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8 steps to turn your potential into high performance (review)

This review first ran in the Aug. 18 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.eight steps

Eight Steps to High Performance

By Marc Effron

Harvard Business Review Press


There will always be someone who’s smarter than you.

And there’ll be someone who’s been blessed with better genes and looks, a more winning personality and a life of privilege thanks to mom and dad or their grandparents.

You can feel cheated. You can be resentful. You can feel sorry for the hand you’ve been dealt.

Or you can outperform pretty much everyone else by focusing on what Marc Effron calls our flexible 50 per cent.

Our unchangeable fixed 50 per cent includes our intelligence, core personality and socioeconomic background.

Our changeable flexible 50 per cent is all about how we set goals, behave, develop, network, present ourselves and manage our sleep. Your fixed 50 will only take you so far. It’s your flexible 50 that turns potential into high performance.

When it comes to becoming a high performer, there’s no shortage of well-meaning advice from books, bosses, family, friends and the Internet.

“Our quest for high performance is often guided by trial and error, as we do what we think is right and then hope for the best results,” says Effron, founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group.

Instead, Effron has identified eight science-based steps to becoming a high performer:

  • Set big goals and adopt a fewer, bigger mindset. “High performers want to meaningfully overachieve in the areas that matter most to the company – they promise big and deliver big.”
  • Behave to perform. “High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviors, learn new behaviors where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones.”
  • Grow yourself faster. Adhere to the 70 / 20 / 10 rule. Seventy per cent of your professional growth will come from your work experiences, 20 per cent will come from interactions with others and 10 per cent will come from formal education. To grow faster, identify which work experiences matter most to your organization and do as many of them as quickly as you can. Get both feedback and what Effron calls feedforward.
  • Build networks both inside and outside of work. “Those who connect more effectively have higher performance because they’re able to get more insights, favours and answers from more people.”
  • Maximize your fit. You’re more likely to succeed when your capabilities align with the needs of your organization. “It’s this fit, not just individual brilliance, that science says helps predict strong performance.” Know that as the needs of your organization change, so too must your capabilities.
  • Fake it. “A high performer needs to understand and display the few most powerful behaviors needed at that moment. Since you have a preferred way of behaving, you’re faking it any time you consciously display a behavior that doesn’t agree with your preferences.”
  • Commit your body. Science shows sleep matters most to our performance, exercise matters a little and diet has no measurable effect. Pay attention to both the quality and the quantity of sleep. Six to seven hours of shuteye is the sweetspot.
  • Avoid distractions. Steer clear of the too-good-to-be true performance fads that defy common sense and promise easy fixes. Effron advises against focusing on your strengths and says that science shows emotional intelligence doesn’t predict leadership success, a growth mindset is great for children and power posing is possibly the dumbest management fad to ever grace a TED Talk stage.

You can start taking these eight performance-boosting steps at any time, whether you’re at the front or back end of a career that’s on an upward trajectory or has stalled out and left you in a rut.

“The eight steps are straightforward, but they are not easy,” says Effron.  “Achieving them will take meaningful effort and personal sacrifice. High performance is a choice. Focus on what you can change and ignore the rest.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.

The 3 types of leaders who make us quit (and the 2 who inspire us to stay)

great placeThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Great Place to Work For All

By Michael Bush

Berrett-Koehler Publishers


You may want to see what’s being said about your organization on Glassdoor.

It’s a website that combines job postings with reviews from current and former employees. They rate your organization on work-life balance, culture and values, career opportunities, compensation and benefits and senior management. They also leave  comments on the pros and cons of working for you.

When the reviews are bad, lousy leaders are invariably to blame.

These leaders dwell at the bottom of five levels identified by the Great Places to Work research team. The team pulled data from hundreds of companies and 75,000 employees.

“A great place to work for all must have great managers for all,” says Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work. “When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation and revenue growth.”

But when they’re clueless, cruel and confidence killers, they’re unintentional leaders. They’re often star performers who got put into leadership roles despite underwhelming or non-existent interpersonal skills. “These are leaders who don’t seem conscious of the impact they have on others, so their behavior can hurt the people they work with and the organization,” says Bush. “Employees reporting to an unintentional leader might feel like passengers on a bus whose driver doesn’t have a destination in mind and doesn’t tell the passengers what’s going on.”

While we join organizations, we quit unintentional leaders and two other lackluster types.


Hit and miss leaders run hot and cold and don’t always step up. Life is good if you’re one of the leader’s favourites and it’s like your worst day of high school if you’re on the outside looking in. “They don’t actively hurt an organization but neither are they actively supporting their team or performing their duties to the extent the organization needs.”

Transactional leaders get the job done and nothing more. “They are mainly concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list or hitting key performance indicators and consequently are not as forward-thinking or charismatic as leaders at higher levels.” These by-the-book leaders value getting things done over talking to people which leaves them with few, if any, personal connections. These leaders will have no idea and zero interest in learning what you do outside of work. You should get paid time and a half whenever you try to engage in small talk with a transactional leader who has all the warmth and personality of a bag of ice.

Good leaders are consistent, inclusive and sincere. They’re easy to talk to, understanding and fair. Employees will stick with the organization if they work for a good leader. If there’s a downside to good leaders, Bush says it’s their tendency to believe the ultimate responsibility for reaching goals lies with them and not their team. “Leaders at this level must abandon any ego attached to being the boss, and subsume their own interests in the service of helping others shine.”

The gold standard are what Bush calls “for all” leaders. These are those rare dream bosses who get the absolute most out of their teams and inspire loyalty and full engagement. No one leaves their teams and everyone wants to join. They prefer to lead from behind so the people who report to them will shine and do their best work. “For all leaders make everyone feel welcome and treated fairly and establish a strong sense of collaboration within teams as well as through different areas of the organization. They stand out for their ability to reduce politicking and favouritism to nearly imperceptible levels, perhaps because they do a great job of getting feedback from everyone and involving them in decisions.”

Most important, “for all” leaders go beyond the boundaries of business. They use their leadership position and profile to help promote positive societal change, from closing gender pay gaps to championing environmental sustainability and fighting racism. They speak up and take stands on issues that are important to employees, their families and society.

“The new frontier in business is about improving results by developing every ounce of human potential,” says Bush. His book shows how leaders can step up their game to develop that potential, turn their organizations into great places to work and earn top marks from current and former employees.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


Are you answering what your customers wonder and worry about? (REVIEW)

they askThis review first ran in the July 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

They Ask You Answer

By Marcus Sheridan



Marcus Sheridan was on the brink of financial ruin.

The bank was calling. His credit cards were maxed out. His employees were sitting at home wondering if they still had a job.

Sheridan’s company installed fiberglass swimming pools. Finding homeowners willing and able to spend $50,000 on a pool was a tough sell in the aftermath of 2008’s global financial crisis.

Sheridan needed a miracle. “Unless we found a way to garner more leads and sales than we’d ever had, even though there were fewer potential buyers (because of this economy) than ever before, we were going to go out of business within a matter of months.”

The miracle arrived when Sheridan made his company a teacher of fiberglass swimming pools. Sheridan became obsessed with answering questions with fierce honesty. While competitors talked about themselves, Sheridan focused on addressing what prospective buyers were wondering, worrying and asking about.

They ask, we answer became Sheridan’s business philosophy and it saved his company.

lion question markHe started publishing articles and posting videos every week to his company’s website.

“How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” was one of the first articles to go up on the website. Pricing and cost were not something that pool builders posted on their websites. “The fact that no one had addressed this question meant a blue ocean of opportunity for the business,” says Sheridan. “The marketplace was dying for someone to be open and honest enough to address this question and so that’s exactly what we did.”

Sheridan also posted articles where he acknowledged that fiberglass swimming pools weren’t for every customer and even made referrals to other local installers.

Sheridan tracked what prospective customers did after reading and watching the content he posted online. The more content they consumed, the more likely they were to become customers.

His article on the cost of fiberglass pools would generate $3 million in new sales.

“Without exaggeration, this single article saved my business. It saved my home. It saved the homes of my two business partners. It also saved the jobs of all our employees.”

In 2007, Sheridan’s company sold 75 pools after meeting with 250 prospective customers for a closing ratio of 30 per cent.

By 2013 and with a website full of content, that closing ratio jumped to 79 per cent as appointments with 120 homeowners resulted in 95 sales. Sheridan’s team met with far fewer prospects yet sold more pools.

On average, the 95 customers who bought pools had reviewed 105 pages of content posted to the company website. They were well-informed and ready to buy when they met with Sheridan and his team.

Sheridan also discovered that the overwhelming majority of prospects who looked at less than 30 pages of content prior to an appointment never made a purchase. Care and attention could then be redirected to providing even better service to customers.

Whatever product or service you sell and whether you’re in the private, public or non-profit sectors, Sheridan says you are first and foremost a media company. To earn our trust and our money, you first need to show us your story, your company culture in action and the people who work for you. Customers are vetting businesses more deeply than ever before and we want to know what you believe and why you believe it.

Get everyone involved in drawing up a list of all the questions and concerns that you’ve heard from customers. Sheridan recommends hiring someone with journalism training who knows how to create clear and compelling content and work to deadline.

“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says Sheridan. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”

Sheridan is now the founder and president of a coaching and consulting firm that helps other companies create customer-focused content that drives sales.

His book gives you permission to do what you’ve always known your business should be doing to win customers. Quit talking about yourself. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Obsess over your customers’ questions and concerns. And win their trust and their business by answering with fierce honesty.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Want to bring people together? Skip the usual networking event and instead work & learn together (REVIEW)

friend of a friendThis review first ran in the July 7th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career

By David Burkus

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Wash dishes or mix and mingle?

This is one introvert who’d happily roll up his sleeves, fill the sink and start scrubbing.

At Jon Levy’s parties, you get to do both.

You don’t just get invited to an Influencer Dinner at Levy’s home in New York City. You help cook the meal, set the table and clear the dishes.

Levy has one rule while everyone’s in his kitchen. You ditch the script that’s followed at every networking event. You can’t tell anyone who you are or talk about what you do for a living. You’re on a first-name basis until everyone sits down for dinner. You then break bread by trying to guess each other’s identity and profession.

Instead of making meals together, Pixar Animation Studios runs an in-house university for employees. Yes, you can take courses on how to draw. But you can also sign up for  everything from improv comedy and painting to acting and belly dancing.

Everyone can take up to four hours of paid work time every week to take courses. And you can excuse yourself from meetings that are booked when you’re supposed to be in class.

The value of the university is in the internal networks that get built, with frontline staff and new hires learning alongside senior executives and veterans from across the company.

Working together brings people together. Levy’s dinners and Pixar’s university also get around a common pitfall with traditional networking events. Along with being a painful exercise for introverts, we tend to go to events and strike up conversations with people we already know, who are in the same line of work as us and share the same view of the world.

This approach pretty much negates the whole point of building a network. We’re not meeting new people, expanding our thinking, questioning our reasoning or getting the diversity of ideas, insights and feedback we need.

“Networking events don’t bring us truly new contacts,” says David Burkus, a business school professor with an expertise in network science and author of Friend of a Friend.

“Instead, research suggests we are better off engaging in activities that draw a cross-section of people and letting those connections form naturally as we engage with the task at hand. You may not be focused on networking while you participate in such activities, but after you finish, you’ll find that you have gathered a host of new and interesting people that now call you friend.”

Research also shows that you want to be the person who, like Jon Levy with his dinner parties, serves as the broker and bridge between networks of people who would otherwise never meet. “The most connected people inside a tight group within a single industry are less valuable than the people who span the gaps between groups and broker information back and forth,” says Burkus.

“Playing in between the clusters and connecting them to each other can provide huge advantages not just for brokers but also for the organizations they work with.”

Burkus shows how to make and strengthen the connections that will have an outsized impact on your work and career.  “Your network is influencing you, and so you better begin influencing your network. Navigating your network deliberately – making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend – can directly influence the person you become, for better or worse. Your friend of a friend is your future.”

And if you’ve got a friend in me if you need someone to wash and rinse the dishes at your next networking event.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work

purposeA version of this review first ran in the June 23 edition of The Hamilton SpectatorThe Hamilton Spectator.

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good

By John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen

Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.


I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.

They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.

Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.

So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.

If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving  homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.

Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit.  Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.

Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.

Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.

To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.

  • How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
  • How will your family be better off?
  • How will the people who work with you be better off?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
  • And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?

“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.

“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”

Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.

“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”

Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good.  A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.

Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.

Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
  • Confusing purpose with a marketing program.  Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
  • Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
  • Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.  “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”

Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.

“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”

To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


5 keys to launching & leading a movement at work or in your community (REVIEW)

PURPOSEFULThis review first ran in the June 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Maker?

By Jennifer Dulski

Portfolio / Penguin


Manal Rostom started wearing a hijab after surviving a bus crash that killed her cousin. She wanted to thank God for giving her a second chance at life.

Manal launched a Facebook group called Surviving Hijab and invited 80 women to join her online community. Overnight, 500 women signed up.  Today, there are more than 570,000 members.

Manal is also an avid runner who wants to empower hijabi women to be active and play sports. So Manal emailed Nike asking for help. Nike said yes. In 2015, Manal became the first hijabi athlete featured in a Nike ad campaign and the first coach of an all-women’s Nike running club in Dubai.

In 2017, Manal was invited to join other Muslim female athletes in testing Nike Pro Hijab prototypes. The hijabs went to market earlier this year.

“That swoosh gives us power,” Manal told Jennifer Dulski, author of Purposeful. “It was magical. It was the first time that a multinational brand said they would cater to this segment of Muslim women.”

So how about you? What’s your passion? What cause do champion and what change would you make at work or in our community?

“I believe wholeheartedly that every single person has the capacity to start and lead a movement that changes the world,” says Dulski, Head of Groups and Community at Facebook and the former President and Chief Operating Officer at “We all have the power to inspire people and spark movements around issues that matter. Whatever your movement or your cause, you have the ability to affect people’s lives.”

All of us have a choice, says Dulski. We can be managers or movement starters. “Whereas managers accept the world as it is, movement starters burn with the passion to make it more just, equitable and engaging.”

Building a movement starts by setting out a clear and compelling vision and purpose. What’s your desired future and why do you want it? “A movement simply cannot exist without a vision to rally people around and the more clearly articulated that vision is, the easier it will be to mobilize people to achieve it.”

Once you have your vision and purpose, start winning over decision-makers. Browbeating and publicly shaming the powers that be is not a winning strategy. You need allies and long-term partners, says Dulski. Understand what motivates key decision-makers and then make a realistic ask that lends itself to an easy yes.

Now it’s time to inspire your team and keep them motivated. You need every single person to buy in and fight for the cause. “Without others supporting you and spreading your cause, you really don’t have a movement.”

Expect criticism and use it to your advantage. Listen to genuine and constructive feedback. Ignore what Dulski calls the tsunami of haterade and remember the army of supporters standing with you. “One way to overcome the cruelty of haters is to build enough positivity around us to dwarf the negative reactions we do receive. Put more positive around you than negative, and it can boost you up, even amid the cruelest of trolls.”

And finally, be mentally prepared for the journey ahead and the obstacles to come. You’ll be scaling the mountains you aim to move. “The key to success is holding on to the belief that you will have more sunny days than cloudy ones and to just keep climbing, every day no matter what.”

Living a life in pursuit of positive impact is why we’re all here, says Dulski. She highlights movement makers like Manal throughout her book, showing how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

“We’ve seen the power that can come from those who step up to start movements and from the large numbers of people who support them – new, purpose-driven companies, new ideas and approaches within staid organizations, and new policies and laws that create a better world for all of us. Now it’s your turn.”

Dulski shows how to do it. So why not you?

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.



8 ways to win over customers and make mom proud (review of Jeanne Bliss’ Whould You Do That To Your Mother?)

momThis review first ran in the May 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Would You Do That To Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard For How To Treat Your Customers

Jeanne Bliss

Portfolio / Penguin


The manager of the Hollister store at Limeridge Mall in Hamilton won over this grateful dad and would make her mom proud.

I was there to replace my daughter’s new t-shirt. The colours on the red, white and blue shirt ran the first time through the wash.

I brought the accidentally tie-dyed shirt back to the store to make sure I bought the right replacement.

When I got to the register with debit card in hand, the manager didn’t get a lecture on how to wash clothes. She apologized that the quality of the shirt didn’t live up to my expectations or Hollister’s standards. She then exchanged the shirt at no charge. No receipt? No problem.

It was what Jeanne Bliss would call a make mom proud moment. Called the godmother of customer experience, Bliss has led the customer experience at Land’s End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft and Mazda and is the cofounder of the Customer Experience Professionals’ Association.

“We need to take how we are treating customers personally,” Bliss writes in her book Would You Do That To Your Mother. “Thinking of our moms at the end of our decisions helps to get us there. That’s why I suggest you imagine her in moments when you’re making decisions or taking personal actions. The image of her, of what she’s meant to you and what you’ve learned from her, can be a powerful and instant reality check. It can make us pause.”

So picture your mom as a customer, client, student or patient where you work. Here are eight ways you can make her proud and win over the people who keep you in business.

Honour your customers’ time and their clock. “Would you give your mom a four-hour window in which you might show up for a visit?” Don’t expect your customers’ lives to revolve around your schedule. At Amazon Prime, the entire customer experience is built around answering two questions. Do you have what I want? And can you get it to me when I need it? Shorten your service windows and move faster.

Take the monkey off your customer’s back. “Would you make your mom do work to get good service, which you could have easily done for her?” Don’t force customers to take on extra work themselves to resolve an issue. You should be doing the heavy lifting.

Don’t leave customers in the dark. Proactively communicate for peace of mind. When something doesn’t go according to plan, give customers the heads up before they start calling and going on social media. And then keep them updated until the problem’s fixed.

Allow for graceful departures and leave the door open for future returns. “Would you charge your mom a penalty for cancelling her subscription with you? Or would you take the opportunity to learn why she’s leaving and thank her for her business.” Keep your customers with outstanding service and value rather than contract terms and “gotcha” clauses buried in the fine print.

Make it easy to get help. “Would you put your mom through your phone tree before solving her problem?” Make it quick and effortless to get your attention and assistance. Your ready availability will reflect how much you really care about your customers.

Stop the customer hot potato. Quit bouncing customers around to different people and departments. Adopt a one-company mindset so that whoever deals with your customer can resolve the issue.

Fix the paperwork rigmarole. Communicate in plain and simple language. Say more with fewer, less complex words. “Write your communications like you’d write a letter to your mother.” Reduce the redundancy, number, duplication and complexity of forms. Deliver understanding instead of jargon and piles of paper.

And finally, spare your customers from having to repeat themselves, provide the same information and answer the same questions over and over again. “Would you make your mom keep reintroducing herself to you?” Show that you know and care about your customers by delivering relevant, personalized experiences.

Do these eight things for your customers and there’s a good chance you’ll turn one-off transactions into long-term relationships.

“To put this in the simplest terms, do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?”

Through 32 case studies, Bliss shows how companies are treating customers with the same care, attention and respect they’d give to their own mothers or for a dad who’s pulled a ruined shirt out of the wash and needs to make things right with his daughter.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Two keys to achieving an unrealistic goal (review)

motivationThis review first ran in the May 12 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win

By Jeff Haden

Portfolio / Penguin


I have a picture that’s worth one word and 38 pounds.

That word is “ugh” and 38 pounds is how much weight I’ve lost since the photo was taken back in mid-February.

I was neither the picture of health nor a model of restraint and self-discipline. Instead, I was well on my way to becoming the poster boy for type 2 diabetes and the cardiac intensive care unit.


NOT EXACTLY THE PICTURE OF HEALTH: Some photos are worth a thousand words. This one was worth one word – ugh – plus 38 pounds and counting. This was my motivation to eat less, eat smarter, move more and stick to the daily routine.

So I set a big goal of shrinking myself by 20 per cent. My days would start and end with exercise. My lifelong love affair with junk, fast and fried foods was abruptly over. Dessert was off the dinner menu.

I’ve resisted temptation and stuck with the daily routine thanks to the dropping numbers on the bathroom scale and clothes that no longer fit like a sausage casing.

This would come as no surprise to Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth.

Maybe you’re also looking to get yourself into game shape. Or you’re angling for a promotion, considering a career change or thinking about launching your own business.

Whatever your goal, set it and then forget it. Focus instead on what you’ll do today to move a step closer to achieving your dream.

Your goal should be unrealistic but your path for getting there must be realistic.

“Everyone has goals,” says Haden. “The people who actually achieve their goals create routines. They build systems. They consistently take the steps that, in time, will ensure they reach their ultimate goal. They don’t wish. They don’t hope. They just do what their plan says, consistently and without fail.”

High achievers who reach their goals recognize that the pain of regret is much greater than the pain of discipline.

That discipline to stay the course will set off a virtuous cycle. Each day, you’ll feel good about successfully taking a step. Feeling good will give your self-confidence a boost. You’ll then have the added confidence to take the next step and continue moving forward.

“Success is a process. Success is repeatable and predictable. Success is less to do with hoping and praying and strategizing than with diligently doing (after a little strategizing, sure): doing the right things, the right way, over and over and over.

“Inevitable success is the best success of all – and it will happen when you set your goal, forget your goal and focus on working your process.”

Haden says success is the only true recipe for sustained motivation. So don’t waste time waiting for inspiration to strike. And don’t bank on your boss, significant other, a motivational speaker or a walk across hot coals to fire you up.

“The problem with waiting for motivation to strike is that it almost never comes with enough voltage to actually get you started.”

Along with not focusing on your goal, Haden says we shouldn’t talk about it either. Yes, family and friends may offer moral support. And we could feel a sense of obligation to stay true to our word and make the change. But there’s a far greater risk that we’ll confuse talking with doing and fool ourselves into believing we’re further along the path of becoming who we want to be.

“Don’t tell me your goals,” says Haden. “Don’t tell me your dreams. Tell me your plan.  Your dreams are important, but your plan is what will allow you to achieve your goals and live out your dreams. Don’t wait for inspiration. Get started. Work your plan. When you do, you’ll find all the motivation you need.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Why dissent is your best cure for groupthink (review)

troublemakerThis review first ran in the April 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business

By Charlan Nemeth

Basic Books


Come up with a great idea at work and you’re showered with awards and accolades.

But what do you get for killing a dumb idea that’s a fan favourite with colleagues or a pet project of the boss?

Don’t count on winning employee of the month honours. You’ll likely lose friends, make some enemies and get branded a malcontent. You’ll be reminded why it’s important to go along to get along and may even be told to make amends for hurt feelings and bruised egos.

Also expect fewer invitations to join project teams, committees and task forces which can definitely count as a big plus.

Or maybe none of that will happen because you work for a leader who values troublemakers like you and applauds your courage, conviction and candor. You say what the rest of us are thinking. You may be a pain but you’re the preventative cure for groupthink.

Groupthink is how otherwise smart people make stupid decisions. These teams have bought into the illusion of their invulnerability and unanimity. They practice self-censorship, discuss only the information they have in common and put the screws to dissenters.

Teams that are suffering from groupthink are often in error but never in doubt, says Charlan Nemeth, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of In Defense of Troublemakers.

“The pressure to reach consensus and especially the suppression of dissent are precisely the ways to get convergent thinking – a narrowing of the range of information and options by viewing the issue from a single perspective instead of exploring multiple perspectives,” says Nemeth.

Dissent is the cure for groupthink. “Dissent, while often annoying, is precisely the challenge that we need to reassess our own views and make better choices. It helps us consider alternatives and generate creative solutions. Dissent is a liberator. Genuine dissent and debate not only make us think but make us think well. We become free to know what we know.”

Don’t confuse troublemakers with devil’s advocates. Troublemakers believe what they’re saying and their conviction has the power to privately change hearts and minds.

Devil’s advocates are playing a part free of authentic dissent. This can fool teams into believing they’ve had vigorous debate. And rather than provoking a team to make a smarter decision, research shows devil’s advocates can actually reinforce initial thinking and polarize the group’s position.

“For too many years, I have watched the pumped-up moral superiority by people who believe that they have considered all sides of an issue – and have no patience for any challenge to the position they have decided,” says Nemeth.

It’s up to leaders to defend troublemakers and actively solicit a diversity of perspectives. Hiring people who will look at issues from different points of view is key. “Diversity might provide a range of views, but to have value, those views need to be expressed – perhaps even welcomed in a debate between views. For this to happen, however, there must be a leader who actually welcomes differences in viewpoint.”

Going against majority opinion and saying aloud what others may be thinking can be career-limiting in organizations that value cohesion and harmony above all else. Yet troublemakers play an essential role in breaking the power of consensus and stimulating independent thinking.

To borrow a line from General George Patton, if everyone is thinking alike than somebody isn’t thinking.

“Confronted by dissent, we are less likely to rush to judgment, whether as individuals or in groups,” says Nemeth. “We are more likely to consider the pros and the cons of a position. Dissent, by and large, helps us make better decisions and come up with more creative solutions. Dissent makes us more open to learning, to growing and to changing.”

@jayrobb is a troublemaker who serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Five ways to tell better stories that win hearts, change minds & get results

storytellingThis review first ran in the April 14th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media


A father and son are on vacation.

They’re walking on the beach when they find hundreds of stranded starfish baking in the sun.

The boy picks up a starfish and puts it back in the ocean.

The dad tells his son there are too many starfish to save. “We’ll be here forever,” says the dad.

“Relax dad,” says the boy. “I’m just saving one starfish so CEOs and motivational speakers can repeat this story over and over again whenever they need to drive home the point about how one person can make a difference. Now let’s go have breakfast.”

We all know that telling stories is better than inflicting death by PowerPoint on an audience. We’re hardwired for storytelling.

But don’t be lazy and recycle whatever comes up when you Google search “stories to inspire an audience.”

Skip the often-told starfish story and instead follow Rob Biesenbach’s advice for telling more compelling tales.

“A story is a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of some challenge or obstacle,” says Biesenbach.

To tell a great story that sticks with your audience, ask yourself five questions:

Is the character in your story real and relatable? We don’t care about processes and programs, says Biesenbach. We care about people. “Your character is the heart of the story. Bring your stories down to the human level. If a problem exists it must surely affect actual people.” Tell us about someone like us who’s in a similar situation and facing the same kind of challenge. Share a personal story or introduce us to one of your customers, clients, patients or students.

Is there sufficient conflict? If there’s no conflict, there’s no drama driving the narrative of your story. “Conflict arises from the tension between the character’s goal and the challenge facing her.”

Are the stakes high enough? Go big with the challenge. “For a story to work, there has to be something important at stake – a serious problem that cries out for action.”

Is there clear cause and effect? Tightly link the chain of events in your story. “Causality is more meaningful to us than mere coincidence.”

And is there an emotional core at the heart of your story? “Emotion fuels stories,” says Biesenbach. “When your audience feels something, they are more likely to do something.”

Once you’ve checked off these boxes, structure your story in three parts.

In the beginning, introduce us to your character.

In the middle of your story, set out your character’s challenge.

At the end of your story, bring things to a resolution.

“Think of your story as a Hollywood blockbuster. In the end, the enemy is vanquished, the boy gets the girl, justice is served. There’s a reason these movies are so popular: they give audiences what they want – a satisfactory conclusion.

“Your story should not be in the style of indie or art house cinema, where the characters don’t really change and problems go unresolved. The indie film may be truer to everyday life, but it’s not particularly satisfying for general audiences.”

Biesenbach’s written a practical guide to help anyone become a better, more focused storyteller. The stronger your stories, the better your odds of winning hearts, changing minds and getting results.

“Our stories help define who we are and what we stand for. They set us apart in a noisy, competitive world. And they help ensure we’re remembered. Don’t be intimated. Storytelling isn’t reserved for artists and poets and folksy cowboys huddled around the campfire.”

@jayrobb tells stories as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.