Thursday, November 30, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- Nobody's Role Model

My 6-year-old daughter wants to be Lindsay Lohan someday. Let's hope it's the talented actress from her Disney days and not the trashy party girl that's quickly becoming a popular party joke.

Lindsay's latest misstep--an incoherent, uneducated attempt to honor the late Robert Altman (who had recently directed Lohan in A Prairie Home Companion) in a condolence letter to his family:
"I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career. He was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years... He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do."

"Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) - everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on. - altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come."

"Be adequite. Lindsay Lohan."

Not the greatest endorsement for a Hollywood education. And certainly not the kind of role model I'd want for my little girl, especially one that urges everyone to be merely "adequite." But it is a serious lesson in hubris (not to mention spellchecking.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Creating True Believers

Does it seem that everyone you know or work with is changing jobs or careers lately? It shouldn't surprise you...the National Employee Benchmarking Study has found that 80% of all U.S. workers do not plan to be with their current employers in 2 years. And here's where the problem lies--most exiting employees cite leadership deficiency as one of their primary reasons for going elsewhere.

"Leadership deficiency." What does that mean? It means that companies aren't giving their employees a compelling enough reason to stay. It means CEO's are more concerned with the stockholders than the stock boys. It means that the majority of the modern workforce wants something more than a good salary and a nice benefits package. They want leaders with heart. They crave something to believe in.

You need only to look at the most successful coaches to see how it's possible to create a team of true believers. Wooden, Lombardi, Schembechler, Lasorda--their legacies have lasted long after the X's and O's were wiped off the chalkboard. Because they cared. And their teams knew it.

Andrew Razeghi, author of "Hope: How Triumphant Leaders Create the Future" says, "Triumphant leaders engage not only the heads but also the hearts of those who look to them for leadership. Create a culture of believers, and you will create an organization more resilient, more courageous, and more ably equipped to manage through ambiguity, around fear, and into the future.”

One of the best measures of leadership effectiveness is something I call the "elevator test"--when it comes to your team, are you lifting them up or taking them down? And which direction is your business headed?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY -- Act Like A Winner, Talk Like A Pro

The hardest thing for most business leaders to do is to talk in front of a large group of people (even worse, in front of a camera.) Why? I think it's because they're "on stage" for maybe the first time in their lives and the experience puts them well outside their comfort zone.

I've been a professional actor and director for more than 20 years--and a professional speaker longer than that--and the things that make me successful on stage can help make anyone "act like a winner and talk like a pro."

You've heard the actor's cliche--"What's my motivation?" Well, that's the first thing you should consider before you even write one word of your speech or plan one interview response. Go through this checklist: Why am I doing this and what do I hope to accomplish? What's the best way to get the results I want? How do I want this event to affect my audience? (There are two other things an actor uses to get the best performance--if you'd like more information, contact me at or check out my website at!)

Once you figure out your "motivation," it's much easier to decide what to say and, more importantly, how to say it. An actor prepares diligently for each role. Your role is just as important to your audience. If you want to talk like a pro, you have to "act" like a winner.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- Thankful Things

I hope this won't be the typical Thanksgiving Day post where the author goes on ad nauseum about the things he or she is thankful for. Frankly, if you're truly thankful, every day is filled with reasons to feel blessed. And that's a list too long for anyone to read.

What I'd rather do today is to put some perspective on the things you should be thankful for. (Let me put it another way, if the things you're thankful for are THINGS, then you really should think about your priorities.)

Here's a list of thankful things you might consider today. People. Family, friends, and the occasional strangers who help shape your future in tiny, yet powerful ways. Events that really matter--and not just the good ones. Be thankful for the obstacles that force you to try harder. For the times of weakness that lead you to ask for help and support. For the pain and suffering and loss that make you appreciate your daily blessings all the more.

Most of all, be thankful for the moments that have led you to thirst after righteousness, to have compassion for others, and to seek what is good and pure and true.

A real thanksgiving is not so much about you as it is about everything around you. So be thankful and be blessed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- Handling Hecklers

If you've seen or heard Michael Richard's appalling racial rant at a comedy club recently, you might wonder how his embarrassment might apply to you. After all, you're just a simple businessperson who wouldn't dream of trying stand-up comedy. You'll never have to worry about hecklers.

Wrong. Every time you appear on a public stage, whether it's at a convention, a shareholders' meeting, or a television interview, there's the potential for confrontation. You still need to be prepared.

I worked as a comedian for several years to help supplement my acting career, and I found that most comics--not Kramer, of course--but most comics love hecklers because they can be turned into comedy gold. I once filled an entire 20-minute set by deftly mocking and comforting a guy who was obviously trying to impress his buddies.

Don't try this at home. Or at work. It's better to diffuse the situation and handle the heckler with style and grace. Here's the secret behind the success most comedians have with unruly audience members--Mark's First Law of Captivating Communication:
He who holds the mike owns the room.
Once you realize the power that you hold in your hand, you can act like a benevolent dictator, ruling over your subjects with an iron fist in a velvet glove. That microphone gives you the ability to control everything that happens inside the venue. Especially heckers. But remember, never try to continue over the disruption with your prepared remarks--everyone is watching the troublemaker, anyway.

Don't get angry. Smile and act classy. Use humor to get the audience on your side. If that doesn't work, then stop what you're doing and politely ask them to stop. Don’t hang up or walk off--calmly ask someone else from the venue to move the heckler outside where management or security can deal with it.

You may never have to handle a heckler...but it's always good to know you can.

Monday, November 20, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Killing Cockroaches

I am truly blessed having a next-door-neighbor who is also my pastor. (He loves it when I stop over to ask if I can borrow a cup of grace...) He's also a big fan of Tony Morgan, a pastor at Granger Community Church in suburban South Bend, Indiana and one of the top thinkers on the role of leadership in the church. Here's a recent post my neighbor sent me:
I was sitting around the breakfast table with a bunch of guys this morning and was reminded of an incident that took place at a former job. This was before ministry. I was a city manager--kind of like the CEO of a business. I was responsible for leading an organization with a $20 million budget and 150 employees. I was the man. I wore a suit. Everyday.

One day I was working at my desk, and I heard a woman scream from the other side of the office building. Just a few seconds later, the screaming woman ran into my office. She explained that she needed help. She had found a cockroach in her office. And, for whatever reason, she thought this was a problem for the "CEO." Remember, I was the guy who wore a suit. Everyday.

I'm not sure why I did it, but I slowly pushed my chair away from the desk. Stood up. Walked down the hall. Entered the screaming woman's office, and proceeded to kill the cockroach. I was wearing my suit, which, of course, I wore...everyday.

It's been about eight years since that incident. I don't wear suits anymore, but there are still days when I come home a little mopey. I guess the frustration is all over my face. Emily will take one look at me and ask, "Did you have to kill cockroaches today?"

I've grown wiser though. I've learned there are things I can do to avoid getting stuck killing cockroaches. It's my responsibility to move beyond just reacting to what's urgent. It includes things like:
--Blocking time out in my schedule--actually setting appointments with myself--to dream and plan and work on the big-picture projects.
--Empowering other competent leaders. Giving them significant ministry responsibilities and authority rather than just delegating tasks.
--Identifying my strengths. Positioning myself so I'm operating out of my strengths. And, finding others who are different than me to manage around my weaknesses.
--Hiring an assistant who's not a secretary but a leader and a project manager.
--Surrounding myself with problem-solvers rather than problem-messengers.

I could go on and on, but the point here is I'm typically the problem when my day is filled with killing cockroaches. It's easy to blame the screaming person who runs into my office, but often times I'm the one that has allowed and sometimes created those urgent demands.

So, the moral of the story is this: you get to decide where your time goes. You can spend it moving forward. Or, you can spend it putting out fires. You get to decide. If you don't decide, others will decide for you. Then you, too, will be stuck reacting to the urgent. You may not be wearing a suit, but you'll be killing cockroaches. Everyday

Thursday, November 16, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- From The Mouths Of Babes

I'm nothing if not positive--positive that I'm going to succeed, positive in my walk and talk, a positive attitude 24/7. (Check out the subject of my soon-to-be-released first book, The Power of Positive Speaking, and find out how I can help you help others at!)

The impact of my perpetual positivity has rubbed off on my family--in fact, my 10-year-old son, Drew, surprised me the other day by telling me he had done some research on the Internet and found more inspirational quotes to add to my website. What really caught me off guard, among the words of Robert Schulller and Albert Einstein, was a quotation from one Andrew T. Standriff that read:
"Being positive is one of the most contagious things in the world. The best thing is that it's good to spread it."

My little philosopher. It's going up on my "Positively Yours" section right away. And I can't help but wonder how many people you might inspire every day, one kind word at a time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Talent Isn't Enough

Who are you recruiting to be your next superstar? A corporate hotshot with lots of success but lots of attitude, too? Or a dedicated insider with plenty of upside if you're willing to put the time into development? Before you make your pick, consider these quotes from the NFL today:

Maybe (I'm dropping passes) because I'm unhappy. Maybe because I'm not too much excited about what's going on, so my concentration and focus level tends to go down sometimes and I'm in a bad mood. All I can say is you put me in a good situation and make me a happy man, and you'll get good results. -- Randy Moss, former All-Pro Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders

I missed Joey (Galloway) on the first series of the game. I just over threw him. He was wide open, so I’ve got to take a look at that. Sometimes I just have to try not to do too much and just go out there and play. I just have to learn from it, get better and make those plays. -- Bruce Gradkowski, rookie quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Listen closely to the conversations around your office. Do either of these sound familiar? Which guy would you want on your team--a proven talent with a bad attitude or a 6th-round draft pick who isn't afraid to admit mistakes as he learns to succeed?

Talent isn't enough. You can have the fastest feet and the best hands...but if nobody wants to throw you the ball, you're useless.

Monday, November 13, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- The Wizard of "Ahs"

My hometown newspaper had an article on like, ah, all those, um, you know, bad speech habits. It's an interesting look at the annoying idiosyncrasies most speakers have, even during a prepared presentation. (Admission: my big problem is finishing a punch line or talking point with the word "so..." as in, "The 49ers have announced they're planning to move to a city that doesn't already have a pro football team--which means they could move to Oakland, so...")

I didn't know about my bad speech habit until one of my radio listeners mentioned to me. And that's the point of the article--it's good to have an outside observer really go over your speech with a fine tooth comb. Toastmasters use an "AH Master." Back in my high school public speaking class, Father Mott called it "The Wizard" (as in "The Wizard of Ah's".)

Whatever term you use, think about getting an accountability partner who'll gently remind you of all the ahs, ums, you knows,and likes to help keep your speaking content clean. (So...)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Is It Cheating If It's Within The Rules?

Leaders are always looking for an edge. Competition brings out gamesmanship and sometimes, the boss finds a loophole that gives your team a big advantage. think about that while you're reading about this story from USA Today that happened at last weekend's Wisconsin-Penn State game:
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema isn't a fan of college football's new speed-up-the-game rule that mandates the clock starts when a ball is kicked off rather than when it's received. But if Bielema can use the rule to his team's advantage, he will, and that's just what he did Saturday against Penn State.

With Wisconsin having just gone ahead 10-3, Bielema, 36, twice had his team intentionally go offside on kickoffs in the last 23 seconds of the first half, minimizing Penn State's chances to score. The two penalized kicks took 19 seconds off the clock and left Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 79, livid and complaining to officials.

Wisconsin athletics director and former coach Barry Alvarez said Monday that a discussion he had with Big Ten game officials during the summer helped devise the strategy.

"We had a scrimmage which was worked by a crew of Big Ten officials, and I was visiting with them and discussing how the new rule could change the game," Alvarez said. "They gave me that specific instance, so I mentioned it to Bret and the staff. I haven't been game-planning, but they have, and it makes sense to do it."

Bielema, whose team won 13-3, said Monday that while he doesn't necessarily agree with the rule, "I knew the rule and wanted to maximize it. ... It worked exactly as we envisioned it. It's something we practice. My guess is, with the attention we've received, there may be an (amendment)."

Brilliant. Wisconsin was able to hold onto victory by recognizing potential strength within a weakness in the rules. Great leaders do that--so where are the loopholes in your industry that might lead your team to victory one day?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY -- Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Why does it take people so long to say they're sorry? John Kerry joins a long list of well-known (and probably well-intentioned) names who can't seem to swallow their pride and make a simple apology.

Forget the politics, forget trying to explain what you were trying to say--you always make matters worse if you wait. Or, as in this case, you try to soften the blow by saying "I'm sorry you misunderstood" or "I apologize if I've offended anyone." That's not saying you're sorry...that's saying that anyone who was hurt by your statement is either dense or thin-skinned.

There are actual theories about the use of apology, by Kenneth Burke and Ware and Linkuegel, that list a number of rhetorical options ranging from denial to transcendence. That's fine when you're giving a Socratic reposnse to specific charges. But 21st century politics and 24-hour media cycles have changed the rules. There's talk radio and faux cable news anchors and bloggers to keep the pressure on. Today, transcendence fails, transparency perserveres.

As a media consultant, I advise my clients to face the press immediately when it becomes clear that something they said has caused a kerfuffle. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have said it. I'm sorry." There. Pretty simple. It shows respect and humility--things we all could use a little more of.