Turning Challenges Into Opportunities


Opportunities often come to us disguised as challenges.

We may not find them, much less look for them, because the pain we feel in the moment prevents us from seeing them. I know from experience. I’m guessing you do too.

I recently wrote an article Giving In the Workplace: Make It Work For Everyone. It focuses on the power of ‘giving’ and the role it plays in attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent. It’s no secret that Americans are among the most charitable people in the world. We want to help…especially when we’re faced with a challenge!

So, like many of you, I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I accepted the challenge to use my voice as one way to contribute to the fight against ALS and support those living with the disease. I also had an even more personal reason: to recognize the amazing work my friend Kathy Bagby has done to raise ALS awareness in memory of her father Dennis Peiffer and others lost to the disease.

We’re making progress in the fight against ALS, but there’s still much work to be done:

  • ALS can strike anyone and knows no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year and it’s estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may be living with the disease at any given time.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with early symptoms including muscle weakness and stiffness. As the disease progresses, ALS causes weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles and limbs, along with those muscles that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and breathing.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, the disease is variable and many people live a full life for five years or more.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home healthcare. It’s important to understand the details of your insurance plan as well as other programs including SSA, Medicare and Veteran Affairs benefits that may help defer costs related to treatment and care.

ALS is a disease that we can defeat if we all work together. Take a few minutes to learn more about people living with ALS. As one man put it, “I’ve made ALS part of my life…not my whole life.”

So, how can you help? ALS is just one of the challenges so many of us face. The opportunities – the need – to help and give back to our communities are endless. Here are just a few: The Walk to Defeat ALS, Habitat For Humanity, The Race for the Cure, The Hospice Foundation and The Clinton Foundation to End HIV/AIDS. For more information on other ways to give back, visit Volunteer Match.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “When you go to Nelson Mandela’s house, what do you take? You can’t take a candle.”

Giving is personal. Find your passion. Accept the challenge. Make it happen. It’s your opportunity to make a difference in the life of one person…or millions!

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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Next Time Make It Fierce!

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We all make lists: to do lists, bucket lists and, of course, our ‘favorites’ list. My favorite list includes:

  • Favorite summer song: “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle
  • Favorite film: “The Color Purple”
  • Favorite television show: “Scandal” tied with “The Good Wife” and “Dr. Who”
  • Favorite food: Sandwiches (does that count?)

Industrial and organizational psychologist Dr. Martha Gottschalk even has a list of things she carries. At the top of her list? The Trusted Notebook!

Like Dr. Gottschalk, I carry a few items with me almost everywhere I go, including my two favorite books: John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott.

Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” is a favorite because it was the first book I remember reading that, in turn, inspired me to write. Susan Scott’s book has helped me build lasting relationships “one conversation at a time.” My well traveled copy reminds me to stay grounded – to keep it real – especially when people and situations seem a little unreal.

Fierce conversations, as Scott puts it, are “conversations that can change the trajectory of a career, a business, a relationship or a life.” I had never thought of conversations as fierce: robust, powerful, strong, passionate and untamed. My ‘a-ha’ moment? When I realized that Scott was also describing ‘authentic’ conversations.

How many times have you had a conversation worthy of a “do over?” Nothing was solved. The real issues were not discussed. People didn’t share how they were feeling or what they were truly thinking. Relationships were damaged. In other words, the conversation wasn’t real.

Here are the three essential “Fierce” lessons I practice daily:

  1. Be here and nowhere else. It’s more than shutting off the cell phone, powering down the laptop or blocking out time on your calendar. Fierce conversations are built on a common respect for each other. You can only be truly engaged when you are prepared to listen, ask questions, and contribute your thoughts and ideas.
  2. Interrogate reality. Be smart. Be specific. Outline the issues and consider the implications. Work together to solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Most people want to hear the truth – even when it’s a little hard to hear. The truth does set you free.
  3. Own your ’emotional wake.’ Fierce conversations drive productivity and results through people, not at the expense of people. Can teams be successful without fierce conversations? Yes. Success, however, is often short-term and the cost to relationships very high. Owning your ’emotional wake’ requires that you take accountability for your behavior. What you leave behind can either leave people distressed and disgruntled, or engaged and committed. It’s your choice.

So, what’s on your list? Is it Fierce?

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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The Truth About Coaching…and More!








I’m coming out.  I really want to let it show.  Yes, I want the world to know:  I love college basketball.  

Disappointed? Don’t be. I’ve come out about a lot of things in my life. I’ve recently come clean about my addiction to Dr. Who. I once confirmed that I did, in fact, attend a Debbie Gibson concert. Years ago, I even came out of the closet. Not literally, of course. I’m afraid of small spaces.

With March Madness just weeks away, my thoughts have drifted to Cinderella teams and great coaches. It’s no secret that winning teams are led by exceptional coaches, whether you’re perennial powerhouse Duke or the up-start Panthers from Northern Iowa (UNI is my Alma Mater).

Unfortunately, many senior business leaders miss the opportunity, like their peers in the sports arena, to actively lead and engage their teams through coaching.  Two common misconceptions about coaching are:  

  • The more senior you are, the less coaching you should do. Many executives leave the bulk of coaching to middle and front-line managers who primarily focus only on current performance rather than also coaching their teams for ongoing development and growth.
  • Senior leaders and executives require little or not coaching at all.  Many leaders, and their shareholders, believe they should focus only on vision, strategy, and measurable results with little focus on their own personal development. After all, they’ve been there…done that.

Coaching, at all levels of the organization, can be a powerful tool to drive engagement, performance and retention.  A true coaching culture celebrates and leverages success, acknowledges and learns from mistakes and encourages personal exploration and growth.

So, how do you get there? It starts with senior leadership. Think about the coaching experiences that have influenced you the most. People frequently describe them as authentic, supportive, challenging and consistent. Ask a respected coach the secret to his or her success and the answer is, more often than not, “because I had a great coach myself.”

So, start there. Get a coach, but be prepared to do some ‘heavy lifting.’ Stepping away from your role as a leader can be challenging. It requires a commitment to seek and act on feedback that both affirms your strengths and sheds light on areas where you can, and often must, improve. It’s not easy. That, alone, should make you want to do it even more. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along my journey:

  • Be vulnerable
  • Ask questions
  • Listen more
  • Embrace individuality
  • Appreciate and empower others
  • Take risks
  • Rinse and repeat

Coaching works. It engages employees, accelerates performance and improves retention. Guess what? It’s also fun and rewarding.

So, my secret’s out.  Let’s roll!


Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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Giving In the Workplace: Make It Work For Everyone!







I’m on Vacation. Enjoying the summer breeze, time with family and friends, swimming, barbecuing and listening to classic summer music like Seals & Croft, The Go Gos’ and The Cars.

I’m also volunteering. Working in the service of others is core to my spirit: who I am today…and the man I strive to be. It also gives me time to re-energize, re-fresh and re-engage with the clients and teams I work with every day.

In my recent article Next Time: Make It Fierce, I shared a few of my favorite things, including my favorite book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. As I was thinking about my next post, I came across one of my favorite articles about giving back to the community: the October 8, 2012 issue Forbes Making It Big – Giving It Big: The Titans of Philanthropy.

Insights from the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Steve Case made a strong impression. I encourage you to read it. It may motivate you to rethink how you and your organization give back to the community, and the role of volunteering and philanthropic giving in employee engagement.

The Forbes articles demonstrates the need and power of ‘giving’ in the larger scheme of things. It helps us to think globally while acting locally. Katherine Fulton, President of Monitor Institute, brings it even closer to home in her TED Talk, You are the Future of Philanthropy, by speaking about “the democratization of philanthropy: where collaboration and innovation allow regular people to do big things, even when money is scarce.”

While I have not yet been invited to TED and share “ideas worth spreading,” I have volunteered, bench-marked and worked with companies to deploy programs that engage employees while giving back to the community including: speaking with other Cable Industry leaders at the 2004 Communicating Cable’s Value Forum session on Empowering Your Employees: HIV/AIDS in the Workplace and working with the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and KNOW HIV/AIDS Campaign.

So, what I have learned? Over the years, I’ve identified three common themes that successfully link company giving programs to increased levels of employee engagement:

Ask, Listen and Learn: Your employees want to give back to the community – and they want their companies to do the same. In fact, 81% of employees want their company to offer matching support programs for non-profit charitable organizations, whether locally or on a larger scale, and to provide opportunities to volunteer during work hours (2011 Cone Cause Evolution Study and Workplace Giving Works! Make It Work For You).

Connect Your People With Their Passion: Many companies offer one or very limited options for volunteering their time, financial resources and receiving matching contributions. The result is low participation in volunteer activities and, in many cases, dissatisfaction with their employers. Companies that truly invite their employees to align their time and financial resources to causes that have personal meaning have higher participation rates in fund-raising and volunteer activities than those that don’t. Matching contributions to causes that employees choose themselves (that fall within company guidelines and approval processes) are the most meaningful and contribute to higher levels of satisfaction and engagement. For more information, visit Volunteer Match.

Use Giving Back as Opportunities to Re-Connect and Re-Energize Your Teams: Whether it’s working together with Habitat For Humanity, walking or running in The Race for the Cure, volunteering to help individuals and families coping with terminal illness through The Hospice Foundation, or partnering with the The Clinton Foundation to bring health services to communities decimated by HIV/ADS around the world, the opportunities – the need – to help and give back to our communities are endless.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “When you go to Nelson Mandela’s house, what do you take? You can’t take a candle.”

Giving is personal. The logical next step is to make it personal to you…and the company you call home.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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Take an Inspiration Break: An Unlikely Lesson From an ’80s Sitcom

you are your inspiration





Nell Carter, the star of the hit ’80s sitcom “Gimme A Break,” has been haunting me.  Okay, she was haunting me.

Not in a scary way.  It’s was a happy and humorous haunting.  I knew it would be the moment I heard her ghost sing that familiar tune:

“Give me a break, I sure deserve one. I want a happy ending. I’m tired of pretending. I wanna piece of the cake…give me a break!” 

It was fun to have her ghost around.  I laughed.  I sang.  I even danced a little. I did wonder, however, why she decided to haunt me.  I’m sure Nell Carter’s ghost had better things to do than hang around while I worked on client projects, wrote articles and updated my Facebook status.  After all, I was just doing ‘stuff.’

Then it hit me.  I was always busy.  Doing things.  Getting things done. Productive?Yes.  Inspired?  No.  That’s what she was trying to tell me:  I needed an inspiration break!

So, I set out on an inspiration quest and stumbled across Inspiration Break: Creative Confidence by Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO. The article, along with Nell Carter’s booming voice, reminded me that lack of “me time” often comes at a very big cost: losing your passion, creativity and confidence.

So, how do you find, or rediscover, that creative inspiration? You don’t ask for it. You seek it out. You own it. Tom and David Kelly, in their article Reclaim Your Creative Confidence, sum it up this way: “creative confidence is the ability to come up with breakthrough ideas, combined with the courage to act.”

And what about Nell Carter and her early pleas to “gimme a break?” It turns out that “Nellie Ruth” (Carter’s character on the show) found her creative confidence somewhere between Season 1 and Season 3. Nell found her ‘voice’ and the theme song evolved from a victim’s plea for help to a triumphant anthem announcing to the world that she made her own ‘breaks’ in life.

Here’s a glimpse at the transformation that made Carter’s character a role model for anyone who has the courage to discover and claim their own creative inspiration:

  • Season 3 Opening Theme (partial lyrics): “Give me a break…’cause now I know what it takes. I’m putting a face on the old one…I’m showing the world nothing can get me down. Give me a break!”

Nell Carter’s ghost doesn’t haunt me anymore.  I miss her laughter and joy, but her message is alive and well:  no one will give you a break unless you have the courage to make your own first.

How ’bout it?  Are you ready for an inspiration break?

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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Make An Appointment With The One Person Who Doesn’t Get Enough of Your Time – You!

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It’s happening everywhere you look. We’ve sprung forward and now we’re racing toward summer.  But before we reach Memorial Day, many of us experience a little dejavu.  It’s that feeling – just five months into the year – where we suddenly realize we haven’t scheduled enough time for…(wait for it) ME! Take a few minutes to read this – who knows, it just may help!  Enjoy!

We’re always connected.   Iphones. Ipads. Androids. Laptops. Desktops. Even those dreaded land lines! Our calendars are filled with back to back meetings, project updates, client calls, team building, training, birthday celebrations. Those occasional “drop by conversations” can also throw our day off track, but the value of relationship building can never be underestimated when a spontaneous conversation yields something productive!

So, how do you do it all? Competing priorities, both at work and home, often make it difficult to take time for yourself, especially while you are at work. I learned years ago that, as a leader, I could not do everything and everything could not be a priority. In fact, making time for myself would be my key to success as I continued to grow as a leader and client consultant.

My mentor and coach suggested that I managed my “me time” just as I would any other…

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World AIDS Day 2013: The Workplace Conversation

“We ALL are living with AIDS…”

This sentiment shared by award winning actress Judith Light has always been my introduction to the topic of HIV/AIDS.  To many, it may seem that AIDS is a distant disease, impacting people very different than you and in places far, far away. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is still here.  We all are, in fact, living with this disease.

In the workplace, the conversation around diversity and inclusion extends to issues of health and wellness, including HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS prevention is one aspect of the workplace discussion while another, more personal aspect, extends to people you work with every day.  It’s likely that a friend or workplace colleague, even a family member, is infected with HIV and possibly living with AIDS.

Each year world AIDS organizations focus on a key message in the fight against HIV and AIDS.  This year’s theme World AIDS Day 2013: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation is driven by a disturbing increase in HIV infections among the emerging ‘core’ of our workforce:  young people under the age of  24.  Unlike other generations, they only know HIV as a chronic, manageable illness and often reduce  infection to a very simple solution:  take a pill.  While HIV/AIDS is no longer considered a terminal illness, there’s nothing simple about the disease.  The progress has been remarkable, but our work is not done.

My work with HIV/AIDS began with the AIDS Walk, The AIDS Ride and as the employee educator for the Viacom/MTV Networks “Know HIV/AIDS” campaign. Working with partners across the cable, healthcare and non-profit sectors, I had the opportunity to work with many celebrity AIDS ambassadors including Common and Ashley Judd,  but most importantly the privilege to work directly with those living with the disease, their families, caregivers and communities.

YOU  too can make a difference.  All of us, through our personal actions and collaboration can make an impact:  by knowing the facts, acting in support of those living with HIV/AIDS and volunteering your time to educate others about the disease.

On World AIDS Day we take a moment to remember those lost to the disease.  It’s also a time to celebrate the amazing advances in the prevention and treatment of HIV and join forces to continue the fight against the disease.

After all, we all are living with AIDS.

Until next time:  connect, collaborate and create!


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In 2011:

  • 34 million [31.4 million – 35.9 million] people globally were living with HIV
  • 2.5 million [2.2 million – 2.8 million] people became newly infected with HIV
  • 1.7 million [1.5 million – 1.9 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses
  • There are approximately 3-4 million AIDS “orphans” living in Africa – both parents lost to AIDS

-Declining new HIV infections in children:  The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children. Half of the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children.

-Fewer AIDS-related deaths:  Anti-retroviral therapy has emerged as a powerful force for saving lives. In the last 24 months the number of people accessing treatment has increased by 63% globally.

-More investments:  Countries are increasing investments in the AIDS response despite a difficult economic climate. The global gap in resources needed annually by 2015 is now at 30%. In 2011, US$ 16.8 billion was available and the need for 2015 is between US$ 22-24 billion.