8 Great Ways to Learn

So honored to host Frank Sonnenberg on my site!!! Wow! His new book, Follow Your ConscienceMake a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others, is just out.  Get it! His wisdom is powerful and practical!

8 Great Ways to Learn 

Learning requires more than attending lectures and regurgitating what you’ve heard. It requires you to be both teacher and student, to learn from books and personal experiences, and to be able to apply lessons learned to real-world situations. Here are a few ways to learn:

Act like a kid. When we’re young, we continually ask “why?” When we get older, however, we get defensive and feel inadequate if we don’t have all the answers. It’s time to learn like a kid again.

Broaden your world. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people is like talking to yourself. Listen to people with viewpoints other than your own. Try to see their side of the issue instead of living your life with blinders on.

Break out of the rut.  Everyone likes routines. Learn by breaking them. Cover the same ground from different angles. Take a new route. Speak to new people. Get information from different sources.

Request feedback. Are you getting ready for a presentation or an interview? Don’t be shy . . . request feedback from a colleague. Most people would be honored to help you. Remember, it’s a lot better to learn in a non-threatening environment than when it’s “game time.”

Learn from mistakes. Do you have twenty years of experience or one year of experience repeated twenty times? If you’re blind to your weaknesses, you may be repeating mistakes rather than correcting them. Remember, practice makes perfect — unless you’re making the same mistakes over and over again.

Critique your actions. Football teams spend countless hours watching game footage to determine how to improve individual performance and build a winning team. Take the time to reflect on your experiences and learn from them. For example, ask yourself, if you had the opportunity to perform an activity again, how would you do it differently?

Increase your expectations. If you want to become a better tennis player, play with someone better than yourself. The same is true in other areas of your life. You’re not going to improve if you don’t accept challenges and learn from them. Step out of your comfort zone to “up” your game.

Success is a journey, not a destination.  Winning is not a black-and-white experience in which losers explore ways to improve and winners receive a bye. Even winners should identify ways to improve on their performance.

This is adapted from Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others By Frank Sonnenberg © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.


Frank is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of  “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank’s new book, Follow Your Conscience, will be released November 2014. © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.


The Transformative Power of Positive Leadership

General John Michel of the U.S. Air Force has graciously written this post for my blog.  To say I'm honored is an understatement. Gen. Michel is finishing his assignment as Commanding General (CEO) at NATO Air Training Command in Kabul, Afghanistan in a few weeks. Gen. Michel knows more than most of us ever will about leadership in ever changing complex, complicated, dynamic, multi-cultural, life-and-death situations (see bio at the end)  Thank you, John, yes for this post but more so for your integrity, dedication and service to preserve the freedom we have the luxury of taking so for granted.  

"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which, more than anything else, determines its outcome."

William James

On 16 October 2005, an incredible feat was achieved sixteen miles West of Denver, Colorado.  What was once considered one of the most contaminated and environmentally dangerous locations on earth, was reopened to the public as a pristine wildlife refuge in one-sixth the time and less than one-sixth the cost of original clean-up estimates. In tangible terms, a project initially forecast to span 70 years and cost taxpayers $36 billion was completed 60 years ahead of schedule and $29 billion dollars under budget....a feat the government's own General Accounting office declared unlikely, if not impossible.

In their book, Making the Impossible Possible, Leading Extraordinary Performance The Rocky Flats Story, Kim Cameron and Michael Lavine chronicle how in 1989, following years of complaints from workers, Unions and environmental regulators, the FBI raided the Rocky Flats Nuclear facility and shut it down. Three years later, the facility was permanently closed by order of President George H.W. Bush.

Shortly thereafter, the Department of Energy conducted a careful study of the site's residual pollution and concluded that the clean-up and closure of the facility would require a comprehensive effort on a scale that had never been attempted in United States history. Yet, less than ten years after beginning the massive cleanup effort, every building at Rocky Flats had been demolished, all radioactive waste had been removed, and all soil and water had been remediated to a level that exceeded federal cleanliness standards by a factor of 13.

In the end, the transformation of Rocky Flats wasn't merely a matter of going from good to great. It was nothing short of altering awful to astonishing. And the best part is it offers all of us a series of compelling leadership lessons on how each of us can promote positive change in our surroundings-one willful choice at a time.


It would have been understandable if everyone charged with sanitizing Rocky Flats had focused on all the challenges that were to be overcome.  What, with scores of contaminated buildings, 5,000 disenfranchised employees, and enormous quantities of weapons-grade nuclear waste, there was no shortage of problems to be tackled.  Yet history confirms those charged to lead this change effort chose to spend far less time fixating all that was wrong and instead, opted to channel their energy into creating ways to make things right.

Over the course of the last decade, I have been privileged to lead three massive, multi-billion dollar change efforts myself. In the process, I too have learned that in every organization something works and change can be proactively and positively managed. Yet, for as simple as this idea may sound, it's important to understand this is not our natural approach.

The traditional approach to leading change is to identify a problem, do a diagnosis, and seek a solution. In other words, the primary focus is on what is wrong or broken. This makes sense when we consider most of us have years of practice in the art of problem-solving so we shouldn't be surprised to discover we frequently find exactly what we are looking for: That which isn't working.

Conversely, some of us learn along life's journey the same lesson the leaders of Rocky Flats understood. Namely, there is actually greater power, energy and opportunity in allowing our successes to crowd out the unsuccessful. As psychologist and psychotherapist Carl Jung highlighted, a challenging problem is rarely solved. Instead it is outgrown, as a newer, stronger interest compels us to direct our attitudes and actions in a more compelling direction. Much like a plant naturally grows toward the light, the fact-of-the-matter is we each yearn to be exposed to positive forms of leadership.

Now I know the definitions and variations of leadership abound.  Yet after a quarter century of studying and, more importantly, applying leadership to a whole host of challenges and opportunities, I've found leading effectively is less about your ability to plan, organize, set a direction, establish a strategy or execute meticulously. Yes, these things are important and necessary, but they are insufficient in themselves. You see, relying on these more traditional forms of leadership leaves out the most powerful act of leadership there is: equipping, encouraging, empowering and ideally, inspiring those around you to use their personal influence to leave the world around them better than they first found it.

The key word in this personal definition of leadership is positive influence. Specifically, resolving do what you can, when you can, where you can to add tangible value to your surroundings. Those leaders who guided the improbable (and now historical) transformation at Rocky Flats did not succeed because they opted to do more of the same. Rather, they chose to envision a future that was a collage of bests. They effectively instilled in every member of the team that they were each doing something purposeful, meaningful and important, igniting a cycle of positive change that propelled the organization to heights no one had once thought possible. So how can you use your personal influence to become a more effective, positive leader? I recommend you begin by putting into practice the following principles:

Embody Optimism. Positive leaders allow their example to speak for itself. They choose to believe that they will find a way to be successful - even in the face of what seems to be insurmountable obstacles. Hannibal (the great Carthaginian military commander) once said, "We will find a way, or make one." Allow your enthusiasm and optimism to compel others, in the words of my favorite Nike commercial, to "Do Hard Things." Let your positive example inspire others to be and do their best.

Elevate Morale:  Orienting toward the positive goes beyond just a few people doing the right things for the right reasons; it involves everyone within an organization collectively performing in a manner that has an impact on both people and results. Make the most of opportunities in your sphere of influence to communicate and demonstrate compassionate support for those around you. Take time to honor people for their contributions and acknowledge their individual talent. Resolve to do your part to create conditions for every member of your team to flourish and thrive and come fully alive.

Enhance Inquiry: Author and innovation expert Warren Berger reminds us in his wonderful book, A More Beautiful Question, one of the most powerful forces for igniting positive change in business and in our daily lives is the simple, under-appreciated tool called inquiry-smart, frequent question asking. Leaders who make it a priority to question--deeply, imaginatively, frequently--are more likely to identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and view as opportunity what others largely see as obstacles. The leaders of the remarkable Rocky Flats transformation succeeded because they appreciated the value of raising questions no one else was previously asking-and discovering powerful answers in the process. Take a page from their playbook and opt to be a leader who assumes less and question more. Make inquiry your priority.

Value People Above Things....Always:  Positive Leaders are not confused about life's most precious and valuable commodity-healthy, effective, mutually beneficial relationships.  Although we certainly need systems, processes, technology, and a host of other tools and platforms to accomplish our goals and objectives, none of these are a suitable substitute for the power of people working toward a common, compelling cause. Never lose sight that as a leader, what stands the test of time isn't the projects you completed, the awards you amassed, or the rank you achieved. What matters more than anything are the lives you touch-for good-along the way. Never, never forget that people are always more important than things.

All of these characteristics have one thing in common. They are contagious. As a leader, you have the opportunity every day to inject energy and passion into your team or organization. You can choose to use your positive influence to do everything in your power to leave the world better than you first found it.

Radioactive waste not required.

General John E. Michel:  John is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. The senior-curator for GeneralLeadership.com, he is an accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster who has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts. His award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. In addition to serving our nation as an active duty General Officer in the United States Air Force, John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. He is blessed to be married to the most patient person on the planet and together, they have two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website, www.MediocreMe.com

Does the "Practice Mastery" Rule Apply to Trust?

Yes! Thank you Barbara Kimmel for sharing some of my chapter in Trust Inc! 

"Deb Mills-Scofield shows how Menasha Packaging Corp proved “You Can’t Take 164 Years of Trust for Granted.

Menasha Packaging Corp (MPC), a 164 year old, 6th generation family business, has grown from making wooden pails in 1849 to a design-oriented packaging company that today delights customers, employees and their communities with over $1 billion in revenue.  How? By leveraging their culture of entrepreneurship, collaboration, and autonomy based on trust and faith in each other..." Read more...

The Business Efficiency of Integrity

A 2-fer! One of my favorite companies & sites! Menasha, 165+ years old, is growing, profitable, solving customers' real problems and having an impact.  Key? Integrity - it truly pays dividends. Read on.  

"While much has been written about the relationship between integrity, trust and profitability in the last few years, there are companies who have lived this for over 100 years, like a 165 year old, billion dollar plus, 6 generation family business in Wisconsin, Menasha Corp.  Last year, in a discussion on the paradox of integrity, trust and vulnerability with John Hagel, Saul Kaplan, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corp. (MPC) and myself, shared how integrity is key to Menasha’s success."  Read on..

Assertions & Assessments: What Comes After Your “Ass..”?

We all know language is key to leadership.  The subtleties, nuances, intonations, and gestures have profoundPortland Press Herald 3/26/14 effects on leaders’ credibility and on organizations’ success.  Yet, while we think about the customers of our products and services, many of us don't think as much about the ‘hearers’ (customers) of our words when it’s our own people.

When leaders mix up assessments and assertions, as described by Fernando Flores[1], it can be a huge problem.  An assessment is one’s own opinion or judgment.  Assessments are: “John is the best person for the job”; “Market X is better than all the others”; “A direct mail campaign is the only way to go.” These are opinions.  Assertions are facts; backed up with observable, verifiable evidence and they are either true or false.  Assertions are: “The door is open”; “Revenues are up over last year at this time”; “The price of copper is lower than it was last month.” 

How many leaders do you know (including yourself!) who state assessments as if they were assertions? Assessing comes naturally to us.  Think of the times you’ve told someone “Tomorrow will be better” or “Revenue is down because our sales people can’t sell!”  And we say this with total commitment and belief!  We claim our own opinion as fact. After all, isn’t our own experience and knowledge adequate? It’s verifiable to us, even if it may not factually be true (maybe revenue is down because manufacturing can’t deliver on time).

When we make assessments sound like assertions, we lose credibility.  Our people wonder:  “Why is that so?” “How does she or he know that?” “What made him or her draw that conclusion?” This is not to say assessments aren’t vital to success.  They are! Assessments are how we call our people to action and change. It is how we help our people understand the whys, hows and whens of what needs to happen for success.  That is fundamentally why assessments must be grounded in what is:

  • Relevant to the circumstances;
  • Sufficient for ‘hearers’ to clearly and specifically understand;
  • Truthful about what is and isn’t known for certain.   

Grounded assessments give our people a sense of urgency, a comfort that the level of risk/reward is acceptable and that while this may be hard, it must be done.

Assessing an assessment’s relevancy is easier than its sufficiency, since the latter is in the ‘ear of the hearer’.  This is where the ‘voice of the employee’ (think ‘voice of the customer’) comes into play.  We need to observe and listen to our people just as we do our customers so we understand the why/how/when they need to hear things to understand why action is required. We need to get out of our offices and walk the halls, walk the plant floors, eat in the cafeterias. We can start by watching how our people, peers, bosses use assertions and assessments.  Do they make their assessments sound like assertions? Are they grounded? Do they use assertions or is everything really an assessment guised as an assertion? 

Real leaders make both assertions and grounded assessments.  They don’t make their opinions facts.  They listen, learn, and understand what is needed to lead an organization. Their assertions are grounded in what is relevant, sufficient, known, unknown and discoverable and what is frankly unknowable in our world today.   Their language, clarity, authenticity and even vulnerability give them the credibility needed for people to listen, hear, believe in the direction and get exited about making it happen.

So, this week, this month, start observing yourself and those around you – and hone your skills in what comes after your “Ass…”.

(Note: thank you to my friend & client, Karl Driggs, for the recent discussions on this very topic)

[1] Former Chilean engineer, entrepreneur, cabinet minister of Salvador Allende and political prisoner.


An "A" Made it to #1

Whoa!! I can't believe it.  The Switch and Shift post "Are You Just a Leader or a Just Leader" beat the record for number of views, previously held by the wonderful Ted Coiné (and he's not even upset with me!).  I hope it makes a difference for you, your teams, your people... because the difference can be positively profound.  Thank you! 

"There are so many important traits in making a great leader – character, integrity, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, trustworthiness, conviction, vision, communication and others I’m sure you can name.  Let’s talk about communication.  It’s not just the right words in the right tone; grammar plays a role.  Where you place certain words has a big implication on what is important which impacts the culture. So let me ask you – are you Just a Leader or a Just Leader?"  read on...

Are You Just a Leader or a Just Leader?

A little 1 letter 'article' - "a" makes a huge huge difference - so what kind of leader are you??

"There are so many important traits in making a great leader – character, integrity, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, trustworthiness, conviction, vision, communication and others I’m sure you can name.  Let’s talk about communication.  It’s not just the right words in the right tone; grammar plays a role.  Where you place certain words has a big implication on what is important which impacts the culture.  So let me ask you – are you Just a Leader or a Just Leader?"  read on...

Are You Becoming Your Boss?

First post in Linkedin! Are you becoming your boss? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Have you asked your people? 

"Before you start complaining about your boss, stop and think. Sometimes, we unwittingly take on the traits we resent in our boss with our people. And, sometimes, hopefully most times, we take on traits we love the best in our bosses with our people! Here are four traits I learned from the best (and almost only) bosses I ever had and hopefully taught my people." read more

BOLD: Do Your Behaviors Belie Your Beliefs?

My contribution to Switch and Shift's BOLD series - just up my alley!!!

"At one level, it’s a matter of faith.  At another level, it’s a risk-reward analysis.  In all the situations I faced, the risk of compromising belief far outweighed the reward of any compromised behavior.  At the end of the day, if I didn’t have my integrity, what did I have? At the end of the day, what was the worst thing the company could do to me? Fire me!" read on.....

You've GOT to be Kidding!

Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." Fiction pales in light of the Patreaus fiasco. I am simply astounded at Patraeus' grievously poor judgment and lack of virtue.  The relationships and timing of all these events vis-a-vis the yet-to-be-revealed real truth about the Benghazi tragedy call so much into question - about our national security, decisions made about/in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.  If you ever doubted how fast trust can be lost, doubt no more.  We have a legacy of distrust.

It seems like our government is out of control, out of touch...living on a different planet with a different set of mores and morals.  Are these the groaning sounds of a system at the precipice?  I keep hearing the creaking of metal in the process of failure before it crashes...failure and fatigue.  Can you name a significant government agency or department that has not been embroiled in a scandal in the past few years? And many of theses are ones entrusted with the safeguarding of our country.

Two of my sages, John Hagel and Steve Denning, have been warning us for years about the frailty and impending implosion of our institutions and institutional practices.  We have not heeded their warnings and on November 6th, we yet again preserved the status quo.  Why? Because...

  • Those are the types that run for nomination of their parties?  Why?
  • Those that are willing to tell the truth and call it like it is don't make it far enough to get nominated?  Why?
  • We citizens really don't want to hear bad news and see reality? We want our officials to make "it all better"?  Why?
  • We don't really want to sacrifice what's needed to buttress up the foundations of this country? Why?
  • The rewards of doing so are too far in the future? We no longer have a common vision of what America stands for to instill common sacrifice? Why?

I don't know the answer, only some of the questions to ask. But I do know this, Churchill was right when he said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  America highlights the paradox of democracy and freedom.  And yet, despite all of America's issues, people still flock to our shores for survival, people still want to start their businesses here and we are still the beacon for freedom.  Yes, I can handle the paradox of being both horrified at the betrayal of trust and corruption of our government and proud to be an American and be free.

So, this Thanksgiving, while some of us sit at tables bursting with abundance, some in dark homes filled with sand, water and ruin, some in shelters, some by hospital beds, some in barracks in Afghanistan, give thanks for the gifts of trusting relationships and freedom.  Give thanks....and give those whose lives, well being, livelihoods are entrusted to you the same gifts...of trust, integrity, and freedom...from your spouse to the janitor in the plant.  Give thanks.