June 6th, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to lead like the Executive Chairman of Marriott. What do you think?

“What do you think?” This mantra was cited by the last two CEOs interviewed for the “Corner Office” section in the Sunday New York Times.

J.W. Marriott Jr.

For J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., executive chairman and former CEO of Marriott International, the phrase he uses is, “What do you think we should do?”

Bill learned this from President Eisenhower. Ike was visiting one Christmas when Bill had just completed school. The adults were deciding whether to go quail hunting in the cold or to sit by the fire. Eisenhower turned to the young Marriott and asked “What do you think we should do?”

In that moment Bill recognized the President’s strategy for getting along with others and executing as a leader - by including people in his decision-making process. Marriott quickly adopted the President’s question “What do you think we should do?” to foster his own inclusive decision-making throughout his career as a leader.


Jenna Fagnan

For Jenna Fagnan, president of tequila manufacturer Tequila Avión, the question is, “So what do you think you should do?”

Fagnan learned this from one of her first mentors – her boss. Early in her career, Fagnan worked for a man who always challenged her with this question. She would go into his office and dump a situation on his lap. He would invariably ask, “So what do you think you should do?”

She realized that in those moments, her boss was wearing a mentor hat. He could have easily said, “Here’s what I think you should do.” He knew the answer, but by including her in the process, he forced her to think for herself and grow as an individual and as a leader.


Susan Docherty

Susan Docherty, the head of the US Sales, Service, and Marketing team at General Motors, shared a similar approach in her interview a few years ago in the Corner Office of the Sunday New York Times. She intentionally involves others in decisions, even when she already has an opinion and knows where she wants the decision to go. She relentlessly inquires, “What do you think? What would you do?” She is often rewarded with a fresh perspective and new insights from people who are not as close to the situation as she is.


Why does “What do you think?” work?

Because people support that which they help create. They crave control. They want to be respected and heard. And they want to make a difference.

When we dictate, mandate, and command others, people lose interest. They are not vested in the success of our decisions. They often have a different idea or perspective, but we were too busy railroading them with our decision to ask. By dictating the outcome, we, in essence, reveal that we don’t really care what they have to contribute. And by not asking, we communicate that we don’t really respect or appreciate their perspective enough to stop and listen.

Alternatively, by simply asking the question, “What do you think?” we share the decision with other people, offering them the opportunity to help create the outcome. This inevitably fuels engagement and enthusiasm, not to mention, ownership and accountability.

Ultimately, people show up every day hoping their work matters. When we stop and ask people “What do you you think?” we are communicating to them, “You matter. Your perspective is important. You can make a difference in this decision.” As leaders, this is our job.

What do you think? What would you do? I’d love to hear your perspective.

March 20th, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to be a Mentoring Leader like Ilene Gordon

In the Corner Office in the Business section of Sunday’s New York Times, Ilene Gordon, CEO of Ingredion, took the opportunity to pay tribute to mentoring then and now.


The Impact of a Mentor

Following business school, Ilene was responsible for acquisitions at Tenneco when a self-appointed mentor saw potential in her. He recognized her intellect, ambition, and focus, and challenged her to run those businesses she was acquiring. He put her in a job bigger than her and committed to helping her hone her business skills. Today she is on Fortune magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business as the President/CEO of a Fortune 500 company with $6.2 billion in net sales.


Ilene’s Commitment to Being a Mentoring CEO

Ilene excites people with opportunity as her Mentor did for her. She is committed to:

  • Seeing potential in others where they don’t see it themselves
  • Stretching people who demonstrate talent, people skills, and drive
  • Putting people into roles they’re not quite ready for
  • Allowing people to grow into those big roles
  • Offering young managers an opportunity to share with the board how they’re creating value for the company


Her Belief in the Lasting Impact of Mentoring

Ilene believes that people carry their mentoring experiences with them. “I’m not just hiring the person sitting there. I’m hiring the four people who mentored him. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.”

In each interview, she asks:

  • Who mentored you?
  • Who did you learn from?
  • What was their expertise?
  • What companies did they work for?


What can we do to become a Mentoring Leader like Ilene?

  • Make a list of your own Mentors and acknowledge their influence on your success
  • Discover people’s list of influencers
  • Work to earn a spot on their list
  • See what they don’t see in themselves
  • Take a risk on their potential
  • Push people into their uncomfortable
  • Allow people to surprise you


It takes a true Mentoring Leader to leverage the NY Times spotlight to mentor aspiring, inspiring, and expiring leaders everywhere. Thank you, Ilene, for influencing each of us to make a difference by leading with a mentoring manner.

Ilene’s message is beautifully encapsulated in Author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s powerful quotation:

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”


March 11th, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to create controversy like Sheryl Sandberg

Leaders get people talking. Great leaders challenge our perspectives and create the controversy that kindles change. And the best leaders intentionally embrace the risks that accompany such controversy.


That’s exactly what the COO of Facebook is doing.


Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In hits the bookstores this week and it’s already causing a commotion. Here’s the hullabaloo: she advocates that girls and women are responsible for embracing leadership opportunities as soon as possible, but many women are upset that she is setting unrealistic standards and letting corporations off the hook.


Without even seeing a copy, here’s what I like instantly:  Sheryl’s intentional leadership.

  • She didn’t need to write the book – she’s already wildly successful
  • She didn’t need the money – she’s already worth $500 million
  • She didn’t need the publicity – she’s already on Forbes’ list of most powerful women
  • She didn’t need a hobby – she’s already busy as the COO and mother of two


But she chose to take action on a significant issue. From her perch at the top of Silicon Valley, she sees a dearth of woman in leadership. And for that to change, Sheryl is cognizant that she needs to challenge our perspective, in the face of inevitable criticism and denigration. And she is in a perfect position to do so.


Thank you, Sheryl, for taking action where others don’t, for embracing risk where others won’t, and for showing us what great leaders do: intentionally spark an important dialogue for change.

March 2nd, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to lead like the CEO of Groupon departed

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, was fired last week.  That’s an enormous blow for anyone’s ego, let alone a CEO’s. I would have expected cognitive dissonance to prevail causing him to blame circumstances and point fingers as he headed out the door.

Not Andrew.

His humble good-bye memo to Groupon employees is the epitome of what we crave in leaders everywhere.


The highlights: (Click to read the entire memo.)

Accountability: I’m responsible

  • “I was fired today. If you’re wondering why…you haven’t been paying attention. As CEO, I’m accountable.”

Humility: It’s me not you

  • “You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance.”

Appreciation: It was a privilege to work with you

  • “I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company.”
  • “I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you.”

Commitment: I’m going to learn from this

  • “I’ll now take some time to decompress and then I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.”

Courage: Put customers first

  • “There’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer.”
  • “My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition for what’s best for our customers. Don’t waste this opportunity.”

Vulnerability: I care

  • “I will miss you terribly.”


What a fabulous recipe for every leader to digest before we get fired:

Accountability + Humility + Appreciation + Commitment + Courage + Vulnerability.


Andrew has modeled for the rest of us how to be a leader in life regardless of where we are on the corporate ladder.


As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

Thank you, Andrew, for lending us your shoulders.

January 18th, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to create a culture like Red Robin

Random acts of kindness… at a burger joint?

Apparently it’s in the recipe at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers.

Founded in 1969 with 32,000 “team members” serving “guests” at 450 restaurants, they insist they’re not in the burger business.

They’re in the people business, serving burgers.

But this team takes even that unusual perspective to a whole new level.


Unbridled Acts

Red Robin team members regularly and intentionally bestow random acts of kindness on their guests. They’ve named these above-and-beyond deeds and gestures “Unbridled Acts.”

They’ve even dedicated a section on the company website called “Unbridled Acts” to showcase and spotlight these random acts of kindness, and to gush about how the Red Robin team members make a difference, not just serve burgers.


165 Stories and Counting

Here are just a few of the more than 165 stories spotlighted so far:



Why are hourly employees at Red Robin voluntarily and unabashedly scattering kindness?

Because they can. Because it makes their work matter. And because bosses all the way to the top are applauding them vociferously for doing so.

And why are leaders at Red Robin encouraging this kind of behavior?

Because it makes customers want to come back again and again. Because it makes employees want to keep showing up. And because they get it – we reap the culture we sow.


We can create a culture like Red Robin

Aren’t we all in the people business?

Regardless of what our organization sells, we all serve people. We serve people with our products and with our services. We serve employees with a job. We serve each other
with our leadership and collegiality. We wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for the people.

And don’t we all reap the culture we sow?

We cultivate the environment that we then have to work in. Like Newton’s 3rd law of motion, what we put out comes back in equal force.


Our culture choice

So like the insightful leaders and the enthusiastic team members at Red Robin, every day we get to choose …

1. create a culture riddled with complacency and mediocrity


2. cultivate one rippling with unbridled acts of generosity and scattered kindness.

January 8th, 2013 by lifemoxie

I want to lead like the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen

G.J. Hart has served as CEO of California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) since August 2011 and previously as CEO of Texas Roadhouse for 10 years. When interviewed by the Business section for the Sunday New York Times, Mr. Hart chose to focus not on his resume but on the courage it takes to be a leader.

His 6 Keys to Leadership

In the interview, he outlined the 6 keys to leadership that he has collected like war wounds:

1. Lead yourself first – know your good qualities and those to work on

2. Dream big – for yourself and your organization

3. Lead with your heart – show people your human side

4. Trust the people you lead – allow people to grow

5. Do the right thing – give people a second chance

6. Serve the people you lead – put the cause before you


It takes courage to talk about leadership courage

Not only does operating this way day after day take courage, but so does talking about courage as an essential leadership skill in the Sunday New York Times!

It’s tempting for leaders to use this kind of spotlight to justify their title and gloat about their accomplishments and wisdom. But instead Mr. Hart chose to authentically share his commitment to lead with courage by leading differently and making a difference.


Why does this take courage?

Because from now on Mr. Hart’s team, his colleagues, and the entire CPK workforce will inevitably scrutinize his actions to see if he is walking his talk.

But maybe that was Mr. Hart’s ulterior motive.

Maybe as he declared his commitment to leading courageously, he was actually accomplishing 2 critical things:

(1) Mr. Hart invited his workforce to hold him accountable to being a courageous leader!

(2) Mr. Hart set the standard and the expectation for every leader at the company.


Raising the bar for CPK leaders and all of us

How could you possibly work for Mr. Hart and operate selfishly and self-servingly, without a mission, self-awareness, heart, trust, or integrity, and expect Mr. Hart to treat you like a CPK leader?

And Mr. Hart didn’t need the New York Times to communicate that message to the senior executive team. I believe he was talking to the leaders at every level of the organization – from the team leaders at headquarters in Playa Vista, California to the restaurant managers and chefs at the 250 restaurants. If you want to lead anything at CPK, Mr. Hart expects nothing short of the courage to make a difference. 


In this one interview, he successfully represented the company while setting the standard for leadership at California Pizza Kitchen. It was risky, but it was different and it made a difference for the entire organization and for everyone that read that article. That’s the courage that Mr. Hart is talking about.

Thanks Mr. Hart for walking your talk and raising the bar for leaders everywhere.

December 12th, 2012 by lifemoxie

I Want to Lead Like Tony Tjan

Tony Tjan is CEO of Cue Ball, a venture capital firm in Boston. When given the opportunity to be spotlighted in the Business section of the Sunday New York Times, Mr. Tjan chose to focus on his role as a mentor to others.

When a CEO showcases mentoring in an interview in the New York Times about what he considers to be good leading, we know we’ve found a winner!

For those of us wanting to lead like Mr. Tjan, he does not withhold the information. Like a mentoring boss, he shares it.


The 5 Questions

He describes 5 questions that every leader must ask as they mentor others. Inspired by Deepak Chopra and evolved by his partner, Mats Lederhausen, the framework goes as follows:

  1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
  2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
  3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
  4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
  5. How can I help, and where do you need the most help?


Let me simplify it even more:

  • Where would you like to go?
  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • How do you need to change?
  • How can I help?


Why the Questions?

By asking these questions, Mr. Tjan says it forces us to eliminate the assumptions that we naturally make about the help that people need.

The series of questions also forces us to pause and recognize that someone is sharing their dreams, not some fickle, insipid ideas to be trampled upon like weeds.


Imagine Working for a Mentoring Boss… Imagine Being One

Can you imagine working for a boss who asks you those questions? How refreshing that would make going to work! You would be working for someone who is working for you.

Now imagine being the boss who asks those questions. How energizing that would make leading! Like a superhero, we would use our powers to save someone from the depths of mediocrity.


Tony Tjan may be the exception, but let him serve as our role model mentor. Even from the pages of the New York Times, he is mentoring those of us who strive to lead exceptionally. Thank you Mr. Tjan!


November 22nd, 2012 by lifemoxie

Joy is a Leader’s Job

Aretha Franklin was on to something. She sang it loud and proud, “all I want, honey, is a little respect.” And that applies to work as well. The number one reason people leave a job? A disrespecting boss. Not lack of money. Lack of respect.


What if joy was a leader’s responsibility? A skill required. An expectation of good leadership. A competency no less important than thinking strategically or leading change.


What is joy?
Great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying (thank you, dictionary.com). Could work really be the source of delight and happiness? Yes! And as leaders, we have an opportunity to fuel it.


So why should this be our job as leaders? As columnist Steven E.F. Brown summed it up in the San Francisco Business Times, it’s all about “karma.” Here’s a snippet from his recent article:

“To understand karma you just need to think about why you don’t pee in your own bath. Because you’re the one who has to sit in it! If you are an unhappy, cruel, ungrateful person, you make the people around you similarly unhappy, cruel and ungrateful, and you have to live among them.”


That’s why joy is our job as a leader. Because who wants to spend the majority of each day working in a miserable, disrespectful, crappy environment? Create delight, joy, satisfaction, respect, and you get to work in it too!


Still not convinced? Here are a few more reasons to choose joy as a competency:

  1. People watch you to determine how to act (called, “social cognitive theory”)
  2. Happy employees make happy customers (which generate more money)
  3. High retention and low engagement are costing you thousands of dollars
  4. You deserve to love your job too


So what would joy look like as a leader competency?

  • Creating a vision with/for the team
  • Partnering with people for their success (not yours)
  • Intentionally listening to people’s upsets (that means without looking at the phone even once!)
  • Addressing conflict as a repairable “missed expectation”
  • Considering others’ ideas
  • Approaching mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • Communicating the “why”
  • Getting to know people personally
  • Showing appreciation and recognizing efforts daily (not once a year on a performance review)
  • Staying curious instead of jumping to judgment
  • Treating people like new friends
  • Remembering that people want to feel like the world really does revolve around them
  • Helping people connect the dots between their job and the difference they make with their work


What does all of this require? Courage and confidence to be remarkable. And relentless kindness. No exceptions.

September 4th, 2012 by lifemoxie

Even Incredibly Simple Questions Lead to Mentoring (especially when you’re changing the world)

just published an article entitled “Three Incredibly Simple Questions the Most Successful People Use to Change the World” written by Mike Maddock (pictured here).

Of course I was intrigued. In this day of 140-character tweets, drive-through windows, and instant text messages, I knew the answer would be brilliant in its robust simplicity. And I was not disappointed.

3 Simple Questions to Change the World

Question Number 1: What’s the outcome I want?

Question Number 2: What stands in my way?

Questions Number 3: Who has figured it out already?

Followers vs. Leaders

The first two summarize the basic formula for success. Where do you want to go and what’s stopping you?

But the third question is my favorite – not only is it the secret ingredient to leadership, it screams mentoring.

In essence, the best leaders slow down before executing, knowing that if they learn from someone else’s execution efforts, they can forge ahead.

Followers, on the other hand, jump into action. They dive head first into the weeds to address every obstacle identified in Question Number 2.

Leaders stop before tackling those weeds. They look around to see who else has already overcome those similar obstacles. Then they learn from their mistakes instead of making identical ones.

3 Ways to Answer Question Number 3

So, how do you answer Question Number 3? How can we best determine who has figured it out already?

By engaging in 3 types of mentoring:

Role Model Mentoring

This is mentoring from afar. In Role Model Mentoring, we look to examples, idols, and protagonists to model for us how to conquer those obstacles. By observing from afar, we gain the mentoring we need to move forward.

Look for people who have gone where we want to go. We don’t even need to engage in a conversation with them – we just need to observe from afar. Just watch what they have done or have not done, what they are doing or not doing. And take copious notes. People don’t even have to be alive to serve as our role models! There are a plethora of protagonists throughout history who have already forged paths for us.

Opportunity Mentoring

This is mentoring in moments. In Opportunity Mentoring, we seek mentoring for a specific opportunity or situation. We have a decision to make, a quick problem to solve, or a challenge to tackle, and we need quick feedback, missing information, or a new perspective. A mentoring conversation will help us move forward more wisely.

Ask peers, friends, and colleagues to share their connections and resources. Explain the opportunity or situation and request a connection to someone who has been-there-dealt-with-that. Call that connection immediately and reference the referral. Ask permission for a quick mentoring conversation to fill the gap you have for advice, perspective, and wisdom. Be sure to express appreciation before parting ways and send a thank you card or email to the connection and to the connector. Then make your next move on that opportunity or situation.

Intentional Mentoring

This is mentoring through relationships. In Intentional Mentoring, we identify people who have been-there-done-that and we deliberately engage them in a relationship to learn from their experiences and consciously absorb their advice. It is purposeful conversations resulting from a cultivated and ongoing relationship. This type of mentoring sprouts from role model mentoring and opportunity mentoring.

Identify people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish and have gone where you want to go. Initiate a conversation, establish a relationship, build trust, offer value, and request advice and wisdom. What do Mentors gain? Plenty. An ego-rush, an altruism-kick, relationship, friendship, ideas, fresh perspectives, and a reinforcement of lessons learned.

Change the World Leaders

We can succinctly encapsulate Mike Maddock’s winning formula for changing the world with this simple formula: Vision + Obstacles + Mentoring. And at the end of the article, Mike unwittingly underscores the importance of mentoring in his own formula when he declares, “intelligence is learning from your own mistakes; wisdom is learning from the mistakes of

In other words, leaders progress on the shoulders of others.

That’s how mentoring mobilizes leaders.

(Here is a picture of my sweet nephew who will save the planet in some way in his daily superhero outfit – a leader in the making?)

August 13th, 2012 by lifemoxie

Observing Leadership in Action at the 2012 Olympics

As an athlete, I watched the Olympics in awe. The level of commitment, dedication, and perseverance required to become one of the world’s greatest athletes continues to astonish me.

As an advocate for leadership, I watched the Olympics with surprise and delight. I witnessed many acts of leadership at the games – from Aly Raisman in gymnastics to Michael Phelps in swimming to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in track. These individuals modeled for us leadership in their most vulnerable and raw moments in front of the camera.


Aly led her team to gold both on the mat and off. She mentored and calmed Gabby Douglas moments before Gabby performed her gold-winning routine. She congratulated other countries’ athletes graciously after their routine, even when she lost. And then she didn’t pout when she came in fourth. She didn’t gloat when she came in first. Aly smiled proudly at her performance regardless. And in the end she recognized her coach by gifting him her gold medal, because she says she would never be on the podium without him. We are starved for this kind of integrity in our leaders.


The effervescent Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt has been dubbed “the fastest man in the world.” As the world record holder in the 100 and 200-meters, he continues to earn this title. Bolt has broken records, won gold medals, stretched our world of possibility, and simultaneously entertained us with his lovable personality. In interviews he exudes remarkable confidence, but not arrogance. “I am the fastest man in the world.” He expected to win. He did his job. We want to follow leaders who exude this kind of confidence coupled with charm and spirit, who can execute with conviction, and who can do it all while dancing before each race and joking with the press and his competitors. It was the result of these attributes that we all left the Olympics a Bolt fan.


Michael Phelps came into the 2012 Olympics as a reigning champion, but the bar he set was already high, and people secretly wondered if he could continue the reign. One of his swim teammates, Tyler Clary declared that Phelps “doesn’t have to work as hard” in training, and Phelps’ first few races made us wonder if in fact he hadn’t. He came in fourth in the 400 IM, a spot he has not seen in years, while his rival Ryan Lochte finished first. And then he lost the gold to South African Chad Le Clos in the 200 fly by less than one second. What happened? Phelps coasted into the wall whereas Clos drove into the wall. Many people would have crumbled under such pressure and underwhelming performances. Not Phelps. After regrouping, recalibrating, and recommitting, he began to deliver the performances that we’ve come to expect from him. He left the Olympics with 4 more gold medals and 2 more silver, setting a new record of 22 Olympic medals, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time.

What makes Phelps a leader is not just his performance in the pool. That’s just great athletic skills. His leadership is evidenced in his subtle confidence, understated conviction, and quiet authenticity. When interviewed by Bob Costas about his subpar performances at the start of the games, in particular his loss to Clos, Phelps characterized it a lazy finish. He admitted that many times in practice he coasted to the wall and it showed in his performance against Clos. But he also declared a renewed commitment to win.

And when Phelps won golds with two different relay teams, he shared the spotlight with his teammates. In every interview Michael profusely acknowledged the contributions of his teammates that ultimately earned the teams their gold medals.

And when asked why he thinks he is so accomplished in swimming, Michael confessed a ridiculous commitment to the sport. Since the age of 7, Michael has been in the pool 7 days a week. That’s 20 years of swimming 365 days a year. His competitors are in the pool 6 days a week. That means that every year he is training 52 days more than his rivals. He’s convinced that his level of commitment and dedication gives him an edge in each race.

That’s how leaders are supposed to think and act: committed, dedicated, perseverant, maniacal, confident, responsible, engaging, authentic, humble, vulnerable, and proud.

Here’s to the 2012 Olympics that brought us amazing athletes and leadership role models beyond the pool, the vault, the track, and the podium.