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An Adoption Story of Thanks

      Last week we had the opportunity to lead a socially distanced live training in the beautiful city of Nashville, TN. Honestly, it was great to be interacting in a live setting once again.


      On our first day of training, I had the opportunity to have lunch and dinner with some of our client team members.  At one point the conversation moved toward how this Thanksgiving will look different from most that we have seen in our lifetimes, yet there is much to be thankful for, even in the madness of 2020. As we shared stories about our personal and professional lives, we found a common theme of adoption at our table. Immediately, I felt the call to share a part of my story.   


      At Braintrust, we train people worldwide about the concept of being a “trusted advisor” to our clients. I have taken some time to ponder exactly what makes a “trusted advisor”? My sincere hope that a part of my story will help you think about the importance of these two simple yet powerful words in your personal and professional life. To do this, I’m going to take you back to over fifteen years ago.            


      My wife Amy and I are blessed with three children. Our youngest daughter Kayla is our angel from China. Kayla came home with us when she was only 17 months old and is now a beautiful 14-year-old eighth-grader. When we started the adoption process, Amy and I needed to choose an agency representing us in this three-year maze of paperwork, shifting timelines, and seemingly constant setbacks. We needed a trusted advisor!


      The incredible journey of adoption and the fire ignited in our hearts came after attending a Steven Curtis Chapman concert (thank you, Steven). We watched a life-changing video at intermission by The Show Hope Foundation (www.showhope.org) about the state of orphans around the world, and the seed was planted. (I recently read on the back2back ministries website that there are 163,000,000 orphans in the world. Back2Back is a fantastic organization, and more information can be found at www.back2back.org.)


      As we drove home from the concert that evening, I’ll never forget our oldest daughter Abby sitting in the back seat as she said, “We should do that.” Amy and I smiled and told her to go back to sleep.  About six months later, we were sitting on the couch in our family room when Amy proclaimed almost out of nowhere, “I’ve never felt more called by God to do what I’m about to tell you.” As a husband, I had no idea where this was going to go. I then joked and asked if she was leaving me! Her eyes filled with tears as she said we should adopt a daughter from China. After literally less than five minutes of conversation, we were all in, and the process was started the next day. As Show Hope says, “it only takes a spark.”      


      Once we decided to move forward, we knew this journey was impossible to do alone.  We needed a trusted advisor to serve as our guide on the journey. After doing our research, we eventually decided to work with the agency America World (AW) out of Virginia (www.awaa.org.) The people at America World and their values aligned with ours, and we knew they had the heart to serve us along with being experts at what they do. (Also, it didn’t hurt that Steven Curtis Chapman referred them.) We immediately aligned with 


  • their vision of “building families according to God’s design of adoption, while caring for vulnerable children around the world.” 
  • their mission of “every adoptable orphan to be placed in a Christian home.” 


      It was evident that AW was there to serve us while helping us solve any problems that would come up along the way, and there were many! They promised to be with us every step of the way, and they were a part of our dreams of bringing our baby girl home. 


      Here is what made them so great as trusted advisors for us.  They weren’t transactional, fact-based, self-focused, self-serving, or aggressive. They were able to establish personal and professional trust. In their approach, they reduced many moments of stress and anxiety while we processed the maze of social workers, the Chinese system, and dossier preparation. They also helped us in the quiet, when time just passed, and we were getting no information. The actual process was supposed to take six months, and it lasted over three years. The adoption process wasn’t easy, but America World served as our GUIDE/SAGE/COACH through the process, and the story couldn’t have ended better. In the end, there is no doubt that every day mattered, and we were matched with our daughter at the perfect time, exactly as it was supposed to be. We couldn’t have done it without them. 


      As you go into the Thanksgiving holiday and reflect on your families and customers, the question is this – are you a trusted advisor for the people in your life story? To help you out, I made a small list of “Secrets of being a trusted advisor” that might provide you with something to think about during the Thanksgiving week.


  • Serve your customers
  • Solve their problems
  • Solutions that make them the hero 
  • Story (be invested in their journey)
  • Stick through the ups and downs 
  • Situational awareness (meet them where they are)
  • Show hope


      At Braintrust, we are so thankful for those of you that read our blogs, listen to our podcasts, and trust us with your business. We never take it for granted and genuinely hope that we are a trusted advisor to you in all we do.    

      Once more in case you “felt a spark”:  For more information on how you can help and/or give back, check out the Show Hope website @ www.showhope.org.

Social Isolation and Loneliness- The Power of Connection

      A few days ago, I talked to a client, and we discussed the frenzying pace of…


  • the fourth quarter 
  • the election 
  • COVID-19
  • working from home
  • kids at school
  • the holiday season with family and friends 


     In all of our lives, there is a crazy contrast between chaos and isolation. I was reminded of the Stockdale Paradox about prevailing in the face of a crisis in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.


“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.” – James Stockdale


     After our conversation, I started to think about the impact of social isolation and our relationships in 2020. We have all just lived through a year of chaos and crisis and it has demonstrated the importance of relationships and the negative impact of being isolated. It doesn’t take long for social isolation to lead to disconnection, disconnection to loneliness, and loneliness to adverse outcomes like depression. 


      According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 264 million people worldwide live with depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 17 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year. The fall and winter season is upon us, and more of our friends, family, and colleagues will be impacted by isolation, anxiety, and depression.   


      After reflecting on this blog, I dug into the definition of “loneliness” and “social isolation.” Loneliness is defined as the subjective feeling of being alone, while social isolation describes an objective state of individuals’ social environment and interactional patterns (Hwang, Rabheru, Peisah, Reichman, & Ikeda, 2020).   


      According to the CDC, social isolation and poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) increased serious health outcomes such as heart disease and stroke risk. Social isolation also increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Loneliness is also associated with higher depression rates, anxiety, and suicide (National Academies of Sciences & Medicine, 2020). So, what are we to do?


     I was recently reading the book The Longevity Plan by Dr. John Day. In the chapter on Build Your Place in a Positive Community, I was introduced to some research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University, who describes our growing disconnection from one another as a health epidemic. And yes, this was before the pandemic of 2020 (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Baker, Harris, & Stephenson, 2015). In a recent YouTube post, Julianne describes the importance of “perceptions of support.” There are protective effects on both our emotional well-being and physical health.


    As leaders and coaches, the people around us will downplay the impact of loneliness and depression so we need to have empathy for our people, and take the time to find ways of engagement even if it is socially distanced. As Dr. Day says in his book, “I often tell my patients that the best way to cure loneliness is to cure someone else’s. After all, when two isolated people are together, they’re no longer isolated.”  


     As we finish the year, I’m encouraging myself and you to find three ways to support your friends, family, and co-workers. Others have to perceive that we are here for them. How can you help people feel more connected even when we continue to be isolated? What can you do in November to show your support to others? 


     Here are a few simple tips: 


  • Send someone a note (hand-written)
  • Leave someone a voicemail of support
  • Call to just check-up and minimize any formal agenda
  • Make the phone call that you haven’t made
  • Forgive someone 
  • Thank someone for going above and beyond 
  • Connect someone with a book club, social club, or church group     


      Can you think of three people in your business or life that you want to show support for before we turn the calendar to 2021? Be the person that makes a difference for someone else. It just may be the best gift you can give someone this holiday season.  


     If you are struggling with loneliness or depression, check out the ADAA website, where you can be linked to a therapist directory.








Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on psychological science, 10(2), 227-237. 

Hwang, T.-J., Rabheru, K., Peisah, C., Reichman, W., & Ikeda, M. (2020). Loneliness and Social Isolation during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Psychogeriatrics, 1-15. 

National Academies of Sciences, E., & Medicine. (2020). Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System.

Doing Something Difficult

     When was the last time you tackled something difficult? We all know that doing something difficult is not only challenging but requires 2 things:


  1. Motivation
  2. A deep desire to change


     Do you have someone in your personal or professional life that pushes you to do the hard things? If you do, you are blessed. 


     My friend Matt has been one of those people in my journey. Matt is a successful entrepreneur, father, and adventurer. He has a “wild at heart” mindset and is always striving to be better and conquer the difficult. If you’ve never read the book Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, I highly recommend it.  


     Here’s the story.  Back in 1999, I was at my house and the phone rang. I immediately recognized Matt’s voice, and he said with tremendous excitement, “there is an up-coming Marathon that is taking place this May in Cincinnati called the Flying Pig. Let’s do it!” He then shares that the race is the marathon’s “inaugural running,” and it would be a fun and challenging adventure. Honestly, I’m on the other side of the phone thinking to myself, “there is no way I’m running a marathon.” Matt then shared that he had done all the research, he has charted a training program that will lead us through the winter. He then reinforced to me in his ever convincing voice, “We can do this!” 


     Let me pause for a moment.  I want you to think of a time when you have been challenged to accomplish something that you knew in your mind was going to be difficult. 

  • How did you respond? 
  • What was your reaction? 
  • Did you shut down the idea or open yourself up to new possibilities? 


     Let me tell you what I did.  I informed Matt that I was happy that he is so excited, however, the one big problem is that I’ve never even run a 5K, much less a marathon. Yes, you read that correctly. Everything in my body wanted to say no, but for some reason, “yes” popped out of my mouth, and I couldn’t get it back. 


      That winter forever changed me. His plan included a full running schedule from Hal Higdon that broke down this monumental mission into day by day activities that would lead us to the goal. If you are interested in running a road race of any type, check out the following website – www.halhigdon.com


      At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate that the day-by-day program placed me in a completely different mental state of positivity, with small wins leading me to a huge win. The journey started with us running less than three miles, and within 18 weeks, we were running 20 miles. If you had told me to focus on just the 20 miles, I would have shut down and become overwhelmed. I would have gone into change resistance mode because it would have been too much change at one time, which would have filled me with anxiety and stress and I never would have started. Instead, we took it day by day, and we had accountability. Was it easy – no way. However, I will never forget running on the bike trail at 5:00 AM on snowy mornings in the middle of an Ohio winter with a running light on my head. In the end, we completed that marathon together and even beat our goal time of running it under four hours.  


      Here is the point:  Success doesn’t happen on its own, and you can’t bypass the hard work as we move into the new year “goal setting” season.  I want to encourage you to reduce your tendency to be hyper-vigilant on the end goal and start focusing on the day to day learning agenda that builds a performance plan and ultimately, goal achievement.  When you write down a goal, ask yourself this question – when I think about this goal, what plan is needed to perform and reach this goal? Don’t proceed until you answer this question.


      Here are a few learning agenda tips for tackling difficult journeys.    


  • Get in the right mindset
  • Do your research
  • Break down the learning plan into micro-steps
  • Find an accountability partner
  • Stay at it every day
  • Celebrate the small wins
  • Never give up 


        Thanks to Matt’s leadership and friendship, I have embraced the joy of running for 20 years and have completed multiple marathons, countless half marathons, and yes, even a few 5Ks. If you want to be the best, then you must do the work. Best of luck accomplishing something great as you close out 2020 and dream forward into 2021. 

Hot Questions and Hot Wings

     After reading the title of this blog, you may be asking yourself a great question. “When I think of myself as a professional communicator, what does this topic have to do with anything?” Well, let me tell you. 


     In my years of practical experience, academics, and consulting at Braintrust, my observation is that the concept of asking great questions is woefully undertrained, understood, and under-practiced. I can further illustrate this point by directing you to a course that CEO/Founder of Braintrust, Jeff Bloomfield, has completed on behalf of LinkedIn Learning. 


     Of the numerous courses Jeff has created at LinkedIn, the number one course in both views (over 60,000) and comments is “Asking Great Sales Questions.” As the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, LinkedIn/Microsoft committed to providing free educational resources for the over 40M people that found themselves without employment.  They selected their “Top 10” based on content, impact, application, and overall value add.  “Asking Great Sales Questions” was selected for this list and is still available if you are interested.  Click here 


    Asking great questions is a skill that takes knowledge, resources, and practice.  We use questions every day and for some professions, it separates the good from the great.  Professions such as lawyers, TV hosts, sales professionals, doctors, and school counselors emerge in that conversation. When you look at these professions though, you will begin to realize that each asks questions to accomplish a different goal.


     For example, lawyers are trained to ask questions that may be deemed more interrogative to get information that the lawyer cares about to prove or disprove their position. If you remember the great speech from the classic play and movie, “A Few Good Men”, Tom Cruise plays the part of Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, and the legendary Jack Nicholson plays Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. To illustrate my point, recall this famous courtroom scene. 


A Few Good Men


Kaffee: Colonel Jessup! Did you order the code red?! 

Judge Randolph: You don’t have to answer that question!

Jessup: I’ll answer the question. You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to it!

Jessup: You want the answers?!

Kaffee: I Want the Truth!!

Jessup: You can’t handle the truth! [The truth then comes out]    


     Now contrast this with an example of a medical show on TV.  Check out this final scene from ER that took place in 2009. You will observe that the mindset, actions, and questions in this scene are focused on serving the injured patients coming into the ER. As I side note, A Few Good Men and ER are great programs to binge-watch the next time you are looking for classic entertainment.




    Now, I would like to clarify that both types of questioning approaches work, are needed, and serve a purpose. The critical difference is that the “lawyer courtroom approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the lawyer’s agenda where the “doctor consultative approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the patient. 


     As a professional communicator, ask yourself another question. Thinking back over your last ten customer conversations… Are you the lawyer or are you the doctor?


    Here are three quick practical tips for beginner “Hot Questions”:


  1. Prepare your questions in advance by understanding your customer’s story
  2. Determine if your questions are self-serving or other-person serving?
  3. Do your research and practice your questions consistently


     “Hot One’s” is a phenomenal YouTube show hosted by Seth Evans where he interviews famous individuals while they eat hot wings.  In his opening, Seth starts by saying, “It is the show with Hot Questions and even Hotter Wings.” As the interview progresses, you will observe something fascinating. Seth has a gift for asking questions that open up his guests to not only compliment him on his questions, but they then offer information that other hosts simply don’t get. There is no doubt that Seth practices the “Hot Questions” approach to his interviews. Seth and his staff do a tremendous amount of research, and he knows their story. He then asks questions that seeks information that allows him to continue to build the relationship. In the end, the hot wings don’t hurt either! (I want to give a disclaimer that if you join the MILLIONS of people who check out his YouTube interviews, the language is adult in nature.)


     We will dig even more in-depth on what it means to ask provocative and insightful questions in future blogs. Best luck asking “Hot Questions” and don’t forget the wings!

Fourth Quarter Mindset

     On January 26, 2020, I was stepping off an airplane in New York City while returning from a great trip to Europe. While I was there, I had the opportunity to both work with one of our global partners and present my research at Aalto University just outside of Helsinki, Finland. The trip was one of those non-stop adventures where in 14 days, I would fly from: 


  • Cincinnati to Charlotte 
  • Charlotte to London 
  • London to Frankfurt 
  • Frankfurt to Helsinki 
  • Helsinki to New York 
  • New York to Cincinnati. 


    If you look at your calendar, this was just before the world stopped in March with the global spread of COVID-19. On the day of my return, the world stopped for another reason. 


     As I departed, I went through customs and entered the main terminal. At that point, I looked up at the TV screen to see a report that the great Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others had died in a plane crash. Within minutes, I received a shocked text from my son that asked me “if I had seen what happened.” It was one of those moments that I will never forget. In my life, I can remember other moments that are emblazoned in my mind like January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that killed all seven astronauts just 73 seconds after liftoff. It was 1986 that I graduated from High School. 


     When the world stops, it will often make you look into and study things you usually wouldn’t have considered. As I studied Kobe Bryant, I was even more amazed by the impact he made worldwide outside of basketball. There is no doubt that he had issues in life, but his influence is non-debatable, and his life at 41 was just getting started.  


     A perfect example of this happened just last night. After making the game-winning shot, the camera noticed Anthony Davis as he mouthed the name “Kobe.” Just minutes earlier, Anthony, LeBron, and the team were reminded by their coach Frank Vogel that they are wearing the “Black Mamba” uniforms designed in part by the late Kobe. The “Kobe Connection” has led them to a 3-0 record when they wear the uniforms.  


      If you want to learn more about someone connected to Kobe, check out our recent podcast with author, entrepreneur, and business coach Todd Herman. Todd is the author of The Alter Ego Effect and a former business coach to the late Kobe.    


      So how can the “Kobe Connection” help you as you head into Q4, 2020? What do you think about when you know you have a game-changing conversation with a critical customer or a career impacting conversation with an employee? Where is your mindset? These questions can be quite thought-provoking as we head into the stress-filled season of the 4th quarter. The unforeseen enemy of COVID-19 has impacted many businesses, and I don’t think any of us had COVID-19 or a global pandemic in our SWOT plans at the beginning of 2020. The uncontrolled and unforecasted events of 2020 require us to assess our mindset for the remainder of 2020.  


    As I read articles and watched  videos of Kobe, the following video I came across titled “The Mindset of a Winner” had some tremendous principles that might help you focus and navigate the rest of 2020.     

  1. Desire to Win – “you want first place, come play with me, you want second place, go somewhere else”
  2. Watch the Best – observe the best in whatever your line of work
  3. Talk to the Best
  4. Do everything it takes to be better – “the world becomes your library”
  5. Understand your strengths & weaknesses
  6. Switch my mind to something somewhere else (Alter Ego Effect) – “put yourself in the cage”
  7. Get over yourself – you must practice
  8. Tailor your training – one size doesn’t fit all
  9. Great to have passion, but need to commit to it as a choice  
  10. Have a desire, always do more


     At the end of the interview, Kobe is asked about his business mindset and in particular, he was asked about his leadership in running his studio. Kobe said that you must understand the business, ask if you can help somehow, understand the barriers to entry, be an obsessive leader, have other leaders you believe in, and have a culture of obsessiveness. 


    There is no doubt that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Challenge yourself to perform with a winner’s mindset so you finish the race strong and embrace your own “Black Mamba” mentality.  

Finding Hope at 30,000 Feet

    In a recent conversation, a colleague and I were discussing how unbelievable it is that we haven’t been on an airplane since February. In 30 years of business, I can’t recall a six-month period that I went without flying. There is much about traveling that I don’t miss, but one component that I always enjoyed was that feeling of the calm (after the chaos that comes from everything before the flight) so I could look down, see the world, and the perception of my problems at 30,000 feet.  That perspective always gave me hope.  


    Let me ask you… does this following pre-flight journey sound familiar? 

  • pack your bag
  • drive to the airport
  • park your car
  • get through security
  • rush to your gate (for some of us)
  • grab something to eat or drink
  • stand in line to board
  • squeeze your way through the aisle
  • wrestle with your bag in the overhead compartment
  • squeeze past the person next to you
  • slide your bag under the seat in front of you
  • turn on the air vent
  • get out your headphones
  • listen to the announcements
  • wipe the sweat from your brow


    As my stress cycle goes into overdrive, I finally get a moment to look around and settle in. The boarding door closes, I take a deep breath and maybe even close my eyes for a couple of minutes. 


    Then it happens, the plane departs, and the magical bell rings. Suddenly, I’m mentally and physically transported to a different experience. As the aircraft climbs past 10,000 feet, I am now momentarily freed from that chaos, and an odd calm comes over me. I look out the window as the world gets farther and farther away and a sense of peace and hope comes over me. Has anyone else ever felt this feeling? 


    My mind clears and the worries I felt just moments ago suddenly start to dissipate or at least momentarily seem a bit easier to solve. I love the feeling of being above the clouds with the sun coming through the window, and I can finally sip my little cup coffee with my single sugar packet. I’ve even convinced myself that the coffee tastes better than Starbucks or Dunkin. 


    At 30,000 feet, I’ve read great books, written blogs, relaxed to music, watched movies, thought about friends and families, solved business problems, planned worship services, blocked theater productions, and so much more. I love the brain clarity and hope that comes from being at 30,000 feet!

Here is my question for you – where do you find hope? For the past 30 days, this word HOPE has been all around me, and I felt compelled to write about it and direct you to some great resources. For our Podcast people, I highly encourage you to check out the Driving Change Podcast hosted by Jeff Bloomfield and listen to the following. 



 If you’re a reader, I want to direct your attention to two books that I have recently read and re-read.  



    If I told you that your health and life could improve by listening and reading these resources, would you do it? Here is the good news… it can. You will hear from Dr. Rigsby about the power of hope, even in the darkest of times. You will hear from Linda about how leadership and hope come from stepping into places that others won’t and choosing to lead through vision, love, purpose, and hope. 


    If you’re more interested in learning about the long-term health benefits of hope, read about the power of the “Renewal Cycle” in Resonant Leadership. Do you know that resonance & renewal involve mindfulness, hope, and compassion, which spark positive emotions & healthy relationships? In the book, renewal is described as a dynamic process that restores us and counters the destructive effects of power stress. 


     If power stress isn’t bad enough, you will read in the Longevity Plan that hope and a strong sense of purpose can help prevent adverse health outcomes such as plaque build-up, blood clots, and high blood pressure. The authors write about how a focus on the future is an essential part of having a purpose. 


    In these times of constant pressure and stress, I’m encouraging you to take action today. Find the place where you can have your “30,000 feet clarity moment” and remove yourself from the cycle of stress. There is scientific and practical power in words like HOPE. Everyone needs hope now more than ever, but sustainable change starts with you. 

Walk the Talk

     When someone says “Walk the Talk”, what does that mean to you?  For most individuals, it means backing your words with the action to accomplish whatever the goal/task you said you’d hit.


     However, many of us have opened our mouths, talked a mean game, and never finished what we said we were going to.  So, it might make more sense to ask ourselves:  When you consider all the “goals” you have set for yourself in life, why have so many fallen by the wayside?


    First, let’s look at the 3 pound lump of neurons, glial cells, neural stem cells, and blood vessels we call our brain. At its core, the brain’s primary function is self-preservation.  Once it knows you have everything in place to live, then you can accomplish everything else… 


     What can happen when the brain finds itself in a new situation where it does not know the outcome, is it can assume the worst-case scenario for the outcome.  Our brain does not like bad so it will find ways to avoid it. 


     This self-preservation wiring makes “thinking” about achieving a goal difficult. We must assign a meaning that will move the brain from “new is bad” to “this is bad and so I need to change it”. Famed psychologist Louis Cozolino, said it best: “thinking serves at the pleasure of emotion”. It is emotions that drive behavior and it’s our behavior that drives outcomes. The right emotion/meaning drives good outcomes. The wrong emotion/meaning will drive bad outcomes.


     So how do we resolve this?  My first suggestion might seem counterintuitive…at a personal level.  


  • Do NOT share your goals with others. 


    The more committed to your goals, the more secretive you should be about them. Dr. Marwa Azab posits that we must close the gap between intention (thinking about it) and implementation (finding meaning and doing it). Her research shows that when we publicize our goal intentions and others acknowledge the awesomeness of such “potential” changes, we get a dopamine reward all at once. The more others admire our goal, the more dopamine we get, so the less likely we are to implement the actions needed to reach those goals. Instead of getting the dopamine from achieving the goal, we get it from others’ admiration of our goals…before we achieve it. 


Now, let’s look at walk the talk as it relates to you, your teams, and your organization.


    In their 2015 survey of 2200 executives in over 900 companies, McKinsey & Company identified what good implementers do differently organizationally than other companies. “The most crucial factors when it comes to success or failure, according to survey respondents, are organization-wide ownership of and commitment to change, prioritization, and sufficient resources.

As you can see, the requirements to successfully implement any kind of change is not complicated: 




Next time you have a goal that you or your team are looking to hit:


1- Identify what this means to you

2- Think through what you need for success

3- Plan each step and be accountable for achieving them

4- Celebrate with others AFTER you have achieved your goals



Blocking The Noise

     Finally, last week our family excitedly drove our son back to college at “The” Indiana University in beautiful Bloomington, IN. We were thrilled that he got the opportunity to return to some piece of normalcy to hopefully enjoy his final year. 


     To move him back in, we decided to load up his Jeep and rent a large U-Haul for the journey. As we hooked up the trailer, I was thinking about the power of mastering something to the degree of unconscious competence. Unconscious competence is the idea that an individual has enough experience with the skill that he/she can perform it so easily they do it unconsciously. This is the phase following conscious competency, where he/she may need additional practice to master the task at hand. We frequently teach about this principle with our customers and I got the opportunity to live it through the experience of pulling a U-Haul.  


      To be 100% honest, I’m not unconsciously competent at pulling a U-Haul. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some experience pulling equipment, but I was trying to convince my son that I was completely capable of accomplishing this task without incident. Isn’t that what Dads do? I suddenly had to process new information that I didn’t have to think about just moments before. If you have ever pulled a trailer, you know what I’m talking about. The checklist is as follows:


  • Secure the trailer
  • Allow ample time and room for breaking
  • Increase the frequency of looking out each mirror
  • Make wider turns, so the trailer clears the curb
  • Plan out your parking spots


     As we were pulling out of the driveway, I decided my best course of action was to dial-up my attention,  attempt to filter out unneeded noise, and keep both hands at the proper 10 and 2 positions. What struck me was that I could process this “new information” because I was so unconsciously competent at all other aspects of driving. Once my environment was secure, and we were safely driving down the road, I decided to re-listened to one of our Driving Change Podcasts.


      The episode was The Alter Ego Effect with Jeff Bloomfield and our guest Todd Herman. As the podcast played, and the U-Haul was bouncing behind me, the conversation between Jeff and Todd challenged me. Here was the question that crossed my mind: 


How can we more fully step into our purpose while handling all the NOISE around ourselves to more  fully master the mental game of life?


     Todd’s interview reinforced that talent alone is great, but hard work is what helps you block out noise and attain unconscious competence. In the hundreds of people that I am fortunate to coach and serve every year, I’m consistently trying to reinforce that performance comes through hard work. There are no shortcuts. If you want to be a peak performer and attain unconscious competence, all the while being able to block out noise… you must master your “Field of Play.” 


In the podcast, (click HERE to listen) Todd’s additional tips hit me:


  • Own your story, your identity, and master your field of play
  • Step into a “Performance Identity” & drive towards excellence regardless of context
  • Develop your mental game, excel to be your best, and capture your wins
  • Find the best person at whatever you want to do and tuck yourself under their wing



      Peak performers can filter out the noise because of the hard work put into mastering their field of play. If this message can resonate with me as I’m driving a U-Haul, think of what it can do for you as a parent, co-worker, professional, leader, or coach. When you are working through the daily noise of life, are you unconsciously competent at the core levels of what you do?


     Take a moment today and list out the 3-5 things that you must do within your learning agenda to move toward a level of unconscious competence. It will not only help you filter noise, but it will also boost your mastery to reach peak performance.         

“Is All Feedback Relevant?”

      A beloved mentor of mine once asked me, “Franc, is all feedback relevant?”. My initial answer was “I think some is and some isn’t”. He then challenged me on my answer… “Why is some feedback not relevant?” he asked. “Some feedback is not always given with full context or might not be right” I answered.


     He then clarified one of the most misunderstood elements and goals of feedback: “Franc, I did not ask you if all feedback is TRUE, I asked if all feedback is RELEVANT.


     The goal of feedback is to receive data and observations from someone other than ourselves. All of it is RELEVANT, especially if it’s not true. This means the giver of feedback may have a gap between their perspective and actual reality… or maybe we do!


     Our brain attaches meaning to everything we experience so we generally filter our feedback to others through our own biased points of view based on those experiences.  In other words, when an event happens to us, our memories influence how we react. Memories have emotions attached to them, and it’s those emotions that create meaning and consequently drive the corresponding behavior. It’s how we make sense of the world and interact with it. 


  • Good memory – Good emotion – Good meaning – Good behavior
  • Bad memory – Negative emotion – Negative meaning – Negative behavior. 

(You can thank the limbic system for all of that processing, and research has shown that it can do all of that in as little as 0.085 seconds…)


     For example: If I say the name “Mother Teresa”, most of us will recall good memories and thoughts about her name which leads to positive emotions.  Now if I say the name “Charles Mason” this will bring very different memories and experiences and consequently very different emotions. It is those emotions and the meaning we assign to them, that helps drive our actions.


    My personal relationship with feedback could be characterized as “strained”. You might know of individuals who have great difficulty receiving feedback. You know the ones… To be honest, I was/am one of those individuals. Now let’s be clear, I am mostly talking about negative feedback as I do really enjoy positive feedback (more on that in a bit). 


      Long story short, when I receive feedback, my limbic system gets triggered because for my brain, negative feedback means I am not good enough and if I am not good enough, I will not belong…my deep-seated big trigger.  Here’s why, growing up I changed schools every year between grade 2 and grade 7 and language of instruction three times (French to English and back to French). This gave me great skills, but also some deep-rooted issues.


Why is any of this important for you to understand about yourselves and your teams?


     As leaders and managers, we need to give feedback as part of our responsibilities. How often we do it and what we say is critically important. University of Akron researchers (Medvedeff, Gregory & Levy, 2008) found that feedback involves more than a simple evaluation of whether someone performed poorly or well. They found there are 4 general categories of feedback:


Positive Outcome Feedback – “Good Work”

Negative Outcome Feedback – “This work is unacceptable”

Positive Process Feedback – “Great work, you built a great team”

Negative Process Feedback -“This work is unacceptable, your team was dysfunctional”


     The Centre of Creative Leadership published a white paper in 2017 (Busting Myths about Feedback) and found that the proper ratio of positive to negative should be at a minimum of 3:1 positive to negative and ideally 5:1. They also found that when these ratios were maintained, employees wanted more negative process feedback over negative outcome feedback. 


     If we look back at our brain discussions from earlier, the negative process feedback provides specific context and content to improve.  This forces the brain to focus on the specific skill or process to improve vs negative outcome feedback that does not provide context. This process also happens when positive feedback is given. Positive outcome feedback provides context and content to the feedback that is more valued than positive outcome feedback.


    Over all, we as leaders must understand that all feedback will create emotion in the person receiving it. We must be intentional in how and at what frequency we deliver that feedback so we can accomplish the ultimate goal of bettering performance and engagement from those we lead.


So, is all feedback relevant…YES…and how we give it and receive it matters.

Active Listening vs. Hearing – Do you know the difference?

      Does the title of this blog capture your attention?  There is no doubt that this is a tough one for me. In the essence of humility, I have often struggled with the difference between listening and hearing. People have asked me the question, “Are you a good listener?” and I would answer yes even though others close to me may disagree. 


      In reality, I think we are asking the wrong question. The real question is this, “Are you good at active listening?” The difference between the two will be instrumental in having a high-quality vs. a low-quality relationship. 


  • Listening is an ACTIVE mental process – the art of paying thoughtful attention with a mind toward understanding the complete message being delivered. 
  • Hearing is receiving information.


      Think about our world today. We need active listeners more than ever. A lot is riding on this concept. I would be so bold to say that our future depends on knowing the difference. 


     Five years ago, I was given the assignment to interview an executive. The instructions were clear, interview an outstanding performer, “coach” them for an hour, and try to facilitate a positive mental framework the entire time. I was apprehensive, to say the least. 


     As I stepped into the office of a very busy executive who wasn’t sure what I was doing there and why she was being interviewed, I simply needed to trust the process. To trust the process, it was critical that I do more than listen and that I must dial into a deeper level of active listening. Can you imagine someone you don’t know very well walking into your office in the middle of the day to interview you for an hour? Trust me, it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. My anxiety level was high, but fortunately my professor and mentor provided me with a set of provocative questions. 


  • If your life were perfect, and your dreams came true, what would your life and work be like in 10-15 years?
  • What are the values and virtues that are most important to you?
  • What kind of person would you love to be?
  • Who helped you the most become who you are or get to where you are?
  • What would you wish your legacy to be? 


     Those are some excellent questions. I hope that you are sitting somewhere at work, home, or vacation, and you’ve stopped reading to think about those questions in your life. The interview was a fantastic exploration of another person’s journey. 


      Here was the real breakthrough moment. In one hour, I knew more about this relative stranger than I did about people who had worked for me for over five years. It was a sobering realization and one that made me realize that I get so focused on myself that I don’t actively listen to someone else’s story. WOW!! There is no doubt that this exchange changed me at the core, and after the interview I sat in the parking lot for over an hour, processing what just happened.  The combination of questions, focus, and sincere interest in someone else turned this from an assignment to a mission 


Four plus years later, I vividly remember another professor putting up a slide with the following definitions. The slide had the descriptions of listening and hearing.  


      During the class, we watched a funny clip from the hit television show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and I had a tipping point moment. I’m an “ok” listener but NOT a great active listener. After the clip, we were provided three tips about the mindset of active listening. (Another great clip is from the movie “Patch Adams,” featuring the late great Robin Williams and both clips are included below for your reference.)


  1. Suspend judgment – approach interactions as a chance to mine for gold not dig for dirt (that ought to make us think)
  2. Maintain an open mind – if you have already made up your mind, you will not hear anything new
  3. Be fully present – the other person deserves your full attention (this means stop multi-tasking)


     Look at the three tips more carefully. To “suspend judgment” illustrates that we have to slow down and turn the attention away from ourselves. To “maintain an open mind” demonstrates the direct opposite of having a closed mind. To “be fully present” means stop multi-tasking. 



     In hindsight, the interview was a success because of these three principles. I challenge you to go into your next three conversations with a mindset of active listening, NOT just hearing. For most of us, this will take practice and discipline. I believe that our relationships demand it. Best of luck.




Everybody Loves Raymond

Patch Adams