5 Phases of Simple Leadership

Simple Leadership

You may read the title of this post and think, “Leadership seems to be anything but simple!”


“The way to have a great future is to have a lot of great todays.” -Michael Nichols


My friend Dr. Michael Nichols developed a model for simple leadership that you may find particularly effective. Dr. Nichols is an executive coach who helps teams develop a vision and strategy to achieve their goals. The author of Creating Your Business Vision, he also helps individuals pursue intentional growth.


“Obstacles occur to help you determine if you really believe in the vision.” -Michael Nichols


His model for simple leadership:

  1. Purpose. What’s most important to me?
  2. Path. Where am I headed?
  3. Plan. What should I be doing?
  4. Prepare. How and when will I do it?
  5. People. Who will live and work with me?

One interesting fact I didn’t realize until this interview:

Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.



Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.


That was particularly stunning and perhaps a wake-up call for some leaders as to what really matters.

Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission. Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission.

If you want to be more deliberate in your goals, strategy, and planning, study the simple leadership model.


“You can gain authority and position without connecting with others, but you won’t have many friends.” -Michael Nichols

Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders

Empowering Millennial Leaders 

On a trip in the Rockies, Jon Mertz experienced the wonders of aspen trees and walked away with a strong perception that the Millennial generation and these aspen trees shared many of the same qualities. He saw them both as “connection-rich, purpose-filled, and community-centered.”

Jon is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders and he blogs at Thin Difference. He recently shared some of his concepts and his research into the Millennial generation with me.


Survey: 6 in 10 Millennials want a sense of purpose at work.


Facts About Millennials

You write about Millennials. Share some facts on this generation.

In the United States, Millennials are the largest generation, standing tall at over 80 million, and they make-up over 30 percent of the workplace today. They are quickly becoming the majority. Millennials cannot be ignored and should not be stereotyped. After all, Millennials are the next generation of leaders. Period!

Some statistics that energize me about this next generation of leaders are:

  • 64 percent of Millennials say they regularly keep up with what is going on in the world.
  • 75 percent of Millennials claim businesses are more focused on personal agendas than helping society, and 6 in 10 want to feel a “sense of purpose” in working for their organization.
  • 87 percent believe business success should be measured in terms of more than just financial performance—elements to include are employee satisfaction and retention, customer satisfaction and retention, and contribution to local communities.

What Millennials have the opportunity to create is a new digital citizenship. The new digital citizenship has the potential to enhance trust, transparency, purpose, accountability, and sustainability within and across organizations. I know this sounds lofty, but I believe in what Millennials are bringing to politics, business, and charitable organizations.


“Clarity is the fuel to make collaboration work.” -Jon Mertz


Millennial Misconceptions

What’s are the biggest misconceptions about them?

The biggest misperception about Millennials is that they are an entitled generation. New influences were present through societal and technology changes, no different than previous generations. Intensity of change accelerates, though. What I have found is not a sense of entitlement but a sense of how can we make things better. Embedded in this is a strong sense of purpose and problem solving. These are the traits Millennials are using.

An example of this is the Food Recovery Network. Two college students volunteered at a nearby homeless shelter. Back on campus after lunch, they saw good food being thrown away. How can people a few miles away have little food and good food is being thrown away here? They set out to solve this problem by working with the university to deliver the food to nearby shelters. Today, this social good initiative is active in over 160 chapters and has recovered over 1 million pounds of food across the United States.

Millennials are not entitled, but they are blazing a trail of renewal in solving real problems with purpose-filled solutions.


Survey: 87 percent of Millennials believe business success is more than just financial performance.


Find the Right Tempo

Let’s talk about patience. You say it cultivates growth. There are other times that we need a high sense of urgency and drive. How do you know what is needed?

There is no stock answer to finding the right tempo between patience and impatience. What patience engages is a visual of pace and stride. Patience embodies doing the work, learning our craft and honing our skills. Being patient is not wasted time. It is as Steve Martin said, “Being so good they cannot ignore you.”

Copyright Jon Mertz, Used by Permission Copyright Jon Mertz, Used by Permission

On the order side is stride. To achieve bigger missions and purpose, we need to step up to start a company, change jobs, move on, or re-start. Getting this timing right takes the right alignment of heart and mind. More specifically:

How to Find Your Sweet Spot in Your Twenties

Find Your Sweet Spot


“Every one of us has a unique calling in our lives.” -Paul Sohn


When is the best time to start discovering your life’s purpose?

Most people are on an elusive chase to answer this big life question. We almost see it: then it disappears before we can grab hold of it.

My friend Paul Sohn says the best time to find your calling is in your twenties. Paul is a blogger, speaker and author who has a mission to help people find their passion. Paul has just released a book, Quarter-Life Calling: Pursuing Your God-Given Purpose in Your Twenties. It’s a guide for Millennials who are seeking their life’s sweet spot.


What’s the Paul Sohn definition of a sweet spot? Why does finding it matter?

I believe that sweet spot is that zone when you are living out your calling intentionally in every sphere of influence. Whether it is family, school, work, or church, living at your sweet spot is striving to find that place which is the intersection of your personality, gifts, passions, and life story. Your sweet spot leads you to live a life that matters – where you get to live out your purpose.


“Your sweet spot is the zone when you live out your calling intentionally.” -Paul Sohn


If you imagine a Venn diagram, finding your sweet spot is at the intersection of four interlocking circles. The first circle is about your personality – the specific tendencies and temperament you’re hardwired. The second circle is your giftedness, your marketable skills talents and strengths that some were born with and others developed over time. The third circle is your passions – the things that ignite your soul. And when you combine that with addressing the needs of the world that becomes a powerful force in discovering your calling. Lastly and not least, it’s your life story. You have gone through specific experiences, the ups and downs, the open doors and closed doors in life.

Copyright Paul Sohn, Used by Permission Copyright Paul Sohn, Used by Permission


“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” -St. Augustine


What are the symptoms of someone who has not found his/her sweet spot?

How to Build A Culture Primed to Perform

How do you create a culture that is primed to perform?

What does science say about changing organizational culture?

Is there any tool that can help measure and track your culture over time?


Build A Culture Designed to Perform

Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor have just written a book, Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, that answers these questions and more. It is written as a guidebook for those who know how important a strong culture is, but they don’t know what steps to take to create one. I recently spoke with Neel and Lindsay to learn more.


“Culture is what tells your people why they should work.” -Doshi/McGregor


The Magic of a Great Culture

Often people think of culture as something that is like art, but you say that the “magic behind great culture is actually an elegantly simple science.” Tell us more about your research.

We all know that culture is important. We’ve felt it. Some cultures are filled with fear and stress, while others inspire creativity and enthusiasm. What has eluded us, however, is why. Our research provides an “elegantly simple” answer: culture is what tells your people why they should work, and why they work is what determines how well they work.

Here’s the kicker though: not all “whys” are created equal, and too often, cultures are designed to motivate using the destructive “whys.”

Our answer is not only elegantly simple, but also empirically powerful. Using our total motivation framework, we’ve measured the motives of over 20,000 people at more than 50 major institutions. We’ve observed an incredibly strong relationship between their culture and performance metrics like sales and customer experience. In one study, employees with high levels of total motivation (or ToMo for short) generated 38% more in revenues than their low ToMo counterparts.

Culture is an entirely quantifiable and engineerable asset—and the most important one. ToMo gives leaders the tools to unlock the highest levels of performance in their people and company.


“Why you work determines how well you work.” -Doshi/McGregor


Why You Work Determines How Well You Work

What is total motivation? How does this drive performance?

Total motivation is simply the notion that why you work determines how well you work. The effectiveness of the “why” depends on its distance from the work. Let’s take a mid-level management consultant for example:

Play is when you work for enjoyment of the work itself. Play is the most powerful motivator: twice as potent as purpose and almost three times more than potential. Our fearless consultant might enjoy conceptual thinking and the process of breaking down big puzzles into digestible, actionable pieces.

Purpose is when the outcome or impact of the work is why you do it: maybe she values seeing how a new strategy improves a client’s well-being and helps his customers.

Potential is when the work enables a future outcome aligned to your personal goals: she might want to manage operations at a big company or a company of her own down the line, and this job will help her achieve that.


“Culture can’t be managed by chance.” -Doshi/McGregor


How To Create An Optimistic Workplace

Make Work Happy

Do you want to create an optimistic workplace?

How does a strong purpose help in difficult times?

How do leaders set a positive leadership presence?


“The climate suffers when employees don’t believe their leader has their back.” –Shawn Murphy


My friend, author and speaker Shawn Murphy is the CEO & Founder of the leadership blog, Switch & Shift. His new book, The Optimistic Workplace, is a guide to creating and maintaining a powerful, positive, optimistic culture that creates results.

Previously, Shawn shared with us the powerful implications of positive, contagious emotions. I wanted to go deeper into the research for his new book, and so I asked Shawn to share more about the leadership insights he gained from decades of working with business leaders.


“Optimistic climates support employees’ exploration of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy


Find Your Purpose

I was fascinated by the research on eyeblinks. How does the eyeblink reflex relate to purpose?

Researchers used startle probes to measure the reflexive eyeblink caused by a stimulus, in the case of this research it was an image. The images ranged from positive, to neutral, to negative.

What researchers learned was the length of the eyeblink gave insight into the person’s emotional response to the pictures. The longer the eyeblink, the more unpleasant the response to the picture.

How this connects to purpose is that the researchers, Carol Ryff and team, found that those who had a clearer sense of purpose in life recovered faster from negative images. The research gets at a person’s resiliency. Purpose in life strengthens the core of our identity. The clearer our sense of purpose, the stronger our resiliency is; we can recover faster from negative stimulus in our life.

In a work context, we can summon our purpose to guide us through difficult times at work. It can also help us make better decisions, as purpose serves as a guide in decision making: Does this opportunity support my purpose?


“Resilience can be strengthened when a person has a sense of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy


Start Small to Cultivate Optimism

To cultivate optimism in the workplace, you say, “Start small,” and, “Forget about the ‘big bang.’” Most people who have a passion for culture want to jump right in with sweeping initiatives and major change. Why start small?

In my 20+ years as an organizational change management consultant and in leading change in my own company, I’ve learned that the big bang causes more confusion, comes across as rah-rah, and alienates people from what the change purpose and message is.


“Workplace optimism is the belief that good things will come from hard work.” –Shawn Murphy


So, rather go for broke, start small. Create a pocket of excellence. The change starts in a small group within the organization. The group is typically a supporter of the change. Let the small group experience success and gradually widen it to other pockets within the company.

Word of the success travels through networks of people. This approach organically builds support through achieved success and not through possible success. It’s the latter that is the focus of big bang change efforts. It’s what disillusions people about change efforts.


Research: You can transform the work experience by focusing on the best positive realities.