Learning to Lose Like an Olympic Athlete

Abundance Growth mindset Personal leadership


Key Point: There are far more “losers” than winners at the Olympics. Of course in the grand scheme of life, and even according to the Olympic code, there are no losers among these elite, world-class athletes… But learning to lose is a very important part of a competitor’s development process. And not all these top athletes will handle losing and the disappointment of not winning a medal very well. Jason Dorland, a Canadian rower was part of the 1988 eight man rowing crew that came in sixth in Seoul, South Korea after winning the gold at the previous Olympics. The country was vocal about being let down. Dorland went into a negative funk and when he returned to rowing a year later, he focused on anger, revenge, fear of losing and redemption. That motivation didn’t work and his comeback fizzled out. In his book Chariots and Horses: Life Lessons from an Olympic Rower, Dorland addresses losing and winning. So, how does this apply to the work place?

I have seen people really struggle with “losing” at work. Most of us will run into hurdles and disappointments in our career. How will we react when we hit the wall? Or fall from a perch? Some of us might become bitterly disappointed when we don’t get the promotion we think we deserve. As an example, the elusive Vice President title has caused a lot of deep angst. And sometimes a negative attitude becomes norm. Do you lose well?

Character Move:

  1. The key to losing well is rededicating oneself to doing the best work ever and increasing our personal performance. Having a clear purpose and mission regarding our contribution is more important than wanting to show others that they are wrong.  
  2. It is important to let go of any “negative” motivation. Pouting, blaming, hating, and wanting to pummel our competitors will likely minimize rather than increase our chances of success. It is about creating value and not just beating someone else.
  3. Ironically, focusing on the journey and contribution/value we create will likely propel us to what we want. We have to fail to get better. Accept that where you are is just a temporary stop or detour.
  4. The importance of the journey is to never really arrive. Winning is about continuous self-development and much more important than beating someone else or getting revenge. Accept set backs as learning milestones and go forward.

Losing well in The Triangle,



Are You a Child or Peer?

Accountability Contribution Organizational culture


Key Point: Have you ever had a boss who just treated you like you were an inferior and expendable commodity? How did it feel? Are you treated with respect as a peer or does your boss treat you like a child? Weak leaders see their employees as inferior “subordinates” who really can’t be trusted. These “parent” bosses believe most workers need to be watched carefully because they might be ripping the company off. They have all kinds of subtle or blatantly obvious systems and policies to catch people doing the wrong things. The by-product of this approach is often a culture where employees learn how to play the game. They quickly find ways to expend energy on making sure “superiors” see them busy, doing exactly what they’re told and/or covering their behinds. So, are you a child or peer?

You would think that in 2012 all associates would be treated as peers. Of course we all have bosses and there is a hierarchy of authority but great leaders expect EVERY person to be a valued contributor and treat them that way. When a leader inspires an associate by creating an environment of purpose, expected excellence and contribution, most of us rise to the occasion BECAUSE we want to belong and be a valued “player.” When treated with respect as a valued colleague most of us embrace self-accountability and are motivated to have a positive impact.

Character Moves:

  1.  Treating associates at every level as a vital person in the organization chain is key to making the workplace great. If not, why would they be there?
  2.  Really engage people’s thinking and listen. If you’re a boss and spending way more time telling versus asking; you are likely out of balance and patronizing. As the boss your job is to optimize the contribution and skills of all and not to be the fountain of all brilliance and wisdom. If people start agreeing with every thing you say… That is a danger sign that you’re a “mom or dad,” more than a leader.
  3.  Recognize that valued contribution is more important than punching the time clock. The most important thing is not whether someone’s car is the first or last in the parking lot. What’s more important is the value provided in exchange for total compensation. Clock watching management has no value. If someone is not showing up when and where they’re needed, expectations are not clear or the person does not have the right mindset.
  4.  Challenge the dumb things we do to continue the parent-child relationship we have institutionalized in organizations. Expect self-accountability… Expect mutual awesomeness.

Peers in The Triangle,



BE AWARE… Of Yourself

Accountability Books Growth mindset


Key Point: How important is the skill of self-awareness? So many pundits, including me, have written about it. To be able to develop and grow as people and leaders we need self-understanding. What are we feeling? Why? What motivates us? What defines our values? What framework do we use for problem solving and decision-making? In their new book Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck:  What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur and Build a Great Business, Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington, and Tsun-Yan Hsieh demonstrate that self-awareness is one quality that trumps all, and they claim it is evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. So of if we know self-awareness is so important, what do we do to better promote and develop it? Do you have a framework and plan of doing so? The authors of the above book believe the trinity of better self-awareness is: Know thyself, improve thyself, and complement thyself. I support this model. 

1. Know yourself better by testing yourself more. There are many solid tests, with tons of validity to help us know better who we are. Tests like Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, and StrengthsFinder, Colors Personality Inventory, all facilitate self-reflection, which leads to better self-awareness. The above noted authors recently developed the Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (you can take it here) which measures how one stacks up in the four key traits that drive business and entrepreneurial success: Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck. I plan on developing one for The Character Triangle. The point is that it is hard enough to know ourselves and this battery of tests really helps us better understand our strengths and shortcomings. 

2. Consciously watch yourself and learn. In the organization I’m CPO at, we are at the forefront of using videotape for learning leadership improvement, the way the sports industry has for years. There is nothing more riveting than watching yourself conduct some leadership initiative on video. Sports coaches have broken down film for years. We need to look at our own leadership in action as well. But there is also much we can do without technological help. As an example, it is my understanding that Warren Buffett, has made it a habit for years to write down the reasons why he is making an investment decision and later look back to see what went right or wrong. And as I’ve noted many times in previous blogs, open and honest reviews by peers and others provides a key mirror to who we are perceived to be. We need outside eyes to help us see ourselves better.

3. Be aware of others. When our self-awareness of what drives others is sharp, we can increase self-enlightenment. Having the right complement of people and a supportive learning organization allows us to clearly see what we do well and what others do well. The more we understand what motivates others improves our ability to recognize matters about ourselves and hence more self-development.

Character Move:

  1. Make self-awareness a priority in our developmental journey. Have a self-awareness learning framework to help you.
  2. Take a few personality tests and work with others to better understand the self-insights from them. Do not be afraid of the results. They are not judgmental. See if you can determine how key others you work with would fit into one or more of the core behavioral buckets.
  3. Find a way to get video taped in a variety of environments and watch what you learn about yourself. This is the ultimate self-awareness vehicle if your company signs up for it!
  4. Work at it! Self-reflection and the related reward of self-awareness cannot be thought of as ” fluff,” passive exercises, new age meditation, or mushy science. They’re absolutely essential. As the authors in Hearts, Smarts, etc point out; there is a reason why the starting point in rehabilitation programs is being aware enough to admit you have a problem. It’s the same case in business leadership and personal development.

BE SELF AWARE in the Triangle,



Do You Mine for Gold Like a Top CEO?

Empathy Growth mindset Respect


Key Point: One in four leaders get feedback in their 360 reviews that they could be better listeners. I have noticed over and over again that many people come to meetings and never take notes (electronically or hard copy). I often wonder and am amazed because they must have exceptional memories. How are they so skilled at absorbing the essence of a presentation/conversation? As an example, it used to drive me bananas when sales people showed up to sales development programs without having anything to take notes. How could they possibly capture the key learning’s without writing them down and reflecting upon them? What tools and techniques do you use to improve your listening skills? See below:

The following is from the above HBR “better listeners” blog:

“I saw how Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, do the following: Sitting down with a business unit leader presenting him with information about a $300 million dollar technical investment opportunity, Bossidy divided a sheet of paper about three-quarters across. On the larger left side of the paper, he scribbled detailed notes; on the smaller right side, he occasionally jotted down two or three words, capturing what he perceived to be the key insights and issues being brought to his attention. It was a simple technique that disciplined him to listen intently for the important content and focus follow-up questions on points that really mattered. Whether or not this is your method, you should train yourself to sift for the nuggets in a conversation. Then let the other person know that they were understood by probing, clarifying, or further shaping those thoughts. The benefits of this go beyond ensuring that you heard it right: First, the person on the other end of the conversation will be gratified that you are truly grasping the essence of their thoughts and ideas; second, this gratification will motivate and energize them to create more thoughts and solutions. Listening opens the door to truly connecting and is the gateway to building relationships and capability.”

Character Move:

  1. Have a technique that sifts for listening nuggets! Write them down. Review the nuggets with the people who you are in discussion with. Connect with the other(s) by demonstrating understanding.
  2. Practice improving listening skills everyday. Develop listening techniques that work for you. This practice is a life and relationship enhancer.
  3. Really listening is like mining for gold. It takes continual sifting to find the nuggets. And like gold, solid listening increases the richness in relationships.

Sifting for gold in The Triangle,



Are You an Energy Leader or Brown Out Booster?

Abundance Kindness Organizational leadership


Key Point: What emotional energy do you bring to the workplace? Are you aware of it? Are you a sharpening your observation skills about the energy of the work environment you walk into? Do you notice the energy walking into an Apple Store? Compare it to the atmosphere in a local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). How would you compare the on plane atmosphere of one airline to another? What is the energy atmosphere in your work place? Yes the product/service has something to do with it. Let’s face it, selling Apple products these days is flat out more fun than renewing drivers licenses. However my belief is that a realistically positive atmosphere is possible in any work environment; including funeral homes. How do you contribute to the energy field in your workplace?

Emotional contagion sucks. Nothing drains or distracts a workplace more than unbounded negativity. On the other hand, sticking ones head in the sand and avoiding issues through “lolly pop” (pretend everything is perfect) management, is dangerous. Effective energy leadership involves the paradox of positive realism. This balances recognizing issues and problems while building on positive, progressive steps forward. It is like when you’re a kid standing on a teeter-totter in the playground; you have stand in the middle or it crashes down to one side or another.

Here is how I’ve seen negative emotional contagion work. On the behavioral side it involves someone presenting a predominantly sourpuss look. The person rarely smiles or laughs and often says and/or emails negative things. Diminishing other people (especially when the other person(s) is not present) with a subtle smirk or more direct hit is a practiced art. What negatively wired people do (at times unaware of the damage their causing) is make people their confidant in shared grousing. However, they usually have many “confidants” and their agenda is shrouded in their own emotional immaturity. Their negatively has often more to do with their own personal demons than the betterment of the organization. The result often involves a negative haze that takes over a group. Like the proverbial frog sitting in increasingly hot water, negativity becomes “normal” and accepted. Whether in the role as a leader or colleague, we have the responsibility to address unbalanced negativity. The invitation to the individual has to be clear and direct: Demonstrate an immediate commitment to changing positively real time OR get out NOW. Believe or leave!

Character Move:

  1. Recognize that the emotions others and we bring to work are as important as our job skills. This is heightened when in a formal leadership role. Negative emotions are toxic.
  2. Invest in self-awareness! Because it’s not possible to check our emotions at the door when we get to work it is vital to be aware of what we’re feeling. You can’t change what you don’t notice! This takes conscious practice.
  3. Authenticity matters because we can’t fake positivity for long. It is possible to put on a “game face” — to say you’re feeling one way when you’re actually feeling another — but the truth will ultimately reveal itself in your facial, vocal, and postural cues. We must learn to monitor and manage our moods. Sometimes for a number of reasons (personal and professional) it is just time to exit. Don’t screw it up for everyone else because you’re in a negative hole.
  4. The key to balancing realism and optimism is to embrace the paradox of realistic optimism. Practically, that means having the faith to tell the most hopeful and empowering story possible in any given situation, but also the willingness to confront difficult facts as they arise and deal with them directly. Be on the positive side of that that teeter-totter!

Positive energy in the triangle,



Big Bologna to Pair With Your Favorite Wine!

Accountability Authenticity


Key Point: Sometimes we “taste” exactly what we expect in our heads. There is a great lesson about wine tasting as captured in this intriguing article in Forbes and the potential bologna that is paired with it. A group of wine journalists, each boasting some expertise in wine, some with fancy degrees behind their names and official titles, travelled to Paso Robles, Calif. to participate in wine tasting. At Still Waters Vineyards the proprietor poured two whites (the bottles were covered in brown bags) and asked them to determine the varietals. The following by journalist Katie Kelly Bell describes the event:

 “Everyone loves a challenge. We swirled, we sniffed, we wrinkled our brows in contemplation. Some of us nodding with assurance. I took notes, finding the first white to be more floral and elegant than the second. Drawing on my years and years (there have been too many) of tasting, studying and observation, I swiftly concluded that the first wine was an un-oaked Chardonnay and the second was a Sauvignon Blanc, easy peasy. Much to my mortification I was dead wrong, as was everyone else in the room. The proprietor chuckled and informed his room of bright-eyed ambitious wine journalists that the wines were actually the same wine; one was just warmer than the other. He wasn’t intentionally shaming us (not one person got it right); he was pointedly demonstrating the power of just one element in the wine tasting experience: temperature.”

The article goes on document other examples that reinforce the truth of wine: Much of what we taste is in our heads and not in the wine. I wonder if we risk making the same “tasting wine” faux pas when making assessments about people?

Over my years I’ve learned that in talent recognition, selection and performance management, one needs to guard against letting biases dominate our objectivity. Like the wine experts in this article, we can be seduced into believing people are GREAT or NOT because we expect it. As an example we may put a halo around someone based on some characteristic(s) and evaluate what we expect. I wonder what would happen if we could put a metaphorical “brown bag” over people in advance of determining the value they bring to companies.

Character Move:

  1. Be conscious of what’s in our heads versus what the data/past behavior/results really say when evaluating others. 
  2. Rely on other viewpoints and numerous data points to paint a very complete picture before declaring a decision when assessing people.
  3. Slow down to apply objective based decision making in assessing the talent and contribution of others. Put a “brown bag” around elements that may make your decision match the expectation in your head. (For example, a degree from a certain school, the shape and size of the person, etc).

Better tasting in the Triangle,