The Four Practices of the Modern Leader

By Coaching, LeadershipOne Comment

Anything that requires a level of mastery is a practice. It is a living thing fed by inspiration, action and experiences. This concept applies to everything that is artful and also requires discipline. Mastery is finding the seam between creative energy and physical output; the space between the spiritual world and the material world.

Leadership is an art. As such, it follows the above rule of mastery. But what are we mastering? I believe the art of leadership evolves based on trends, social shifts, conditions and timing. For example, a leader in the Old World needed IQ with some empathy. A leader in the New World needs EQ with some intellect. A leader in the Old World knew how to move the numbers, implement systems, create process. A leader in the New World knows how to move the people; to make the systems and processes work for the people. A leader in the Old World served the entity. A leader in the New World serves the people. The Old World leader operates from a top-down org chart where they are the top. The New World operates from an upside down and inside out org chart.

When seen through the lens of the New World, the practices of the modern leader include the following four concepts:

  • Mental Practice: The modern leader has a practice for mastering the mind and feeding the intellect. This could be a combination of meditation or inner mental mastery along with curiosity – reading, taking a class, listening to podcasts, watching a talk. Without a mental practice, the leader’s intellect becomes stagnant and contained. A strong mental practice involves finding the seat of Self and observing. It requires a sense of awareness of the difference between “me” (how the world sees you) and “I” (who you truly are). A strong mental practice may involve some therapeutic approach to go along with a personal contemplative practice.
  • Creative Practice: The modern leader balances between the problem-solving part of the mind (a trait deeply honed in the Old World) and the imagination part of the mind where wonder resides. Thus enters art. Your art is the physical manifestation of accessing the creative part of yourself. Expressing your art balances out the mind and also shows the world your whole person. This art could be leadership by itself, but likely will manifest in some form like writing, speaking, painting, singing, working with your hands, etc. The practical part of you will say these things don’t matter. The spiritual part of you knows they matter very much.
  • Physical Practice: This is the practice of movement; of action. A natural place to start is exercise: walking, hiking, lifting weights, playing a sport, studying a martial art, going to yoga. Or a combo of any of these! A physical practice prevents a sedentary state – which then prevents the lowering of standards, the creep of mediocrity, drifting towards irrelevancy. A physical practice can also involve simple output like breathing, journaling, connecting with a friend or lover. A physical practice allows the soul to experience the material world – which reminds the soul that it is alive.
  • Spiritual Practice: One of my friends/clients said to me, “Wherever I go, I find leaders with a secret spiritual life.” I strongly believe this to be true. This does not necessarily mean religious rituals or traditions. It more means you are doing the contemplative work to connect to your soul. This removes you from ego-state and allows room for you to be a soul-first leader. Then things like faith, inspiration, intuition and other traits of the spiritual realm come to life and become guides and muses. Leaders with a spiritual practice are more resilient, better futuristic thinkers and more decisive. They can take the punch of changed plans while still remaining in the leader’s seat.

Ideally, we would look at these four practices as a four-piece band. Each piece working in harmony to make original music. In my parlance, this “music” is your brand. It is how others experience your beliefs, your gifts, your offerings. If you are a corporate leader, this is your personal brand – and the collective of other leaders make up the culture and external brand of an organization. If you are a small business owner, this is both your personal brand and your business brand. Or as said by Eugen Herrigel, “The man, the art, the work–it is all one.”

This is not a “success formula”. I don’t believe those actually exist. Nor is it a recipe where you follow the steps to make something everyone else has. These four practices are elements, that when mastered, produce something that the world has never seen before. And make you a true contemporary leader.

False Narratives: The Dandelions of Consciousness

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthOne Comment

Think of a behavior or habit you aren’t particularly happy with. You may assign some sort of negative feeling to that behavior like shame or judging. Yet you keep doing the behavior. Is this is some sort of character flaw? Maybe. But it’s way more likely it’s a false narrative manifesting in behavior. Or as Jesus said “Forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Our mind contains thousands of false narrative — all of which come from external factors such as experiences and social conditioning. They shape our worldview about the important things in life (God, relationships, sex, money, health) and the unimportant things (hobbies, activities, which sports team to be a fan of). They lay embedded in our psyche — looping over and over every time they’re triggered. And more get added with every experience. No wonder we have so much noise in our heads!

False narratives unto themselves are neither bad nor good. But they are false — in the sense that they are illusory. And they have much more influence over us than we realize. Here’s how deep they go: a false narrative informs our mindset which produces a feeling which produces a behavior.

False narratives are the dandelions of consciousness: if you find one, there’s always more. Which is both good news and bad news. The good news is that you have awareness of them. The bad news is that there’s probably a lot of them and it will take a lot of work to get rid of them.

This work that needs to be done starts with deconstructing the false narratives — usually with a reverse engineering process. As an example, I will use fatigue. Let’s start with the behavior or reaction to fatigue. The most common is over-stimulating with caffeine. Fatigue almost always then produces a negative feeling — usually shame or self-loathing. This loop between behavior and feeling can produce its own set of mini-narratives: “What’s wrong with me?” “I’m lazy.” “I’ve got some unknown illness”. This produces a mindset that I’m defective. This mindset comes from several sources — chiefly, growing up on a ranch where grit was seen as the ultimate achievement badge. Other conditioning of this mindset came from football practice, exercise, being a parent, being an entrepreneur and now being a man in my late 40s. This leads us to the false narrative: I AM A MACHINE.

Rationally, I know that’s not true. But to accept that it’s not true is also to accept that I get tired. Maybe even get more tired faster than others. But now I can construct a new true narrative: I AM A HUMAN. The mindset is then around the husbandry of my physical being; that I’m worthy of self-care. The new emotions are love, gratitude, compassion. The new behaviors are going to bed and waking up at regular times, taking a short nap if needed, putting nourishing things in my body.

Phew. That’s just one false narrative. I see others in my lawn. About money. About religion. About intimacy. Time to work on those.

The Eternal Groundlessness of the Entrepreneur

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeOne Comment

The caption for this post was inspired by this quote from Pema Chodron:

“ … it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality …”

I was asked recently by a friend who is also an entrepreneur: “How do you get rid of the uncertainty?”

My answer: You don’t.

Uncertainty is to the entrepreneur what the sky is to the bird, the water is to the fish, the plains to a lion. We need it. It sustains us. It keeps us moving towards the edge of things; to the great beyond that propels all adventurers and artists.

But we are not birds, fish or lions. We are humans. And we have this highly evolved minds that are designed to keep us alive, productive and happy.

But how …

First, we must understand it’s not the uncertainty that causes suffering. It is the expectation that there shouldn’t be uncertainty that causes suffering. When we accept the uncertainty and embrace it, the suffering is greatly dissipated. But we can make the suffering worse.

Here’s how …

  • Ignore biology. My business/creative partner, Emily Soccorsy, sums it up nicely with this mantra: “don’t trust a tired mind.” Yes, we need to work hard and put in the time. But hustling and grinding (insert your favorite bro start-up term) too much, too often will make you short-sighted, irritable, fuzzy headed and in constant search of stimulation. It will make you stupid. It will dull whatever creative edge you have with your knowledge, skills, ideas.
  • Unhealthy behaviors. Coping mechanisms are part of our ancient programming to keep us alive. However, for many entrepreneurs, coping is often a justification for unhealthy behavior. Too much processed foods (which pretty much all foods that sell on speed are). Too much alcohol consumption. Too much caffeine. Too much Netflix binging. And not enough brain food, movement. And almost always not enough stillness and silence. Not controlling what we put into our bodies contributes to the biological part of us that fears uncertainty.
  • Over-dramatizing the facts. When we spin out from the fear of uncertainty, it feels like danger and death. So we use the language of danger and death to express this fear. We use the language of panic, urgency. Which adds fuel to the mind that something is wrong. This causes us to go into primal state and take a defensive posture. It’s nearly impossible to be an effective entrepreneur when our minds are clouded with fear hormones and we are in hunker-and-hide mode. This is why survivalists teach you to take an inventory of assets immediately.
  • Not enough systems of discipline. Jocko Willink makes the profound observation “discipline equals freedom.” My modification to that is that systems of discipline equal freedom. I strongly believe entrepreneurs need their own systems of discipline (also called “practices”) in the most mission-critical aspects of their lives. For me, this is faith, physical health, knowledge, mastery of mind, creativity and relationships. In the business, we have systems of discipline for sales pipeline, marketing, client delivery and experience, ops, finance, culture. To be clear, these aren’t someone else’s systems. You can learn from others but following someone else’s formula just breeds more uncertainty. Take the time to make your own systems of discipline.

When we examine each of these four areas, we will see the pervasive influence of the ego-mind. Attempting to eliminate uncertainty is most certainly a futile attempt by the ego to take control and eliminate the feeling of danger. But when we listen to the ego, we contribute to the illusion of certainty. And to the illusion that the ego is right. Entrepreneurs are artists. Ego kills art because it needs rules, stability, order. It needs to be safe. Art needs freedom.

When we listen to our biology, master our power of choice, get real about our assets and establish our own systems of discipline, uncertainty becomes our natural habitat. Where we swim, fly, run like we belong there. Because we do.

Stoic Philosophy and Branding

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

In recent years, Stoicism has gone from obscure philosophy to leadership mainstream. While not the only author and thinker to tout the efficacy of Stoicism, Ryan Holiday has been the primary catalyst for the re-emergence of what’s often referred to as “Western Buddhism”. Thanks to “The Daily Stoic” and other resources, I’ve reached some level of amateur subject-matter expertise on the ideas and concepts of Stoicism.

While co-facilitating a Root Session last week, I was struck by the alignment between Stoicism and an effective brand strategy. In particular, these four areas:

Know Yourself.

“These are the characteristics of the rational soul: self-awareness, 
self-examination, and self-determination. It reaps its own harvest..
It succeeds in its own purpose . . .” — Marcus Aurelius

We call our work “intrinsic branding” because it places supremacy and importance over being who you truly are and not what you’re pretending to be. This is partially because the pursuit of a pristine image is folly. And partially because many poor branding decisions can be traced back to an identity crisis. If you don’t know who you truly are, the market will not help you figure that out. By being deeply rooted in your mission, beliefs and standards (the truth of your brand), you will grow and bloom. In more contemporary terms, this is Emotional Intelligence – a sense of self- and others-awareness. There is a direct correlation between a leader’s EQ and their business and personal brands.

Make Them React to You.

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love 
ourselves more than other people, but care more 
about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

Working backward from how you’d like to be perceived by others is a dated branding model. It puts you in a reactive, defensive posture and into the unwinnable war of explaining yourself, manipulating perception and spin control. Instead, just be you. Paraphrasing John Eldredge from “Wild at Heart”, let the world feel the weight of your brand. Organizing your brand around your mission instead of your business model naturally produces confidence and conviction. It gives you the deep root system to withstand market fickleness, stupid public policy decisions and both known and unknown competitors.

Don’t Create Unnecessary Suffering.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca

Being in business is hard. It requires constant vigilance, agility and courage. I have noticed two areas where entrepreneurs and business leaders take this suffering and make it worse: 1) lack of self-care. When you are depleted, you naturally retract to short-sightedness and scarcity. When you are tired, hungry, over-stimulated and under-nourished, your mind thinks your body is under attack. So it starts to shut down the strategic mind and the responsive parts of the brain. This inevitably leads to poor behavior and decisions that hurt your brand. 2) using marketing as a cover. Marketing is an amplifier of reality. It draws attention to your brand and triggers the fishbowl effect of transparency. When you use marketing as a cover for a toxic culture, shoddy product or bad leadership behavior (or all three!), you are actually drawing attention to your brand and showing the cognitive dissonance of being detached from reality.

Be Wary of Your Biases.

"Anything or anyone capable of angering you becomes your master."
— Epictetus

My friend Bryce Hoffman provides some excellent resources in this area – in both his book “Red Teaming” and his consulting practice. The essence of red team thinking is very similar to Stoic philosophy: don’t trust your initial reactions (thoughts and feelings) to anything. Our biases are deeply ingrained into our social programming and produce blind spots, illusions and false data. All three of these can be brand and business killers. I’ve noticed several consistent brand biases over my years as a brand coach. Here are two of the most common: 1) “We don’t have competition.”While I somewhat admire the confidence, it’s simply not true. You may not have competitors that do exactly what you do, but you are always competing for attention. 2) “We don’t need branding.” This typically means you think you don’t need advertising. That may be true. But every brand (personal or organizational) needs branding – which is the practice of consistently sharing your mission and message and creating compelling experiences and stories.

We often say that it’s really not old vs new. It’s old vs ancient. The crumbling of institutions, the social media age and the ubiquitous access to immediate information have given re-birth to ancient principles and concepts. And from our perspective, this more contemplative, mindful and intentional approach to branding is exactly what modern brands need.

Eradicating Unease Ain’t Easy

By Leadership, Life, Self-Worth2 Comments

Even in a healthy state, the ego’s baseline is identity; typically an identity attached to a role, title, system or group (or all four). When identity is unattached from, the ego shifts into its intended role and more natural state — protection. This produces a varying but chronic sense of unease. The ego seeks to keep us in a state of unease to encourage us to attach to a new identity or re-attach to an old identity. Unconscious religious practices, busy-ness, obsessions are often adhered to in order to alleviate this unease. For starker cases, addiction, violence and nihilism will be turned to. That’s how powerful this unease is at driving behavior.

But it’s not real. It is a product of the mind. In Jesus’ parables, this is the building on the sand, the building of bigger barns, the seeking of higher seats. In Buddha’s teachings, it is simply called attachment.

So what is real? How do you take ownership over this feeling of unease? How do I find peace?


Former Navy SEAL, podcaster, author Jocko Willink says it well: “discipline equals freedom.”

I know I need Systems of Discipline (what I call SoDs). But they need to be of my choosing and execution. I can’t truly find peace by following someone else’s system. Learn, absolutely. Adhere to, no. Further, I need to keep an eye on not worshipping or attaching to these SoDs.

For me, I need SoDs in specific areas of life …

  • Self-care
  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Mind mastery
  • Value creation
  • Time/energy management

These SoDs create freedom and flow for relationships, experiences, creative output, ideation, innovation — and joy. They create a soul-based operating model that is aligned with self-actualization rather than survival or acceptance.

For me, the SoDs are activated by awareness, physical discomfort and inciting incidents. I theorize that you will have the same activators but different SoDs.Without these activators, we will drift — back to old models and attachments. And forward to projections of future outcomes and feelings and reactions.

It’s being present, to be in the now, thwarts that unease. As such, discipline not only creates freedom. It encourages presence. It produces meaning. It reveals truth. With freedom, presence, meaning and truth, unease will be an occasional visitor, not your landlord.

Three Obsolete Mental Models (that might be hurting your brand)

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipOne Comment

Our minds are one massive input receiver. These inputs become systems, structures, practices, habits, beliefs, biases. Our minds are highly adept at sorting through all of this input by creating mental models to increase the speed of decision making, preserve mental energy and provide situational context — especially in day-to-day situations. Leaders with an elevated level of consciousness (or in Maslow’s terms “self actualized) are aware that these mental models become obsolete and need to be frequently upgraded. Low conscious leaders lock into these mental models so much so that they become institutionalized and create the cult-like nature of many organizations.

For many leaders, the definitions and roles of brand and branding often come from a fixed or static place. It could be from formal education, past experiences, advice from other leaders — or a combo of all three. These fixed ideas about branding are the mental models that inform strategy, prioritization of resources, and assigning value. Upgrading these mental models goes beyond information and knowledge — both of which are a commodity (just do a Google search on branding, and you will see what I mean).

Here are three obsolete branding mental models that might be negatively impacting your brand:

  1. Audience – Demographics are essentially a dead language; a relic of how things used to be measured. Yet demographic profiling remains a stubborn mental model for many leaders. Leaders of B2C companies will say some variation of “our target audience is Millennial-aged urban buyers with college degrees” or “our target audience is 55+ retirees with net worth of greater than $250,000”. Leaders of B2B companies will say “our target audience are companies in the _______ industry.” Yes, these are data points, but they are not an audience. Upgraded model: Focus on the psychographic profile of your ideal audience. What do they believe in? What do they value? What is their unspoken need? What are they attracted to? For B2C brands, these questions will help you form an archetype to speak to. For B2B brands, these questions will remind you that companies don’t buy things, people do. And a free hint … if you don’t know the answers to these questions for your own brand, you won’t be able to understand them for your audience.
  2. Message – The old mental model on messaging is some variation of, “What do we need to say in order to get someone’s attention?” It is very external and often informed by the aforementioned mental model of target audience. From this springs focus groups and test messages. Brands with convictions don’t use focus groups. Instead, they operate from an upgraded mental model on messaging of sharing what their heart has to say to the world. This means speaking truth, taking a stand, having a point of view. It means offending many and attracting some. It means saying what needs to be said because it needs to be said. Not because it tested well. Further, it’s absolutely essential to de-bullshit your brand’s language. No cliches. No buzzwords. Language informs believability. Along with visual elements, your language determines whether or not you will earn your audiences attention. When you use overly-used terms, you contribute to the sea of sameness.
  3. Positioning – For the last 30+ years, the mental model of positioning worked well. It helped you hone in on your audience, your value proposition, your differentiators, your competitors. But now every market is saturated. And not just saturated with crappy products and services. It’s saturated by better branded, better delivered, better made versions of whatever you are selling. The mental model upgrade here is from positioning to category design. Category design is a strategic and intentional approach to naming, defining and owning a category in the marketplace. Positioning ran on being slightly better and safer. Category runs on being radically and provocatively different. Positioning is the battle for the mind — which is an endless war. Category design is the winning of hearts and souls. As such, it requires leaders with conviction, wisdom and courage. If you’re interested in this topic, check out the book “Play Bigger”.

As an industry, advertising needs a massive and total upgrade of its mental model. Chiefly, an upgrade to this: advertising reminds and experiences retain. Or put another way … pay for retention, not attention. Directly related to this is the shifting from the old model of pushing products and services through marketing to the new model of sharing ideas from humans to humans. The old model required saturation, brand recognition, top of mind. This new model requires consistent and believable inspiration and invitation — all of which fuels word of mouth. Which may be the only mental model that doesn’t need an upgrade.

“How do you connect to your heart?”

By Leadership, LifeOne Comment

Art credit: Desiree Reyes

In a recent presentation on the linkage between brand and leadership, I emphasized the need for leaders to connect to their hearts. Becoming a contemporary leader means putting humans at the middle of everything. If you are disconnected from your own heart, it is virtually impossible to do this. Largely because the first human you are leading is yourself.

During the Q & A portion, a man in the audience sincerely and vulnerably asked “so how do you connect with your heart?”

This is an extended version of what I shared with him …

First, some backdrop. Connecting to my heart is a new thing for me. I was largely influenced by two prevailing forces in my life: ranch life and Christian fundamentalism.

In ranch life, there’s not much credence for feelings or emotions — other than anger or humor. This is understandable. The days are long. The work is hard and often dangerous. The risks are huge. While you have a lot of alone time on the back of a horse or on a tractor, most of that was just being with your own thoughts.

In Christian fundamentalism (of which I was a part of for 40+ years), connecting to the heart is considered dangerous. Despite Jesus’ teachings to the contrary, the strong message was that our hearts are fickle, unstable and unreliable. You are supposed to let Jesus in to your heart. But not yourself. Again, I’m not disparaging this philosophy. It just lacks nuance and wisdom.

As I began to truly do inner work about 8 years ago, I began to connect with my heart. It was like cracking open a treasure-filled cavern. I felt as if I truly felt everything for the first time. I was able to love at levels I never thought possible. I was able to feel empathy, compassion and patience. All these things that seemed distant and foreign to me were uncovered by the connecting to my heart.

I am certain there’s no formula for endeavors like this. Just like there is no formula for success. Or enlightenment. Or happiness. Or relationships. It’s all fraught with failure, experimentation and, hopefully, grace. But here’s what I do know …

  1. Get still. To get to the heart, we must first eliminate all that is not of the heart. This is all outside stimulation — especially human-generated. I am certain this is why nature is how many people experience God. There is not stillness like the active stillness of creation. Sit in this stillness. Don’t try to shut down your mind (a false premise). Instead, focus on the quiet and the sensory elements you didn’t create and don’t control. Water trickling. Birds chirping. Leaves rustling. Like dealing with an injury, stillness brings the swelling down so that you can get to the truth. Which allows you to go to the next step.
  2. Discernment. Many of us (especially in American culture) live busy, noisy and over-stimulated lives. This causes a mash-up of sensory input, thoughts, feelings, head chatter, fight-flight-freeze decision making. It’s exhausting. This is where discernment comes in. The first discernment is separating what you control vs don’t control. This brings your power of choice back in to the picture. Another discernment is to separate thoughts from feelings. This brings your power of observation to the table. Finally, discern the difference between body, mind and soul. Notice how they are different. This re-connects you to your sovereignty and individuality. Mastering just these three kinds of discernment will open up space for the heart to emerge.
  3. Listen. If you do the first two steps, you will have the space to listen. And in listening you will find a distinction between the voice of the mind (loud, accusing, comparing, shaming, demanding ) and the voice of the heart (insistent but quiet, gentle, inviting). I wrote about this is in more detail on a guest post for The Great Listening. When you begin to listen to your heart, something takes root. You enter a deep inner knowing that has been called Holy Spirit, Wisdom, Gnosis, Tao, Sophia and other terms by the ancients.

Bringing it back to the practical, a leader connected to her heart is a better leader. Period. Sure, this is about your own happiness and fulfillment and having less stress. But connecting to your heart is way bigger than those things. Connecting to your heart makes you a heart-centric leader. And heart-centric leaders change the world. Always have, always will.

How to be an Original Thinker

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments







In my last LinkedIn post, I mentioned three key rules for being a thought-leader. One of these rules is “Be Original”. I had a number of people reach out and ask some variation of the question “how do I become an original thinker?”

The short answer is that to be an original thinker, you need to go in search of the original you. For each person, that return to originality is different. But here are a few markers and clues based on my own experience with both myself and with those I/we have coached to go inward to become a brand.

  1. Find a third way. Much of society is presented in dualistic, binary terms: us vs them, good vs bad, healthy vs sick. Most people pick a side and loosely or stridently follow it. In daily life, it’s which political party to belong to or which religion to believe in or which weight loss program to follow. In business, dualism produces an unhealthy attachment to other people’s formulas. Which produces those futile loops of read-the-book-and-fail-at-implementing or hire-the-consultant-nothing-changes. Instead, find a third way. Even if you don’t fully believe it. Instead of choosing one of the inevitable two lanes presented, make your own trail.
  2. Examine your beliefs. In our Root Sessions and BrandLabs, Emily and I guide leaders through the process of determining extrinsic beliefs vs intrinsic beliefs. Extrinsic beliefs are what were taught to you by others, as well as conditions and experiences. Intrinsic beliefs are part of your original operating system – something you’ve always known to be true or something you’d be willing to commit civil disobedience over or something that has caused you to get in trouble. Understanding your intrinsic beliefs opens up a whole new world of thinking -all of it rooted in your originality.
  3. Red Team yourself. My good buddy Bryce Hoffman has an excellent book out called “Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything”. Bryce’s research and premise are based around his experience as the first civilian to graduate from the US Army’s Red Teaming Leadership Program and studying 12th man and devil’s advocate models. Although written for businesses, the principles definitely apply to individuals. When you challenge your own biases, assumptions, projections, attachments, reactions, you strip away the thinking you’ve adopted to survive or be accepted – like removing old carpet to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor.
  4. Study philosophy. For most of us, philosophy was an elective or an academic pursuit. In the business world, it can be seen as unnecessary or a past time – especially when so many authors, consultants and other talking heads are promoting their latest system improvement or information-centric idea. In actuality, philosophy is the study of original ideas. It is the seedbed of innovation. As been said, philosophy doesn’t teach you WHAT to think but HOW. It provides a central place from which to examine what you believe about a particular idea or concept. It produces a point of view. Which was also one of the rules from my thought-leadership post.

Through out history, original thinkers have advanced humanity forward. Because they challenge whatever orthodoxy they find themselves in, they are often branded as heretics or outlaws. While certainly influenced by others, not a one of them has been a carbon copy of someone else. They are singular in their originality. There’s only one Steve Jobs. There’s only one Nelson Mandela. There’s only one Brene Brown. And there’s only one you. And that you is beautifully and perfectly designed to be an original thinker.

The Relationship Bill of Rights

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments


I am not a relationship expert. I have no formal training in counseling, social work, mediation, conflict resolution. But I do have a 30 year union with Lynna. A rich and deep relationship with my sons and daughter-in-law and my little brother. And a healed relationship with my mother. 5 years in, I have an amazing and nourishing relationship with my business/creative partner Emily — and our team (Jen and Cat). I have some great friends I’ve known my whole life and some great friends that I’ve only met in the past few years. I am surrounded by love, acceptance, inspiration and shockingly little drama and bullshit.

From this non-expert lens, I present to you my Relationship Bill of Rights. By “rights”, I use the same definition as Jesus, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and other free thinkers that believed in God-given inalienable rights; the intrinsic value of each human.

  1. You have the right to what you feel. Push back against anyone that tells you what to feel or not to feel. Or that tries to talk you out of your feelings. Your feelings don’t make you right — in fact, they may make you more wrong. But they are still your feelings.
  2. You have the right to express what you feel. In a real relationship, you should have the space to express these said feelings. If you are asked to or assume that you need to suppress these feelings, then this right is being encroached on.
  3. You have the right to ask for what you want. Relationships die for a lot of reasons but one prevailing reason is that one person didn’t tell the other what they needed from the relationship. Do you need more space? More time together? More adventure? You must ask for it.
  4. You have the right to be you. A personal mantra of mine: don’t modify to mollify. You don’t have to be anything other than your true self. If someone expects you to live a split life, they are violating this right. Of course, this doesn’t give you permission to be an asshole and call that your “true self”. I

Now for some ownership and accountability …

I can’t recall the source, but if a healthy person is in a relationship with an unhealthy person, the relationship is unhealthy. The way you contribute to the unhealthiness is by not exercising these rights.If you don’t exercise these four rights, then you are part of the problem. At a minimum, you’ve ceded your rights for acceptance, stability, belonging. And like all inalienable rights, they can’t be given nor taken — but they can be forgotten.

If you exercised these four rights daily, how would it change your circle of relationships? What would you partner say? What would your kids say?

Are You a Thought-Leader or a Wedding Singer?

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

I don’t like the term “thought-leader”. For similar reasons I don’t like the terms “branding” and “personal branding”. All three phrases have been frequently co-opted by the self-absorbed and/or the manipulative.

Alas, “thought-leader” is probably the best term – but I will give it my own definition:

A thought-leader is someone who consistently expresses and monetizes original ideas.

Many people with the label of thought-leader are often just well-marketed karaoke singers or cover bands for other people’s ideas and intellectual property.

If you want to be known as a legit thought-leader read on …

True thought-leadership is a kind of art. What music is to a musician. Or painting is to a visual artist. As such, it has all the rules of successful art enterprises – of which I have codified three rules:

  1. Be Original – No cliches, industry jargon, cut-and-paste intellect. Have something to say … from the soul. Have a point of view. Make your own music. Sure, you can be inspired by other artists. Just don’t copy them.
  2. Be Real – Get used to practicing emotional nudity. This means you are going to offend some. Get your facts right and speak truth. Being real is creating anabolic agitation – being so thought-provoking and disruptive to thinking that you stay in a person’s head.
  3. Be Consistent – If you’re going to be a thought-leader, start sharing your thoughts. Write those posts. Give those presentations. Conduct those workshops. Get on those podcasts. Write that book. Get your ideas out there … every single day.

Being a true thought-leader requires you to be connected with your true self. Your beliefs and values. Your mission. Your talents. Without this connection, you become extrinsic in focus. And pretty soon you are playing the music that others want to hear rather than playing your own stuff. It takes a lot of inner work, reconciling of your past, acceptance of your gifts.

Being a thought-leader means ignoring the inner chatter that your ideas aren’t all that original. Or useful. It means ignoring the “nobody cares about what I have to say” nagging voice of doubt. If what you have to say is original and real and advances humanity in some way, it needs to be shared. As Wayne Dyer said “Don’t die with music still inside you.”

Being a thought-leader requires some sort of system for idea capture – then idea sharing. Use a journal or the Notes app on your phone to capture flashes, musings, ideas. Look for areas that are conventional thinking, taboo or dogma and examine them. Catalog and codify it all. Then decide what and how to share. I recommend finding the medium that gives you the most joy and organize around that. Then implement idea sharing into your calendar. Make it part of your business or career.

Just as everyone is an artist at something, I’m convinced everyone is a thought-leader about something. Most just don’t do the work. Either to dig in and find the originality. Or to express it consistently. Or both. Most are just fine covering “Sweet Caroline” at weddings. Honor those that inspired you, but play your own s**t.