How can I lead within middle management?

How can I lead within middle management?

How can I lead within middle management?
By Pete Hall

Middle management. The ultimate opportunity to test your leadership mettle. On one hand, you’re responsible for carrying out the directives, legislation, and initiatives provided to you from the higher-ups; on the other, you’re obligated to inspire, direct, and generate growth within your own team.

From this position (branch manager, section director, school principal, etc – you know who you are), how can you both follow and lead in authentic ways? That’s a question that wakes up many of us in the middle of the night, dripping in sweat and craving a BLT.

Following and leading can work interdependently with one another. Doing both well creates the strongest link between organizational direction and individual performance.

Let’s begin by examining the first chain: following. Middle managers are part of a larger organization. Multiple tiers of owners, executives, directors, boards, and other powers all have a significant amount of say in how our organizations are established, what our priorities are, and what expectations are provided. So you’ve got to be a good soldier and follow orders, passing them down the line. By itself, that’s a manageable directive, except…

…there’s a second chain: leading. You’re expected to lead. You’re obligated to meet your agreed-upon goals, stewarding your allocated funding, adhering to local socio-political influences, championing your community, and handling employees, direct reports, and support staff. The key metrics all come down to defined outcomes incumbent to your market and expertise, so clearly there’s a need for local authority and decision-making, except…

…for that first chain. Decisions made by the universal powers-that-be don’t always meet local needs.

Fret not. This is work that can be done — and done exceptionally well. As a middle manager, you can be the strongest link.

Before you begin panicking and raiding the fridge, there’s hope found in a couple strategies for managing your middle-management responsibilities with savvy:

Align everything to the mision. That’s right, mision: that amazing place where your mission (the reason the organization exists in the first place) and your vision (what it looks like and feels like when it’s going spectacularly well) coexist. Are you and your stakeholders, superiors, and colleagues clear on your mision? Are all your ships headed in the same direction?

  • Understand your charge. As a team, unpack your directives. What are your long-term goals? What is the board’s current comprehensive plan? What are the results you’ve been assigned to achieve? Knowing what exactly you’ve been charged to do helps to align the rest of your work toward the mandated targets. You’re going to be linking to this chain, so it behooves you to be clear on the content and direction.
  • Define the outcomes. Together, ask each other what success looks like; how your department/office will look in 1, 3, and 5 years; what goals will drive your work; why this work is important. Take the time to unpack comments to paint a clear and compelling picture of a desirable future. Refer to this often (in leadership retreats I facilitate, we often draw an image and describe it – that becomes your de facto “logo”). Feel free to use our Visioning protocol to walk your team through this process, step by step.
  • Clarify your priorities. Isolate the non-negotiables, determining what’s tight (we’re going to focus on creating a positive experience for customers no matter what, for instance) and what’s loose (flexible ways we can empower staff to adhere to the “customer is always right” mantra while monitoring the bottom-line). Defining parameters allows adherence to imposed initiatives and puts local staff at ease, feeling they’ve still got some ownership and choice in how the work is done.

Connect every single individual to the mision. Great leaders do two things really well: they identify what everyone has in common in order to work together and row in unison toward the goal, and they uncover what drives and inspires each person – in order to link individual efforts to the collective goal.

  • Ignite individual passion. Every individual you lead got into this work for a reason. What is that reason? Are you aware of it? Does the person know it? On a regular basis, sit down with each of your direct reports, each member of your team. Get to know them, find common ground that enhances your relationships, and investigate. Ask questions that peel back the layers of that artichoke until you get to the heart: surfacing why folks entered the profession in the first place, why they stay, and what determines their success and personal happiness. By naming and defining the source of our people’s passion, we are more apt to connect them to the mision
  • Embed everything. Set goals and action plans that support each other, like Russian nesting dolls – each fits within the greater structure. When individual employees’ performance goals help the team meet its goal, that enables the team to be successful, which moves the branch closer to its goals, helping the entire organization achieve success as well. Then budget time, resources, professional development opportunities, and communication structures in such a way that orients all our work towards the mision. Everyone relies on everyone else, and the entire operation begins working in concert with one another – interdependency rules, and networks of scaffolded support are inherently built-in.

Middle management is daunting, and… it’s an opportunity to make an immense difference. Are you up to the challenge? Are you willing to do what it takes to succeed? If so, work strategically, get a good night’s sleep, embrace the mision, and change people’s lives. You can become the strongest link in the chain.

Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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Peer coaching for systemic, reflective growth

Peer coaching for systemic, reflective growth

Peer coaching for systemic, reflective growth
By Pete Hall

*In a subtle shift from the traditional blog post format, Strive Success Solutions President/CEO Pete Hall shares an article he penned for Talent Development magazine, a publication of the Association for Talent Development.

Download the article

Executive summary:

Adopting a proactive approach to coaching can transform organizations. Rather than using coaching to “fix” employee weakneses, savvy organizations are utilizing a peer coaching model that builds individual and collective capacity. Based on a cycle of reflective thought that predictably leads to success, this peer coaching approach simultaneously grows individual employees, builds a collaborative culture, and transforms organizations into hubs of continuous learning and ongoing growth. Embedded in the article are the processes of self-reflection, tips for HR officials and supervisors, and prompts to generate reflective thought.


Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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The magnifying power of self-reflection

The magnifying power of self-reflection

The magnifying power of self-reflection
By Pete Hall

If I were to tell you there’s one rather simple, replicable behavior that could lead to remarkable success in whatever venture you pursued, how would you respond? Would you reply by asking if I’m also offering to sell you a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge? Well, indeed there is such a behavior, and if the title of this blog didn’t give it away, let me be straightforward:

Mastering the art of self-reflection will help you meet whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. A hundred times over.

Self-reflection? You might say, incredulously. You mean there’s an art to thinking about things? Then I’d clarify:

Self-reflection, simply defined, is the discipline of focusing your mental energy on your goals, making intentional decisions in order to achieve the goals, paying attention to the results of your actions, and determining the modifications necessary to improve the outcomes.

As you hone your reflective habits, you increase your skills, and in a repetitively expanding and strengthening pattern, you develop both simultaneously. This pattern, first published in the teachers’ handbook Teach, Reflect, Learn and expanded upon in Pursuing Greatness, is called the Reflective Cycle, and it describes the repeated behaviors of thought that we all follow as we learn something, develop our skills, and progress towards expertise. The steps of this Reflective Cycle are rather predictable (starting in the top-right quadrant of the diagram below, and following clockwise):

  • Build awareness. What is your goal? What outcome do you desire? What is your current state of affairs?
  • Make intentional decisions. What do you need to learn? What next steps must you take? What are you going to do to move forward?
  • Assess & analyze your impact. After taking that step, what changed? Have you improved? What’s different now?
  • Become responsive. What new questions have surfaced? What worked that you can repeat, and what didn’t work that you can discard?

This simple pattern is repeated, ad infinitum, until you hit mastery…at which point you realize there’s even more growth potential then you ever imagined, and you continue to push forward. Your potential for excellence, it turns out, is an asymptote: the closer you get to it, the greater your potential expands.

Developing rich habits of strategic self-reflection is like having a skeleton key to unlock all your goals, dreams, targets, ambitions, and endeavors. It simply requires discipline to build those habits.

Now you ask, Does this pattern of self-reflection lead us to success in any field? In any profession?

Not only can you experience tremendous success in whatever job – or element of your job – you want, this pattern of thinking is the secret key to unlocking success in just about any aspect of your life. Want to lose weight? Eat better? Improve relationships? Barbeque more effectively? Focus your self-reflective energy on the goal – and keep it there as you mentally spin through the Reflective Cycle – and see for yourself.

There must be an app for that, you quip.

Yes, sure, there’s an app for everything. However, here’s the rub: you can focus simply on self-reflection if you want to. You know, reflect on your ability to reflect. However, if you truly want to improve a skill, master a technique, attain a goal, or surpass an expectation, you’ve got to reflect on that outcome. Think of it like this: You can download a self-reflection app, and that’d be great. Or you could update your operating system by strengthening your self-reflective behaviors, and you can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of every single app in your collection! Self-reflection isn’t an app; rather, it’s the platform upon which all the other apps operate.

So the next time you’re attempting to meet a goal, trying to learn something new, or aiming to improve your practice somehow, don’t just do things and hope that leads to improvement. Instead, reflect – and reflect very intentionally – on the entire growth process:

  • Pay attention to your goals. Be clear on exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Survey your options and decide upon the path most likely to yield success, and stay true to that decision as you begin to take deliberate actions.
  • Assess your impact by analyzing the cause-and-effect relationship between what you did and the results you got.
  • Respond accordingly: if the results were great, keep going or ramp it up; if the results didn’t measure up, adapt and adjust as needed.

Repeat this pattern as many times as you need until you achieve the goal you’ve set for yourself. By engaging in frequent, accurate, deep self-reflection in an intentional manner, you’re setting yourself up for success. Over and over again.

Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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6 words to eliminate from your vocabulary today

6 words to eliminate from your vocabulary today

6 words to eliminate from your vocabulary today
By Pete Hall

Words make a difference. What we say and how we say it* matter. So, before we open our mouths and release the floodgates, we ought to make sure what we’re saying matches what we mean…and leads us to communicate what we’re trying to communicate.

Along the same lines, there are some words that just plain don’t do us any favors. I’m not talking about overused acronyms like “LOL,” jargony terms like “circle back,” or profanity that’s used haphazardly (a clever, pointed curse word sometimes carries a powerful, emphatic punch!); rather, I’ve identified six words that often find themselves sprawled in front of us, tripping us up and causing vocabularic mayhem while we’re trying to stride confidently forward.

Here’s my list (in alphabetical order). Take these words, lock ‘em in a box, and throw away the key.


The little word “but” can be used as a preposition or an adverb, and those are typically fine. What I’m concerned with, however, is the use of “but” as a conjunction, especially when it’s used in feedback or other professional communication.

Example A: “This was a great lesson, but the students weren’t following along.”

Example B: “I enjoy working with you, but this is frustrating.”

By using “but” in these examples, the speaker is providing a contrast. It’s often done reflexively, without considering the impact. Unfortunately, the contrast illuminated by this particular conjunction nullifies the first clause. The part meant to be complimentary (“This was a great lesson,” or “I enjoy working with you”) becomes void. The only part heard by the listener is the second clause, which now becomes harsher.

Using the word “but” essentially drove a wedge between the two ideas, which could actually be compatible with one another. Worse, the word “but” drove a wedge between the two people – the speaker and the listener.

Try this instead: Remove the word “but” and insert the word “and” as a coordinating conjunction.

Example A, take 2: “This was a great lesson, and the kids weren’t following along.” By using “and,” rather than dismissing the first clause, the speaker is positioning the second clause as a curiosity, as if to say, “That’s strange, why weren’t the kids following along with that great lesson?” That brings the two people together to try to solve the mystery, rather than positioning themselves as adversaries.

Example B, take 2: “I enjoy working with you, and this is frustrating.” The overarching theme here is that this is an enjoyable partnership, and whatever just happened is a one-off that we can remedy together. There’s no reason both can’t be true, and by using “and,” we’re acknowledging that they are both, indeed, true.


Here’s a word that socks us in the teeth right in the moment we need our confidence to soar the most. Is there a word that hamstrings our efforts more than this one? Let’s dig in.

Example C: “I can’t write a solid 5-paragraph essay.”

Example D: “I can’t leave work at a reasonable hour because of my to-do list.”

First of all, oh yes you can! Whenever you say “can’t,” you’re convincing yourself that you, well, can’t do something. Usually, what we’re discussing is something we actually want to do, and because our brains are predisposed to believing what we tell them, why in the world would we tell ourselves we can’t do something we want to do? Why would we put a limit on our potential? Why would we put a ceiling on our dreams?

Maybe it’s fear, lack of desire, or self-preservation, on the off chance we don’t accomplish the goal – then our failure isn’t a result of our lack of effort or talent, it’s because of a predetermined reality over which we held no sway. It was fate, not my fault!

Try this instead: Incorporate the growth-mindset’s poster child, “yet.”

Example C, take 2: “I haven’t mastered the solid 5-paragraph essay yet.” By using this language, you’ve given yourself permission to learn, to grow, to develop your skills. You’ve opened the door to possibility, and you’ve indicated to yourself that you have the potential to do something that’s proven very difficult so far.

Example D, take 2: “I have yet to figure out how to get all my stuff done so I can leave work at a reasonable hour.” There’s a solution to this problem out there somewhere, and you are going to find it! You’re giving yourself a little grace while acknowledging that you’ve got a goal and your plan, thus far, hasn’t panned out. You’re willing to keep trying until you figure it out!

Once we begin to harness our words and tether them to our intentions, we have a much better chance of communicating effectively, bringing people and ideas together, and striding confidently toward our goals.


We know from studies using fMRI analysis that our brains make images of words to help make sense of them for us. What kinds of words lend themselves to images? Nouns (persons, places, and things) and verbs (actions). We can see them in our mind’s eye. Here are a couple of simple examples of nouns: Taylor Swift, sidewalk, watermelon. And now some verbs: swim, danced, rappelling. Your brain has likely encoded images for those words, and those images appeared as you read the words.

The word “don’t” doesn’t create an image.

Try this: Don’t think of a volcano.

What image just popped into your mind? An erupting mountaintop, right? Whoops, that was the opposite of the imperative I gave you. I wanted you to not think of a volcano, not to actually think of a volcano. Darnit.

How many times in our daily live do we express the very things we’re trying to avoid? We save the shotgun seat for the word “don’t,” thinking it won’t really alter the outcome much. However, “don’t” ends up driving the car.

Example E: “I don’t want to keep accumulating debt.”

Example F: “Don’t get mad when I tell you this…”

Try this instead: Say what you want, rather than what you want to avoid.

Example E, take 2: “I’m looking for a way to manage my finances.” Now you’re in the driver’s seat. Instead of picturing yourself underneath a mountain of debt, you’ve got your detective hat on, pipe gripped between your teeth, magnifying glass poised for action, as you actively seek a solution to your pressing need.

Example F, take 2: Just say what you want to say. Ditch the “don’t” qualifier. So instead of prepping your conversation partner that what you’re going to say will make them mad, just say it and allow their emotion, whatever it is, to follow naturally.


A few minutes ago, you read about how the word “can’t” has a powerful negative effect on your self-talk and self-image. Here’s another one that often takes a lead pipe to the knees of your self-esteem: “just.” How much do you want to diminish yourself? Do you want people to think less of you before you even have a chance to show them how amazing you are?

When we throw the common adverb “just” into our descriptions of ourselves, we strip away our power, reduce our sense of self-worth, devalue our accomplishments.

Don’t believe me? Try these on for size:

Example G: “I’m just a teacher.”

Example H: “I was just trying to help.”

What value did the word “just” add to those statements? A subtractive value, if you can believe it! Are you not proud to be a teacher? Is being a teacher a rubbish job? When we say “just a teacher,” it sure sounds like we’re positioning it diametrically opposite all the worthwhile, respected, valued careers out there.

Or maybe the “just” is included as a way to demonstrate humility. Instead of pounding your chest and screaming from the rooftops, “I’m a teacher, hear me roar,” it’s as if you’re saying, “I’m a teacher, and I can do a lot; however, I can only do what I can do. I’m not a miracle worker, unfortunately.” Okay, sure, and…

Try this instead: Say what you were going to say without including “just.”

Example G, take 2: “I’m a teacher.” Now it sounds a little more like you’ve got a little pride in the fact that you’re part of the noblest profession known to humankind. Stick a flag on that mountaintop and own it, whatever definition you choose.

Example H, take 2: “I was trying to help.” We haven’t addressed this one yet. Rather than abashedly shrugging away your lack of input, stand confidently behind your intent. You were trying to help. That’s huge! Our strategies don’t always work out; if the objective is true, however, you’ve got no reason for shying away from it.


Here’s a loaded term that I try to avoid at all costs. The modal verb “should” implies that:

  1. the speaker knows what is best, so listen up (Example I: “There should be more free parking spots downtown.”);
  2. the speaker knew better (Example J: “They should have known better than to get into that argument.”); or
  3. the speaker’s advice is primo, Grey Poupon, five-star quality (Example K: “You should use better grammar in your blogs.”).

The problem with all three? Nobody likes getting “should” upon, so keep that “should” to yourself.

In most conversations, the discussants are equals. They’ve got a common problem to address, a common situation to face, a common question to answer, or a common goal to accomplish. When one person starts shoulding all over the place, it’s akin to a coyote leaving scat on a hiking trail to mark its territory, showing all-comers who’s the boss and who y’all defer to. It’s an attempt at shifting the power differential. “I know best, you don’t.” Do you know who else tries to shift the power differential in a conversation, relationship, or interaction? Bullies. Especially bullies with privilege, which is why I often challenge myself with this prompt when I hear the word “should” escape my lips: Is this a moment where you can check your privilege?

Try this instead: Ask a question (with curiosity, not judgment) if possible; if not, use “could” or “might” in lieu of “should.”

Example I, take 2: “I wonder how the city determines where the free parking spots will be?” There’s definitely curiosity embedded in this question. Of course there’s a reason for the parking spots downtown, and since you don’t know what it is, maybe this would be a fun chat over a salad.

Example J, take 2: “Do you think they could have foreseen that argument and somehow avoided it?” Eek, right? Hindsight is always 20/20, and announcing it ex post facto doesn’t help. However, when things go awry, there’s a lesson for us if we’re open to it. This phrasing shows that we’re open to it.

Example K, take 2: “Would you help me understand your use of grammar in certain places in this blog?” Let’s be partners in this! Even if the answer is “no, it’s my blog, so butt out,” at least we’ve asked if we can be a part of the process. In doing so, we’re likely bringing ourselves closer to our conversation partner.


I’m not talking about personal pronouns here, I’m highlighting the perceived unanimity cloaked in the language of “they.” We do this often: attribute the behaviors, conflicts, characteristics, attitudes, or comments of a few – or sometimes just a noisy one – to the masses. We lump everyone together.

And once we lump everyone together, there’s no wiggle room for exceptions. The implication in the word “they” is 100%. All. Everyone.

Example L: “They hate staff meetings.”

Example M: “They can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes without their phones.”

When we take the time to analyze the reality, we’ll find that some (perhaps “many” or even “most”) meet the criterion we’ve laid out, but not everyone.

In this regard, I’m really using “they” as the spokesperson for the overuse of superlatives, extremes, hyperbole, and other inflexible blanket statements. Words like always, never, everyone, no one, best, worst…you catch my drift?

In poetry, song lyrics, speeches, even storytelling, the use of these literary devices is creative and evocative. In everyday, professional dialogue, it can be quite dangerous if we take the terms seriously and at face value, which is often what happens.

Try this instead: Replace “they” with a more accurate description.

Example L, take 2: “I have received some critical feedback about staff meetings in the past.” This is what’s really going on, right? And perhaps there’s an opportunity here to identify exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and how can we reformat staff meetings to better meet that goal? Rather than dismiss the practice altogether, let’s examine our plan.

Example M, take 2: “It’s requiring a new skillset and different approaches to capture and hold many of my students’ attention.” Granted, when we’re emotionally worked up about a situation, it can be challenging to approach it cerebrally. However, if we’re truly looking for solutions and improvement, we must activate the prefrontal cortex and take ownership over our role in our reality.

Try these out and let me know how it goes! 

*That’s actually the title of a great book for classroom teachers, written by my colleague and friend Mike Anderson. Check it out!

    Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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    If we keep doing what we’ve always done…

    If we keep doing what we’ve always done…

    If we keep doing what we’ve always done…
    By Pete Hall

    Remember Rowlf the Dog from “The Muppet Show”? Sure, you have images of Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and Fozzie Bear bouncing freely in your memory bank, but no Rowlf the Dog? He may not have been your most favorite Muppet, but now that I’ve mentioned him, you have to admit he was one heck of a piano player.

    Why, when tickling the ivories prior to singing “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” with Kermit in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, he humbly accepts the Frog’s praise by saying, “I’m no Heifetz, but I get by.”

    Rowlf was referring to Jascha Heifetz, the Russian-born violin prodigy. This is not the same Heifetz as Ronald A., who in 1994 penned Leadership Without Easy Answers (Harvard University Press), but there’s a connection in here somewhere, I just know it, so stick with me.

    In reading Ronald A.’s investigation into a definition of the term “leadership” that takes values into account, I came upon a reference he made to Sidney Hook’s 1943 The Hero in History, in which Hook claims “Some men [sic] are eventful, while others are event-making.”

    History shines a light on event-makers. For some, it’s a spotlight, illuminating the great and wondrous innovations produced by a person of action. For others, it’s the single dangling 100-watt bulb of a damp interrogation room, demanding explanation for unwarranted deeds. Either way, event-makers make history — and, in the end, we’re all just history, aren’t we?

    By the way, who invented the electric light bulb? That’s correct: Thomas Edison. And who didn’t invent the light bulb? Correct again: Every other unnamed person on the face of the earth. Who do you remember? Who does history favor, then? Thrice correct: The event-maker.

    At the risk of inundating you with Cliff Clavinesque facts, wasn’t it Ferdinand Magellan who first circumnavigated the globe in 1519-1521? This Portuguese explorer had devised a plan, refused to accept “no” as an answer, and leapt forward to carry it out — he was an event-maker.

    To relate this to leadership in today’s world, sometimes the best course of action is one that no one has ever taken before. Our teams’ new and varied needs scream out for a divergent approach. Sometimes it’s okay to shun the status quo — verily, there are times that it’s preferable to ignore what everyone else is doing, in the name of growth and progress. In fact, some moments appear before us, begging us to obliterate that old standby and to forge a new path. Into the mysterious unknown we go!

    As CEOs, directors, managers, or whatever official capacity we hold, often where we lead is off the edge of the map. Captain Barbossa (from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”) may warn us, “Here there be monsters,” but our quest for excellence must know no bounds. We cannot let fear determine our paths. We must be willing to excuse ourselves from the masses and serve as pioneers, breaking ground and cutting waves — this is where breakthroughs lie, this is where obstacles are overcome, this is where questions are answered, and this is where excellence awaits.

    History will reward the event-makers, and as leaders we have a choice to make: Will we react to the events of yesterday, or will we make the events of tomorrow?

    History will reward the event-makers, and as leaders we have a choice to make: Will we react to the events of yesterday, or will we create the events of tomorrow? Certainly, one might argue that this is a pursuit of glory, of achievement, and the garnishment of superlatives. But what argument for glory ever began with a reference to a floppy-eared, mild-mannered puppet?

    No, this is an argument for turning over every stone — in fact, sailing far from the beaten path just to find additional stones to turn over — in order to discover what works for the context in which you find yourself, with the goals toward which you reach. In many businesses, the arcane status quo is often silently revered — we do as was done unto us, even if that original doing was done decades before.

    New results require new action. New action demands new learning. New learning insists upon new thought. So go ahead — think off the map, weigh your options, and create a plan. (A plan, mind you, is not the same as shooting from the hip; a plan indicates a certain level of forethought and understanding.) Make it happen. History rewards the event-makers among us.

    How can we engage in this off-the-map leadership in a safe, thoughtful, deliberate way? Here are three simple ideas to try:

    1. Obtain unobfuscatable clarity of the goal that beckons to you. What is your ultimate objective? Obtaining new clients? Increasing sales? Generating more referrals? Creating breakthrough products? With a compelling and undeniable vision of success in mind, something that you fervently and desperately care about, you can free yourself from the ruts of prior actions by viewing the entire landscape between you and your ambition. If what you did before didn’t lead you to the goal, then you needn’t remain tethered to those unsuccessful plans. Allow yourself to scrap the strategies that didn’t yield success and orient your decision-making process to answer the question, “What can we do that will help us accomplish our goals?”
    2. Bring the big brains together. Usually, the same type of thinking that got us into the mess is what we try to conjure in order to get us out of the mess. Nope, that won’t work. We need new ideas, different approaches, fresh perspectives – so bring the big brains in for a brainstorming session or two. And when I refer to big brains, I don’t mean the same collection of C-suiter execs who always gather around the table – y’all can still make the strategic decisions, of course, once you collect a robust assortment of options from the pool of talented, intelligent, divergent thinkers from throughout the organization. The best brainstorms don’t come from titled personnel, they come from a cross-section of the entire team.
    3. Test the waters strategically. Before leaping headlong into a wild new idea, practice it first. Run it through a hypothetical trial. Conduct a SWOT analysis. What’s the best that could happen? What’s the worst that could happen? If the ideal, stars-aligned outcome is more extraordinarily positive than the failed, perfect-storm result is negative, then that’s a green light. Give it a shot. Track your progress, maintain vigilance, and keep an open mind to the opportunities to adapt and adjust as you go. Often, we discount uncharted strategies because we fear what might happen if they implode – and fear of something that may not ever happen, is an unreasonable basis for making decisions. Optimism, exuberance, tactical approaches, and objective data analysis are much more likely to result in outrageous success.

    As for the Heifetz connection: Jascha, a violin virtuoso who wowed audiences for over 60 years, sought perfection at every turn. Ronald A. could have studied Jascha for lessons in leadership: Part of what compelled Jascha’s incessant desire for perfection was his self-admitted horror of mediocrity.

    Rowlf the Dog, meanwhile, just got by.

    *Author’s note: A version of this blog was originally published in EducationWorld’s Administrator’s Desk and can still be found in its archives.

      Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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      Help! My work isn’t my passion. Now what?

      Help! My work isn’t my passion. Now what?

      Help! My work isn’t my passion. Now what?
      By Pete Hall

      “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

      Yeah, that’s what They say, but you know better. That’s hogwash! Isn’t it?

      I mean, we hear a lot these days about “quiet quitting” and “burnout” and the many reasons it’s hard to keep employees engaged, motivated, and productive. And if we listen to what They say, it’s not surprising that one of the most prevalent pieces of advice, both on social media sites and throughout the working world, is to help people discover what they’re passionate about, and to follow that passion.

      If there’s truly a deep, personal connection between what we do (our vocation) and what we love (our passion)…cue the angelic voices, pan out to capture the entire rainbow, and bask in the rare glory of that moment. Without question, this is the ideal. It’s not 100% hogwash!

      There is some truth to the fact that when we’re doing something we’re passionate about, we have a different sense of purpose, a revitalized commitment, a greater likelihood of hitting that “flow” condition where time stands still and we become absorbed in what we’re doing.

      Ideal as it may be, it is precariously rare. And it’s unequivocally unreasonable to expect that anyone would be wildly and madly in love with every element of every moment related to their job and work responsibilities. Shoot, I love what I do, but I don’t love everything about it!

      So, what happens when our work isn’t our passion? When our passion and vocation do not intersect, what’s next? How do we remain engaged, motivated, and productive, when some (or even most of) our work is, well, drudgery?

      Almost without fail, my clients either a) experience some form of “I’m not enamored with my job” or b) supervise folks who experience some form of “I’m not enamored with my job.” This condition is everywhere, and no one is immune to it. Remember: Work is hard (it’s a four-letter-word for many people), routines can become tedious, the demands can overwhelm us, it is often challenging to see the big picture and/or remain grounded in our purpose at all times, and the people we work with (and work for) can complicate our relationship with the work itself.

      Fortunately, there are many strategies we can employ if we’re looking to ramp up our emotional connections to our work.

      When you’re not “enamored” with your job, it’s time to shift your focus. Control your thoughts about work, and watch the emotional connection take hold.

      Here are four of the top strategies I suggest to my clients. You know what They also say: “Believe it and you’ll see it.” Almost without fail, these approaches help immensely:

      1. Shift your focus. Can you focus on what you love? Often, when we start thinking we’re burning out, we focus on what’s exhausting, unpleasant, and unsustainable about our work. We think about what’s dousing our flame. What if we shifted our lens and really started paying attention to what’s good about it? After all, if you’re feeling like you’re burning out, that means at some point there was a fire a-blazing. So, what ignited your passion in the first place? What are some of the elements of your job that are still flickering? We know that we’ll get more of what we focus on, so why are you focusing on what’s wrong? Shift that focus on what’s right, what’s working, what you enjoy, and you just might get more of that!

      2. Know thyself. Do you know what you truly love? Do you know what fills your bucket? Do you engage in the behaviors that help you feel invigorated and positive every day? If you don’t, why not? Can you reorient your schedule to ensure that your energy-infusing activities (tasks, people, projects, locations, duties) are part of your everyday routine? Here’s a simple fix: If you’re lifted by interacting with other people and you find yourself working in isolation, get up and deliver a message in person to a co-worker instead of emailing it. Pick up the phone and call your contacts and colleagues. Here’s another: If you enjoy solving complex problems, and you find yourself in a mind-numbing rut, repeating the same procedure over and over, hone your mental lens on all the possible ways you can do what you do more efficiently, faster, and using your available resources. Once you know what fills your bucket, make sure you’re doing those things every day.

      3. Look beyond the work. Can you love what your work produces? That’s right, if the work is excruciatingly difficult, tiresome, unpleasant (etc.), think about what doors the work opens, or what sits on the other side of it. The end might justify the means, in this case. All those hours hanging and mudding drywall in one new apartment after another could become monotonous and tedious. However, when this project is over, you’ll be able to look at the amazing, smooth, beautiful, finished product. If you can envision that beforehand, and if you can feel the pride and joy in that impending accomplishment, it makes each drywall screw and each swipe of the blade more palatable. (In dire straits, remember there’s a paycheck lying in wait, allowing you to put food on the table, a roof over your family’s heads, a vacation on the calendar, or whatever else that income does for you.

      4. Find a higher path. Can you love the impact of your work? There’s a Mother Teresa quote I just can’t get enough of: “Wash the plate not because it is dirty, nor because you were told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” Oy. If that doesn’t ring your righteous, noble bell, I don’t know what will. No matter what we’re doing, there’s a recipient of our hard work sitting on the other side of it. When we consider our neighbor’s journey, and when we intentionally think about how our work can positively impact someone else, this promotes physiological changes in our brains linked with happiness. As we know, happy workers are productive workers, meaning not only will we whistle more while we work, we’ll also be more likely to repeat the behaviors that led to the happiness in the first place: working for someone else, the greater good, or a nobler cause.

      If you’re feeling stuck at work, try one of these strategies. Shift your mindset and see if that new perspective brings you renewed joy, a boost of energy, and an additional flicker of passion. After all, if you enjoy your work, you’re more likely to be optimistic, motivated, learn faster, make fewer mistakes, and be someone that your boss, your co-workers, and you yourself will enjoy being around.

        Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at

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