The Power of Elevated Thinking

Imagine the value of the person who looks for ways to help, instead of…



“The last IT guy had a diagram of the network, but since he left, I haven’t updated it to reflect the changes we’ve made.”

“The system was setup before I got here.  It’s not a good fit, but I’ve just been making do since I took it over.”

“This process ran pretty smoothly last year.  I don’t think the new guy has a clue about how it should work this year. This has failure written all over it.”

“I’ve seen it all in my time.  They’ve tried a bunch of new ideas to make things more efficient, but they never work.  I try to tell them they’re wasting their time, but nobody listens to me.”

“I wonder when the VP is going to notice how screwed-up this project is.  Everyone knows it’s a disaster, but him.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same around here.”

How many times have you heard (or said) versions of these quotes?

It’s easy to point to problems with “the system.” It’s easy to blame the other guy, the other department, your boss, your employee, the customer(!).

Avoiding ownership is the easy way out.  It’s also the quickest way to ensure mediocrity and failure for yourself and your organization.

Imagine the possibilities if just one person in these hypothetical situations chose to elevate their thinking.  Imagine if they decided to own the search for the right solution.  What if they actively participated in making someone else’s solution a success?  Imagine the value of the person who looks for ways to help, instead of looking for ways to criticize.

There’s nothing stopping you from being that person…except maybe yourself.


By the way, have you read my book?  100’s have already (thank you!).  If you’re one of them, please do me a favor and tell your friends about it.  If not, it’s time to take ownership, and get yourself a copy!

All of my proceeds are going to two awesome groups who embraced the opportunity to take ownership of a problem:  Mothers Fighting for Others, and the Scleroderma Research Foundation.


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Finding Your Authentic Swing

What about the inevitable shanks, worm-burners, wicked slices, massive hooks, and just plain misses?



“Yep… Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can, rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…”

-Bagger Vance

The Legend of Bagger Vance is filled with good stuff.  It’s a movie that moseys along with a subtle, southern rhythm.  It conveys a depth of meaning without trying.  The movie challenges each viewer to look at themselves as much as the characters.

I do agree that our authentic swings can get buried under the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas of life.  They can just as easily be uncovered by the leaps, possibilities, why-not’s, and I’m-in’s.

That being said, I must disagree with Mr. Vance’s notion that we each have one true authentic swing.  I rather think we have more than one authentic swing, if we choose to search.  Not only that, we have a lot of clubs in our bag.  We have an almost infinite number of authentic-swing-and-club combinations to choose from when our time comes to stand over the ball, and deliver.

What about the inevitable shanks, worm-burners, wicked slices, massive hooks, and just plain misses?

The best among us are the ones who find a way to recover, and swing again.

Will Smith at his best…




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The Four Most Important Letters in Leadership: L-O-V-E

It’s no coincidence that these letters spell out love…

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about business, politics, sports, charities, social clubs, or just about any other area where human beings come together to accomplish something.  The most important determining factor in an organization’s success is the quality of its leadership.

What makes a strong leader?  Is it the one with the loudest voice?  The guy who makes the best speeches?  The one who puts in the most hours?  Is it the dude ordering people around the most?

Of course, it’s none of these.

The best leaders focus on the four most important letters in leadership:  L-O-V-E

L—Listen and Learn.  Strong leaders are curious.  They never stop asking questions.  They have two ears and one mouth so they can listen twice as much as they talk.  A strong leader listens to employees, customers, competitors, “the market,” and any other source of information available.  A true leader is constantly learning, and knows he doesn’t have all the answers.

O—Observe and Organize.  Leaders make time to observe what’s really happening.  They don’t rely solely on the stories people tell.  They measure the reality.  Leaders organize for success.  They delegate responsibility and authority to others within their organization.  They define processes that multiply their efforts, and the efforts of those they lead.  Ronald Reagan coined the phrase, “trust, but verify,” and strong leaders live by this maxim to ensure their organization is as efficient and scalable as possible.

V—Visualize.  Where are we going?  How will we get there?  These are the two biggest questions leaders face.  The leader’s ability to visualize the future, define and articulate the mission, and steer toward success will make or break their organization.  Look too far into the future, and they may fail to see the short-term obstacles and challenges.  Look too closely at the short-term obstacles, and they may steer their organization off-course and miss its ultimate objective.  Visualization isn’t an independent activity.  The strong leader makes time to help others take emotional ownership of the vision and connect it to what they do each day.

E—Encourage and Execute.  Ultimately, success is all about execution.  A strong leader knows that nothing happens without the people he’s leading.  Encouraging others to give their maximum effort in pursuit of the organization’s vision and goals is the primary role of the leader.  Encouragement comes from the leader’s words and actions.  People will watch and listen to see if their leader’s values and moral compass are something they can support.  They will learn quickly whether their leader cares about their well-being, as well as that of the organization.  A strong leader is sincere in defining what it will take to succeed, and excels at encouraging their team to make it a reality.

It’s no coincidence that these letters spell out love.  It’s the attitude a strong leader brings to their work each and every day.


Shameless plug:  If you want to improve your leadership game, check out my new book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.


Your Employees Don’t Work for You

Who works for whom?

The following is an excerpt from my book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

Chapter 3.  Employees Don’t Work for You

Ask employees to list the things they “work for.” I guarantee managers will not be at the top of that list, if they make the list at all. The following is generally what employees are working for:

  • To earn a paycheck
  • To make a living for myself and/or my family
  • To experience the challenge
  • To grow
  • To have fun with my coworkers
  • To create something bigger than myself
  • To be a part of an organization that shares my values

Ironically, if you ask a lot of managers to describe their organizations, they will often tell you how many people they have working for them. Really? How is it that employees are working for a whole list of things other than managers, yet managers list how many people are working for them? How can this basic premise of the relationship between management and employees be so disconnected?

Is it just semantics to say that employees don’t work for their managers; they report to their managers? Quite the contrary. It’s critical for managers to realize that their employees merely report to them. Employees take direction, seek motivation, look for clarity, look for support, and often look for permission or forgiveness from their managers. But they don’t work for their managers.

Great managers actually work for their employees. The managers’ focus should be creating environments where their employees, and by extension, their businesses can be successful. This means that managers are, first and foremost, service providers to their employees. Managers are responsible for ensuring that any obstacles to great performance are removed from their employees’ paths. These obstacles may come from outside the organization, or, as is often the case, the biggest obstacles will come from within.

What are some obstacles to great performance? It can be as simple as the climate control in the office. It may be too cold or too hot for employees to concentrate on their work. Employees may be struggling to get their jobs done with faulty or worn-out tools. How about the work environment that has an employee who disrupts the rest of the team or isn’t pulling his or her weight? All of these are examples of issues managers need to be aware of. Not only that, managers need to take swift action to eliminate these barriers to performance, in service to their employees.

And that’s just it, if managers are paying attention to the needs of their employees, they will be able to move quickly to help their employees succeed. After all, an employee’s success is the key to the organization’s success, and, in turn, the manager’s success.




© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.




Life is…

Life is a celebration…

As we end one year and prepare to begin another, it’s a great time to reflect.

What have I completed, and what will I begin?

How did I fail, and how will I succeed?

Who did I help, and who will I help?

What is my true mission?

I found this great reminder (as I often do) in a quote from Mother Teresa:

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.

Life is beauty, admire it.

Life is a dream, realize it.

Life is a challenge, meet it.

Life is a duty, complete it.

Life is a game, play it.

Life is a promise, fulfill it.

Life is sorrow, overcome it.

Life is a song, sing it.

Life is a struggle, accept it.

Life is a tragedy, confront it.

Life is an adventure, dare it.

Life is luck, make it.

Life is too precious, do not destroy it.

Life is life, fight for it.”

 To this list, I’d add:

Life is a journey, explore it.

Life is failure, learn from it.

Life is service, give it.

Life is a gift, share it.

Life is a celebration, enjoy it!

© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.

Two Standard Deviations

One hundred people who are working separately will never lift a thousand-pound boulder…

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

Chapter 4.  Maintain Two Standard Deviations

I had lots of statistics classes in college. We learned a ton of formulas for measuring things like economic order quantity, measuring cycle times, and the differences between mean, median, mode, and midrange. We learned how to calculate the probability of certain outcomes and how various outcomes relate, or don’t relate, to each other. These are all great, and each has its place.

One of my operations management classes (which came after finishing the statistics prerequisites) showed us a nice set of measurements and formulas for determining if something is “in control” or not. Funny thing is, I don’t remember the actual formulas, but I definitely remember the lessons.

If you take a series of measurements of something like cycle time (the time it takes to produce a widget, for example), you can plot these measurements on a graph. By calculating the average (which might actually be the mean, midrange, or mode—I can’t remember), you can then derive the standard deviation. If your cycle-time measurements in this example are all within two standard deviations of the average, then your system is, by definition, “in control.”

I’ve probably botched it in terms of the statistics, and that isn’t the important thing here. The key lesson is that everything you do as a manager should be within two standard deviations. The standard-deviation measurement is a metaphor for your behavior, your reactions to good and bad news, your response to competitive threats, and the way you conduct your life in general. By maintaining two standard deviations, people around you can rely upon that aspect of your character. They need to know, and rely upon knowing, that you will be measured in your response, your feedback, and your approach to business issues.

This means that you won’t be the type of manager who storms around the office, yelling at people when bad news arrives. You’re also not the person who runs around whooping it up and hugging everyone when good news comes your way. When a competitor makes a move that potentially damages your organization, you will exercise restraint in your emotional response.

Does this mean you become a robot? I sometimes say that I am a robot in a work setting, but I am joking when I say it. As a manager, you are by no means a robot. You can be happy, sad, angry, afraid, sick, and tired, or any other range of emotions. But you are the one in control of each of these emotions.

The two-standard-deviations rule provides a lot of leeway in your behavior, both positive and negative. You will become a more subtle and thoughtful operator if you keep two standard deviations in mind as you move through your day and your career.

Those who work with you, report to you, and rely on you will appreciate this two-standard-deviations philosophy. Volatility in a work setting stifles creativity. Who will take the risk of being creative when his or her manager is a powder keg, waiting to blow up at the first sign of a mistake? Creativity breeds innovation but also carries the risk of failure. A failure that no employee will risk if his or her manager’s response to failure is to blow up and start yelling.

Such an environment also stops the flow of honest and accurate information. Employees will adjust the flow of information to a volatile manager in an attempt to yield a positive response. The content of the information becomes secondary. The delivery becomes the primary concern for the employee. This leads to information being skewed, manipulated, or shielded from the unreasonable manager. Without an accurate information flow, decisions and strategies will not be as effective, and may be wrong altogether.

Employees take on the style and demeanor of their managers. Not just their direct managers, but all the way up the chain of management to the top of their organizations. While this adoption isn’t 100 percent, obviously, the adoption is quite evident.

A volatile or out-of-control manager will have an employee base that is similarly volatile. An environment that lacks trust will develop. Trust is the bedrock of any team. Without an environment of trust, the multiplying power of the strong team is eliminated. Without trust, working across organizational boundaries is nearly impossible. The organization becomes a group of disconnected islands, often lobbing shells at each other, instead of focusing on delivering results for the organization.

One hundred people who are working separately will never lift a thousand-pound boulder, but one hundred people working together and trusting each other will be able to lift it. Maintaining two standard deviations in your approach to management will lead to honest and accurate flows of information, promote a trusting environment, and leverage the power of a strong team of employees. Harnessing this power is the key to management success and the success of your organization.


© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.



The Smartest Person in the Room…

The smartest person in the room isn’t who you think it is…


Isn’t who you think it is.

Isn’t the one who spends most of the meeting talking.

Isn’t the one who thinks everyone will benefit from their wisdom and experience.

Isn’t the one worried about their image as a go-getter.

Isn’t the one trying to answer every question.

Isn’t the one who knows everything.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the answers.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the right questions.

The smartest person is constantly learning, and always curious.

The smartest person spends most of their time listening.

The smartest person always surrounds themselves with other smart people.

The smartest person never worries about who gets the credit.

The smartest person in the room doesn’t care who the smartest person is.



Inspiration is great, but…


When was the last time you were truly inspired?

Maybe you saw an inspirational movie, an awesome TED talk, or read an inspiring book. Maybe you had a great meeting with your boss. Maybe you have a brilliant idea that will change the world.

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere.

Inspiration is great, but is it enough? Does inspiration alone drive us to take action, to move toward our new future? Maybe, but probably not.

Inspiring thoughts quickly fade. Without action, inspiration is just another passing thought…soon forgotten.

Remaining in the status quo usually seems safer than taking action.

It’s almost a cliché: The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Inspiration is nothing until it’s coupled with your willingness to take action. To take the first step, and then the next.

Action is the fulfillment of inspiration, and often inspires others in the process.

What action are you taking today to pursue the things that inspire you?

What’s Wrong with Murphy’s Law

In 1949, Captain Murphy gave us his “law:”

If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong

Since then, a number of variants and other “laws” have emerged:

A dropped piece of bread will always land butter side down.

The line next to you will move more quickly than the one you’re in.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Success always occurs in private, and failure in full public view.

All things being equal, you lose.

As soon as you mention something…if it’s good, it stops; if it’s bad, it happens.

Anything is possible if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.

There’s no time like the present to procrastinate.

What’s wrong with Murphy’s Law, and these other variants? On the surface, nothing. They each have kernels of truth and wisdom.

But, they ignore other possibilities:

Everything that can work, will work. Consider how many things worked as they were supposed to today. You probably don’t remember them, since they worked so well.

How often do you really drop a piece of bread?

Sure, your line may move slower today. That won’t be the case every time. If we consider our neighbor’s perspective, they’re enjoying the fact that their line is moving faster today than your line. Isn’t it nice to see someone have a small victory?

We all have more than a hammer. Remembering to look in our toolbox from time to time and dust off our other tools is the key to success.

Our successes and failures are always personal first.  The people who are willing to share in both are what matters.  The size of the audience doesn’t.

All things are rarely equal.  The level of equality at the start has little to do with whether you win or lose.

We get the things we visualize the most.  We have more control over what happens than we realize.

Some of the best discoveries came from people asking the dumb question, or looking at something with “untrained” eyes. The most potent resource in a company is the new employee who “doesn’t know anything.”

Unexplored shortcuts take you nowhere. Some shortcuts lead to entirely new destinations that you never thought possible.

Now is the perfect time to begin, or begin again.

The only thing we control in life is our attitude. Our attitude has more impact on our lives than any of these “laws.”

The Most Important Question…

If the customer is so important, why are urgent things getting in the way?

I’ve found an interesting theme among those I’m coaching lately. When I ask about customers, I get various versions of blanks stares, or platitudes about how they are trying to stay focused on their customer.

Rather than customers, they are usually focused on some sort of internal organizational issue, the latest restructuring project, the next budget presentation, or hitting the number (whatever number it may be). Don’t get me wrong. These are important; at least urgent.

But, this blank stare when it comes to customers is interesting. After all, isn’t the customer why we’re in our business in the first place? We have a product or service that our customers need or want (hopefully both). We may be the only source for our customer. Or, more likely, we’re one of many providers of the products and services they want.

If the customer is so important, why are urgent things getting in the way? Simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent, often internal, issues. Being busy can feel rewarding.

It’s harder to remember that your organization only matters if your customers think it matters.

Sounds harsh, but that’s all there is…you and your customer.

See if you can answer these questions about your customers. Before you jump ahead, there’s one rule. Write your answers in the form of direct quotes from at least five of your customers:

  • How do your customers use your products and services?
  • Why do they use your products and services?
  • How do your products and services make them more successful?
  • What worries your customers?
  • What are you doing to help with the things that worry them?
  • What do they see in their future?
  • Will you be a valuable part of their future?
  • How can you help your customer get to their future faster?

And, the most important question of all:

  • Does your organization really matter to your customer? Why? (Or, why not?)



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