Category Archives: Leadership

Our Judgments Are About Us

If I’m feeling critical and judgmental about someone, it means I’m in a lousy state of mind. My thinking and perceptions are imbalanced.  I am not seeing things clearly and with perspective.

Critical judgments and the feelings they bring – constriction, anger, indignation – are indicators that our thinking has gone astray, that we are not grounded.

Of course, it doesn’t look that way.

Our judgments always look justified and based on facts, rather than skewed perception. From our lousy state of mind, we project lousy motives.  People’s actions look intentional.

But our imbalanced feelings do not lie. They tell us what’s really going on, which is that we’ve lost our bearings.

When our psyche self-corrects (which it always does naturally), a more balanced perspective will come in, and we will see things with more wisdom and perspective.  We will remember people are generally doing the best they can, based on the thinking they have in the moment. We will see the bigger picture and thus respond more effectively.

Of course, our judgments are inevitable. They arise in our mind unbidden, sometimes with such speed and ferocity we can’t help but respond.

In every relationship, we fall in and out of judgment on a continual basis.   We can’t control it.

But we can understand it.  We can understand what judgments mean, what they are telling us.

The question is: how do we understand judgments when they arise in our mind? Do we mistakenly believe our judgments are true and accurate? Or do we understand they are errant thoughts, a sign that we’re projecting imbalance onto others?

The former understanding – which is widespread today – leads inexorably to conflict. Since judgment arises from a skewed subjectivity, it is, by nature, divisive.

The latter understanding creates an opening for our innate wisdom to restore us to balance, love, and humility. Such understanding gives the psyche what it needs to restore us to connectedness.

I am, of course, aware there are people whose actions are indeed worthy of condemnation: people who hurt innocents, commit atrocities, betray our humanity. Are we to just ignore this?

Of course not. But if we ourselves are blinded by judgment,  we compromise our ability to respond effectively. Any form of righteous certainty tells us we have lost our way, that we would do well to pause and allow space for wisdom to point us to a more enduring justice.


There Is No Formula For Building Your Business

The world out there makes it seems like building a business should be a linear process involving some kind of formula and multi-step process. Figure out your target market, your brand, your customer avatar, etc.  I’ve never seen it work that way.

I work with startup and early stage companies and every one of them has had their own unique set of twists, turns and growing pains. Their businesses evolve in surprising and unexpected ways and on timetables that no one can really predict.

Years ago, for example, I spent thousands of dollars on a program promising to teach me how to “scale” my law business. The content made logical sense, but I resisted implementing any of it, and the end result was wasted time and money.

When I quit the program and just focused on the business, I learned there was an enormous amount of foundational work required before I could even think about scaling.  And when I started doing that work, slowly, patiently, my business got far more satisfying.  I was serving my clients well, building something with care, that reflected my values, and I was doing it at a pace that left time for my studies and training in psychology.

Years later, I read these words by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: “If you want your company to truly scale, you first have to do things that don’t scale. You don’t start with a 100 million users, you start with a few.  So stop thinking big and start thinking small.”

It confirmed the central point of this article: each of us already has, built into us, the intelligence and judgment we need to guide our work.  When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve, figure things out, in a way that it totally responsive to the circumstances at hand.  And in a way, no formula, book or

When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve and navigate towards success.  It gives us ideas and next steps. It sends warning lights when we need to pause, and green lights when taking a calculated risk might make sense.

It helps us figure things out, in a way that it totally personal and responsive to the circumstances at hand. In a way, ultimately, that no formula, book or other person could ever replicate.

The deeper we get this, the more we slow down and rely on our grounding and intelligence to navigate the twists and turns of entrepreneurship with good judgment and common sense.  And that grounding — rather than any formula, concept, or strategy – is what makes all the difference. It is the secret sauce of effective entrepreneurial leadership.

Understanding Overreaction

We’ve all had the experience of responding to a perceived offense with an irate email, or a righteous tirade, only to regret it later, after we’ve settled down.

What felt justified in the heat of the moment later seems unwise or beneath our dignity.

Why is this? What is the broader principle at work here?

Intense personal emotions, like anger or indignation, are in-the-moment signs that our perspective has become narrow and constrained.

Our focus has become intensely personal, largely to the exclusion of the bigger picture (for example, what others are experiencing or deeper factors that may be at play). As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective.

As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective. They will also tend to provoke reactivity in the other person, reducing their capacity to act in wise or balanced ways.

Now, since the human mind has a natural tendency to self-correct, our personal reactivity will tend to dissipate and a more impersonal and balanced perspective will emerge.

Many of us intuitively grasp this.  This is why we all grasp the wisdom of “sleeping on” things.  We hit pause on the righteous tirade in favor of a response (or non-response) that reflects a more inclusive, impersonal or balanced standpoint, one that is far more likely to be productive.

Some of us, though, may resist this shift and hang on to their personal reactivity, especially if we believe the intensity and strength of the reaction is an indicator of its rightness rather an indicator of imbalance.

In fact, this root misunderstanding, which remains widespread, is one of the reasons the world remains rife with intractable conflict.

But the hopeful message is this:  left to its own devices, our mind’s natural tendency is to clear away conflict-laden thoughts and replace them with ones that reflect equanimity and understanding, which are far more productive places from which to act.

In a negotiation, for example, I may feel a surge of insecurity or righteous indignation towards my adversary.  In those moments, I understand my perspective is not entirely balanced and trustworthy, so I do not act from that place. I set aside those thoughts as best I can, knowing my mind will produce more balanced insights along the way.

I can count on that, because it is how we work as human beings.

What I’m writing about here is not a doing or technique but rather, simply an understanding. We are all prone to lose perspective on a regular basis, but we have emotional indicators that tell us when we have done so.

Recognizing the indicators and letting our minds reset is a simple way to avoid counter-productive over-reactions before we’ve considered all the angles.

We’re not always able to do this, but even when we don’t, understanding how this works enables us look back on the situation with understanding – and that too is helpful.

Inner Foundations of Entrepreneurial Leadership

Venture capitalist John Lilly gets pitched for funding by 400 entrepreneurs a year.  Here he is explaining how he evaluate the candidates:

You start to expand the scope of the questions to try to see two things. One is the quality of their thought process. And the other is how they interact with you. Do they become defensive? Do they become aggressive? Are they listening?  You’re trying to get a sense of whether, in a complicated situation with a lot of things going on, can they be honest and candid and still get to a productive place. Sometimes you get honest and candid, and sometimes you get antagonistic or defensive.

The qualities he describes here — clarity of thought, emotional balance, non-reactiveness — are hallmarks of what I call grounding.

Grounding is the capacity to remain centered amid complexity and challenge; to think with clarity and flexibility in the midst of flux and uncertainty; to avoid over-confidence and rigidity while remaining detached and impersonal, even when the stakes are high.

Entrepreneurship involves treading uncharted terrain and tackling challenges that haven’t been tackled before.

I have never seen an entrepreneurial path without unexpected setbacks and unforeseen obstacles.

The entrepreneurs that succeed are those manage to remain centered, balanced, thoughtful and reflective as they navigate these uncharted waters.

Grounding is what makes that possible.

So how do you develop or improve your grounding Most believe it’s an inborn trait or the product of long experience.  The truth, I think, is simpler and somewhat counter-intuitive.

Grounding arises from a good understanding of how our mind works: when our mind is clear and when it is cluttered; when to trust our thinking and when to be cautious; how to respond when we lack clarity or when insecurity or strong emotions overtake us.

Just a few key pieces of wisdom about the human mind can be transformational in deepening our grounding.  For example:

  • Understanding that we have rising and falling moods enables us to ride the emotional rollercoaster with grace and constancy and with far less exhaustion and fallout
  • Understanding our perceptions shift along with our moods (i.e., people and circumstances will look very different over time) introduces an enormously helpful degree of patience and curiosity
  • Understanding our mind continually produces new ideas and fresh insights on a continual basis frees us from obsessing or ruminating and allows for a more consistent engagement with the tasks at hand.

Leaders with grounding have an uncanny ability to keep calm and carry on, to remain relatively unswayed by the slings and arrows of circumstance, to seek and respond to feedback and take difficult conversations in stride.

They steer clear of counter-productive (inner and outer) drama. And they value the clear mind and reflectiveness that are the sine qua non of good leadership.

From a grounded place, things tend to go more smoothly. Work gets simplified. Performance hums along. Solutions arise.  And it all feels natural and ordinary: responsive, drama-free productivity.

In other words: Every investor’s dream.

White Paper: State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

In the attached article, my co-author, Paul David Walker, and I explain the role that individual and collective states-of-mind plays in organizational performance.

State-of-mind is the prevailing feeling-state embodied in an organization.  It is the lens and filter through which leaders and teams view their organization and their work.  It is a largely-invisible variable that profoundly shapes virtually every element of organizational performance.

Leaders with a deeper understanding of this variable have greater capacity to raise the prevailing state-of-mind in their organization.  By doing so, they address problems when it matters most: before they even arise.  At the same time, they unleash new levels of vitality, creativity and goodwill that are intrinsic to high-quality states-of-mind and that fuel genuine leaps in organizational performance.

Click here to download and read:  State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

Audio Program: Humility and Leadership

In his business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins describes his astonishment at observing the humility shared by the chief executives profiled in his book.  Expecting flashy, celebrity-style leaders, Collins’ instead found what he called “Level 5 Leaders”  — low-key individuals who credited others for wins while taking blame for failures; who welcomed feedback while shunning the spotlight; who listened closely to others and respected their contributions; who favored workmanlike focus on the business over publicity and media events.

Such humble leaders have a special ability to bring out the best in people.  They enable those around them to rise to the occasion.  They create space for fresh ideas and creativity to infuse and energize their organizations.  They adapt with nimbleness to changing conditions and respond effectively to new opportunities.

In the audio program below, I share more in-depth reflections on exactly why humility in leadership is so helpful in creating healthier, high-performing organizational cultures.  I also share some anecdotes that revealed to me how the opposite of humility — a rigid or closed orientation marked by unwarranted certainty or self-righteousness — can have disastrous consequences for organizations.

Click here to download and listen to this 40-minute audio program.

Audio Program: The Missing Key To A Fulfilling Career

Most of us want to be fully and passionately engaged in our working lives, dedicated to positive impact, committed to building value.

Yet studies suggest most U.S. and global workers are actually disengaged in their jobs.

Why is this?  What’s responsible for the gap between our desire to be engaged and the reality of widespread dissatisfaction?

In the audio program below, I suggest the answer lies in a basic misunderstanding of why people are engaged — or not engaged — at work.

Most of us assume engagement will come when we find the right work or circumstance: a job that matches our strengths and talents, that pays well, at a well-run company with mission and purpose, for example.

Seems logical enough.  Except it’s flat-out wrong.

Engagement is not a product of circumstance. It’s an orientation that we bring to our circumstances.

It is a state-of-mind or a way-of-being that, in its most powerful expression, utterly negates the power of external forces to determine how fully and passionately we engage with our life and work.

Often it seems that the most highly engaged people get that way because they have great jobs.

In truth, it is our capacity for indiscriminate full engagement, an orientation to give our best no matter what, that leads us to learn, grow, develop, take on bigger challenges, find solutions, and ultimately, enjoy more high-impact and fulfilling working life over time.

By contrast, when people are struggling in their working lives, it is often because they see external factors — the job they have, their boss’s behavior, the amount they are paid — as causes for their disengagement.  They have not yet embraced this awesome capacity we all have for full engagement in the moment.

Full engagement is within all of our reach.  It just requires that we stop looking for reasons to be fully engaged and see that full engagement is always possible, no matter what.

Click here to listen to or download this free 40-minute audio program.