required to open the vault. If one person is late, the vault cannot get opened in time, tellers cannot get their cash drawers, and members cannot be serviced. Lateness ultimately effects teamwork and member satisfaction.

Now What: Describe the implications to the employee based on his/her actions. This may include a formal warning period, restrictions, action plan, loss of bonus, demotion, and even termination. If there is to be a follow-up period, state the time frame and person responsible for following up. 

Keep in mind, this is a general guideline, and should not supersede any specific disciplinary action format your organization may have in place. Managers should always consult with your Human Resources department before presenting an employee with a written disciplinary action.

Posted 229 weeks ago

Independence Day Lesson About Goals and Sacrifice

242 years ago, 56 men left their families and gathered in a steamy hall in Philadelphia. There, they committed to the boldest statement ever recorded. They knew they were embarking on a worthy cause, and also knew they would face obstacles along the way. They knew they would experience great sacrifice, as no worthy goal is accomplished without dealing with sacrifice along the way. 

John Maxwell’s Law of Sacrifice states “in order to go up, you need to be willing to give up.” Every person who has achieved any type of success in life has made sacrifices along the way. We are faced with limited time and resources. Regardless of whether your goal is to advance at work, improve your health, or increase your bank account, you will be faced with having to give something up in order to go up.

As a trainer, consultant, and success coach, I work with individuals every day to be reach their fullest potential. While I provide individuals with the tools and resources required for success, it is  be successful. It is up to them to use those resources to make a positive impact on their life. I routinely talk with people who wish they developed their skills, made more money, or got in better shape, but were unwilling to make sacrifices necessary to obtain those goals. You cannot get promoted at work unless you sacrifice the time and energy to learn and develop new and existing skills. You will not be able to lose weight unless you are willing to sacrifice some of the food you eat, and increase your exercise. You cannot increase your bank account without sacrificing some of your discretionary spending, and depositing that money into your account.

What are your dreams and goals? What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve them? The bigger the goal, the bigger the sacrifice. We find that truth to be self-evident.

Posted 231 weeks ago

Hiring the Right Fit

This week, executives representing 32 teams will gathered in Dallas, Texas for the annual NFL Draft. NFL personnel spend months out of the year interviewing, testing, and analyzing hundreds of potential candidates. Teams select players based on their current and future needs, in addition to the players’ ability to fit into the team’s schemes and organizational culture. Teams know their selections will have ramifications on their organization’s success for years to come.

How much do you invest in selecting a new employee for your team?

According to a May 2017 SHRM article, the total cost of a bad hire can be “astronomical.” Costs include recruiting and advertising costs, onboarding and training costs. negative impact to existing employees and customers, and possibly the company brand. The same article quotes a 2012 CareerBuilder survey which 22% respondents admitted they lacked the skills to interview and hire employees effectively. This results in underperforming employees.

When I train managers on hiring the perfect fit, we focus on looking at the candidates’ skills, characteristics, and knowledge/experience. I challenge them to answer three main questions regarding their new hire:

     Who do I want them to be?

     What do I want them to do?

     What do I want them to already know?

One of my favorite exercises in the workshop is a scenario where I tell participants they are required to bring a new dog into their home. This is detailed in the chapter Choosing the Right Breed from my book Sit Stay Succeed! Considering where they live, their lifestyle, family members, and other pets, participants list qualities and characteristics they require the dog to possess. After all, I wouldn’t bring home a large Saint Bernard if I live in a small apartment. Participants review the list and circle their top three to five non-negotiable items. After we complete the dog exercise, we use the same principles to create a similar list  for new employees. 

It is amazing how many participants tell me they have never spent this much time before in creating a list of skills and characteristics for interview candidates. The reason is probably not too surprising. That CareerBuilding survey found nearly half of the respondents said they made a bad hire because they felt rushed into quickly filling a position. When you attempt to fill a position with an employee who doesn’t have the necessary skills or characteristics to perform the job or align with your organization’s culture, you are asking for trouble. You can’t make a big dog a small dog, and can’t convert a 320 pound defensive linemen into a speedy receiver.



Posted 241 weeks ago

Lessons of Failure from the Super Bowl LII MVP

According to a  2015 Time/Real Simple poll, 44% of millennials cited ‘fear of failing’ or ‘lack of confidence’ as a major reason preventing them from being more ambitious.
“Failure is a part of life” Nick Foles explained. “It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times, made mistakes.”

Nick Foles was speaking in front of a hundred or so men and women who were eager to hear his thoughts. Just over 12 hours earlier, he led his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, to their first Super Bowl championship over the defending champion New England Patriots. Just two months earlier it was unlikely Foles would have ever thrown a pass in this game. Being votes game Most Valuable Player would have be unfathomable. That’s why Foles has become an expert on failure, and his thoughts are beneficial for anyone looking for success.

Nick Foles was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles out of the University of Arizona in 2012. He split time as the starting quarterback his first two seasons. Along the way he tied an NFL record for most touchdowns thrown in a game (7) and set a record with the best touchdown to interception ratio (27-2). The start of a promising career will soon experience setbacks in 2014. Foles’ third year ended early after breaking his collarbone midway through the season. He was traded to the Minnesota Viking where he struggled and was released after just one season. The following year he joined the Kansas City Chiefs where he also struggled and was released after just one year. 

Nick Foles had enough. No longer passionate about playing, he was planning to retire and get on with his life. With his wife encouraging him to get back in the game, Foles knew what he needed to do. “I had to face my fear” Foles said. “I needed to go back and face my failures.”

Foles got a new start in a familiar place, Philadelphia, where he was content to back up start quarterback Carson Wentz. Everything changed when Wentz tore his ACL in a November game, and Foles found himself back in the starting role, ultimately leading the Eagles to a come from behind Super Bowl win.

If you are unwilling to fail, you won’t be open to embarking on new challenges and taking chances. This leaves people stagnant and under-inflated. Your company should create a culture where it is Ok for employees to fail. This allows employees to think outside the box and take calculated chances without fear of repercussion if things go wrongs. A young child falls hundreds of times before he or she finally learns to walk. What if every child would give up after falling down just a few times. What a tragedy to live in a world where no one is willing to take a step forward to see where it leads them.  

Posted 249 weeks ago

Leadership Lessons of Titanic

James Cameron’s Titanic was released 20 years ago this month. My most request presentation discusses lessons learned from the Titanic disaster and how they can apply to your organization. In celebration of the movie’s 20th anniversary, the following is a snapshot of my Leadership Lessons of Titanic.  

The Leader is always responsible

Leadership expert John Maxwell states “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” The maiden voyage of the Titanic was Capt. E.J. Smith’s retirement trip. His final duty was to pilot the grandest ship ever built into New York Harbor. However, Smith took many safety issues and precautions for granted on the trip. He ignored multiple iceberg warnings from his crew and neighboring ships.

Leadership is about everything you do, and the things you don’t do. Maxwell says “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” The leader sets the stage and influences others to act; the leader is always present, event when he/she is not there physically.

Bigger is not always better

Titanic was the largest ship of its time. It was such a large ship that it took nearly a minute to steer away from the iceberg, and many believe that delay in changing course was the biggest factor in its sinking. As a result, the iceberg ripped a large gash in the ship’s hull.

The bigger the organization, the more difficult it is to steer, direct, and change. In large organizations, policies and procedures may sometimes circumvent common sense. How long does it take your company to change its course? How many levels does it take to change policy/procedure?

Reevaluate policies and procedures

A common thought is Titanic was grossly negligent because there were not enough lifeboats aboard the ship.  According to regulations of the time, the requisite number of lifeboats was in direct proportion to the ship’s weight—to a point: The regulation stopped calculating at 10,000 tons, for a maximum of 16 lifeboats. Titanic, at more than 46,000 tons, carried 16 lifeboats.

After Titanic sank, regulations changed to calculate the number of lifeboats according to the number of passengers. As a leader, you should routinely review and reevaluate the policies and procedures of your organization. Be aware of shifts in company culture or focus that warrants a policy change. Just because procedures always worked a certain way does not mean it cannot be done more efficiently or successfully.

Look for dangers hiding below

‘On the night Titanic sunk, because the moon was not out and the water so still, it was very difficult to see the iceberg. Rough waters would have caused breakers around the iceberg, making it easier to see from afar.’ - The Discovery Channel.

Titanic was sunk due to damage created by the part of the iceberg hidden beneath the water. Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The culture of your organization defines the environment in which your employees work. Culture cannot be dictated; it is developed, usually from the collective traits, beliefs, and behaviors of your employees.

Value structured training

As Titanic was sinking, crew members struggled with releasing the lifeboats. They did not have the proper training on how to utilize the lifeboats in the event of an emergency. Deployed lifeboats were loaded with too many or too few passengers, and only one returned to attempt to recover more people.

Effective leaders understand the importance of a structured orientation and training program. If we fail on developing our employees, we fail everyone who depends on our company to succeed.

Never lose sight of your goal

Twenty years ago, James Cameron was determined to make a movie featuring an exact replica of Titanic, and recreate the most realistic sinking of the ship. The movie cost more to make and longer to shoot than was originally planned. The movie wasn’t going to be ready for its planned July 4 release.  Cameron was at odds with the studios financing the film. Critics thought the picture was going to be a disaster. All the while, Cameron never lost sight of his goal.  Titanic went on to become the highest grossing picture of all time, holding the top spot until being supplanted by another James Cameron film.

John Maxwell’s 21


Law of Leadership is the Law of Legacy. As a leader, we are making a lasting impact on everything and everyone with who we interact. Do you want to ultimately be remembered as the most esteemed commander of all time, or the person who sank Titanic?

Posted 261 weeks ago