Sister Corita Kent: 10 rules for collaboration

Collaboration is the holy grail of teamwork.

Essential to teaming is a sublimation of ego. You put aside yours aside so that you can listen to someone else’s ideas. Your ego never goes away, nor should it, but you tone it down to be open to something else: learning.

This theme resonates in “10 Rules for Students and Teachers.”  The “10 Rules” were originally written by Sister Corita Kent, an influential artist and educator. She was a friend of composer John Cage, who popularized the rules and had them posted for students at Merce Cunningham Studio.

Themes in the “10 Rules” revolve around trust as well as the push to get out of the experience what you can. Self-discipline is important as the need to follow a leader when necessary.

“Be happy when you can manage it.” As Sister Corita says, “Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.”

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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Why success alone doesn’t mean you’ve made real progress

During my four months in the FBI Academy, I shot over 3,000 rounds of ammo in firearms training, spent untold hours in the gym building up enough muscle to pass the fitness test, and endured an endless number of mock interrogation sessions.

We spent hundreds of hours practicing real life situations so that when we hit the streets with our badge and gun as newly minted FBI agents, we would be successful.

It didn’t take me long in the real world of hard knocks to understand that practice doesn’t always make perfect. Just because I’d practiced how to be a federal law enforcement office in training, it didn’t mean I’d be successful. Those long hours of practice were not enough if I lacked the other attributes I’d need for ultimate success.

The “10,000-hour rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" really rankles me.

He seduced readers into thinking that practice does make perfect if we just keep hammering away at it along enough.

To begin with, just because we put 10,000 hours into an activity it doesn’t mean we’ve made progress and become an expert. We all know people who have shuffled to work every day for 40 years, punched a time clock and put in well over 10,000 hours. Many of them were neither successful nor an expert. To become an expert means that we move the marker down the line to show progress has been made.

We all understand how failure provides ample opportunity for growth and progress, personally and professionally. What we fail to understand, however, it that it’s very difficult to learn from success. Too often, success is where we stop on our journey to the realization of our full potential. We settle for where we found success rather than pursue what is truly meaningful to us.

Here are three reasons you need more than success to make genuine progress in both life and business:

Success lulls us into complacency

One thing FBI agents learn early on in training is it’s not the streets or guns that will kill you. Rather, complacency is what will put you in harm’s way! Always be alert and aware of what is going on in your environment.

When you pursue things you love, it produces passion, and passion brings motivation. If you’re to the point where you just go through the motions, complacency has set in. Complacency is where you go to wither up and die.

The biggest battlefield in the world goes on inside our mind. It’s the place we make life-and-death decisions about the way we live, what’s meaningful to us and what we’re willing to do in order to live the life we want.

Complacency will cause you to stray from the path of growth and progress, which may not sound like a death sentence at first. But it is where you will go once you no longer care about improvement, either in business or life.

How to make it work for you: Go back to the drawing board and write your goals. To be effective, they must transcend money or success. You may make money and achieve success along the way, but remind yourself of why you love what you do. Be a student of your passion and you’ll jettison complacency from your mindset.

Success makes us overconfident

Look no further than Alan Greenspan and the financial meltdown in 2008 for an example of how success can make us overconfident. In October 2008, Greenspan admitted to Congress he was shocked that his financial models had failed. He no longer looked at them with a critical eye because they’d worked in the past.

Alexander Pope once said: "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Studies have shown that just a little learning is enough to make people feel they’d learned the complete task. It’s called the “beginner’s bubble.”

My training at the FBI Academy gave me just enough knowledge to feel overconfident in my abilities. What I quickly learned is that I needed more than my puerile successes at the Academy to be an effective FBI agent; I needed to make progress if I wanted to make a difference in my profession.

After we move up a few notches on the ladder of success, the beginner’s bubble is replaced by a “victory bubble.” Our success leads us to believe we’re better decision makers than we really are. It also fails to remind us that the market and environment around us constantly change. 

Research has found that doctors learning to do spinal surgery usually do not begin to make mistakes until about their 15th iteration of the surgery. Similarly, new pilots rarely get into accidents, but their accident rate begins to rise until it peaks at about 800 flight hours, after which it begins to drop again.

How to make it work for you: Overconfidence is a common character flaw in those who lack humility. To be humble is not to think less of oneself, but to think of oneself less. Work to develop your emotional intelligence. If you do, you’ll be more aware of yourself and others around you. Emotionally intelligent people focus outward as they absorb more information about the people and situation around them.

Success causes us to ignore advice

If we’re successful and in a position of authority, we tend to shut down criticism and shut out people with opinions that differ from our own. We place more weight on our opinion than on the opinion of others because we’ve used our judgment to get to where we are in life.

And it works! Until it doesn’t.

When you ignore the advice of others, you may miss innovations, fail to recognize a dip in the market or ignore the rumblings of a demoralized team. Maybe you had the winning formula back in the day, but times have changed. You may need to update your views for an environment that constantly changes direction.

There are many reasons why successful leaders don’t welcome advice from others. First, the ego takes a hit because you admit you don’t have all the answers. Well, that just means you’re human so get over it. Second, advice often means change, and no one welcomes change except babies—and that’s only because they know what to expect. But change is the breeding ground for growth and progress.

How to make it work for you: Seek feedback because it’s the best path to improvement, growth, and success. When you ask for advice and feedback, it shows everyone that you’re willing to learn and become better. And that is always progress.


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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5 myths of work-life balance debunked by an entrepreneurial dad

As a husband, dad and small-business owner, I frequently find myself asking hard questions about work-life balance, what it means and how to get it. Over the last year, I talked to a lot of other dads and husbands who were at different points in their careers with kids of all ages about their perspectives around work-life balance.

Unfortunately, from many men who held “big” jobs, I heard stories about missing a lot of things with their kids because of their jobs and how much they genuinely lamented that.

That combined with my own desire to figure out how to pay the bills and while still being an integral and active part of my family, I completely rethought my own approach to work-life balance. I learned some really important things. Not the least of those things was that there are a lot of men out there like me who do care quite a bit about work-life balance -- even if many of us aren’t great at talking about it.

Here are five other important things about work-life balance that I learned in my yearlong journey:

1. You won’t kill your career by setting firm boundaries between work and life

Technology has all but eliminated natural boundaries between work and life. Many of us feel the pressure to be accessible all the time, thus blurring the lines between work and life. The collateral damage of that situation is often felt on the “life” side of the equation.

But what if you actually compartmentalized? Would there be collateral damage to our careers?

I decided to implement strict boundaries between work and life and did that for an entire year. I initially feared that it could have significant negative impacts on my business. What I found was that it didn’t. I haven’t lost one client. Revenue has not suffered.

2. You can put family first

Similarly, putting the family first is something many of us fear as simply not possible, especially if we are the sole financial provider. I tried it anyway, even as the sole financial provider.

What I learned was that putting family first actually helped me “guiltlessly” dive more into work. Family came first, so the guilt of being an absentee husband or dad went away.

With no guilt, I was able to set better boundaries around work, which ultimately made me more focused, efficient, and effective. At the same time, with a more limited and focused time allocated for work, putting my family first actually forced me to ruthlessly prioritize at work. All of this in combination allowed me to actually enjoy my work more. 

3. “Work-life blend/integration” is not the only viable solution (despite what many say)

There is a lot of talk about work-life balance being a myth and that we should just embrace work-life blend. What I learned is that you can indeed do a compartmentalized work-life balance approach. It does require a willingness to accept the implications of that compartmentalization.

For me, I strictly compartmentalized key times and days where I was going to separate work and life. Interestingly, it helped me “be in the moment” more for both work and life and actually enjoy both more.

4. Work-life balance is not a 50:50 proposition

Time in life and priorities about what is most important dictate an appropriate ratio. One dad reframed work-life balance into “work-life satisfaction.” The concept of exact balance is misleading. Your ratio is simply the result of what you really want to be focusing on.

Given my family situation, my ratio is 65:35 right now skewed towards the life side of the equation. It will inevitably be different five, 10 and 15 years from now.

5. Work-life balance comes down to hard choices we haven’t forced ourselves to make before

At the end of it all, the hardest and simultaneously most straightforward thing I learned is that it simply comes down to priorities. And every priority has up and down side implications -- just like it does in our jobs.

For me, one of the implications of my 65:35 split and focus on my family is that I’ve had to accept that my small business needs to move from growth mode to sustain mode. For others I’ve talked to, it’s about whether you pursue or don’t pursue greater responsibilities at work. Or whether travel for work fits with what you want or don’t want at home.

The decisions are hard. Living with the implications can be even harder at first, especially if you are like me and had never forced yourself to do that before. I found that once I was willing to do this, work-life balance was indeed very attainable.


James Sudakow is the author of "Out of the Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search for The Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance," a humorous and practical guide for busy parents. He serves as the principal of CH Consulting, a boutique consulting practice that helps companies manage organizational transformation, maximize employee capabilities, and improve business performance. Readers can visit his website and take the Work-Life Index, an assessment to find out if they are in control of their work-life balance or if their work and life are controlling them.

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Be a great leader: Leverage the wisdom of multiple perspectives

You’ve worked hard to become an expert in your field. You’re highly regarded; a leader and someone to whom people look for answers. You team routinely looks to you and defers to you on how you think a problem should be tackled.

Good leaders usually know the answers, it’s true, but great leaders know who, how and when to ask to get the best solutions and the best team working on the problem.

By now. you’ve probably read that being someone who can see and incorporate multiple perspectives is a highly sought executive skill, but what does that entail? How do we go from a career of relying on problem-solving intuition and selling our own ideas to carefully considering every angle? How do we avoid the pitfalls?

If you want to learn how to incorporate multiple perspectives into your leadership toolkit, read on for six ways you can encourage alternate perspectives and foster the most dynamic results.

  1. Be curious. It may seem simple, but first, you have to want to learn about others’ perspectives. Be genuinely curious about other opinions and points of view. If your team is used to following your lead, you’re going to have to ask for their thoughts -- don’t wait for others to volunteer. You may even need to overcompensate for a bit, reassuring others that you want to know what they think and easing them into the habit of sharing their opinions.
  2. Be encouraging. It may help to consider that part of your job as a great leader is not just being an expert, but also creating them. Your credentials in your field are already established; now it’s your turn to draw ideas out of others and build effective leadership qualities in those below you. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts while you hold yours in check. Make sure to ask everyone, even those who don’t immediately volunteer.
  3. Be humble. Even as you practice growing your team’s problem-solving and opinion-sharing skills, don’t set your opinion as the “top of the stack” by default. Be humble and open-minded -- always assume you are about to hear a great idea. Never forget that in order to really draw your team to you, they have to be able identify with you as a leader. For that, they’re not looking for infallibility, they’re looking for relatability. Make sure your team knows you’re not perfect and you’re not looking for perfection from them, either. Create a relationship where they feel safe to share their ideas.
  4. Be equal. How do you ask for the opinions of your superiors? Your peers? Your team will notice if you don’t give the same care and consideration for how you consider their thoughts and ideas. Be sure that you are as receptive and open to ideas from below as above you. Remember: Your role is twofold; the next great idea could come from anywhere, and even if it doesn’t, it’s your job as a leader to foster that problem-solving and opinion-sharing in your team. Let them exercise those muscles with you at every opportunity.
  5. Be flexible. We’ve all been in that situation where we’ve been asked for our opinion by someone who doesn’t really want it and is perhaps asking out of habit or to be polite. It’s important to be genuine in your questions, open in your exploration and truly willing to change your mind. It will become progressively harder to draw ideas out of others if you gain a reputation of never wavering from your opinion. Be willing to take a step back and truly consider other perspectives if you want to keep the dialogue open.
  6. Be passionate. When a great idea comes from someone else on your team, be sure you pursue it and champion their opinion with the same passion you would apply to your own. Once you’ve gathered those alternate perspectives from your team, don’t forget to foster them moving forward. Motivate them by promoting their ideas and promoting them as experts within your organization. Model the enthusiasm with which you want to see your team fight for their own ideas.

How are you going to draw opinions from others? What techniques will you use to foster an open and idea-rich environment?

Make a plan on how you are going to be open and encouraging so that you can gain your team’s trust and unleash their creative thinking. Become a great leader who can see a problem from all sides, and you’ll become the one in your organization known to find the best solution from any perspective.


Joel Garfinkle is an executive coach who recently worked with a vice president who was perceived as narrowly focused and inflexible with his opinions. Garfinkle developed these six guidelines on the path to becoming a champion of other perspectives and was able to help the VP gain the trust of his team in seeking out new and innovative ideas. Garfinkle 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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Agile development planning

Agile is the name of the game when it comes to everything in business today. From project management to production. From strategy to service. The ability to remain flexible and respond nimbly to fast-changing conditions is vital to an organization’s success.

The same holds true for individuals. Navigating successful careers and development today demands an agile approach as well.

Information by Julie Winkle Giulioni

Agile development planning yields a living, breathing tool that guides employees toward making development a daily part of their lives. And, it offers leaders the information they need to offer regular support, guidance, feedback, reinforcement and recognition.

While the form of the plan matters less than the substance of it – and the conversation behind it – you may find this planning template a helpful starting point for capturing ideas and guiding a rich development dialogue. Here are the steps for making it happen.

Step 1: Identify multiple goals

Yes, that "s" in "goals" was intended. The employment landscape is too dynamic to focus one’s efforts on a singular goal. 85% of all jobs that will be available in 2030 have not yet been invented, a Dell report in 2017 claimed. Conversely, everyday positions that used to be vital are being taken out of service. Keeping the door open to multiple possibilities offers the greatest sense that you’ll be prepared and have multiple options for contributing within the workplace.

Additionally, given the fickle nature of jobs themselves, goals should focus less on what people might want to ‘be’ and more on what they want to do. The latter is considerably more opportunity-filled than the former because competence is the new currency in our evolving workplace.

Step 2: Generate possible actions to pursue each goal

Agile development is all about flexibility, options and the ability to quickly pivot to take advantage of changing conditions. So; similar to generating multiple goals, you’ll want to generate multiple possible actions. Get creative. Don’t rely exclusively upon formal training, workshops and webinars. They represent a drop in the ocean of development actions. Consider job shadowing, coaching, mentoring, opportunities for greater visibility, experience-based learning via special projects and stretch assignments. Incorporate actions that:

  • Involve others; but make sure you also include plenty that you can do on your own.
  • Require some time to complete; but make sure you also include shorter, quick-hit activities that you can fit between and among other work assignments.
  • Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone; but make sure to also identify ways to leverage your strengths and build confidence and momentum.

Step 3: Synergize across goals and possible actions

Given the "time desert" that characterizes the typical employees’ existence today, it can be challenging to actually put development plans into place. As a result, it’s essential to leverage overlaps, find efficiencies and feed as many birds as possible with one crumb. (A less dark take on the killing of multiple birds with one stone!)

Identify where one development strategy might advance multiple goals. See where similar actions repeat themselves. And highlight these as high-impact focus areas to be explored and mined for synergistic and efficient development.

Step 4: Prioritize a few high-impact actions and determine to move each forward

Since agile development requires routine review and recalibration, the plan doesn’t have to be a comprehensive, yearlong commitment (which, if we’re honest, in the past was filed away, not to be seen again until the next year’s "planning season.")

In contrast, identify a few priorities to advance and get ready to iterate over time. And as you do, consider the following:

  • Realistic assessment of the time, priorities and energy for development;
  • Availability of resources (courses, mentors, experiences);
  • What’s in the leader’s and employee’s sphere of influence? What they can make happen independent of others?; and
  • What’s most interesting, exciting, appetizing? what will add energy and satisfaction to the employee’s life?

Then, document the actions, any necessary details, timelines and support required to optimize the development.

Step 5: Get ready to change the plan

Don’t fall in love with or get too attached to this document. Keep it in pencil or in edit mode. Because to be useful, it will have to change -- and frequently. If it’s not marked up and a mess, it might be a plan but it’s not driving development.

Leaders and employees who engage in effective agile-development planning make a commitment to routinely reflect on how you’re doing, revisit the plan and its assumptions, and revise it based upon changing conditions, interests and opportunities. It’s this kind of mindset -- and skill set -- that allows development to join all other critical business functions in operating in an agile way.


Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. magazine's top 100 leadership speakers, Winkle Giulioni is the co-author of the bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want” (the 2nd edition will be released January 2019), a respected speaker on a variety of topics and a regular contributor to many business publications.

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A list of suggestions to become more productive

A recent report from the Department of Labor confirms what many of us already suspect. Employee productivity is hampered by increases in the time employees must spend on email, among other factors. Many leaders and managers similarly are also not as productive as they once were.

Let’s be honest. Staying productive can be tough, especially for folks who need to use their minds (to manage others, plan and be strategic, produce content, develop code, solve problems, coach and/or pound the pavement to generate sales or other deliverables.

To help us become more productive, and to make the list more memorable. I compiled a list of “s” productivity pointers. They are in no particular order. (Some of the suggestions were made by colleagues.)

  1. Stop – This may seem to be the exact opposite of productivity. But if we want to get lots done, we need to stop and reflect on such questions as what we’re here to achieve, how best to get things done, why this work is important and how to do it in a way that maximizes our strengths and abilities.
  2. Set goals – After all, it's hard to get things done if you don't know what you're trying to achieve or how you'll achieve it.
  3. Segment and celebrate – Break down your goals into bite-size goals. This can help us accomplish more tasks, which helps build momentum. Celebrating small victories gives you the fortitude to keep plugging away.
  4. Simplify – The simpler and less complex something is, the easier it is to accomplish.
  5. (Get) Serious – Hold yourself to account -- or better, find someone else to hold you accountable to those goals.
  6. Schedule, schedule, schedule – Forget to-do lists. Instead, block out time to do the tasks that will help you complete your goals.
  7. Strategize – Review your tasks and schedule them based on such things as difficulty (to do when you're freshest), client availability (such as the salesperson's "golden hours") and monotony (at the end of the day or over lunch).
  8. Snooze (your devices) – Block out time for email, social media posting and other noncritical tech tasks so that you can be fully present for what you need to do.
  9. Smile – It has a ripple effect, and positivity energizes everyone!
  10. Stretch – Take a few minutes each hour to get up, walk around, stretch, exercise, etc. Anything to get your blood flowing, relax your mind and re-energize.   
  11. Snack – Snack on fruit, vegetables and other high-energy, low-fat snacks instead of sugary, chemical-laden ones so that your body has energy to do what you've set out to do. 
  12. Sleep –Sleep is super important and often not valued enough in our hectic, multitasking-is-king world.
  13. Self-care – Especially when we are committed to both family and work, this can get taken for granted.

Have anymore “s” productivity ideas? Tweet them to @impactfulcoach and @sbleaders!


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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When tragedy strikes

When crisis strikes, will you be ready?

That is a question that every senior leader asks regularly. We like to think that we can be prepared when disaster or tragedy strikes, but will we be?

One such person who reflected on what it was like to face tragedy not once but twice was C.J. Price, a hospital administrator at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. On Nov. 27, 1963, he put down his thoughts in a memo about what it was like to have the eyes of the world on his hospital after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Not only must you be prepared, you must identify people who will respond well in a crisis. Look for individuals who are who is studious not rash… practiced not sloppy… and most of all self-assured and not wild-eyed.

The thing about a crisis is you never know when to expect them. The only thing for which you can prepare is have the right people with the right plan in place.

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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5 tips for recruitment, retention

From what to listen for—and avoid!—during job interviews, how to vet remote workers and why it's time to rethink your hiring protocols, five tips to help sharpen your recruitment and retention strategies, from stories in SmartBrief on Workforce.

Screen for emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has been linked to job success and retention but it's commonly overlooked during the hiring process, writes Kellie Brown of Humantelligence. Brown recommends you add three questions to your vetting process, including one focusing on areas needing improvement.

Watch for these clues during job interviews. Job candidates often give clues on whether they are right for a position as they tell an interviewer about themselves. Miranda Marquit discusses what to look for, including schemes interviewees use to come off as compatible.

Consider hiring remote workers. Companies can reach a wider, richer pool of talent by expanding their search to remote job seekers. But success depends on several factors, and Alexis Bruemmer of DigitalOcean advises managers to ask four questions, including whether remote work truly fits the position.

Ditch outdated hiring practices. Some hiring procedures are long overdue for change, according to a recent conversation among Reddit users. Four stand out: the cover letter, "ghosting" a job candidate after an interview, ambiguity about salaries and stalking potential hires on social media.

Avoid these questions when interviewing. Asking job candidates insightful questions is an understandable focus for interviewers, but you should be cautious about certain questions that might cross a legal line. Marci Martin outlines a long list of topics that questions must not explore.

Kanoe Namahoe is the editorial director for SmartBrief Education and Workforce.


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How to avoid a culture war in business

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 and again in 2018. 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.

Tom is a friend of mine. Tom is a triathlete. Tom missed his last event due to a broken collarbone. Because Tom went over the handlebars on his bike.

I’m already on record as having said swimmers are odd ducks. But bicyclists are nuts. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that almost every serious cyclist I know has had a brush (or two) with death. They have their own code words and rituals, spend a fortune on two-wheeled contraptions, sport funny shorts, wear shoes they can’t walk in and look at the rest of us as if we’re the strange ones.

Runners and cyclists (and swimmers, too) like to tease each other, and for the most part it’s all in good fun. We’re just different. And most of the time when we run into each other on a single-track trail it’s not a problem, with one or the other yielding the right of way.

I was reminded of this the other day when I had to step to the side of my running trail to let pass a couple of mountain bikers coming the other way. I didn’t mind; for the most part, runners and cyclists understand and abide by respectful rules of engagement, and there have been plenty of times when they’ve had to stop for me.  But after the second cyclist zipped past me with a breathless “thank you,” I realized that, standing there in the weeds with my hands on my hips, I may have looked perturbed. I didn’t mean to; I was only trying to catch my breath.

Sometimes, however, genuine conflicts do arise. Maybe both runner and cyclist are in a serious training mode and stopping or even slowing down will screw up their workout. Maybe one is fighting exhaustion and forgets or neglects protocol. Maybe one is wearing ear buds and can’t hear the other coming until it’s almost too late. Whatever the case, sometimes we run into each other. Sometimes literally.

At that moment, there are always two options. The first is to retreat into our clannish distinctions, mouth off and judge one another based on our differences. The other is to demonstrate understanding and offer grace (and, if warranted, an apology).

After all, we have much more in common than the form of exercise that divide us. We’re all athletes. We’re all glorying in God’s creation. We’re all working hard. We’re all trying to improve. We all have families waiting for us to come home safely. Most of all, we’re all human.

I suspect you see where I’m going with this. In business, as in athletics, there are times when we’re going to run into each other. Internal conflicts between divisions, departments, offices, floors, teams and individuals are unavoidable, and they can be as destructive as they are distracting.

In fact, research shows that they are not only the most common but the most debilitating internal dynamics with which companies have to deal. Sometimes culture wars themselves cause companies go adrift for the simple reason that, if you’re not working together, well, you’re not working together.

As with weekend warriors, when a clash happens in business it can go one of two ways. We can go tribal and think the worst of one another, or we can give each other the benefit of the doubt, presume each other has good intentions and focus on the fix.

A little humility and intentionality can go a long way in making things right. That is, in fact, where most of my company’s consulting engagements begin: by identifying and addressing what’s really going on, underneath the surface of struggling organizations.

Alas, restraint requires maturity. If human nature wasn’t what it is, "The Office" would never have taken off and "Dilbert" wouldn’t be turning 30. We like to laugh at interpersonal conflict, as long as it isn’t our own. When stuff happens in real life, we don’t find it funny, and it’s natural to retreat into resentment. The fact that it’s natural, however, doesn’t mean it’s helpful. Or productive. Or responsible.

What we see on TV and Twitter reflects and reinforces our worst tendencies, but behavior like that doesn’t work in the real world.

Mutual understanding can do wonders for a corporate culture, but it must begin with each of us, individually, making the difficult decision to engage rather than divide. To focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. To practice restraint and exercise empathy.

When you see someone coming the other way -- on a bicycle, in business, or in life -- recognize what they may be struggling with. Cut them some slack, and even step aside if need be. Most of the time we all want to get to the same place, even if our mode of transportation differs.

GE’s lessons won’t determine whether you succeed or fail

The early morning news on Monday that General Electric ousted CEO John Flannery was surprising to many of us, and it certainly matters to investors, analysts, employees and competitors (and probably historians).

But does the success or failure of GE’s CEO really matter that much when it comes to how most of us lead, manage and plan each day? Not necessarily.

For one thing, an increasing percentage of Americans are working at large companies, but it’s still not a majority, and most of us aren’t running these companies or even their divisions. Our direct reports (hopefully) are a small group of people, even if we’re ultimately responsible for larger causes. The communication, relationship-building and coaching we do in these small groups is a vital part of any leader’s job, and you can have almost any title and work in almost any setting while doing it.

That said, GE has long been looked to as an example of corporate product strategy, innovation, how to assess performance, ways companies can internally manage talent and leadership development and even the state of the US economy. Not to mention the cult of Jack Welch. So, we’ve been looking to the company for insights for a long, long time.

What I would say today is to look past the headlines. GE’s long-declining stock price is obviously a problem, but the stock price is merely a byproduct of actions taken. You won’t find leadership lessons by tracking a stock graph. Comparing superficial character traits of the company’s recent CEOs probably isn’t helpful for most of us, either. And we have to be careful of lauding or criticizing innovation efforts, such as Predix, in hindsight alone.

Basically, there are few black-and-white lessons that you can lift from GE’s story and apply to your world. So, what’s left? Here are a few areas I’d suggest looking into and then comparing and contrasting with your organization:

Can you say what your organization does?

If you can’t, or your newer and lower-ranking employees can’t, this could be a communication problem. That’s serious, but there is a mission there that simply needs to be promoted more. There are a lot of ways to go about this, some more expensive than others, but the answers are there.

But not being able to explain what the organization does could also mean it’s less of an organization and more of a holding company, if not a mess. As former Medtronic CEO Bill George wrote almost a year ago about GE’s plan to focus on three core areas:

"GE's deep problem today is that it doesn't know what business it is in. There is no central purpose that unites its disparate businesses, or enables them to be greater than the sum of its parts. Even GE's three remaining businesses – aviation, health care, and energy and power – bear little relationship to each other. As CNBC's Steve Liesmann noted after Flannery's announcements, why not go all the way and split GE into three separate companies, thereby eliminating the corporate staff and associated corporate costs?"

Are outsider CEOs better? It depends

You’ll probably see a lot of opinions about whether GE was right to reach outside its ranks for John Flannery’s replacement. Some people will be bullish on the change, while others won’t, and they'll have well-articulated reasons.

What’s research say? There can be a benefit to an outsider CEO from another industry, but that’s not a universal answer, as outsider CEOs can face conflict when they try to implement changes and find themselves kicked out almost as quickly as they were ushered in.

The bigger lesson, at least according to that research, might be in the mindset you seek. This requires careful detail to succession planning, talent management and board responsibilities rather than gambling on the magic of a CEO. As Matt Palmquist of Strategy+Business wrote:

“Rather than breadth of experience, boards and recruiters should look for a proven track record of challenging conventional wisdom and experimenting with unconventional ideas—especially those that pay off.”

Don’t underestimate the difficult of big changes

Reorganizations might be necessary, but they always involve discomfort and pain. Layoffs occur. People are asked to change roles, relocate, abandon their old ways of thinking for new ways. The new plan isn’t always justified (at least not to the satisfaction of those affected) and can easily become perceived as a burdensome directive.

Restructurings, reorganizations, reconfigurations: They are each complex, and they each have situational challenges that require organizational introspection, as Stephane J.G. Girod and Samina Karim wrote in Harvard Business Review last year:

“Whether you are restructuring or reconfiguring, the way you group and allocate activities and resources must play to your strengths and differentiate your company from competitors. That might seem obvious, but not all firms have the discipline to follow this guideline—or even understand which practices are most suited to their situation.”

GE probably could do better in its rethink, but the lessons found there might not necessarily help your reorganization, especially if you don’t work for or run a multinational industrial public company.

Instead, think about your people, your job titles and what functional areas of control you give your managers, as Pingboard CEO Bill Boebel advises:

"As you’re giving thought to your organization’s leaders, identify those who are 'people' managers and those who are 'work' managers. People managers are excellent at leading a team, while work managers are those more skilled at overseeing tasks."


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.