Love Letters at Work? Seriously?

Gratitude Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: “The word love has no place at work. Too much recognition will make us soft and distract us from our mission of making money. We are a bottom line company and have no time to worry about things like culture, values, purpose and other mushy words liberals use.” I have heard every one of these sentences spoken by executives. They are not a paraphrase. They are quotes. What do you really believe about these comments?

Let’s face it; the word “love” is a controversial term in business. Yet one definition of “love” is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Anybody who has been part of a winning team knows that sense of deep personal affection. When you see players on winning teams talk about each other, it always involves deep affection, and the word “love” is often used. All that hugging after a Stanley Cup or Super Bowl win isn’t practiced. It is real, expressed “love” of teammates. Sincere and specific recognition is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of respect. When everyone feels like they are contributing to a mission and purpose, their sense of value and belonging increases. And being part of an effective team is more important than ever these days. No organization or group has ever won anything exclusively because of one person. Self-accountability, as you know well by now, is a key tenant of the Character Triangle. However in the context of successful organizations, it is most meaningful when people team up on that common value. The toughest Special Forces leaders (read the perspectives of Generals Stanley McChrystal and/or David Petraeus) know that that purpose, mission, and values have to be clear or failure and morale decline is inevitable. And making money alone is NOT a sustainable long-term motivator. Mission, purpose and values are.

Have you ever received a genuine letter expressing sincere care and affection from a teammate or colleague? Did you immediately throw it away? Did you even save one or two of those notes? I have been sending DWD cards for 35 years. They stand for “Darn Well Done.” People have saved those cards and shown them to me, often years after I’ve delivered them. They are my version of a “love letter.” Yup… I said it. Love.

Character Move:

  1. Commit to giving recognition to others. No person or organization has ever fallen apart because of too much recognition. On the contrary, most of us enjoy well-intended acknowledgement.
  2. Make sure your personal and group mission, purpose and values are clear to yourself and others. Believe in them or leave.
  3. Deep affection or love at work comes from winning! And winning is achieving milestones towards a mission, living a purpose and/or embracing common values.
  4. Telling others you deeply and sincerely appreciate their contributions is a love letter at work. Write them often.

Love letters in The Triangle,






Key Point: “But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” 

– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax. 

Just one wonderful thing about having a 5-year-old grandson is the opportunity to snuggle up with him in a big leather arm chair, and watch a “kids” movie (like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.) The iPad and iPhone are out of reach. It’s just him, Dr. Seuss and me. The Lorax has many messages worth reflecting on; greed, purpose, exploitation, the environment and much more. But I think the heart of the movie is prefaced by the adverb, “UNLESS.”

The challenge inspired by the word “unless” hits me on the noggin literally every day. While I never want to absolve others… Management, governments, or any other group from their obligations, things only become better for us because of what we do individually. And the root of much of what we decide to do stems from whether we really care or not. It is easy to wish for something but ultimately one has to really care to inspire action for change. 

I recently watched Stanley McChrystal (four-star general, former Green Beret and top commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the U.S.,) present to a packed auditorium of Stanford MBAs. The message was about leadership and at the core was McChrystal’s view that leadership is not about talent or a gift. It’s about choice. It about caring and UNLESS you and I determine what to actually focus our efforts on, nothing really changes.

Character Move:

  1. Watch The Lorax. If you can, watch it with a kid. Let yourself wonder what “seed you want to plant and grow.”
  2. Give yourself some quiet time to reflect upon what you tell yourself and others when discussing what you really care about. Then check how much you have devoted to your “care.”
  3. UNLESS you care… Really care… And choose to act, nothing will be better for you on that matter. Recognize that caring… Really caring… Is hard work. 
  4. And deeply caring and acting on something with conviction is true leadership. 

UNLESS in The Triangle, 


Oh the People You Will Meet?



Key Point: The last line in Colin Powell’s book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership is the following: “The people in my life made me what I am.” That sentence in its simplicity is the essence of his being.

There is an old adage that states, “When the student is ready, the teacher comes.” I believe that every day provides us with an opportunity to learn from others. The people we run into and seek out daily are not just other folks but literally life coaches.

As an example, yesterday I had a meeting with a colleague who taught me how to synthesize and use a metaphor to describe a problem. Observing and listening to a conversation with teammates at another meeting reinforced the principle that self-accountability is the key to career progress. Another person refused to give up his parking place to me, which reinforced the importance of being generous. These are just a few examples, and the day wasn’t even over yet.

Beyond being conscious and learning from our daily interactions, proactively seeking out what we want to learn from others is also important. I doubt that I will meet Colin Powell in person but I can learn a lot by reading about what he thinks and believes. The following are 13 rules Powell uses to guide his life. Click here if you want his further thoughts on each point.

 “1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

2. Get mad, then get over it.

3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

4. It can be done!

5. Be careful what you choose.

6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

7. You can’t make someone else’s choices.

8. Check small things.

9. Share credit.

10. Remain calm. Be kind.

11. Have a vision.

12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.

13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Character Move:

  1. On a daily basis, consciously view interactions with people as lessons to help us more thoughtfully shape who we are and how we continue to evolve.
  2. Seek out your teachers and coaches. Who do you want to learn from? Why? What about them attracts you? Inspires you? Accept what you can also learn from those you don’t choose but for one reason or another enters your life.
  3. While each of us is our own person and continues to uniquely evolve, having a mindset that everyone we interact with is a teacher provides us a roadmap based on the importance of respecting the value of all. Everyone is a teacher. As students, we need to be ready for them.
  4. Remember that ALL the people in our lives will collectively and profoundly shape who we are. Based on that premise, who do you want to seek out? What will you learn from each person you interact with?

People shape the Triangle, 



Change Management Needs Change!

Abundance Organizational leadership


Key Point: If you have a growth mindset, you see change as an inevitable part of life. While change doesn’t exist for its own sake, success is only possible if leaders, employees and organizations embrace new ideas and new ways of doing business. It bugs me when people cry out for “change management,” like an inoculation against whooping cough. It’s like if some one can just magically come up with seven steps, change will be seamless and all good. Often times I hear people actually asking for things NOT to change and impact them personally when they’re seeking out change management. They seem to be saying, “I liked the other way better. I know it is going to be different but why does it have to involve me doing anything differently?” Is this thinking just a bunch of manure? I think so. 

I do believe there are key elements that when applied help us navigate changing circumstances. Harvard’s John Kotter is arguably one of the most well regarded change experts and his eight steps include: 

1. Create urgency.

2. Form a powerful coalition.

3. Create a vision for change.

4. Communicate the vision.

5. Remove obstacles.

6. Create short-term wins.

7. Build on the change.

8. Anchor the change in the corporate culture.

Ok… These are all solid considerations and from a top down approach, they make perfect sense. My argument is that in the world we live in, change is a continuous process and NOT an event. Customers, technology, markets, competition, are so tornado-like that the above model may be too pedestrian, top down, and event based. And it misses they key ingredients for change… You, me and how we think. The key to ongoing successful change is the mindset of all people involved in the eco system impacted by changes AND NOT the mythical “center of change management.” Let me work with people who have a propensity for continuous growth and a commitment to creating value and we will work as a system of continuous, proactive change… Not an old, top down, lazy organization, hoping to compel people that change is needed. By the time organizations look to embrace “change” they are likely spiraling towards less relevance and even dissolution. 

Character Move: 

  1. Define yourself as a never-ending value creating human, adding worth for everyone (including yourself) on an ongoing basis and you will be constantly evolving. You will more prepared when events around you rock your world… And they surely will! 
  2. Do not resist. Determine how to navigate and make changes work for you, regardless of how much it shakes up your routine. Sometimes this means leaving the “system” and starting something else. 
  3. Recognize that everything ends some time. Celebrate the best of what you enjoyed about the past and move on. Stop whining, asking, “why is this happening?” Or wishing “they would have done IT better.” If you look closely there is an opportunity waiting. The longer you resist accepting that things have or are changing, the more you will cloud the opportunity. 
  4. Enjoy the present but do not stand still. Presence and being static are different. 

Change in the Triangle,


Shark Week, Forgiveness and You

Books Respect Well-being


Key Point: I wrote about the heroism of Louis Zamperini in Laura Hillenbrand’s New York Times best seller Unbroken, when the book was first published last year. The perseverance of Zamperini overcoming more than a month at sea battling sharks intent on eating him and his mates was highlighted in the Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week, which recently aired on cable TV across North America. What I believe most remarkable about the Unbroken story, however, was NOT about beating off relentless, attacking sharks… Instead, I was in awe of the incredible tale of survival that took place after. These same men were captured, and suffered the actions of misguided Japanese guards that cruelly terrorized POWs during WWII. And even more powerful than the message of perseverance was the story’s conclusion, a beautiful message of peace and forgiveness. Why do people hold grudges at work and elsewhere? Here’s the deal… Forgiveness is the right thing to do because it is the healthiest thing for you!

To better understand the benefits of forgiveness, I’m referencing a very credible source: The Mayo Clinic. Forgiveness does NOT mean denying that another person hurt you. But you can forgive the person without forgiving the act.

The Mayo Clinic describes the following as the benefits of forgiveness:

1. Healthier relationships.

2. Greater spiritual and psychological well-being.

3. Less anxiety, stress and hostility.

4. Fewer symptoms of depression.

5. Lower the risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

It is not often easy to forgive. And if you read about the incredibly dehumanizing abuse absorbed by POWs, especially Zamperini in Unbroken, you might think it’s impossible. Yet that’s exactly what happened in Zamperini’s life and he experienced all the benefits described above. Read Unbroken to become humbled by the beauty of the human spirit as it rises way above ugliness and bitter days of darkness.

Character Move (As recommended by the Mayo staff):

  1. Determine the value of forgiveness and the importance to YOU.
  2. Reflect on the facts of the situation. Examine how you’ve reacted and how the combination has affected your life, health and well being.
  3. When you are ready, actively choose to forgive the person who has offended you (and remember forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation or reconnecting with the person).
  4. Move away from your role as a victim. Release the control and power the offending person and situation have had on your life.

And the most wonderful outcome, as happened in Unbroken, you may no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt… Even better, you find new levels of compassion and understanding.

Forgiving human “sharks” in The Triangle,



Oscar Pistorius the Blade Runner and the Rest of Us

Abundance Kindness Personal leadership


Key Point: It is obvious why most of us watched the 2012 London Olympics and were enchanted and inspired by Oscar Pistorius, the Olympian sprinter amputee who ran on carbon fiber blades. (Hence the nickname, “Blade Runner”). Most of us are thankfully born with all the expected parts where they are supposed to be. We are labeled as so called “able bodies.” In Oscar’s case he was born without fibulae and his parents felt amputation below the knees was the best long-term option. He is labeled as disabled. And we watched in awe as the fastest man with no legs competed shoulder to shoulder with the word’s best. The following motto has guided Oscar: ” You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.” Perhaps the rest of us, able bodied or not, can benefit from focusing on that motto and how we live our lives. By the way, he has had more than one hurdle in his life; a boating accident left him in intensive care for five days. 

What if we focused more on the strengths and abilities we have than the ones we lack? I am not talking about any of us becoming Olympians. I’m just encouraging us to give more attention to the gifts we have versus our shortcomings. Often I find that people get hung up on perfection and refuse to accept their own humanity. So they tend to give up on things that they are actually pretty good at and could even become great doing if they persevered and practiced. When people we care about don’t do well on an exam, or do not win a competition, we rarely (hopefully) diminish them. Yet we beat the heck out of ourselves and see ourselves as failures when we don’t meet our own expectations. Why?

Psychologist Mark Leary points out the value of having self-compassion (an important “cousin” of self esteem). Whenever bad things happen to us, self-compassion helps from adding self-recrimination on top. Leary points out “if people continue to beat themselves up when they fail or make mistakes, they will be unable to cope non-defensively with their difficulties.” How do you think Oscar is responding to his results at the Olympics? Do you think he’s spending a lot of time beating himself up for not doing better? On the other hand, do you think he’s satisfied that he’s reached his limits? I don’t think he’s doing either. I believe he’s accepting what went well, objectively examining what didn’t and building from there. As it is for Oscar, the real competition was much less against other athletes and much more about our self-development. That’s why I think we break new ground when we become our most important and loyal cheerleaders. The person most important to encourage me, is me… Sure, I need coaches, as do all athletes (see my last blog) and I think acknowledgment and encouragement from others is helpful, but the key to forward movement is how I think about myself. This propels what I do.

Character Move:

  1. Challenge yourself to focus more on exploiting your abilities. What are they? How will you do it? (Sometimes reading a biography of someone like Pistorius is an inspiration and road map).
  2. Give yourself the self-love and compassion you deserve. Like the Dalai Lama points out, you need to have a strong sense of self-compassion to treat others that way. When you observe people treat others poorly, it is often an indication of how they feel about themselves. And like the philosopher Ayn Rand said, “to say I love you, one must first be able to say the “I.’”
  3. I strongly encourage you to read Tal Ben-Shahar‘s, The Pursuit of Perfect. It is an enormously useful and practical guide for building a greater sense of balance in dealing with the challenge of perfection.
  4. Combine two thoughts that can seem at first glance to be contradictory: Exploit your abilities with a growth mind set, while having a deep sense of self love and compassion. They go together.

Be a Blade Runner in The Triangle,