Regaining Center After The Bull Strikes

He came after me like a bull charging a matador.

“What’s your success rate? I need numbers. What percentage of your clients get promotions?”

These were fair questions for a prospective client interview, and I’d heard them before. But this man, an up-and-coming executive, delivered them with an intensity and ferocity that was surprising. He was testing not only my experience, but also my fortitude.

Bull attacking

“I’m not sure,” I stammered, suddenly feeling like a six-year-old boy facing the class bully in a far corner of the playground. “I, um, haven’t tracked that too closely.”

Six-year-olds don’t make good matadors. This bull tasted blood.

“Then what are you going to do for me? What…are…you…going…to…do…for…me?”

Before You Lean In, Own Your Space

Fifteen months ago, Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead came out and took the country by storm. Grounded in research and filled with personal anecdotes, the book sparked a national conversation about power, privilege, and the distribution of responsibilities between women and men in the workplace and at home. I’ve spoken with many people (mostly women but also a few men) who were inspired by the book and just as many who felt it contained useful insights but fell short in important ways. In this post, I’d like to share the very first reaction I had to the book and why I think it’s relevant to all of us.

Women exec upright on table

My reaction to the book began with the title. What does it mean to “lean in?” Sandberg recommends this to women as an alternative to leaning back—in the Board room and around conference tables where important decisions are made. Leaning in means speaking up, stepping forward, and being willing to take on jobs with loftier titles and bigger responsibilities. To me, this is valuable advice to women who aim for larger impact and recognition. It’s also useful for the smaller but still significant percentage of men who hold back and remain quiet when the stakes are high.

If you can’t join them, beat them

In 1979, the Ann Arbor Arsenal soccer team held tryouts. Twelve boys showed up to compete for a single open spot on the team. I was one of them.

kids soccer

The morning started with demonstrations of individual skills. We passed, trapped, dribbled, and shot the ball. Bonus points went to anyone who could juggle more than ten times on his head. Truth be told, the specifics of what we did have receded into memory. The passage of twenty five years can do that. What I do remember clearly is how much all of us wanted to win that spot on the team. So much that we fought hard to show that we were better, faster, and stronger than the kid next to us. For me, the other eleven boys were the enemy. If one of them got picked for the team, that would mean that I hadn’t. And I would be team-less.

The secret link between leading and parenting

Leading and parenting require dramatically different skills, styles, and approaches. That’s why I cringe when, after I’ve shown a leader how to hold an effective conversation with his peers, he says, “I could really use this with my kids.”


It would be one thing if the kids were 25 or 30 years old, but typically little Susie is 7 and Brett is a junior in high school. These kids are at different development stages from Tom who runs the district sales team and Jennifer who heads up finance. What you say to Tom or Jennifer won’t work with Susie and Brett. In fact, what works with Susie won’t work with Brett.

When it comes to conversational skills—how we talk with one another—it’s helpful to speak to adults as adults and to kids based on their developmental stages and the nourishments they need at that stage.

The day top executives nap on the job

My last post argued why most people reading this blog need more sleep and how to get it.  A few days later, Tony Schwartz made a related case for naps. Research shows that naps improve performance, particularly for people who didn’t sleep enough the night before. For example:

In one study, subjects who had slept five to six the previous night were told to take naps of five, 10, 20 and 30 minutes. The five-minute nap didn’t have much impact. But the subjects who took 10-, 20- and 30-minute naps consistently improved their performance on cognitive tests of memory and vigilance conducted in the subsequent two and a half hours.

Schwartz has introduced energy practices into enough companies to know that “a vast percentage of employers don’t sanction naps.” So this is a difficult row to hoe. In fact, the opposition to napping is so woven into the cultural DNA of organizations that I wonder how much of an impact policy changes alone can make. For example, Google has nap pods, but how many employees actually use them, and how often?

Here’s why I’d like to see: top executives and high performing talent taking naps during the day and telling others that they did it and how it helped them. Not just once but over and over again over weeks and months. That’s when employees will start to take it seriously and take the risk of doing it themselves.