The difference between success and failure

is the difference between knowing and doing. 

This idea was proven to me this morning as I got dressed and realized that my favorite suit had shrunk. While I could still button the jacket, it’s really tight. I couldn’t figure out how something that looked so good two years ago could fit so poorly now. What was the difference? Knowing and doing. 

Of course, suits don’t shrink. Something else had changed.

A few years ago, I got really excited about getting into shape. I researched, read and studied the most effective way to get my health in order and to drop body fat. God knows I needed to. At 335 lbs, I didn’t look well, I didn’t feel well and probably most importantly, I didn’t perform well. I pulled information from everywhere together, learned what I needed to do, made a plan and got to work. I changed the way I ate. I changed the way I exercised. I changed the way I slept. In the end, it changed my life as I lost 100lbs and never felt better in my life.  I gave away all of my fat clothes and bought new ones. I had burned the ships so I couldn’t go back. I was proud of my newly found discipline and how all of this new knowledge had impacted me. That’s when I bought my favorite suit. I looked good, felt good and most importantly, my performance was good.  Today this suit doesn’t really fit and it took me a while to figure out why. It’s tough because I still know all of the things that I knew when I got healthy. I know how I should eat, how I should train and how I should sleep. I have all of the knowledge it takes to look, feel and perform my best. It’s added up to a suit that doesn’t fit because I haven’t been doing.  This is a simple, embarrassing, and true story that highlights something really big with leaders today. Just like me when it comes to the simple disciplines that helped me get healthy, leaders know how to deal with difficult people. Leaders know how to establish credibility. Leaders know how to make people feel important. The problem in most cases isn’t that the leaders need more knowledge, it’s that they need to DO WHAT THEY KNOW.

Knowledge Isn’t Enough

That’s where the difference between knowing and doing becomes such a challenge. We live in a world where knowledge has never been easier to secure. We can get books everywhere. YouTube brings thought leaders to your fingertips. Blogs and online articles fill our social media channels. We’ve never known more than we know now and in many cases, turnover has never been higher, employee engagement has never been lower and the need for true leadership has never been greater. We know enough. It’s time to do. 


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 Clowns to the left of me, jokers on the right…

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If you’ve been on any social media channel recently, you’ve no doubt seen the graphic from CBS news describing the generational differences in the workplace. The content isn’t new or even that useful, but the reason you’ve seen it is because whoever designed the graphic described the Baby Boom Generation, then went directly to the Millennial Generation and completely left out Generation X. An entire generation was left off the graphic and social media had a hay day about it. As a member of the last half of GenX, I’m not insulted. In fact, I’m used to it. It didn’t offend me, but it highlighted something really interesting to me: Two Generations Can’t Get Along and We’re Stuck In The Middle. 

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Being bookended by two of the biggest generations in history has it’s advantages though. Chief among them, we get to be objective observers in a fight raging in American workplaces. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

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Every Generation Needs A Generation Who Are Lazy And Entitled

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Before it was settled (unfairly by the way) that millennials are lazy and entitled, it was us, GenX who had that honor. Before us, yeah it was the Boomers. They called us the M-TV Generation because, presumably, that’s all we did was watch M-TV. When the Baby Boom Generation was coming of age, it was said that they needed to “get a haircut and get a real job.” If you listen closely to Millenials, you’ll hear them describe the next generation, Gen Z or Post-Millenials that they’re lazy and entitled. It’s a fact of life. Your generation will always be better and had it harder than the generation coming of age. It strikes me as funny that everything being said of Millenials was said of Boomers first. It wasn’t true then and it’s not now. 

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Millennials Get A Bad Wrap

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We blame them for spending too much time on their phones. Cool, so does EVERYONE. 

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“Everyone got a trophy” It’s funny because they didn’t ask for them and they were given by the very people now complaining about them. There’s also quite a bit of science out there that says rewarding effort rather than outcomes is the best way to develop kids with grit and persistence. 

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“They job hop and never stay anywhere.” BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO. The boomers won’t retire and Xer’s won’t be able to so in order to simply make a living, they have to move. Keep in mind they have more student loan debt than any generation in history so it seems like they have unrealistic expectations for income, it’s because their lenders have unrealistic expectations of loan payments. 

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We have in this generation, the most technically skilled and best-educated workforce we’ve ever seen. So much so that managers don’t know how to handle it so it becomes easier to just write them off as difficult. It’s untrue and unfair and companies that do so will be left holding the bag. 

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Millenials NEED More Compassion Toward Baby Boomers

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If it seems like you’re co-workers in their late 50s and early 60s are always tired and always cranky, maybe we should examine why. I clearly see it with my own parents. Up until recently, my Millenial brother was still living in their basement and my 85-year-old grandmother is aging just around the corner. Their parents are living longer and their children are staying at home leaving them as the sandwich generation; still raising kids while caring for aging parents. They had intended this to be the best years of their lives but they’re running themselves into the ground burning the candle at both ends. The patience that Millennials demand for themselves has to go both ways. 

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Just like I’m happy to be excluded from the CBS graphic, I’m happy to be excluded from the conflict, but since we’re stuck in the middle, GenX has a pretty good view of both sides and sees that neither is right and neither is wrong. Neither is difficult so much as they’re just different but if we work to understand those differences, the difficulty is diminished. 

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  Flattery won’t get you anywhere.


Flattery will get you everywhere if you use it correctly. The problem is that most people miss the mark and their attempt at flattery comes off as a cheap, inauthentic Eddie Haskell impression. (if you’re younger than 35, ask your parents). When used the right way, however, flattery can unlock doors, open conversations and lead to positive agreements. When done correctly, it truly can get you everywhere.

Why It Works

Helen Keller once said that people forget what you say and they forget what you do, but they never forget how you make them feel. Everyone likes to feel good and everyone likes a compliment. We like people who are like us, and we like people who like us. When we give a compliment to someone, we’re telling them that we like them. People respond to it because it makes them feel good and they remember how you make them feel. 

How To Do It

Flattery is really much more art than science. Getting the feel for it takes practice and time, but once it’s mastered, it becomes a potent weapon in persuading others. The best way to approach it is from a place of genuine sincerity. The reason why most people look through it and see past it is that they think it’s coming from a self-interested place. When we comment on something that we’re genuinely impressed by, that can vanish.  There is, though, times when over-the-top flattery works as well. Pulling this off takes timing and a smile. When both parties know that the flattery given has a grain of truth but is being exaggerated, it can be charming and funny which leads it to be appreciated. It becomes something of a bonding experience that you’re both in on the joke and it’s effective. 

Making It Pay

On several occasions in my life, I have put on what I call Charm Offensives. These have been times when I wanted a particular person to like and respect me. When I’ve done this, it has always been a combination of authentic appreciation for a skill or characteristic, along with thick, over-the-top compliments that make both of us laugh. In nearly every case, this has worked and helped to establish relationships. In fact, I made one of my very best friends with a charm offensive.  When you work in a small town, the local newspaper can be a really great ally to have. The publisher of that paper has a pretty powerful position. When I was trying to establish this relationship, I was honest with her that I wanted to be her friend and that I was on a Charm Offensive. I told her that I admired how hard she must have worked to become a publisher and that I appreciated her paper. Every time I saw her, I mentioned her paper as “the paper of record” and made jokes about how no one could miss their daily addition. It was a combination of over-the-top and sincere. She knew that I knew that some of it was bullshit but that behind it was a real admiration. My flattery won me the friendship.   

Put It To Use

Whenever we’re beginning to build rapport with anyone, it’s helpful to keep in mind that everyone loves a compliment. Everyone loves to feel good and everyone loves to be flattered. It’s a fundamental fact of life that flattery will get you everywhere. ]]>



In every seminar I lead, I try to make the point that the there are really only three things that one has to in order to be a great communicator; Maintain Credibility, Make Others Feel Important, and Don’t Be Creepy. I know it’s simplistic, but try to poke a hole in this argument. If you’re credible, make others feel important and aren’t creepy about it, you’re going to be a great communicator. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. 

The Hardest Part

Of the three things that make a great communicator, building and maintaining credibility is both the most important and most difficult to accomplish, but it’s the most critical. Credibility really is the starting point for communication because if people don’t believe what we say, what’s the point of talking?  We all know people who tell us everything we want to hear, and they tell us in a way that sounds so good that we really want to believe them, but we know they’ll never come through on it. In my seminars, I make the point that these people are called politicians and everybody laughs because most politicians lack credibility. They don’t do what they say they will do and everyone knows they’re making promises simply to persuade. Because there’s no credibility, there’s no trust and without trust, there’s no communication. 
What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say. Ralph Waldo Emerson 

What Kills it?

There is simply nothing that kills credibility faster than gossip. I know this is bad news because we all love to gossip, but it it’s destroying our credibility every time we do it. I like to think of gossip as being just like Coca-Cola. I love Coke. I think it’s the best tasting soft drink ever made and I absolutely love it. But I know it’s not good for me. My body doesn’t handle the sugar very well and while it tastes good in the moment, an hour after drinking it, I don’t feel good and I need a nap. It’s the same way I feel about gossip. In the moment, it feels good. We know something about someone and to share it with someone else gives the feeling of being powerfulAfterward, however, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we feel a little sick about it. That sick feeling is the loss of our credibility with ourselves and if we don’t trust us, how can we ask someone else to?  On top of losing credibility with ourselves, other people recognize it too. They wonder what we’re telling others about them and suddenly, they don’t trust us either. It’s a lose / lose proposition. 

Build and Maintain Credibility

In order for our words to carry value, there has to be something behind them. People have to take us seriously to believe us. The only way to build and maintain that much needed credibility is to do what we say we will do, come through on commitments, and tell the truth.  Being a great communicator is actually pretty simple. It isn’t easy, but it is simple. Building and maintaining credibility is the starting point and it speaks even when we’re silent. Make sure it’s telling the story you want your listener to hear. ]]>

“The only stupid question is the question you don’t ask.” What a stupid phrase. There are absolutely stupid questions that people ask of one another every day. It doesn’t mean that the people asking the questions are stupid, but that they have fallen victim to doing what everyone else does and conform. I’ve found as I coach leaders at seminars around the country that this principle is universal and happens everywhere particularly at the beginning of a relationship when we’re trying to establish report. At a time when we’re trying to be most impressive is usually when people fail the hardest and ask one of the two stupidest questions we can ask when trying to build rapport. 

What Makes Questions Stupid?

Rapport building questions should do two things: establish commonality and stimulate conversation. We like people who are like us and we enjoy novelty. If we keep these two concepts in mind, it makes it pretty clear why some questions are better than others. In other words, our questions should stimulate answers we can relate to and make the person think but most of our questions don’t do that. They instead ask for answers we don’t understand, can’t relate to and can be answered without thought.

Stupid Question Number One: What Do You Do?

Man, I hate the question “what do you do?”! I hate it because the answers are always confusing. Ask ten people what it is they do and ten people will give you their job title. The problem with a job title is that they’re confusing, no one understands what they really mean and therefore can’t connect with it. There is little commonality built around it. Worse yet, no one has to think about their answers; they just spew it out. 

Better Question

A better way to ask the same question and get the real answer to that we’re looking for is to ask something like: “What do you love about your job?” Ask this question and you will likely get a pause before someone answers because they’ve been forced to think. They will most likely tell you something that is pretty common such as working with people or solving problems. These are things we can connect with and therefore find the commonality to build a relationship. 

Stupid Question Number Two: Where Are You From?

Where are you from is a stupid question for three main reasons. 1. It’s insensitive. 2. It requires no thought to answer 3. It’s ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase. None of these are good.  It’s insensitive when speaking with someone with an accent to ask them where they’re from because you’re highlighting that they aren’t like you. Instead of focusing on what we have in common, we’re hanging a lantern on the fact that they’re different. It requires no thought because we all know the answer and have told people many times before. Ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but it’s a small thing that smart people notice.

Better Question

My all-time favorite way to find out where someone calls home is to ask, “Where’s Home?” It’s my favorite way because it works. People love to talk about their homes. It gives someone with an obvious accent the opportunity to tell you where they live which is more in line with making them feel included and it’s different enough that most people haven’t had to answer that question hundreds of times. It hits both marks.  When building rapport, there are absolutely stupid questions. They’re easy to ask, but they are just as easy to not ask. By finding better ways to get the same information, we can engage in deeper, more meaningful conversations and build better relationships. All we have to do is stop asking stupid questions to do it. ]]>

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and again, I will admit that I’ve been mistaken. Notice I didn’t say that it doesn’t happen often that I’m wrong, it’s that I only admit it every now and again. This is one of those times.  For years, I used to think that one of the worst words in the English language to use is the word BUT. I wrote a blog post about it. I’ve trained countless seminars when I made it my main focus. My kids think it’s hilarious that I get grown adults to write the words BUT in a seminar. I used to make them circle it and draw a line through it. I don’t do that anymore.  I still believe that it’s a dangerous word. When we use it with others, it tends to diminish or even negate the words of the sentence that we use before we get to it. If we’re trying to coach someone, give a compliment or improve performance, this is a slippery slope. You see it all the time that people give a compliment and then follow it up with but…insert the opposite of the compliment. Doing it this way takes away from the compliment and leaves the listener feeling diminished.  My favorite example is the phrase “You’re doing a great job, but I need you to work harder.” People won’t hear the first part, only that you think they’re lazy. In this example, AND is a much more effective word to use. They focus on the whole sentence rather than the end when you say “You’re doing a great job and I need you to work harder.”  All of this is true and I still believe it and I’m still wrong.  If the word but forces the listener to focus on the back half of the sentence, couldn’t we use this to our advantage? Couldn’t we then use it to improve our persuasive language? Think about it. I instantly become more trustworthy to you if I tell you both the advantages and disadvantages of anything. I no longer look like I’m trying to convince you to do something as much as provide you with enough information to make an informed decision yourself. If I tell you the negative first, though, and then use the word but to get to the positive, it makes you much more likely to focus your attention to the positive part of the sentence. I think of the phrase “The price is outside of the budget that we discuss, but the five-yeared warranty makes it a solid option.” Said that way, the listener will most likely focus on the back half of the sentence and put their attention on the warranty and not the cost.  This is a new lesson for me that I picked up in Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion and it’s blowing my mind. I’ve been trying it for the last week with outstanding success and it’s left me shocked. It might not be often that I admit to being wrong but in this case, it’s worth it. ]]>