CEE Blog

Perspectives on the World We Work In

The Culture Equation: 3 Critical Factors You Can’t Ignore

Culture. What does that word actually mean? Though many have tried, no one has ever landed on a fixed, universal definition for organizational culture. The subject has been vigorously debated from the pages of the Harvard Business Review to the halls of MIT Sloan. What is not debated is that culture is part of the DNA of every organization. Whether your organizational culture is empowering or toxic depends greatly on two factors: shared experience and modeled leadership.

Consider this. When new employees join your organization, they step in on Day 1 with a set of preconceived beliefs based on past experience. They may believe that markets are finite and there is only so much business to go around. They may believe that success happens only when we beat our competitors. That in order to for us to win business, others must lose. Some have been taught that ethics and morals can be bent. Others have relied on the strict dictates of policies and procedures. That makes up the experience half of the equation.

The other half comes directly from modeled leadership. If the leaders of the organization are fixated on business development, channel expansion, and market domination, they are not likely spending any time intentionally trying to shape the culture. Unintentionally, however, they are sending very clear signals about what is important to them. They are the cultural architects of your organization and contribute these three very important things to the culture equation:

1. What is measured. Let’s face it. Culture can be hard to measure. Senior executives tend to shy away from anything with a fuzzy ROI. Yet, whether you measure it or not, your culture is showing up in your bottom line. Skilfully managed cultures can be a performance multiplier. Recent research by the Great Place to Work© Institute found that companies that actively invest in workplace culture yield nearly 2x the return over their competitors. They also typically report 65% less voluntary turnover, saving an average of $3,500 per employee in recruiting and training costs. If culture isn’t part of your KPI mix, you’re sending the signal that it’s unimportant.


2. What is rewarded. A recent study by O.C. Tanner found that employees report being recognized for their work as their most important motivator, over 20 times more than salary. Employees study what behaviors and achievements get rewarded, and naturally modify their work accordingly. Leaders who understand this connection create recognition programs that go beyond passing out paychecks. WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge proudly hosts the company’s annual People Choice Awards. Each year, heartfelt speeches are given by winners of coveted awards like “Best Mentor Coach” and “Best Team Player.” Leaders like Ridge know that coin-operated employees have no passion.


3. What is ignored. Leaders are bombarded with data, hold back-to-back meetings, and field urgent requests on a daily basis. When we need to respond to fast-moving competitive situations, it is tempting to tap only our direct reports for feedback. In his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader,” New York Times bestselling author Daniel Goleman warns that this temptation is dangerous. He recommends that leaders practice expanding their focus of awareness. “A failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided,” Goleman writes. What’s worse, leaders who ignore input from those outside their immediate circle are signaling to the rest of the organization that their input is irrelevant.

Leaders are the cultural architects of your organization. The key metrics they pay attention to, the contributions they reward, and range of their awareness directly impact both your organizational culture and your bottom line.

Question: What do you measure, reward and ignore? How is that impacting your organizational culture?

5 Takeaways After 5 Years as CEO of a Leadership Consulting Firm

Taking you from what is to what is possible. That has been our core purpose since Center for Executive Excellence was founded on this day in 2013.

Since launching our firm five years ago, we have served more than 300 clients, built a social media following of over 20,400, posted 155 blogs, and published 30 articles in Forbes and Huffington Post. If you’ve been part of our journey over the years, thank you. We have been honored to provide you with information and insights along the way to help you grow yourself and your team.

While our firm’s numbers are impressive, it’s the numbers that I have logged in the role as CEO of Center for Executive Excellence that I want to share. As I reflect over the past five years, here are some nuggets that I have collected in my role:

1. Partner with an accelerator. You can hang your shingle out and go completely solo, or partner with someone who’s built a reputation as a trusted consultant in your industry. I chose the latter. I have been honored to know our Co-Founder, Dr. Tony Baron, for over ten years. With a double doctorate in psychology and theology and decades of executive coaching experience with Fortune 100 companies, Tony has been my mentor, trusted advisor, door opener, accountability partner and friend. The first two clients we signed were a direct result of Tony’s stellar reputation in the field. Liftoff.

2. Upgrade your operating system. If I teach what I knew about leadership and culture from 2013, I would be working from an outdated playbook. I do two things to upgrade my professional operating system every day. The first thing I do is read. Before I open my Inbox, I scan Harvard Business Review, Forbes, The Atlantic, and The Economist for trends, research, case studies, and theories about leadership, culture, and organizational purpose.  I share an article that I find most interesting with my online community. The second thing I do is work closely with our Director of Marketing, Danielle Aguas — nearly 25 years my junior — to learn about trends, technologies, and perspectives from her generation. Working by her side helps me upgrade my operating system in real time as she discretely mentions things like, “Indeed is the preferred job search site over Monster.” Check. Thanks for the update.

3. Know what you don’t know (and find someone who does). In one of my favorite TED Talks of all time, ”If you want to help someone, shut up and listen”, Ernesto Sirolli suggested that he has never met an entrepreneur in the world who could “make it, sell it, and look after the money.” In Year 3, we realized that we knew how to “make it” and how to “look after the money”, but we didn’t know how to “sell it” at a scalable level. We brought in a consultant, Pat Valentino, who believed in what we were doing and who could help us define and capture a target market. Thanks to Pat’s expertise, we built a process to attract and retain clients that have resulted in exponential growth. Even coaches need coaches.

4. Take your own medicine. One of our core beliefs as a leadership consultancy and culture alignment firm is that we don’t ask our clients to go through something that we have not gone through ourselves. We recommend that our clients get clear about their organizational purpose because we know that purpose is a performance multiplier. We are inspired every day because of ours: Taking you from what is to what is possible. When our clients ask if we can help with strategic planning, we say, “yes and no.” We can help with strategic planning only if we can help with strategy execution. We use a balanced scorecard every year to determine our organizational goals, then align employee goals and track them quarterly to ensure that we know how what we do each day impacts our strategic goals. These are just two examples that help us directly relate to what we ask our clients to go through in their own leadership and culture alignment process. We’ve been there. We do that.

5. Celebrate your wins. Part of the work we do with clients includes StrengthsFinder training and coaching. Gallup’s strengths-based science is based on 5 decades of research and development. They’ve studied more than 1 million work teams, conducted tens of thousands of individual interviews, and coached more than 12 million people to discover their strengths and leverage what they do best. One of my top five strengths is Achiever. People with Achiever in their top five feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day, we must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about ourselves. And by “every day” we mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations. While being an Achiever has certainly helped me lead the growth of our firm, it can be overapplied to the point of burnout for myself and my team. “Celebrate our victories” is actually written into our balance scorecard to remind us to stop, reflect, and appreciate our accomplishments as a team.

We can look ahead tomorrow. Today, we celebrate.

Question: What have you learned in the last five years that has helped you grow as a leader?


– To celebrate 5 years, we’re extending a promotional Re:Imagine Leadership Summit rate of $500! (that’s $185 off the regular rate). To register, click here or on the image below. Learn more about this one-day leadership event of the year.

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CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Great Leaders Recognize Their MVP (Many Valuable People)

If you’re one of the estimated 103 million people who tuned in to watch Super Bowl LII on Sunday, you may have seen the MVP award handed out to Eagles’ backup quarterback, Nick Foles. While Foles showed strength under pressure against the favored New England Patriots, recognizing quarterbacks of the winning team as Super Bowl MVP has become the norm over the 52-year history of the game.

Former NFL coach and New York Times bestselling author, Tony Dungy, offers a perspective on the MVP award for leaders who want to build successful teams both on and off the field. In The One Year Uncommon Daily Life Challenge, published in 2011 following Super Bowl XLV (45), Dungy wrote:

“Since the first Super Bowl was held in 1967, forty-six Most Valuable Player awards have been handed out, one for each of the forty-five Super Bowls and one with two.

In the first four Super Bowls, the quarterback from the winning team was selected as the Most Valuable Player. Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr was selected in both 1967 and 1968 as the MVP, and in 1969 Joe Namath was selected following the New York Jets’ historic win over the Baltimore Colts. In 1970 Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs was selected after leading his team to victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Every year since, the award has been handed out to a member of the winning team, except in 1971, when Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Chuck Howley won the award in the game against the winner, the Baltimore Colts.

During the course of the forty-five-year span of Super Bowl Sunday games, the breakdown by position of the Most Valuable Player selected is kick returner-1; running backs-7; wide receivers-6; defensive players-8; quarterbacks-24.

In the forty-five-year history of the Super Bowl, not one offensive lineman has won the award. Yet try to play the game without them. Try to win a Super Bowl without a stellar offensive line. And as to quarterbacks – how many Super Bowl MVP awards do you think they would have won if they had been consistently hurried, hit, or sacked during a game, watching the game from the vantage point of their backsides?

I know of one in particular – Peyton Manning, the MVP quarterback in Super Bowl XLI – who couldn’t have won it without his offensive line. Or his running backs, receivers, and tight ends. Or his defense. Peyton’s a great player, but he needed the rest of the supporting cast.”

Whether or not you’re a football fan, Dungy’s thoughts about recognizing team effort applies to leaders of all winning teams. Yet, not all team members need a to hold a trophy over their heads to feel recognized. In an article written for Harvard Business Review titled What Great Managers Do, leadership author Marcus Buckingham noted that the best managers know what triggers each team member. They know that by far, the most powerful trigger is recognition, and that each employee’s standard of recognition is nuanced.

To excel as a leader, you must be able to match the team member to the recognition he values most. One employee might prefer peer recognition. The best way to praise him would be to point him out in front of his coworkers and give kudos for his achievement.

Another employee’s favorite audience might be you. The most powerful recognition would be a one-on-one conversation where you tell her quietly and precisely how you value her on the team. Still another employee might define himself by his specialized skills. He would most prize being recognized with a professional or technical award.

Great leaders understand that success requires recognition of a Most Valuable Team. Find the right recognition method, and you’ll unlock an inherent desire for continued high performance.

Question: Who are the unsung heroes on your team?


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CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader.

The 4 Steps to Extraordinary Productivity in 2018

Remember the days when someone asked you, “How’s it going?” “Fine,” was your auto-response.

“Fine” was code for, “I have a lot on my plate both personally and professionally right now, but unless you have an hour to listen, I don’t think you want me to get into it.” Everything wasn’t fine. You knew it. The other person knew it. But, “fine” was the socially acceptable response.

Today, when someone asks you, “How’s it going?” the new socially acceptable answer is, “Busy.” Busy-ness has become a badge of honor. You have messages to answer, meetings to prepare for, data to review, and decisions to make. You’re connected to work 24/7. You’ve tried the latest software to unclutter. You’ve bought the newest devices to keep up, but you just can’t break the cycle of busy-ness.

In 1992, global internet traffic measured 100 GB per day. Last year, that rate exploded to 20,235 GB per second. There’s been an explosion of information to consume, but we still have a finite number of hours per day to find the valuable bits. As this rate, we’ll quickly move from busy-ness to burnout if we don’t find a way to better manage our time and have extraordinary productivity. Here are four ways successful leaders don’t let busy-ness get in the way of business:

1. Prioritize. Start by deciding the most important priorities in your life – both personal and professional. Stephen Covey called this the “Big Rocks” principle. If you think of your day as a bucket, and you start your day without a plan, you’ll soon get busy filling your bucket with little rocks (tasks, cat videos, whatever). Before you know it, your bucket is full, and you spent another day working on things that have little value to you either personally or professionally. Instead, watch Covey demonstrate how to prioritize your Big Rocks.

2. Centralize. Next, decide on a system where you can keep a daily list of things you need to work on. The choices people make here fall into one of two groups: the techiesand the Gutenbergers. If you’re a techie, you’ll probably want to use one of the many multi-platform productivity tools like Evernote and sync it with an app like Remember the Milk to help you manage your tasks. Gutenbergers prefer to track tasks on paper. Franklin Covey is a recognized leader in this area, with lots of options to choose from. Regardless of your preference, you’ll want to centralize all of your tasks in one system. Stop writing reminders on sticky notes and in random devices. Put all of your tasks in one place – and remember to put the Big Rocks in first.

3. Categorize.  You’re clear about your Big Rocks and you’ve chosen one place to keep track of your personal and professional tasks. Now what? In no particular order, make a list of your daily tasks. Next, put them in A, B, and C categories. A tasks are important, B tasks have medium importance, and C tasks have low importance. Now, number all of the A tasks in order of importance, and do the same for the B’s and C’s. If you’ve done this correctly, something that made your Big Rock list has an A beside it. Not necessarily A-1, but it’s at the top.

4. Recognize. Brace yourself for this – your task list will never be done. But, think of it this way. If you start each day with a plan in place, and if you only manage to get one thing on your list done, it will be the most important thing you had to do that day. Over time, you’ll see that some of your B’s and C’s could be delegated so that you’re focusing on the most important priorities in your personal and professional life.

You can continue wearing the busy-ness badge, or get real about your priorities and work on the most important things first. The choice is yours.

Question: Do you know someone who uses a time management system? What impact do you think it has on them personally and professionally?

How to Bounce Back from a Negative 360 Review

It’s been said that feedback is the breakfast of champions. In my work as a leadership consultant, clients often tell me that they welcome feedback on their performance. In reality, however, negative feedback can go down like a bowl of cold, lumpy oatmeal.

Nobody likes negative feedback. No matter how much you claim to want honest critique, it’s hard to swallow. Especially when you get it from multiple raters in a 360-degree review format.

Unlike a traditional employee appraisal, the 360 review is an opportunity for a wider span of people you regularly work with – your boss, your peers, your reporting staff – to provide feedback on your performance. Hence, the name 360-degree comes from the fact that performance feedback is solicited from all directions in the organization.

This is the time of year when we’re resolving to improve ourselves and perhaps undergoing performance reviews. It’s also when we’re most likely to encounter negative feedback. Instead of viewing this time with dread, leaders who want to continuously grow themselves and their organizations welcome the opportunity to learn.

No matter how resilient they are, most executives process negative feedback by working through the five stages of grief. They react with the denial stage and try to cling to their preferred reality. Next, they move to anger and look for someone else to blame. In the bargaining stage, they consider ways to negotiate ways out of doing the work to assess reality correctly. This often leads to the stage of depression and withdrawal. In the final stage, acceptance, they recognize that there may be some truth to the feedback, and can resolve to deal with it.

That’s partly because high achievers tend to have attribution bias. That is, we take too much credit for our successes and assign too much external blame for our failures. It’s a survival mechanism that helps to protect our self-esteem. Unfortunately, it also prevents learning and growth.

If you suffer a setback from negative feedback, you don’t have to get stuck in the grief cycle.  Re-read the feedback carefully and mine it for nuggets to help you critically evaluate where you can improve. Talk with others who you trust to get their perspective on your feedback. Use this opportunity to do some serious discovery work, then act with renewed conviction. Move out of the grief cycle and onto a path that will allow you to grow as a leader and be the kind of model you strive to be.

Getting negative feedback about your performance from your colleagues can be an ego bruiser. But, successful leaders know that feedback can shed light on their blind spots, and help them assess reality correctly. Every setback can become a springboard to a comeback if you respond in the right way.

Question: How can you turn negative feedback into positive changes?


Interested in getting more content like this? Subscribe to CEE News!

CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

10 Ways to Assess Reality Correctly as a Leader by Dr. Tony Baron

Over the past 10 years, I have been honored to explore and debate the essence of power with Dr. Tony Baron. Specifically, how power impacts leadership, how leadership impacts culture, and, ultimately, how culture impacts performance. 

 With a double doctorate in psychology and theology and decades of executive coaching experience with Fortune 100 companies, you can imagine the depth and breadth that Tony adds to the subject. We are currently co-authoring a book that combines Tony’s scholarship and my straight talk about the challenges faced by today’s leaders. Meanwhile, I will be sharing guest posts by Tony from time to time to give you a taste of what it’s like to have an amazing colleague and friend like Tony Baron. – Sheri Nasim

About an hour before this post was written, President Trump suggested that news media outlets (with the exception of Fox) should compete for a Fake News Trophy. With the President’s daily dose of doubts about the veracity of news media, coupled with algorithms that determine what news spreads, and even the capability to create digital doppelgangers of politicians and celebrities, confidence in our ability to assess reality correctly has never been more shaken.

Yet, long before the 21st century, leaders have struggled with their ability to assess reality correctly. In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin explains that, for centuries, “[Kings have] traditionally surrounded themselves with a well-fed and well-paid court of supplicants, each of whom has a vested interest in keeping things as they are.” Today’s leaders don’t need supplicants, they need counselors.

Here are ten suggestions for how to assess reality correctly when you’re the leader:

1. Seek counsel from those who are directly involved with the presenting problem.

2. Seek counsel from those who have presented past decisions correctly.

3. Seek counsel from those who have nothing to gain personally from the decision.

4. Seek counsel from those who desire a balance between profit, people, and planet.

5. Seek counsel from those who respond and not react to the problem.

6. Gather as much information as possible from a wide variety of resources.

7. Ask yourself if the people who offer advice are giving you the pros and cons of the decision, or if they are minimizing the pros and cons.

8. Seek what is morally good in the decision process:

a. Look for the objective good

b. Look for the primary intention of doing the good

c. Does the decision benefit all the key stakeholders?

9. Determine if the decision calls for a command decision, consultation decision, or a consensus decision to be successful in seeking reality.

10. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent. Pause and think through the unintended consequences of the decision.

Your team is looking to you as a model for assessing reality correctly. Practice getting counsel, rather than information, and focus on decision quality, rather than quantity.

Question: What are you doing to make sure your decisions are based in reality?


Dr. Tony Baron is Distinguished Scholar-In-Residence at Center for Executive Excellence and an internationally recognized speaker, writer, corporate consultant, professor and the San Diego Director of Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology.

Dr. Baron is the author of six books, including The Art of Servant Leadership and a workbook manual co-written with noted author and business leader Ken Blanchard. Throughout his career, he has worked with hundreds of companies including Ford Motor Company, Coca Cola Company, Warner Brothers Studios, and Boeing, among many others.

Meet the Elite Leadership Vanguard Ready to Drop Into Your Organization

Some of the most rewarding hours I spent in 2017 were those working as a pro bono Executive Coach for The Honor Foundation (THF). This San Diego-based non-profit helps former Navy SEALs and other elite U.S. Special Operations Forces transition out of military service and into the corporate world.

THF is a world-class, 120-hour program started by CEO Joe Musselman out of a combination of desperation and drive to serve others. In 2012, Joe was faced with the most difficult transition of his life. He had enlisted in the Navy with a dream to become a Navy SEAL. While in training one day, Joe sustained a serious injury. By nightfall, he was medically discharged. The next 12 months led Joe through rehabilitation and the discovery of dozens of other members of the SEAL community who were in serious need of help to transition out of military service and into the civilian world.

As he dug further into the issue, Joe found that just 13% of SEALs had job offers when they got out of the service. He compared this to the 98% of Wharton MBA graduates who received 2-3 job offers upon graduation. Even those SEALs who did find employment often moved from job to job in the first five years after transitioning. That was the injustice that Joe set out to correct in 2013.

On December 7, 2017, THF graduated its 13th group of Special Operations Forces. 35 men who have served our country with honor now have the tools they need to confidently enter the workforce with pride and a sure footing. They are prepared to take the leap of faith that the civilian world will honor their service, embrace their elite training, and place them in positions worthy of their talents.

It is my honor to introduce you to six members of the Group 13 graduating class, and to invite you to learn more about how you can employ, mentor, coach or donate to this amazing organization.

1. Jarryd Allison, “I am passionate about values-driven companies with high-performing and multi-disciplined teams that apply innovation, initiative, and technology to solve the most difficult problems.”

What he brings to the team: As an engineer, I understand the value of technology and teams to create innovative solutions. Learning music has taught me to understand the importance of creativity, and the blending of individual skills to produce incredible teams. Serving as an intelligence and special operations officer has honed my work ethic as a servant leader to inspire through empathy, understanding, and values.

Areas of Interest: Seeking to bring my skills to an inspiring company with outstanding teams that are driven by shared values to improve lives.

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Aerospace Engineering, University of Colorado


2. Nicolas Hann, “I prefer a collaborative environment where the leaders work for those people that work for them.”

What he brings to the team: A passion for leading and working with dynamic and high performing teams deeply rooted in learning from his parents – both educators – that genuine love and inspiration towards every individual will result in a team that cannot be stopped.

Areas of Interest: Seeking an opportunity to use his extensive supply chain, logistics, budget planning and administration skills in the biotech industry in either San Diego or Boston.

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, International Relations and Affairs, Boston University, Applying for MBA, Fall of 2018.

Bonus: Watch Dr. Elizabeth Fried’s video interview of Nicolas here.


3. Luke Howard-Vesci, “My exposure to solving complex challenges around the world has sharpened my intuition and I am looking forward to utilizing my leadership attributes, unique skills and active awareness in a variety of future roles.”

What he brings to the team: Over 12 years of experience in dynamic and high-stress environments. Excels through innovation, strategic leadership, and building quality relationships within a team.

Areas of interest: Innovation, strategic leadership, and building quality relationships in a dynamic organization.

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Organizational Leadership, Business Administration & Management, University of Charleston


4. Thaddeus Siwinski, “Looking forward to leveraging my leadership experience, unique skills, and sharpened intuition to make a significant impact in business.”

What he brings to the team: I specialize in communicating strategy and aligning it with tactics to lead cross-functional teams in dynamic and stressful environments.

Areas of interest: Project Management • Cross-functional team leadership • Problem Solving • Strategy Implementation • Data Analysis • Interpersonal Communication • Risk Management

Education: MBA, University of Maryland, College Park


5. Levi Terry, “Able to bring unique and creative ideas to the table.”

What he brings to the team: Eight years of experience with computer networking, penetration testing, information assurance, intelligence analysis, and programming.

Areas of interest: To ensure that information systems and networks, as well as their residing data, are secure from breaches in a private sector technical or management position in cyber security.

Education: Computer Science, University of Maryland University College

Bonus: Watch Dr. Elizabeth Fried’s video interview of Levi here.


6. Jason Torey, “Principled leader who is passionate about inspiring and helping people ignite their unrealized potential.”

What he brings to the team: Over 24 years of experience leading highly technical and superior performing cross-functional teams dispersed domestically and globally in the achievement of strategic goals. 

Areas of interest: A senior leadership position in an ethical and values-based organization.

Education: MBA, Washington State University; Doctor of Executive Leadership, University of Charleston (2019)

Bonus: Watch Dr. Elizabeth Fried’s video interview of Jason here.


7. Jason Tuschen, “Highly focused on leading problem solving through collaboration of differing opinions and detailed root cause analysis.”

What he brings to the team: 27 years of military and Special Operations experience functionally equivalent to a private sector COO.

Areas of interest: Working with diverse cultures to develop effective solutions in complex, dynamic, and high-risk environments.

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Business Administration and Management, Excelsior College

Bonus: Read about Jason’s leadership role in the New York Times Best-Seller, Code Name: Johnny Walker

If your organization could benefit from service-minded, adaptable, problem solvers like these, there is no more elite group of talent than the graduates of The Honor Foundation. Contact The Honor Foundation here to learn more about employing, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship opportunities for this world-class program.

Question: What can you do to serve people who have dedicated their lives in service to others?  


Interested in getting more content like this? Subscribe to CEE News!

CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. We hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If we can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

3 Simple Questions to Find Your ‘Why’ in 2018

Welcome to another year, and another round of jokes about not keeping New Year’s resolutions. To-wit: The 13 funniest tweets about New Year’s resolutions.

All joking aside, those who will make this year a true success are not focused on their New Year’s resolutions – about what they will start doing or stop doing. Instead, they are focused on their why. They’ve taken the time to connect the dots of who they are with what they do. And that is a very powerful motivator.

This year, don’t resolve to do two or three small things differently. Instead, take the time to connect with your why. What can you do to make an enduring impact? Here are three simple questions to get you started.

1. What did you want to be before the world ‘should’ on you? You know. “You should go into accounting.” “You should take over your father’s law practice.” “You should study medicine.” As Mark Albion writes in More Than Money, “It’s easy to slide into a career that matches your skills but not your deepest desires. When you get good at something you don’t want to do, you feel as if you’re dying a little bit each day – that your soul is being sucked out of you. Worse yet, it takes time to realize what’s going on.”

2. What did you want to do when you were eleven or twelve? In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham suggests that we remember our ‘yearnings’. He writes, “Perhaps because of your genes, or your early experiences, as a child you found yourself drawn to some activities and repelled by others. While your brother was chasing his friends around the yard, you settled down to tinker with the sprinkler head, pulling it apart so that you could figure out how it worked. Your analytical mind was already making its presence known.” Your purpose is hiding right beneath the surface of your life. It threads between the major events of your life and opens windows of opportunity.

3. What legacy do you want to leave?  Author Michael Gerber takes this idea to an extreme in his book, The E-Myth Revisited. He asks that you imagine attending your own funeral. All of your friends, your family, and your business associate are there. Picture yourself lying in the box in the center of the room, then listen. Imagine what your colleagues would say about you. Would they talk about the margins you gained? The deals you closed? The efficiencies you implemented? Or, would they talk about the value you left behind? How you helped them grow? How they are better off because they knew you? Starting today, you have the power to shape these conversations.

Rather than rushing to the gym or buying an organizer, take some time this month to connect with your why. There’s no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. Find your passion. Connect with your why. Work on purpose.

Question: Do you know someone who is guided by a clear sense of purpose? What differences do you see in their daily behavior?

Interested in finding your WHY? Watch my SUE Talk about the importance of placing significance over success and connecting who you are with what you do.

Our 10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2017

It’s hard to believe that 2017 is almost over. But before we dive into 2018, we took a look back at which of this year’s posts got the most social media traffic. The most popular posts covered how to lead through change while keeping our egos in check and employees engaged. Then there are the lists. Three out of the top ten are lists of leadership books that we thought were worth the turn of the page.

Regardless of the nature of each post, we tried to find a lesson or two that you could take away in 750 words or less. Something you could apply at the office that day, or that might slightly sharpen your skills as a leader.

Here are the ten posts that we hope served that purpose:


10. 3 Ways Humble Leaders Keep their Egos in check

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” 

That’s a statement that author Ken Blanchard explains in sports terms. “Can you imagine,” asks Blanchard, “training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped?” The leadership application, of course, is that without feedback we cannot accurately assess reality. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, or what’s going wrong, we can’t fix it. This makes sense intellectually, but in reality, feedback can go down like a bowl of cold, lumpy oatmeal. [Read more]


9. 4 Ways Introverts Excel as Leaders

What do Charles DarwinCandice Bergen and Michael Jordan have in common? They’re all introverts. So are Bill GatesWarren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. When we think about the personality traits that effective leaders need, we typically think of people who are charismatic, dominant, and outgoing. We think of extroverts. Especially in the U.S. A study by researchers at Stanford suggests that Western cultures value excitement, and that these values carry over into the behavior of leaders in those countries. Author and TED Talk contributor Susan Cain agrees. [Read more]



8. 6 Women Who Put the Leadership Question to Bed

No matter what your political views are, the question of women in power was brought to the international stage during last year’s election season in the U.S. Below are insights from six women driven by their inner strength, passion, and drive to make a difference. Their examples can serve to motivate both women and men to set aside their fears and become better versions of themselves. [Read more]




7. The 6 Principles of Humility, By Dr. Tony Baron

Demonstrating modesty has been underrated. Yet, when you read some significant thinkers in the corporate world like Jim Collins or in the church world like Larry Osborne, they think it is the essential ingredient of good leadership. In 2013, Harvard Business Review published an article on how to cultivate humility as a leader. Authors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin suggested that every developing leader should be taught these 6 principles of humility. [Read more]




6. 8 Leadership Books to Add to Your Summer Tote

Looking for some titles to add to your reading list this summer? Pull out your tote and pick up some of our top picks. From recent bestsellers to old-school business parables, here’s a list of books that we think are well worth the read. Some of the principles shared in these books you may already know but need reminding of. Others can give you the insight you need to tackle your greatest challenges of 2017. [Read more]




5. Power is not Leadership: 4 Lessons from Orangutans

Danum Valley is an ancient tropical forest on the northeastern tip of Borneo with an outstanding complement of flora and fauna. It is the largest remaining area of virgin undisturbed lowland rainforest on the island spanning 170 square miles. Recognized as one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, Danum Valley lies along the upper reaches of the Segama River and is flanked by vast timber concession acreage. The valley is home to rare and endangered species like the Sumatran rhino, the Asian elephant, the clouded leopard, and the orangutan. [Read more]



4. 8 Must Read Books on Women in Leadership

“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives.” 

That was the opening salvo in Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 best-selling book Lean In. The book sparked debate about gender equality and urged women to expect and demand more for their careers. But Sandberg’s book certainly wasn’t the first to challenge women to reach for greater leadership roles. In keeping with Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled the most compelling titles on the subject, and offer our top picks that are well worth the turn of the page. [Read more]



3. 4 Easy Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now!

Every week, I talk to leaders who are responsible for making sweeping organizational changes. Some are going through mergers. Some are opening new international markets. Others are leading major rebranding initiatives. Change is pervasive in our society and a fact of life in organizations. It’s easy to get caught up in the sexy complexities of organizational change. So easy, in fact, that we can forget to connect with what our employees are doing each day to keep the engines running. If that disconnect is too great, we run the risk of creating lasting damage. [Read more]



2. 6 Leadership Books for Your Christmas Wish List

Hoping to catch up on your reading over the holidays? Why not put some of the top titles of 2017 on your wish list? We’ve curated a collection of books published in 2017 that stand out from the pack. These titles aren’t only for CEO’s. Some are deeply reported feats of investigative journalism that are just compelling stories, no matter what your day job. [Read more]




And our #1 most popular blog of 2017 was [drumroll]….


1. 6 Things Successful Change Leaders Know

Can you feel it in the air? For the past few weeks, everything around us has been changing. The sun is setting earlier. Leaves are changing in color to vibrant reds and deep yellows. There’s no denying that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. As humans, we are hard wired to accept the inevitability of seasonal changes. Although we can manage extreme weather changes of four seasons a year, why are we so resistant to organizational changes? [Read more]



It’s been an honor to share our thoughts with you this year. We truly appreciate your comments, your likes, and your shares. We look forward to continuing the conversation in 2018.


Question: What thought leaders did you follow most in 2017? Did you learn anything that helped you become a better leader?

3 Simple Techniques to Beat Holiday Stress

Holidays. They really are the best of times and the worst of times.

The end-of-year holidays are certainly a happy time for most of us, but the stress of the season puts many of us on such an edge that we wish it would all just go away. A recent article published in The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter confirms that the stress you may be feeling this time of year actually causes your brain to function differently.

According to Dr. Ellen Braaten, Director of the Learning and Intelligence Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, “Because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to a greater number of responsibilities than usual, the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Over time, a high level of demand can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells, and cause existing brain cells to die.”

This pile-on to an already overloaded calendar can make it difficult to focus on completing even the simplest of tasks. Stress overload can cause us to want to just give up trying to accomplish anything and mainline eggnog until New Year’s Day. Fortunately, there are three simple techniques you can use to rewire your brain when you’re feeling stressed – any time of the year.

1.    Practice Gratitude. Don’t let scarce resources distract you from what you already have that brings you joy. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at University of California, Davis, has found that gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. From just saying a heartfelt “thank you” to someone who makes your day easier, to downloading a gratitude app, mindfully practicing gratitude is a good first step to beating stress.

2.    Be a Giver. We all know that giving helps others. Whether we volunteer, offer emotional support to those around us, or donate to charities. But studies show that giving is also good for the giver – boosting physical and mental health. When researchers from the National Institutes of Health looked at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities, they found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain — releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” You don’t have to drain your bank account to be a giver. Chances are, you already know someone who could benefit directly from your time, talent, or treasure. Just think about what giving did for Scrooge!

3.    Extend Grace. When we experience stress, the slightest thing can set us off. Coffee spilled on the drive to work. Ugly sweater party emails. People who run late for your meeting. If you allow these small things to pile up, they can trigger what Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman refers to as an “amygdala hijack.” Don’t let your body run on a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol. Instead, let go of the little things that annoy you – about yourself and others – and extend grace. Grace goes further than ignoring or forgiving. It’s an attitude that expresses our dignity and affirms the dignity of those around us. Grace allows us to rise above conflict, and helps to establish calm in the swirl of chaos.

This three-part strategy requires minimal time and effort. Gratitude, giving, and grace can be highly effective when used in combination. When practiced mindfully over time, you’ll have the ability to thwart stress overload any time of the year.

Question: What techniques have you practiced to beat stress overload?

Doing Well by Doing Good: 12 Companies that Got it Right in 2017

The strongest organizations in the world achieve sustainable success largely because they understand the value of culture as a competitive advantage. Whether you nurture it or not, you have a culture. It may be empowering or toxic. Either way, the results are showing up on your bottom line.

Here are the 12 companies we featured in CEE News this year that show how doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive.

1. Dancing Deer Baking Company, Hyde Park, MA, “Scratch-Baked Goodness to the Community”

Dancing Deer Baking Company has flourished since introducing its first cookie in 1994 and so has the community of Hyde Park, Massachusettes. The bakery hires chronically unemployed individuals in the community and dedicates a portion of its profits to local development projects. Dancing Deer has won national recognition for its delicious baked goods, its sustainable business practices, and its community impact initiatives. [Read more]


2. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, Vista, CA, “All-One”


Open a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Liquid Soap, and you’ll be taking part of a story that dates back over 150 years. It’s a story that began with a family of soapmakers in the Jewish community of Heilbronn, Germany. The story includes the holocaust, an escape from a Chicago mental institution, an attempted crucifixion on a bridge in 1945 Woodstock, and, well, it’s a complex epic that has passed through five generations of the Bronner family. [Read more]


3. Masonite, Tampa, FL, “Helping people walk through walls”Not many American companies today can trace their history back for 92 years, or link to inventor Thomas Edison. But, Masonite, a publicly-traded company (NYSE: DOOR) can follow its roots back to Laurel, Mississippi, and its founder William H. Mason, an apprentice of Thomas Edison. [Read more]


4. Stonyfield, Londonderry, NH, “Yogurt on a mission


While Stonyfield is best known for making yogurt, yogurt wasn’t the way the founders of Stonyfield thought they’d change the world. In 1983, co-founders Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg were trying to help family farms survive, protect the environment, and keep food healthy through their nonprofit organic farming school. [Read more]


5. Igloo Products Corp., Katy, TX, “Culture of commitment”

If you’ve ever gone on a family picnic, packed a boat for a day of fishing, or brought drinks to keep the soccer team hydrated, there’s a good chance an Igloo® ice chest was involved. Igloo chests, along with the iconic red and white coolers, are just two of more than 550 products made by the 70-year old Igloo Products Corporation in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. [Read more]


6. W.L. Gore and Associates, Newark, DE, “Conscious culture”


Imagine operating a manufacturing company with no core product, no bosses, and a democratically-elected CEO. How long do you think it would survive? [Read more]


7. Sticker Giant Longmont, CO, “Open book management”


One political bumper sticker based on the indecision of the Bush/Gore presidential election in 2000. That’s how CEO John Fischer launched StickerGiant from his basement 17 years ago. Today, the company employees nearly 40 people and processes about 18 miles of sticker material every week. [Read more]


8. TGI Fridays, Dallas, TX, “The gift of time”


You have to hand it to a company that has survived for five decades, fought off imitators, and endured shaming for asking its employees to wear flair. The chain’s signature look – a combination of Antiques Roadshow and Hoarders – actually started in 1965 as one of New York’s City’s first singles bars. [Read more]


9. Great Little Box Company, Richmond, BC, “Big Outrageous Xtravaganza (BOX) Goals”


For 35 years, Canadian-based Great Little Box Company has created an equally great little culture. What started as a three-person shop in 1982, has grown to 225 employees in locations across British Columbia and Vancouver, Washington. [Read more]


10. Meltwater, San Francisco, CA, “MER values”


The year was 2001, just after the dotcom bubble burst. Jorn Lyseggen had a big idea for a new business, a coffee machine, some used furniture, and some borrowed office space in a Norwegian shipyard shack. [Read more]


11. SEMCO Partners, São Paulo, Brazil, “Big company with (almost) no rules”


If your employees could vote you in or out as their leader, would you keep your position?

That was just one of the many questions that Ricardo Semler started to ask when he went to work for his father’s company, SEMCO Partners, in the late 1970’s. [Read more]


12. Thinking Putty, Philadelphia, PA, “Shaping culture one tin at a time”

If you ask Aaron Muderick what he does for a living, he’s likely to say, “Professional Kid”. Muderick, a fidgety computer scientist, was constantly playing with Silly Putty while thinking at work. One day, he borrowed some textbooks from a friend who had just completed her Ph.D. in chemistry. He learned enough from the borrowed books to teach himself how to invent what he calls “Thinking Putty”. [Read more]


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CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

6 Leadership Books for Your Christmas Wish List

Hoping to catch up on your reading over the holidays? Why not put some of the top titles of 2017 on your wish list? We’ve curated a collection of books published in 2017 that stand out from the pack.

These titles aren’t only for CEO’s. Some are deeply reported feats of investigative journalism that are just compelling stories, no matter what your day job.

1.    Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein

What it’s about. Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Goldstein has spent years immersed in Janesville, Wisconsin where the nation’s oldest operating General Motors plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, two days before Christmas of 2008.

Why pick it up. Janesville is a microcosm of what connects and divides people during economic upheaval. It’s not just a 21st century Midwestern story. It’s an American story.




2.    Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration, by Thomas L. Friedman

What it’s about. In his most ambitious work to date, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman shows that the age of dizzying acceleration is leading to dystopian disruption. Friedman exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts.

Why pick it up. With his trademark vitality, wit, and optimism, Friedman shows that we can overcome the multiple stresses of an age of accelerations—if we slow down, if we dare to be late and use the time to reimagine work, politics, and community.



3.    Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Satya Nadella

What it’s about. Microsoft’s CEO tells the inside story of the company’s continuing transformation, while tracing his own journey from a childhood in India to leading some of the most significant changes of the digital era.

Why pick it up. It’s a study of how the human ability to empathize will become ever more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before.




4.    The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, by Brian Merchant.

What it’s about. Veteran technology journalist Brian Merchant reveals the inside story you won’t hear from Cupertino-based on his exclusive interviews with the engineers, inventors, and developers who guided every stage of the iPhone’s creation.

Why pick it up. To get a roadmap for design and engineering genius, an anthropology of the modern age, and an unprecedented view into one of the most secretive companies in history.





5.    The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day, by Kristi Hedges

What it’s about. Informed by quantitative research and thousands of responses from leaders at all levels, Hedges reveals that inspiring communication isn’t about grand gestures. Instead, those who motivate us most do a few things routinely, consistently, and intentionally.

Why pick it up. Eye-opening and accessible, The Inspiration Code dispels common myths about how leaders communicate, and guides them in cultivating qualities that authentically excite.




6.    Principles, by Ray Dalio

What it’s about. Ray Dalio, founder of one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, shares a painful, public experience from his leadership journey, and how he found the humility to balance his audacity through radical truthfulness and radical transparency.

Why pick it up. While the book brims with novel ideas for organizations and institutions, Principles also offers a clear, straightforward approach to decision-making that Dalio believes anyone can apply, no matter what they’re seeking to achieve.



Download our Top Leadership Books for Your Christmas Wish List infographic and start shopping!

Question: What leadership book is on your wish list this Christmas?