Questions Business Leaders Should be Asking

I've owned a small business since 1999. YourNextSpeaker, LLC (www.yournextspeaker.com) is a company focused on building the leadership and presentation skills of individuals via the delivery of keynotes, workshops, coaching sessions and online and offline content. We have created hundreds of opportunities that have impacted over one-million audience members across the United States, Mexico, and Canada. It has been a meaningful, challenging, complex, stress-filled, memorable and fun journey.

The most challenging element of running a training, speaking and coaching business continues to be how to find, understand, serve and build relationships and trust with clients. We regularly ask ourselves a set of critical questions and strive to find new and creative answers to each. This list includes, but is not limited to:
  • What do we need to streamline?
  • What resources do we need to create, invest in more purposefully, strengthen or change?
  • Who are key decision-makers we need to reach?
  • What products or services do we need to stop, pause, improve, change and/or begin delivering?
  • What constitutes a best client?
  • What clients do we need to start saying no or not right now to because they are not a good fit for us today?
  • Who are our primary competitors and what can we learn from their approach and/or techniques?
  • What are our GREAT goals?
    • Gels with values
    • Real benefit
    • Exact
    • Accountability
    • Tenacity/Timely
  • What do we define as streams profitable income?
  • How do we improve profitability by limiting expenses, growing income, managing inventory, fostering relationships, improving team skills and maximizing business opportunities?
Review this list and make certain you have a process in place where you and your leadership team keep your focus on information that matters most to your business today and in the future. Let me know when we can help.


Get Your Team in Gear

One of the most important jobs of a leader is working hard to get the best performance out of your team. This seems easier for some people than others, but it is always a moving target.  Performance can always improve in big and/or small ways. Our task as leaders is to communicate expectations, help individuals understand where they are today in relation to these goals and then invest time and resources coaching, training, educating and motivating each team member to shrink the gap between the two.

How do we help our team bring their best performance every day? Much of it depends on the type of work, the struggles faced every day, the reward for success, etc.  No matter where your team is headed, the following parts must be in the engine or there is little to zero chance even your best team members will be able to sustain over the long-haul.

Get Your Team in Gear:

1. Help each team member understand how to measure his/her output. Not being able to measure performance is one of the major signs of a horrible job.

2. Communicate your expectations of every input he/she brings to the table:  attitude, work ethic, skills, talents, experience, relationship building, problem solving, creativity, optimism, etc. It is very difficult to know if I'm giving my best when I don't know what "best" means to my boss, supervisor, manager, leader, investors, etc.

3. Meet with each team member on a regular basis (monthly, four times a year, etc.) to discuss goals and performance.  Discuss successes, struggles, sources of struggles, observations, their observations and suggestions for improvement. Call these "employee evaluations" if you'd like. Just don't call them rare.

4. Be ready to have a difficult conversation if you find performance doesn't equal expectations. It is surprising how much productivity is lost just because a boss doesn't want to struggle through having a tough conversation with someone.

5. When you notice accomplishment, communicate it based on how that person prefers.  If you know they enjoy public recognition, do it in a group setting.  If you know they are more private, do it on a one-on-one basis. Recognition for good work is one of the common signs of a great job.

6. Invest resources in helping them grow, professionally and personally. Same here.

7. From time to time, check to make sure each team member feels like they are being able to use their strengths at work.  Even when compensation is high and work is enjoyable to most, when someone is doing work he/she believes doesn't fit their personality or core skill set, this can be a major source of demotivation. We as leaders can't expect someone to give his/her best when his/her best work is not even being asked to be brought to the table.

8. Create experiences where your team can create memories together.  It is amazing how performance improves when there is a strong sense of community, friendship and shared investment.


Forget Virtual Assistants, Hire a Virtual Coach

This is a guest post by Jeff Popoff Reading time: 3.0 minutes (1800 words @ 600 wpm[1])


  • As busy professionals we face continuous pressure to get more done in less time.
  • Technology that makes us more productive also increases our pace of business.
  • Could the next generation of virtual assistants or virtual coaches be right for you?
Are you ready to take the virtual step?

I Was A Coaching Addict

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I learned the hard way that the old saying is true:
"Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement."
I was frustrated by the costs of making mistakes. Especially by the amount of time my mistakes consumed. There had to be a better way. Eventually it dawned on me that I could leverage other people’s skills and expertise and save myself time and money. I discovered the world of coaching. Once I realized that coaches could help me achieve disproportionate gains, I became a bit of a coaching addict (or maybe a lot).

yeah, I overdid it again 
Yeah, I overdid it again

In the beginning, I started out modestly using coaches to help me improve my triathlon technique for the swim, bike, and run (thank you B.Gibbs, B.Chortek, T.Laughlin, Dr. Romanov, J.Friel, D.Scott). Later I branched out and used coaches in weightlifting, nutrition, and executive health (thanks Mehdi, D.McGuff, M.Sisson). Encouraged by my gains from athletic performance coaching, I experimented with a speaking coach and life coach (thanks Beth and Robyn). I have used dozens of business coaches (special thanks to Zig, Lucas, and Ramit) and even a coach for relocation (to the UK) and another for international business practices (China, India, Switzerland). I received coaching on raising venture capital, for hedge funding investing, and even how to do an IPO-roadshow (RKN.TO). I’ve used meditation coaching for stress (Adya) and completed a 12-step program to overcome my poor empathy skills (thank you Sean and CR). Today I coach a handful of start ups[2], receive ongoing peer coaching from a Mastermind[3] group, and use a supervision coach for my own coaching practice. So what’s the bottom line? In my personal development and performance, coaching has yielded a disproportionate return on investment (ROI). Other individuals report a median ROI of 3.44 times their coaching investment. At the corporate level, companies including IBM, Nike, Verizon and Coca-Cola Enterprises, report a median ROI of seven times their coaching investment.[4]

What is Virtual Coaching and What’s New?

Traditionally, individual coaching is done face-to-face and is usually confined to a fixed setting. Now that technologies like smart phones and wireless Internet can replicate the functions of an in-person session, face-to-face coaching is evolving to virtual coaching. Geographical locations and fixed schedules are no longer barriers because virtual coaching can be done via phone, video conference, email, SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceBook and a myriad of other apps.

text therapy

Current Market and Technology Trends

As a reformed angel investor[5] from Silicon Valley it is second nature for me to spot trends within trends. The mobile web trend was overtaken by smart phone apps, and now apps stand poised to be overtaken by on-demand virtual assistants that use any messaging channel. Why load your device up with dozens of specific apps, when it’s easier to just message what you want? New start ups like Operator, Magic, Swell, Alfred, Zirtual, Kit and others are innovating the interface for next-gen on-demand services for both consumers and business users. Behind the curtain there is a mix of humans and artificial intelligence (think Apple’s Siri) working on your request. Their goal provide you a concierge-like experience, like having your very own virtual assistant. In addition to the above mentioned virtual assistants, the next generation of virtual coaches are emerging as well. For instance, Talkspace – the all-you-can-text therapy start up – just raised a hefty new round of $9.5 million in financing.[6]. Vida – who connects consumers with coaches and doctors – announced Series A funding of $5 million.[7] Health coaching start up Sessions was acquired by MyFitnessPal.[8] Clarity.fm provides on-demand business advice to entrepreneurs. Mindbloom ‘crowdsources’ life coaching services from your group of friends. The list goes on. Of course, this ‘virtual’ trend will have both winners and losers. For instance Google closed its Helpouts service in April 2015.[9]
a coach can help you aim higher
A coach can help you aim higher

What a (Virtual) Coach Can And Can’t Do

Before diving deeper into virtual coaching, let’s taking a moment to recap how coaching fits into the broader scheme.[10]
  • Therapists (psychiatrists, psychologists or counsellors) focus on healing dysfunction from the past.
  • Consultants assess organizations, provide information, and implement solutions in the present.
  • Mentors are experienced role-models and act as advisers to someone with less experience.
  • Coaches focus on future performance and use questions to improve self-awareness, behaviors, and skills.
coach v therapist

Many aspects of coaching will remain the same whether it is done in-person or virtually, such as:
  • Finding the right coach for your situation.
  • Setting your performance or development goals.
  • On-going dialogue and feedback.
  • Committing to work on your self-improvement.
  • Accepting that coaching may be uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, some factors become more important in virtual coaching versus in-person coaching. Non-verbal communication cues such as body language have to be read through tone of voice or choice of words. A virtual coach has to be able discern attitude through a video call, read between the lines in text message or email, and watch for subtle clues in Facebook or WhatsApp response patterns. Other differences to bear in mind are:
  • Building a trusted bond with a virtual coach may take a bit more concentration.
  • Virtual coaching is a two-way dialogue. It’s a process, not a one-way Tweet to ‘fix it’.
  • Multitasking during a virtual session will reduce its benefits to you.[11]
  • Virtual communications usually occur in smaller bursts. Be careful not to lose the depth or context of the issue being discussed.
  • Virtual coaching sessions are more flexible than “office hours”, but a regular frequency is important to keep momentum (every 2 weeks on average is optimal).[12]

Is Virtual Coaching Right For You?

Which produces a better ROI, a virtual assistant or a virtual coach?
  • Virtual Assistants are a great way to outsource logistics and tactical items.
  • Virtual Coaches are an effective way to increase your performance using mindset and behaviors.
[Photo credit: Got Credit]
Calculate your virtual return on investment[/caption]Which brings us back to the question of ROI.
  • In my experience, virtual assistants yield a linear ROI
    • X dollars buys back Y amount of my time.
  • On the other hand, I find that coaches (virtual or otherwise) give me a disproportionate ROI.
    • X dollars spent produces XY results.
    • The reason why is simple: performance gains made with a coach compound continuously over time.

Coaching Checklist

Admittedly, coaching is not for everyone and information technology is not a panacea. Before deciding if virtual coaching is right for you, first make sure you are on board with the coaching fundamentals:
  1. What is your objective?
    • Are you improving your performance or your mindset? Do you want to overcome limiting behaviors or habits?
  2. Is your coach good match for you?
    • Do you trust them and their references? Can they also act as your mentor? (bring relevant expertise to the table).
  3. What is your commitment?
    • Are you prepared to put in the time, energy and work between coaching sessions to achieve new levels of success?
  4. Are you coachable?
    • Are you willing to do things differently and break away from your patterns that produce average results? Will you hold yourself accountable to your coach and your agreed actions?
coach stats

Virtual Coaching Checklist

  1. The number one factor to consider in virtual coaching is your level of technology savvy. Are you comfortable doing video conferencing or instant messaging by yourself or do you require IT support?[13]
  2. Does it fit your personality type? Studies show that introverts tend to perform well in electronic conversations, and even prefer a healthy distance over face-to-face conversations.[14] (Note: If your goal is to develop your interpersonal skills, this medium is not congruent with that goal).
  3. Can you build bonds and express yourself easily in writing? Aside from audio and video, much of your communication with your coach will be in asynchronous text.[15]
  4. Can your coach keep up with you? Can they follow your train of thought as you shift between phone, text, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter DM, and a myriad of other apps? Response times and availability are key factors when coaching across multiple time zones and geographies. Is your coach available 7 days a week? Do they offer a guaranteed response time for communications between scheduled sessions?
As I confessed from the start, I am a believer in the benefits of coaching and its exciting to see technology extending these benefits to busy people on the go. I hope you found this article useful, and would appreciate it if you commented below with your thoughts and suggestions.

About the Author

  • Jeff is a successful executive who has served as Vice President in a Fortune 500 company as well as several Silicon Valley startups. He has been a guest speaker at UCLA Anderson and Berkeley Haas and is a graduate of Harvard PON and Stanford GSB.[16]
  • He has figured out how to increase individual business performance using better health in less time. Warning: Unintended side effects include looking better and living longer.
  • You can learn how at The Healthy Executive.
before and after I became a health coach
Before and after I became an executive health coach

  1. Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes
  2. SpartUp Accelerator
  3. 7 Reasons To Join A Mastermind Group, Forbes
  4. ICF Global Coaching Client Study
  5. Jeff’s profile on AngelList
  6. Text therapy startup raises $9.5 million, CNN Money
  7. Mobile health startup Vida, Silicon Valley Business Journal
  8. Digital Health Coaching Startup Acquired, Fast Company
  9. Google Helpouts is Shutting Down, Forbes
  10. Harvard Business Review Research Report
  11. The Myth of Multitasking, C.Rosen
  12. Coaching Frequency Study, Coaching Research Institute
  13. p.295 Advancing Executive Coaching, Gina Hernez-Broome, Lisa A. Boyce, 2010
  14. Hubschman 1996, Hamilton & Scandura 2003
  15. Giadagno & Caildini, 2002
  16. Jeff’s credentials on LinkedIn here and Facebook here.

photo credits: Defining targets differently via photopin (license), [ROI photo: Got Credit]


The Secrets to Masterfully Answering Interview Questions

The following strategies are the bedrock of great interview answers:

1.  TALK IN A CONVERSATIONAL TONE.  Q&A is essentially a formal conversation.  Without being too casual (using slang, filler words, etc.), be conversational with your answers.  Change the pace of your voice.  Look the interviewer or panel members directly in the eye.  Don't worry about saying the exact right thing.  If you say something that needs adjusted, do so.  Back up and say it again the right way.  If you need to, talk about the process. IE - "that is a great question", "I have studied that subject for two years now, but the answer to that question is escaping me at the moment."

2.  ANSWER IN LIST FORM.  This strategy is especially important because the individual(s) interviewing you probably have interviewed many other people just before you.  They are in information overload mode.  This is also a valuable tactic if you tend to ramble during your answers, which can happen to even a seasoned pro.  List form is exactly what the name implies.  As the question is being asked, you quickly think of two or three answers.  When you begin your answer, you say something similar to, "There are three great ways to answer your question."  And then you take them through the three answers. This is effective because if gives your answer structure (to keep you from rambling) and it helps the interviewer(s) have a clear and concise method for following your answer.

3. USE AN ANCHOR WORD OR PHRASE.  If the answer doesn't demand length, try the anchor word or phrase strategy. This is where you begin with one word or phrase that most accurately sums up your answer.  Then you give one or two supporting points.  Most times simple and brief will be received better than detailed and extravagant.

4. TELL STORIES.  This is essential if you want to be remembered and want to most effectively communicate your ideas and experiences.  Great story-telling demonstrates a depth of knowledge, an attention to detail and it gives your answers faces and places the judges can relate to quickly. Remember to give your story meaning by tightly connecting the story to their question quickly.

Interview coaching for many different situations is a core service we provide.  Drop us a call (405.517.7385) or a note (rhett (at) yournextspeaker.com) to learn more about how we can help you sharpen this valuable skill.


Get Your Marketing Wheels in Gear

Marketing Questions Your Team Should Be Discussing Regularly:
  1. Are we dedicating enough time to creating new marketing ideas?
  2. What is a marketing strategy that works better than it seems like it should?
  3. How are we deciding who is in our target market?
  4. What is our best marketing tool and why?
  5. What is our most cost-effective marketing tool?
  6. How are we deciding which media outlets to use?
  7. How are we capturing and using comments from satisfied customers?
  8. How are we measuring the success of marketing strategies?
  9. How has our marketing changed over the past few years?
  10. What is the source of our largest frustration related to marketing?
  11. What company or organization has the best (coolest, most creative, most cost-effective, etc.) marketing ideas?  Why?
  12. What marketing tool or strategy do we need to stop using?

Marketing Ideas to Consider:
  • All great marketing starts with a great product or service to market.  Be great.
  • Value people first, excellent work second, everything else third.
  • Understand the most influential drivers that bring business in, bring business back and drive business away.
  • Stay connected with and bring surprise value to your "Torchbearer 23 List" - 23 contacts that carry the torch for you and/or your business. (Read more about Torchbearers below.)  Never ask them for anything, though.  Just stay connected and serve his/her needs when you can.
  • Learn where, when and how to start customer relationships.
  • Learn where, when and how your competition is starting customer relationships.
  • Make the most of your raving fans.
  • Foster relationships that will lead to piggy-back, plan B, or other ways to provide value-added options for new customers.
  • Create brainstorming moments with your team: Assign an unbiased discussion leader, capture everything, no filters, no initial judgments, pick one or two ideas to try on at low-cost. 

Brainstorming Rules:
  • Schedule periodic brainstorming sessions to keep a steady flow of ideas flowing.
  • Have an unbiased discussion leader who is in charge of keeping the discussion going.
  • Capture everything.  Flip-chart ideas in the moment.  Take a picture of each one when the session is over and save those images for later.
  • No filtering of ideas - no matter the cost, the legality, the chance of success, etc.  
  • Keep initial judgments quiet.  There will be a time to give pros and cons.  A brainstorming session is not that time.
  • At the end of the session, pick a few low to no-cost ideas and try them on.  Also, pick a few that will require resources to implement and make sure those ideas live to be discussed another day.

A Torchbearer:
  1. Thirsty for helping company/organization grow.
  2. Owns a strong allegiance.
  3. Values and fosters relationships.
  4. Gains part of identity from organization.
  5. Clearly understands his/her role.
  6. Knows and believes in company/organization's core values.
  7. Speaks positively about the organization, it's leadership and it's members.

These ideas were shared as part one of a three-part series of business development seminars I presented for the BBB Serving Central Oklahoma on May 20, 2015.  Learn more about the series and value the BBB can bring to your business here.


How to Improve Your Quality of Life: The Three Actions That Matter

It is an age-old story. It happens to be mine now. I was given a brain tumor. The amazing UT Southwestern surgeons and staff in Dallas removed it totally in September 2014 and it was benign. I am one of the fortunate ones. I actually see carrying a tumor as a gift because of the way it changed my view of how our quality of life is created. As a 20-year veteran speaker/trainer, you just don't experience major changes like this very often.

Today I will introduce the three life actions this blog will focus on over the next few weeks. I challenge you to begin developing your quality of life by looking at how you are doing in these three areas:

1. Let go of the little. 

2. Protect your core. 

3. Strengthen your best.

(Download these in image or PDF format.)

The first one, let go of the little, seems trite, but shows up in so many crevasses in your life. A rare quality of life is grounded in big, meaningful elements being in place. However, it is also created by having the ability to know what needs your attention and focus and what doesn't. How purposeful are you at letting go of the little distractions and irritations that create unnecessary stress and tension? One of the secrets we are going to look at is that it matters less what gets to you. What matters is how you respond. 

The second one, protect your core, is about taking care of what makes you you. I need to invest time and resources being a solid Christian, husband, father, friend and speaker because that is who I am. How much time are you investing in the areas that define who you are? Your quality of life is grounded in who you are at the core and how authentically you excel in those areas. I am going to help you discover if and how even small disconnects might be hurting your quality of life's health.

Strengthen your best speaks directly to your ability to create value for others. This third life action is about service. How much time and effort do you invest creating value for others? This one is not about inspiration or motivation. It is a tangible, action-based challenge that creates a significant difference in your quality of life through the act of significantly improving the quality of life of others. We can only live with a rare quality of life once we purposefully desire to serve others and then act on that desire daily.

These three concepts are where we will spend our time over the next few weeks. Please visit often. I look forward to your comments, questions and the opportunity to help you create meaningful changes. 

Questions to journal and work on:

  • How purposeful are you at letting go of the little distractions and irritations that create unnecessary stress and tension?
  • How much time are you investing in the areas that define who you are?
  • How much time and effort do you invest creating value for others?


What My Brain Tumor Did For You

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 from 7:30 am to 2 pm I was out and my skull was wide open. Dr. Barnett and his exceptional team in Dallas at UT Southwestern were taking out the golf ball-sized brain tumor I had behind my left eye for years. I learned much from the month-long journey leading up to that room. This morning I am a 20-year professional trainer/speaker only seven days after brain surgery and I am amazed at how I have changed.

My perspective has changed regarding the most important concepts dictating quality of life. The purpose of this blog over the next few weeks will be to share this short list. My goal is to help you improve your quality of life using lessons I have experienced going through this journey. I am going to help you create a rare quality of life based on a list of three life actions. Please check back often and let's see where we can go together.

My brain tumor has been thankfully removed and was diagnosed benign. There is much for you to learn from my experience.


Skill Assessment: Joys and Discomforts of a New Leadership Position

Congratulations.  You have been promoted to a management position you have been hoping to receive for quite some time.  You have set goals, worked hard, kept your nose clean, excelled in your former positions and you finally made it.  Now, the hard work begins.  How do you motivate your staff to give their best?  How do you help your team see you as a team leader (when you have been a peer up until now)?  How do you manage your time to accommodate all the extra tasks on your plate?  How do you make decisions like a leader?  How do you coach people?  How do you let people know they have to be let go?

You certainly need more education and experience to handle all of these situations.  It does matter.  The number one reason why people leave a job is because their boss did not know how to lead.  The quality of the boss/leader/supervisor/manager/team leader is one of the single most influential elements on the quality of life in a workplace.  You want (and need) to be in the category of “great boss.”  I encourage you to be very self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader and work to develop in your areas of need.

Today we will look at five behaviors of effective new leaders that are vital to their success by looking at Julie.  She has just been promoted to a new management position at a bank and is doing a great job.  Her team trusts her.  She is sending her division of the bank in the right direction.  How is Julie accomplishing this?  Following are five insights:

1. Julie let go of the thoughts and processes she had as a team member. She learned quickly how to put decisions, emails, conversations, etc. through the filter of leadership. Her experience as a team member is certainly beneficial. However, decisions as a team leader can be more complex, weighty and require a more measured approach.

2. She asks questions when necessary. Julie understands that she was not hired to be perfect and because she knew everything. She was hired because she was an exceptional team member and because she had the potential to be a highly trusted leader. Julie looks for opportunities to sharpen her leadership skills.

3. Julie knew going in to the position that there would be push back from two groups of people – those individuals she used to be team members with and those individuals on her new team with more experience and/or age. She focuses on not taking offense to these dynamics, nor does she allow them to apply unnecessary stress on her work life. She takes every push back, big or small, in the proper context and stays focus on the work at hand.

4. Julie expects to have to continue to earn trust. She does not assume that her position included an instantly high trust level from everyone. This allows her to lead by example – working harder than her team, showing up early, leaving late, sticking to commitments, etc. She maintains her work-home life balance; being a leader doesn't equal zero home life. However, she is a living example of the old saying that no leader should ask his/her followers to do anything they are not willing to do also.

5. She was a likable, personable person before the promotion, but has worked hard to increase these traits. She forgives first, trusts others quickly, replies to requests of her time/attention quickly, listens actively, doesn't make other people fight for her time/attention, encourages and builds up her team genuinely and often, coaches her team members in privacy, and is a source of optimism in the office, etc. Julie is a meaningful source of joy for not only her team, but for the bank as a whole.

I experienced push-back from my co-workers when I took one of my first jobs soon after college.  I had a Senior Director position and two of the Directors (less pay, but more experience and older) actually set me down individually to let me know I had no say over what they did.  It was a rude awakening to work life as a team leader, but I didn't let it tarnish my excitement or my commitment and passion to providing great leadership for that office.  Congratulations on your new position.  There aren't many parts of professional life more meaningful or significant than being a leader others want to follow.


RELAX: Five Steps to Stress Management

My newest keynote/breakout session content focuses on stress.  What it is, how it impacts us and what we can do to make the most of it. The program is titled RELAX and is based on five actions we need to take to ensure stress is helping us, not hurting us in both our personal and professional lives.  

Before we look at the five actions, let's cover some basics.  Stress is one of the responses your body triggers when it is under pressure.  The basic principle of the RELAX program is that we can control what stresses us and how we respond to stress.  Stress can improve our quality of life or be detrimental to it. These five actions below are designed to help you respond positively to stress.

(Click here for a RELAX poster to print and display.)

Reset to normal - When we are under fire, our mind-set influences everything.  Stress is a physical response and works automatically in most situations. Our first goal in a stressful situation is to make sure we control our mindset by resetting to normal thought patterns as quickly as possible.  Leave the room, put your thoughts on something else, take a five-minute break, etc.  These tactics clear our mind to think about next steps.

End in mind - Stressful situations force us to have tunnel vision and only see what is right in front of us creating the frustration.  You need to break this habit by putting your thoughts on the goal, project completion, change, etc. that you are trying to achieve.  Keeping this end in mind will remind you of the value and purpose for the stress you are under.  Tell yourself that the stress might be bad right now, but it is worth it for the greater goal.  RELAX is not about chilling out.  RELAX is about taking positive action under stress and creating an environment where you are fueled by stress, not defeated.

Listen to stress - One of your most important tasks during a stressful situation is to become self-aware of what type of stress you are under.  Not all stress is bad and everyone responds to stress (no matter what it is created by) in different ways.  Giving presentations is a great example.  Many people get negatively stressed out thinking about and giving presentations.  However, this is a choice they are making.  Thousands of people give presentations every day and view the stress as positive. Listen to your stress, examine it and then decide if how you are responding is based on the condition of the stress, the situation or you.

Acknowledge what works - Choosing to respond positively to stress is the grounding principle behind RELAX.  Figure out what works for you and make it habit to repeat those actions, thoughts, etc.  These might include listening to great music, going to the movies, taking a day-trip with your family, positive self-talk (more important than people realize), playing golf, reading a good book, etc.  Acknowledge what works for you and stay disciplined to it.

Xpress needs - Life is a team sport and so is RELAX.  Stress can damage our quality of life in many ways, but a common way is preventing us from sharing our needs with those around us - family members, friends, co-workers, etc.  Make sure you express your feelings and thoughts with a close ally that can help you keep things in perspective and remind you to RELAX.

Contact me if you have a future conference, retreat or team training where you think my RELAX keynote/breakout session would be a great addition.  Thank you.


Ten Vital Leadership Questions

Ask yourself the following ten questions (one per PLI Essential) to check your leadership pulse:

  • Vision - What am I doing today to be where I need to be in 5 years? 
  • Integrity - How am I helping my team trust me?
  • Innovativeness - What are the challenges I am facing today that require more "solution thinking"? 
  • Wise Judgment - Who do I consult with before making major decisions? 
  • Service Mindedness - Do I model volunteerism in my life? 
  • Goal Processing - Do I have challenging goals that stretch and grow my abilities? 
  • Skill Assessment - What is my core strength and have I put myself in the position to do that everyday?
  • Emotional Maturity - Do I handle struggles and failures with grace and a growth attitude?
  • Fostering Relationships - Am I working daily to improve the health of my most important relationship? 
  • Masterful Communication - Do I listen to others with focus?

Print this list and write your answers in a journal.  Work to identify goal areas where you need to adjust behavior to improve your leadership effectiveness.  Good luck.


Fostering Relationships: What Clicks Reveal About Human Nature

Clicks (using this spelling instead of cliques) aren't bad. Using clicks as leverage for negative peer pressure is. Clicks exist in schools and businesses for some very basic reasons and leaders within these groups should learn how to leverage them for good.

Why do clicks exist?

1. We are pack-minded people. We desire to be around people who think like us, dress like us and believe in the same things we do.

2. We like to know the rules and have those we hang out with know (and follow) them also. It gives a sense of grounded-ness.

3. We defend what is ours. Clicks define who we are. They hold truths about the individuals within them. If we will fight and defend anything it is our beliefs and our identity.

4. We fear the unknown. This is the source of many "click-battles". If I'm operating from a known set of behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, when I come across someone who doesn't operate from the same set of rules, there is a sense of mystery about what that person or group will do or say. This is retaliated against often in hostile, negative and even violent ways.

Leaders operating within a click need to understand these basics of human nature and discover ways to work effectively within them. Following are a few ideas on how to do that.

1. Operate from a home base of understanding and curiosity. Learn what makes them click (pun intended) and be ok with it.

2. Educate your click on how to overcome fear-based and negative tendencies. You can rarely help people lose these as an initial reaction to opposing or different clicks, but you can help your crew understand the value of not taking negative action on these tendencies.

3. Stick to your values and beliefs, but work to not belittle the values and beliefs of others. Different does not always equal wrong.

4. Work to educate other clicks on the positive reasons why your click exists and why you hold true to your ways. However, don't expect them to agree with you or change their ways. There is much truth to the approach of "agreeing to disagree".


Wise Judgement: You Can Only Choose One

1. Your house is on fire.
2. You have a spouse (in their 20s like you) and three children. John is five and in perfect health. Susan is one and in perfect health. JoAnn is three and has a rare blood disease that prevents her from walking.
3. You can only save yourself and one person.
4. Who do you save?

This extreme dilemma is tragic, no matter the outcome. It also serves to highlight five decision-making elements high-level leaders must understand how to deal with.

1. The facts can't be changed.
Reality is the home field of leaders great at making critical decisions. Things are complicated enough: creating a reality-distortion field isn't prudent. This requires facing the hard truths head-on, being disciplined to gather facts from all necessary input streams and not using assumptions or (even experienced) opinions to fill in too many gaps.

2. Every decision has a downside.
Decisions create tension and silos. High-level leaders are naturally equipped, trained and/or emotionally prepared to deal with both the upsides and the downsides of decisions. Be ready to handle them by expecting the downsides, preparing accordingly and not letting fear sway the decisions that must be made.

3. Some people will benefit from your decision and some won't.
Trying to keep everyone happy will not fully satisfy anyone. Many times tough decisions involve picking sides. Success in this area requires being diplomatic with both. Don't get too cozy with the winning side and talk openly and directly with the other side. You can't expect to have the losing side to like you right then, but you should strive to demonstrate your logic and reasons to earn (or rebuild) respect, trust and credibility.

4. Your beliefs/values will guide you.
One of the most important benefits of being clear, resolute and convicted of your beliefs and values is they provide a firm guide for critical decisions. Of course, the secret is to be disciplined to follow your beliefs and values, but you must have them first. Set beliefs and values that you firmly believe in and that can serve as an inspiration for those around you. High-level leaders don't have the luxury of following mediocre beliefs and values.

5. As the leader, you carry the burden of making the decisions.
True leadership is not easy.  It is demanding, challenging and weighs heavy.  Accept this burden and take it for those who can not.  Never use the high-pressure as an excuse for poor decisions and never hold others ransom with it. Carry it freely as the price you pay for stepping up and arming yourself with the traits, skills and expertise necessary to make the tough decisions for those around you.

(What decision would you make in the situation above and why?  Comment below.)


Integrity: The Lance Armstrong Lesson

It is very simple. He doped. He lied. He personally hurt people to protect his lies. He finally told the truth.

Lance Armstrong has now joined the ranks of Pete Rose, OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens and many other sport celebrities whose personal failures (yes, choosing to use performance enhancing drugs is a personal decision) out-weigh their sporting achievements.

Lance Armstrong is someone who should not, today or ever, be held up as a model for anything other than a perfect case study of how far someone will go to protect their reputation and win at virtually any cost.

What about his foundation, Livestrong, improving the lives of millions of cancer survivors and family members? Does this (as has been stated by many people in the sporting world) hold up his moral character to a certain degree?  In my opinion, no. He is not making a personal decision every day to improve people's lives. His foundation does. It is their mission and the people working for the foundation care deeply about it.  He invested years making personal decisions to dope, lie about it, hurt others to protect his lie and stand behind that lie for as long as he could.

The Lesson

The lesson here is simple, as well. Leaders must protect people's trust above all else. Without it, nothing else really works.

Lance Armstrong is, and forever will be, a leader.  He has and will continue to influence millions of people through his cycling fame, cancer struggles and foundation work. However, he chose to make personal decisions that undermined his credibility, integrity, moral standing, and trust with everyone he will associate with for the rest of his life. 

Was he in a high-pressure, high-stakes world in elite cycling? Yes.
Did he think doping was justified because it was common place in competitive cycling? Yes.
Was his stature in the cycling world and the humanitarian world going to crumble if he told the truth? Yes.
Will his position, influence, power and abilities as a leader ever have strength and merit again? Sadly, no.


Fostering Relationships: Five Essential Skills

We invested fully this weekend with 500+ young leaders working on one thing only - helping them to understand how to be better at relationships. We covered many topics and worked on many areas. However, the following five lessons are the relationship techniques that will stick to their ribs for many days to come.

Five Essential Relationship Skills

1. Don't make people fight for your time and attention. Quickly and easily put your focus on others. When they share something with you, be impressed, encourage them, lift them up, etc. Don't fall into any of these three categories: Know It All, Always Better Than Others, or Indifferent About Others.

2. Talk up about others not in the room. Stephen Covey says this is one of the most powerful way to build trust with people in the room. A foundation of trust is an essential building block for healthy relationships.

3. Follow-through. People who stick to commitments are always in high-demand. Learn to say yes only to those meetings, projects and commitments that you are fairly sure you can keep. I'd rather you say no to me early than no to me late.

4. Share smiles with many. Share frustrations with one. People who are great at relationships understand this principle. Look for, celebrate, cultivate and share the good spaces in life. When you have gripes, whines, complaints, etc., share them with your closest people only. That's one of the responsibilities of being a close family member or friend. We are called to be the proverbial shoulder.

5. Forgive first. This last one is the heaviest. True forgiveness is never earned. It is given freely with heroic effort. If you have someone who has broke trust with you in any way and you are waiting for them to earn your forgiveness, you will be waiting forever. Forgiveness only works truly when you decide to pay the debt for them and take that burden off your heart. It's one of the rarest and most powerful relationship acts.

You can tell the running theme here is taking personal responsibility for the condition of your relationships. This is how any great team works - each individual investing fully and personally working hard to make it great. As your relationships go, so goes your quality of life. Make them great.


Vision: 4,543 Words of Great Leadership

Guest post by Ryan Underwood @teamtri_CEO

Politics and a presidential election is such an interesting time for those in leadership development. It's one of the few times so many of us stop and pay attention to just the idea of leadership, what it is, what it isn't and the impact of it.

If this election season has you interested in leadership, pause for a moment and read one of the greatest leadership reads around. It’s just four pages. It’s co-authored by 55 of the most talented minds America has ever known. It’s EPIC. It’s 4,543 of gripping awesomeness we call the Constitution.

I love that our Founding Father's made us stop every four years and assess who is running our nation. It's good to stop and evaluate. You can decide if you’re on the right path or need to make a course correction. I wonder if that's why high school is four years or a bachelors degree takes four years…so at the end of that time you can stop and assess? While you’re assessing for the next few weeks who should lead our nation, stop and assess how the president of YOU is doing and if you need to stay on track or change directions.

I love that our Founding Fathers started the Constitution with "We the People."  Our future has always been more about what "we" do rather than what "they" do. We worry about who lives in the People's House when the Founders knew that America's success was more about the leaders and people living in your house.

I love that our Constitution outlines our principles as a nation…justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty. Have you established your principles?  What do you stand for? Have you defined them or have you allowed others to define them for you?

I love that our Constitution wasn't perfect.  55 talented minds wrote it, but only 39 actually agreed with the final product enough to sign it. And, even then we've amended it 27 times. You are not perfect. Leaders are not perfect. There’s nothing wrong with expecting things to be perfect—it makes us strive harder to be our best. But, in reality, the key is to fail forward; to fall ahead; to strive for perfection and fall short with just awesome. Where do you stand? Do you line up with the 16 negatrons that didn't get perfect and took their ball and went home? Or do you line up with the 39 people who pushed ahead and said, “it’s not perfect, but, it’s still pretty awesome” and changed the world? Will you just sit there and complain about how your life is going, or will you stop, realize you can amend you at any time, and lead a better life?

I love that our Constitution has three basic qualifications to become President: be at least 35; be born in the U.S.; and, while it’s not specifically noted, you have to decide to do it. Hundreds of millions of people could be President:
  • A “C” student (President Bush)
  • A guy whose federal experience was serving 4 out of 6 years in the Senate (President Obama)
  • A guy who was the Governor of a state half the size of San Bernardino County in CA (Candidate Romney)

Like this election, the world comes down to a few types of people: decided, undecided, and those who will just sit it out. If you are in the last two categories chances are your life is being led by those who have decided and you complain a lot. But, it doesn't have to stay that way. You can decide any day to lead your life…and…you don’t have to be 35 and where you were born makes no difference either!

In the end, you are the President of YOU. Will you stop and assess your leadership? Are you more concerned about what happens in someone else’s house or your own? Do you have your principles? Do you realize that you are not perfect, but are perfect enough? Will you decide?

If you've still got questions, take a moment and read 4,543 words…it’s just four pages. It built the greatest nation in the history of the world. Perhaps there is an answer in there that can inspire you. 


Fostering Relationships: A Quick Study in Teamwork

The following five questions/answers contain the top lessons I teach audiences about effective teamwork. Cross-reference these with your life and examine how you can improve the positive contributions you make to your teams (family, friends, work, school, etc.)

Why is becoming an effective team player important?
  1. Life is a team sport.
  2. When our teams are good, life is good.
  3. People need great people-people around them to give their best.
What is the definition of effective teamwork?
Effective teamwork occurs when each individual clearly understands how their core strength plays a valuable role in the team accomplishing its shared goals.
What are the common traits of great teams?
  1. A trusted leader.
  2. An agreed upon goal.
  3. An agreed upon decision-making system.
  4. The creation and revisiting of big memories.
  5. Each individual engaging a core strength.
What are the common traits of great team members?
  1. Intensely focused on their work, trusts others, are trustworthy and therefore creates an environment where there is low drama and high trust.
  2. Optimistic and create the impossible by focusing on solutions and the positive.
  3. Identify, put into action and develop habits that create an environment of encouragement, excellence and high expectatIons.
  4. Skilled at maximizing change and solving problems by seeing things differently and getting to the true core of challenges.
How can you help team mates give their best?
  • L.E.A.D. - Look for, Encourage, Appreciate and Draw out the best of others. How most people treat you is based on who you are to them, the environment your interactions are in & how you treat them. Make them good.
  • Be a lover of what other people are doing. Be Interested. Make someone else feel more important than they think they are and you instantly become more important to them.
  • Build up others when they aren't around. Stephen Covey said, "A great way to build trust with those in the room is to talk up those not in the room."


Goal Processing: Time Management Pillars of Success

You either manage your time or it manages you.  Simple as that.  Time is one of the most commonly used excuses for poor performance (at home and at work). Not enough of it, not allocated properly, not in control of it, etc. It is so commonly used that it is widely accepted as truth. And many times these excuses are truth. Not because of the realities of time, but because of our poor use of it.  IE - Ruthie absolutely didn't have time to complete the project assignment. However, it wasn't the lack of time that caused the problem.  It was the fact that she didn't prioritize or plan appropriately.

The following list is a short collection of the mission-critical time management strategies I use daily and I teach in my time management workshops.  Before you work through them, click here to see if you even need them.

This stands for Take Care Of It Now.  Much of our ineffectiveness with time management is caused by fatigue - low energy, low focus, etc. Much of this fatigue is caused by things "piling up". If you can take care of a task in two-minutes or less, do it.  Get it off your desk, out of your inbox, out of your life. This will prevent you from getting to the end of your day with a million little things to finish up. This technique also helps you to conquer, what David Allen calls, Open Loops.

Action Lists
To do lists are vital for anyone juggling more than one ball.  The key to effective to do lists is to only put actionable items on them - not line items that involve fifty smaller actions. Only put the next step necessary to accomplish at task.  This will allow you to mark things off quicker and give you reachable benchmarks instead of just a long list of items that each contain their own to do lists.

Open Windows
There is a difference between time to do something and the "right" time to do something, called an open window. Open windows are unique to each person and each task.  Picking your open windows involves understanding what time of day you work most efficiently, what location works best for which task, when your distractions are lowest, which hours of your day you can accomplish flow (described below), etc.  The open window strategy is a true example of taking control of your time. Learning, leveraging and taking actions based on when you work most efficiently and effectively.

This is a time management strategy based on brain science.  Flow is described as the mental state when you are working most efficiently.  Every task requires a complex coordination of functions in the brain.  It normally tasks around 20-minutes for your brain to get "up to speed" and work most efficiently on a task.  This post-20 minute state is called flow. If you are not controlling your little distractions and interruptions (email, phone calls, walk-ins, etc.) throughout your day, you are probably never accomplishing true flow and never working most efficiently.

Empty Inbox
Your email inbox should not be used as a to do list.  Primarily because that is not what it is intended for and because it is a totally reactionary tool. IE - the items were sent by others and when they wanted to send them. Whenever you do check your email, do something with each.  Take action, delegate, move to a to do list, put it in a folder (you can search to find it later if you need it), archive it, delete it forever.  A hefty inbox is a major source of fatigue (even if you don't notice it) and is a sign of poor time management.  Take control and get your total email count (read, unread, etc.) to under 15 every day.  If you want to learn more about how to do this magical trick, email me - rhett (at) yournextspeaker.com. My strategies in this area were originally inspired by Merlin Mann.

Just Say No
The magic bullet for most people when it comes to managing their time better is to get better at saying no to any commitment that you know you either can not do or can only do halfway.  I would personally rather you say no to something than say yes and not follow through. And so would most people.  This also includes commitments given to you at work.  You know your work load better than anyone.  If your boss or team leader gives you a task and you are already over-committed, be honest and let them know that something will have to not get done if this new commitment is to happen. Of course, this strategy will only fly if you have built up your trust account with others and it is well known that you are working hard and committing fully to your current tasks.

Focus longer. Set realistic, but stretch goals for the task in front of you and get them done. The tools listed above (and the thousands of others out there) will only work if you will.

Click here for another quick list of techniques.

Tweet That
Following are a few pre-made tweets to share with your network.
Follow us - @pli_leadership

@pli_leadership says to spend your time with T-COINs - Take Care Of It Now. http://ow.ly/e6re6

@pli_leadership says that your inbox should not be used as a to do list. http://ow.ly/e6re6

@pli_leadership says to let your co-workers know if their request will over-commit you. http://ow.ly/e6re6

@pli_leadership recommends reading the works of Merlin Mann and David Allen for time management tips. http://ow.ly/e6re6


General: Performance Capacity

Performance Capacity is the level of available resources to accomplish a task. Here is a short list of mission-critical metrics most professionals (students or adults) have their eye on:

- Time Management
- Stress Management
- Job Specific Tasks
- Networking Skills
- Presentation Skills
- Active Listening
- Feedback/Coaching
- Work Ethic
- Emotional Maturity
- Goal Processing
- Energy Level

Any highly successful person will tell you they are good in many areas, but great in a few. Your task is to identify which metrics are absolutely critical and then follow this process to develop:

1. Get clear on where you are today. Self-awareness is the key.

2. Identify what "excellence" looks and feels like. Set a clear, specific goal.

3. Develop a reasonable, routine-based action plan to reach that goal. It's all about creating the correct patterns in your life.

Expanding Performance Capacity is not achieved by short-term actions. It's reached through daily excellence habits that become part of your lifestyle.


Emotional Maturity: The Failure Factory

(This is a repost of one of our most popular posts...)

Failure is a reality of life for all of us. None of us achieve what we want all the time. Expert leaders do not have less failure than novice leaders. Expert leaders simply have a better built Failure Factory.

This Failure Factory is not the production line; failure is a given in life and is produced just by being alive. This is a processing factory and everyone has one. Failure goes in, how we choose to respond or react to it is the processing part inside the Factory and our leadership effectiveness is strongly impacted by what comes out the other end, which is how we are fundamentally changed (for good or bad) by the failure.

Expert leaders positively influence people and situations to create value and growth. This means they are able to remain positive, still influence others and have the uncanny ability to create value even when failure is fed in. How?

Expert leaders have developed the ability to...

1. Recognize and be okay with the fact that they are flawed. They are very self-aware.

2. View failure as temporary. They have their sights set on the long-term.

3. Actively seek out learning lessons by asking why did this happen, not just how did this happen. They look for meaning.

4. Laugh at themselves. They take their job seriously, but not themselves.

5. Risk, Fail, learn, adjust, risk again, fail, learn, adjust, risk again, fail, etc.

Take a good look at your Failure Factory. You can drastically improve your ability to create value and growth by improving the inner-workings of your Factory.


Vision: Cheetah Leader

Click on the image to download the high-res version.

The following text provides on overview of seven human qualities that tend to be stronger when we are younger that help us make a positive impact on others. Basically the concept is that, in many ways, we are born leaders and then we lose many of these natural traits over time. The information below also provides insight into how to get these back, strengthen them and even retain and excel at the natural leadership traits you had when you were young in the face of the challenges, pressures and responsibilities of adult life.

Being curious allows you to discover new ideas.

When we are young, we want to learn about everything. Our favorite question is "why?" No item is too trivial to be asked about. Our entire world revolves around learning and satisfying curiosity's appetite. Our knowledge jars are open and constantly being filled. As we age, we thrive on looking smart, doing right and knowing all the answers. The most popular, longest running TV show ever made is based on this one fact - Jeopardy! We take our knowledge jars, put lids on them and put them up for good. This diminishes our passion for asking questions. Make a change and see yourself as a life-long learner. Get great at what you do, but live out the quote, "When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot." Stay on top of the newest trends, techniques and material. Avoid the common leader pitfalls of arrogance, behind-the-times, stuck-up, etc. Think like a student, but act like an expert. Surround yourself with learning environments and people who are willing to push you to learn more and do more.

Being hopeful allows you to push the envelope.

Young people not only have great big goals and life dreams, but they also fully expect them to come true. They are filled with hope for the future, for the weekend, for the afternoon. However, as we age we lose our faith in others and we lose our ability to trust. We lose faith in our abilities and we lose our hope. We set low expectations and stop dreaming big. Make a change and push the envelope, see the future before others do, motivate the best from your team, etc. These actions are driven by having an intense sense of hope for the future. Believe in the truth behind the quote, "When the world says give up, the leader whispers "try it one more time."

Being energetic allows you to get more done.

One look at a garden variety playground demonstrates this trait. We have a ton of energy when we are young. Always running, always playing, always going until we literally fall into bed. However, energy boosters are a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason. We adults are starved for energy. Most of our diets, exercise routines and lifestyles are not designed to give us energy. They deprive us of it. Make a change. Run fast. Get twice as much done as others. Do big, meaningful work that demands a large quantity of time, attention and energy. The average corporate CEO lives on five hours of sleep per night, yet they have the energy of a five-year old. Use effective time management strategies. Use natural energy boosters: sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, etc. Refuel often. Use effective stress management techniques. Make time for a hobby you enjoy. Make time to relax.

Being expressive allows you to communicate fully.

As children we are OK with outwardly expressing our feelings, emotions, frustrations, happy days and sad days. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Whether you want to hear it or not, we will tell you or show you what's going on in our world. Personality and extrovert/introvert factors play a role here, but generally speaking we are less skilled or willing to express ourselves as we age. We fear speaking in public. We don't raise our hands in class. We have to work at clearly, authentically, and consistently communicating our world with others. I'm not suggesting you start running around shouting and crying all the time, but make a change and work to improve your ability to express your thoughts and feelings when necessary and meaningful moments arrive. This requires continual practice, separating judgment of self from judgment of performance and learning the foundational success principles that guide each unique (yet repetitive) communication experience.

Being trusting allows you to bring the best out of others.

Young people believe in others. They are shy and reserved at times, but have a natural faith in other humans. They don't know any different. We are born to trust one another. Then life happens; too many people break trust with us. We begin operating from a starting point of, "guilty until proven innocent." We expect to be disappointed, heart broken and stepped on. Make a change by choosing a starting point of, "innocent until proven guilty" when dealing with other people. Develop a core faith in other's character, abilities and talents. This will serve as the spark and fuel to those people actually living up to the your expectations. Again, surround yourself with great people. View failures/shortcomings as temporary. Work through challenges with people. Most importantly, never work from assumptions or misinformation. Communicate clearly with people and expect the same from them.

Being awe-struck allows you to enlarge value.

Everything was new, awesome and inspiring when you were young. You were in constant awe of your surroundings, your future, etc. You got excited about the smallest things. Then you became used to everything. You started taking things for granted. Now it probably takes a true effort to catch and hold your attention. Make a change and see yourself as a risk taker, dream waker and love maker. Appreciate and lift up the ordinary to make it extraordinary. Be easily impressed by others; don't make them fight for your approval or attention. Seek out new adventures, new people, new routes, new books, new thoughts, etc. It is easier to fuel your awe-struck trait when you surround yourself with inspiration.

Being happy allows you to attract others.

A 5-year old laughs more in one day than the average 50-year old does in a year. They find fun and laughter in everything. It helps that our lives at that age revolve around having fun, but even the "non-fun" things spark laughter and joy from us. However, at some point we stop laughing. We see "happy" as foolish. Its not grown-up to be smiling and laughing all the time. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to wipe that grin off your face. Make a change and decide today to love your life. Smile often because you find reasons to be happy and work hard to delete, diminish or dilute those things that bring you down.

Follow us:  @cheetahleader

Download the poster here.


Vision: Three Success Patterns for Students

Source: Ben Heine

Students are back in school and the American Dream Factory is in full force.  Study hard, keep your nose clean and you too can have the life you want.  Scholarships, college of choice, great career, etc. However, what the best students know is there is more to getting what you want in the future than just getting good grades and being a good person.  Following are three patterns that are non-negotiables for students who are putting themselves in the best position for success.  These are not "do more and you will get more" principles. These are "do more of what works and less of what doesn't" principles.

1. Create and expand your network. Its not what you know. Its not who you know. Its who knows you. Students (secondary and post-secondary) need to pick a target career goal for many reasons. One of the most important is it gives you an industry to get involved in.  Seek out internships, attend industry conferences, network with professionals who are successful doing the job you want to do and ask them questions. Companies don't hire people; people hire people. Schools don't give scholarships; people give scholarships.  Get to know people.

2. Build up a robust trust account. Future "gatekeepers" are going to check all the basics of your past: grades, extracurricular activities, etc. However, they will place just as much stock (if not more) in what your references say about you as a person. Character, work ethic, integrity, creativity, people skills, willingness to learn, flexibility, emotional maturity, etc. You need to invest a ton of time and energy in building trust with people in your life today; especially your teachers, school administrators, bosses, etc. You will need their help in the future. Be trustworthy - worthy of other's trust.

3. Go above and beyond expectations. Build a reputation as someone who will do more than expected. And not because you are always asked or because there is a "prize" for it, but because it is who you are. Figure out how to maximize your school opportunities (inside and outside of the classroom) and then act. This list includes: internships, student organizations, helping your teacher with projects, etc.

The competition for scholarships, college admission and jobs is higher than ever. Put yourself in the best position for success by incorporating these three patterns in your school routine. Good luck!

Book recommendation - How to Be a High School Superstar, Cal Newport

"Disguised as a peppy college-admission guide, Newport's book is actually a profound, life-affirming manifesto for ambitious high school students. Forgo the sleepless and cynical path to college acceptance. Instead, blaze your trail to the Ivy League by living a full life and immersing yourself in things that matter. Relax. Find meaning. Be you." David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us