Attribute Filter: How Do You Do?

Abundance Contribution Management


Key point:

Organizations are taking skill, education and experience as just the key to get in the door. Attributes are the distinguishing factors. Whether you get invited to the party is a matter of the attributes you demonstrate and your “story” is the evidence needed to prove you genuinely have them embedded.

Let me give you an example. You want a top-notch sales person. Does he/she have an MBA? Top 25 percent of the graduating class? (Check). Does the person get results (i.e. top 10 percent of sales performance, and always above target?). (Check). Has she/he worked in an industry where customer relevance matters to this role? (Check). OK, now you get to compete against the other finalists who rate about the same on skill, education, and results. The big tiebreaker is their attributes.

No organization really wants to invest in core attribute development. Ideally, we want people with the desired characteristics in place and then we will heavily invest to improve speed to significant contribution. My argument is that the values in The Character Triangle are clear qualities that will prove to distinguish you from others.

As an example, the interviewer may ask for the following: Can you outline examples where you faced adversity but acted with self-accountability to thrive? Here is a scenario on your Facebook wall where you seem to contradict a belief in respect for others? Please explain. Identify seven or more things you have done in the last two weeks to confirm a deep belief in abundance. Can you describe the benefits to yourself? Others?

Character move:

  1.  Recognize that companies are seriously dedicated to filtering based on attributes.
  2.  Research whether your core attributes match the organization you want to join.
  3.  Develop an evidence-based story to validate how your desired attributes come to life.
  4.  Keep developing the stories of how you have applied the desired attributes and the opportunity.

 The pie expands dramatically!

P.S. I recently did a radio interview with highly respected business blogger, Wayne Hurlbert, of Blog Business World.

This is a relevant comment that Hurlbert says about The CT in his book review

“People are naturally drawn to and inspired by people of character. This book will ensure that you are one of those people who make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others.”

 Leadership attributes in The Triangle,



Start With the Marshmallow on Top

Accountability Collaboration Teamwork


Key point: I recently participated in the “Marshmallow Challenge.”

The mission is to build the largest structure you can with 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow that has to be placed at the top of the structure. Over my career, I have participated in similar activities and I’m always surprised about team dynamics. There is always one team that connects better and achieves the best result. And as much as these “training events” can feel contrived, I must admit that there is real meaningful learning from observing and participating in them.

In his TED talk “Build a tower, build a team”, Tom Wujec shares his findings from performing this challenge with a variety of different groups like recent business school graduates, lawyers, engineers, CEOs, and even kindergarten students. As you would expect (and thank goodness) architects and engineers do the best over all. But kindergarten kids perform better than many other teams, including groups of MBA students. After conducting this challenge with hundreds of groups there are a number of key learning’s. However I want to highlight three that really stuck with me during my recent marshmallow meltdown.

1. Start with the marshmallow on top! It’s about fast continuous feedback and prototype.

In our group we tried to execute on the grand design, culminating with ceremoniously placing the marshmallow on top. Of course, with the assigned time running out and my group frantically trying to complete the task, the structure completely collapsed as we crowned the marshmallow. Every kindergarten class likely would have done better than our group did. Teams that prototype, get continuous feedback and fail or succeed fast, do better. Kindergarten kids seem to more naturally adopt an iterative process of testing and reviewing outcomes to improve and refine their design. By having this immediate feedback, as opposed to finding out afterwards from the exercise organizers what they could have done to improve their structure, the children were able to create some of the tallest structures among the various participants in this challenge.

2. Foster a culture where listening and challenging assumptions is revered.

Another reason why kindergarteners performed better than many adults is because they are more open to ideas and suggestions. They are better at peer review and focusing on the objective. They not only do a better job of prototyping, starting with the marshmallow on top and building from there, they also seem to handle listening and challenging assumptions in a more robust way. As Wujec humorously points out, there is less jockeying around to see who should be “CEO of Spaghetti Inc.” In our group, one of our team members had the best idea (as proven later by the group with the highest structure). However, instead of really listening to this person’s suggested approach, we somehow went a different direction that didn’t workout. We didn’t listen well enough and the person with the winning approach gave up too easily.

3. Everyone has to understand the PICTURE to fully contribute.

Structural design is not a strength of mine. When a couple of people took the lead on the design during the marshmallow challenge, I honestly couldn’t understand the approach. So in an effort to provide value and not slow down the group, I eventually sought out the tape-cutting job because I knew it needed to be done. But I couldn’t fully participate because I just didn’t get it. I had a responsibility to better understand the proposed design solution. If I had fought for that understanding, I would have added value and I would have also discovered that I was not alone. I don’t think most of us fully understood it but we all worked feverishly to make “it” happen anyway. Hmm…

Character Move:

  1. Determine where you might be able to put the marshmallow on top first and fast prototype. Get quick and continuous feedback. This applies to personal plans as well as business activities. We don’t have to bet the “farm” before we see whether we’re going in the right direction.
  2. Are you challenging some assumptions you know should be? Are you inviting assumptions to be challenged? Why not? What will you do about it? Be accountable.
  3. Understand the vision and the path to get there. If you don’t, you’ll end up just cutting tape and that won’t be gratifying for very long.

Marshmallow on top in The Triangle,



Lessons from 50,000 Years of Experience

Accountability Books Contribution


Key point: What if you had a chance to sit down with your grandparents and have a rich, personal conversation about the lessons they wanted to share with you regarding their careers? And what if your grandparents magically had the combined wisdom of 50,000 years of working? What would you do with that wisdom? Would you act differently? Well if you read Karl Pillemer’s 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, it may not be as intimate as that visit with your grandparents, but it is a very compelling substitute. 

For five years, Cornell professor Karl Pillemer interviewed the savviest seniors he could find, more than 1,000 of them, and from this material distilled 30 powerful life lessons. (And since I now qualify as a senior, I think this is a brilliant exercise). The book includes a distinct chapter on career advice based on the wisdom generated from his subjects’ 50,000 years of work experience. The following are what Pillemer calls the “refrigerator list” of the five lessons siphoned from all that experience.

  1. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones.
  2. Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy.
  3. Make the most of a bad job.
  4. Emotional intelligence trumps every other kind.
  5. Everyone needs autonomy.

Character move:

All of the above are complimented by leading research on motivation, leadership, happiness, etc. that I have referred to in many previous blogs. It is reassuring that sage advice and science intersect in a mutually supportive way. The following are key actions that correspond to and reinforce the refrigerator list.

  1. Focus on contribution and value; compensation follows along in a way that usually works. Remember the benefit of intersecting what you are good at, like to do, and the value an organization needs. You are accountable to connect all three areas.
  2. Happiness at work most often is related to being valued by others and doing a job (even lousy ones) exceptionally well. Excellence has its rewards. Expect to find happiness at work related to a growth mind set along with the 3-way intersection defined in No. 1 above.
  3. All of us will at one time or another have jobs (or tasks within jobs) that just plain suck. The only way out is to add defined value to the job. Often when you give your best, the “exit” from a lousy job finds you. Sometimes that bad job is the reference you need to fully appreciate the great ones.
  4. Remember that emotional intelligence (EI) balances judgment, self-awareness and empathy. When you realize EI trumps every other intelligence it is the great career leveler. Organizations are filled with high IQ people that find it difficult to connect with others. They are smart but just struggle to leverage their brain into relationship effectiveness. Developing a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) is as accessible to you as anyone. Go work on it! By the way, applying The Character Triangle reinforces EQ development!
  5. The one thing that is a must for all of us, is to be able to make decisions and have a level of control over what we do. The way we generate happiness and value at work, is through the learning we acquire from taking action and participating in the consequences. The dumbest thing people in management do is suck away autonomy. It is the “choke hold” so often needlessly applied by managers who think everything must go through their personal ring of fire. Fight for autonomy but be humble and keep your ego in check in the process. Bring value and autonomy often emerges.

Listening to the wisest in The Triangle,



Remembering the First Time

Contribution Personal leadership Respect


Key point: Do you remember the first time you entered the doors of the organization you are currently at? The anticipation? Anxiety? Excitement? Every time we enter the work place, whether the first time, last time or every day in the middle, we leave an impression and something behind. There is only one first time, so whether it’s the initial time through your work place or a customer’s door, seize the opportunity with purpose and intent! If you have been at it a while, declare today a “first day” and walk in again with the end game in mind. Declare who you are, what you believe in and what you will leave behind by your actions. 

On April 16 I was blessed with another first time. I walked in the front door, rode the elevator to the top floor and began. Getting ready started weeks ago but it was truly “game time” on Monday. Here’s what I had to anticipate. Everyone I interact with would make an initial assessment. My priority was to have my antennae finely tuned. I needed to be present and sense everything around me. So I will be purpose driven in being the best possible listener. My eye contact, firm handshake, smile and professional demeanor are important but the most significant action is measured by the depth and meaningfulness of questions I ask. And then demonstrating an acute level of understanding and empathy in collecting the answers. My ego needs to take a quiet seat on the back of the bus. I will find the best-placed seat for me by listening carefully to every rider and deeply caring about their well-being.

Character move:

  1. If you want to have a great first day, you need to start by taking a picture of your desired last day. What will they say about your contribution and legacy the day you leave? Paint that picture of the value you will leave behind with as much specificity and clarity as possible.
  2. Begin day one by making every interaction a conscious one. Make a contribution by listening with fierce understanding. Remember every person counts… Beginning with the parking attendant. You are a scientist, investigative journalist, and artist. Bring all your skills and talent to the forefront.
  3. Remind yourself that it is a privilege to serve and that the team you join is also fortunate that you are bringing your talent and energy too. It is the mutual, respectful exchange of oxygen between you and the organization that drives a sustainable, rewarding relationship.
  4. Begin every day like it’s the first. Stop and reflect at the end of the day. Write down how you moved the “ball forward” that day… Sometimes a little… Sometimes a lot!
  5. Give yourself a little room going in. No one expects perfection. And not everyone will be nice, play fairly or care about you. What matters most is how you think and act. The rest will take care of itself eventually, and the end day will be reasonably close to what you envisioned and declared on day one.

First time and The Triangle,



Can You See Through Muddy Water?

Abundance Well-being


Key point: Meditation is becoming a mainstream practice among business leaders. What happens in meditation is that the speedy mind begins to slow down and things begin to settle, like the mud sinking to the bottom of a puddle of water when it is left undisturbed. When this settling has occurred, a clear understanding of the way things work in the mind takes place. Make time to meditate. It is a proven and vital aspect for personal development.

My web site manager, John King at Highwaters Media, emphasized the importance of meditation in his life and he tipped me to the muddy water metaphor. I think it’s a very powerful way of describing the benefits of meditation. Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs/public figures, like Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, the late Steve Jobs, have publicly discussed the importance of meditation in their daily routine. The Huffington Post recently reported that 32 percent of entrepreneurs are now meditating for introspection and goal seeking to set up personal and business improvement.

In 2007, Fortune magazine reported about a crowd of Harvard Business School alums gathered at their reunion to hear networking expert Keith Ferrazzi speak about the importance of meditation. It was rather avant-garde for mainstream, western business leaders to focus on the value of meditation. The irony of that presentation was the man whose book is Never Eat Alone credited much of his success to alone time. He spends ten days every year at a silent meditation retreat. Nowadays every executive seems to have a career coach and my understanding is that many of the most successful coaches insist on their clients making some form of meditation a daily ritual.

Character move:

  1. Where are you on applying the principle of stillness to allow the muddy water to settle?
  2. If you like the idea of it but aren’t enacting some form of daily meditation, even for a few minutes, you are missing the benefits that have been widely used in many cultures for thousands of years. I know that I have much room for improvement here. Not having time is an unacceptable excuse.
  3. Explore what mediation principles and techniques are used by people you admire. Try what would work for you.
  4. Like most things we practice regarding The Character Triangle, start slowly and bit by bit it becomes a habit and part of our development process. (I have been using Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled meditation CD and I like it). It is pretty elementary by zen master standards but it works for me at this point in my meditation practice.
  5. Read the following sample and practical guide from Leo Babauta’s popular blog zenhabits, “How to Meditate Daily.” 

Meditation in The Triangle,



A Time of Renewal?

Accountability Books Personal leadership


Key point: I have done about 20 radio interviews related to my new book and I’m pleased that there has been wide spread interest in the subject of “character” and the unique elements of The Character Triangle. The radio shows have been with stations in urban and rural markets, in literally every region of America and across all spectrums of listening audiences (age, ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, political leanings, etc). Every group feels that The Character Triangle applies to them. It is perceived as practical and inclusive. That is very gratifying. Thank you for being part of The Character Triangle tribe and being committed to your own character development. And thank you for inspiring others by applying The Character Triangle (CT) in your life.

Radio show hosts tell me that audience response has been overwhelmingly positive and the message is received with enthusiasm. The conversation that seems to spark the most reaction is the idea that we as humans are “verbs” and our purpose in life is to constantly develop our character and ourselves. It takes increased understanding, improved presence and observation, skill practice, and eventually habit development. The use of the CT as a playbook is a useful metaphor.

The following radio show is one of my recent ones with a very experienced and long-time successful radio personality, Trevor Crow. She has a Harvard MBA, and is very accomplished in all matters related to relationships. She has been on CNN and a variety of other top-notch media channels. I hope you can find the time to listen to it.

Character move:

  1. Remember that we are verbs and that conscious personal development is a purpose in its own right.
  2. You are not alone; we all need to work on character development. None of us can say we have “arrived” and need no further improvement.
  3. Remember that our character is bounded by the darkest secrets we hold. We need to build from there and that takes constant renewal. Easter, Passover and Spring all remind us that it is a good time for self-forgiveness, redemption and accepting our right to blossom again.

Renewal in the Triangle,