The media consumption habits of the C-suite

In 2015, Business Insider published a roundup of the media habits of successful people. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, it said, reads a bevy of print newspapers in the morning, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the Omaha World-Herald and American Banker. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has kept the same morning routine for 25 years -- reading The Seattle Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti actually carries with him print editions of the Times, devouring the sports and business sections during his morning commute.

Why are the media habits of successful CEOs so fascinating? Because no other role requires the same amount of discipline and efficiency for how one manages their day. C-suite executives have a limited time with which to consume information that is vital for their jobs and knowing how they use that time can provide valuable insights.

That’s why SmartBrief interviewed four C-suite executives about their daily media-consumption habits. The report, “The Media Consumption Habits of the C-suite,” can be found here. Here are four takeaways.

They establish a daily routine

The best way to maximize efficiency is through repetition. The executives set a daily routine and stick to it. Jeff Litvack, CEO of AdWeek, divides his reading between general news (15 to 30 minutes) and industry developments (15 minutes on publishing, another 15 to 30 on advertising). “One of my habits is that I’ll click on a story and if I’m busy, I’ll bookmark and read it later sometimes on weekends,” he says. “I like to [use] OneTab as a way to file stories away for future reading.”

They are morning people

Once 9 a.m. rolls around, a CEO is swarmed with meetings and myriad requests from subordinates. That’s why the early morning hours are crucial for interruption-free reading. “[I read] first thing in the morning, usually on my phone or at my desk,” says Lisa Walsh, CEO of Truco Enterprises. She’ll also use her downtime at night to catch up on what’s happening in the world. “[I] will often watch national news on TV that I have recorded before going to bed.”

Relevance matters

An executive is met with hundreds of stories from which to choose once opening a newspaper or firing up Twitter. That’s why concise, descriptive headlines are so important. “Subject line and article title matters a great deal to me,” says Lisa Mann, founder and CEO of Think Marketing. When she’s scanning her email feeds, she’s looking for headlines in her areas of interest. “For instance, I’m interested in plant nutrition businesses. So [I] read all the articles about emerging technologies in this area and changes in consumer demand.”

Email newsletters are vital

The signal to noise ratio for social media is less than optimal. Most C-suite executives opt for email newsletters, which are formatted simply and easy to scan for relevant information. “I actually get a lot out of newsletters,” says Adryanna Sutherland, COO at business advertising agency Gyro. “I get a few industry newsletters and I read 3 to 4 a day — even if I only have time to browse headlines, I get a lot of it.”

Read the entire report here.

Simon Owens is a freelance contributor for SmartBrief.


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Building a servant-led culture

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 Art Barter.


Culture — every organization has one. Is your culture thriving? Do people feel like they can make worthwhile contributions and others have their backs? Are people happy to come through the door each day? 

When I joined Datron World Communications, I walked into a failing culture that was extremely toxic, and I soon learned the organization was built on a foundation of mistrust that started at the very top of the company. In 2004, my wife and I had the opportunity to buy the company, and we began the process of rebuilding the culture on the foundation of servant leadership.

One definition of culture is the behaviors, beliefs and characteristic of a particular group. It’s illustrated by how your organization behaves on a daily basis. In a servant-led culture, we strive to behave in alignment with the nine behaviors of a servant leader.

The behavioral expectations at Datron are that we will serve first, build trust, live our values, listen to understand, think about our thinking, add value to others, demonstrate courage, increase our influence and live our transformation.

Under this culture, our employees have achieved goals we never thought possible. Over the last 14 years, we have come through hard times and celebrated great times together and still work to serve each other every day.

How do you build a servant-led culture? Here are six things you can do to foster one:

  1. Flip your org chart. First and foremost, you must change your mindset regarding leadership. Employees do not exist simply to serve a leader’s needs. You are there to serve them. You are there to lead from your heart to inspire and equip employees. If you are at the top of the pyramid, you have no one to serve. Flip the pyramid and you now have the opportunity to serve everyone; if you truly embrace that mindset, you’ll become a leader worth following.
  2. Be a good example. As a leader, you’re always being watched. As a servant leader, you’re being watched even more closely. It’s vital that you behave your talk. No one is perfect and you’ll make mistakes, but when employees know you care about them, they’ll give you grace, especially if you’re willing to apologize.
  3. Use your mission and values effectively. The mission and values of your organization are extremely important if you want employees to understand their work has meaning. Too often, we use our mission and values on marketing collateral but not in our decision-making process. Equip people to make good decisions by allowing the company’s mission and values to become their North Star.
  4. Communicate till you are talked out, and then communicate some more. People want to know what’s going on in their organizations. They’re eager to understand how the business works because it affects them. In addition to wanting to know about the status of the company, you need to constantly be talking about servant leadership. Use the vocabulary of the behavioral expectations you have for them. Make yourself available to answer their questions.
  5. Train everyone with the same servant leadership materials. At Datron, we trained every employee in servant leadership, not just the leaders.
  6. Hire for character first, then competence. To preserve our servant leadership culture when we hire, we look first at the character a candidate displays. Does he/she express a team orientation by talking about team achievements or is it all about “I” and what “I” have achieved? Does the candidate have values that are in sync with the company values? Don’t be in a hurry to hire. Take the time necessary to learn what’s really important to candidates and how they’ll fit in the organization.

Culture is fragile: You must work on it all the time or it can slip away. But creating a culture based on service to one another as well as your suppliers and customers is truly rewarding and will make a difference in our world


Art Barter is CEO of the Servant Leadership Institute, an organization that helps people and organizations put servant leadership into practice. He’s also CEO and cultural architect of Datron World Communications, an organization he transformed from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in just six years.

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What if you are the lead dog?

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

You’ve heard it a thousand times: “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” As pithy as that sounds, it’s true, and it offers the encouragement we all occasionally need to step up and break out of the pack.

But what if you are the lead dog? No one ever seems to talk about that.

Sure, the view changes when you’re out in front. But it’s not all sunshine and packed powder. The lead dog gets to bear the full brunt of the wind, snow, sleet, near-zero visibility, uncertainty about which way the sled is heading, and second-guessing of the rest of the team.

A case in point:

  • “[We] had never done anything this massive before.”
  • “It was all new. I was so nervous about it.”
  • “It was so cumbersome it was like ‘this is never going to work.’”
  • “This isn’t good enough. This is not good enough.”
  • “That team worked 168 hours a week for two weeks. They never stopped.”
  • “Our reward...was to kill ourselves over the next two-and-a-half years.”
  • “If we would have known then what we know now...we would have done this differently and this differently and this differently.”
  • “It’s a roller coaster ride. And if it ain’t scary it ain’t fun.”

Those are a handful of quotes from the “lead dogs” responsible for developing the iPhone, recounting what it the process of invention was like. We’re so used to companies like Apple leading the way that we may assume it’s second nature to them. Not true. They know that victory can be perennial but it’s never permanent; just ask Budweiser, Mattel and McDonald’s, three longtime industry leaders feeling the effects of inevitable decline. Apple’s turn is coming soon.

For those who head up the seven out of 10 companies who (according to our research) are experiencing healthy growth, it’s not so bad being the lead dog. They can see where they’re going. They’re making good progress. They’re running in stride with their team and outpacing their competitors. But inevitably for them, and painfully immediate for the other 30%, comes a slog -- a long, hard, sometimes blinding and often frightening slog. 

My firm specializes in working with struggling companies in need of a turnaround, and many of the leaders we work with would love the predictability of bringing up the back. But they can’t choose the timing of their trials. Circumstances have forced them to choose a new direction where the right direction isn’t readily apparent. They have to set and maintain a workable pace for an uncertain trek. And they must stay focused despite the chaotic and incessant barking of the dogs behind them.

We’re working with a CEO who is doing all of that and more as he oversees the rapid and dramatic evolution of his company’s business model. His organization had been in the distribution business for several decades, enjoying many years of steady, stable success, financing its growth with debt.

But then the Great Recession hit. Orders ground to a halt. Employees were scared and confused. Management was shell-shocked. Cash flow was rapidly heading in the wrong direction while the debt continued compounding. The company went through as close of a near-death experience as I’ve ever heard of.

Somehow, the company made it through, refinancing its debt as things slowly started to improve. But the recession lingered on, and the industry changed. The company was no longer as relevant as it once was. Its value proposition was in decline. Having worked so hard to save it, the CEO now has to reinvent it. Not so easy to be the lead dog there.

Another client is a manufacturer in a rapidly commoditizing industry, dealing with rising costs of raw materials and uncertain trade policy, among many other challenges. Its “lead dog” has developed a bold vision to transform the organization, but the pathway there is anything but obvious to him or his team. Sometimes they come to a clearing and it’s easy sledding. Sometimes they’ve run into a snowdrift. A few times they’ve nearly tumbled into a crevasse. It looks like this company is going to get where it needs to go, but it has required an immense amount of vision, courage and perseverance.

Speaking of Apple, The Wall Street Journal published a rare and revealing recording of Steve jobs trying to explain the revolutionary impact of the App Store to a reporter just 30 days after it had launched back in 2008.

Today, it’s easy to appreciate how game changing it actually was. But back then, Jobs saw something others didn’t; you can hear it in his voice as he strains to convince the reporter of its significance. Lead dogs are often lonely, even when they’re right.

Ever tried to raise money for a startup? Create a prototype? Change a policy? Launch a product? Turn a company around? Reinvent an industry? We’re all lead dogs -- or need to be.

As a lead dog myself, I can testify that it does beat the view never changing, and I take comfort in the fact that, as in all things in life, there’s a wiser being who’s really in control of the reins. Still, it can be as exhausting as it is invigorating to run ahead of the pack. Sometimes you just want to take a nap.

Alan Alda and the difference between communicating and communications

I recently attended an event where Alan Alda was interviewed, specifically about his recent book on the “art and science of relating and communicating,” which is based on the work of his Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Alda, unsurprisingly, was sharp, funny and engaging. He also talked relative little about his acting career and more about his work in helping people, particularly scientists, communicate more effectively and with empathy. 

He lived this philosophy during the talk, as he engaged the interviewer with his own questions and actually answered audience questions instead of using them as a springboard to talk about something different. With certain questions, such as from a woman who had done research on helping librarians communicate more effectively, Alda had a question of his own -- the first time I can recall seeing that from a headlining speaker.

(As I was finishing this post today, Alda put his personal theories of communication to the test in announcing, in good humor via Twitter, that he has Parkinson’s.)

But I’m writing about the event now because of a key distinction Alda made in response to a question. The questioner, he said, was asking about how to carry out a communications plan, whereas his book and work was focused on communication.

This distinction can be lost in a busy world where companies, politicians, celebrities and ordinary citizens are always speaking, posting and arguing -- when they aren’t defending or apologizing for something they’ve previously said.

Communication and communications each has its place, but we shouldn’t conflate them. The communication Alda speaks of is how you or I interact with people: how we listen to them, how and what we ask, how we absorb what they say and then how we respond -- and the tone, wording, volume, posture and aggression of those responses.

Communications is tactical, sometimes even strategic, but no communications plan can substitute for the actual communicating.

This post, for instance, is me hoping to communicate with some of you. My writing of a one-pager on the strategy for this leadership blog in 2019 would be communications. My carrying out this hypothetical plan with my co-workers and others would require a lot of communication.

The point here is not that one of these is good and the other is bad. The point is that we are prone to shy away from communicating by passively invoking communications, and we are prone to communicate blindly and screw up when a little communications strategy would have helped. Some common statements that illustrate the misuse of one of the other:

“Let the comms team handle that.”

“We’ve got to get a statement out to show we’re on top of things.”

“We’ve written X down in a handbook.”

“I’m sorry for anyone who was offended by …”

Many companies need a comms team and/or a communications strategy. Saying something as a public-facing person or firm is often better than hiding from whatever the news is. Handbooks have their place, too! But none of these things is an action or a living thing -- we must still speak and write and act, and that's where communications strategies succeed or fail.

For instance, how will you take that handbook and live its values, and help others do the same? If you think the handbook is bad, how will you win the argument and get the backing to change it?

Another case where communications doesn’t translate into good communication is the memo. How often do memos and policy declarations clearly think only of the organization’s most immediate need and not the real-life experiences of the people affected (employees or customers)? How many of these memos introduce new confusion or have unintended -- and often unaddressed -- consequences?

The same problems can be found in our personal communication. How often do we speak or write or type without thinking? How often do we attack with our words instead of taking the time to calm ourselves, to listen, to try and understand and empathize with the other person? What if we had a plan that we could apply as needed?

The good news is that communications and communication can work wonders in tandem. Ever been to an event that goes off smoothly despite a crowd of people, many speakers and caterers and other staff busy throughout? Those people had a communications plan (among other plans) and then communicated well as the event went off. That's just one example.

The short lesson is this: We all need to understand why good communication is necessary and fruitful, understand when good communications is needed and understand the right ways to use each.

Gaining this knowledge and applying it will take practice, trial and error, and study. However, if Alan Alda can be passionate about communication at his age, with all his success, then so can we.


James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief's leadership newsletter and blog content, as well as newsletters for distributors, manufacturers and other professions. Before SmartBrief, he was a copy desk chief at a small daily New York newspaper. Contact him @James_daSilva or by email.

Leading with social consciousness

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ahmed Rahim and Reem Rahim Hassani, the brother-sister founders of Numi Organic Tea, which started in Oakland in 1999 and has grown into a leading brand of organic premium teas. It is a brand that many founders have tried to emulate. Numi is a B-Corp and has remained committed to its ethos of creating healthful, innovative products that nurture mind, body, and planet.

We had a wide-ranging discussion on leadership that I am excited to share with you. I hope you enjoy.

Why are you guys doing this crazy thing?

Reem Rahim HassaniReem Rahim Hassani: “We were both doing various things in our lives, and we both intrinsically knew that we could do more. We're both artists, and Ahmed had owned and operated teahouses in Europe. We imported this tea we drank as children from Iraq called Numi, which is a dry dessert lime. We were on a family trip in the Grand Canyon, and we both said sort of simultaneously, ‘Let's do it.’"

"Ahmed did all the sourcing because he knew a lot about tea, and I did the original artwork on the packaging, which were paintings inspired by his travels around the world.”

Ahmed Rahim: “There was a feeling that we could bring all these pure, organic ingredients from culture to culture. It was also about being innovative and authentic to the types of herbs and teas we've brought to the market, as well as the authenticity from the farmers to the consumer."

What have been some of the biggest obstacles that you have faced?

Ahmed RahimAhmed: “It's really been finding the right people that can share the brand story and the brand authenticity, because it's a unique culture and a story that we're trying to share. It is just about finding those that are either very skilled at their work or very in tune with our culture. It is essential to find that right blend of people that can grow with us and be right in the seat of what we need them to do without falling too much off balance from one way or the other.”

You have made it your goal to be a company that benefits the world. Why is it important to you to be leaders in doing that?

Reem: “A lot of businesses are sort of depleting Earth's resources and maximizing people without considering them as people in a sense -- just skill sets. I guess we intrinsically aren't like that as people.”

Ahmed: “People come first, and it’s important to not take anything for granted. It’s also a bit about our upbringing, because we come from the Middle East. In the Middle East, our culture is a lot about hospitality, and making sure everyone feels warm and welcome. We had to leave Iraq due to political strife, and we witnessed our parents take in family, friends, and even strangers. Those actions really inspired us. We were always taught to just take care of one another.”

“Since day one, protecting the environment has been important. The idea of spilling chemicals into the earth or using plastics bothers us deeply. We want to let nature speak for itself. It's our job to be a protector, and to leave the planet better than when we first touched it.”

How do you deal with any doubt and fear?

Reem: “My life had taken so many different routes. I wasn't scared of falling, because I was used to getting up. I was more, in a sense, scared of success.”

What do you do to care for yourself?

Ahmed: “Time and nature are great. Both of us live on our own little farms. For myself, it's spending time in the earth, in the forest and by the ocean. I live right by the ocean. It's getting a lot of free time to enjoy the bigger things in life than our little tiny business, because the world is much bigger. And always reminding ourselves that finding a way to take a 60,000-foot view of your business, because you will always get too caught up in it, and it becomes too 'micro.' Maintaining that 'macro' perspective is essential.”

“Besides being immersed in nature, it's also doing other projects. Helping young entrepreneurs to grow. They teach me because they're learning new ways, and they're a different generation that look at business differently. Some of them might have degrees and some of them might not. But just the idea of helping them and also at the same time learning from them has been very helpful."

Part of that 'macro' view is being involved and working with other entrepreneurs, similar size or larger. I do a lot of that by a group I co-foundedstarted called OSC2, One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community”

Reem: “For me, I try to make time for painting. I also do art residencies and workshops every couple of years in Italy, which really rejuvenate me beyond measure. I've also done meditation retreats and things of that nature. It allows me to focus onf healing as well as spirituality.”

What does it take to effectively motivate and engage with people?

Ahmed: “It is important to find the people that can do the jobs right, and who understand the goals of the company. Then you have to empower them to take ownership. Obviously, you set some clear goals and objectives, but after that it is about getting them to feel like they're an entrepreneur, and that they're a part owner of the business--so that they take it personally.”

“Another thing is creating a culture that makes people feel like they belong, that we are a family. We are not a place that they take for granted, because there aren't a lot of companies like Numi out there. We've had a lot of employees that have left but want to come back because they miss the culture we have created. We are very family-oriented and mission-driven. Part of my work is to deepen that and make sure that it stays on the front burner. We give them, also, a purpose to come alive at Numi and do the best that they can do, and challenge them as well.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

Reem: “One thing that comes to mind is I probably would have let go a little sooner. I think entrepreneurs have the issue of holding on to control. I would have tried to let go of it a little sooner and allowed people to do things their own way. Not to say everything's going to go haywire, but find ways to trust people more in that endeavor. Then when something doesn't necessarily go the way I was hoping, I don't take it personally. There's been many times where I feel like it's a personal slight and then I would react. But really you cannot beat yourself up over things. Those are just personal behavioral things.

“From a business perspective, being more calculated with risk is important, so that we can run a more profitable and sustainable business from a top-line and bottom-line perspective.”

“Lastly, if I was to start a business now, knowing what I know, there'd be a lot more strategic thinking in terms of where to sell and how to sell. It is not about going after every single mom-and-pop business in the world and thinking that you can be everything you so desire. You have to really focus more on the things that work, or the things that can potentially work, and not be too scattered. That ability to focus, obviously, has come with time and experience.”


Elliot Begoun is the founder of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow and become scalable and investable. He works with clients to design and execute customized go-to-market strategies that drive sales, build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. Catch him at FoodBytes in his role as a mentor and find his articles in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and New Hope. To get an article each week, nothing else, no B.S., sign up.

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How do you address conflict with a peer you have a great relationship with?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How do you address conflict with a peer you have a great relationship with?

  • Ignore it. Things tend to work themselves out on their own: 15.2%
  • Say something directly and get to the root of it quickly: 82.7%
  • Act passive aggressively in retaliation for the conflict: 2.1%

Get to the issue quickly. The vast majority of you identify and try to resolve issues with peers as quickly as possible. Bravo. Letting something linger won’t necessarily resolve it. Granted, there’s judgment involved in which issues to proactively discuss and resolve and which issues (the small ones) to just let slide in the interest of maintaining a good relationship. If you find you tend to avoid issues and are afraid to give feedback because of the reaction you might receive, try using a fact-based feedback model that focuses on the behavior first and then highlights the emotional impact of the behavior. Starting with facts can reduce the tension and enable you to move forward more quickly. And if you’re passive-aggressively retaliating, stop. It doesn’t help anyone -- least of all, you.

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."

Collaborate or go solo?

Collaboration is the way of work today.

Our workplaces require collaboration because we work in teams. But working in a team need not subject individuals to collectivism. That is, you don’t need to sublimate your creativity. You can have the freedom to inject your ideas when appropriate.

At the same time, individuals can set limits on how they collaborate. Doing such is not being anti-social, or even anti-team; it is an act of setting parameters on what you do so that you can do your best work.

Writers, designers and craftspeople are by nature soloists; managers who supervise others must be collaborators, otherwise nothing ever gets done.

Collaboration is an exercise by which you can get the best out of others by working with them. The result is that you produce something better -- be it a service, a product or a comedy sketch.

Team leaders need to be especially attuned to the needs of individuals. Knowing how they like to work as well as how they can work better enables them to succeed for themselves and for the betterment of the team.

Knowing how you prefer to work is the secret to being a successful collaborator.

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, 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, 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 power of moments: How to create defining moments in business

Defining moments shape all of our lives yet they often seem to happen by accident or luck. But Chip and Dan Heath maintain that we can become the authors of these defining moments in life, in relationships, and in our work. In fact, they’re so fascinated by this idea that they’ve written a whole book on the topic. If you have been reading "The Power of Moments" and you’re like me, you have become fascinated with this idea, too.

The book has two aims: First, the authors explore the traits that defining moments have in common and what makes such experiences particularly memorable. Second, they want to show us how to capitalize on these traits to create these defining moments.

Whether you are a professional speaker looking to create memorable moments for your audience, a CEO or HR director looking for innovative ways to re-energize your employees, or perhaps a customer service director wanting to enhance the experiences of customers, you will benefit from the Heath brothers’ insights in this book. When you reflect on what goes into creating defining moments, you will start to spot ways to create them everywhere.

What are the elements of a defining moment?

Chip and Dan Heath talk about a defining moment as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.” There are big defining moments, such as getting married or landing a job that leads to a career path you love, that capture who you are. And there are smaller experiences, such as getting a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check-in to your hotel, that are defining moments within the context of a vacation or product development cycle. Paying attention to these defining moments opens up a world of possibilities.

According to their research, the Heaths found that these big and small defining moments share one or more of the following elements:

Elevation: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They tap into not just a fleeting moment of pleasure, but a deeper, memorable experience of delight. To construct elevated moments, we need to think about how to elevate sensory pleasures to make them extraordinary. The Heaths use the example of the Popsicle Hotline to demonstrate elevation. At a particular mid-level hotel in L.A., you can pick up a red phone and order free popsicles. They are delivered poolside on a silver tray, of course.

Insight: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. It’s that moment when you realized: “now is the time to start my business” or “I’m ready to go after that promotion.” These are the moments when people suddenly understand their circumstances in a new light. Although these moments of insight often seem serendipitous, the Heaths show that we can engineer them or at least lay the groundwork so others “trip over the truth.”

Pride: Defining moments capture us at our best—moments of achievement, moments of courage. When you discover the architecture of pride, you can plan a series of milestone moments that build on each other and are so much more effective as a motivational tool than a simple imperative like “sell more.” For example, instead of creating a recognition program like “Employee of the Month” or an annual banquet, consider spontaneous recognition of individuals that is targeted at specific behaviors. Effective recognition makes employees feel noticed for what they have done.

Connection: Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events. These moments are strengthened because we share them with others. The Heaths discuss one experiment where two people walk into a lab as strangers and walk out, 45 minutes later, as close friends. Through a series of questions designed to create connections, people can really feel connected in a short period of time. This might make you rethink your typical interview questions or how you relate to your audience during a business presentation, for instance.

Defining moments possess at least one of these four elements, but they need not have all four. Many moments of insight, for example, are private. And a fun moment during vacation like calling the Popsicle Hotline may not offer much insight or pride.

How to create defining moments for others in business

Now that we know how to identify these defining moments, what does it take to create defining moments in business? I took away some important business lessons and reminders from The Power of Moments. These lessons are applicable to whatever you happen to do and in whatever stage of your career you happen to find yourself.

1. Use defining moments to combat problems in business.

One of my favorite parts of this book are the Clinics. There are five of these sprinkled throughout the book and designed to help readers understand how to use the core framework above to create defining moments. Each Clinic introduces a problem in business and explains how creating a defining moment can solve this problem.

Clinic 5, about combating the “silo” mentality in business, piqued my interest. The scenario is about the VP of marketing and the VP of sales at a large company trying to figure out how to get their two departments to work together more effectively. They decide to do this by creating a defining moment: a two-day off-site meeting.

They add elevation:

  • The meeting itself breaks the script by being in a different environment and disrupting everyone’s routine.
  • They boost sensory appeal and raise the stakes by creating intermixed “pit crews” of marketing and sales members to collaborate on the task of changing the tires on a real Formula One race car.

They add insight:

  • The VPs cause everyone to “trip over the truth” by inviting an actual customer to address them and describe the “whiplash” of interacting with each department.
  • They invite both departments to “stretch for insight” when they reveal that for the week prior to the off-site meeting, there were two salespeople “embedded” with marketing and two marketing people embedded with sales. They are invited to share what they learned in presentations called “What marketing doesn’t understand about sales” and “What sales doesn’t understand about marketing.”

There’s much more to this Clinic, but I’ll leave it to you to discover along with other insights. I really appreciate how Chip and Dan Heath make it so easy to apply their ideas to my work. It’s even easy to turn to a section, read it in isolation from the rest of the book, and practice using just that small tidbit.

2. Many defining moments are free and unproduced.

Speaking of small tidbits, it’s true that some of the examples in the book are produced moments (e.g., school signing day where seniors announce which college they’re going to during a ceremony similar to the NBA draft). But it doesn’t take a huge production to create a defining moment.

Actually, some of the most memorable moments cost nothing extra. Consider the example of the nurses who decided to bring a bucket of snow to a little girl confined to her hospital bed for months (Chapter 12) or John Deere’s “First Day Experience” for employees (Chapter 2). These defining moments took little more than some thought about what a memorable experience would look like. We all can create these types of defining moments.

3. Target a specific moment.

If you want to start creating powerful, defining moments, start by targeting a specific moment. Then ask yourself a series of questions:

  • How can I elevate it?
  • Spark insight?
  • Boost the sense of connection?

Life and business are full of “form letter” moments. When we focus on building up to a moment and consider what might make that moment extraordinary, we increase the odds of standing out. Yes, it takes more effort and you might be wondering “what’s the payoff?” Well, the Heath brothers suggest the following tangible outcomes:

  • More revenue (e.g., the Southwest Airlines anecdote, p. 74-76).
  • Greater customer satisfaction and loyalty (e.g., the Magic Castle Hotel anecdote, p. 9-11).
  • More motivated employees (e.g., data on recognition, p. 146-148).
  • More effective employees (e.g., employees who felt their jobs had purpose performed better overall than employees who felt passionate toward their jobs, p. 216-222).

Of course, the most important thing to notice about the stories of powerful moments in this book are that they are moments of action. It’s not enough to spot opportunities for creating moments, you have to follow through to actually create these defining moments.


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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The problem with intrinsic motivation

What are you intrinsically motivated to do? Isn’t it wonderful? You don’t need a good reason or reward to do what you are doing when you’re intrinsically motivated. You are in a state of flow where time flies and you have no idea where it went. “In the zone,” you generate positive energy and creativity. Abundant research proves the glory of intrinsic motivation.

Sounds great, but chances are you face one or more of these three problems:

  1. Intrinsic motivation is rare. Especially at work. How often during your day do you say, "I’d do this even if I wasn’t getting paid?"
  2. If you are not intrinsically motivated, your default option is usually extrinsic motivation. That leaves you foraging for carrots (money, rewards, praising, power, status, prizes) proven to have just the opposite effect as intrinsic motivation. You may experience a burst of energy, but it’s not the kind of energy that promotes creativity or well-being. And, it dissipates quickly, leaving you starving for more carrots just to keep going.
  3. You don’t know what you are intrinsically motivated by.

To nurture your intrinsic motivation, consider these ideas.

Begin by looking backwards

Most of us discovered intrinsically motivating activities early in life. Remember what you loved doing as a kid, if you had a choice, on a Saturday morning or summer day.

For example, I spent hot summer days sitting on the grass, writing childish poetry in my Big Chief tablet. I spent hours making little workbooks and preparing taped recordings to teach my younger siblings to read and write (even though they never asked me to). Teachers consistently gave me “Unsatisfactory” comments on grade school report cards, citing “Susie talks too much during quiet time.” I obviously loved to talk.

Today, I write books, create leadership workshops and speak for a living. I can’t tell you why I love to write, teach or speak, but I do, regardless of there being a promise of money or reward.

What have you always loved to do for the simple enjoyment of it, even if the reason you love doing it is a mystery to you? Can you identify at least one activity that you loved as a child that you still make time to do as an adult? To help stimulate awareness of your intrinsic motivation, try these techniques.

Be bored

When was the last time you had time on your hands, wondering what to do because nothing was planned or expected of you? Edward Deci, the father of intrinsic motivation, has long lamented that we over-program our lives, robbing ourselves of the discretionary time to be bored. Deci knows that the truth about motivation is that no one wants to be bored, so we find ways to entertain ourselves. And that’s when we discover our intrinsic motivation: what we enjoy doing simply because of our inherent interest in doing it.

Next time you have an unplanned moment, leave it that way. Keep an empty space on your calendar without an expectation of how you are going to fill it. Even if it’s 30 minutes. Then notice the activities you gravitate toward. 

If you have time in your life, notice what do you want to do with it. If you can indulge it, great. Bake that cake, build that bookshelf, paint, sing, dance, or read.

But, even if you don’t have the time or aren’t able to indulge in the moment, recognize your yearning and take note of it. Your discretionary time can reveal the things you are intrinsically motivated to do. If you’re on an airplane, on vacation with a block of unplanned time, or with a rare free afternoon on a weekend, notice if you have an intense longing. Your down time can remind you of what you love doing.

Think intrinsically at work

When you have identified activities, find ways of integrating them into your work. How can you link what you enjoy with everyday tasks? If you enjoy writing, practice your skill when returning emails. If you love to read, make the time to explore journals related to your work. If you’re hooked on detective novels, consider a work-related problem as your next case. If you love baking, organize a bake sale for charity at work.

Do a friend, team member and your kids a favor

Help them discover their intrinsic motivation. I remember fearing that if my boss caught me reading at work, I’d be branded as lazy. Don’t be that boss -- or parent. Don’t perpetuate the myth that you need to drive productivity through pressure and constant motion. Instead, encourage your friends, team members and kids to take mindful moments. Talk to them about their work, school and personal interests. Helping someone discover their intrinsic motivation is a lifelong gift.

Finally, remember that intrinsic motivation is just one of three ways to be optimally motivated. If intrinsic motivation eludes you in the moment, don’t default to extrinsic motivation. Motivation research proves that doing what you love is a joy, but aligning what you do with important values and a sense of purpose will still generate the positive energy you need to be creative and productive -- and could prove even more meaningful.

You can learn more about the science of motivation from the Self-Determination Theory website and here.

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

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Improve your one-on-one meetings with these 5 tips

As leaders, do you hold regular one-on-one meetings with your team members? Many leaders do, but they go about their one-on-ones completely backwards.

Most one-on-ones play out with the leader telling the team member what to do, what they've done wrong and sending them on their way. These meetings are leader-driven and results-focused.

It’s entirely backwards. There’s too much talking and directing by leaders.

The most effective one-on-ones are a conversation about values and results, with the team member talking more, sharing more and asking for help where needed.

This approach makes perfect sense if you believe, like I do, that the purpose of leadership is to engage and inspire talented team members to cooperatively align to shared values and common goals.

Effective leaders see one-on-ones as an opportunity to learn about performance and values traction, and they learn how to serve team members more effectively in the weeks to come.

Watch this crisp, three-minute video to learn how to tweak your one-on-ones and engage and inspire team members.

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.

And, subscribe to my YouTube channel, where you’ll find more short, crisp, and clear episodes of my "Culture Leadership Charge" video series.

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