Politics is a blood sport. Whether played in the halls of congress or in the halls of the office complex, it isn’t for the meek or the mild. Winning the political game, whether on the hill or at the office requires grit, determination, and confidence, but above all else, it requires capital. No, not money, although there is a ton of money in politics, I’m speaking of the kind of political capital that moves people to action. There has been a lot of talk this week about President Trump’s first 100 days in office and comparisons have been drawn between FDR’s achievements and his relative lack of them. That difference comes down to a difference in political capital that one gets from winning. FDR won a landslide victory. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. FDR took office with a storm of support, Trump was met with protests. This is isn’t a political post, I am simply pointing out that congressmen and senators were more likely to fall in line behind a president with more popular support. This caused FDR to roll up some big early wins, which only enhanced his political capital. President Trump hasn’t been as fortunate thus far, which has depleted his. My point to all of this is that winning is important because it sets us up for more wins. Put into the arena of office politics, if I square off with the top salesperson in my company and I am barely making my quota, who is going to win? One has capital that comes from winning regularly, and I am just a hanger on. This doesn’t mean that I should avoid the conflict it simply means that I need more capital if I am going to emerge successfully. The interesting thing about political capital, however, is, that it doesn’t expand until you use it. You actually have to risk political capital to be rewarded with political capital. Probably the best illustration of this happened in 1964. Lyndon Johnson became president under the most horrific of circumstances and by making himself the heir of a martyred President was flush with capital. His first instinct was to expand civil rights and he picked up President Kennedy’s stalled civil rights bill in order to do it. When aides tried to talk him out of it, saying that the risk was too great and the price too high, LBJ famously said: “Then what in the hell is the Presidency for?”. His instinct to risk a large amount of political capital in order to expand his,  was proven right in the 1964 election when he was elected President by a landslide. What does this have to do with office politics? Everything, because it’s a case study in power. If we’re going to rise above office politics, we have to have sufficient capital. That requires risk. It might require granting a favor, it might mean extending for a promotion or volunteering for a big project, but the only way political capital expands is to use it. Politics is a blood sport no matter where it’s played. Take the risk for big things because it’s the only way to ever come out on top.]]>

Have you ever noticed that the harder someone tries to be charismatic on stage or in the front of the room, the less it actually works? You see this a lot with politicians who are trying to sound like the other politicians they admire, but it happens to the rest of us too. Why does it always seem to backfire when we try to be likable? The answer to this question is that ultimate key to being charismatic is being authentic. Whenever we attempt to sound like or be like someone else on stage, no matter how eloquent we may be with our words, our audience will notice that we’re playing a part. No matter how skillful we are at playing our role, they will see through it, making it harder to make a connection. This makes authenticity paramount to being charismatic, but how then do we display our true selves on stage? Here are three ways to start:

Be Vulnerable

Let me make a vulnerable statement to you: I hate vulnerability. This, I understand, makes me human because no one likes opening themselves up to potential pain. That is why it such an effective tool. When we’re too perfect, or too slick, it turns people off. When all we talk about are our wins, it makes us unrelatable. When we speak of our failures and losses, people can connect to that. Humor is a great weapon to make a connection. Humor at your expense about a moment when you weren’t your best is both safe and funny. To be authentic, be vulnerable and let your guard down.

Smile With Your Eyes

By now, we all know that smiling is important, but too many speakers paste something face on their lips and hope to make a connection. A smile that can’t be faked comes from the eyes. The trick I learned to smile with my eyes I learned from one of the greatest political books ever written, Richard Ben Cramer’s epic What It Takes. In the book about the 1988 Presidential Election, Cramer profiles Bob Dole and hones in on Dole’s secret for looking happy in groups; he laughs to himself. A small isn’t this interesting kind of laugh. Doing this makes your smile much more genuine, making you seem much more authentic than simply smiling with your lips.

Lower Your Energy Level

I saved this one for last because it is probably the trickiest. I will always value a high energy level presenter over one with low energy, but when we’re too ramped up, we come across as fake. Our audience will start to question if what we’re doing is us or an act. I have for years battled with being conversational enough to be authentic. For me, this has always come down to lowering my energy level just a little bit, in order to connect with my audience. At first, it feels slow and as if I’m low energy on the border of boring, but the harder I work at it, the more comfortable it gets. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s one that we absolutely must make to be authentic. If you haven’t yet lost an audience because they can’t connect with you, the occasion will eventually come. It happens to even the best speakers in the world. Rebounding from these situations requires that we try easier, back off from trying too hard and just be ourselves. Charisma is about authenticity and getting there takes risk, but the reward is more than worth it. ]]>

2017 is shaping up to be one of the fiercest years yet in the war for talent. Companies and organizations are doing all they can to attract and retain talent, but not all talent qualifies. The war for talent is being waged on two fronts; the very top and the very bottom. If we’re not an MBA from and Ivy League School, how can we still position ourselves to win in this war? Here are great places to start:

Have A Plan

No one ever climbed to the top by accident. If we’re going to win in the war for talent, we have to plan our journey there. Eisenhower once said that in battle, plans were useless, but the act of planning was indispensable. It’s true in this war too. Planning will get us clear on what we want and how we can get it. Winning in this war will require a plan, go make one.

Sharpen Communication Skills

This is may be the biggest improvement that any of us can make to win in the war for talent. Employers know that they can teach hard skills but communication skills come at a premium.  We must learn to clearly present our ideas, to build rapport with vast groups of people and learn to disagree agreeably. These are the communication skills required to win in the war for talent.

Develop Discipline

It isn’t sexy or glamorous but becoming more disciplined is a sure fire way to set ourselves apart in this war. Developing discipline with our schedules to get more done, developing the discipline to read the books, to show up on time and to work the entire time we’re there will put us in the top, where the war is being waged. In a world where people go for easy, developing the discipline to do what is required will put us in a position to win in the war for talent.

Wear A Uniform

I wear a suit and tie every day because it’s my uniform. Yours might not be so formal, but find what it is and stick to it. Wearing a uniform is a great way to psychologically prepare yourself for battle. When I put my jacket on for the day, I feel bulletproof and that’s an important feeling to maintain. Don’t do it for anyone else, do it for yourself to win in the war for talent.

Build A Brand

There is a lot of static about branding on the internet right now. Everyone with a Facebook account claims to be a branding expert. There’s a reason everyone is talking about it, however, and that’s because it is a crucial tool in winning in the war for talent. Building a great brand requires an online presence, establishing yourself as a thought leader and publishing content. But is also requires that do all of the important things in person too. Showing up on time, doing what we say we will do, and looking like we belong are also keys to building a brand. Figure out who you are and build a brand around that, it’s a required skill for winning in the war for talent. The war is being waged right now over low skill entry level and highly educated and highly skilled top talent. That doesn’t mean that those of us in the middle can’t win in this war, it just takes a plan, sharp communication skills, discipline, a uniform and a brand. When we build our war chest with these weapons, we will win in the war for talent.  ]]>

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be a politician. I wanted to give the big speeches and change the world. I had a plan that started at the local level and worked my way up to Governor. It all seemed so clear, I could see exactly what I had to do and how I had to do it. It was a dream that I knew I would make come true. I was on track and doing well until I realized that I was chasing the wrong dream. For too long, I thought that changing direction was the same as giving up. It was a mistake and there were warning signs along the way. Here’s what I missed that you might want to look for:

Boredom

Not every step to our goals is fun and exciting. Sometimes it’s head down grinding work, but it should never be boring. If you’re bored you should take a step back and make sure you’re still chasing the right dream. In the beginning, I reveled in committee meetings. I loved shaping policy and lived for the give and take. I noticed along the way, however, that it seemed more like a job than a passion because I was bored with it. The reason I was bored was because I had outgrown my dream. boredom might be a warning sign, so it’s useful to watch out for.

Lack of Focus

I have never hidden the fact that I have adult ADD. Focusing isn’t something that I’m always awesome at, but it was a clear warning sign to me that I couldn’t give politics the same level of focus that I have given it before. Instead of keeping razor sharp focus on my goal and my plan, I would let my mind wander. I would procrastinate. These were behaviors that I was unaccustomed to. If you can’t focus on your goal and its plan, it might be because it’s the wrong goal. It’s worthwhile to stop and take measure and make sure you’re still chasing the right dream.

It Stops Being Fun

This is a major warning sign that I ignored. I have written before that chasing fun is useless, but I got serious and it still wasn’t fun. It had become a chore. When this happens, it’s a pretty clear sign that something isn’t right. On the path to achieving every goal, there will be moments when it’s not fun, but if it never gets fun, you’re chasing the wrong dream. There are a lot of experts that claim that success is like climbing a ladder. I do not disagree, but if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, the climb is useless. I recently resigned my seat on city council because my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. It was a difficult decision, but since I’ve moved on my boredom has ceased, my focus has returned and I’m having more fun. The signs are pointing me in the right direction.  ]]>

Two weeks ago, I had a personal misunderstanding get blown out of proportion which led to an all-out war. It was an ugly situation that I’m not really proud of, but in the middle of it, I was reminded of a great lesson my grandfather taught me when I was a kid in trouble in school. When I was in middle school, anytime I got in trouble and had to stay after school, I would walk to my grandparents’ house across the river from the school. It was never much of a punishment because I loved hanging out with my Grandpa on his closed in porch while he drank wine and watched CNN. During a particularly hard stretch, it seemed like I was there every day and Grandpa could see that I was getting in quite a bit of trouble. One day, he asked me why I couldn’t stay out of detention and I told him what I thought was the truth: My teacher didn’t like me. Looking back now, I am just as positive about that situation as I was then, but by telling him that fact, he laid one on me that has shaped my worldview of dealing with people. “Just because people don’t like you,” he told me, “is no excuse for you to not like them.” At the time, this seemed to be quite deep for an eighth-grade kid, but he was right. My teacher might not like me, but her opinion of me was none of my business and shouldn’t have effected my feelings towards her. Fast forward twenty years or so, and his lesson still has merit. In this little war that’s been created, I have found that there are some people that don’t like me. It leaves me with two choices; not like them back or go with Grandpa’s advice and not let their opinions of me effect my feelings towards them. While the first might be satisfying, it is ultimately pointless. My best option moving forward is to continue to like people whether they like me or not. Their opinions are none of my business. I pass all of this along in this post not to play myself up as some saint that loves everyone. I don’t. I also don’t try to hold my Grandfather up as some symbol of genteel charm. He wasn’t. I tell these stories because they illustrate an important point. If we let others feelings and opinions of us get in the way of how we deal with them, we will lose. Winning is too important to me for me to let minor feelings interfere with it. Churchill once famously said:

“You have enemies? Good! that means you’ve stood for something.
He was probably right, but so was my grandfather and by not letting those enemies effect the way we deal with people is a great way to keep our executive image. ]]>

My love of baseball has been pretty well documented in recent posts, but watching a game one late night last week, I hear an announcer say something that to me was quite profound. The color analyst was commenting that the difference between the star ballplayers and the journeymen was incredibly small. The star pitcher was just a little bit sharper with his pitches. The star hitter was just a little bit quicker through the hitting zone. As much as it seems that there is a big difference, it’s really just a little bit. This made so much sense when he was done, and it has a real parallel in real life. Most people think that they’re miles away from the stars in their industry, so they give just enough effort to stay average. The reality of the situation is that those who are really great, are only a little bit better than they are.  The star salesperson is just a little bit more persuasive. The star speaker is just a little bit sharper with their message. The star leader is just a little bit more passionate. It isn’t a big difference that separates the great ones from the average in our professions either, it’s just a little bit. When I stopped and thought about this, I got really inspired, and then I got really scared. I used to watch some of the people that I really admired and thought to myself that there’s no way I could do what they do. Thinking about them being only a little bit better than I am, I realized that my excuse was gone and it was terrifying. If they’re only marginally more talented than I am, then I know that what has separated us has been hard work and dedication and there’s nowhere to hide from them. Maybe I don’t have to get a lot better to start living my dreams. Maybe I only have to get a little bit better every day. Maybe I shouldn’t believe that the reason that others are doing the things I want to do has very little to do with talent. Maybe I need to just focus on my effort and my improvement. Maybe the difference just lies in that little bit. When you think about those who are living the life you want to live, do you see the difference between you as large or small? Are they a lot better at your dream job than you are, or is the difference just a little bit? I’m not a gambler, but I would lay odds that you’re closer than you originally thought too. I hope that thought scares you as much as it does me because, without that excuse, we can simply focus on closing the gap. After all, it’s a lot smaller than we think it is. ]]>

At 6:30 on a Tuesday night I walked into Denny’s Resturant to have dinner alone and sulk. I had a tough day attempting to get certified as a contract trainer and was physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. All I wanted was a plate of hotcakes and to be left alone. Sitting in my booth, reflecting on the day and forcing back tears, I pulled my book out of my briefcase and started reading. I think I was silently hoping that if I were going to cry in public that I could at least hide behind the pages of a book written by all-time manly man, Mickey Mantle. It seemed to be working well enough until I reached a passage that stopped me cold. Mickey was telling a story about this first year in the minor leagues when he hit his first real slump. You see, Mickey was born to play baseball. His father was a semi-pro player that named his son after his favorite player, Mickey Cochran. Mutt Mantle taught his son to switch hit at an early age and love the game of baseball. From the first time he picked up the bat, people were in awe at how great he seemed to be. He was a natural. That was until he got to Class D Ball in Kansas City. It was in that league that Mickey wasn’t feasting on farm boys throwing fastballs anymore. He was going up against professionals who were talented too and he was struggling. It got so bad that he called home and told his dad that he wanted to quit. Reading these words, sitting in a Kansas City Denny’s I knew exactly how he must have felt. Mickey tells the story of his father driving all the way to Independence Kansas, slapping him and saying, “I thought I raised a ballplayer, but you’re nothing but a coward and quitter.” Mantle wrote “I expected him to say, ‘Hang in there’ or something like that. It took me an hour to talk him into giving me another chance!” Reading that passage at that moment, I felt Mutt Mantle sitting across from me. I felt my own father looking at me feeling sorry for myself. I felt like Mickey must have. I felt silly and ashamed. Reading that passage got me ready to go back to work. I found a new level of inspiration that the most naturally gifted baseball player of all time wanted to quit but stuck it out. If Mickey could figure it out, I could too. As I stood at the register, paying my bill, I heard Carly Simon on the radio singing Nobody Does It Better and my crushed confidence came to life. I might not be the Mickey Mantle of speaking and there might be those that do it better than I do, but for that moment, I found myself and I have Mickey Mantle and Carly Simon to thank for it.]]>

“You have a lot more discipline to get up early and follow that schedule than I do.” When my friend told me this as we were driving home from a Toastmasters meeting, I almost ran the car off the road, I was laughing so hard. No one had ever told me that I had discipline before. In fact, quite the opposite. I don’t like to get out of bed in the morning. There are few things I would rather do than sitting on my couch and binge watch Netflix. I love junk food and despise going to the gym. Yet, I get up every day at 5 am, I only watch television on the weekends, I stick to a pretty strict low carb diet and I am in my local YMCA at least five days a week. I don’t do any of these things because I am any more disciplined than anyone else, I do them because I have uncovered what I call the lazy person’s discipline hack. Before I go any further, I need to address the coming elephant in the room. People always tell you that whatever you do, you should do for you. I am going to talk about how I do the opposite to get the best results. You see, like a lot of people I know, I am willing to do a great number of things for others that I am unwilling to do for myself. This means that the two elements of the lazy person’s discipline hack are commitments and expectations.

Commitments

The reason I get out of bed when the alarm goes off at five every morning is because I have a schedule full of commitments. If I don’t get up, I won’t make it to the barn before my wife leaves for work, which will make me late for my first appointment of the day. Since I would rather do anything than being late for an appointment, I leave my warm bed to feed cattle. This is the power of commitments. The reason most people can’t get out of bed early is that there is nothing making them do it. Because they don’t have meetings scheduled first thing in the morning, they can hit the snooze button. My grandfather used to say that empty hands were the devil’s workshop, but I really think that’s true of an empty calendar. Want to find discipline? Fill it up, it will force you to.

Expectations

I wish I could say that no one has higher expectations of me than I do, but that’s not true. I have found if the only expectations I have to live up to are mine, it’s easy to justify falling short. No one reads my blog anyway, so why do I really need to get that post up for tomorrow? I’m traveling, why can’t I eat that gas station hotdog? I’m really tired, why no skip the workout…and on and on and on. My way around this is to realize that others expect more of me and I can’t let them down. I have a couple of friends that would realize that I missed a blog post. I can’t look my friends in the eye and tell them about my diet if I sneak that hotdog and if I miss a workout, my YMCA friends notice. I might be willing to let myself down, but I can’t fathom the thought of falling short of someone else’s expectations. As I said, there are experts that will tell me that I’m not living my life if I am only living to please others. Those experts miss the point. I love all of the benefits that being disciplined brings me. I like being productive, healthy and active. If my lazy person’s discipline hack involves living to please others, I’m ok with that, as long as I’m pleased with the result. ]]>