Design Your Success!


Design your success by using and growing your strengths every day. For a how-to guide that explains how to make your inspired and desired growth a reality visit

Supply Your Own Sunshine and Happiness

We are on day 31 of 2018. Thus far, we have experienced 40 days of winter, with 50 days left to go. In Indiana that means too many gray days and not enough “squinting at the sun, unable to see the traffic light, blinded by the gorgeous rays” days.

Having a sunny disposition is contagious. This winter, instead of spreading the common cold, spread a little happiness.

Here’s how:

  1. Smile more: Studies show that if you smile, the people around you will smile. Smiling makes everything better. Do it.
  2. Consider what you do well. Do more of it. This will make you feel good about yourself and spread your natural talent.
  3. Give someone a 100% sincere compliment.
  4. Pet your dog, cat, turtle. This will make both of you happy.
  5. Help someone. Giving to others is the best way to raise your spirits and someone else’s.
  6. Express your gratitude.

To curb these deary days, bring your own sunshine. It will warm you and everyone around you.



The Difference Between Being Busy and Being Productive


I’m sure you’re too busy for this 4-minute video but humor me for 2-minutes and I’ll give you a very brief synopsis.

Many of my corporate clients struggle with the issue of working on the RIGHT thing. This video squarely addresses that problem. The most common strength of the 17.5 million people who have taken the StrengthsFinder assessment is Achiever. This means that of those folks who have taken the 45-minute personality assessment, many of them report enjoying getting a lot done every day and making things happen (at work and at home).

However, after years of coaching some of these Achievers (and wrestling with my own Achiever which ranks #3 in my “Top 5” strengths), I have noticed that many of these same people worry that they can work on the WRONG things – for instance the easy things, the things that are “low hanging fruit,” the things that may make your colleague happy but that are not necessarily your top priority. They leave work every day knowing that they were busy, but they have a gnawing feeling that they were not productive. Sound like anyone you know?

Here are four tips that may help you in 2018 and beyond to become productive at work (and not just busy).

  1. Set priorities – Your top priority should be where you spend your time and effort. Get the critical things done first, INSTEAD OF the easy things.
  2. Start saying “No” – This is a big challenge for many of my clients who enjoy reaping the respect of others by helping and seeming to be the “go-to” person when there is a difficult task at hand due to their stellar work ethic. My suggestion to those who love saying “Yes” is to say, “Yes, but not now.” If saying “yes” to helping others on tasks that are not your top priority is your number one productivity distraction, test out this technique.
  3. Set realistic deadlines – Giving yourself too much time (or not enough time) to accomplish tasks can also be problematic. Breaking large priorities into smaller tasks is the best way to initiate difficult projects. Setting the appropriate timeline to complete these smaller tasks will create a positive snowball effect in that you can build on your small success day after day.
  4. Create short “to-do” lists – Many of the busy people I coach create long lists every day of all of the things they plan to accomplish. I have met more than a handful of these same people who keep their past notepads containing these lists for posterity. Ok, there may be a tiny chance that they’ll need to know in the future that they started working on a certain project on May 14, 2015 but it’s much more likely that these old notebooks are only used as a self-soothing technique to give evidence to worried Achievers of just how much work these dedicated individuals have put in year-in and year-out. The proof is not for their boss, mind you, it’s for them. High Achievers love to know they are getting lots done, and these old lists – with check marks at the side, or lines crossing out the tasks listed – are a way to show themselves in black and white that they have a long history of getting things done. Unfortunately, these old lists only show how busy they were every day, not how productive they were each year. If your habit has been to create a long daily to-do list, try something different in 2018. Create a daily 1-3 item list that forces you to consider your biggest priorities every day.

Best of luck for a PRODUCTIVE and happy year.

Managers Push, Leaders Pull: Tips to Become a Good Puller

Do you push or pull? We see these words frequently in our daily lives (mostly above door handles), but they have meaning in our work lives too.

Marketers use the terms push and pull to explain how they can strategically gain a new customer. If you decide to use push marketing, your approach is to promote your product by pushing it onto the potential buyer. If you decide to use pull marketing, your approach is to build brand awareness and draw the potential buyer to you naturally.

The terms are similarly used when applied to managerial processes. A manager might push her direct reports to implement a new sales technique by requiring that they use a particular sales process by the end of the year. In the new year, all sales will be recorded using documentation that supports the new sales process. When a manager chooses to push instead of pull her direct reports, they have no choice in type of sales method chosen, no input on how it might be implemented, nor any say about the time frame that a new process will be launch. All of those decisions are pushed upon them by their all-knowing manager.

That same pushing manager can transform herself into a pulling leader by making three changes to her approach.

  1. First, the pulling leader is persuasive; she lets her direct reports make their own decisions but is sure to put all of the relevant information on the table. A leader can gently pull her reports to implement changes, when her direct reports come to believe that there are a host of personal and professional advantages that make this change desirable. Comparing and contrasting the current process, the newly proposed process, and rival processes (also referred to as the “learning orientation”) is key to this step. When direct reports feel educated and empowered by new information, they are more likely to choose the best option.
  2. Second, the pulling leader creates an open dialogue. In the case of implementing a new sales technique, a pulling leader would create an environment where direct reports can openly discuss the pros and cons of each scenario without backlash.
  3. Third, the pulling leader allows individuals to test the waters in the way that suits them best. For some, this might mean rolling the idea around in their head for a few days or weeks. For others, this might mean taking the process out for a test run. Still others might want to do their own research. Allowing for individual differences in the implementation process gives direct reports faith that this is not a one-size fits all, top-down, mandatory procedure.

There are plenty of reasons that managers continue to push instead of pull. Pushing is quick. It requires very little managerial savvy. “Because I said so” is basically the pusher’s response to any queries about the change process.

The pulling leader has a much more uncertain road. The individual differences of the team, their buy-in preferences, their personality quirks, and their individual desires are all a part of the consideration process for the pulling leader. The good news is that the pay-off for pulling your team into the future is that they will willingly be standing by your side. This is vastly different from pushing them into the future with you because they may be next to you in body alone, begrudging every minute spent with you.

Be a puller, not a pusher.

For more from Sarah Robinson about persuasive leadership see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

New Year’s Resolution 2018: Be a Giver

Are you a giver at work? It turns out that givers, as compared to takers or matchers, are both the HIGHEST and the LOWEST performers at work. Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take and Originals, believes that creating organizations with more high performing givers is a workplace imperative.

So, if becoming a giver and/or creating a culture of giving at work is high on your to-do list for 2018, what steps can be taken  by you individually or your collective management team to promote a workplace that emphasizes contribution (and giving) rather than competition (and taking)?

Here are three tips from Adam’s talk:

  1. Don’t burnout: The giver has a hard time saying no. Givers, who I frequently encounter in my coaching business, buy into the idea that they can save the day with their knowledge, expertise, or amazing work ethic. They appreciate the opportunity to help and want to gain the respect of the individual or group that may have asked for their help. They need to be protected from (or least advised and counselled about) giving too much. Grant suggests that givers try to limit themselves to a 5-minute helping hand.
  2. Promote help-seeking: Workplaces are naturally constructed to promote teamwork: we have meetings with our colleagues; we have joint office spaces or neighboring cubicles. Remarkably, despite the proximity of these smart people, we are frequently reluctant to ask them for help. We do not want to burden our colleagues with our work. We do not want to appear inept. Creating and promoting a help-seeking environment can dramatically lessen the awkwardness of asking for help at work. If someone asked you for help yesterday, wouldn’t you feel more secure about asking for help today? Of course. Grant discusses how hospitals have used this concept effectively by creating the position of a “helping nurse,” whose primary responsibility is to help other nurses.
  3. Don’t hire takers: Although this last tip may be easier said than done, an effective way to increase giving and reduce taking in the workplace is to eliminate individuals who are prone to having a competitive, silo-ed, non-sharing demeanor. Grant makes a great point that we must be on the look-out for the office backstabber – the individual who pretends to be kind and helpful to your face but who actually runs you down and diminishes you when you turn your back.

The timing of this message, on the heals of the holidays and preceding the New Year, is intentional. My guess is that at some point last week you realized (once again!) that giving is better than receiving. Let’s make it our 2018 mantra.

Happy New Year!


People Need One Another

Do you like to fly solo? I ask that question both literally and figuratively. Sometimes it’s nice to travel alone. You don’t need to wait for your companion’s luggage or worry about getting them a latte before boarding. It can be nice to work independently too. When we work solo, we may believe we have more control over deadlines, work product, and final outcomes. Depending on other people is a huge risk. Sometimes people let us down. Sometimes they come up short. Sometimes they annoy us.

After years of considering these issues, I have come to think that focusing on the positives of independence, is a trap. This flawed thinking can lull us into the belief that flying solo is not only better for us personally (less hassle!) but also better for our professional outcomes (more control!). But we do not develop, grow, and learn in a vacuum, cut off from other people. We learn about ourselves and the world by relying upon friends, colleagues, relatives, acquaintances, and total strangers every single day.

Depending upon others, at work and at home, is a skill I continue to grow. It does not come naturally to me. However, when I am able to find a great partner, or a fantastic group to be a part of, I have to remind myself all over again that flying solo has many disadvantages. When I pretend to be self-sufficient (is anyone actually capable of this?), I cut-off opportunities for collaboration, new thinking, and process improvement.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the many people who make me better, who draw awareness to issues that lie in my blind spots and who know how to press back and slow me down when I want to charge ahead.

Who do you need most? How do they help you to be a better you? If you have the tendency to want to do everything yourself, ask yourself who actually benefits from your desire for total autonomy? When I ask myself this question, I realize that the benefits of flying solo are limited. People need one another. The Pilgrims were quick to figure this out.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Power of Differences

Most of us have experienced the fear of being different at some point in our lives. I had more than a fleeting awareness that there were a handful of things about me that were different from my peers during grade school. Most notably, I was Caucasian and all my best friends during the period between first and sixth grades were not. I was really bummed that I couldn’t wear hair ties that had huge gumball-like balls on them as my African-American friends did. My fine, brown, slippery hair could not hold those heaving, decorative balls; the ties would just slip out of my hair, quite to my dismay. It seemed unfair and it made me sad.

The Fear of Differences

However, it wasn’t until junior high school that differences – whether they be physical or related to beliefs – actually caused fear in me. The fear of being different, of buying the “wrong” brand of jeans, of liking a boy that no one else liked, or actually enjoying a class that everyone else hated, was profound. There were many brands and beliefs that were easy to conform to. For example: what was the BEST soap opera? General Hospital; what was the BEST lip gloss? Bonny Bell; what was the ONLY tennis shoe that could be worn? Nike. This cult-like thinking was frequently inspired by the awareness of the ridicule that was in store for the outliers. The outliers were the people who dared to buck the norm and be different. The term outlier has been made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book with the same name. In this book, Gladwell dis-spells all of our lingering junior high fears while shining a bright light on the value and necessity of outliers. Gladwell not only praises the outliers but he inspires his reader to be an outlier.

The Power of Differences 

In the work I do with corporate teams as a StrengthsFinder coach, I frequently highlight the outliers of the team. Who is the only member of the team who has Woo in their “Top 5 Strengths”? Who has Analytical? Who has Context? When the team members understand how each strength can be productively applied, these outliers become remarkably important.  The Woo can advise the team on the best way to approach a stranger at a networking cocktail party, or better yet, they can go to the event and flex their strength in full view of their adoring colleagues. The differences of the team and the team’s ability to tap into these differences are the team’s “secret sauce.”

Research that supports this idea was completed by the company that is so well-known for creating high performing teams: Google. In Google’s quest to find “the components of a perfect team,” they studied 180 teams and found that there are two factors that most impacted a team’s performance. The first factor is “social sensitivity” or how aware group members were to the importance of social connection. The second factor relates to how well the group communicates. The groups who gave each team member equal time to speak and freedom to share ideas did best. Teams that consistently shared different ideas and resisted the temptation silence the outlier in favor of the majority rule consistently outperformed their peers. Needless to say, Google evaluated a host of other factors, including IQ and personality traits, when trying to decipher the key ingredients of a perfect team, and social sensitivity and idea-sharing were the big winners.

Embracing your differences and the differences of those around you while simultaneously learning how to focus the unique lens through which your team sees the world is your team’s challenge. Good luck!


For more on using your strengths as well as your differences productively see: Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want. To learn more about Malcom Gladwell’s work see: Outliers.


Happiness Study – Results Everyone Should Know

This TEDTalk is worth every minute it takes to watch.

Below is a quick summary for those who don’t have 12 minutes to watch this fascinating video that explains the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest study on happiness ever conducted.

  1. Connections with people are what impact health and happiness.
  2. The QUALITY of relationships counts. High quality relationships positively impact health and happiness. Low quality relationships can negatively impact health and happiness.
  3. Loneliness greatly impacts cognitive and physical health.

The BEST predictor of health was was NOT cholesterol levels or any of the other physiological measures collected over the 75 years that the study has taken place. Instead, researchers found that the men who had the most satisfying relationships at age 50 were more apt to be alive and healthier at age 80 than their peers who had less satisfying relationships at age 50. WOW.

These results are fascinating and even more exciting when coupled with the new research discussed in Shawn Achor’s not-yet-released book Big Potential. Achor, also a happiness researcher from Harvard, explains that most people believe that SUCCESS will make them happy and that success is derived from winning in a world that is based on a zero sum game. This means most people believe that there is only so much success out there in the world; I must compete against others to win; if I win, you must lose. Wrong. Achor presents research that explains how our individual success is actually interconnected with the success of those around us. When we help others succeed, we are more likely to succeed on a higher level.

Bottom line: not only your health and happiness but your ultimate success at work are dependent on your ability to grow and sustain relationships.




Live Your Dreams

Great advice from Thoreau. Not sure how to get started? Learn your strengths and find a coach.



What’s Wrong with the Carrot and Stick Approach?

In a nutshell, there is plenty that’s wrong about the carrot and stick approach. Yet, managers have not been given the tools or witnessed a better way to harness workers’ interests. So, this dated approach lives on and on and on. The carrot and stick approach has long referred to how we motivate people at work, with the assumption being that people are like horses who love carrots and hate getting smacked on their behind by a stick (but if smacked by their rider, will run faster). Are people and horses the same? Do rewards and punishments work at work?

  • Research shows rewards work best to harness ACTION  

In the September 27, 2017 Harvard Business Review, Tali Sharot, an associate professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London, shares how the reward of praise was more effective to increase hospital employees’ hand sanitizing efforts than the threat of disease (and obvious punishment). In fact, cameras monitoring employees washing or not washing their hands showed an increase from 10% compliance when warning signs about disease were used to motivate employees’ actions versus almost 90% compliance when an electronic board displayed a positive message (“Good job!”) to reward hand washing. Bottom line: immediate positive feedback is very effective when it comes to changing actions. Sharot explains that our brains have evolved over time to be wired such that we think “if reward, then action needed.”

  • Research shows punishments work best to harness INACTION  

On the flip side, our brains have also evolved to avoid negative consequences (such as drowning, poison, or dangerous areas) by inaction or staying where we are. Most people have experienced the phenomena of freezing in place in a potentially dangerous situation. Sharot believes that “when we anticipate something bad, our brain triggers a ‘no go’ signal.” For this reason, punishments (like getting fired or being legally prosecuted) may be most effective to discourage people from acting in certain ways (like stealing from the company or sharing trade secrets).

  • Best ways to use this information 

Unfortunately, the clarity of this message (immediately reward the actions you want to see at work and immediately punish the actions you want to extinguish) is frequently confused or ineffectively rolled out. How often has the fear of punishment (public embarrassment or demotion) been the stick that has “motivated” us to work on a project or presentation? Given this research, it’s not surprising that we have delayed working on our project or presentation! Our brain has been telling us “DON’T ACT; STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” To combat this, skilled managers need to motivate team members with the promise of praise and immediate feedback. Most employees want more specific feedback than the generic “Good job!” but a sincere compliment that occurs immediately after the action is almost universally appreciated.

The runner-up “ah-ha” from Sharot’s article is how important praise is at work. I always worry when I encounter managers who pride themselves in doling out compliments infrequently for fear of over-saturating their employees’ egos. There is no BETTER, CHEAPER, or MORE EFFECTIVE motivational tool. Effective managers know what good praise looks like (authentic, specific, meaningful) and when (often) to dole it out.

Get going.


To read the full article in HBR go to: To read more from Sarah Robinson, see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

So true