What are you jeopardizing by not making your next move?

Life puzzles

Everybody makes excuses for themselves they wouldn’t be prepared to make for other people.
~Rebecca Goldstein

As an Ontological coach of business leaders, I often hear the following:

  • Best to wait till we exceed our sales goal next quarter to ask for a promotion/raise.
  • I’ll stay in this relationship until ___ and then I’ll make my move.
  • I need to wait until I have X amount of money saved up to start my own business.
  • I don’t have all the information, so I’ll hold off on making a decision.
  • It will make more sense if I stay one more year prior to leaving my job.
  • I’ll hold off investing in my leadership/team/self until ____ happens.

I’m sure you can think of many instances when you told yourself  “the pieces don’t seem to fit together” or “I’m going to wait until the pieces align and then I’ll make my move.” Don’t worry, procrastination is more common than you think. According to, 1 out of 5 people procrastinate so badly that it may be jeopardizing their jobs, their credit, their relationships and even their health.

What do all the statements above have in common?  A heck of a lot of tolerating and suffering.

And what does procrastination create?  A waiting game of sorts – hold off until all the puzzle pieces show up and fit seamlessly together.  

The bad news first: there is no puzzle

Waiting for circumstances or timing to be “perfect”… for the stars to align and signs to show up… is a way our minds rationalize not taking chances.  We look at life like a puzzle and frame it like a game: given enough time, we know we can figure out the next move and protect ourselves from the potential fall out (aka, failure) and WIN.  And to some extent, we’re smart enough to do so. Humans have occupied Earth for over 200,000 years, and we deserve some credit… we’ve survived some major shit.  We’ve been conditioned to protect ourselves when opportunity arises.  With the potential for pain… we choose to protect ourselves with safety, comfort…  and the ever so powerful excuse (translation: lots of time and rationalization).

Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality,
but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.
~ Ayn Rand

The things is… we’re just… human

It’s normal to feel frustration and confusion when life throws us a curve-ball.  The key is to recognize our rationalization.

It may sound new age-y and ‘soft’ to some – but turns out, it’s difficult for many people to ‘feel’ their feelings.  It’s not exclusive to what Hollywood actors portray in the many films we watch: feelings are messy and complicated. Often it’s easier to put them in a box and throw them into the back of the closet or to reason with yourself: you’re being ridiculous, your feelings aren’t justified here, there’s no way I’ll make partner, get the promotion, win the business, start the business – I don’t deserve it.   Many find it’s simpler to get on living our lives, leading our teams, building our businesses and… wait.  “The pieces will come together eventually.”

While we’re waiting for those pieces to magically appear, we don’t have to make a choice, take the leap, move things forward.  We can stay in… limbo.

And trust me when I tell you, ain’t nuthin’ going down in limbo-land.

Life is a playground

The good news:  life is a playground

Turns out – building a business, leading a company, building a family, creating a lasting partnership – these are never ending, arduous journeys.  Journeys of shifting, evolving storylines complete with dimly lit alleys, devastating edges… the unknown around every bend. There is no “end game” to life, no magic time when we fit that last piece in perfectly and ta-dah –  we’re finished!  Que balloons and fireworks!

Imagine constantly trying to pull together a puzzle where the pieces keep changing.  There is simply no chance of ‘figuring it out’.

You get to create how this plays out

As human beings we desperately want to see the whole, the end game.  We want the answers.  And we want it all to play out perfectly.

Life, leadership, love…  isn’t mapped out that way. The pieces we so desperately desire? YOU get to create and mold them.  

So, what do we do?
  1. The first step is recognizing the context within which we hold ourselves. Do you feel there is a ‘right/wrong’ way of leading your company or living your life?  Are you waiting for someone or something to tell you what to do?  Who to be?  How or when to leave your current job?  To ‘give’ you the promotion, the ‘out’, the opportunity?  Notice this way of being… stop choosing to be a Victim on YOUR own Playground.
  2. Talk it out.  It can feel lonely in Puzzleland.  Make a phone call to someone you trust – who will be a powerful listener and provide ‘no strings attached’ support.  Release the fear.  Ask for what you need,  Acknowledgement?  A nudge?  Support in making a pro/con list?  A good glass of bubbly?  You’re not alone.
  3. Finally, accept that The Land of Unexpected exists. This is easier said than done, I know (seriously). But every day you step out into the Land of the Unknown when you leave your home.  And every day you return.  Playing in the Unknown is something you can work on every day, a little at a time. Simply taking a couple deep breaths not only lowers your blood pressure, but it helps clear your mind before taking that next step.

Ready for more play less stress?  More flow less force? I’m game.  Send me an email at:

Please connect with me on my website or on Facebook to ask a question or inquire about powerful coaching opportunities.

Molly Rudberg is an executive coach and mindfulness junkie for high performing human beings and teams looking to get out of their own way. Co-author of FROM THE YOGA MAT TO THE CORNER OFFICE – A MINDFUL APPROACH TO BUSINESS SUCCESS

Exhausted? That’s because balance is bullsh*t.

Balance for work and life

I don’t know about you, but the beginning of the year always pumps me up — come January 1st, I have a million pans in the fire and am raring to go on each and every one. I feel energized, creatively uplifted and ready to kick some serious ass.

Fast forward ten weeks

Welcome to overwhelm city: Projects (personal and professional) are stalling as the little things — emails, meetings, networking events, that never-ending to-do list — edge out the big ideas and time to rejuvenate. What happened to yoga? How about the 10 minutes of meditation? How about that creative time for the book I intend to write? It becomes more important to finish the things I can (the familiar way of doing life and work) than worry about the things I have yet to start (“Screw it, I’ll start next week. But first let me beat myself up about it for a bit”). Sound familiar?

Balance is a made up story

It’s difficult to find balance when we’re constantly in reaction mode — living from the outside, in. Life is moving and changing around us at warp speed… as we desperately try to keep up. We even receive acknowledgment for the hustle of over committing, over performing, overproducing, staying late, being the first to arrive at the office — the list goes on and on.

If you close your eyes and think back to the past month or two, do you remember saying any of these thoughts to yourself?

  • “I am overwhelmed with work.”
  • “There’s no time for me to do the things I want to do.”
  •  “I feel like my life is no longer mine.”
  • “Work owns me.”

It seems most conversations I have these days is with an overworked, exhausted, depleted, on-the-edge-of-a-breakdown, professional. And we’re barely 30% into 2017!

Time officially owns you

Consider this: In the U.S., 58% of managers and leaders work more than 40 hours a week — sound like you? — and so-called “flexible hours” actually lead to employees working LONGER hours, not fewer. On top of that, the economy has had a huge impact on job-related decisions in the past few years — meaning employees work harder, for longer hours and less pay, for fear they won’t be able to find a better opportunity. The kicker? Being a working parent in the U.S. is harder than almost anywhere else in the developed world.


What’s the payoff of living and working this way? We get to look good.  Compete and win, buy the big house by the lake, get that promotion, snag that job, make a certain amount of money, receive the award, drive the fancy car.  We get to finally – FINALLY – prove we’re worthy. The thing is, when we have all the “things” that “complete us”, we’re onto the next idea… the next thing.  We spend so much time working to fill that gap – that in essence… don’t truly change or generate our happiness. Instead, we find ourselves depleted from trying to keep up –  instead of making choices from our own internal values (aka, balance).

Finding balance


I Know, Easier Said Than Done

I see you shaking your head:  “I don’t have the time.” Trust me. You do. You see, you created this scenario – so you get to uncreate and create again if you choose.  The key is to stop making choices from ‘reaction’ mode – and get intentional.  Allow door #1 to close behind you — and watch time expand to create the space for the book you want to write, the yoga you want to take on, the nonprofit work you’re committed to.  For what’s waiting for you on the other side of door #2 and #3.

Cultivating motivation when everything — i.e., life — is moving and changing around us can be incredibly challenging, which makes it more crucial than ever to give ourselves the opportunity for new ideas and the space to pursue our big dreams. Want to cultivate that January 1st fire all year long? Not every minute of every day — because, for real, who needs that? — but at least once a week?

Here are some (simple) options:

  • Be intentional. Just like fad diets don’t work, fad lifestyle changes won’t work either. You have to cultivate real time in your real life. Look around: free 20 minutes after the kids fall asleep? Free moment in the car before work in the morning? Use it – intentionally –  or lose it.
  • Fill your cup with good juice.  What and who gives you energy?  Is it a 3 minute meditation?  A latte or a great glass of pinot?  Perhaps journaling or checking out the new restaurant that opened with a friend.  Find the stuff that gives you energy and remove the stuff that doesn’t (negative people – why you hangin’ with them anyway?!, negative experiences, etc.).  Choose things that feed you.
  • Fill in your support group. Too many big ideas and dreams vanish because we don’t speak them into the world. State your intention to friends, family, and your supportive community. They want to help you out! And they’ll keep you accountable when you falter.

How do you define balance?  What is exhausting you?  What fills your cup?  I want to know! Send me an email at

Need a helping hand? I’m here for you — you can connect with me on my website or on Facebook, about coaching opportunities or to simply ask a question.  

Molly Rudberg is an executive coach for high performing leaders looking to get out of their own way. Co-author of FROM THE YOGA MAT TO THE CORNER OFFICE – A MINDFUL APPROACH TO BUSINESS SUCCESS

Knowing Yourself in a World of Smoke & Mirrors

Social media and you

Do you know where your phone is right now?

Have you missed any calls? Texts? Facebook messages, Snapchats, Twitter fights, Emails, Gchats… the list is endless. We’re not just “plugged in” anymore — we’re desperately clutching the plug to the wall. Because if we lose contact for one moment… we’re missing out.


56% of all social media users (yes, that includes me and you) suffer from FOMO. This doesn’t include the 27% who check some sort of social media site immediately upon waking.

And why? Addiction.

We have to know. Because knowing, being involved and connected is better than not… or so we’ve told ourselves.

There’s a lot of research out there on FOMO right now (we’re even obsessed with our obsessions). But no one is under the illusion that social media representation is accurate — and you shouldn’t be either.

Pop psychologist Alain de Botton has said this about Twitter:

“It denies us that precious non-specific time in which you can daydream, unpack your anxieties and have a conversation with your deeper self.”

And therein lies the cost.

We’re missing out on our self — the one thing we can count on as real in a world of online smoke and mirrors.

And… it’s not just social media. There’s no shortage of vices to keep us from thinking and reflecting too much on ourselves.

Let’s look at this in the real world.

When work is hard or life is challenging my default is to pick up my phone and distract myself with the online world. What I notice is that filling my mind up with an endless stream of distraction porn is… well, boring. But I still do it. And in doing so, I prevent my mind from the bliss of true boredom — from the wandering space of free thought.

Boredom can be remarkable. 

True boredom can be a form of meditation, freedom, space — and a key ingredient to be our most creative, inventive, and authentic selves. So why do we incessantly fill our days with superficial connections and storylines?

FOKO. Fear of knowing ourselves.

So, what can you do about this? 

  1. Acknowledgement. For me, the first step is sayin’ what’s so… that I may be using social media (in that moment) as a tool to distract myself from real life (AKA, my own reality).
  2. Give yourself space (even if it’s just a few seconds). Put the phone down. Turn off your computer. Take three deep breaths. Go for a walk. Stretch. Journal.
  3. Create a quick list. Utilize the space and quiet. Write down whatever comes to mind when you think about the New Year. What is this year about for you? Post it somewhere you can see it daily.

Will you (or I) stop visiting the online world? Of course not.

As an entrepreneur, leader, and lover of life, I want to care more about everyday authenticity than every second artificiality. And the simple awareness of why I’m defaulting to the online world has shifted my relationship with myself — and social media. It’s not going away. But it is taking a back seat.  I’ll be more mindful of when I’m choosing to connect — and what for. I’ll use social media smarter – and less.

Computer addiction

I’m committed to a deeper relationship with myself this year.

I have a feeling Twitter can’t create that for me (yet).


Ditching your Victim: Creating the shift from blah… to HELL YEAH!!

Get up or hit snooze? Coffee or tea? Elevator or stairs?

We make hundreds of choices before we even sit down at our desks in the morning. They are so rapid-fire and subconscious, the choice is barely noticeable — only the outcome seems to matter.

I don’t know about you – but there was a time when I enjoyed the illusion of control, yet I was quick to throw it away when it suited me to do so. I remember many years walking into work – already tired.  Burnt out.  So over the day that I couldn’t muster up the strength to be more than mediocre. I would walk around saying “I’m tired,” or “Is it happy hour yet?” or “This is surely the best I will ever have in my work life.”  I would set myself up for failure (another choice, whether we recognize it or not) by disassociating with pleasure, with challenge, or excitement. I’m ashamed to admit it… but I would fetishize unhappiness because it seemed easier, more relatable. Less hassle, less trouble, less work.

It’s damn easy to blame our circumstances, rather than ourselves. “I can’t change this.” Or even better… we walk away (I know this one well): “Fuck it.” Then we romanticize the other — a new city, a new job, a new boss, a new title, a new office space, a new life. That grass on the other side? Greener for sure!

Because if it isn’t… where does that leave us?

Don’t get me wrong – every now and again, we try to shift. We listen to TED Talks and rousing speeches for small moments of clarity or inspiration. We feel pumped — ready and willing to change. But internally nothing has shifted. We are still the “victim” in our heads. And so the cycle continues.

Any of this sound familiar?

Now for the good news. Companies — startup and mature — are challenging the victim mindset. From leaders to newest hires, they are tasking everyone to engage in deeper reflection and push past the “default” setting of apathy and disconnection.

The biggest enemy today’s companies face? Employees who feel unfulfilled, unrecognized, and underutilized.

Smart companies know to combat this enemy by investing in coaching programs and mentorship opportunities, enjoying a 25% higher retention rate for their best talent, with a staggering ROI of 7x their initial investment for their efforts.

But how are they creating this shift from “blah” to “hell yeah”?

By recognizing that cynicism is a choice. A powerful choice that can make or break the best people, talent, and companies. We know from research (and buckets of firsthand experience) that coaching and mentoring combat that choice by promoting learning, excitement, and stimulation to employees at all levels of an organization. It attacks the “victim” threshold by rewiring the brain at the basic level.

As the notable neurosurgeon James R. Doty has said about ‘re-wiring the brain’: It’s like, suddenly, you realize that you have been wearing glasses that have been fogged up. And you take them off and there’s a vibrancy, the colors are different. The interaction is different. And that’s what being present offers you.”

No, this isn’t the matrix. It doesn’t require brainwashing or “drinking the Kool-Aid.” It’s simply transforming the way employees see the world around them. Not only at work — but in all instances, interactions, and events in their lives. It’s presence.

Studies have shown that nearly 80% of our time is spent focused not on the present, but on regret about the past or anxiety about the future. We’re actually borrowing trouble – which seriously limits our possibility. We only have so much brainpower or space to devote to each day — and we’re hardly giving it 20%. Not ideal.

Perhaps what’s so scary about this line of thought is rather than imagining ourselves battered and blown about by circumstance, we realize we have autonomy; we can exert a measure of control over our days.

And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the way you CHOOSE to view it) with this autonomy comes responsibility. No more blaming the job or the boss or the place. It’s us — we’re choosing to live and work this way:

We have exactly the life we’ve chosen to create.

The employee of the future asks themselves, “What’s possible in this challenge?” rather than “How did I get here?” “Why is this happening to me?” or “I’m just here for now until something better comes along.”

It won’t be easy. Our victim will be confronted and scared — fighting like hell to stay in control. Our victim assures us that we’re safe if it’s everyone else’s fault — if we aren’t responsible. It gives us space to kick back, wallow in our suffering, and point fingers.

Those days are coming to an end. No more wasting 80% of your attention, resources, power, creativity, and drive worrying about what has come before and what will come next.

Instead, the idea of being a warrior for your life (because that’s exactly what responsibility calls forth in us) becomes empowering. And fully owning what shows up becomes the place to play: good, bad, perfection, mess, fun, boredom, fear, and love.

Don’t get me wrong… it takes extraordinary courage to be responsible for your life and work. Along with small incremental shifts: Forgoing the snooze button. Choosing to take the stairs. Stepping up. Putting in the effort. Deciding that whatever life and work you want to do in this world is yours to choose — and then doing the hard work to create what you want. 

Victim, cynicism, and suffering are choices. So are badass, optimism and empowerment.

What do you choose?

Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Survey on Coaching, 2011 & Deloitte Research Brief, 2012

Leadership & Séances: How trusting your inner Ouija board can ignite your possibilities

Every day — every minute in fact — we’re battered with questions.

Some days can feel like the batting cages — choices, decisions, questions — speeding at you 70+ mph. You can swing, watch the ball pass you by, or take the hit.

It can begin to feel like this as a leader. No matter how high you rise on that professional ladder, nothing seems black or white. No easy answers. Everything floating, frustratingly, in that gray area. And you notice you’re in the big leagues now — no more batting cage. You’re on the field, bases loaded, two outs, two strikes, three balls — and a million eyes on that next swing.

Most typical leaders ask: What do I do? But you’re no typical leader… and these aren’t typical times.  Where to find the answers we need under pressure — and the wherewithal to trust them when they finally appear.

There are millions of articles out there on collaboration and how to listen to your team’s, your people’s, your company’s ideas (no exaggeration… google the words “leadership and collaboration” and you’ll get about 253,000,000 results). Don’t get me wrong, as a leader, valuing others’ opinions and ideas is essential: you’re not an island nor are you working in a vacuum. Going it alone rarely works out, for anyone.

But, beware. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of voices. You spend so much time considering the opinions of others, we forget to own our own voice — your own personal Ouija board.

Play with me here — you remember the Ouija board! Around since 1894, it was originally used to communicate with the spiritual world. I know, I know… whatever your beliefs on séances or communing with otherworldly spirits, think of your inner Ouija board as the guide you’ve been searching for to declutter all of those questions and choices flying at you. Every leader has a place within themselves that they can tap into to — a place of deep intuition and knowing. The answers you receive there may not be straightforward. They may be game changing (the best kind!), bold, and completely freakin’ terrifying. But they are likely also an honest reflection of who you are committed to being as a leader and human being. How would you ever answer the deep questions we all wrestle with, if you ignore your inner voice and refuse yourself deep reflection?

From Bill Gates to Danielle LaPortebigboldbrilliant leaders lean into their intuition. And for good reason: it’s been proven that brain activity indicating that a decision is being taken precedes consciously going through with that decision. Which means we often make our decisions with our gut first and then apply logic to those decisions later. As good leaders, we must develop our unconscious mind even more so than our conscious one — so that when we make those important choices, we’re using our strongest muscle.

Imagine yourself in front of a Ouija board right now: your fingertips resting on the planchette (the heart-shaped piece of wood that guides the board) and you’re reflecting on an important choice in your leadership and/or organization. You know the decision I’m talking about. The one that keeps you up at night and invades your thinking, day after day. You ask the board, “Who should I be in this?  What is my next step?” and along with a deep breath in and out… the answer is spelled out in front of you (aka, from within you!).

Trusting yourself — learning to listen to your own inner Ouija board and heeding your own advice — won’t be easy. You’ve spent a lifetime shutting your Ouija board down and erecting barriers against it. I know… I get it. At one point in my life, I was also afraid of the power (and answers) within that Ouija board. Of believing myself, my voice, my leadership, my heart – knows something — and has something worth listening to AND taking action on.

Eventually, I got tired of the barrier building… along with the distrust and disconnect that came with those barriers and made a conscious choice to go deeper. The good news is my Ouija board is wildly brilliant — and has a whole slew of incredible kick-ass leadership lessons and experiences planned for me.

And my inner Ouija board tells me yours does too… !

Interested in tapping into your own inner knowing?  Use these actionable steps to start your journey:

  • Face the fear.  Feel it, acknowledge it.  Turn the volume down on that negative talk.
  • Turn up that inner, quieter voice. Imagine it as an actual switch that you’re consciously increasing in volume, bit by bit.
  • Tap into what you hear. (Totally lost? Try a little guided meditation). Put those words on paper.
  • Put those thoughts into action. This is where typical leaders stop. Not you — this is where your power lies.

Powerful leaders don’t take their eye off the ball. They swing, even when they know they may miss. They take risks — because they believe in something deeper within themselves. In their gut. Their intuition. That inner “Ouija board” that is guiding them.

So fellow leader… what is your inner Ouija board trying to communicate to you?

The Art of Recognizing Yourself (or how to finally kick Imposter Syndrome’s ass, for good)

You’ve been waiting for it all to collapse like a house of cards. Playing a con for as long as you can remember. You’re tired. Stressed. And scared out of your mind. You work hard – harder than everyone else for sure – and yet… it never seems to be enough.

Sound familiar?

Self-doubt is natural. We’re not egomaniacs all the time — and thank god for that, can you imagine trying to get through a meeting? Success, no matter how valid or earned, can feel temporal, artificial… aka, faux.

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s a phenomenon that almost every leader (aka, person) has dealt with — backed up by case study after case study, in a wide range of fields — even those prominent people who seem to have their sh*t together: Sheryl Sandberg, Seth Godin, Sonia Sotomayor. It’s called the “Imposter Syndrome.”

But feeling like a scam artist doesn’t make you a weirdo or an outlier. These feelings are so common, in fact, that everyone may have them — in some degree or another. So, now that we know that chronic feelings of illegitimacy are a shared, ordinary, and natural response to accomplishment, how can we overcome them?

You’re not special. Look around – you’re surrounded by us. Knowing that many other people experience the Imposter Syndrome is a proven aid in overcoming it. When you start having feelings of inadequacy, it’s as easy as looking across the board room table. That guy sitting across from you? He’s had them. That supremely confident woman on your team who delivers presentations like she’s delivering mail? She’s having them this very moment. Emma Watson? Yep, even her — and she still pushes through them to be a voice for gender equality and feminism. So take note: you’re not alone in this self-created boxing ring.

Make it work for you, not against you by using it to cultivate connections. We know that most successful people experience self-doubt (me too – and yes, I’m looking at you) — so you have a built-in baseline for understanding. Humility can be quite attractive; I mean who wouldn’t want to be seen as a real human being vs. a perfect, obedient robot? Practice baring your anxiety and struggles to your team, colleagues, and friends. Because going it alone is just that – lonely – and that road ain’t goin’ nowhere fun and fresh. And 99% of the time, our colleagues are going through the exact same thing.  Consider what’s possible for you – and your team – if you ‘out’ the Imposter Syndrome.

Give your shoulders a break, and blame *some* of it on the System. Now, I’m not one to be victim to external forces, but feelings of inadequacy can be deeply ingrained, based on societal structures and past experience. What is manifesting in your life as Imposter Syndrome could be a coping mechanism — a way of understanding feedback and making sense of where you are in your life and your career. “We call it ‘impostor syndrome’, but we’re not sick. The real sickness is an industry that calls itself a meritocracy but over and over and over fails to actually reward merit.” So don’t underestimate systemic bias when you’re feeling like a swindler.

The next time that you feel like you’re running a scam — when you feel as if you don’t belong (even though you know the work, effort, and drive that you’ve put in to get where you are is too legit to quit) — step back and observe those feelings. Re-calibrate. Acknowledge your fear. Laugh. Move on. You know who you are and where you’ve come from.

Then get back to the business of being.

Your life is not a collection of accomplishments, meetings, coffee breaks, and scattered sleep… despite how it can feel day to day. We all have the same hours in a day, a week, a year (even Beyonce doesn’t get extra). Life doesn’t have to be about coasting through those hours. There’s a whole lot of room to go deeper — even if it means venturing into that scary cave of fear and anxiety where the Imposter Syndrome lives.

Don’t miss out on the juiciest part of life and leadership because you’re afraid. Take a deep breath…set your intention… just be.

It’s good enough. You’re good enough.

The Purple One: What Prince Taught Us about Music, Masculinity, and Legacy

I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain

On April 21st, we lost another icon — a transcendent being made up of stardust and porcelain and purple — who had so much to show us about ourselves. We lost Prince.

As the media begins to piece apart his death with rumors and speculation, it helps to remember the enigmatic vitality in which Prince lived. As a superstar who defied fame and expectation. As a man with a one-of-a-kind voice that effortlessly jumped from baritone to falsetto, who could arguably play any instrument he chose. And as a force that scared us and challenged us and entertained us — mercilessly. 

An artist who truly embodied the word, Prince was ageless and timeless in a way that is rarely seen. Which made his death — at age 57 — all the more shocking.
No matter his personal beliefs or his more confusing moments as an “artist formerly known as…”, Prince was a cultural touchstone for self-acceptance, love, peace. He was a living testament to the fluidity of gender expression and taught us — from the 80s on — that being a “man” doesn’t hinge on one point. In the silk and leather and lace that he donned and in the space that he crafted for his music and his artistic spirit,  Prince gave us freedom of expression. He challenged us in the idea that “there is no one way, and no correct way for a man to dress, to move, to decide what he values, to choose who he loves or where he stands in relation to that person.

Whether you like his music or not — whether you like Prince or not — his talent cannot be denied. As leaders, we hunger to leave this kind of legacy. We aim to touch people in this way — that outlasts our mortal selves and reaches unfathomable places. The aura that Prince embodied remains long after his song has ended.

One of the greatest legacies the purple one leaves us with is the knowledge that those who challenge, who defy, who disrupt the normal, the everyday, the status quo are the ones who mean the most to us.

Whether you aim to influence one person or one million, authenticity is what remains in the end. As we think back on Prince, we remember him as an artist who was never afraid to be purely himself.

The Poisonous Apple in Leadership

Let’s journey back to simpler times: you’re six years old, watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Fairytale time. Everything was much clearer back then: black and white. Good and evil. Heroes and villains. Pretty and ugly. Right and wrong.

Now zoom in on those ‘villains’ — they begin to look distressingly familiar… don’t they? Watch the Evil Queen — as the most powerful woman in the kingdom — with untold influence, drive, and ambition.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the ­­fairest of them all?

If you remember, the Evil Queen chose to live and lead from insecurities.  They ruled her life.  She gave in to the poisonous voices inside her head (literally). They ran – and ultimately destroyed – everything. And why?  She was afraid.

Sound familiar?

Researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, sums it up perfectly: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy?

As leaders we are sickening ourselves with the same poison: Fear and Shame. 

How? By cloaking and hiding our most powerful, authentic leadership selves in conformity, dullness, shadow — or the most powerful of them all: mediocrity.

Take a look in the Mirror

That “poisonous apple” in the story is External Power… aka faux power. A senior level job title, a certain dollar amount in our bank accounts, a fancy sports car, that house in the swankiest of burbs, injecting our bodies, faces – to create and preserve beauty… perfection.

Circle back to the Evil Queen – what did we learn? 

External power cannot fill internal gaps.

No matter how hard the Evil Queen threw around her external power, she still saw the same thing when she looked in the mirror. Not good enough.

Cutting out the Poison

The awakening begins when we stop feeding off the external poison. When we see that our “performance, perfected self” (developed to please the outside world) no longer serves us and who we’re committed to being in our work.  That the work required to be perfect, right, safe is too exhausting, too frustrating — and not in integrity with who we are. This shift requires a new kind of practice in leadership — a mindful one. And as leaders, our work begins within ourselves.

Nervous? Then we’re getting somewhere.

No one said leadership would be easy. Recently an executive client shared, “Some days, it’s easier to put on the mask and perform than it is to do the work of discovering my own leadership voice and style.” Do you think the Evil Queen ever had the cojones to ask herself why she needed to be the fairest of them all? We see what happened to her. This work is not for the faint of heart — but it’s the difference between poisoning yourself and your organization slowly… and doing work with integrity, authenticity, and power.

Internal Work = Big Things

Start with the simple practice of noticing. Notice when you put on your mask in the morning. Or when you shield yourself with your defense mechanism when threats or stress show up. Notice the exhaustion of making things look perfect, smooth, aligned, no mess or mistakes.

Notice when you withhold your thoughts. Your brilliance. Your intuition. Noticing is the first (and very powerful) step toward full expression as leader – and human being.

What could the Evil Queen have been if she looked in the mirror and stated (not asked):

Heck, who could she have been if she stopped wasting time looking for the mirror’s approval – and started doing the real work? Running her kingdom. Building her empire. Standing for the respect, power, and authenticity that she deserved. Being badass and chucking her shame, fear and self-doubt behind the castle.

We’d been watching a very different movie, right?

As a leader… growth, possibility, opportunity begin and end with you.

What is the mirror telling you?

What’s Love Got to Do With It…?

Tina Turner asked it best when she sang “What’s love got to do with it?” And what doeslove have to do with leadership? Let’s discuss…

There’s a new wave of leadership hitting our boardrooms and it isn’t concerned with a right or wrong way to lead. That ol’ rulebook?  Out the window. At least for leaders that want to spark innovation, excitement, and radical change in their organizations.

The Pecking Order

The pecking order is over. In fact, William Muir’s brilliant “superchicken” experiment taught us that it probably never worked in the first place.

Turns out, if you breed for productivity alone, you end up with a bunch of dead chickens.

Doesn’t reflect well on the old power (aka, leadership) model, does it? When we rely on the brilliance of one “super leader” without input, communication, or collaboration within a team, what are we left with?

Tired, sloppy, disorganized organizations and teams. And some seriously burned-out leaders — oh yeah, and employees.

The New Game Plan

Which is why we’re writing the new leadership game plan — or rather, breaking all the old leadership rules — as we go. We’re learning from our mistakes, when they inevitably happen. We’re going for it, because our teams and our employees are crying out for a new leadership icon. For a leader who is: accessible, relatable, inspirational, challenging, crazy, and can admit when they are wrong – as often as celebrate when they are right.

Toxic leadership flourishes in the absence of these qualities — in narcissism, manipulation, and deceit. According to leadership coach and author Ray Williams, “I’ve seen a disproportionate share of toxic leaders who continue to do harm to their employees and their organizations, despite all our knowledge about what constitutes good leadership, particularly with reference to emotional intelligence, humility and compassion.”

“Super-leader” is so 20th century — we aren’t looking for our best and brightest to be infallible. In fact, we are begging them to bare their blemishes.

Social connection expert and entrepreneur Brené Brown conducted thousands of interviews to determine what lies at the heart of social connection. Her thorough analysis dials down to one key element: vulnerability.

Don’t be fooled by language. Vulnerability is not weakness or submission. It’s about courage. The courage to show who you are to the world — including your employees. The courage it takes to be real in what can be a phony business environment.

And our workplaces are deceiving. A Gallup poll shows that 70% of employees are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. That’s a stunning number. More than half of employees don’t feel a connection to their jobs.

WOW.  That feels wrong for 2016, doesn’t it?

Vulnerability — open connection, familial bonds, love over rivalry — could be the key to unlocking all that potential.

And it doesn’t cost a thing. (Now you’re paying attention, aren’t you?)

Who will you be, as a leader? 

As leader, would you trust someone you didn’t really know? Someone who had never had an open, vulnerable moment with you?

Not a chance. 

It’s time to wake up. Your employees, your teams, your people are sensitive to authenticity in leadership — as a sign of trust. And we know from research, trust in leadership, or in a particular leader, actually improves employee performance. It’s a non-negotiable.

Will you be the catalyst?  Will you be the authentic spark in a sea of sameness?

Or will you settle for the status quo, the mediocre, the old way of doing leadership and biz?

I invite you to say NO way

I invite you to think bigger. Share ideas instead of saving them for that “rainy day”. Stir the pot. Sit outside your office. Get connected, curious.  Actively listen to what your team is saying… or not saying. Share one fear with your team.  Invite others to do the same.  Ask for authentic feedback – and actually take it in.  Heck, maybe even have a little fun while you’re at it.

Leadership for the 21st century?  Turns out, love has everything to do with it. 

Leadership & Reinvention, Rockstar-Style

There are few artists — few cultural icons — who have been as influential in as many different mediums, to as many different artists, as David Bowie. An original, Bowie — who passed away January 10th — was often thought of as immortal; a superhuman life-force always on the cusp of the unknown. One of the rare artists who was unapologetically expressed — continuously and creatively reinvented — through genres, ages, and that gorgeous hair. A thought leader who never held back — with his opinions or his outfits. Nothing was too outrageous. Nothing off limits…

Which got me reflecting on leadership. Bowie-style leadership.

If authenticity is born from your inner self, from your true way of being in and with the world, then Bowie is leadership. His many layers — glam rock, plastic soul, spaceman, King of Goblins — glitter with authenticity and full expression — the core of modern leadership.

Bowie gave us his fully expressed self without considering what we were asking for or what we wanted. He gave of himself, freely. “Bowie invented this insane state of being, and the planet just collectively thought, Yes. This is what we want. It’s like he was here just to do that (even though no one had asked for it, or even knew what to ask for).” (Chuck Klosterman, Grantland).

Great leaders don’t give people what they think they want. Even if it’s coming from a place of good intention, reaction will never put you ahead of the curve. Great leaders instead lead from the inside out — reflecting, learning, shifting, and transforming themselves along the way; to lead as a verb, as an action, as a state of being. Action is the place to be for every leader — even with the risk, the doubt, the fear of failure.  And yes, where there is leadership… you will find failure.   Hooray!

This constant reinvention — whether in leadership, career, relationship, life — is tireless in that we are never “done.” It’s finding yourself anew each day. Speaking your gifts into the world, your way.

That was certainly true for Bowie. Time and time again he gave us himself. His electrifying thoughts, unusual opinions, eccentric ideas — all that energy pulsing inside of his heart and mind — was fully expressed. He paid little attention to what we — his audience, critics, friends — wanted him to be… and instead cultivated his own swagger and style.

Who could we be in our work if we brought Bowie-level authenticity — insanity, expression, an insatiable appetite for transformation — to our everyday leadership?

What kind of leader will you be if you decide to stand up and out? To reveal what’s inside. To be weird and broken and crazy. To be smart and powerful and beautiful. To be seen as all those things and more.

Unselfconsciously. Unapologetically.

You are a mortal with the potential of a superman.

Live it up.