Leadership lessons from fear and cancer

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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?"

Dan Shorr, the founder of Vice Cream, spent his college summers driving an ice cream truck. After college, he followed a typical career path. He went to work at a large consumer products company and started to climb the ladder.

Then, it all changed. Newly married, a first-time homeowner, Shorr was told that he had cancer. He was given a grim diagnosis.

Thankfully, he won his battle and is healthy today. Cancer changed his outlook. No longer did he want to simply live life, he wanted to indulge in it.

His brand is the embodiment of the indulgence. Cancer has also shaped his leadership and helped him overcome his fears.

I left our conversation inspired and a bit hungry for some ice cream. I hope you have a similar experience in reading what he shares below.  

Why are you doing this crazy thing?

“My first reaction is in our mission and our purpose. It's not just a bumper sticker. Our mission is to bring smiles to the faces of consumers, specifically cancer patients and their families.”

“On a personal level, I always wanted to start my own thing and, without sounding too much like Tony Robbins, I believe in the power of fear. I think fear holds people back in life, whether it's asking a girl or guy out or moving across country. Even with my experience in building the PowerBar brand and working at Pepsi, I was still scared to start my own thing.”

What got you over that fear?

“Two big events that kicked my ass. One was being around the finish line at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. That was a very scary day and it made me re-evaluate what I wanted to do. Then I got diagnosed with cancer. I was told that I had 12 weeks to live. I beat it, I'm 100% fine, but both those things were enough of a kick in my ass to blow through that wall of fear.”

How do you deal with fear and doubt?

“I must say and it's not [BS], that I interviewed somebody recently, and this candidate, this 27-year-old asked me about fear and failure, and what's the chance of failure. I honestly have never thought about it. I have a very clear vision of our success, I have a very clear vision of where we're going. This kid spooked me. I haven't stopped thinking about it. I've never thought about failure once. Now I'm like, 'oh my God, I should never have met this kid,' he totally got me out of my zone.”

What have you learned about leadership?

“Probably my favorite teaching -- I saw Tony Robbins at a small MSNBC conference in L.A. a few weeks ago and he had a great phrase. I think it's really cutting-edge. What he said, which I really believe in, is that we need to be leaders and not managers. If we must manage, we have the wrong people. That's critical to where I am right now. It's my job to lead, to build the strategy, to build our plan, and to do what I'm uniquely poised to do, which is hire great people, sell, raise capital. I don't know if managing people drives revenue. If I find that I am managing the team, I think I have the wrong team as a small company. We all need to be doing heavy lifting, and I need to hire people that I empower, and who can execute.”

How do you make time for you, and for your family?

“My answer is that I'm still learning. I think it's building one building block at a time.”

What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur or leader?

“What I call BST and AST, Before "Shark Tank" and After "Shark Tank." I never miss an episode, but I think a lot of people see the excitement of an Airbnb being valued at $50 billion and Justin's or RX bar exiting at $650 million. Getting into the business for an exit may not be the right reason. Because, it's hard.” 

“I think the other advice I'd probably give people is something I've learned lately. You don't necessarily go with the team that you started with, and that's sad. It's not negative sad, it's just that my vision was we're all going to do this together, but not everybody is built for this startup life.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

“You're going to lose your hair and be a little bit more patient.”

He ended our interview by sharing, “At the end of the day, I go back to what we started with, I really do tap into my cancer experience. My team may be tired of hearing about it, but we had a really difficult situation with our co-packer yesterday -- you can print this -- where we were treated with incredible disrespect, and I leaned across the table and said, 'we're not curing cancer here, we're making ice cream.' Coming from me, it's not a cliché, so it makes the room stock still."


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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow and become sustainable and investable. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that 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 FoodDive.

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Obituaries remind us to think about the legacy we’re creating

As anyone who has read my columns over the years knows, I am deeply indebted to obituary writers.

I like drawing nuggets that illustrate aspects of the human condition and serve as role models -- or sometimes caution lights -- to the rest of us.

Our lives, if we are lucky, are a long string of hits and some misses that are woven across a lifetime of living, interacting with spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues.

At a certain point, you feel you have lived awhile but when you read an obituary, you see that you can sum up a life pretty quickly in 500 to 1,000 words.

Even a long obituary cannot capture the entirety of a person’s life. Nor should it. What you are going for is the essence of a person. What did she do? How did she do it? How did she overcome obstacles? And what to people think of her then and now?

Such questions might serves as notes of reflection for all of us. Thinking about our end is really thinking about our legacy. We will be remembered by those whose lives we touched.

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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How to lead authentically

“Don't let the expectations and opinions of other people affect your decisions. It's your life, not theirs.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

We live in a paradoxical world. On the one hand, we are more connected than ever before. Social media and our portable devices makes posting and reading content, liking, commenting, and sharing, easier and faster than ever. We know what our contacts are doing in real time and can “join them” virtually from the comfort of wherever we are and whatever we’re doing at that moment. Email and a host of messaging platforms also keep the virtual conversation going around the clock.

Yet, there is something about all of this connecting that leave so many of us wanting and unfulfilled.

Part of the issue, no doubt, is the superficiality of how we connect and engage. Though our networks are larger and more diverse than ever before, the quality of those connections is simply not there. So much of communication depends on the things that technology cannot replace, like nonverbals, proximity and the like.

But for many of us, a bigger issue with Networking 2.0 may be the inauthenticity and contrived realities that it fosters.

If your social feed is anything like mine, you are inundated daily by friends, connections and pseudo-celebrities pitching highlight reels of unmitigated successes. In response, we scramble to create our own picture-perfect realities, as if every day is the best day of our lives, with no setbacks or worries.

It’s like we are seeking to build relationships on golden quicksand, scurrying to build layer upon layer of new achievements before the foundation sinks in beneath us.

That certainly is not a way to create sustained, meaningful relationships.

Perhaps that is why we spend so much of our time on social media hunting down authenticity. I recently interviewed a rising social media star and best-selling author, Daniel Gefen, for my podcast. During our conversation, I asked him about how he has built his online presence. This is what he told me.

“Be real. Don't pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t think that that if you look successful, people will respect you more. … People root for (those) who are raw, honest and authentic. That’s what people crave … especially online where there’s so much fake. There are so many people trying to … be someone they’re not like and we smell it a mile away.”

While authenticity is important everywhere, it is perhaps most significant for leaders to demonstrate.

Why? Because authenticity breeds trust, which is a crucial element in the workplace. Leaders who demonstrate integrity and character command our support and fidelity. We are much likelier to go the extra mile and stand by them regardless of circumstance. In contrast, the absence of trust can make it very difficult for leaders to gain support.

While leadership is often presented as a matter of giving to and serving others, authenticity focuses the leader first on self-development. It requires leaders to be on a journey to uncover their inner values, strengths, passion and vision. When they do this, they develop a "true north" inner compass that can guide them in everyday life and when things start to become particularly sticky. It also builds trust in the leader, as others begin to see them as focused, disciplined, believable and dependable.

(Of course, once leaders have developed their authenticity, they are better suited to give to and serve others. But you can’t give what you don’t have.)

With trust in leaders at all-time lows, it’s time to consider how personal authenticity can become your greatest leadership asset.

What are the key qualities of authentic leaders?

  1. Purpose driven – Authentic leaders are driven to discover who they really are, to identify and connect with their "why." They use that sense of purpose to inform decision making and stay balanced and focused, regardless of external realities.
  2. Listeners – An authentic leader is a good listener who seeks and integrates feedback. 
  3. Dialoguers – Authentic leaders promote safe, trustworthy dialogue. They master the art of conversation and share their leadership story or point of view, especially with people new to the organization. 
  4. Connectors – Authentic leaders lean into challenges and go the extra mile to work with, understand and develop the people they are privileged to lead. 

Here are some strategies to help build your authenticity.

  1. Learn to live in your comfort zone. Stay consistently true to your values, even when it seems more comfortable or convenient to adjust your style to outside whims and interests.
  2. Get real. Ask yourself, “How would I behave if money and social expectations were not factors in my life?”
  3. Go back to basics. Remind yourself what you wanted to be when you grew up. Picture yourself in your childhood dream. Do you see that smile and that positive energy? That can be your life.
  4. Surround yourself with the right people. Identify who you can be yourself around. Because we are social creatures, it is important to spend time with people who make us feel good and accept us for who we really are.

Being authentic as a leader is hard work. No one can be truly authentic all the time; everyone will say and do things they will come to regret. The key is to make authenticity a priority to work toward and then to have the self-awareness to recognize these times and listen to close colleagues who point them out.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his new leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog.

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The leader next door

I met a leader in my neighborhood the other day. She doesn’t wear designer business suits or travel with an entourage of assistants. In fact, when I see her she is usually wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and is busy moving packages from the porch of her church to the trunk of her compact SUV.

This leader’s name is Shari, and she started a program she calls “From the Porch.” Each month, she invites the surrounding community to donate specific items for area charities. Donors leave their contributions on the church’s front porch, and at the end of the month Shari delivers them to the charities. On this particular day, she was packing up the proceeds of a sock drive for residents at the local homeless shelter. From the number of cartons she was hauling, it seemed the drive was a big success.

Then there’s Ben, who with some friends founded a small learning center for children with dyslexia. I often see him tending to the shrubs and other plantings around it. If you have the time, he will happily give you a tour of the center. His wife, Marie, coordinates drives to provide backpacks and school supplies for children whose families can’t afford them. A couple of times a year she also organizes chicken and chips fundraisers for the local women’s club.

Deanne crochets plastic supermarket bags into waterproof sleeping mats for people who are living on the street, and Cathy organizes book sales to raise scholarship funds to help local kids attend college.

If I didn’t know better, it probably wouldn’t occur to me that these people were leaders. They look like regular people, doing regular things, just like you and me. I see them in the library and the supermarket, at the mall and at the movies.

What is it that makes Shari, Ben, Marie, Deanne and Cathy leaders? Do they have experience as corporate CEOs, government officials or college professors? Were they part of some special leadership training or apprenticeship program? Nope. Ben is a retired certified public accountant, and Marie stayed home to raise their sons. Shari is a nurse. Cathy is an administrative assistant. Deanne’s health issues prevent her from working more than a few hours a week as a lunch aide in a nearby school.

What makes them special is this: they choose to be leaders. They see a need and choose to do something about it. They don’t waste time worrying about limitations—their own or anyone else’s—and they certainly don’t pay any mind to what rewards they may or may not receive for their efforts. Their choice to lead is grounded in gratitude for the ability to do something that helps someone else.

Take a look around your own neighborhood. I guarantee that you are surrounded by community leaders who are every bit as committed as my local aquaintances. Do you have youth sports in your town? Community leaders started those programs. A food pantry? A community theater program? A newly revitalized public playground?

These things don’t happen by themselves. Someone, at some point, saw a need and decided to do something about it. Granted, once they made the decision, they followed up with persistent effort. That makes them great workers. But it’s the decision, the choice to lead, that turned them into leaders.

Now I have a question for you: Are you a leader? The answer is as easy as saying, “Yes!”


Dennis C. Miller is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach, executive search consultant, author and keynote speaker. He is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group, with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Miller is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and leadership performance coach. Miller can be reached at dennis@thenonprofitsearch.com.

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Cultivate coachability with these 5 mindsets

The frustration was palpable within a group of leaders with whom I recently worked. They were in a tough spot. Competition was emerging from unexpected sources. Revenue was not tracking to meet expectations. The organization was responding with significant structural change. And these leaders had been told by executives that if the business was to survive, they had to improve their coaching ability and results.

One leader, unable to contain his urgency and angst, blurted out, “Just tell us the four or five steps we have to take to become better coaches.” Another jumped in with, “Certainly there’s a script or talking points we can just follow.”

Hmmm. Were it so easy, organizations would be teeming with exceptional coaches. But they aren’t. In today’s time-starved, sound-bite world, it’s understandable that leaders would expect that coaching could be boiled down to a few tidy to-dos. However, it’s not that simple.

Coaching is not a series of isolated activities; it’s a relationship. It’s not a discrete conversation; it’s pervasive and ongoing dialogue. In fact, coaching is a way of thinking that exceptional leaders bring to their work day-in and day-out -- even when they’re not thinking about coaching. And over time, this mindset and the behaviors it inspires help to cultivate a more coachable climate.

The coach’s mindset is multifaceted; in fact, it’s actually five different mindsets, all of which are required to enhance one’s ability to help others realize their potential, perform optimally and engage in continuous learning.

The relational mindset

The quality of coaching is directly proportionate to the quality of relationships. Effective leaders understand this and, as a result, prioritize the human connection. They know they must ‘earn the right’ to support the growth and performance of others. They do this by investing in getting to know others and in understanding their motivations. They model authenticity and encourage the same from others. They build a foundation of trust by maintaining confidentiality and following through on commitments. And they convey respect in all that they do. As relationships deepen and trust grows, people are naturally more receptive to coaching and coaches have a solid, knowledgeable base to support their efforts.

The listening mindset

The most effective coaches are frequently people of few words… because they are considerably more focused on listening than on speaking. Listening certainly contributes to the quality of relationships and provides the coach with important context and content. But, even more important than that, listening creates a space that allows others to reflect, process ideas, talk through their issues and ultimately arrive at their own solutions. Truly appreciating the transformative power of listening is the foundation of this mindset and leaders can bring it to life when they:

  • Put aside distractions and give their full attention to others.
  • Ask curious, thought-provoking questions that help people think differently or more deeply.
  • Suspend judgment, assumptions, and the need to fix other people and/or their problems.
  • Notice not only what’s said but how it’s said and what’s not said, and the emotions all of this conveys.
  • Guide people toward their own conclusions and answers.

The growth mindset

Through her research in the educational arena, Harvard’s Carol Dweck found that students demonstrate one of two points of view. Some have a ‘fixed mindset’, leading them to believe that basic qualities like intelligence and abilities are fixed and that talent alone leads to success. These people fear challenges and failure as it reflects upon their abilities. Other people have a ‘growth mindset’ which aligns with a belief that most abilities can be developed with effort. These people tend to welcome challenges and realize that mistakes aren’t tragic… if you learn from them. As you have likely noticed, theses contrasting mindsets extend to the workplace.

The most effective coaches possess a growth mindset and work tirelessly to help others adopt one as well. They collaborate to set goals that, while attainable, also stretch people beyond their comfort zone and the limitations they’ve set for themselves. They embrace experimentation and mistakes as a natural and necessary part of growth and learning. And they understand that ultimately what determines success is effort. As such, they focus praise and attention on persistence, effective strategies and approaches, and the act of trying hard.

The accountability mindset

One of the greatest gifts a coach can give others is a sense of ownership. But this requires a mindset that places responsibility squarely with the other person. Leaders need to understand that they’re not doing anyone any favors by ‘going easy’ or ‘cutting some slack.’ The accountability mindset acknowledges the growth and power that comes from owning one’s plans, effort, progress, success and even failure.

Try these best practices to tap greater accountability in others and to cultivate an accountability mindset within yourself.

  • Involve others in setting their own goals and action plans to reach them.
  • Encourage others to develop their own monitoring systems to track progress.
  • Resist solving problems, instead encouraging others to search for their own solutions.
  • Let others determine how and when to follow-up.
  • Honestly help people confront performance shortfalls and own plans to correct them.

The support mindset

Think about your favorite sporting team and the coach’s contribution to that team. He or she isn’t out on the field playing. Instead, the coach is on the sidelines juggling three critical elements: the requirements of the game; the potential (and challenges) of the players; and the constantly changing conditions facing the team. And all of this guides and informs the kind of support the coach will offer.

The same is true of leaders in the workplace. The best ones understand that their fundamental role is to serve the team. This is at the core of a support mindset. Coaches with this kind of mindset find ways to demonstrate confidence that others can and will succeed. They let people know why their contributions are important, sharing information about the big picture and what’s happening in the organization. They identify the resources others need and jointly plan for acquiring them. And they pinpoint roadblocks and brainstorm ways to remove them.

As the group of frustrated leaders whom I was working with learned, effective coaching is less about models, steps or scripts and more about the mindsets that the coach brings to work and all of their interactions.  And when leaders commit to adopting a mindset focused upon relationships, listening, growth, accountability and support, they’ll enjoy a more receptive and coachable audience – and better outcomes as well.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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Are you getting in your own way? Get more of what you want and less of what you don’t

Recently, I was sitting with a group of leaders who were discussing how difficult it can be to talk about what matters most, particularly when others don’t share your view. One woman who had been quiet for quite some time broke her silence and said, “Perhaps we don’t share what is really important or meaningful to us because we engage in behavior that gets in our way.”

The conversation quickly turned to people sharing examples of how their behavior had negatively affected the very results they were trying to create.

As the conversation progressed, I took note of the behavioral challenges that seemed to be most common. Consider the questions below to help you reflect on the effectiveness of your behavior and interactions with others.

1. Are you so entrenched in your perspective that you don’t hear what others are saying? Sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to set your ideas aside and consider the ideas of others. Taking the time to consider other points of view not only creates an opportunity for you to share your views, but also helps you understand whether or not your ideas are sound.  

2. Do you really listen when others are speaking? There are any number of reasons why people don’t listen. Sometimes, we listen to assess whether others agree with us or not. Sometimes, we are just more interested in our own thoughts or preoccupations than we are with what others have to say. Sometimes, we are too busy thinking about what we should say next or how we might disagree. Whatever the reason, people can sense when you are not present in a conversation. Your lack of attention will likely be interpreted as a lack of respect or interest in what others have to offer. This usually leads to people shutting down or disengaging from the conversation.

3. Do you push too hard to get the thing that you want? Sometimes, when our proposals or ideas appear to fall on deaf ears, rather than stop and explore a disagreement or other perspectives, we push harder to make our viewpoint known. Ironically, the passion and exuberance with which we express our point of view creates more resistance than contribution and collaboration from others. Our push creates pushback from others, which may turn into a competition to determine who is right and who is wrong. Emotions will likely take over, leading to a downward spiral that will not end well.

4. Do you assume that you know better or that you are always right? Having this particular mindset is disastrous for a leader, and yet it is one of the most common complaints that I hear from teams about their manager. When the leader always has to be right, people tend to quit speaking up and sharing their ideas. Worse, they just wait to be told what to do rather than taking an active and collaborative role in working with the members of their team. It’s easier to give up than to be told their ideas are stupid, impractical, ill-informed or simply won’t work.

5. Do you allow your negative emotions to determine what you say, do or think in the moment? We frequently become emotionally reactive when our expectations are violated. When we don’t get what we want, our “hot” emotions replace our rationality and negatively influence our behavior. If you allow your emotions to rule your behavior, they may be contributing to results you don’t wish to create.

Fear of the unknown

6. Does your desire to play it safe or to be comfortably secure hinder your ability to be vulnerable and connect with others? Sometimes, our fear of the unknown or of perceived negative consequences keeps us from speaking up and sharing what needs to be said. If you find yourself frustrated with the direction that your leader or team seems to be headed, recognize that your feelings can serve as a wonderful cue that it is time to speak up. Our inability or unwillingness to engage contributes to our results.

7. Do you avoid heartfelt expressions of appreciation or gratitude? Acknowledging others for their contributions is one of the easiest ways to build relationships and reinforce their positive efforts. Nevertheless, many are reluctant to share what they define to be “too personal.” Expressing sincere and specific appreciation says to others, “I noticed what you did and I value your contribution.”

8. Do you take the time to reflect and focus on what matters most? Sometimes, we become so busy and pressed to finish the current project or the next item on our to-do list that we lose sight of what is most important. Taking some quiet time to reflect on your thoughts and examine your behavior will allow you to assess if you are getting the results that you say you really want.

9. Are you empathetic and understanding of others? We can become so set on what we want and need that we don’t stop to consider what is going on with others. Do people have what they need to achieve the desired results?  Do they have input or feedback about how the results could best be achieved?  If things aren’t going well, do we stop to find out why? It is important to realize that everyone is rational from their point of view. Rather than assuming that people don’t know what they are doing or are deliberately making mistakes, we ought to slow down and ask more questions and really listen to their answers.  

10. Are you blind to your own behavior? Because we do not see ourselves the way we are seen, we don’t usually realize how our behavior impacts others. We communicate in many ways that have an impact on others: tone of voice, word choice, intensity, inflection, body language, emotions and communication style. Pay close attention to how others are responding to you: whether they engage or seem intimidated, share their thoughts and feelings freely or only speak when absolutely necessary. Do they move toward or away from you, seek you out or avoid you?  These reactions can tell you how you are being perceived.       

As you ponder and truthfully answer the previous questions, you will increase awareness of your behavior and allow yourself to make needed course corrections so you can avoid getting in your own way.


John R. Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc. He has been in organizational development work for over 20 years helping leaders and individual contributors to learn the skills to assist them in achieving superior results. He has experience in the fields of leadership, change management, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked with such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and AbbVie. Connection with him on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.

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Rethinking how we define and track workforce diversity

Diversity is now reported to be the No. 1 recruiting trend for 2018 for businesses. However, despite decades of trying to improve workforce diversity in the workplace, the commercial sector has yet to make much progress. Even though there are few signs of statistical progress, the workforce diversity discussion seems to be moving on and evolving anyway.

Specifically, it is exploring the question of why diversity matters at all, and what kind of diversity matters most when it comes to building an effective workforce.

Evolving the workforce diversity discussion

It’s worth stepping back to look at what “diversity” means in the 21st century. “I’ve always defined diversity as ‘any differentiation between one person and another,’” says Michael Hyter, managing partner of the Korn Ferry Washington, D.C., office. “We’re all a stew of experiences and talents. To leverage those different talents, companies must be inclusive of these differences.”

Hyter makes the point that these differences don’t always break out into a few neat categories. For example, “[g]enerational differences cut across all other categories. The way a 25-year-old black woman views the world and the way a 45-year-old black woman views the world are completely different.” Along with his leadership responsibilities in the D.C. office, Hyter manages Korn Ferry’s diversity and inclusion practice.

In part to recognize these kinds of differences, diversity discussions founded decades ago in social justice objectives have evolved beyond simple categories. Diversity explorations have also expanded as research has found strong correlations between improved business results and diversity on teams, in leadership and in the workplace at large.

Such research underlies a strong business case for continuing to seek ways of building diverse workforces, not just because hiring women and minorities is “the right thing to do,” but also because it’s “good for business.” As the reasons for building a diverse workforce expand, so does the idea of what kind of diversity produces such improved results. Together, these trends generate new and better ways of thinking about diversity overall.

Traditional definitions of diversity stem from the civil rights movement’s benefits of a workforce with diverse external characteristics like race, ethnicity and binary gender expression. Newer ways of examining the workforce diversity question, however, still reference these demographic categorizations but are more motivated by the demands for employee populations to be innovative in order to keep up with the speed of disruption. This has given birth to new definitions of diversity itself, including experiential, age and cognitive (or thought) diversity.

New voices (especially millennials) in the diversity discussion have noticed that groupthink and undynamic work cultures can persist even in externally diverse groups, potentially dampening an organization's’ potential to respond creatively and quickly to external market changes. Thus the question has been raised, regardless of what the people around the table look like on the outside, is a team’s potential to respond innovatively more affected by what each participant carries on the inside? And does the company culture invite these inner strengths forward or shut them down (i.e., force people to “cover” aspects of themselves)?

Should we expand our definition of workforce diversity?

In researching the wisdom of including aspects of personality, experiential and cognitive endowments in our workforce planning dialogs, I’m truly divided on whether and how to start adding these new dimensions of diversity into the discussion.

The upside of an expanded definition of diversity seems obvious if it can lead us to find sound business reasons to be even more inclusive of people who have been shut out of the system due to unconscious bias. It gives us reasons to encourage budding trends towards greater inclusion for people regardless of military work history, marital status, genetic proclivities, personality type, gender expression and dis/ability status1.

As the research showing business benefits indicates, evolving our concept of diversity provides individual leaders an expanded lens through which to examine their own leadership style and potential for unconscious bias. It provides sound business reasons to invite everyone on the team (regardless of their race, gender or extrovertism) to participate fully in conversation and problem-solving. For organizations, it provides a new challenge for us to grow our leaders to become more aware of their biases and give them tools to challenge themselves to grow beyond them.

As Hyter advises, “Effective leadership has always been about managing each individual based on what they’re interested in and what they bring. Even when your employees look the same, good leaders don’t manage them as though they are the same.”

On the other hand, and this is my major hesitation about expanding definitions of diversity, I am concerned that such an evolution has the potential to water down, if not shut down, efforts to pursue the social justice that is inherently buoyed within genuinely multicultural and gender-equal groups. I worry that by shifting the conversation to what we carry inside that makes us diverse, we may decide we no longer need to measure and strive for a workforce that looks diverse on the outside.

In redefining what a diverse workplace looks like, I worry that it will give the leaders who’ve made the least progress, and who are unwilling to be introspective, an excuse not to take unconscious bias and workplace discrimination head-on.

In short, I am afraid that headlines like “demographic diversity isn’t the whole picture” could be read by some as a reason to step away from efforts toward workplaces that aspire to simple civil rights for their employees.

Hyter agrees. “Representation of women and people of color in the C-suite is embarrassingly low. No executive gets a pass on race and gender diversity in favor of abstract ideas of diversity such as cognitive or personality differences. We can’t let core definitions of diversity become collateral roadkill in our pursuit of truly diverse business cultures.”

It’s far too early to allow such collateral damage to be done to traditional metrics of diversity. For one thing, our access to data even in these basic race/gender categories is seriously lagging. In addition, says Hyter, “Even these basic categorical differences can be enlightening when you look at more granular data than number of people interviewed or employed.”

According to Hyter, when you look for race, gender and veteran statistics in analyses such as employee engagement, customer complaints, interview-to-hire ratio and employee turnover you can see some very dramatic trends that show you where you can improve. “As I told one CEO, ‘If you’d kept every black and brown person you’d ever hired over the last few years, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,’” Hyter shared wryly.

As we reframe the workplace diversity we seek, we must be vigilant and ensure that the discussion is an expansion, instead of an excuse to leapfrog, the harder cultural problems that obscure unconscious bias, racism, sexism and discrimination against all kinds of people in our workplaces today.


What do you think about the changing-slowly face of corporate culture? Join the Future-proofed conversation on LinkedIn to share your thoughts on changes that will affect your career.

Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Coaching. An executive coach and thought leader on change, she cracks the code on personal power in the workplace. In addition to her private practice, Theus helps organizations bring emotionally intelligent coaching services to middle management through facilitation, consulting and group coaching. Follow her on Twitter @DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.


1Employment is up in all these sectors, though it’s unclear whether the generally positive employment environment is simply lifting all boats.

Is the problem incompetence or lack of training?

One of the common complaints you’ll see today is executives saying how there isn’t enough talent out there, not enough people with the right skills or even the willingness to learn. They say that people -- almost always “young people” -- are too eager to jump ship.

What are companies to do when there’s not enough talent and what talent there is will just leave?

I can sympathize with this, to an extent. It’s a tight labor market (though maybe not as tight as claimed), and certain jobs are harder to hire for than others. Less glamorous jobs that require computer or technical skills can be especially vexing to manufacturers and other employers. Trucking companies can struggle to find candidates who can pass federal drug-testing guidelines. Rural areas can face obstacles that cities don’t in attracting people.

But another side of this is that employers often expect fully trained, expert employees to show up at their doors. It’s one thing to have an uneducated workforce; it’s another to look at job candidates with potential who need on-the-job training and say, “They aren’t skilled in what we need.”  

(Let’s put it another way: If your company’s work requires only skills that people should already have, those skills aren’t unique and differentiated, and it’s unlikely your company is, either. If those people have the right skills, they probably have a job already, so why leave that for you?)

Similar to this is the twin problem many organizations have: They churn through employees in certain positions, as no one seems to be able to do the job. Yet, it’s an open secret that some people, possibly executives, are untouchable even though they seem to lack in talent, results and improvement.

At the risk of oversimplifying, these problems have the same root cause: The organization is not taking responsibility for training people, placing them in a position to succeed and following up by holding everyone to account.

Training is personal

How your organization goes about training is a personal (and personnel) decision. Every company, every industry has its own methods. Onboarding, ongoing development or career pathing can also differ depending on whether we’re talking full-time employees, part-timers, freelancers or contractors.

So, I can't solve the specifics for you. What I do want to talk about is the mindset you’re starting with. Let’s assume we all want a few basic things out of the people we hire:

  • They are able to learn and retain.
  • They are productive and efficient.
  • They understand how to do their jobs (maybe even innovate).
  • They understand their expectations and incentives.

That’s just one way the worker’s obligations could be phrased. Now, let’s look at some of the employer’s obligations:

  • Be clear about the job.
  • Be clear about how the job is done and what is required to do the job well.
  • Be clear about what the worker must do to meet expectations.
  • Provide the support, tools and resources necessary.

I’m leaving out things about safety, culture and making sure incentives line up with desired behaviors. Those are not unimportant! But let’s pretend, for now, that those can be folded into the above bullet points.

There’s one bullet point missing:

  • Be clear the worker understands all of the above and is actually properly trained and informed.

If you have a worker who is not doing the job, that’s bad for that person. It’s also bad for the boss, the leader, the employer. If you find yourself with an employee who’s not performing, ask yourself:

  • Have you trained this person?
  • Have you explained what needs to be done, and why?
  • Do you have confirmation that the worker understands?
  • Do they have the resources they need?
  • Maybe reskilling is what's needed?

Being thorough from the hiring process through this reflection and remediation is a lot of work. But there are benefits: You gain a skilled employee, who might be more loyal because of the investment of attention, time and resources. And, if there is no progress, you know that for sure rather than through a hunch or from bias.

Moving on

Let’s say you’ve gone through this process, maybe more than once, and there remains a disconnect, an unwillingness or inability of the worker to do the job, and no further accomodations can be made. Well, then you know (barring legal hurdles, of course) that you can and should move on.

Indeed, you must move on, or you’ll create a two-tiered culture: people who do their jobs yet are side by side with people who don’t but aren’t held to account.

Don’t blame people for doing bad work when you haven’t done your part to prepare them. But, also, don’t keep people who just won’t do what is needed. Either way, assume that it’s on you, the employer or the manager, to make sure the worker has the best possible chance to succeed.


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 @SBLeaders, @James_daSilva or by email.

11 effective ways to make your business resolutions come true

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter for entrepreneurs.

Q: How can you turn a business resolution into a reality this quarter?

1. Delegate aspects of the resolution

Break the resolution down into various tasks that you can share amongst the team, delegating those areas that others want to champion. The reality of resolution accomplishment only comes when everyone wants and wills it to happen. Give them the tools and the responsibility, and it will get done. -- Angela Ruth, Calendar

2. Break it up into smaller tasks Inline

Goal setting is common practice but follow-through is rare. The most effective way to get your resolution to become reality is to break down the goals into smaller, trackable metrics. These small goals will provide small wins and give sustained momentum. The team and their manager will be able to track progress and keep the team motivated as they clear benchmarks. -- Curt Revelette, Jonathan’s Grille

3. Share it with your team

The most important part of any business is your team. Make sure you're always sharing your vision and resolutions with them. Once you're all on the same page, come up with a plan as a team. Then when you're done planning, just ask everyone: How do we do this in a third of the time? Also, talk about worst-case scenarios and make sure you're all prepared to take on anything that may get in the way! -- Adelaida Diaz-Roa, Nomo FOMO

4. Take advantage of the holiday season

People are more apt to spend money during the holiday season. You just need to give them a reason to spend their money with you! Create direct and digital marketing campaigns that not only appeal to your customers’ wants and needs, but also toward their generosity. Think of what type of products and/or services you sell that would make a great gift. -- Derek Broman, Discount Enterprises LLC deguns.net

5. Create a step-by-step plan and relentlessly execute it

The key to achieving anything is creating a plan in which progress can be measured every day. By creating a plan, you are creating a roadmap where you can see how each action you take gets you closer to your goal. This is important, as it allows you to get back on track if you start losing focus. Once you have a plan, surround yourself with great people, celebrate the small wins, and keep moving. -- Alejandro Rioja, Flux Chargers

6. Lower your expectations

Just make more realistic resolutions within that time frame because a quarter is not that long of a time. It's three months, which means there is a limited amount you can actually bring to fruition. Lowering your expectations is not bad; it just enables you to more likely hit some type of target, which you can build on in the next quarter. -- Murray Newlands, Sighted

7. Define success in concrete terms

Be careful to avoid open-ended generalities when you choose your resolution. If you are never going to see the finish line, you put yourself at a greater risk of distraction or simply giving up along the way. For example, "grow brand awareness" leaves too much undefined. "Increase traditional media impressions by 100 percent," on the other hand, gives you a very clear goal toward which to work. -- Ryan Wilson, FiveFifty

8. Don't set goals

Entrepreneurship is a marathon. The most important thing is to make progress every day. Learn from yesterday's mistakes and forgive yourself. Setting too many resolutions and goals often leads to underachievement or demoralization. -- Amishi Takalkar, NAILBITER

9. Destroy your excuses

Create a list of reasons why you think you won't be able to turn your business resolution in to a reality. Figure out ways to overcome those barriers ahead of time. This way, when you encounter them, you will have solutions ready to combat the headwinds. -- Artem Maskov, DEVTRIBE INC

10. Use a project management tool

We like to use tools to help us break down goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. Lately, we've been using Asana as our go-to project management tool. We're able to write the individual tasks for the whole team to see and assign them to the appropriate person. -- Jared Atchison, WPForms

11. Prototype it

See if you can find a way to test the idea quickly, cheaply, and small scale. Doing some form of prototyping teaches you so much about the thing you're trying to accomplish and will either validate your idea or tell you to rethink it. And after a prototype, you'll have a much clearer picture of how to execute at a larger scale. -- Ben Lee, Neon Roots

What can a servant leader in a self-centered organization do?

I’m coaching a servant leader who is deeply enmeshed in a self-serving, self-centered organization. With every breath, her company encourages selfish plans, decisions and actions.

The company’s “I win, you lose” philosophy is deeply embedded. Sales competition is fierce. Bosses track sales by the day and celebrate only the single top performer. Often, their celebration is in the form of teasing or demeaning comments.

Clearly, this servant leader is not going to change the overarching philosophy and practices of the organization. She loves her team. They trust her. And, they see aggressive behavior all around them and, unfortunately, they tend to model those demeaning interactions with each other.

My first question to her was, “Are you looking for another job?” She admitted she was. The job search will take awhile. We discussed how difficult it was for her to be so clear on her purpose -- to serve others with kindness and respect while inspiring team accomplishments daily -- while being confronted with the absence of kindness and respect throughout her current organization.

In the meantime, I suggested a practical, meaningful focus for her: creating a pocket of excellence within her team.

In today’s three-minute Culture Leadership Charge video episode created exclusively for SmartBrief readers, I outline the two things this servant leader must do in order to inspire her team to treat others respectfully while exceeding performance expectations.

Creating a pocket of excellence is a worthwhile and challenging opportunity. It’s not impossible -- and her success will create a work environment of sanity, validation and creativity for team members. Check out the video for my suggestions.

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.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.