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Tips for New Graduates on Life, Work, and Making Big Decisions

With graduation season upon us, new graduates have much to celebrate after navigating a brutal year. Now they face a big transition from school to work (or further school, or gap year, or other pursuits). Here are tips to help them craft their life and work–and make big decisions that will serve them well. Your work now is to find your work. Don’t commit prematurely to the first path you walk. Don’t over-invest in or over-identify with a professional area without having pressure-tested the reality of it against your initial conception of it. Don’t satisfice. Create an intentional process for

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The Comparison Trap

We all fall into traps in life. One of the most common is the comparison trap: constantly comparing ourselves to others and judging our worth by how we stack up—mostly on things that are superficial and unimportant: Where do I live? What do I drive? How much do I make? Where do I fall in the social hierarchy? According to researchers, this kind of comparative thinking is common: “…the urge to make comparisons is strong. Our research has found that more than 10% of daily thoughts involved making a comparison of some kind.” -Dr. Amy Summerville, “Is Comparison Really the

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The Urgency of Sustainable Leadership—and the Promise of Social Entrepreneurship

On this Earth Day, we honor our planet and recognize the importance of climate action and environmental stewardship. We acknowledge our interdependence—and the gravity of the stakes if we fail to meet the moment. What is the role of business in this epic challenge? Of leaders and entrepreneurs? Of all of us? The Role of Business Business leaders of course must address cash, profits, and growth as they manage their venture’s financial health amidst market pressures. Thankfully, there are not just costs associated with environmental stewardship but real opportunities. “For far-sighted companies, the environment may turn out to be the

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Are You Drifting through Life?

“Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.” -Henry David Thoreau How did I get here? Is this what I wanted for my life? Is this what I chose? Life can be messy. Many of us go long stretches of our lives on autopilot. We sleepwalk through our days. “It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten-track for ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau One of the common traps of living is drifting: getting carried along by the current of outside influences, without traction on our deeper aims. At some

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Why Conflict Is Good–And How to Manage It

Most people avoid conflict. Why? There are many reasons, with fear at the heart of them all: Fear of tension Fear of hurting others Fear of rejection Fear of escalation of tough issues Fear of a break in the relationship Fear of an unexpected outcome, perhaps tougher to manage Fear of being viewed as a troublemaker Fear of retaliation Fear of having to deal with difficult consequences These fears are understandable. So we end up avoiding it like the plague. “In my work with leaders and their teams, I’ve discovered that a universal talent is the ability to avoid conversations

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Guard Your Heart

A year into the pandemic, we’re reminded of how important it is to guard your heart. Here we mean our metaphysical heart, our sacred center. Parker Palmer said it beautifully: “I’m using the word ‘heart’ as they did in ancient times, when it didn’t merely mean the emotions, as it tends to mean today. It meant that center in the human self where everything comes together—where will and intellect and values and feeling and intuition and vision all converge. It meant the source of one’s integrity.” So many of us these days have suffered anxieties, losses, hardship, or tragedies. All

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Are You Playing the Long Game?

These days it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing the short game. Our culture is geared toward it. With our devices, we’re developing the attention span of a gnat. We swipe and scroll. We get fidgety with a few seconds of down-time. The power of the long game is astonishing, but the short game is alluring. We see it in many realms. We see it in business. Clayton Christensen noted, “If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find a predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification.” We see it in startups. Steve

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Designing Your Work for Flow

  We’ve all heard of flow—that remarkable state of being in the zone and operating at our best. Many of us have experienced it. But what exactly is it? And how do we get into it? First, we note that the deep concentration and absorption associated with flow is becoming much harder to attain these days with all our alluring devices and their dopamine-driving distractions. Just when we need it most, it’s becoming more and more elusive. Complete Absorption Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor now at Claremont Graduate University, has dedicated much of his life to studying flow. In his

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Leadership and Psychological Safety in Teams

The problems in far too many organizations today are legion: Unproductive, boring meetings Astonishing amounts of wasted time Avoidance of sensitive issues Lack of full engagement Reluctance to provide candid, constructive feedback Political games and hidden agendas Sound familiar? The effects are far-reaching, from low quality work to employee turnover. According to a Corporate Executive Board study, “Nearly half of all executive teams fail to receive negative news that is material to firm performance in a timely manner because employees are afraid of being tainted by the bad news,” and only “19% of executive teams are always promptly informed of

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Founder-Venture Fit for Entrepreneurs

With startups, many people focus on what entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen calls “product/market fit”: “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” It’s a great point, and too many ventures fail or founder because they never find it. But not nearly enough attention is paid to what I call “founder/venture fit”: when the venture matches well with the founder’s (or co-founders’) knowledge, strengths, passions, and values. Some have written about similar ideas—“founder-market fit” or “founder fit”—but too many aspiring entrepreneurs miss this critical point. Serial entrepreneur and investor Brad Feld wrote: “I’ve come to

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What Is Your Quest?

What is your quest? Where are you going? And why? What quest are you on in your life and work? In days long gone, there were many quests. For Power. Glory. Riches. Discoveries. Love. Beauty. Truth. Peace and quiet. These days, our quests have changed, but we still have them. Quests for success. Recognition. Wealth. Happiness. For many of us, our quest is a bit of an ego trip. It’s all about me, and what I want, or deserve, so that I can look good, feel good, and get validation from others. The quest is fueled by an ethic of

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How to Give Effective Feedback—A Communication Superpower

Giving effective feedback is a powerful skill. When done well, it can be a big performance booster. When done poorly, a disaster bringing fear, discomfort, and resentment. At its best, feedback is a great gift that can build trust and respect. At its worst, a spiral to anguish and despair. So tread carefully. According to decades of research from Dr. John Hattie (2008), feedback is among the most powerful influences on levels of achievement.* “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” –Bill Gates Unfortunately, few people have learned how to give effective feedback or

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The Power of Empathy in Leadership

These days, we ask much of our leaders. Organizations and governments are under great pressures to perform, and these days leaders are responsible for crisis management during a pandemic with its attendant economic destruction and social and emotional anxiety. More and more we are realizing that empathy is a powerful aspect of leading well. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their frame of reference (i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another person’s position). Researchers have identified several types of empathy: Cognitive empathy is the capacity to understand someone’s mental state. Emotional

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The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

Leadership involves so many difficult challenges and exceptional behaviors and mindsets. These days, we ask much of our leaders. When I ask workers to quickly name the qualities that arise in their minds when they hear the word “leader,” I am instantly assaulted by a barrage of words: vision, charisma, confidence, clarity, responsibility, results, judgment, emotional intelligence, coach, and much more. What is the most important aspect of leadership? Have you thought about that? In my view, the most important aspect of leadership is integrity, because everything else leaders do flows from it (or its absence), followed by the courage to uphold it. Warren

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The Importance of Trust in Leadership

There are many ways to think about leadership. For some, as we have seen, it is about control or power. For others, it is about achievement or recognition. For others, thankfully, it is about people and service, along with higher purpose and positive impact. Since leadership by definition involves a relationship between leaders and followers—and, more precisely, an influence relationship—it begs the question of trust. One may be able to command, control, or deceive at some point or for some time, but for an enduring relationship of constrictive influence, trust must be present. Trust is a firm belief in the reliability or

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