Why you should exercise SIX days a week

Why don’t we exercise? Is it because:

– We don’t like to exercise?

– We don’t have time?

– We aren’t aware of how it extends our life?

Or is it another reason?

Perhaps you don’t exercise because you can’t – that is the only reason why one should not. If that’s the case, you can stop reading this now.

But for the rest of us, we have no real excuse.

I will cover some other reasons why you should exercise below. One of the most important is that it challenges you. The picture above is from a half Olympic Triathlon that I did in 2013. But before I tell that story, I should explain something. Years earlier, when my wife was running a half marathon, I told her that I would only run that far if someone was chasing me with the intent to hurt my family or me! After I completed the triathlon, which included an 8-mile run after swimming a mile and biking 26 miles, I thought what’s 5 more miles?

So later that year I completed my first ½ marathon. The mental discipline it takes to complete a race that long has benefits that far exceed the health benefits. Of course, you already knew that! I have found I can complete “hard” tasks when I compare them to how I trained for and ran a race in which I never stopped running for one hour and twelve minutes – (Editor correction: one hour and 52 minutes actually).

If you do exercise regularly, I can imagine that you have set an alarm for dark thirty and reach over painfully to turn it off while thinking or even saying, “I really don’t want to do this!” Yet you persist, and you do exercise. My guess is that unless you injured yourself, you don’t later say, “I sure wish I hadn’t exercised this morning.” No, I feel pretty confident you felt better, you were glad you pushed through, and you enjoyed the benefits.

Here is why I find exercise beneficial:

– It clears my head

– It allows me to be with friends

-It extends my life

– It improves my mood

– It allows time to enjoy God’s creation

– It challenges me

This week as I was walking on the greenway near our home, I bumped into two sets of family friends. They were exercising together – two of them walking, the other two running. We all had a moment together and one of them said,

“This is my therapy and if I weren’t doing this, I would be on someone’s couch.” 

So, if you aren’t currently committed to a regular exercise plan, you might consider it as an alternative to sitting on a therapist’s couch!

Several years ago, I lived next door to Bruce Tuscher, who was the director of fitness for a start-up company associated with AT&T – AT&T Universal Card. Bruce and I occasionally biked together and one day I asked him this question: “What is the best exercise for you?” His reply was “the one you enjoy the most.”

Maybe you hate running but enjoy biking. Dust off the old trek and bike to the office. Perhaps there’s a racketball or pickleball group that meets after work. Join them. Take a hike, kayak, surf, swim, jog—there are many different ways to get your heart rate up and your muscles moving. And you can even have fun doing it too.

So, if you aren’t currently committed to a regular exercise plan, consider the following ways to get started:

  • Take a walk at lunch.
  • Park in the space as far away as possible from any store where you shop and walk briskly there and back.
  • Always Take the Stairs – (also a book title by my professional speaking colleague Rory Vaden)
  • Keep some exercise equipment near your workplace (dumbbells, jump rope, stretch bands, etc.) and do reps between calls.
  • Participate in a push-up, pull-up, sit-up, or couch to 5-K challenge.
  • Form or join an exercise community. I love biking every Tuesday morning with a local group of friends.

And be consistent. Be like the postal service with your exercise – “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The important thing is to just do it. Make it a part of your routine and you won’t regret it.

Take it from Gabrielle Reese, a former professional volleyball player. She said that “Even on the days you just don’t feel like going to work, you still go, right? It’s the same with exercise.”

NOTE: This is part four of a six-part series. Read last week’s post on why a circle of six makes you successful.

The Office is “Over”

News Flash!

The office is over

AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky May 9, 2022

What does he know – he’s only a smart aleck millennial?

Last week, I was heading to a public speaking class I teach for homeschooled high school students. The building where we meet is less than a mile from my home so I have been walking to this bi-monthly class since January (a lot can be accomplished by walking). I left early as I had a 1:15 phone meeting that I planned to hold in the building where my 2:00 class was held. Of course, I could have accomplished the call while I walked but I guard my walking time with a passion – walking is where I draft articles like this, rehearse new speech material, clear my head, and often wear out my dog.

Fortunately, I arrived early at the building where I taught the class, but I had no phone service – zero. I happened to notice that I had it when I walked by my friends Scott and Shelby Shankland’s house. So, I walked the short distance from the class location to their house (where both work from home). Their entire company SweetRush does. The company went remote when the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008.

When I knocked on the door, Shelby was on a conference call and Scott was working upstairs but they welcomed me to do what I needed to do there.

When I opened my computer from their kitchen table, I learned my 1:15 appointment was late. I politely declined their invitation to raid their fridge, but did use their microwave to heat up my lunch. Using their WIFI, I handled a few tasks, suggested an alternative time for the rescheduled 1:15 call so I would have breathing space, had a peaceful, slow lunch, and arrived to teach my class – with plenty of cushion time. 

After my class was over, I headed to Maryville Corner Market where I worked for the afternoon before walking back home. I also regularly work at Vienna Coffee House, Southern Grace Coffee, a lake house in Florida, and in the many parks in my town.

Hm…maybe we should consider listening to those young whipper snapper, wet-behind-the-ears millennials after all?

Your Circle of Six?

My speaking colleague Thom Singer, host of Speakernomics podcast, often starts his interviews with this statement: “If you don’t know _________ (fill in the blank with the name of the expert he is interviewing), and I don’t know how you couldn’t….“. Then he goes on to talk about why his guest is so well known. That’s the case with Mark Schaefer. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Mark last week. Below I have listed some facts about Mark. Guess which of these statements is true and which are false:

Guess which of these statements is true and which are false:

  • He’s a major influencer in the marketing space.
  • He launched a highly successful creator crypto coin called $RISE and was invited to do so because of his reputation as an influencer.
  • He mentors economically challenged youth, including a D-I athlete.
  • Mark and I met early in his career when we were both speaking for a Medical Group Managers Association conference.
  • Once when my 12 year-old son was trout fishing in the pond by our local Greenway, he hooked Mark’s shirt as he was walking on the trail.
  • He’s one of the most humble, caring and unassuming speakers in the marketing space.

Each of these statements is true.

If I could pick the members of my mastermind group (or Circle of Six as I call it), Mark would be in the inner circle (aren’t you fortunate, Shep Hyken!).

4 smiling men standing on porch

Perhaps you’re already in a Circle of Six and didn’t even know it. Maybe you, like my grandmother, are in a sewing group that meets weekly to make clothes for Church World Service. Or maybe you’re in a spinning group or ride weekly with a group of friends as I do. Or perhaps you’re in a bowling league like my travel agent Janice Vanormer. Maybe you’re in a Bible study group, a book club, a supper club, a hiking group, a surfing club, or another special interest Circle of “Six.” Having a circle/mastermind/study group makes whatever you are doing more enjoyable and helps you experience greater success.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in several different groups with some pretty amazing people. After speaking at a State Farm event in Jacksonville, FL many years ago the concept of a Circle of Six was born. I was inspired by Therese Quinn, one of the top 100 agents in State Farm Insurance for many years. She shared her 4 x 4 rule with me. I’ve added to it, changed it, and currently, it’s a signature part of every speech, workshop, or presentation I give.

Currently, I’m in a marketing/business growth mastermind group that started as a response to the pandemic loss of business. Ironically, I have not met everyone in this group as we meet by Zoom each week to hold each other accountable. Thank you to Mj CallawayRoger GrannisSteve HaffnerBen Lichtenwalner, and Scott Carley for the inspiration for this group.

Starting in 2000 at National Speakers Association convention, I hosted what I call a roving mastermind group. The players change each year by design and have included some of the best experts who speak professional Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, leadership expert New York Times and Wall Street Journal author Mark Sanborn, former radio host, speaker, and best-selling author of Create DistinctionScott McKain, futurist Dan Burrus, humorous and psychologist Dr. Terry Paulson, resiliency expert Eileen McDargh, comedic guitarist Mike Rayburn, entrepreneurs and speakers Jim and Naomi Rhode, inspirational singer Dr. Willie Jolley and the late great humorist Jeanne Robertson have all participated in this group.

My first true circle of six included inspirational speaker, singer, and guitar player Rosita Perez, leadership expert Phil Van Hooser, employee engagement expert Richard Hadden, and naturalist Dr. John Paling.

I’ve truly had a seat at the table with some of the world’s best-known and beloved speakers. I’ve been fortunate to have one-on-one conversations with experts, celebrities and best-selling authors like Suze OrmanDr. Norman Vincent PealeLes BrownZig Ziglar, Olympians Peter Vidmar, and Kristi YamaguchiLarry Winget – the pitbull of self-development, The Little _______ (name a color) Book series speaker Jeffrey Gitomer, former NBA player Mark Eaton, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, and many, many others.

I’ve met rising speaker superstars like performer and speaker Jason Hewlett, actor/speaker/speech coach Victoria LaBalme, 50-time sports author and speaker extraordinary Ross Bernstein, the Go-Giver author Bob Burg and are all friends. I know industry legends like train-the-trainer expert Bob Pike, and Brian Lee, who owns a hospital service consulting firm. Brian was my first speaking mentor.

Branding expert Bruce Turkel is a close confidant. Bruce is a fantastic speaker with hundreds of major media interviews under his belt. He’s also one of the best harmonica players I’ve ever known. I have presented with Bruce on a few occasions, stayed at his home with his lovely wife Gloria and their children, and had wonderful dinners at hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the cities we’ve visited. We have run together on multiple occasions, gone boating in Key Biscayne Bay, and had many long conversations about politics, music, comedy, and the speaking business of course. He’s been one of my closest confidants in the speaking business since we met 20 years ago and has had more influence on me than any other speaking friend.

Yes, I have been fortunate to have built a career from the passion my dear mother inspired in me when I was in 8th grade. Part of the reason that I have been able to spend time with these superstar celebrity speakers, authors, entertainers, and media personalities is that I have been in the right place at the right time and have not been afraid to ask the best in the speaking business for advice. Successful people like to help others succeed.

Tag your ideal Circle of Six in the comment section below, and don’t be afraid to ask if you can take them to lunch, coffee, or even a virtual drink to learn from them.

Today is Cinco de Mayo. Consider gathering with your favorite amigos and think about whom you might need or want to meet. Ask how they could help advance your career or what you could do to help them expand their network, expertise, or volunteer platform.

After all, as the saying goes, when the student is willing – and when that student takes proactive action – the teacher will appear.

los amigos mexican restaurant

May the Fourth Be With You

July 4, 2014

Stan Phelps, CSP, a speaking colleague worth following, wrote a post today titled, “May the Fourth be With You”.

After I read it, I pondered what May Fourth means to me, which is very different from his excellent post referencing John Williams and the music he created for the movie Star Wars. This post is in addition to my weekly post coming tomorrow. I never planned to write it until I was inspired by Stan’s post.

Today, May Fourth or 4th, is the 5th anniversary of the passing of my mother – a major force in my life as well as the lives of many others.

She was a mentor, a youth counselor, den mother of my cub scout pack, and my very first speech coach.

When I was in 8th grade, she helped me memorize a humorous recitation of Eugene Field’s poem ” Jest ‘Fore Christmas”. I didn’t want to do it – read the story here. Boy, am I grateful she encouraged me. If it weren’t for her prodding, I might never have become a professional speaker. As I wrote five years ago – she birthed me twice.

When I was in 9th grade, she was a counselor at a weekend retreat held at the Warren Willis Camp and Conference Center called Christian Faith and Human Sexuality. We REALLY bonded after that weekend!

Shortly after that, I began treating her dishonorably. It was normal teenage behavior, but it continued much longer than my teen years. I didn’t mean to be unloving; we were so much alike that we butted heads. Despite her unconditional love for my four siblings and me, we could be a challenge, to say the least!

Her father, my granddaddy Bunton, taught my mother and me a lot of life lessons. One thing he didn’t teach her was how to communicate. Despite that, my mother was a master at it. She demonstrated care, empathy, and love as well as anyone I have ever known though she didn’t learn it from my grandfather. I don’t ever remember hearing him tell my mom that he loved her.

In some ways, my father was more like my mom’s father – Granddaddy Bunton. He didn’t show his emotions very well.

My parents, Rev. Don and Lois Richardson were civil rights advocates in the 1960s and took a lot of grief from more than one church in the United Methodist Church tradition where they (and yes the pastor’s spouse also serves in much more difficult ways than the pastor sometimes) served together. When a black man was told he wasn’t welcome at one of the churches my father served, Dad expressed rare outrage. Ministers, then and now, deal with an amazing amount of un-Christ-like behavior. Sometimes being a minister’s wife/spouse is even harder.

Particularly when their kids behaved as I did.

I expressed disapproval of my parents in many vocal ways. They weren’t hoarders, but they rarely threw anything away and weren’t particularly good housekeepers. My mom was only slightly more disorganized than I – yet I condemned.

Mom and Dad dressed way older than their years (despite my mother having mostly black hair and a beautiful complexion into her late 60s). She really was beautiful inside and out. She didn’t care that my dad drove cars for ten years or more or that he was extremely practical.

My parents weren’t cool like my best friend’s parents. They didn’t dance together. They never touched alcohol. They listened to music that was centuries old. They grew their own fruits and vegetables. They didn’t have fun vacations – unless you call camping in a pop-up camper cool.

How I would love to relive those camping trips to Washington, DC and on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When the District Superintendent (my dad’s “boss”) reassigned my father from First United Methodist Church in Daytona Beach, FL to a church in the West Palm Beach, FL area halfway through my junior year, I was despondent.

In typical teenage fashion, I only thought of myself and wrote a letter to the D.S. telling him how he ruined my life.

I was invited to finish my high school experience living with my best friend – which I did after one semester in South Florida. I broke my mom’s heart.

In my 40s, I wrote a letter to my mother and basically told her how I disapproved of her lifestyle. I hurt her deeply – again.

I directed all this unkindness to the woman who gave me birth; the woman who launched my career, the woman who was unconditionally loved by many and loved freely.

I wish I had appreciated her when she was living as much as I do now after her death.

Mom, you were such a great gift to our family and all the communities where you and Dad served and volunteered. For 42 years, you lived not where you wanted to live but where God called your husband. I hope I can have half the impact you and Dad did.

I should have paused to think before I spoke unkindly, acted immaturely, and written hastily. And maybe you should too.

I love you, Mom. Please forgive me. Somehow I think you did long ago.

Pausing to Tell a Story

Story: It’s how we have communicated for years. Thousands of years ago, stories were told through pictures which evolved into spoken and finally written word. The Gutenberg Printing Press changed everything by allowing stories to be reproduced rapidly, replacing hand-written books. Today, stories are told almost instantly on social media. Many are not even true, even though they seem true to the person who reads them. 

Several years ago, I used the quote below in a keynote presentation:

Photo of Albert Einstein with quote: I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

Every time I shared this, I observed people in the audience reacting in agreement, often taking pictures with their phones. They were visibly moved and the point hit home. The quote certainly seems true in today’s world. However, there was one problem: Albert Einstein never said that. Someone I knew and trusted posted the quote and the accompanying graphic on Facebook (and if it’s on Facebook, we know it must be true!). I started using the graphic in my presentation, but it wasn’t until someone in the audience brought it to my attention, and a quick check online verified what they told me, that I discovered Al was not the author. There was no way to retract my mistake. It had been shared with thousands of audience members who had heard me speak.

While storytelling is vital in today’s world, it is more important than ever to tell the truth. That’s why telling your organization’s story is critical.

Recently, I had breakfast with my friend Gina Evans, AVP of HR and Talent Development at Credit Union of America. Somehow, we began talking about story and how it shaped CUA’s culture. Their CEO sought to simplify CUA’s mission statement, which was so long and convoluted that no one could say it by memory. Ultimately, the company replaced it with this purpose statement:


“We come to work every day inspired to make a difference in our members’ lives.”

At every Credit Union of America meeting, the person in charge of the meeting shares the purpose statement and asks someone to tell a story about how they implemented the company purpose that day. They simply ask, “Who has a story?” The employees at Credit Union of America are sold on the power of story, and you should be too.

Make it short and simple—shorter than this post!—and share it every day.

This is the second in a series of six posts based on my Six by Six Principles of Leadership. Click here to read the first article “Read to Succeed“.

Pay it Forward

Over the last week, I have been the recipient of a few pay it forward experiences.  

Last week, I attended a funeral for the father of my friend John with whom I worked almost 22 years ago. Our working relationship involved training staff at an oceanfront resort to obtain the Five Diamond status. His continuous support for my role there resulted in a strong friendship. Within a few years of our time working together, he moved to the Bahamas to take a job as the general manager of an island yacht club. Five or six years ago, we were both in Fort Lauderdale for business and met for lunch. During our lunch, he invited my wife and me to visit, and when we did a few years later, the red carpet was rolled out for us.

His wife made us “Janana Bread” (her name is Jana and her bread is legendary!) to welcome us. They introduced us to one of the club members who took us fishing and lobstering. John provided all the necessary dive gear for our use while we were there. He also loaned us two bikes so we could bike around the car-free island.

We later came to the island with our entire family and received another dose of John and Jana’s pay-it-forward hospitality.

They exemplify a pay it forward mantra in everything they do. Three weeks ago, John texted to inform me that his father was likely in the final stages of life. We shared messages back and forth for several days. He shared sweet stories of the time he and his four siblings had with their dad. I was traveling home from a keynote in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago when I heard the news. My friend’s father had passed away. I wanted to attend the funeral later that week, but it may not have happened were it not for the kindness of my friend, Mike.   

Mike was a pilot, so when I had the idea to attend the funeral at the 11th hour, I contacted Mike to inquire about getting a buddy pass for the trip since he had offered them before. We worked late into the evening trying to find a flight that fit with my schedule, and one for which he could use one of his allotments of steeply discounted passes. After we found a flight and he gathered all my travel information, he told me to check my email to make sure the trip details and other information were correct. I did and soon realized that Mike had paid full price for my ticket instead of the less-guaranteed stand-by buddy pass. When I protested, Mike said,

I know the last few years have been tough for your business and your family. I can do it and am happy to do it. Just pay it forward.”  

Just a few days later, I was in Wichita, Kansas, and experienced another pay it forward experience. A speaking colleague had recommended I visit Doo Dah Diner which happened to be right across the street from my hotel. I was pressed for time the morning of my return flight, but I still needed breakfast. I called ahead to get my order started and walked across the street with my luggage as I had planned to hail a ride from the restaurant to the airport. 

Eating at a diner means eating at the counter – at least for me. I loved the feel and look of Doo Dah Diner so I engaged in a conversation with the general manager Patrick, “PK”, who told me the history of Doo Dah’s including how he and his wife moved from Denver to work there.  

After I finished eating, I placed my credit card on the counter for my payment, which Patrick offered to process so I could get on my way quickly. A few short seconds later he said, “your bill has been paid.” When I asked what he meant, he said I owed nothing for my meal. “What do you mean?” I asked. I pressed my server and learned that a gentleman named Jeff, who was sitting at the end of the counter, had seen my luggage and overheard my conversation with PK.

Jeff knew that I was a first-time visitor to Wichita and he wanted me to leave with a positive impression of the area, so he paid for my breakfast. Before heading to the airport, PK handed me a Doo Dah Diner shirt for me—a physical reminder to practice paying it forward. 

I have experienced the unexpected generosity of others in many ways. My recent experiences remind me that it is my time to pay it forward. How about you? 

Though Easter Sunday has passed, it is a reminder that the ultimate sacrifice was made for all of us. Some have done without so you could have. The kindness of others has been demonstrated and perhaps not acknowledged. An unexpected act has brightened your day or been a source of encouragement. Much has been given to you, now it is your turn to do for someone else. It’s time to pay it forward. 

NOTE: This post was supposed to be the second in a series of my six-by-six plan (here’s the first post titled Read to Succeed.

Recent pay it forward experiences interrupted altered this schedule but I will continue the series in my next post. Please subscribe to receive notifications of future PAUSitivity newsletters.

Read to Succeed

shelf of leadership books

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing six different ideas that will move you to or keep you as a top gun in your organization. I call it the six-by-six plan. Do these six things every week and in some cases every day:

–       Read

–       Listen

–       Learn

–       Exercise

–       Pause

–       Serve

And then repeat them regularly for the rest of your career.

Week 1 Read:

If you desire to be at the top of your game professionally, commit to regularly reading. Don’t become like the 23% of Americans who didn’t even read one book in 2021.

If you’re new in your reading journey, you might try this:

Every year, read at least six business books related to your field each year along with six other books that have nothing to do with your career.

Earlier this year I decided to re-read some of my all-time favorite, most impactful business books rather than reading anything new – at least in the short term.

If you are like me, you’ve unlikely mastered everything in the first few readings of your favorite books. Some on my list to re-read include The Tipping Point, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Never Split the Difference, Atomic Habits, and classic favorites I read early in my young adult life – The Magic of Thinking Big and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Each of these books will provide further insight each time you read them. Similarly, A Tale of Two CitiesThe Hobbit, and To Kill A Mockingbird are some of my fiction favorites and books that everyone should read at least once. Consider making one of your six non-business books a literary classic.

 As an avid reader for most of my professional life, I have noticed what you have likely noticed as well – business book themes are quite repetitive. So if you’re like me, maybe your reading strategy needs a facelift. If so, you might try this:

Read at least six books that make your brain hurt – books that you might not otherwise read. Read books on philosophy, religion, academic books, scientific books, or books on anthropology.

In my professional circles, I’ve noticed the tendency to gravitate toward the same business books – the current or recent bestsellers. If you desire to look like, sound like, act like, or lead like everyone else, keep reading what everyone is reading. Reading those books only expands an increasingly commoditized business landscape. Stop asking people in your profession about book titles or refrain from using the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller list as your reading list. Here are some alternative approaches to consider:

Try reading Aristotle, Aquinas, or Plato (click here for a list of 20 of the greatest philosophers and their big ideas)

Read the writings of our founding fathers. Search for concepts, ideas, and insights from your reading and deeply ponder their relevance in your organization

Ask for book suggestions from people for whom you might not typically solicit book suggestions. For example, ask a history professor, a counselor or therapist, your doctor, a successful athletic coach, a landscaping company, your plumber, a pastor or priest, or your hairstylist. Chances are you’ll hear titles that you would never have found on your own.

Mix it up. Reading books out of your normal interest could very well inspire some new thoughts and ideas you had never considered. Read books that fascinate others and see if you might become fascinated as well.

Whether you are reading business, philosophy, or fiction, take notes on the interesting ideas or concepts you read. Since there can be learning from all types of books, meet with your team – you guessed it – at least six times per year to share your insights. If you are reading classic fiction books, the ideas for discussion could include the creative use of imagery, character development, lessons from the protagonist, or the juxtaposition of two contradicting ideas. If you are reading a business book, contact the author and ask for or help create 3-5 questions per main idea to discuss with your team. If you are reading a brain-busting book, isolate a key concept or main idea for your team to contemplate in your work environment. For example, you could read the works of a philosopher like Marcus Aurelius, who wrote:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I think there are lessons applicable to our professional lives in that quote – particularly that last line.

Try reading the big ideas of one of the top 20 philosophers in the link above. Then dive into the meaning of one of their big ideas. See if you relate it to the goals of your team, a new product idea, or a way to serve your customers in the highest possible manner.

We are in danger of losing our competitive edge as we drift toward sameness. Reading and thinking about unique content can distance your organization from your competition, create loyal members, clients, or customers, and reduce the predictable practice of copying everyone else.

With daily discipline, you can easily combine these ideas to read six business books as well six brain-busting books. Make sure along the way to consider reading other books strictly for pleasure or for a diversion from the books that make your head spin.

Perhaps it’s time to clear off your nightstand, take the books off your desk (and dust underneath them), and dive into a book. It’s time to read.

Love is Love, Let’s Go Brandon, Black Lives Matter, Jesus is my co-Pilot, Vote for Richardson!

Signs. They are everywhere. They tell us what to do, what to buy, when to buy, where to go, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. Signs tell us when stores are open and when they are closed. Signs lie to us and they tell us the truth.

The signs and messages people display can tell us a lot about them. For example, if we see political signs in a neighbor’s yard, those signs tell us how they vote – which tells us how they feel about certain important issues. Messages on t-shirts can also tell us about a person (where they have vacationed, a favorite musical group, their favorite sports team, or what brand they love).

Bumper stickers can reveal a person’s faith (or not), their sense of humor, or their physical/athletic endeavors. If we read these kinds of signs and messages carefully, they can tell us a lot about people, their values, their beliefs, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had signs on people that told us how they were doing? They are not likely to wear a sign that says, “I am angry, anxious, fearful, upset, disappointed, stressed, confused, embarrassed, etc.” However, their tone of voice, facial expressions, eye movements, and nonverbal cues can tell us a lot about what they are thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

There are times when I am talking to my wife that I can change the outcome of a conversation. For example, I am a big picture guy and my wife is very much a detailed person. I like change and can pivot in an instant. She likes the familiar and change can be stressful for her. So if I am watching her nonverbal signs, I can tell when to stop talking and when to start asking questions. I’ve noticed that when she slightly opens her mouth as if she wants to say something during a conversation – or maybe she’s biting her tongue – she isn’t in agreement with me. When I see this, it’s a warning sign not to continue down the road I am traveling. It’s time to start empathizing, listening, or asking questions. It’s not the time to propose a new idea that is too far out of the box or spring something new on her. 

We need to watch signs with those we lead as well. If you have had a tenured working relationship, you no doubt have picked up signs and patterns of your colleagues. If you haven’t noticed these things, start paying careful attention and use the signs you see to communicate and lead more effectively.

You won’t see these signs if you are in your office, on back-to-back Zoom calls, or have such a rigid schedule that there’s no time for connecting with others. It’s important to make time for checking in with your team members, colleagues, customers, clients, or members. Ask questions that delve deeper than the proverbial “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”. Those are good starter questions but continue to probe. For example, try asking, “What are you working on today that is challenging you?” or “How can I help you solve a pressing problem, respond to a challenging customer, or increase your productivity?”. Listen carefully to their answers and check for understanding. You will learn a lot by paying attention to the signs and signals they give in their responses.

Maybe it’s time to start searching for more “people signs” and reading those signs more effectively.

My First and Last Date with a Feminist

Gloria Steinem celebrates a birthday this week and for umpteen year, I am not sending her a card or present. I wrote her once, but she never wrote back. 

When I was in my early 20’s, I was invited by a young lady that I was dating to join her along with her sisters and mother at an event where Ms. Steinem was speaking. This was in the days before TEDx Talks became common but looking back on it, it had a TEDx-like feel. Since I was just beginning a very part-time career as a professional speaker, I wanted to hear a variety of keynote speakers on interesting topics. Previous to that evening, I didn’t know much about Gloria SteinemMs. Magazine, or NOW – The National Organization for Women. All that would change after the evening! The lecture was held at Ruby Diamond Auditorium on the campus of Florida State University in a completely packed auditorium. 

Ruby Diamond Autorium Florida State University

At the conclusion of Gloria’s talk, the moderator invited questions from the audience (I bet you already know where this is going). I was bothered by one of her comments, so I made my way from the balcony to the microphone on the floor in front of the stage. I was steaming mad (it’s never good to challenge someone when you’re mad). Even so, I attempted to be composed and I asked what I thought was a reasonable question:

“Ms. Steinem, you are correct women have been discriminated against and it’s not right. But it’s not just women who have been treated unfairly – American Indians, Blacks, Asians, and others have also been treated unfairly. Are you suggesting that men need to experience the same unfair treatment that has longed plagued women? If so, what you are describing is reverse discrimination and you’re wrong it’s not the solution to the problem!”

Yes, I did. I challenged the leader and a spokeswoman for the American feminist movement! I told her she was wrong and did so in front of audience for which I was greatly outnumbered. 

While I am not sure that I deserved the venom Ms. Steinem gave me, I certainly deserved some coaching for the way I said it. If I had only paused before speaking, I might not have been glared down as I made the long walk back to join my astonished date, her sisters, and mother. Who knows, if I hadn’t opened by big fat mouth so quickly, I might have had a ride home that night. There might even have been a few more dates with this young woman and I wouldn’t have felt compelled to waste my time writing a 12-page letter to Ms. Steinem which I did that evening – partly as therapy and partly as a rebuttal for her “attack” on me.

I shudder to think what would have happened today and how my comments could have been used on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or LinkedIn

All of us, particularly in the workplace, could benefit from committing to more thoughtful, paused filled communication – communication for which we carefully consider what we say or if we should say anything at all. 

This experience from long ago, reminds me how carelessly communicated opinions can be polarizing and they can destroy relationships or prevent prospective ones from forming. 

Employees leave organizations because of perceived or real differences in values. It may be a contributor to The Great Resignation. If you want a greater sense of community in your organization, consider the following:

  1. Fully listen to the other person and ask them questions to clarify their viewpoint. Remember good listening doesn’t necessarily mean you agree.
  2. If you can’t say something nice (or in a nice way), stop, reflect, then maybe don’t say anything at all – sage advice from my mother and likely many of your mothers as well. BTW, I see this violated weekly on LinkedIn and it’s much worse on Facebook for which I have mostly ignored for the last few years.
  3. If you don’t personally know something is true, take a minute to verify it before sharing it, liking it, forwarding it, etc. IF you feel compelled to respond to someone with whom you disagree with, do so in a thoughtful way with a careful, well-researched response. Attack the problem and not the person!
  4. When conversations get heated (or ideally before reaching a boiling point), say something like, “It’s obvious that we are both very passionate about this subject. Fortunately, I care more about my relationship with you, than I do to try to convince you that I am right, and you are wrong. Let’s shift our focus to another topic for which we both agree“.
  5. Consider setting boundaries for what can and can’t be discussed in the office (or even in personal situations). When we are at work, our focus should be on projects that advance the mission of the organization. There’s enough disparity in how to achieve a goal, complete a project, or launch a new product or service, that can make the workplace sticky without polarizing or politicizing conversations.
  6. Decline fierce debate. In a formal debate, there is a winner and a loser. Emotionally charged debates about superfluous or serious topics at work, can result in two losers.

The art of respectful conversation has been altered in ways that we could have never imagined a few years ago. Instead of contributing, let’s think before we speak and bite our tongues a bit more often.

As former U.S. President George H.W. Bush said in his 1989 inaugural address, “America is never wholly herself unless we engage in high moral principles. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.

If only both Ms. Steinem and I had heeded this advice year ago we MIGHT have had 2nd date. It’s too late for us but not too late for you.

Pausing to remember

February 22nd was the 11th anniversary of my father’s death. Each year on this date, my sister reminds our entire family with an email or text. She always shares a special memory, a picture, or a favorite joke or story that my dad told (he loved stories!) She suggested that we all participate in activities that he enjoyed in his memory. He loved playing the piano, sharing puns, stories, jokes and palindromes, gardening, puzzles, games, and numbers. He would have loved February 22nd – 2-22-’22. 

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Looking at the picture my sister sent, reminded me of a picture I had seen a few months ago. The picture was taken at a restaurant with the management team of a small insurance company shortly after the owner had passed away. For several years, the team gathered on the same day, at the same time, and at the same restaurant to have lunch. Each week, the business owner always sat in the same chair and ordered the same meal always accompanied by a salad with ranch dressing on the side. This was so predictable that often his salad and dressing were already at his place when the group arrived for lunch. The week after his funeral, the group met at the restaurant as usual. When they approached “their” table, they noticed a salad had been placed at the seat where the owner would typically sit… with ranch dressing on the side – a thoughtful gesture by the restaurant proprietor. 

My friend and fellow professional speaking colleague, Barbara Glanz, shared in her recent newsletter that her father had fresh flowers delivered to her mother every week throughout their marriage. Barbara wrote:

Even after he died, he had arranged with the florist that Mother would have fresh flowers for several years.

Small gestures of kindness and remembrance pay big dividends. 

How much effort would it take to track and remember loss anniversaries? 

What would it mean for your team or organization to celebrate the legacy of a deceased colleague annually? 

Who in your life would appreciate a bouquet of flowers today?

While legacy lunches, sending flowers, or special office remembrances may not solve The Great Resignation problem, small gestures like these show that people matter. No one at an organization has ever said, “You know the problem here at XYZ Corporation is that they just care about us way too much!