Book Review – “Edge”

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Yep, I read it at the beach.

One of the old maxims of leadership is “Adversity breeds success.” Indeed, I know very few successful people who have not experienced adversity in their professional or personal lives. (The exception, of course, are those who inherit wealth).

But it’s one thing to say “adversity breeds success” and it’s another to actually turn that adversity into success.

Laura Huang, a professor at Harvard Business School, has taken the concept even further in her new book, Edge:Turning Adversity into Advantage. Hard work, skills and performance doesn’t necessarily mean success. Preconceived perceptions, stereotypes and biases can negatively impact success. Appearance, race, gender or age and experience all impact how people perceive you and thus impact your potential success. But Huang makes the case that many of those biases and perceptions are actually ones we create as barriers.

Thus the focus of her book is spotlighting people who have flipped stereotypes and biases in their favor. And throughout “Edge,” Huang weaves in details of her own life story, encountering her fair share of bias and adversity as an Asian-American woman who ventured into male dominated fields (computer science and engineering) then turned to business and finally, academia.

Mercifully, Professor Huang does not write like a, um, professor. “Edge” is quite good and interesting storytelling, with life lessons and advice built-in as well. (About the only concession she makes to academia is a number of footnotes, but even those are mostly humorous asides). By the end of the book, you feel as though you’ve taken a really cool Masterclass in how to succeed either as a leader or entrepreneur.

Everyone at one point feels they’ve been underestimated, and many people have disadvantages in their lives. The key is turning that item to your advantage. In my professional life, I was stymied years ago as a leadership strategist and trainer by the fact that I did not have a graduate degree. This was self-inflicted; no one told me that is was a disadvantage; it was just a chip on my shoulder. It was when a client told me that my value to him was that I had years of experience actually managing and leading people, both in a corporate setting and then in my own business that I realized I was good enough without that MBA.

I first ‘encountered’ Professor Huang several years ago when she was an Assistant Professor at The Wharton Schoo,l when she participated in a video showing professors reading some rather brutal student feedback in a parody of Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets. (I still show that video in leadership programs to illustrate the need for humility). She then conducted significant research and published a paper on how “gut feel” plays a role when investors make risky decisions.

When you have genuine curiosity about a subject, it pays to follow those from whom you can learn. Years ago, the only way to do this was to attend classes by those academic experts, which also meant investing significant time and money into a business school. (To say nothing about getting accepted at that business school; even 30+ years after graduating, I’m sure my undergraduate GPA would sink me from being accepted at any reputable academic institution).

But now, having intellectual curiosity about management, leadership, entrepreneurship can be rewarded by following (and perhaps even engaging) renowned experts on social media, going online to read their papers, watch their speeches and classes and learning from what they do. Of course it’s not as great as going to Harvard Business School, but not all of us can go there anyway. And the internet provides a way to access those experts not just from one school but from many. Professor Huang is one of 10 people I follow closely – not just from my position as an entrepreneur, but also as someone who’s fortunate to be looked at by some as a person who can help them succeed as a leader and in business.

Edge is Professor Huang’s acronym for success: Enrich, Delight, Guide and Effort. It’s further illustrated by 13 principles, all of which delight me but only one of which I’ll share with you (buy the book!):

It’s not where you’ve been, but where you’re going.

This is deceptively simple. In the corporate world, you might be hired because of where you’ve been (education and experience), but you’ll only move into the leadership ranks based on performance and potential. When people understand where you’re going and how you’re getting there – that’s when they’ll follow.

I can’t think of a more relevant book to read in times like these.

More Reasons To Read “Edge”

  • The author suggests people stop being constrained by your weaknesses or skills you don’t have. (Correct; that chip on your shoulder is almost always of your own making. And I’m writing a book right now that advocates embracing, not hiding your weaknesses)
  • 13 principles for creating an Edge – one at the end of each chapter
  • She takes a shot at the Myers Briggs Personality Test. Good for her.
  • More advice from Professor Huang: “go for directionality – don’t go for absolutes. You know what the ‘right directions’ and ‘wrong directions’ are.” This is critical. There are too many leaders and entrepreneurs who get stuck on perfection or reaching a bright line and are never able to move forward. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Knowing your values and following them will generate success.

Eric Swenson’s Philosophies of Great Leadership

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  1. Think about why and how most people get promoted:
    a. They sell the most widgets; or
    b. They’re the hardest worker; or
    c. They kiss the most ass; or
    d. They’ve been there the longest; or
    e. In government, you even have to pass a written examination to get promoted.

But none of those qualities translates into the ability to effectively lead people.  

2. Leadership can be learned, but that learning must be desired, and it must be ongoing.

3. Before anything else, an effective leader must be able to articulate his/her core values and expectations of themselves, the people they work for and with, and the people who work for them.

4. Understanding and living your values makes every decision you make easier.

[Therefore, who you are is how you lead.]

5. The ability to effectively communicate supersedes any other important leadership tenet.  You can great in every other facet of leadership, but unless you can communicate well, you’re never going to succeed.

6. Hire for what you cannot teach: attitude, aptitude, alignment, and agility.  Emphasize your strengths and hire for your weaknesses.

7. Give credit freely to others.  After 30 years in leadership, I can say without hesitation what goes around comes around.  Maybe not immediately, but ultimately.

8. Treat every person as though you’ll be working for them one day.  It’s happened to me.

9. Always be learning.  In leadership development, there is no end zone.  The workforce is moving too fast for any leader to stay stagnant.  Lack of learning and curiosity will make you irrelevant faster than any other mistake you can make.

10. You can learn just as much from bad bosses as good bosses.  Remember the qualities of the best boss you’ve ever had and make sure you exemplify those qualities every day.

11. A great measure of good leadership is how things run when you’re not there.

12. I find the most effective leaders are crystal clear about their weaknesses.  They have no illusions and are totally transparent about what their weaknesses are.  They then hire to support those weaknesses.

What I’m Thinking When I Interview You

Picture for BlogWHAT AM I THINKING

Years ago, I lost track of how many people I’ve interviewed.  There was a four year period where it was easily over 100 candidates a month (we were a sales division with lots of turnover).

A few years after that, part of my job was to be involved in a 3-manager interviewing panel, where we interviewed about 15-20 people every Thursday. It became mind-numbing for someone like me who resists routines (“If it’s Thursday, it must be…”)

But when I started my own company and interviewed my first candidate for my own, I changed. I was no longer interviewing for my business; I was interviewing for my life  – both present and future. Even though I had a huge experience conducting interviews, it didn’t matter. Interviewing as if your future depends on it changes someone. It certainly changed me.

I now interview hundreds of people each year, mainly for my clients but also for my own business. I’ve interviewed candidates for CEO positions and waiters and bartenders.  I may have seen it all.

But I digress.

My fundamental point is that I know what I’m looking for by the time I’m interviewing you.  While you’re giving me some answers to questions, here’s what I’m thinking about:

  1. I don’t care about your experience or education.  I’ve seen your resume, and it’s likely I, or someone who works for me, did a video or phone screen with you already. So don’t spend time on that. Your resume got you to this point.  Now it’s time for you to make an impression.  After 10,000 interviews, I want you to be memorable.  I have a really low tolerance for boring people.
  2. If I hire you, what gaps will there be? Sorry to be the one to tell you – you’re not going to be perfect at everything I need, so if you join the team, what will the rest of us need to do more of?  And of course, what gaps are you filling? What differences are there between you and the person you’re replacing?
  3. Are you trainable? Experience is overrated. What I’m looking for is someone who I can develop to be the person I need them to be. I want to know if I can develop you, and that you’re willing and able to learn.
  4. Do you have an open mind? If I think you have one way of viewing things, and one way only, you can’t be on a team that demands innovation and adaption to change.
  5. What new ideas/innovations can you bring to my team? “Culture Fit” is,  fortunately, a dying concept.  I want people who can add to my team, not conform to it.
  6. Can you fit on my team without pissing everyone else off? On the other hand, you can’t be so far away from the rest of my team’s values and norms that you’re going to piss everyone off. Are you a team player? Are you answering my questions about your past work/education with “We’s” or “I’s”?
  7. What intangibles do you have that I don’t have? I recently hired a project and innovation manager. Her attributes are technology-driven. She’s a gamer, she has her own 3-D printer, and she knows things that I’ll never know. She’s a perfect fit for what I need in terms of knowledge but also in ways she looks at things.  She has the potential to greatly help me change my view of work.
  8. Are you capable of growing enough to be the person I’ll need 5 years from now? I’m absolutely not hiring for today. I’m hiring for two years from now, or beyond.  I’m in it for the long run (it’s my company, after all). I want people who will comfortably fit in the vision I have for the future.
  9. Do you have a sense of humor? Can you laugh at your mistakes, or take a joke? Working with people who don’t have a sense of humor makes for very long days. And people who take themselves too seriously are never good to be around.
  10. Do you want a job, or do you want a job working at my company? I’m going to ask you a lot of questions about what you know – or don’t – about my business. If you don’t know, it tells me you want a job more than you want to work for me. Bad mistake.

And finally, don’t worry about being nervous.  That’s something I generally overlook; people who are nervous often want the job enough that they don’t want to make a mistake.  If you’re paralyzed with fright, that concerns me.  But if you’re simply nervous, that’s normal.

Good luck, and I can’t wait to interview you someday!

Rabbi David Woznica on Empathy

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In almost every conversation, at least that I have these days, somewhere along the way I hear the following said: “Look, we just don’t know.” I suspect that sounds familiar.

And with that uncertainty, I want to speak to you about an issue that is dividing our nation. It’s the question of opening up a term that used to be reserved primarily for the dental office:

“Do we open up? How quickly do we open up? How much do we open up?”

Well, the majority of Californians definitely support the shutdown. There are some who feel differently. And there have been public demonstrations expressing anger.

You know the thinking on both sides of the question: The longer we keep businesses closed, the more cautious we are, the fewer people will be exposed and contract COVID-19 and ultimately there will be fewer deaths.

In the other position, people assert that they’re being denied their liberty to walk on the beach or to open a business. It might be the person with a nail salon or who wants to go back to work in a restaurant. They see their savings dwindle, and they fear that things have gone far enough.

I’m not advising a position, but I do want to share two thoughts: 1) that it’s difficult to be fully empathetic; and 2) the importance of not demonizing those with whom we disagree.

So let’s look at empathy. It is said that we’re all in the same boat. Well, I want to suggest that’s not really true. What we are is in the same storm, the storm is the pandemic. It affects everybody.

But there are many different boats. If you have, God forbid, lost a loved one to this disease, or have a loved one who was sick – you’re in one boat.

If you’re a single mother or a single father or you are a parent at home with children, you’re in a different boat.

If you’ve lost your job, or you’re scared that you can’t pay for necessities or you’re in line, waiting for food, that is yet another boat.

We can be somewhat sympathetic to people in different boats. But it’s almost impossible to fully feel what they’re feeling.

I read an account from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin that I think well illustrates this. In the 19th century, there was in a town in Eastern Europe, a long period of freezing weather. And the local Hasidic Rabbi needed to raise money for the poor. So he goes to the home of the town’s richest man, he knocks on the door, the man invites him inside.

The rabbi says, “No. I’m only here for a moment and let’s talk on the doorstep.” He then asked the man about his wife and children. The man felt his own teeth chattering and he, he asked for the Rabbi to come inside. Instead, the Rabbi asked the man about his business. The man is now shivering.

“Rabbi, please come inside and tell me why you’d come into my home,” but the Rabbi stays outside and says, “I’ve come to ask you for 100 rubles to buy wood to give me to heat the houses of the poor.”

And the man says, “If I promise to give it to you, will you come inside?”


“Then I will give you the money right now.” And then he says, “If you knew all along that you want what you were planning to ask me, why didn’t you come in right away and ask?”

And the Rabbi says “If I came in as soon as you opened the door, you would have brought me into a comfortable chair in your living room, you probably would have given me some hot tea, you would have had some, and the fireplace would be warming us. And when I would have asked you for money to heat the houses of the poor, you would have offered me five, maybe 10 rubles. But standing outside, you experienced just for a few minutes the bitterness of the cold the poor are experiencing all the time. I wanted you to be feeling that bitter cold when I asked you for 100 rubles.”

It’s very hard to be truly empathetic, unless you are experiencing that very same hardship.

But it’s important to try to be empathetic for another reason. Because the more empathetic we can be, the more we can put ourselves in another boat, the less likely we are to demonize those with whom we disagree. And that’s very important. People may hold a different perspective than we do. It doesn’t make them selfish. In fact, they’re likely to be just as decent as we are. They’re just in a different boat.

Eric note: Rabbi David Woznica is a member of the Clergy at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, and I am very lucky to call him a friend. This is excerpted, with permission, from his sermon on June 6, 2020.

You’re Looking For a Candidate That Doesn’t Exist Right Now


Contrary to popular belief, this is a lousy market for employers trying to hire professional services employees. There is very little good or great talent out there. Here are the reasons:

  1. While the unemployment rate is indeed about 14-16%, it’s less than 7% for people with college degrees. When you eliminate the (substantial) number of people included in the 7% figure who are working part-time, you’re looking at a lower number again.
  2. Great employees in the professional services industries have been retained by their firms during the pandemic. The vast majority of people looking for work are the weak employees that their firms didn’t want to retain in the first place.
  3. Further, those great employees are extremely reluctant to switch jobs right now. They now have security where they are, regardless of our happy they are in their jobs. It will take a lot to make them switch in this time of uncertainty.

So to find someone right now means we’re either going to have to completely overpay or give them such a compelling reason they won’t have a choice but to switch jobs.

Or, we’re going to have to settle for someone who’s out of work, and likely because they weren’t that valuable to their employer in the first place.

I’ve talked to a number of recruiters who work in and out of the professional services space who are seeing the same thing.

We’re currently helping clients hire white-collar professionals: three openings at two public accounting firms, one at a law firm, a COO for an insurance broker, a senior property accountant at a property management company, and some other related hires. We’re working with recruiters on most of those hires. There’s no one good out there.

So if you think there’s currently a bunch of fantastic employees out there just dying for a job and can’t wait to work for you, think again.

[Note: this does not apply to our clients in manufacturing, hospitality, warehouse, and related industries – indeed – there are a LOT of great employees looking for work there]

Does this change if unemployment starts to go away or be significantly reduced, or if there is no second stimulus check? Unlikely. It will just increase the number of candidates applying who have been out of work.

If, however, there is a second downturn in the economy, and businesses have to shed good employees to stay viable, that might be the uptick in qualified candidates we need. Professional services firms will then need to decide whether to eliminate positions or rollback salaries.

Mental Health & The New Workplace

I’m really starting to become concerned about mental health in the workplace. People – those who actually have jobs – are generally working way too much, because work expands to the time allotted. This especially applies to many people who are working from home. So one part of my concern is overwork.

And for those who don’t have jobs, studies and surveys are starting to show stress is increasing as more and more businesses reopen and rehire. Am I going to be safe at work?

The other part of it is: everybody’s completely stressed out. This is a trauma. It’s not like you can go home and get away from the stuff that’s going on at work, and you can’t go to work to get away from the stuff that’s going on at home. As a result, you’re worried 24/7, regardless of where you are. The days of work being a refuge from the troubles at home, or home being a refuge from your problems at work are gone, at least for now.

It’s not like you can go home and get away from the stuff that’s going on at work, and you can’t go to work to get away from the stuff that’s going on at home

We’ve been living this life non-stop for three months now. It’s really important to encourage all of your employees to take some time off. Even if they have to go home for a day and they have to watch their kids, it’s time away from something.

At a minimum, people need to change the scenery. You absolutely should be taking a day off, or a mental health day or whatever you want to call it. But my big concern coming back to work is, people are going to be so stressed out they’re not going to know what to do.

Sometimes you have to force quiet time for yourself. Yesterday, I bought everyone on my team the Calm App. They seem to be over the top with it; they especially liked the gesture, the intent with which it was given. Anytime you can make a change, it’s good, whether it’s adding meditation or it’s getting away from this or that. You’ve got to make a change because otherwise, every day is the same. Monotony is unhealthy.

We’ve all been traumatized, even if you don’t think or act like you’ve been traumatized. We may not feel it all right now, but sooner or later we’re going to feel it.

So don’t wait for a holiday. Don’t wait for that Friday when you want to take a random day off. It’s important to just a break. So it’s OK to take a Wednesday off. Sometimes Wednesdays are the best day because it breaks up the middle of the week. Work two days, off one day, work two more days and then it’s the weekend.

Showing Tangible Gratitude, Inexpensively

It doesn’t cost your company a dime to give somebody a day off. It would be amazing if you said to every employee: “You know what? To thank you for doing all you’ve been doing, we’re giving everybody one free extra day of paid time off to be taken by a certain day. We want to schedule it so we have appropriate staffing, of course, but we want to give you this gift to thank you for how hard you’ve been working.

That gesture costs you nothing to do, and it will be greatly appreciated by your teams.

Valuing What We Value

We are valuing today what we took for granted yesterday. It’s little things – being able to go to the beach or a restaurant, or hug your friends. Perhaps one positive arising out of this crisis is that we won’t take so many things for granted in the future.

Leadership Is Still Leadership

Managing People ebook
It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a pandemic, or all your employees are
working from home (or you had to let go of employees…the principles of leadership
remain the same:
It’s all about communication.
You are always on stage.
Adversity breeds success.
Everything you do and how you do it should create trust in those around you.
It’s all about Emotional Intelligence.
Be true to yourself and your values.

The Importance Of People To Your Success


Last week, I met with a longtime client. He is a co-owner of a multiple franchised restaurants, and you’d instantly recognize the business name if I was of a mind to tell you. He’s such a good person that I agreed to meet with him in person at his office across town. (It was the first time I’ve worn long pants in more than two months).

On my drive back home, I remembered one of my favorite stories about their business  and a constant reminder about how every employee – no matter who they are or what they do is so critical to success, and why being quick on the trigger to fire is better than the opposite (although lawyers and HR ‘professionals’ have been trying to brainwash us the other way for years).

Here’s the story.

In 2010, I was invited to speak to about 200 of their franchise owners at their annual franchisee meeting in Las Vegas.

I showed up early and watched a breakout session. Apparently there was one franchise owner who was renowned for being able to take over a low performing restaurant and turn it around almost immediately. Everyone wanted to know his secret.

He said, “I buy the restaurant, and the first thing I do is fire all of the employees and hire new ones.” It was that simple.

He put in employees who were better at customer service, who were trained how to upsell, who were better with people.

I’ve used that story in one of my books and many times when giving keynotes at conferences.

People are the one thing that takes most consumers from feeling transactional about our product, service, restaurant, to feeling transformed by our service, product, restaurant. People are the difference between going somewhere once and becoming lifelong customers.

As a leader, in this economy, you’re about to have your pick of many people grateful to have this experience and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than fantastic, transformative, passionate and enthusiastic about what you do and whom you do it for.

15 Ways To Help Employees Connect When They Work From Home

Working from home because of COVID-19? Here are 10 ways to spend ...

  1. Make sure there are opportunities, whether onsite or virtually, to have small groups of remote employees have coffee meeting from time to time (say, on a quarterly basis) to hear directly from the organization’s leaders, including opportunities for Q&A. Keep the groups to less than 8 people for maximum engagement and involvement
  2. Assign a mentor to connect with employees monthly. Not just for mentoring specifically, but also company communication and especially for the office grapevine.
  3. During zoom meetings, assign one person who asks for remote staff input.
  4. When office social events resume – especially office lunches, make sure to send delivery services to remote employees.
  5. Remember birthdays and work anniversary dates remote employees.
  6. Set up daily Zoom Office Lunches. Whoever wants to join, can. No pressure. Very informal, and make sure to keep most of the bosses away.
  7. Encourage remote employees to have virtual coffee breaks, cocktails, or even walks with their peers.
  8. Direct supervisors should have a regular ‘check-in’ session with remote employees and even discuss issues that aren’t business related.
  9. Send some company branded items/swag remote employees can put in their office, and any time similar items are distributed, make sure they’re sent to the remotes.
  10. Create an electronic newsletter/Slack channel to keep remote employees in the loop and to recognize them.
  11. Make sure you have the right people managing remote employees. Managers who are competent, but not great communicators and connectors are not appropriate to manage remote employees
  12. Set expectations and manage to them weekly. Not ‘how’ or ‘when’ to do things, but results. These days, goals are far more important than activity.
  13. Ask remote employees individually for their suggestions on improving engagement, whether they be new tools, or communication ideas, or how frequently to communicate. They’re in a better position to know what works than you do.
  14. Friendly competitions are always fun. Create a company-wide trivia game on a Slack channel. One question daily.
  15. Ask each remote employee for their best practices when it comes to health and wellness when working from home.

17 Years Later…A New Book


In 2003, I quit my job (without having another job), decided to start my own business and write a book.


The book identified the leadership styles of the best people I had worked for in 17 years of corporate life. It was called “Managing People in the 21st Century”.

Late last year, I realized that I had all new stories and anecdotes from the next 17 years, conducting leadership programs around the country and working closely with hundred of business owners and executives.

The result is a complete revamp of the original book.

But what surprised me the most is that the essential characteristics of leaders have stayed the same. Leadership styles have changed, but leadership fundamentals have not.

Adjustments have been made to today’s contemporary workforce, but again they’re stylistic, not fundamental changes.

And clearly the pandemic crisis has necessitated change, but only to accelerate and make intentional those darn fundamentals, which again stay the same.

The book’s available at all the usual suspects, starting here.