Wisdom For Your Future Self

We Monday morning quarterback our lives. We look back with wistful wisdom, “if I only knew then what I know now.” No question, experience is a wise teacher.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
~ Confucius

And so, we seek out mentors and the wisdom of those who’ve gone before to accelerate our journey and hopefully side stepping a few boulders rolling our way. Necessary, but not sufficient.

At the end of the day, the journey is ours.

What if we could talk to our future selves with similar, compassionate wisdom? What do we know deep within, that we must tell ourselves today and tomorrow. Consider what the you of tomorrow will wish you had known (or done) today.

“What wisdom would you give the you of 10 years from now?”.

This provocative question, was posed by Alex Barker in our Leadership Dojo interview.

As I replayed the show and listed to my own “advice,” I was struck by the tension between what I would tell my past and future selves, which of course is the cocktail of advice I need most today. Weird in stereo.

You can listen to the podcast here: Play | Download

But that’s my story. Much more interested in yours. Let’s have some Friday fun in the Let’s Grow Leaders Community. Comment on any or all of the following provocative questions.

  • What advice would you give your younger self?
  • What wisdom would you tell the you of 10 years from now?
  • What wisdom is your heart telling you today?

Helping Leads to Successful Careers

Helping is scarce in many organizations.
People need help.
They are reluctant to raise their hands.


  • Individualized performance management systems
  • Hidden agendas
  • History and scar tissue
  • Politics
  • Expectations of reciprocity
  • Burnout

And yet, helping is the biggest predictor of team success. Research also shows that genuine helping improves careers.

 Create a Helping Culture

Wharton Professor, Adam Grant‘s research proves helping more leads to better performance and career success.

In his new book, Give and Take, Grant categorizes people as “takers,” “givers,” and “matchers.”

Takers are out for themselves. Matchers deal in reciprocity. Givers are people who give without expectations of something in return. Giving cultures drive performance. His research also shows that true “Givers” who survive the burnout risk, are extraordinarily succesful.

I reached out to Adam for advice on how best to apply his research. (He was happy to help.)

Adam, how do we change the culture?

He offers 3 ways

  1.  Better selection.
    “Jim Collins famously argued that we need to get the right people on the bus, but he made an even more important point that’s often overlooked: we need to keep the wrong people off the bus. Research led by Roy Baumeister, Paul Rozin, and Will Felps shows that bad is stronger than good, in the sense that the negative effect of a bad apple on the barrel tends to outweigh the positive effect of a good apple. With this in mind, it may be especially valuable to screen out takers in the hiring process.”
  2.  Encourage help-seeking.

    “Studies suggest that 75-90% of all help exchanged in organizations starts with a request, yet many people hold back on seeking help because they’re worried about appearing incompetent or burdening others. To overcome these barriers, we need to make it clear that help-seeking is acceptable and encouraged.
  3. Change Evaluation and Performance Management Processes
    Instead of evaluating and promoting based on individual results alone, we should also assess employees’ contributions to the success of those around them. That way, we might see more givers rise to the top, which will set the stage for them to serve as role models to employees at various levels.

Selection. Encouragement. Evaluation. What would you add?

For more details, see Givers take allIn the company of givers and takers, and Seeking help in the shadow of a doubt.”

Want to know where you fall? Grant offers free online self and 360 assessments with immediate online results.

2 Helpful Questions to Ask Yourself Each Day

 What questions cause you to pause? What questions lead to helpful reflection? Today I share two questions I find helpful What questions do you use to guide your daily leadership?

Q1: How can I be most helpful?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

This is a great “first thing in the morning” question.

  • Review your calendar can you proactively plan some helps? 
  • Are you using your gifts in the most helpful way?
  • Who haven’t you checked in on in a while? What do they most need?
  • How’s the balance? Has your helping titled too much toward work, home or somewhere else?
  • Who needs some cheerleading?
  • Who can you connect with whom?
  • As you go through the day, what can you do to surprise people with random acts of helping?
  • ?

Of course a great follow-up question for the end of the day is: How was I helpful today?

Q2: How would they feel about working with me again?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This one is tricky. It takes stepping back and having an objective view. Sure what you accomplished is important, but how did you make people feel along the way?

  • Did you treat them with respect?
  • Can they count on you to do what you say?
  • Are you the go-to guy?
  • Did you add creative value?
  • Were your meetings or projects well-organized?
  • Did you ensure everyone had a voice?
  • Do your peers feel you have their back?
  • Do you bring positive energy to the scene?
  • Do you share credit?
  • ?


Volunteer and Grow? Side Effects of Volunteering

Has volunteering made you a better leader?

As I was getting established in my career, going to grad school at night, and becoming a mom, I kept thinking (and saying), “I just don’t have time to volunteer.”

Sure, I would bake the cupcakes or volunteer at church, but certainly nothing that required sustained energy and effort. I thought, “people with more time would surely be better at that than me.”

Looking back now, that sure sounds like an excuse and a mistake.

I regret what I missed in the giving and in the growing that comes from volunteering during that phase of my life. The growing is more fun these days.

I am delighted to have a guest post this week on SmartBlog: Smartbrief on Leadership entitled How Volunteering Makes You a Better Leader.

I hope you will take the time to check it out and leave a comment.

Simple Gifts: The Best You Can Do is Enough

My favorite Christmas stories are the ones where a humble hero offers the best gifts he can muster.  It never looks like much on the outside.

In Why The Chimes Rang, a small child accomplishes what all the rich and famous could not with their extravagant gifts.  He did what he could, with what he had.

The Little Drummer Boy, “had no gift to bring” but we keep singing about him.  I could go on, but the point is not about Christmas stories it’s about you and me.

Why Our Gifts Remain Ungiven

Where do we stop because we think our gifts are too simple.

We sooth our conscience with stopping thoughts:
“I’m really not the best qualified.”

“There’s not much I can do”

“This problem is too big”

“I don’t know what to say”

“I’m not really that good around sick people”

“They probably are being bombarded with support.”

We think ourselves out of doing.
We think ourselves out of helping.
We think ourselves out of leading.
And our gifts remain ungiven.

Encouraging Reluctant Gifts

As leaders, do we look for the humble gifts available in others?

It’s easy to pre-judge potential contributions. We look for the most talented.

We go to our “go-to” guy again. We want this project to be perfect, so we don’t give it to the woman who would grow most from the experience.

A few months ago, Ben, my high-school senior son came home and told me he was going to conduct a middle school brass quintet.

I was surprised and skeptical. Ben loves music and is a competent musician.

But he will not major in music. He does not aspire to be drum major. He has never had a private lesson.

On paper, there are more kids in his school qualified for this gig. If he had asked me, I might have offered my hesitation.  But he didn’t ask me.  And, they asked HIM.  And he said yes. 

He selected the music, he conducted the rehearsals, he found venues and scheduled performances. He put on a ridiculous Christmas sweater.  His gift was a gift.

Each middle school musician also trumpeted their gifts.   A Blast of Brass makes beautiful music and a joyful noise.

Begin the offering, more gifts will emerge

Don’t let yourself or others talk you out of giving what is enough.


Leadership Magic: Key Actions That Inspire Results

“What’s your leadership magic?”

That’s my favorite question to ask really successful front line leaders. Clearly something is working for these folks, and I am always thirsty to understand just what.

If you are a leader growing leaders, it’s a great question to ask. I guarantee it will immediately bring out sparkles in eyes, great stories, and inspiring conversation.

It might also be worth asking yourself about your own leadership magic.

Across companies and contexts, the lists that come from these interactions are remarkably consistent.

And so, I offer the magic secret shared with me in conference rooms, recognition events, cars, and coffee bars from the best leadership magicians I have met across the country.

Leadership Magic Playbook

Begin well

  • Start each day with energy and enthusiasm
  • Connect with each person at the beginning of their shift–to inspire and check for distractions
  • Ensure each person has clear goals and a plan for the day

Know Your Craft

  • Understand the business and the work your team does
  • Get in and role-model the work from time to time (get on the phones, make the sale)
  • Be a teacher of specific best practices

Conjure up Confidence

  • Spend more time celebrating what is working than discussing what is not
  • Talk about what scares them
  • Help them master one skill at a time
  • Have them teach someone else

Make a Connection

  • Be really available
  • Be even more available– stay out of your office
  • Get to know your people as people
  • Understand what motivates them and individualize your approach
  • Learn about their families and what they like to do outside of work
  • Help them with their career goals

Razzle Dazzle Em

  • Make a fool of yourself (wear a costume, sing a song, have contests with you as a prize pie in the face, dunking booths, washing cars)
  • Encourage them to be silly too help them giggle
  • Create friendly and fun competitions with other teams
  • Talk smack

No Slight of Hand– Create Trust

  • Always do what you say you will
  • Tell the truth
  • Let people know where they stand
  • Help them understand the business

One Month and Growing: Reflections and Call for Feedback

Please help me to reflect and grow.

Letsgrowleaders is now one month old and is beginning to gain momentum. It has been quite a journey and I am looking forward to the road ahead.

Thank you to all who have read, commented, and subscribed. You inspire me to observe, learn and share more. Thanks for being a vital part of the conversation.

I have been enjoying some wonderful side effects since beginning the blog.

I have

  • had meaningful reconnection with old friends and colleagues
  • met some fascinating leaders from around the world through on-line conversations
  • already had several new online relationships expand into phone calls and writing collaboration
  • integrated new leadership thinking into my daily work as a leader
  • initiated more leadership teaching discussions with my team
  • been reading a ton
  • been climbing a steep social media learning curve, with my son, Ben, as sherpa
  • received fantastic support from family and friends

I am very interested in your feedback and reflections on how I can make my blog more intriguing and relevant. Please let me know your very candid feedback and what is working and what you would like to see.

Please click on the link below to provide your feedback via a survey, or write me at letsgrowleaders@gmail.com. If you are a frequent reader, please also consider becoming an email subscriber.