14 valuable lessons any business can learn after an employee exit

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Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from an employee's departure?

1. Get your processes in place

Employees will come and go -- it's the nature of any business. The most valuable lesson I've learned is to ensure that your processes (standard operating procedures) are documented, up to date and easy to access. Focusing on processes not only reduces training time for new employees, it also reduces interruptions to the operations of your business. -- Karlo Tanjuakio, GoLeanSixSigma.com

2. Don't take it personally

Unless you’ve done something to make an employee leave, there is no reason to take a departure personally. I realized this early on, when one of my first employees decided to leave after working with us for four years. It served as a great reminder that my business may be my be-all and end-all, but my employees have their own interests at heart. -- Derek Robinson, Top Notch Dezigns

3. Stay checked in

When a key employee left a few months ago, not only were we caught off guard, I realized how much trust I put into her independent work habits, only to be disappointed by the lack of progress in some areas. I didn't want to micromanage -- and near the end, she was definitely checked out. Had I stayed checked in with progress reports, I wouldn't have the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" of regret! -- Jen Brown, The Engaging Educator

4. Have contingencies in place

My most valuable lesson came from a temporary departure (also known as a "vacation”) early in my career. Scrambling to make sure everyone had the right passwords, invites, contacts, etc., really highlighted how important it was to have contingencies for departures that might not have been planned months in advance -- and we now have documented processes and redundancies for everything. -- Sam Saxton, Paragon Stairs

5. Understand the role of accountability

I learned the difference between what a business is accountable for providing their employees vs. what employees are accountable for providing their business. What I mean by that is I’m accountable for providing training, resources, opportunity, income, and a workplace that fosters growth, but the employee is accountable for putting the effort in. -- Michael Mogill, Crisp Video Group

6. Have a learning culture

The most valuable lesson that I've learned is not to take good employees for granted and to continue to challenge them. People will get bored if they are simply doing the same thing over and over again. One simple way to encourage a learning culture is by giving the team free access to online training courses. -- Jared Atchison, WPForms

7. Understand that growth brings change

Understanding that as your company grows, your team grows. Some of those team members want to be a part of that growth, others won’t have the talent to stick with the growth, and a few will want to branch out and grow on their own somewhere else or independently. Regardless of which category a departing employee falls under, you have to accept it. -- Daniel Griggs, ATX Web Designs, LLC

8. Expect the unexpected

Sometimes you are going to have team members that are incredible, but at the end of the day, they may have different goals. And that's OK. I have lost some team members I thought I'd be with forever because they had different passions. They were incredible to me and gave me their best, but then eventually wanted to change it up. And that's OK. Be prepared for the unexpected. -- Ben Landis, Fanbase

9. Don't rely too heavily on one person

After a few cases where team members left our organization, I noticed that our productivity took a hit for the next week or so as we scrambled to fill the gap they left behind. What I've since learned to avoid this issue is to not rely too heavily on one individual. Instead, I try and set up my company structure where at least two people have the same responsibilities. -- Bryce Welker, CPA Exam Guy

10. Learn how to improve

I think the most important thing to learn from the exit interview is if there was anything better to improve their experience and culture at the firm and what the reasons for leaving are. This is the opportunity for someone to be brutally honest, so ask the tough questions, put them on the hot seat, and try to expunge the last piece of value you can get from them. -- Vincenzo Villamena, Online Taxman, Global Expat Advisors

11. Always end on a good note

Most employee departures end on a bad note, and in the business world, that doesn't exactly serve anyone. You never know how a person can be impacted to help out when you may need, even after their departure. Always end on a good note and create a win-win no matter how successful your startup is because at the end of the day, you want to ensure that your culture has impacted the person in a good way. -- Sweta Patel, Silicon Valley Startup Marketing

12. Think about who is left

Exit interviews give us an idea about issues that former employees may have had in the workplace, and it’s important to look into these things. Current employees may be experiencing similar problems, so if we can address these concerns, we may be able to reduce the possibility of additional employees leaving. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

13. Make transparency central in recruiting

I have found that when employees leave it is usually because they were never the right fit to begin with. The main lesson I have learned is that it is incredibly important to be as transparent as possible throughout the recruiting process to all candidates, so the ones who are given offers and accept are more likely to actually be right for your company and for the role they are interviewing for. -- Adam Mendler, Beverly Hills Chairs

14. Be patient

When a team member departs, regardless of circumstance, patience and acceptance are crucial. Be patient that the proper replacement will be found, and accept that the new member will have different ways of working. The same position can never be filled in exactly the same way, so value what elements the past member brought to the team, and welcome the potential of a new set of skills. -- Matthew Capala, Alphametic

Time for a new approach to motivating millennials

A business magazine in Korea interviewed me for an article on the science of motivation. I didn’t realize the article was focused on millennials until I saw the headline -- the only part written in English.

No matter where I work in the world, the question of motivating millennials seems to pop up. Understandable, since this group of people ages 16 to 37 constitutes the largest segment of the world’s current and future labor force (35% in the U.S.). I can’t read the article in Korean, so I thought I’d capture the essence of what I really think about motivating millennials.

What are generational values?

You might have first encountered the idea of values differences as I did, through Morris Massey’s fabulously popular lecture "What You Are Is Where You Were When." Massey was a professor at the University of Colorado and a wonderful mentor for me in the early 1970s. His lecture (and subsequent video) changed the way I thought about values (and the course of my education and career).

In 1991, researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe published their fascinating study in "Generations: The History of America’s Future from 1584 to 2069." They tracked US values through generations using documents, media reports and historical records. They described how each 20 years or so ushers a new set of values -- a generational values personality.

They created the terms we are now so familiar with, from baby boomers to millennials. They also found that types of values repeat themselves in predictable patterns. A generation lasts approximately 20 years, and types of values begin repeating after the fourth generation, or every 80 years. So, millennials born between 1981-2002, roughly speaking, have similar types of values as people born between 1901 and 1924. The two generations have similar peer-value profiles.

The research on generational values is still young and, admittedly, interesting. Seeing values echoed sequentially in a fixed pattern over the ages might demonstrate how we can learn from history, provide insight into the future by studying how values repeat in cycles and help us better understand ourselves and others.

However, generational values only describe the formation of a huge population’s programmed values -- values that are unexplored and generated by what a particular age group experienced growing up. Parents, take note: The greatest influence on your children’s programmed values are their peers and what’s happening in their world.

Unfortunately, the most important aspects of understanding values are often lost in the hype and oversimplification of generational values. Generational values are helpful to understand the formation of your programmed values, but not the true nature of values. Generational values may be like a bright, shiny object distracting us from what we really need to understand about values -- and the role they play in people’s motivation

Why is it important to distinguish between generational and developed values?

In the 1990s, Drea Zigarmi and Michael O’Connor developed a values assessment and model, inspired by Massey and integrating the work of Strauss and Howe. Since then, Zigarmi and I have further developed the Values Point of View model to provide a common language and framework for understanding values. The Values Point of View model reinforces three key notions:

  1. Programmed values aren’t nearly as powerful as developed values. A developed value is thoughtfully chosen from alternatives, with an understanding of the consequences of the alternatives, and acted on over time, prized and publicly owned.
  2. Values are individually held and issue-based. A value is a choice you make regarding a specific issue. You can hold one type of value when it comes to women’s rights and another when it comes to gun control. The problem is that many people fail to explore their values and underlying beliefs, depending instead on unexplored programmed values that are general and generational.
  3. Values are at the heart of motivation. Programmed values are more likely to lead to suboptimal motivation; developed values are more likely to result in optimal motivation. When we take action that is aligned with our developed values, we experience vitality, sustainable positive energy and greater sense of well-being.

Whether a boomer, Gen X’er, nillennial, or Gen Z’er, if you don’t understand the ends and means of the values you hold, you are most likely operating on programmed values without realizing it. Emphasizing generational values is not only personally limiting, but it also creates organizational problems.

A different approach to “motivating millennials"

Because millennials make up such a large portion of our workforce, organizations are bending over backward to motivate them -- namely, by giving millennials what organization think they want. But, these “wants” are based on unexplored programmed values. No wonder it’s hard to create value-based communities aligned in moving forward together.

Instead of trying to “motivate” millennials based on their programmed values, try a different approach: Help individuals develop conscious and meaningful values. Teach individuals that values are choices and issue-based.

Consider Mahatma Gandhi. As a child, Gandhi and his peers experienced British subjugation. Raised as a vegetarian, Gandhi eventually gave into peer pressure and societal norms while studying law in London and began eating meat.

Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and began his famous nonviolent revolution. As he “fought” for Indian independence, he chose to become a vegetarian, which reflected not only his culture’s values but also what he’d learned about animal rights while studying in London.

Gandhi’s story is a perfect example of moving from a programmed value (eating vegetarian) to exploring his beliefs and values (eating meat) and choosing a developed value (evolving from animal rights to human rights).

The values story is rich and complex. I encourage you to eschew claims of quick and easy ways to motivate millennials. Instead, I encourage you to do the essential work of appreciating every generation’s programmed values, but focus on teaching individuals how to move beyond their generation’s programmed values. We can only work together in a values-based community when individuals -- regardless of their generation -- develop values based on fully explored beliefs that serve the people they work with those they are in business to serve.


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains "Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and six books, including the bestselling "Self Leadership" and the "One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com

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How structured is your approach to problem-solving?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How structured is your approach to problem-solving?

  • Very – we have clearly defined steps and output at each step: 19.5%
  • Kind of – we generally follow a repeatable problem solving process: 50.5%
  • Not very – our problem solving is a bit haphazard: 21.5%
  • Not at all – we never solve problems the same way twice: 8.5%

A weak structure means weak solutions. Problem-solving is a repeatable process with predictable end products for most common problems. A structured approach to problem-solving ensures you fully understand the problem and are comprehensive in your search for solutions. The structured approach is also efficient. If you can be hypothesis-based in your problem solving and focus on the highest opportunity solutions, you can save a lot of time by not chasing small ideas. For the 30% of you not solving problems with a structured approach, give structure a try. You might find you’ll come up with bigger and better solutions faster than ever before.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

Undone by a culture of toxicity

One of the top charitable foundations in the US is dealing with the exposure of regular bullying, harassment and emotional abuse by a top executive, as well as what is overall a toxic culture.

There were red flags about the toxic nature of the foundation’s culture everywhere you looked. Formal complaints about this woman’s behavior were made to HR but, according to numerous former and current employees, the executive director did nothing. At least one lawsuit was filed against this woman. It was settled out of court.

Turnover at all levels was significant. The foundation notes that 73 people -- out of 140 total employees -- have left since January 2016.

On Glassdoor, the foundation earns only a 1.9 score on a five-point scale. Only 14% of employees recommend the company, and only 26% approve of the CEO.

How did these executives miss these flags? The complaints were frequent and noted consistent bad behavior. The organization’s values are honorable, yet it is obvious that this woman didn’t demonstrate the company’s values daily. “Integrity,” “inclusiveness,” and “respect” were not words employees used to describe the way she treated others.

The executive director valued growth, and he got it, yet at significant human cost.

Watch this three-minute video for my three steps to ensuring you never have a toxic culture.

Subscribe to my free twice-a-month newsletter. Subscribers enjoy free resources including a preview of my Amazon best-seller, "The Culture Engine," which helps team and company leaders create a powerful, purposeful, positive, productive work environment.

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Promote your team: 4 steps to raise the profile and visibility of your group

You know that your team does great work. You’re invested in what they do, day in and day out, and you know the value they bring. You know the benefit their successes have delivered to the organization.

The question is, does everyone else know?

If you haven’t made the effort to promote your team’s work, it may well be that they don’t. Even if they benefit from the work you do, if they don’t know about the part you play, it will be hard for you or your group to get ahead at work. It can also make it hard to ensure you’re consulted on key decisions or get the resources you need to function well. While it may seem like quietly doing your job should lead to appreciation, it’s not always the case.

Want to make sure everyone knows the critical role your team or group plays? Read below for four steps to raising visibility.

Step 1: What does your team do?

Imagine that you are presenting to everyone you talk to. Can you distill what your team does in one or two short sentences? Think of your team in these terms -- are you performing a critical task or stewarding a key area? Delivering a specific output? Working on a particular project? Practice articulating what your team does in terms of these critical soundbites and leave the smaller details out. Try to give anyone you contact with a strong, memorable sense of your group’s role in the organization. To do that, you’ll have to keep it tight and simple. Practice until you have that statement (with conversational variations) ready on the tip of your tongue.

Step 2: What do you deliver?

Once you’re able to deliver what you do, practice sharing the message about your objectives and outcomes. Try to think big picture and avoid being too literal here – you’re not talking about exactly what you do (i.e. a spreadsheet) so much as the business value (i.e. sales forecasting). If you’re working on a project, what’s the planned outcome or the expected benefit? Can you state it in a phrase or two?

Step 3: What is your team's value?

Now add to your message with the key statement -- your value. Once you have clearly articulated your activities and output, you need to be able to share their value. Think of this in terms of serving the organization’s overall well-being. Do you provide insight? Maximize profits? Minimize risk? Reduce work effort? Think of yourselves as specialists, Ask what are you doing that makes things better for everyone, and state that clearly.

Step 4: Share your victories and achievements

For some of us, it can be uncomfortable to “toot our own horn” and talk about our achievements. For the sake of your team, put that aside and plan to market your successes. It’s important to make sure the whole organization knows at a high level what you provide and how well you get the job done. This will benefit each of you individually and as a group in ensuring you have the attention and resources you need from those higher up.

By following these four steps, you can create a mental template to help you raise your visibility and share your team’s value and success. You probably know all of these things about your group -- the key is to make sure others do by practicing your ability to clearly and quickly share that information. One final caveat: Once you’ve created your new message, be careful not to overshare or overmarket! Be clear with your message but not overly repetitive -- you don’t want to seem like you’re boasting or overly fixated. Make your message consistent but don’t wear on people. Now, go ahead and raise your team’s visibility!


Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach who recently worked with a senior vice president who needed help promoting the impact and value of his team. Garfinkle produced and utilized this four-step process, which resulted in the entire organization taking notice of the success they delivered to the company. He has written seven books, including "Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book "41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!"

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What it takes to succeed as a manager

Doing what you love to do can be a long and painful process.

That is a lesson that comes through loudly and clearly in the remarkable documentary from Aljoscha Pause called "Trainer!"

To succeed in professional football (soccer), you need to do more than strategy and tactics.

1. Connect with players. No two players are alike, as the film makes abundantly clear. Some need clear guidelines; others are self-directed. Some need a kick up the backside; others turn off at discipline.

2. Manage your situation. Professional football clubs have a board of directors plus what we would call general managers. Coaches report to them. They must lead up -- that is, deliver what the bosses what while at the same time achieve good things for the club.

3. Handle the distractions. Savvy coaches know how to play the media: Be accessible. They also know how to please the fans: Play to their needs and be willing to participate in club events, such as autograph signings.

Managers are just like professional coaches. They must learn how to bring out the best in their employees, manage up in order to achieve their objectives and engage with the community around them.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Global Gurus ranked him No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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The ROI that today’s leaders need most

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Shelly L. Francis.


How do you decide what factors to align and to risk for gaining the highest return on investment? How often do you factor in the return on integrity?

When there is consistency between what people say and do, we call that integrity. We say they “walk their talk” or “keep their word.” We sense integrity when a person’s work appears to be guided by a deeper moral-ethical commitment. Integrity is not only the opposite of the immoral and unethical behavior so often reported in the news.

The best ROI comes from aligning who you are on the inside -- your values and fears, your hopes and your limits -- with your outer life of work and relationships. When you risk showing up as your whole self, engagement can shift and so can success.

A social entrepreneur named Ed was burned out after too many years on a nightmarish treadmill of chasing goals, working all hours, believing that if anything good were to happen he had to do it himself. For six years, basic self-care just didn’t happen. When Ed finally made time to reconnect with his underlying purpose and values, he began to see himself differently as a leader.

“The choice to stop and invest in reflecting is not logical when you’re in the middle of the intensity of doing all these things. But reflection time is extremely valuable in every way. It creates a space for emotional intelligence.”

Organizational problems

If leaders don’t find clarity about what they value, what unique gifts they have to offer, what contribution they wish to make, they cannot realize their full potential. Strength and resilience as a leader come from knowing the ground on which you stand, the convictions you will act on with courage. Resilience comes from being aware of and accepting your limits and what problems your shadows are causing. That is wholeness, and that comes from knowing your true self.

Organizations are often blamed for problems without anyone acknowledging that policies, decisions, systems and corporate cultures are products of the people inside. Being willing to tackle hard conversations within an organization, to make room for honest debate and differing opinions, is an act of courage that requires and invites integrity.

“I used to joke that I was the head custodian, because that’s my style,” said Ed. “Now I really see my role as being the person to hold the vision. Before in the exact same situation, the main complaint I had was that people were not coming together around the vision. Now people are coming together a whole lot more ... “It’s how I hold myself, what I express, what I show that expresses the vision. I think that’s how the world really works. How we live is the vision.”

In a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, too many people are stuck in unhealthy modes: fight or flight, freeze or flock. But for each stress reaction, an option exists: Fortify. When you make time to fortify yourself -- mind, body and spirit -- you gain the courage to respond with integrity instead of react from defaults, bias, and unexamined assumptions.

Integrity requires us to stretch and be stronger than normal. Integrity demands an extra measure of responsibility and resolve to do the right thing. Integrity is refusing to participate in unfair business practices. Resisting pressure to meet quotas that cause harm. Relinquishing a sale or a competition for the sake of winning long-term loyalty. Retracting misinformation. Reiterating to ensure your voice is heard.

How do you fortify yourself so that you have the courage to act with integrity? Anything you do to regain your strength and composure, your clarity about who you are deep down inside, is a form of fortification.

Doing meaningful work that reflects who you are gives you energy to work through hard times. Community fortifies you with kind support and the compassionate challenge of others. What inspires you, infuses you, instills you with the spirit of courage?

“When we find that courage,” writes author and educator Parker J. Palmer, “our lives become more whole, our work reaches deeper, the people we serve are better served, and, in ways large and small, the world becomes a better place.”


Shelly L. Francis wrote "The Courage Way: Leading and Living With Integrity" on behalf of the Center for Courage & Renewal, a nonprofit founded 25 years ago by Parker J. Palmer that offers programs and practices for cultivating courage, integrity, and trust. Visit CourageWay.org.

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5 ways you can use visualization to achieve top performance

I’ve always been afraid of water. To confront those fears, I decided to learn how to scuba dive, even before I learned how to swim! I would to use visualization to achieve top performance if I hoped to get out alive.

One of the requirements of a scuba dive certification is to descend 10 feet under water, take off your mask and mouthpiece, and then put them back on again. I was afraid I would drown in those few moments underwater and without oxygen.

What if I lost my mask? How would I get back to the surface? After all, I couldn’t even swim. My instructor was with me, and during practice he had helped me several times. On the day of certification, however, I would need to do it all on my own.

My fear of water had not subsided as I hoped it would. I did not feel safe in the water, especially when I was 10 feet under.

The night before the test, I walked myself through the exercise many times. How could I use visualization to achieve top performance in my situation? Here were my steps:

  1. Take a deep breath and let go of my mouthpiece.
  2. Pull off the mask with my left hand and hold it tightly as my right hand came around and pulled it back over my face.
  3. Keep salt water out of my eyes by keeping them tightly closed.
  4. Grab hold of my mouthpiece and bring life-giving oxygen back into my lungs.

I visualized the sequence dozens of times. And when it came time for my scuba dive certification, I performed the underwater portion exactly as I had visualized it. Two days later, I dove 100 feet down a seawall!

I’m a hard-nosed realist who used to look at things like visualization as "woo woo" New Age. Little did I know at the time that I could use visualization to achieve top performance and point to solid science to explain why it worked. Achieving my goal was about more than work and discipline; it was also about physiology.

Whenever we use visualization to achieve top performance, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. That is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past. Dopamine enables us to not only see rewards but also to move toward them. So every time we visualize our achievement, our brain stores that information as a success.

Visualization goes beyond my example of scuba diving.

Here are five ways you can use visualization to achieve top performance:

1. Clarify what you want

This is more important than most people think because once we identify the things that are important to us, it’s easier to notice them. Once we have clarity about our goals, we start to look for ways to accomplish them. Opportunities might have been there all the time but we didn’t look for them, so we didn’t see them.

When you visualize your goals, it forces you to get serious about what you want. Otherwise, there is nothing to visualize but a bunch of half-baked dreams about your future. Visualization takes a hazy idea and turns it into a clear goal. It’s more than a quick fix.

How to make it work for you: Clarity requires precision, so it doesn’t do any good to be content with vague ideas of how you want to live your life. Vague goals sound a lot like this:

  • I want to be rich.
  • I want to travel the world.
  • I want to be respected.

This is the pseudo-goal crap that will never lead you to success because it’s not based in reality. To gain clarity, you will need to sit down and think about how you want events or relationships to unfold, exactly where you want to end up, and exactly what you need to do to get there.

2. Get specific

When you use visualization to achieve top performance, you see your own ability to perform in difficult or stressful situations. It can help move you beyond your current circumstances. Visualizing encourages leaders to ask “What if?” or “What else?” These types of questions open doors of possibility and opportunity. It’s an invitation to move past the status quo.

The very act of giving your brain a detailed and specific portrait of your end goal ensures the release of dopamine, the powerful tool to steer you toward success. If dopamine is associated with rewards, leaders can use this knowledge to help their teams find ways to create a more satisfying work environment. Research has determined that dopamine is produced in anticipation of reward, not as the result of the reward.

How to make it work for you: Visualizing the outcome of an event is enough to trigger the production of dopamine. Ask yourself a simple question such as “What do I want this meeting to look like?” and then visualize your performance. Visualize every objection and/or question that is likely to come up in the meeting, and your response to it.

If you want to use visualization to achieve top performance, you will need to visualize the entire process: the beginning, middle and end. Take your mind through a situation and simulate how you plan to start, what you will experience and how you will do it.

3. Remove uncertainty

Uncertainty can rear its ugly head at any time. It may be rooted in lack of confidence, lack of experience or self-limiting beliefs. It is impossible to use visualization to achieve top performance if we move forward with a timid heart and weak voice.

The FBI Academy taught me to respect uncertainty when it popped up in stressful situations. I never ignored it; instead, I found ways to break its crippling cycle of repetition. It was essential for my job as an FBI agent.

It’s also important for your job as a leader, entrepreneur or business owner. Your confidence is a byproduct of your success, not the cause of it. Uncertainty can sabotage your best efforts to move forward unless you nip it in the bud.

How to make it work for you: The more familiar you become with the situations, conversations or events that produce your uncertainty, the calmer you will be able to approach the situation. Grit up and acknowledge your doubts so you can excavate the significance of their timing.

Write down when you experience uncertainty. Explore what triggers it. Trace the roots all the way back to childhood if needed.

4. Experience the right emotions

Emotions are very important if you want to use visualization to achieve top performance. Your brain learns better with emotions. The memories and experiences that are freighted with emotions stick in your mind. Visualization is a mental simulation of your future performance so you need to cast the right emotion into the equation.

The idea behind visualization is to plant false memories into your brain. To be successful, you must remain positive. Your brain will perceive your future performance as more achievable if they are accompanied by a positive emotion.

How to make it work for you: When you use visualization to achieve top performance,  you’re better prepared for it in real life. You will feel prepared because you’re doing something you’ve already rehearsed many times in your mind. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t give negative emotions the space to fester.
  • Feel positive emotions like enthusiasm, pride, happiness, and satisfaction on every step of the way.
  • Let them become ingrained in your psyche.
  • Don’t ignore the obstacles, but don’t give negative emotions the space to fester.
  • Visualize the obstacles you expect to encounter so you’re prepared for them.
  • Imagine what it will feel like when you succeed.

From Viktor Frankl: “There’s one reason why I’m here today. What kept me alive in a situation where others had given up hope and died was the dream that someday I’d be here telling you how I survived the concentration camps. I’ve never been here before. I’ve never seen any of you before. Nor have I ever given this speech before. But in my dreams I’ve stood before you in this room and said these words a thousand times.”

Like Frankl, you can be successful because you've done it a hundred times before, if only in your mind.

5. Visualize massive success, but never fantasize

There is an important caveat about visualization -- never fantasize. Your brain is smart enough to tell the difference between peak performance and fantasy. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that positive fantasies can actually sap energy.

The same study found that shifting into fantasy mode is most effective when we need to decrease our energy because anxiety is getting the better of us.

How to make it work for you: You can dream of becoming a rock star, but make sure you have the talent to make it happen. It’s great to have dreams, but have the self-awareness to know the difference between you at your very best and a fantasy version of what you dream of becoming in life.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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Obama delivers lessons on work, purpose

Finding purpose in work, creating rigorous processes and minding your values were among the lessons President Barack Obama shared with attendees at this year's Association for Talent Development International Conference and Exposition in San Diego. More than 10,000 attendees gathered—many of them getting in line as early as 5:30 a.m., sans caffeine—to hear from the former president.

Here are highlights from his conversation with ATD President Tony Bingham.

Follow your North Star

Make sure you're doing something because it's the right thing to do—because you have something to offer—not just because you want to be something, Obama advised. He learned this lesson during an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2000.

"I got whooped!" he joked.

When Obama was in the state legislature, he decided to challenge the local congressman, also a Democrat, whom he felt was underperforming. An informal poll, conducted by his staff, indicated that Obama was well-liked among his constituents. He decided to announce his run. "I was a little impatient," he admitted.

It was a mistake. After the announcement, the staff ran a formal poll and the results were dismal. Only 11% of constituents knew who he was. His opponent won by a landslide.

The experience taught him a valuable lesson. It's easy for people to get obsessed with titles and dreams of corner offices, Obama said. It happens when they don't spend enough time thinking about what they want to achieve. "They don't have a North Star or a compass to guide their actions and their decisions," he said.

Find your passion, Obama advised, and let that guide your time, energy and actions. "If you're doing those things every day that are actually meaningful to you," he said, "then over time you will find yourself achieving and rising into positions of more and more influence because you learned to do what you care about really well."

Put different voices at the table

Create an environment in which all team members can constructively contribute to discussion, Obama said. You need "a bunch of different voices [and] different perspectives around the table," he said.

Obama used the auto industry bailout to illustrate his point. With the economy contracting faster than it did during the Great Depression, his administration needed to make swift decisions about the auto companies that were going bankrupt. Chrysler presented the biggest issue, Obama said, adding that the polls in Michigan indicated "that 90% of the people did not want us helping the auto companies. It was really unpopular."

Some members of the economic team urged the president to let Chrysler go. Other members argued that doing so would cause suppliers and dealers to go under, creating a catastrophic domino effect. "It was probably a 51/49 decision," Obama said.

Times like this call for an "honest, transparent, rigorous process where you are hearing all sides of the debate and … insisting on getting the best information possible," Obama said. Failure happens when you don't get all the data needed to make a decision. You need a system that encourages all members to speak up and contribute

"That kind of culture doesn't mean you're always going to get things right," Obama said. "But what it does mean is that you're in the best position possible to both make good decisions, work the probabilities in your favor and to learn quickly when you do make mistakes."

Mind your values

Values give meaning and purpose to action, driving people to give more of themselves, above and beyond a paycheck, Obama said.

The president told the story of Ronnie, a young Chinese-American campaign staffer originally from Los Angeles, assigned to organize the campaign in a small town in Iowa. On his first day going door-to-door throughout the community, Ronnie was called a racial slur used against Asians. The incident did not deter the energetic staffer.

Instead, Ronnie planted himself in the community, Obama said. He set up a booth outside the grocery store and started helping elderly customers carry their groceries to their cars. He found out that the local Little League team needed a coach, and he volunteered for the position. And all the while, he promoted Obama's campaign and message for America.

Ronnie won over the community—one made up largely of conservative voters. When Obama visited the town for a rally, he noticed the support the young man had curried. "By the end of this process, he could have been elected mayor," Obama joked.

Ronnie's success was the result of his value system, Obama said. "He was in possession of a set of values that he carried into that situation," Obama said. "Sticking to it; about being respectful to people; about being helpful; about being open minded; about not being discouraged. … And that's what sticks. That's the stuff that lasts."

Don't rush the process

Change begins when people and organizations realize that the current situation is not going to work, Obama explained. "That requires being willing to get information from others and looking at yourself squarely," he said.

The next step is breaking change into its component parts and then being patient as you work through the process, Obama said. He gave as an example the Affordable Care Act. The law provided health care to 20 million people who didn’t have it before, Obama said, and cut the uninsured rate to its lowest reported level ever. Despite the success, some members of his party were dissatisfied.

"Some Democrats—some people in my own party—were frustrated because we hadn't insured everybody yet," he said. He had to explain that the process would be difficult and take time. "This is the first phase. … We're gonna build on it, continuously over time, and refine it, make it better."

Change is a process, Obama said; it requires patience, consistency and time. "Don't expect perfect performance immediately," he said." As long as you're moving in the right direction … that's how to bring about real change."

Push for progress

Obama is "cautiously optimistic" about the future, despite the myriad of challenges—corruption, racial tensions, strained economies, environmental challenges—the world faces.

"The arc—the trajectory—of human history has been progress," he said. People today are, on average, wealthier, healthier, more tolerant and better educated, he said. "Things have gotten better. 50 years ago, it would have been unimaginable for me to be sitting here talking to you."

Nonetheless, more work remains "because that progress is not inevitable," he said. Organizations must ensure all people are treated with respect and afforded opportunity to advance and contribute. Communities must develop pathways that allow all students—children and adults—to access an affordable, high-quality education. And we must all become better stewards of our environment, Obama said.

"Progress is the result of each of us, individually, taking responsibility for making things a little bit better," he said. "If we can have a sense of humor, be forgiving about our foibles and flaws, knowing that none of us are perfect but [that] we all have our responsibility to make the world a better place … If all of us are doing our part in that way, we'll figure it out. We'll be OK."


Kanoe Namahoe is the editor of SmartBrief on Workforce and SmartBrief on EdTech.


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How do you deal with manipulative people?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How do you deal with manipulative people?

  • I cut them out of my life as fast as I can: 32.5%
  • I ignore their manipulations and do my own thing: 42.5%
  • I often fail to realize I’m being manipulated: 6.2%
  • I recognize I’m being manipulated but just let it happen: 2.8%
  • I confront them directly and ask them to stop: 16.2%

Avoiding the manipulator. The majority of you seek either to ignore or get away from the manipulators in your life. While that can be effective in many situations, in some situations your only option is to confront that person and ask them to change their behavior. Some helpful techniques for dealing with manipulators include changing your perspective to look at their manipulations from a more logical perspective and changing the rules of the game to react differently to their behaviors. In any case, something needs to be done, or you’ll be miserable in the situation. If you’re not aware you’re being manipulated, spend more time being reflective and assess your relationships more objectively. Doing so might help suss out hidden manipulative behaviors.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."