Viewing entries tagged


I'm a fanatic . . . about culture . . . but it better be real!

Yep, I could be  that guy!  I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Yep, I could be that guy! I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I admit it. I’m a fanatic. No not a ranting, in your face, zealot. I’m from the midwest after all. Our zeal is a little more tempered. Stoic. Nice. That reminds me, our state once thought the best tourism tag line for our state was to promote this . . . “Nebraska, nice.” Ugh. Doubt it helped much. Anyway, back to me, the fanatic. I bear all the hallmarks of being a “true believer,” I have the gear, I study carefully everything about my passion, I’m drawn to others who share a similar love for the object of my obsession, I’ve done it all . . . except the tattoo. But then again, I’m from a different generation and, again, midwestern.

So, what is it that I am fanatical about? Well . . ., before I tell you and some of you sign off—concluding that your passion is not mine, and thus irrelevant—let me say, this post is not about the object of my fan-dom (fan-dumb?) but about the power of culture You see, the entity upon which my interest is focus is, right now, not worthy of such devotion. Ouch. It hurts to even admit that, I’m such a homer when it comes to college football.

The truth is the truth however and it is undeniable that my beloved team—the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, or “the Huskers” for short—has been awful. Last year? 4-8. The year before? 4-8. Dismal. Yet, this team has a top 15 recruiting class this year. They have been projected to finish in the top 20 by a number of prognosticians. Enthusiasm is high among the fans. Hope is abundant. What gives? Well a change in leadership but perhaps even more importantly the establishment of a new culture.

You can feel it. In the way the players talk, in the way they play, in their belief in the team and coaches and their willingness to voluntarily commit their discretionary effort to the team’s goals. Just watch their body language. A few years ago, under a different coaching regime . . . we won’t name names, I saw players on the side lines with their heads down, looking away or even pushing past . . . and thus avoiding . . . coaches who were trying to talk to them. It was not surprising when, over time, they began to look like they weren’t united in trying to win and the results began to mirror that disconnect. My observations were confirmed when a friend, and former division I quarterback, made the same observation, “You can tell they don’t want to play for this coach,” he said, “Just look at how they act when they come off the field.” Finally, someone close to the program also stated it. “They lost faith in the coach.”

So what has given this new culture its legs? Not success . . . not yet. Unless it’s the reputation of past success which these leaders have or the progress being made. But, success in the present? No. The team started out 0-6. The first time in the history of the program. Amazingly, the team continued to fight. They appeared to improve over the course of the season. They fought no matter what the circumstances and even looked better when they lost. It was clear that they “had each other’s back” and the team was, in fact, a Team. Having played both for teams that were not united or had a successful culture as well as teams that were very high functioning (including a national coach of the year) here are a few observations (from an outsider’s view) of what has made this work.

  1. The leaders have a deep understanding of—and deep connection with —the broader context of the program and how to utilize the context to promote success. The Coach grew up in Nebraska. Population 1,325. The “Walk On Program” here at Nebraska—the recruiting of local kids—is at least as important as the getting the “blue-chippers”—highly ranked recruits— in the context of Nebraska football. He gets this. He praises the fans and the culture as being “like no other” and highlights its strengths—joking about how “blue-chippers” think they’ll see a football stadium in the “middle of a corn field.” Early cohorts talked about valuing the walk on program but in practice . . . they didn’t get it.

  2. The leaders demonstrate a commitment to one thing—success. I hear statements like, “We are going to be good.” or “ We’ll see if he can contribute.” Even doubts, “Some may not be with the program” It’s clear that the goal is the focus and they believe reaching for that goal will help everyone who buys in. You could call it the “while no one is an ‘expendable crewman’ . . . some are more expendable than others.” But the message is clear. This is about being successful as a team. You can “get on board” or not but it is the single clear focus of the program.

  3. Hard work is the route to success. How do you go from 4-8 two years in a row to the 13th ranked recruiting class? Hard work. Weight training. Husker Power. Strength Coach Zach Duvall. The coaches have not shied away from saying that players were not where they needed to be. In fact after the final game to our Iowa neighbors, the coach said it hurt to see that they were bigger and stronger than we were. How’s that for honest clarity? Yes, the coaches are careful to allow that there are many paths to success (that other coaches may have tried) and that previous coaches may have had a different focus and emphasis, but it’s clear that the team did not meet their criteria for strength, speed, and commitment. It’s also clear that anyone wanting to be a part will dedicate themselves to these attributes.

  4. Finally, over everything else, the emphasis is on people. The clear message—and one that resonates as not just being "coach-speak”—is that this is about the players. Helping them become better men. Developing their potential. Becoming a close-knit group and having fun together. Yes, fun. In fused in everything is this belief that hard work, dedication, team chemistry, and success is fun and worth the effort. The mission is not just winning on the field it’s being successful as a person.

In Coach Frost’s own words . . .

As I was writing this blog, an Omaha World Herald article by Sam McKewon came out where Coach Frost talked about the importance of culture. Here’s part of what Frost was quoted as saying . . . “Culture eats scheme for breakfast . . . I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays we can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have . . . people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, [i.e.; the right culture] I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”

Frost boils it down to two factors, 1. players making decisions in the best interests of their teammates, and 2. a desire to excel and no fear of failure.

Will this, ultimately, lead to the success the coaches want? If we’re talking wins . . . it’s unknown. In fact, due to the variables at play in such an endeavor it could be argued that their is no way to determine what causal factors lead to success on the field. Fair enough. But if you just look at the players behavior, other on and off the field, you can already see a clear and vital difference. It’s clear that this focus on culture has brought a new energy, a willingness to commit voluntary effort to succeeding, and cleared aways a number of hurdles that were detrimental to success. A strong culture, at the very least, increases the likelihood that success is possible—in athletics and in business.

P.S. I was told by someone who worked with transportation for recent Husker teams would leave the bus “trashed” when they got done with a trip. Not anymore. The Coaches, from the first, made players clean up after themselves and appreciate the service they were being given. Coaches talk about representing the state, university, and each other. The message is clear—even in this minor detail, “We will treat people, including ourselves, with respect.” Sometimes it starts that small to build a great culture.



The Slippery Slope of Facts . . . as we are Conditioned to Know Them . . .

Beware of the facts! Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Beware of the facts! Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Slippery Slope

Circa 1975. I was starting high school (Yes, I’m that old!), and with a particular interest in all things science, I looked forward to delving further into physical science, chemistry, and biology. I was intrigued by the things I had already learned about the world and how science could help us understand the world. Little did I know that the facts I learned then . . . would change! To wit:

  • The electron “is the smallest particle in the universe.”

  • We are facing a new ice age.

  • We only have 50 years left of fossil fuel.

  • We will be unable to feed the world population by the year 2000.

Today, science tells us . . .

  • Quarks are smaller than electrons.

  • We need to be worried about global warming . . . no, . . . wait, . . . climate change.

  • We still are going to run out of fossil fuel . . . and besides it is destroying the Ozone.

  • Water is going to become a major crisis for the world.

I’m not here to dispute or challenge the scientific dogma, old or new, or the merits of each of these theories, I just note it to say, “the facts have changed!” Some would argue, correctly I believe, that this change is exactly what science is supposed to do! Change as new knowledge and better models are discovered. I agree. But others would see a more sinister pushing of agendas that might have other motives. Perhaps this too is true.

In either case, it illustrates that far too often theories are confounded with proven facts. My teachers, in 1975, made this error. Presumably they had been taught that scientific theories and data are only consistent with projections and are not, in and of themselves, facts . . . but that is not how it was presented. It was presented as a scientific certainty. It proved not to be true and it is still happening today.

Blame it on lazy thinking, poor educational systems, a lack of higher education . . . what ever you will, but again I am not hear to debate those theories but to talk about the slippery slope of facts as it relates to business.

Businesses, Organizations and Facts

One of the greatest challenges to helping businesses and organizations change is what “they already know.” Einstein encased the problem of “knowing” succinctly in his oft quoted adage, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” When working with leaders one of the tell-tale signs of whether an “outside consultant” can help is if they are willing to have what is known challenged and if they are actively looking for new ways to approach the problems. If not, they are doomed to repeat the cycle that produced and sustain the problem.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? The problem is, most leaders think they are open to questioning the facts as they know them—and I think they honestly believe they are. However, too often, years of conditioned responses makes them resistant to change.

The Power of Conditioning

To illustrate the power of the conditioning, I will at times, after meeting with them for some period of time, raise my hand and extend it toward the leader. Instinctively, they will raise their hand to meet mine. Then I ask them why they did that . . . “well, you wanted to shake hands,” they reply. “Did I? Did you?” I set this up after we have talked a while specifically because a handshake is not expected at that time. We didn’t just meet and it’s not time for the social practice of shaking hands, but the leader didn’t consider if some other response would be better—other than a passing thought of confusion— or if the gesture could be something other than an expectation of a hand shake; they are just responding to years and years of conditioning.

Leader’s lead in ways they have been conditioned to lead. Do the facts lead them to exert control? To lead by being inclusive? To work for warm relations and a collegial approach to team building. Why? Too often, they really can’t explain their approach because, like the handshake, it is an unconscious and conditioned response.

But it works! Until it doesn’t.

I’m not really being critical of leaders. We all operate on conditioned responses. it’s what makes the world operate smoothly. My mind is not cluttered up with analyzing each and every “handshake” to determine what to do. I don’t have to think when the brake lights come on ahead of me, my foot automatically moves to the brake pedal.

Leaders are elevated to their positions because their conditioned responses are affective. An impulse to shake hands when one is extended to you is a social “grace” that eases the awkward meeting of two people. But, ever know someone who keeps wanting to shake hands? I did.

One school I attended had a student I’ll call Gary. Gary had a habit of shaking your hand, then repeatedly reaching out again, through the conversation, to shake your hand again. Alternately, he would simply continue to grasp your hand and not let go. Talk about awkward. What do you do? Many people, myself included, tried passive ways to try and extricate our hand, or avoid the multiple handshakes. Some, I have no doubt, avoided Gary. I’ll admit, I at times, wanted to as well. Those additional handshakes when unwarranted, creates an awkward barrier to further relationship building.

I personally was stuck by the “facts” as I knew them. One, people interacting with Gary had certainly “indicated” — with their behavior and words — that this handshaking behavior was unusual and an unwanted behavior. I had personally witnessed another student respond with “Let go of my hand! What’s wrong with you?” Two, Gary probably did not need anyone else making him feel like he was a “problem” and “unliked” and that “knowledge” had not stopped the behavior. Three, I wanted to be a good person and treat people, even if their behavior made me feel uncomfortable, in a respectful way. Accommodating Gary’s strange behavior did no harm and actually was helpful. Right? The facts, as I viewed them, led me to be passively engaged with Gary and ignore what was really happening . . . that Gary’s behavior made me, and many other’s uncomfortable, and to “be kind” — pretending I was not uncomfortable and not talking directly to Gary about these facts with kindness and the real respect he was due.

The solution came in the form of an older, and wiser, man — a school professor. A man whose interaction with Gary I got to witness. After shaking the professor’s hand, Gary, predictably, extended his hand, again, to the professor. “Why do you want to shake my hand again?” the professor asked. His voice was quiet. His tone warm and sympathetic. I had no doubt that if Gary had suddenly come up with an honest and insightful answer—”I’ve never felt like people like me and shaking hands make me feel accepted” or “I’m sorry I have a compulsion and it sometimes gets the best of me” — the professor would have been willing to shake his hand a second time. Unfortunately, Gary looked uncomfortable. He stammered out an answer or excuse, and shuffled away.

Afterward, I notice that Gary’s handwringing exercise diminished. Had he considered what the professor had asked? Had he learned something about himself and the conditioned responses he had learned? I don’t know. I do know the problem was largely resolved.

The professor, in my view, was the one person I witnessed who had the courage to be both kind and honest. He was not thinking about how Gary would view him or how it might affect how others would view him as a professor. He did what was in Gary’s best interest, period.

Download our leadership eBook for free. Or . . . check out . . .

Other stuff from us . . . on Gumroad.

P.S. Ironically — isn’t life funny? — the day before I finished this post, I had another “handshaking” incident. a young man I know and admire, but who suffers from a significantly anxious temperament, was bidding me goodbye. In that process, over 5-10 minutes, he extended his hand at least three times. Caught off guard, I shook it each time. Now, the challenge is, “Do I talk to him about it?” Chances are the answer will be, “Yes!”



Betrayed! The ultimate test of emotional intelligence . . . and character.

Photo by  Xavier Sotomayor  on  Unsplash


It's easier to forgive an enemy than it is to forgive a friend." ~William Blake


Everyone feels betrayed . . . eventually.

Yeas ago I saw an article that said 90 percent of men engaged in a particular habit. What caught my eye was the subtitle, which said, "10 percent lie." When it comes to the topic of betrayal in business I am tempted to re-assert the same adage, to wit: 

Ninety percent of people will feel betrayed at work. Ten percent lie. ~Bryan Miller


Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 8.53.00 AM.png


The type of organization makes betrayal more, or less, of a risk

Where you work may determine if this sense of betrayal is easily managed or not.

For example,  if you work in a big conglomerate or corporate entity, a public or private sector workplace, or the military, you may be able to set it aside philosophically with a rationalization such as "it's only work" or "there is always one jerk" and alter your actions to minimize the impact  on your work-life.

But what if you work in a very small company? Or you work in a small professional practice, non-profit, or family business?  In these cases . . . it's not so easy. (see our posts on Preserving the Family Business or 9 Common Lies Family Business Owners Tell  Themselves.)

Experts have noted that their are certain types of organizations that are prone to present as more "emotional" than the typical corporation--these organizations often have the advantage of sharing stronger bonds (more like Blake's "friends" in the quote above) and are thus at a greater risk of a sense of betrayal. In fact, it is these close bonds--and the implied trust inherent in it--that makes the betrayal an especially dangerous threat.


When people feel betrayed, leaders need to step up!

Ever hear the statement that the employees know "where the bodies are buried?" Think about that statement for a moment . . . and about the literalness of that statement. The employees know "who has died (killed?) and that their final resting places are known." Maybe the burial plot is in marketing, or the warehouse, or the "other office."

It's too easy for leaders to ignore times when employees feel betrayed. Sometimes they blame the "victim" --"they take things too personally!" At other times, the threat is dismissed, "You don't have to like the people you work with." But feelings of betrayal will often erupt in conflict at critical moments or eat away like cancer on your organizational body.  Production will drop, employees won't be willing to contribute any more than necessary, negative behaviors increase.

Like it or not, a leader needs to "get into the problem" and help the effected parties come to a resolution. They need to "get over" their own issues with trust . . . and lead. But this often creates a threat to the leader . . . so, often, the leader can revert to "taking control" or they kick this task "down the road" . . . avoiding, for the moment, dealing with the threat of a diagnosable "organizational disease" or perhaps the need for surgery--possibly even amputation..


When you are betrayed, your Response reveals your character.

Yep, I get it. You're hurt. Your angry. What has been done is unjust . . . to you. It's patently unfair. It could have easily been avoided if only the other person would have just taken the easiest, and most normal, of actions. The one you would have taken. The one any good and decent person would have taken.

Maybe, it's even true, maybe someone acted, intentionally, in a way that violated a trust with, or allegiance to, you. Or perhaps a fair-minded person would have concluded it was a misunderstanding, poor communication, or the circumstances that was the causal factor. Never-the-less . . . it still feels like a betrayal.

When you are the one betrayed--whether real or perceived--how you respond says more about you than the event itself . . . or the other person.

Yes, there are true betrayals . . . the acts of people who truly have a cancer of the soul . . . but let's face it most of the betrayals that impact people can be, are typically are, seen differently by the two people involved. That is, the common "sense of being betrayed" is different from a empirical fact of being betrayed." Unfortunately, seeing this as something other than a genuine betrayal takes a certain amount of detachment--a detachment that is particularly difficult to find when one is hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Yet, it is the time when it is most needed.

So, don't tell me how rational you are being. How logical. How professional. The truth is, you feel betrayed. No amount of "pollyanna-ishness", sublimation, or denial . . . will eliminate this fact. Often those that are the most "detached, unaffected, or stoic" . . . are the best at hiding this truth from others, and sometimes themselves--but they too feel a deep sense of hurt, anger or resentment. So, the question is, "What are you going to do about it?"

When I was barely in my 30s, I faced this question--"What are you going to do?"--in a very personal and dramatic way. My younger brother, Kirk, was killed in a car-bike accident. Despite it being "no one's fault" the sense of betrayal--on many levels--was real. I won't burden you with the details, but I bring it up to say that when faced with this kind of pain, resentment, anger, etc. you need to make a choice to respond to it and move beyond it. 

Here are few suggestions:

1. Don't over-cook it. We all, at times of betrayal, focus on trying to avoid pain (see "Move through it" below) or wallow in the injustice of it. (My common adage about pain is, "When do you want to quit suffering? Yesterday.")  Of course, it is natural to rerun the events that lead to the sense of betrayal. Our minds are trying to understand and incorporate what happened. But there comes a time when we will make a choice (including the choice to not choose) and often it is too tempting to continue to re-live the sense of injustice. Don't do it. Sometimes, it's driven by the person's sense of guilt or shame in a form of unconscious self-punishment.

2. Move through it.  Yes, you can try to avoid it or go around it but the shortest path, and often the only choice that leads to a good long-term outcome, is to go through the experience of betrayal. What does this mean? It means acknowledging the sense, and the impact, of being betrayed. It means taking the time to sort through the repercussions of the even and finding perspective about the event and deciding how to act based on what actually happened. It means applying emotional intelligence to the other person, yourself, and the situation. This isn't easy. It takes courage and a willingness to feel vulnerable or "at risk" for a while.

3. Create a plan of recovery. Part of acknowledging the sense of betrayal and deciding how to act is to make a plan for how you will recover; It's not anyone else's job and, really, no one else can do it. Now, a plan doesn't necessarily mean "a plan." That is, some will actually draw up, make a list, or schedule activities to help themselves recover. They are the "list-makers" and it works for them--"Good on ya." For the rest of us, creating a plan for recovery means allowing yourselves the time and actions to recover. Adopt some boundaries with others to protect yourself. Do activities that have the possibility of "feeding you" rather than demanding more of you. Lower your standards . . . for a while. Take care of yourself and let yourself recover . . . just like you would if you had major surgery.

4. Get outside. No not "outdoors" (although maybe that helps too!) Get outside yourself. Focus on someone or something else. When you have been betrayed the focus narrows. For a while all the energy is focused on "how could they do this to me?" News flash: You are not the first, nor will you be the last, person betrayed. This initial focus, as we said earlier, is quite normal. But don't get stuck there. Often people begin to recover by focusing on something else; a person or cause where they can focus that energy in a positive way. This begins to remind us that it's "not all about me" and gives us motivation to keep going. To move on you need perspective this can help with that but often it takes time and choice to make this effort.

5. Find support from the right people. It's nice to have indignant friends that "have your back" and will be appropriately miffed at the betrayal. There role is to "make the right sounds" by affirming that you were betrayed, that the other person treated you unjustly, and you have the right to feel what you feel. But, as reassuring as this is . . . It's more important to have well-balanced people who will both support you and, when the time is right, refuse to "jump on the band wagon"--taking sides in an on-going dispute (being "loyal" or an "apologist" for the other party), and carefully helping you to move away from being stuck in your betrayal. It's great if you have that person in your circle of family or friends. If you don't, you may need to use a professional coach, consultant, or counselor.




Bryan Miller is the President of Human Systems Consulting; HSC helps leaders sleep at night and enjoy work again by improving the human-side of organizations. Bryan is the author of Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business and other helpful resources.  Questions or comments? Contact Bryan here.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.






Professional Burnout

Photo by  Yaoqi LAI  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

My private practice, it seems, has recently become an oasis for professionals experiencing burnout in their careers and personal lives. I’m not talking about professionals who just can’t cope or who have personality traits that make them doomed to burnout; I’m talking about successful helping professionals–experts who have been practicing and thriving for 15 to 35 years who suddenly cannot stand the work they once chose and loved.

While I’ve written about ways to prevent burnout in the past I am still learning things as I help these experienced professionals–who are often very insightful and creative in their own right–reinvent their professional and private lives to make their work-life balance manageable and sustainable forms.

I wrote this almost two years ago, and I followed it with some reasons I think successful professionals suffer burnout. (My original follow up post was entitled "Regaining the Joy of Your Career!"

Reasons successful professionals experience burnout:

  • There is an emotionally overwhelming triggering event.

  • They have an exaggerated personal accountability for their work.

  • There is denial of the effect of exposure to traumatic emotional events.

  • Self-care is seen as optional (and sometimes selfish!).

  • Accountability is universal (I have to do everything well!) and not subject to rank ordering.

  • Unrealistic comparisons to others lead to a lack of balance.

  • The isolation of the profession diminishes their perspective of life.

  • Emotional avoidance of guilt, fear, shame, rejection often underlies unhealthy behaviors. (just like our clients . . .)

  • The “supporting cast” of family and/or friends reinforce unhealthy functioning.

  • Band-aids are applied when surgery is needed.

At the time since I wrote this list, conditions in the profession seem to be exacerbating the problems. (Faithful readers may remember when I challenged myself to state what our field needs in just 4 words.) Today, some insurance companies are requiring professionals to pay application fees and annual fees just to be on their boards (the customers don't pay the overhead now the service providers do?), cutbacks in public funding is threatening services, demands for "validated" therapies threaten to make healthcare the paper-pushing cousin to education, and professionals in other fields are developing services that challenge the mental health industry.

More and more professionals I talk with are seeking a way to mediate these negative forces, or leave the healthcare industry through adopting private pay or concierge practices, marketing life coaching, contracting directly with organizations, retooling into another industry, or retiring.  (Not all experts are the same Organizations need people-experts to advise them.) Often professionals, unprepared for a shifting healthcare context, burnout under the vicarious trauma of a long career. Seeing more clients that is sustainable in a healthy manner. Today, more than ever professionals often need a backup plan and exit strategy.

What can you do, in the short-term, to prevent burnout? Here's a few ideas:

  1. Don't expose yourself to additional trauma through your entertainment choices.
  2. Limit your clinical work by mixing in other business ventures.
  3. Find and maintain restorative hobbies, activities and friends.
  4. Listen to music and turn off the news.
  5. Take a break--a long one--from social media.
  6. Create a long-term business/career/life plan that includes diminishing the heavy clinical load.
  7. Broaden, or narrow, your niche to include activities that are not saturated in traumatic material.
  8. Develop a network of social contacts that are not from the healthcare industry.

Good luck!

Read: The greatest leadership lesson I ever learned.



Interested in decreasing your dependence on insurance? Check out Private Practice through Contracting. It will help you "think outside the box," encourage you to seek work you love, guide you into paths that are sustainable . . . and it's free.




Are leaders born or made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

I remember the summer I came home from camp and my brother was standing in the kitchen, alternately bouncing then "palming" a basketball with each hand. I knew my days of being the "top dog" on the basketball court were numbered . . . he had hit his growth spurt that would make him my "superior" in height and value as a player. Still, it is almost less of a shock to find out that your younger sibling will out grow you than it is to find out that they have acquired wisdom that you don't possess. Such is the case as I work with Keith after his long military career. As we sit down with owners and managers, Keith's practical, operational, and personal focus helps us advise our clients to create effective and well-functioning teams. 

So, I invite you to hear my "little brother" talk about Leadership . . . then get the accumulated wisdom or 21 years of leadership.

As a retired Major in the Air Force, Keith spend 21 years leading professional men and women to accomplish critical tasks as part of his career. But Keith is not your "typical" command-and-control type. Keith's success has come from his genuine heart for people and this concern shows in his leadership style.. So, take a moment to watch our short video and listen to him reflect on whether leaders are born or made. Then check out below his leadership manual Lessons Learned Around the World. You will not regret it.

Are leaders born . . . or are they made?  Major (Ret.) USAF Aubrey Keith Miller talks about what contributes to people becoming leaders in a new video.

Keith also has developed a manual for leaders called Lessons Learned Around the World: People-Centered Leadership that we have used to train managers on how to become person-centered, emotionally intelligent leader. For the cost of a cup of coffee, Keith shares the knowledge of his 21 years of leadership across the globe--challenging leaders to engage in a person-centered style that will make them more effective and minimize the challenging of managing people.

Lessons LAW Cover.png

Special Eary-Bird Opportunity: The first three people to get Lessons Learned Around the World may enter the code word "learn" and take off an extra $2, bringing the price down to only $2.99.

HSC also offers free resources to subscribers like Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people and Family Legacy: Protecting family in the family business. 




Mavericks . . . and Tips for Preventing Implosion at the time of Transition

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash


After I had finished speaking, a family friend approached me.  He said, "I really enjoyed what you had to say, but I noticed that your parents walked out on you!"

It started like this . . .Several years ago I was speaking in a city near where my parents lived. It just happened that they had travel plans and were leaving from the airport in that city and told me that would swing by and listen to my "talk" . . . but, they would have to leave before I was done to catch their flight. I connected with them before the speech, started my presentation and, when they stood up--waving as they snuck out the back--I nodded in their direction to acknowledge the prearranged plan.

My response to my twinkle-eyed friend who delighted in putting me on the spot? I told him, "Well, that's okay, you can't teach your parents anything anyway!"

Which brings me to talking about Mavericks. Sometimes they are charismatic leaders. Entrepreneurial types. Visionaries. Sometimes they are ideologs--passionate about their mission. Sometimes they're family.

Too often the vary characteristics that make these Mavericks successful often sow the seeds that cause their work to implode once they are no longer "in the driver's seat." The dynamics of following a leader who was a "golden child" or domineering force are turbulent with threats of comparisons, resistance to change, and stress.

To make things more complicated, Mavericks rarely see the risk. After all, their nature tends toward confidence, maybe over confidence. They believe they can succeed where others do not--create a new product or market, improve upon the established product or service, out hustle and out sell the competition. The challenges of continuing that success beyond their reign seldom is a focus.

So, how do you help these Mavericks avoid an implosion that brings down the fortifications they have worked so hard to build?

  1. Determine who, relative to the Maverick, has the position or relationship that will allow them to be "heard.  As my opening story implies, relationships impact how information impacts us. If it hadn't been my parents who left and my friend had said, "I noticed someone walked out on you." The meaning is very different than having your parents walk out. Will the Maverick trust the guidance of a long-time advisor, a colleague, industry expert, extended family member? Who delivers the message can be critical to its success or failure. 
  2. Acknowledge their willingness to take risks and the importance of their leadership. Mavericks often react to any implication that they are not willing to face changes or that their ego is too attached to being in charge. Once again, the confidence they often exude does not lend itself toward being self-critical. Acknowledging that they have been willing to take risks and change (certainly true) set up the next step.
  3. Use their experiences to frame the present as a challenge . . . in a series of historical challenges. By getting them to review the decisions they had to face, the risks they had to overcome, and the threats they faced you can highlight how a failure to act would have resulted in missed opportunities or even failure. 
  4. Explore how the current situation is like past challenges. Mavericks once again tend to have a wonderful focus. They know what they think and believe. They know what their end goal is. What they often don't do well is to adequately consider factors that go against their vision. But, they have a history that where they have encountered roadblocks and threats. They have met them and made adjustments to survive. Help them recall this and focus on how to be proactive to prevent future threats.
  5. introduce the need for facing the current risks. By now, you should have gathered enough information to tie their experiences into a well-defined "argument" for how the current situation calls for facing the challenge and  risks of change. Lay out your argument. But don't offer a pre-designed solution. 
  6. Don't back down. The Maverick's first response may be to challenge you. After all, they are confident in their own thinking and simply trust other's take on a situation they know better than anyone. Displaying confidence here will likely help them consider the idea more seriously. Vacillating will only send the signal that you are uncertain and the Maverick will likely see this as a need to provide confidence and control and stick with their own plan.
  7. If they agree, utilize them to come up with a plan. After all, these tend to be very capable people at least in some areas. Engage them in coming up with ideas. But remember to challenge their thinking in areas in which they are not strong. So in the case that follows the answer is not "the son needs to be like me!" the answer lies in "how to support the son's growth-with his own strengths--as a leader."
  8. Give them a role or job. I think of the typical Maverick as a "working dog." Like a Border Collie or similar breed they do best when they have a job to do. Whether that job is to develop a new product line, find the right advising team for the son, or become a philanthropist or community leader . . . simply stopping or stepping back is a harder concept than doing something new. 
  9. Be willing to give up your position to help the organization. Who ever has the task of challenging the Maverick needs to accept that this may "poison" the relationship with the Maverick if he or she is not ready to consider and accept this new challenge. So often this role needs to be taken by a board member, colleague, advisor, or and "expendable crewman" for the sake of the organization. A family member, especially in a family business context, may be the wrong messenger due to the fact that this may have irreparable consequences for the family

I once talked to a family business owner who confided that he did not think his son could make his own independent decisions. He feared that this son, and mid-life manager was overly-attentive to what others thought and therefore needed his continued supervision. I was incredulous!  In fact, the two men were very similar in personality and willingness to be "in charge" and run the business. The younger man however had more "sensitivity" to employees and did not "run rough-shod" over them in his decision making. I knew this younger leader, and in my opinion he in no way, demonstrated an indecisive, tentative, "people pleaser" leadership style.  I challenged the father. "So, you are telling me that you raised a son that can't think for himself and make his own decisions?" Thinking this would make him rethink his assessment. It didn't. He replied, "Yes." 

While I still did not believe the father's assessment was correct--I saw the son as trying to move toward a more collaborative and inclusive style of management perhaps as a reaction to the autocratic and forceful personality of his father and the father being over confident of the success of his management style--this father's "reality" was where we had to start. "If that's true," I rejoined, "then you need provide the right conditions to help him develop this ability."  He didn't disagree. From this, we began to talk about how the father's experiences helped to develop the confidence to make decisions and take prudent risks. We then explored his experience and his son's, noting how the circumstances were different for his son and began to craft a plan to help the son grow in his abilities--including a planned "backing out" of the father's role, some training, and continuing and increasing some industry-specific coaching they had begun to continue support for the son.

We can never forget that most Mavericks truly care about the future of the business in most cases. Even if that caring at times makes them "hold on too tightly." They generally are motivated to help the next leaders succeed. But they may have trouble seeing the practical steps that need to happen to turn this into success without their direct involvement and may need someone to help them find a way to let go of the reigns.


Ebook available: Family Legacy: Protecting the family in family business. No cost, no obligation.





The Greatest Act of Leadership? Doing nothing!

Marbly L. Miller. Still teaching at the college at 86, the students called him "Mabe the Babe." For most of his career he was just "Doc."

Marbly L. Miller. Still teaching at the college at 86, the students called him "Mabe the Babe." For most of his career he was just "Doc."

The greatest act of courage and of  leadership, to me,  is when someone acts on deeply held principles in the face of personal loss. I saw it "up-close and personal." Here's that story . . .

What's the greatest act of leadership you've witnessed?  For me, it was watching my father deal with my brother's death.

We all know that no one gets through life without getting "the call."  You know the dreaded, gut-wrenching, terrible, traumatizing call that informs you that some disaster or another has happened; a disaster that will alter the rest of your life. No I'm not trying to be melodramatic here. I do mean that call. That call that hopefully is a very rare event.  For me, there have been two such calls that stand out. One was the call telling us that our son's fiancee had cancer; the other call was from my father telling me my younger brother had been killed.

Now, before you "click away"--perhaps in self-preservation, not needing to subject yourself to another heart-rending, emotional, saccharine out-pouring of syrupy emotion--I promise, it won't be that post. No, this post is about courage and leadership. 

When we got the call about my son's intended, it was our duty to pass the phone on to our son. When my son got the horrible news, and in the days, weeks and months that followed, I has a father, of course, suffered--though not in the same proximity to the events--but never-the-less just as intimately, right along with him. "What was he thinking?" Could he do this--to support his bride-to-be through this ordeal, no-matter-what-the-outcome, at such a young age? How will he handle her suffering, her sorrow, her fears?

Should I, as a Dad, "put my oar in the water" and "help" this young man decide what to do? But he hadn't asked me to give my advice. Should I anyway? What would I say? The fear of what might happen in the event of his decision-making and coping weighed heavy.

Fortunately, this call wasn't the first call. This call was the second. This call came after witnessing the most personal act of courage and leadership I have ever witnessed and gave me the courage to face the fears of saying nothing . . . .

In 1992, my younger brother, at age 27, died. It was in a car-bike accident. But this story is not about that. Except that it was the context of the single greatest act of leadership that I have ever witnessed

Now I told you I'm a father. I have six marvelous children. At the time of my brother's death I already had three children myself. They are, each and every one of them, a true gift. I cannot imagine the pain of losing one of them. So, I can't imagine the pain my mother and father were experiencing, not to mention being able to function in the face of such an overwhelming loss. Yet, I watched my Mom and Dad do exactly that.  Here are a few things my Dad, the active leader of the two, did . . .

When he called me to tell me my brother had been killed--only a short time after the police informed them--he had already called my father-in-law; my father-in-law was, at the moment of the call, coming in my door as I got the news. My father had decided, I assume, that we shouldn't be alone at such a moment, and  that we should have support, so he called my father-in-law to alert him-before he called me. As a father, I cannot imagine having the presence of mind at such a moment to think this clearly. Not only was it good to have his caring presence,  I had someone who was not emotionally overwhelmed to drive me--safely-- to my parent's home some 45 minutes away. 

Later, when my brother's landlord wouldn't return his deposit to my parents because "my brother didn't give 30 days notice"-- and despite the fact the family had spent the weekend cleaning out the apartment so they landlord could, and did, get renters into the apartment before the first day of the month--and, immune to the rationale that they shouldn't hold onto his deposit because . . . "oh yeah, he was killed" and grieving parents should not have to deal with such issues even if somehow it seems "fair"--I decision which caused my normally stoically-reserved family to react in disbelief and anger. My father calmly replied, "I think we'll just let the lawyer take care of it." He did. (On a side note, something in me would have liked to hear that conversation. "So, would you like to go to court and tell a judge why you are keeping this money from the deceased man's parents?")

Finally, the conclusion of the courage and leadership came when I went with my father to the arraignment of the young man responsible for my brother's death. The family had decided that the only thing they would request--given the cause of death was an accident and the driver wasn't impaired--was that the young man have a physical check up to make sure this wouldn't happen again. I witnessed my father ask the court for this and then graciously accept the apologies--and extended hand-- of the young man and his parents with a handshake . . . and no drama . . . essentially doing nothing.

If there ever was a moment when my father showed me that he lived with courage, and understood the power of the position he held as a leader of the family--it was at this moment, when he stood by the principles he preached to us. 

Crisis often illuminates, more than any other time, who a leader really is and what they care about. Leadership "under fire" inspires others to want to follow that example to lead because you;ve experienced the gift and personal benefits of that leadership . . . .

So, as I watched my son and his marvelous fiancee faced their own personal tragedy . . . postponing their wedding, focusing on the treatment needed to get into remission, handling the fears and "what ifs?"--I said nothing about what they should do. This was a time for them to make their choices.. Not mine to make or take from them. My role was to support, my son and through him, his betrothed as they battled this disease. I watched as my, now current, daughter-in-law, with the support of her great family, face this illness with courage and strength. I saw my son support her selflessly though the process. What amazing character I witnessed in these two "early-twenties" young  people.

Only, recently, many years after these events took place, and after the happy events of remission, marriage and two beautiful granddaughters, did I tell my son about the internal "struggle of my brain," fearfully worrying about doing the "right thing" in those dark days. I wanted him to understand (as if his actions didn't already demonstrate this knowledge) the role that leadership plays in freeing others to follow their own path and create their own future . . . as he will undoubtable face these challenges in the future, himself, in some way. "I never considered doing anything different," he said, referring to the steadfastness of going through the treatment with his fiancee. "I just thought that's what you do," he concluded.   Thanks Dad!


Another leadership lesson I learned from Dad . . . how Dad got the bus moving again when the coach, and this year's coach of the year, and the bus driver couldn't . . . and saved the game.

From "Doc" to "Mabe-the-Babe" --growing and changing as a leader.

Engaging Your Team Cover.png


Leading is all about people. If you don't understand them you will fail. Bryan, with a doctorate in human development, has written a free eBook to help leaders find a framework for understanding people. Based on the principles of Schema Theory, Dr. Miller helps the leader understand the "worldview" of employees that seem difficult and hard to lead. Subscribe and get it free or check out his eBooks for Family Business leaders and professionals that want to move away from insurance dependency into contracting and consulting.




New eBook almost here . . . and it's free!

Here's the cover . . . Credit Andrew Miller

Here's the cover . . . Credit Andrew Miller

I just got the final version of our new free eBook--Family Legacy: Protecting Family in Family Business--and it looks amazing! Thank you to Andrew Miller, graphic designer at Andhedrew. Once we have the download set up we'll send out a link to where you can download it.



Two Factors in the Erosion of Relationship

Photo by Topich on Unsplash

Photo by Topich on Unsplash

A friend recently reminded me of the work of Kerry Patterson and the defining work "Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high," a good general introduction for those who have not been accustomed to working in environments where high emotion and the need for good communication commingle.

This is the environment however that you work in every day if you have engaged with individuals and groups as a human systems consultant. Whether it is a family-based business, a non-profit, or a conflict resolution situation the emotion can make having productive communication very difficult. People "walk on egg shells," avoid conversations, or try and use external controls to prevent further damage. Seldom does it work.

At its core, there is often one of two factors at play. One is a paralyzation due to the fear of losing the relationship. The other is an attempt to control the situation to prevent further damage. Neither one helps the core relationship to grow and strengthen. 

A classic example of the fear motivation is the old story of the "emperor's new clothes." You know the story, the emperor is bamboozled into walking around naked having been "sold" and invisible suit. everyone praises the suit, afraid to tell the emperor the truth until, a child, states the obvious and ends the embarrassing charade.

Many people walk in fear of being truthful. 

The second, is attempting to control a situation to prevent harm. I am always reminded on the executive who refused to leave the room when the executive council wanted to talk about his job performance or wages stating, "Nothing good ever happens when I am out of the room!" His attempt to control a situation which had caused a lot of hurt only exacerbated the problem. Frequently people in relationships struggles ask me--often in subtle ways--"How can I get in control of  this situation?" Often the truthful answer is simply, "You can't."

In my example, the goal was clear, the attempt was to control the team to enable trust and prevent further conflict. It wasn't working. I pointed out that the behavior was sending a strong message of his lack of trust for his team and one that may have been a strong indicator that his influence was already heavily damaged.

There is a "siren's call" to give into fear and control. They both, in their own ways, seem like a path to safety. In reality, they have a negative effect on relationships. Fear breeds mistrust, impulsive, reactionary responses to perceived threats. Control breeds resentment, suspicion, rebellion, antagonism, and conflict.

Honest, relationship building, conversations only happen in a safe environment where one or both parties can maintain a non-anxious presence and humbly work toward a solution or mutual respect in disagreement. Anything less is likely to be a bandaid on a festering wound.




Pragmatic Effectiveness and the use of Time and Money

Pragmatic Effectiveness and the use of Time and Money

Recently, a former student sent me a message on LinkedIn expressing "happy anniversary" wishes. In his note, The student, Greg, commenting on his experience in the classroom, noted how "pragmatic and effective your style can be"--I thanked him for the kind words.  The truth, however, is . . . that often . . . I am--wait for it--not so pragmatic and effective. For instance, I have a tendency toward the "cheap" when it comes to spending time and money--I blame it on the midwest "bailing wire" mentality where you value just "making do" with what you have. "Going to town," in this paradigm, to get a needed fix is almost an admission of failure . . . it takes you away from the work (time) and it requires the expenditure of money both viewed as slightly bad unless absolutely necessary.

This mindset is not all bad of course . . . but . . . when it comes to running a business . . . it can be a roadblock to evaluating the opportunity costs of your decisions.

Sometimes, a "cheap" mindset sacrifices efficiency in the business world and progress toward a pragmatic decision that would help "Git-R-Done." I know. I've often been slow to adapt--especially if the "cost" is in terms of time or money. But, I am learning.

Take my recent home project, for example--I am building props for our local home school melodrama that my wife have directed for the past 15 years. I needed to build an old-style newspaper rack for this year's version, a rack that will hide the revolver the hero retrieves to "save the day." The picture of the rack I wanted to re-create (from the internet) had tapered legs. No problem. I cut tapers regularly with my table saw. But, these leg tapers were tapers on a small piece (9 inches) of stock. (Truth be told, I've done this without the jig as well but it's a little, well you'll see . . .) This is definitely trickier and certainly more dangerous to do "free-hand." ("Real men" may now shudder over the fact I have done this in this cavalier way in the past.)

I decided that it was the "pragmatic and most effective" route to bite-the-bullet and spend the time and money to do it properly. Not only that, by creating a jig for this project, I would no longer be tempted to do it in the more dangerous "bailing wire" way. (After all, I really enjoy playing my guitar with all my fingers!)

Applying this to my business, here are a few things where I have had to weigh Pragmatic Effectiveness over Time and Money:

  • Hiring professionals. Accountant, graphic designer, videographer, social marketing consultant, editor.
  • Joining professional associations.
  • Going to national conferences.
  • Additional training and credentials.
  • Hardware, software, and internet services.
  • Yes, and even buying expensive books . . . it's that bad at times!

The bottom line is . . . the old adage, "You have to spend money to make money." certainly comes true. The same can be said of time. So in leading your business, do you see time and money as more important than growing and succeeding?

P.S.-- As a leader you do need to weigh the opportunity costs of decisions of course. I am not suggesting that you spend time or money "willy-nilly." Just don't over-value saving time or money where doing so will handicap your growth. Incidentally, I must be getting better at this! I hardly shuddered at all when--registering myself and an employee for the national conference--I pushed the "payment" button.


Here are pictures of the jig with a board where you would lock it in position, a close up of the legs I ripped, and the magazine rack itself (stage prop) . . . not yet painted. The jig worked quite flawlessly!




Mosaics and knowing your role

Years ago i sat for hours in an upstairs "apartment" (really just a room in a professor's home) with my wife helping her create a piece of art called an Encaustic.  What is an Encaustic you ask?  It is "applying pigments with hot wax" to a surface. In our case, it meant melting crayons on a hot plate to be applied to a stretched canvas. At that time, my job, in keeping with my artistic abilities was to . . . melt the crayons and not let them ignite.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I once again was called on to help with an artistic project. We had moved into a new home and we were installing wood stoves. As we installed the first one, my wife came up with a creative idea to create a Mosaic for the "heat shield" behind the stove. I helped.

What does this have to do with consultation? I'll tell you . . . then we'll get back to the story.

To be successful, you need to be "ruthlessly realistic" about your abilities and your role as a consultant. Consultants who get themselves--and the organizations they are supposed to help--into trouble usually do so because of compounding a few simple errors:

  • they take on, or expand into, a project that is outside their core competency
  • they remain unaware of operating in a unfamiliar territory
  • they don't recognize earlier warning signs
  • they try to "push through" (not really knowing what to do) or they "leave the field" when things get tough

Usually, if they only commit the first mistake then they can recover. It is compounding the mistake with several more than causes a crisis and potentially a dramatic failure.

By the way, I really did help my wife with the Mosaic. I bought the tiles and broke them with a hammer. Hey, even Michelangelo was dependent upon the workman at Carrara to query and deliver the marble. I know my place in the world of art--I am the un-lauded workman who makes the art possible. Knowing where you are gifted and when to step aside . . . there's no shame in that!


One of the Mosaics in our home. My job? Break the tiles. Oh, they did let me put on one . . . and only one . . . piece . . . with lots of consulting.

One of the Mosaics in our home. My job? Break the tiles. Oh, they did let me put on one . . . and only one . . . piece . . . with lots of consulting.