Do You Have a ‘Big Head File?’

Abundance Contribution Kindness


Key Point: We all need a “big head file.” Some of us may think we don’t, but in the deepest of our personal wells, I believe we need to have one sitting in a proverbial bucket; resting at the bottom. When needed, we can pull that bucket up and quench a thirst for some necessary replenishment. What is a “big head file?’ A colleague told me about a file she keeps as a reminder of the value she has brought to people. In it are kudos, observations, thanks, etc. she has received from teammates, friends, and other connections over the years. And she tells me that every once in a while, when she needs it most, it comes out for a read. When she soaks in the file for a while, it is declared “Big Head Day”… She allows a moment of time to bask in the joy of the positive feedback she has received from others. It is there for nourishment; like a delicious four shot espresso. In a small but important way this “file” defines our contributions, because at the end of our journey, I believe it is all about the value and love we have given others.

The other week, I received maybe the best material for my “big head file” ever. In my book, The Character Triangle, the first chapter reflects on my experience as a teacher and the gift those kids gave me. Here are a couple of lines from one of those emails I received from a student I taught at St. Nicholas:

“Hi Mr. Rubis,

I was one of those students in the gym at St. Nick’s and was crying when you left. I remember that day so well. You made such an impact on my life and the lives of so many of us. You really cared about us and I knew that you touched me to do something great. I became a teacher because of you and the impact that you could have on young lives and the need to make every child feel special. I thank you for that gift! Good luck with your book and the goodness that you are still spreading.


In the same book, I talk about my experience with the Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club. The same week I received a note on LinkedIn from a colleague. It included the following and much more.

“I’ve never encountered an executive so secure in his own skin… That mentored… Drew the best out of all of us…”

Now think about how glorious it is to receive notes like these. But this blog is really NOT about me (although I’m proud of these notes). It’s about you.

Character Moves:

  1. Do everything you can to sincerely, and specifically add to people’s “big head files.” Tell them how much you care for them. Thank them for what they have given you. Be generous, but only if you really mean it. Build as many “big head files” for others as you can. You have to care. It takes work. But think about the joy you bring. It costs nothing!
  2. Do not wait for it or expect it. But the more you give to others, the more likely, in the best and most delicious way, it will come back ten fold or more. The note from the person at St. Nicks talks about things that happened more than 40 years ago! The message from the colleague at the Kings was referring to our time together almost 15 years ago. You never know when your “big head file” gets a wonderful hit.
  3. Try and build the biggest and most nutritious “big head file”… Not just for the replenishment received, but also because in the end, the most important possession you will have is likely to be your “file.” (And your loved ones who will read it to you and get replenished as well).

A “Big Head File” in The Triangle,



Work For an Organization With a Continuous Winning Record.

Management Respect Teamwork


Key Point: Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, all of us can learn from the Detroit Red Wings. They have developed a franchise where they are always in the top tier of the win/loss column and are a constant prospect to win the Stanley Cup (the holy grail of hockey and arguably one of the most difficult trophies to win in sports). This year, when they were expected to be average at best, they are challenging to win it all again. The Wings do not spend the most money, and because of their success, they do not get the most talented draft choices (the best young talent goes to the lowest ranked teams). They are not like the New York Yankees, spending huge amounts of money on free agents. So eventually you would think the Wings would hit a wall of failure before they might recycle back to the top. But they keep winning? Why?

A. The top leadership really cares. The franchise ownership treats team members as family and demands excellence in every position: From players and equipment managers to the ticket office. They think of their employees as people who complete a system of excellence, not sparkly chattel for just drawing fans or an entertainment commodity to be discarded indiscriminately.

B. They patiently develop their talent: The farm team gets the best coaches and mentoring is a key part of the process, beginning with the NHL veterans and extending to the front office (which is stocked with former players such as Chris Chelios, Jiri Fischer and Kris Draper). They pass on their experience to the kids in Grand Rapids (their AHL farm team).

C. They develop a unique and clearly defined structure: The Wings teach players how to contribute in THEIR system. Great leaders develop exceptional individual competency but expect that skill to be applied in a prescribed way of doing it…The Red Wings way. It takes years to learn how to seamlessly act in all situations. Everyone knows their individual job AND role in the organization. To the naïve observer, hockey looks chaotic and totally dynamic, but a great team has key principles and plays that require real time player decisions to put the team and winning first.

D. They demand Respect, Accountability and Abundance. The older players know that the younger guys will take their jobs. But they teach and mentor them to do so. They know they will always be part of The Red Wing alumni, and are treated fairly. You actually help people take over. You respect the mission and team first. You hold yourself accountable to play your unique role and participate in the spoils of winning accordingly.

Character Moves:

  1. Are you developing personally AND within a system? If not, learn ways you can be better individually and as a contributor to the system. Do you even know what the winning system is in your organization?
  2. Who is mentoring you? What are they preparing you for? If you do not have coaches AND teammates who are committed to developing YOU, you’re missing out. Determine what you might do to find a coaching environment.
  3. Highly demanding systems, where excellence is expected, require patience and real learning to advance.  Look to participate in that environment and you will likely have a sustainable winning organization to ride.

A Red Wing in The Triangle,


P.S. I trust this blog will not jinx Detroit’s series against the Chicago Blackhawks. 


Who Will Sit in That Chair?

Abundance Books


Key Point: When you interact with people, are you a GIVER, MATCHER or TAKER? Adam Grant’s work in his book Give and Take validates and provides powerful insights underlying the Character Triangles’ principle of being ABUNDANT, with decades of research to back up his views. Grant points out that people differ dramatically in their preferences for reciprocity; the desired mix between giving and receiving. He describes three types of tendencies on the reciprocity continuum:

A. Takers: They have a distinctive signature. They like to get more than they give and usually try and put the reciprocity in their own favor.

B. Givers: According to Grant, they’re rare in the work place. They strive to be generous with their time, energy, skills, connections, and give value to others who can benefit without expecting anything else in return.

C. Matchers: They work to preserve an equal balance of giving and receiving. Matchers govern relationships based on the equality of favors exchanged. They tend to keep score.

Grant’s research notes that we often use all of these styles but we tend to lean towards one more than others. And guess what? Research shows that Givers are at BOTH the top and bottom of traditional success metrics. Some natural self-sacrificing Givers learn to be more effective than others. They rise to the very top of the success ladder (by the broadest of definitions). Unfortunately natural givers, who do not know how to protect themselves, can be taken advantage of and end up on the bottom of the same success ladder.

Character Moves:

  1. Instead of working to get successful AND THEN giving yourself to others, how about giving yourself as THE route to achieving success.
  2. Read Grant’s “Give and Take” to get the necessary insights of self-awareness to help most effectively apply your propensity to GIVE. (You can be a sincere Giver without being a doormat). Or learn more about the consequences if you tend to be a Taker or Matcher.
  3. As you approach relationships at work (and in your personal life) consciously look at the empty chair you are getting ready to occupy. Decide who is going to be sitting there. Is it you, the Giver? Or do you choose the Matcher or Taker route? I hope the Giver is there most of the time.

Successful Givers in the Triangle,


P.S. I receive no financial benefit from the sales of “Give and Take” :). I just think it is excellent work.


You and the Creative Economy

Accountability Contribution Transformation


Key Point: We all need to think and act like inventors, creators and explorers. I was told a story that resonated with me the other day. It was about wild horses, stallions and mares that were penned up for years. They were born to run free through the meadows, but were corralled so they could be controlled. Eventually it was determined that they should be let loose to run and roam. The gate was opened for the horses to “escape.” But they chose to stay together huddled in the corral, waiting for directions what to do next. Fences defined their world. It took a long time to break the habit of command and control before they accepted and acted upon their freedom.

In many ways that feels to be the case with employees in slow-to-adapt, post industrial organizations. Command and control incrementalism is not a sustainable culture to participate in the new CREATIVE economy. What is this new economy like? How is it different?

The Creative Economy, as noted by Steve Denning in the Forbes article, Leadership in the Three-Speed Economy, is not just a new process, new system or technique. It involves a fundamental shift in how leaders think, speak and act in the workplace. The Traditional Economy flourished with an ethos of efficiency and control, but the Creative Economy thrives on the ethos of imagination, exploration, experiment, discovery and collaboration. It means:

A. A shift from a goal of making money to the goal of delighting customers profitably. Innovation is not an option: It’s an imperative. The only question is how?

B. A shift from controlling individuals to inspiring collaboration among self-organizing teams, networks and ecosystems.

C. A shift from coordinating work by hierarchical bureaucracy to dynamic linking, with iterative approaches to development with direct customer feedback and interaction with teams and networks.

D. A shift from a preoccupation with economic value to an embrace of values that will grow the firm and the accompanying ecosystems, particularly radical transparency, continuous improvement and sustainability.

E. A shift from top-down communications to horizontal conversations. Instead of telling people what to do, leaders inspire people across organizational boundaries to work together on common goals.

Character Moves:

  1. Learn more about the creative economy and impact to you and your core competence as a contributor.
  2. How are you investing in yourself to develop your attributes and skills as a collaborator, value creator, connector, and inventor?
  3. How much do live and work in a command and control environment. Are you being coached for results or being treated like you need to stay in the corral? Get out and run, create, explore, discover and collaborate for a purpose that inspires you and others.

The CREATIVE YOU in the Triangle,



Would You Pick Happiness or Meaning?

Abundance Community Purpose


Key Point: There has been a lot of “happiness talk” lately. Understandably the holy grail of achieving personal happiness is a popular thought. Even countries like England are attempting to measure citizen happiness. But is the obsession with discovering happiness by itself the best course of action? For some time I (and many others) have been writing about the vital need to have a defined purpose and meaning in one’s (work) life. It is a key message in both of my books The Character Triangle and The Character Triangle Companion. Let’s face it, devoting serious time to thinking about and defining our life purpose and meaning is deceptively challenging for most of us. It can even feel academic and artificial. Who has time for it?

But more and more research demonstrates that people who have meaning in their lives in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher, even when they were feeling bad than those who don’t. What sets human beings apart from animals is NOT the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans. This is a tenant expressed by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, in their recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Martin Seligman, one of today’s leading psychological scientists, states that when living a meaningful life, “you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.” And Wharton professor Adam Grant‘s new book Give and Take reinforces the value of giving without expecting reciprocity as a key route to success. I believe it’s also a powerful connector to greater meaning and sustainable happiness.

Indeed some researchers are cautioning against chasing mere happiness. In a new study, as referenced in a recent article from The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith, notes key findings in the pursuit of happiness and meaning. The following is a highlight:

“Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

(Ed. Note: This does NOT mean we shouldn’t be present and live in the now).

Character Moves:

  1. Keep working on defining and refining your purpose and meaning. Focus on that and I genuinely believe achieving “happiness” in a more sustainable form will take care of itself.
  2. Give more without the expectation of reciprocity. (Abundance). This behavior does not mean you’re a “push over” or “chump.” On the contrary, it is a totally free investment in you. This is not silly self-sacrificing martyrdom either. I believe, and lots of data supports this view too, that a commitment to adding more value in every exchange you have with others leads to greater success. Read Grant’s “Give and Take” to evaluate the reasoning behind this.
  3. Connect PURPOSE/MEANING with GIVING as a way of life: This is a personal winning combination for lasting contentment and sustainable happiness. (Along with the Character Triangle values)!

Beyond happiness in The Triangle,


P.S. The inspiration and some of the research referenced for this blog came from this wonderful article in The Atlantic.


Do You Play to Win or Not to Lose?

Accountability Contribution


Key Point: I used to think that we all should always focus more on trying to win versus trying not to lose. In sports, I have seen teams that go into a defensive shell and end up blowing a lead to their opponents because they lose momentum. They get ahead but lose in the end by not playing to win. But I also have seen the opposite; where teams are ahead in the game, get reckless and end up blowing a lead because they are too aggressive. They lose because they didn’t get effectively preventative or defensive.

People are a reflection of these two orientations. Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins, in a recent HBR article, point out that the latest psychology illustrates that we have a natural tendency to either be more promotion focused or prevention focused. This very personal motivation orientation affects how we approach life’s challenges and demands. Here is what the author’s have to say about describing both focus areas:

“Promotion-focused people see their goals as creating a path to gain or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They are eager and they play to win. You’ll recognize promotion-focused people as those who are comfortable taking chances, who like to work quickly, who dream big and think creatively. Unfortunately, all that chance taking, speedy working, and positive thinking makes these individuals more prone to error, less likely to think things through, and usually unprepared with a plan B if things go wrong. That’s a price they are willing to pay, because for the promotion-focused, the worst thing is a chance not taken, a reward unearned, a failure to advance.

Prevention-focused people, in contrast, see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough. They are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo. They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered. To succeed, they work slowly and meticulously. They aren’t usually the most creative thinkers, but they may have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills.

The promotion-focused are engaged by inspirational role models, the prevention-focused by cautionary tales. What I have learned is that we need to consciously embrace a balance of both motivation focuses. While the promotion-minded generate lots of ideas, good and bad, it often takes someone prevention-minded to tell the difference between the two. To win in a sustainable way needs BOTH.”

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize which motivation focus you are. (You may already know this but you can take a focus check by self-assessing your orientation here). Are you more promotion or prevention based?
  2. Balance yourself by connecting with people who have the opposite focus to you. I believe both people and teams need the dynamic tension of both. Surround yourself with some of the opposite and your decision-making will be better for it.
  3. Learn how to connect both motivational orientations within yourself in as balanced way as possible. We have to be motivationally ambidextrous these days. This may be a paradox but we can do it. We have to learn how to PROMOTE and PREVENT at the same time: Playing to win AND not to lose.
  4. The real trick is knowing which way to sway. Do you lean more forward and play aggressive offense or do you play prevent defense? The answer is to be aware of the benefit of both approaches and decide based on the situation you’re in. It is case by case NOT just one way or the other.

Promoting AND Preventing in The Triangle,