George Washington, Worthy of Praise?


Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S., a day in which we primarily celebrate our first president, George Washington. After reading the article “George Washington’s Tear Jerker” in The New York Times, one might ask, was Washington really the great leader he has been made out to be?  I asked myself that question during the summer of 2002 and began a journey to unpack truth from myth.  I went as far as contacting and speaking with Edward Lengel, the foremost historian on Washington’s generalship.  After doing my own research I wrote the following which became one of the chapters on 20 leaders in Fired Up or Burned Out.

First in Their Hearts

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Scholar at Harvard University, observed the following about George Washington: “It wasn’t his generalship that made him stand out . . . It was the way he attended to and stuck by his men. His soldiers knew that he respected and cared for them, and that he would share their severe hardships.”

To Achieve Excellence

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau

K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues famously concluded that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are required to achieve excellence and expert status.  Malcolm Gladwell popularized Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers.  What many forget is that Ericsson’s research also concluded the experts benefitted from coaching and mentoring by people who told them the truth, even when it was painful to hear.

The point here is that no one becomes great at anything without coaching and mentoring.  Do you have coaches and mentors in your life who help you learn, grow and develop into the person you want to become?  Do you want to be better at exercising and eating healthy?  Why not ask someone you know who is good in those areas to mentor you.    Do you want to be a better listener?  Ask a good listener you know to give you suggestions about how to improve.  Want to be a better parent and spouse?  Ask your children and spouse how you can improve.

Michael Lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners.  Jason Pankau is the president of Life Spring Network, a Christian ministry.  They write, speak and teach workshops on leadership and employee engagement. Michael and Jason are co-authors of the bestselling book Fired Up or Burned Out.

Coach Rex Ryan Connects with Jets


Check out this great article entitled “Channelling Churchill, Ryan Inspires His Team” on New York Jets’ football coach Rex Ryan  The article makes several important points that support the conclusion we came to from our research on leaders who produce sustainable superior performance.  Our research concluded that sustainable superior performance comes when leaders develop task excellence and relationship excellence.  Rex Ryan is doing this by connecting with his players on both emotional and rational levels. He connects rationally by communicating and leading his team to implement effective strategy and tactics.  This produces “task excellence.”  Ryan’s passion and authenticity helps him connect on an emotional level.  This helps produce “relationship excellence.” Ryan communicates simple, relevant and memorable themes with phrases such as “burn the boats” and “how dare you?” He tells memorable stories to illustrate his points.

The Jets are a decent team but not a great team, yet.  They just pulled off a big playoff win by defeating the Indianapolis Colts.  Given what I’m seeing, I expect the Jets are on the rise as Rex Ryan and team continue to develop a Connection Culture with Vision, Value and Voice.

Cancer Free, Seven Years Today

Seven years ago today, my wife Katie had surgery for advanced ovarian cancer. The prior year, Katie had surgery to remove breast cancer. Today, she is cancer free.

I wrote an essay entitled “Alone No Longer” about how setting my work aside to focus on being with and helping Katie and our daughters changed my perspective on life.  The essay has been read by many individuals who want to know how they can help people in their lives who are battling a serious illness.  The essay also challenges readers to examine their own lives to consider if they are too focused on status and achievement and insufficiently focused on relationships.  I hope you’ll take time to read “Alone No Longer,” reflect on your life and share the essay with friends who might benefit from reading it.

How Solitude Shapes Great Leaders

Take time to read this thoughtful speech entitled Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz given to this year’s plebe class at West Point. He describes how great leaders develop the courage of their convictions, which includes moral courage. Reflection, time alone with one’s thoughts, interactions with trusted friends and reading great books, as Deresiewicz says, are part of the mix.  What he didn’t adequately include is the impact of one’s experiences in life including one’s family of origin and periods of adversity and suffering that breed humility.  Despite its shortcomings, it’s a fine speech and well worth taking time to read.

Many thanks to David Books of The New York Times for bringing this thoughtful speech to my attention.  Brook’s recognized Deresiewicz’s speech as one of the best pieces of long journalism written in 2010.

Are You A Life Giver or Life Drainer?

Many thanks to my friend
Jeffrey Fry for sending me this wonderful video.  It’s encouraged me to be bolder in affirming my family members, friends and the people I meet day-to-day.

Validation, affirmation, recognition or whatever else you call it is relevant in the workplace and to life outside of work.  When I speak or teach about Connection Cultures I tell people that the need for recognition reminds me of a battery that every human being has and the plug-in to recharge the recognition battery is midway up our back and between our shoulder blades, a place we can’t reach so that we need to rely on the people around us to recharge our recognition battery. If it stays charged, we are more energized in life.  If it goes uncharged, we are drained of life.

Another point to remember is that recognition need to be genuine.   As my friend and co-author Jason Pankau says, give people sugar not saccharine (the fake stuff).

So here’s the question I’d like you to consider: are you charging or neglecting to charge the recognition batteries of the people in your life?

Shine the Light on Others

u2_wallpaper_rattle_humBono, megastar of the rock band U2, frequently shines the light on his fellow band members.  In the photo above, Bono is shining a spotlight on The Edge, U2’s legendary lead guitar player. Bono does this in a metaphorical sense too.  Bono has stated that he’s a lousy guitar and keyboards player, and that his gifted fellow band members bring to life the melodies he hears in his head. He’s also said that being around his fellow band members makes him a better human being. Furthermore, Bono has said that when one of one of his fellow band members is in need it takes precedence over the band’s music.

Are you shining the light of recognition and belonging on your family members, your friends and your colleagues at work?  Here are some actions to consider:

  • When you see someone doing something that’s admirable, be sure to let them know that you recognize it.
  • Tell your family members and friends how much and why you appreciate them.
  • When you are in a group discussion, praise others for their good ideas and opinions.
  • Send a hand-written personal note of appreciation to a family member, friend or colleague at work.
  • When a family member, friend or colleague at work is sick, send them a get well gift.
  • When a family member, friend or colleague at work has something to celebrate congratulate them.


Pixar’s Competitive Advantage? A Connection Culture


At the Technical Academy Awards ceremonies held in Hollywood, the Associated Press reported that it wasn’t the host, actress Jessica Biel, who attracted the most attention. Instead, it was an understated, bespectacled, computer engineer named Ed Catmull. When Catmull’s name was announced to receive an Oscar for his lifetime of work in computer animation, the crowd went wild, whistling and whooping. And rightly so. The impact Catmull and his collaborators have had on Hollywood may last for decades to come.

Ed Catmull is the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. He has rejected the traditional Hollywood star system and its often toxic work environment and replaced it with an environment that emphasizes community and long-term relationships. Catmull described it this way in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote: “[Pixar has] an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity…the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people…”

What is it about Pixar’s environment that attracts talented employees and helps them produce outstanding movies such as the blockbuster hits Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL-E that have made Pixar the envy of Hollywood?

Overcoming Leadership Myopia

Howard Behar and Michael Lee Stallard

American leaders need to wake up and smell the coffee. Research from two well-respected organizations makes it clear that we have a big collective blind spot that’s dragging down productivity, innovation and economic performance. Earlier this year, a Conference Board research report showed that job satisfaction is at the lowest level since the organization began measuring it more than 20 years ago. The report went on to show this has been a long-term downward trend rather than a temporary decline due to the Great Recession.

Another well-respected organization, the Corporate Executive Board, came out with a research report last year that showed 90 percent of employees are either not aligned with organizational goals or not engaged and giving their best efforts. It’s nearly impossible to pull out of difficult economic seasons when nine out of ten employees are just showing up for the paycheck. We need everyone to pull together in the same direction to lift us out of this slump. What can be done?