Letter to Leaders – April 2021

Are we there yet?

We’re getting there. On the day that I’m writing this (April 3) the United States vaccinated 4 million people. Now, whether you believe in vaccines or not, this is a giant step closer to whatever-it-is it’s going to be in The New Normal. My wife and I got our first vaccines this week, and we spent the rest of the afternoon saying “Happy Vaccination Day!”

I felt a definite sense of closure driving home after the vaccine shot.

But in the meantime…back to the wall, which many of us have hit.

Burnout is definitely here. The New York Times reports that 34% of employees feel burned out. People say they’re less productive, less engaged, and that they don’t feel as successful.

And we’re the lucky ones! We have jobs! We have our health!

Those benefits were good enough for the first twelve months, but (at least, for me) it’s not good enough for now.

I want me team around me.

I want to feel progress.

I want to stop forgetting what I was doing….all the time.

I want to regain the adrenaline when I speak in front of live audiences (trust me, it’s not the same speaking in front of a bunch of faces on my monitor, even though I love all of you).

There’s a psychological condition called Anhedonia. A noted psychologist says it’s kind of liking looking and feeling like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. The physical  allegations aside, I can relate. I’ve recently been meditating twice a day, in addition to taking a 30-minute nap.

But. There are non-medical solutions, led by “do something different”. Last month, I drove to the homes of each of my employees. I got to a house, then called them, telling them I was outside. (Needless to say, they were surprised and a couple of them took quite a bit of convincing I was actually there). I gave them a gift card and thanked them for their work.

It did way more good for me than them. I hadn’t seen any of them in person for over a year. It felt good to connect—even for a couple of minutes.

We’re so close to the end. Don’t give up now.

Letter to Leaders – March 2021

I have a client that I’m close to (we’ll leave it at that).

Last month, they asked us for immediate help. A job opening they’d been trying to fill had garnered 8 resumes in three months. Each candidate wasn’t qualified for a fairly senior role.

“Can you help us immediately find someone?”

So my team put together several action steps to increase incoming resumes. I also decided to interview three people at the company who either have, or had, the same job.

(In case you didn’t know, adding videos always increases attention —especially on job posts).

I recorded a Zoom call with each of them. It was like a job interview; I asked their professional background and what the position was like. They also talked about the company culture. Their point-of-view is powerful, because it doesn’t come from HR or the hiring manager.

We turned the three videos around in 24 hours. We did basic editing, added graphics, and an introduction. I was proud of my team. It was immediate, powerful but—like many Zoom videos—not perfect. Some of the videos were fuzzy, the backgrounds weren’t the best, etc. But they were finished. And finished in record time.

The next day, one of senior executives decided they weren’t quite good enough. He told me they’d re-do the videos on their own. I wished him well.

Those videos, a month later, still aren’t done. Not coincidentally, the position is not close to being filled.

There are lessons for every leader in this:

  • Curb your perfectionism. Perfectionism is one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done. Sometimes (actually, many times) very good is better than nothing at all. Anything we do can be better. But if you fall into that trap, you’ll fail.
  • At most businesses, it’s 10x harder to get to ‘yes’; than ‘no’. In this company’s case, it takes the vote of each of the top 10 executive to say “yes”. But any individual executive can say “no”. When it’s easier to get to a “no” than a “yes”, the victims will be agility, creativity and progress.

Make sure you’re a leader who recognizes the importance of very good. Perfectionism has its place—but none of us are brain surgeons or nuclear scientists. We’re leaders, charged with progress, growth, culture.

And if you’re a CEO, business owner, or the lead in any business, re-think who can say “no” or “yes”. Without question, saying yes takes courage. If you say no, there’s zero chance you’ll ever get criticized or blame.

But fear of failure is not what leadership is about, is it?

Nine Tips For Recruiting on LinkedIn

Many small and mid-sized businesses are struggling with trying to find and hire employees. Moreover, those same businesses don’t have the staff to properly develop and manage their company LinkedIn page.

At Symmetry, we aren’t primarily a headhunting firm; we’re an HR Outsourcing company and we occasionally help our clients with search and selection. We’re always amazed to see common mistakes on the most important online website for employers – LinkedIn.

The first thing a candidate researches is your website and then your LI page. if they don’t like what they see, they’re not going to bother applying.

LinkedIn is an essential component in recruiting and hiring employees. Fixing common mistakes is fairly easy and definitely inexpensive. You just need to know what to look for.

Here are the most common mistakes or omissions we see when helping clients develop a more robust employer brand through LinkedIn:

1. The company profile page. Make sure it has the right business name and logo. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t. If you have a common name (ABC Company) it’s likely there are a number of people who consider themselves your “employees” from throughout North America and Europe. Make sure you have a cool and relevant cover photo as well.

2. Get every employee on the proper company LI page. There are always a number of employees who aren’t connected properly. You can always tell: Go to an employee profile page. To the left of the job title and company should be the proper logo (like mine below).

3. Every key employee should have an updated profile AND an updated picture on their profile. And for goodness’ sakes, when you post a job on LI (or anywhere), make sure all your employees “share” that information with their network. With LI, it’s not really posting the job that will get you lots of candidates; it’s how your employees and network share that with their networks. That’s viral, and that’s important.

4. The “About” section. I’m always amazed when a company’s “about” section contains copy that’s completely outdated. So update it. Start by having this internal discussion: What is a compelling reason a great employee would want to work for you?

5. Post news, promotions, employee anniversaries to increase your visibility. Invite candidates who apply to follow your LI page.

6. Follow your clients, vendors, friends, and network. Get them to follow you back. It’s a lonely feeling when people see you only have 3 followers.

And when you do post for a position on LinkedIn, remember these tips:

7. Write your job post and headline as if you were a marketer. Don’t fall into the HR trap of writing it to comply with some imaginary law. Your primary aim is to get people to read and apply for the position! Make it inviting but realistic. The job title is probably the only thing a candidate will review.

8. Include the salary. There is a myth among many ignorant executives and HR folks that posting a salary causes all sorts of issues among current employees. Well, the opposite is true for candidates. No one is going to take the time to apply if they don’t know what the salary range is up front. (By the way, your employees should know exactly what the range is for every position at your company – it’s called transparency).

9. Add a video, interviewing current employees who have the job or had the job. What’s it like? What do you do? What is the culture? That’s information a candidate wants and needs – especially from people who aren’t the hiring manager.

The message is the medium. Reset your expectations. There is not a lot of talent out there right now. And those employees that are great are being well-paid and are happy in their job. They’re not going to risk a stable good thing right now unless there’s a MAJOR incentive for them to do so. Give that potential candidate the compelling reason.

Letter to Leaders – February 2021

Well, we got through the 13th month of 2020. The transfer of power. The near insurrection. The valiant attempt to vaccinate 330 million people (about 100 million of whom don’t want it). There was another insurrection—of the stock market by the “Revenge of the Nerds.”

It’s hard to think of an establishment that hasn’t been completely overturned in the past couple of years.

So what’s next?

I dislike intensely “experts” who purport to predict the future. The simple truth is—especially now—there’s no way to plan, predict or prepare for the future. What we can do is be flexible enough to navigate the next abrupt change. Because change won’t end; what it will look like is the unknown.

Instead of predicting the future, I thought I’d remember the past. Some people who were part of my past died recently:

· Larry King, the interviewer of the famous and infamous. Each night driving home after a 6-midnight shift as a bartender or waiter, I’d listen to his talk show. “Bethesda, Maryland, Hello.” He took inquisitiveness to another level. He led an amazing life. I used to see him frequently in the past few years when I had breakfast at Nate & Al’s. Everyone who approached him got a warm welcome. He was the same person on camera as off. That’s a pretty good way to be remembered.

· Tommy Lasorda. As a kid growing up in the 70’s in Southern California, he was the man. I moved to Northern California for college in the 1980’s. Wow did Northern Californians hate Tommy. Relentlessly positive, devoutly religious (although how he reconciled that with his incessant cussing was always a question). But his bluster “The Big Dodger in the Sky” belied a strategic master. “Most managers think a couple of innings ahead,” Jay Johnstone once said, “Tommy is always thinking in the middle of next week.” I met him many times over the years: he was exactly the same person in a business suit than on a field.

· Hank Aaron. It was April 1974. I was 11 years old. My family watched the Monday night baseball game when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. I’ll never forget it. I was unaware then of the racial slurs and death threats Aaron faced, and was only dimly aware of the courage he showed. The man was class personified. And he made the life path easier for tens of thousands of Black people everywhere.

The Best of Television 2020 (6-1)

After revealing numbers 7 through 12, it’s time for Eric’s Top 6 TV Shows I Saw in 2020…

(I know not all these shows first aired in 2020; it’s that 2020 was the year I finally got around to watching them this year!)

6. Killing Eve – Hulu/BBC America/AMC

I concede that Season 3 of Killing Eve is a bit of a comedown from Season 2, which in itself was a bit of a comedown from Season 1. But that doesn’t make this show any less compelling or fun to watch. And if you haven’t seen it at all, time to watch.

It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller involving an international assassin (Jodie Comer) and a MI5 detective (Sandra Oh). Oh connects a string of murders throughout Europe to Comer, and the game begins (with plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected murders).

At its best, Killing Eve is an original, daring, witty and jaw-dropping thriller. Comer seems to have owned the Emmy award the last couple of years for her Villanelle. Comer’s great but the writing and  are what stand out to me. And it’s original it’s about time an assassin and detective should both be female. 

And Killing Eve is courageous. There’s a most unusual willingness to murder major characters. You’re always guessing, never sure, as a viewer.

We are always a bit off balance watching the run of the show. Will she or won’t she. And it appears there isn’t anything she won’t do.

Like all the shows on my list – Killing Eve is addictive. Just when you think, “they can’t do that” – they do.

5. Homeland – Showtime

I’m not sure there’s ever been a series that, over time, is uneven as Homeland. I doubt it was ever intended to be more than a 2-season series (but what a two years they were). Then some good seasons and some – meh – not so good seasons.

I started watching the show from the beginning in 2011. There were often long delays between seasons, and some of them weren’t worth the wait.

But then came the final season – number 8 – which began in February and ended in April 2020. And Season 8 more than made up for the past five or so years. I’m so glad I didn’t write it off.

If you don’t know the show – it follows a brilliant, bi-polar CIA Officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). Mathison navigates between making brilliant deductions and equally horrible personal choices.

From Washington to Iran and Germany to Israel, Homeland international storylines are about saving the world, or not.

But Season 8 brings it all together. Carrie and her long-time mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) are in a true no-win situation. Pakistan has a nuke and won’t hesitate to use it on nearby American troops. Russia holds the key to the solution, but demands a huge sacrifice of the Americans. And the American President is in completely over his head and held sway by a Svengali who has his own agenda.

Homeland has always followed world events eerily and accurately. The breakneck pace of plot is never more evident than this year.

Lots of actors roll through the series, but at the core was always Carrie and Saul. Danes and Patinkin are perfect. No one does a lower-lip quiver better than Danes. She’s haunted. Patinkin’s Saul could be his best performance ever. And yep, in 1979, I saw him perform Che in “Evita”).

You’re convinced there’s a logical conclusion (a direction the writers want you to take) to the series. But it ends with a roller coaster of shock, disbelief and then a final scene that is inevitable. I’ll miss Homeland, but they ended the series in the best way possible. Most series can never say that.

4. Normal People – Hulu

There hasn’t been much criticism of Normal People. What little there is complains the series doesn’t meticulously follow Sally Rooney’s novel.

I didn’t read the novel. I didn’t need to and neither do you. And if you’re staying away because it’s a millennial coming-of-age story, don’t stay away. This is a beautifully wrought classic; a story about growing up.

Normal People follows two high schoolers in Ireland. There’s Marianne, an social outcast from a wealthy family. And Connell, who has his act together but no money (his mother cleans house for Marianne’s family).

They connect (literally and physically), and the series follows their relationship through college. They’re together, then not. With other people, then back together. But always friends.

Normal People overcomes every possible stereotype through its fantastic writing and cinematography. The haunting, spare soundtrack lets us know we’re in this with them.

And “them”. What casting. Daisy Edgar-Jones is simply radiant. In the final episode, there’s a flashback to her high schooler to a beautiful college graduate. It’s shocking; the transformation is stunning. Even though the series was filmed in a few months, Marianne looks five years older. It’s not just makeup; it’s acting.

Mark my words: Edgar-Jones is going to be a major star soon. Paul Mescal doesn’t even need to talk. His emotions and feelings are plain to see on his expressive face. Mescal understands the impact of underacting.

There’s talk of a Season 2, and I hope that isn’t true. This was near perfect television; it won’t improve in future seasons.

3. The Crown – Netflix

It’s somewhat unoriginal of me to put The Crown at number three; it’s at or near the top of every “best of” list.

But there’s a reason for that. The Crown is so sumptuous, so ambitious, and so laden with acting talent it can’t be ignored.

Three women dominate Season 4: the Queen (natch) and also Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana.

Their stories are already known and don’t need repeating. We know Diana had an unhappy marriage to Charles and that Thatcher was “The Iron Lady”. But The Crown explores in detail why the marriage was unhappy. And Thatcher’s bumpy, awkward relationship with the Queen is uncomfortably funny.

Or do we? Much has been made of whether everything in “The Crown” actually happened? After all, how do we know what Charles and Diana said to each other in private? Or if Thatcher really was imperious in her meetings with the Queen?

It doesn’t matter. It’s great storytelling; it’s fascinating, and it’s compelling.

It pulls no punches: we see Diana vomiting during her periods of bulimia. The royal family (including the Queen and Queen Mother) plays drinking games in front of an astonished Thatcher.

It’s rumored The Crown cost Netflix $130 million to make over the anticipated six-year run. You see every cent of it on the screen, from the costumes, scenery, and CGI effects. And by now you’d think the UK would run out of good actors for The Crown. They haven’t so far, although Americans Gillian Anderson as Thatcher and John Lithgow as Churchill are notable exceptions.

Maybe it’s that I respect “The Crown” more than anything else. Whatever. It works for me.

2. Succession – HBO

You have to be patient with Succession. Many people I’ve recommended it to can’t get through the first six or so episodes. I understand; I barely made it through. But the series finds its footing after that, and Season 2 finds it hitting its stride.

Succession follows a Murdoch-like family running a media and entertainment empire. The family tries to figure out who does what with an aging, but still wily, patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Kind of a thin premise, but the plot ultimately delivers and in a big way.

One of the reasons it’s hard to like Succession is because there’s not one likable character in the bunch. Family, business associates, hangers on – no one is likable. When you find a redeeming character, he or she does something so reprehensible that you want to throw your slipper at the screen.

But then, slowly and surely, Succession envelopes you. You start understanding the characters and why they are who they are. Then the plot thickens. We find ourselves rooting for things to happen one way or the other. There are more evil families than the Roys. And every decision comes with unexpected consequences.

No family member is good enough for Logan, and they’re all damaged as a result. One son gave up everything to live in New Mexico with his ex-hooker girlfriend. The number two son is brilliant, awkward and a recovering drug addict. When he asks his father – finally – why he didn’t get the #1 job, Logan looks at him sadly and says, “because you’re not a killer.”

It’s that kind of show. Plus billionaire porn: castles, mansions, cars, yachts (WHAT a yacht). And truly some original casting and acting. Any of the major characters could have won an Emmy (it turns out Jeremy Strong, who plays the #2 son, got it if for no other reason than this scene.)

There’s some good news. It turns out that – at least in the world of Succession – billionaire families are as dysfunctional as the rest of us.

1. Broadchurch – Netflix

OK, so the series ended in 2017. Well, I didn’t get around to watching it until 2020. Sue me. Broadchurch is the best television I saw.

Broadchurch is a British serial crime drama set in a fictional, picturesque English town. It focuses on police detectives Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman).

It begins with the death of a local boy, Danny Latimer. Then turns its attention on the impact of grief, mutual suspicion and media attention on the town. Miller’s best friend is Danny’s mother. Together, Hardy and Miller try to track down the killer among many likely suspects. The killer? Someone you’d never suspect; a true jawdropper.

It’s well-written as you’d expect. The cinematography creates a character out of the actual town. Broadchurch redefines your expectations of the crime drama.

Character after character is developed, nuanced and acted beautifully. They’re real people placed in circumstances no one should have to go.

At the end, the show revolves around Hardy and Miller. Tennant is a wondrous stage actor and a former Doctor Who. Colman has gone on to play Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and is now one of Britain’s great actresses. It’s an awkward but ultimately trusting relationship. They inhabit their characters with simple authenticity.

Those who have seen Broadchurch will understand: I’ll greatly miss hearing Tennant’s Scottish accent yell out, “Mill-ah!”


Other shows I watched this year but didn’t make the list: Two wonderful series that finished too long ago to be relevant for the list: Breaking Bad, The Office (yes, we finally saw them). Also saw the entire series runs of Bosch, Modern Love, The Widow, Truth Be Told, Jack Ryan, The Loudest Voice in the Room, and The Undoing.

The Best of Television 2020 (12-7)

And now, for something completely different: My list of the top 12 TV shows I watched in 2020.

The pandemic wreaked havoc with a lot of things this year.

I found myself with more free time than I ever. My travel days dropped to 8 from 171 in 2020. The NHL eliminated most of their season, and watching hockey is about 80% of my television viewing.

So those changes resulted in a positive: I watched A LOT of television. And was pleasantly surprised: I can’t ever remember a time when there was so much good TV.

I have one rule when watching: don’t insult my intelligence. Good writing, acting and imaginative plot lines get me every time.

So, out of the 40-50 television series and shows I watched, here are Eric’s 2020 List of the Best in TV. Not all these shows first aired this year; I just watched them in 2020.

Let’s countdown with #12 through #7:

12. Ozark (Netflix)

I’m always prepared to watch anything with Laura Linney in it. She’s the best actress in the world not named Meryl Streep. But I had no idea how good an actor Jason Bateman is or how compelling a series “Ozark” would be.

Ozark follows Bateman (Marty Byrde) as he ‘breaks bad’ and becomes a money launderer. His family must relocate to the Ozarks. Once there, it doesn’t get any better. The Byrde’s become entangled with the Mexican mafia. They make enemies of the local heroin dealers and numerous law enforcement agencies. Soon it’s not just Marty who’s breaking bad.

Since “Breaking Bad” (which I saw for the first time this year), TV’s best characters are those who aren’t simply good, or merely bad. They’re a combination of both, and we find ourselves rooting for them one minute, and against them the next. It’s a fascinating dichotomy. In fact, many of the shows on my list feature similar characters.

Ozark’s writing and jaw-dropping plot twists keep you coming back for more. It’s addictive in the best possible way. You have to keep watching to see what happens next.

It goes without saying that Linney is an actor’s actor. She’s brilliant as Marty’s sneaky smart wife. But the breakout star is Julia Garner. Garner is a tour de force as Ruth Langmore, a street-smart 19-year-old who’s part of a local crime family. Garner has (deservedly) won two Emmys for the role.

I’ve been following this series since it dropped in 2017 and love it, but it’s not a show I’d recommend for everyone. There’s violence, language, incest and graphic sexual scenes. Then my 87-year-old mother told me she’s addicted to Ozark as well. So perhaps anyone can watch Ozark. It may also mean I need to check Mom’s TV watching a bit more carefully.

11. Somebody Feed Phil – Netflix

Could there be anything more wonderful than watching an uneducated foodie explore the world of food? Answer: No.

Phil Rosenthal is a nerd’s nerd. In a previous life, he was the showrunner for Everybody Loves Raymond. In this series, he’s taken a lifelong fascination with food and travel and done something about it.

He explores different cities nationally and internationally. Taking the concept of culture is based on food, he tries everything – from low brow to high end. He’s accompanied on the adventures with friends new and old to show him the ropes.

I’m not quite sure how I’ve come to identify with a 60-year-old Jewish entertainment executive who doesn’t shy from taking the camera into the depths of his travels and food explorations. But I do. He’s incredibly appealing. (It maybe he inspires this nerd). But his unadulterated enthusiasm and curiosity forms is contagious.

I also identify with Phil – he gets as much pleasure from a taco as a 20-course French tasting menu. (I’m also jealous – he gets to travel and eat on someone else’s dime).

And each episode ends with Phil recapping his adventure via Skype with his parents. Sadly, his Mother passed away; we’re now left with his father telling wonderful old jokes. This is a winner whether you love food or not.

10. The Social Dilemma – Netflix

I confess I watched The Social Dilemma under the influence of two martinis. After it ended, I decided to give up my social media accounts forever. But…was it the documentary, or was it the martinis?

I decided to wait until the morning. And then…I deleted all my personal social media accounts after all. It’s that powerful.

The takeaways are nothing new: the internet tracks every keystroke you make, which in turn influences (significantly) the information fed to us. But the messengers are what makes the documentary so powerful: here are the designers and coders telling us how serious the issue is. Instagram knows what you like based on how many seconds you look at a photo.

Social media makes money not on advertising, but the power of knowledge they accumulate by watching and memorizing (forever) every keystroke, every pause, every article you type, watch and read. They turn that over to advertisers who pay premium dollars because of the hyper-targeting such information provides.

Data mining and manipulative technology have paved the way for a truly dystopic future. I know I’m part of it, but I no longer have to worry about Big Brother knowing what I like or not.

9. ZeroZeroZero – Amazon Prime Video

A friend often recommends a show to watch. I pay attention because his recommendations are always great.

So upon his recommendation, I tuned into ZeroZeroZero. And after 15 minutes, I was re-evaluating my opinion of him. But after the first episode ended, all was right in the world.

The series follows every single step of a $60 million shipment of cocaine. It starts from harvest (Mexico), then transportation to Africa, and finally to destination. Along the journey, the series shows the life-or-death impact it makes on each person who touches it. From growers, ship captains, middle-men, traffickers, and dealers.

Filmed in Italy, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco and the U.S., it’s at times harrowing, cringe-inducing and disgusting – but never ever boring. There’s an international cast that – excluding Gabriel Byrne, is virtually unknown but uniformly excellent.

You’d think the drug crime drama genre has been beaten to death, but it hasn’t. ZeroZeroZero is theater on your television. Compelling, gorgeously photographed; it’s everything great television should be.

8. Billions – Showtime

Maggie Siff as Wendy Rhoades. Sigh.

A confession: For five years, I’ve had a major crush on Wendy Rhoades. Not the actress (Maggie Siff, whom I don’t know). I’m talking about Siff’s character, who is at times femme fatale, strategic advisor, cruel punisher and the greatest performance coach in the world.

Wendy is torn between her husband – an attorney general – and her boss, a hedge fund billionaire. (Mostly) loyal to both, she’s actually the pivotal character in a series full of great characters. In fact, there’s not a vanilla character on the show: virtually all of them could have a series on their own.

Much of the series’ acclaim focuses on the clash of the titans – Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Lewis and Giamatti are terrific actors who don’t leave anything on the table. But to me, it’s the secondary characters that are fascinating.  David Costabile as Axe’s consigliere, Condola Rashad as an ambitious prosecutor, and Asia Kate Dillion as a well – a brilliant quant; the first non-binary character ever on TV.

Brian Koppelman cast his show with care – selecting a number of Broadway veterans who understand how to chew up scenery and hold their own on the small screen. I also love the emphasis on billionaire porn – the fabulous lifestyle that serious money begets.

And then there’s the writing. I generally have to watch an episode of Billions twice in order to pick up every subtle aside and obscure reference. Billions doesn’t just respect your intelligence; it forces you as a viewer to raise your game in order to appreciate every nuance.

Note: Billions has been my favorite show for 4 years, and my #1 or #2 best show during that time as well. But this is 2020, and Season #5 as of this writing stopped halfway through. I might revise my ranking up once I see the end of the season.

7. Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates – Netflix

Spoiler alert: we don’t get to find out what’s in Bill Gates’ brain. But in this 3-part documentary we do find out what goes into his brain – a lot of books. Gates carries a tote bag full of books everywhere he goes, and reads 150 pages an hour.

It’s factoids like that which makes Inside Bill’s Brain an entertaining, insightful view of one of the richest (and smartest) people on the planet. It’s told through interviews with the man himself, plus family members and friends. When Melinda Gates found out the series title, she started laughing. Why? “Because it’s chaos! I wouldn’t want to be in that brain. There is so much going on all the time. It’s unbelievable.”

As a leadership strategist, I applaud his annual “think week,” where he goes off to a cabin for a week of solitude, reading and thinking. (Granted, not all of us can afford to do that, but it’s a great practice).

Because he absorbs so much and uses his CPU more effectively than anything else, the series ends up focusing more on what he’s doing now than how he got there. So we see meetings and discussions about the Gates Foundation, his obsessiveness with global sanitation and reinventing the toilet. Yes, it’s a bit graphic, but it’s compelling.

He reads and learns to help solve the world’s problems through his passion: technology. “Any problem, I will look at how technical innovation can help solve that problem,” Gates says. “It’s the one thing I know and the one thing I’m good at. That’s my hammer. And a lot of problems look like nails because I’ve got a hammer.”

Letter to Leaders – The Gratitude Reset

We’re still here.

It’s kind of hard to think about everything we’ve gone through this year, isn’t it?

I was talking with my coach this week. We ended up discussing one of my favorite topics—gratitude. I called this year a “Gratitude Reset”. Meaning the things I was grateful for last year are decidedly not the things I’m grateful for this year.

Right now, I’m grateful for:

* The health of my family; and

* That my wife and I still have jobs.

If you’d asked me that a year ago, those two things were way down on the list—because I took them for granted. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the reminder that the most important things aren’t the big vacation you took, or how much money you made; it’s the basics. It’s a gratitude reset.

We now turn to 2021 with a sense of cautious optimism. Vaccines are due to be administered starting this month. It would appear that a sense of normalcy will begin anew something in the second quarter (if people will just wear their damn masks!) We have a new administration whether you like it or not. Things are changing and will continue to change.

I’ve studied trust as a leadership essential for several years. It’s now truly coming to the forefront as both an essential characteristic of leadership, corporate culture and in every personal and professional relationship we have.

A lot of components go into trust, which will be discussing during our upcoming leadership workshops. But the fundamental question remains: Why do we trust who we trust? Smarter people than I haven’t been able to answer that question. But knowing that we must trust and be trusted is a given to success in all relationships.

So in ending the year, I’d like to combine gratitude and thank the people in my professional life I most trust with gratitude. You all know who you are.

And to each of you, gratitude. I can’t do what I do without you.

Letter to Leaders – November 2020

Anxious much?

I can’t imagine why. After all, we just “kinda sorta” concluded the most dramatic presidential election in history. We’re **still** in the middle of the Pandemic. And let’s face it—we still don’t know when or what post-COVID looks like—for our families, colleagues, friends and work.

In trying to determine what topic to feature in my monthly leadership workshops, I focused on two things that happened to me in October:

My wife and I took a vacation to see Utah’s National Parks. It wasn’t the vacation we’d originally planned, and it involved a lot of driving. 6 days of packing and unpacking. Also, my wife made me hike. (A lot.) But—it was great! The change of scenery was what we needed. No work, no e-mails. Fresh air. When your biggest concern for a week is where to have lunch, it’s a pretty good week.

Then I had a zoom call with a client and her leadership team. The company’s CEO is one of my favorite people and favorite client—and someone whom I admire enormously. But she wasn’t the same as usual. I texted her in the middle of the call to take a day off immediately and to also take a nap.

We believe we’re OK, but we’re not. The first step to conquering stress and anxiety is to put your oxygen mask on first. Resilience begins when we have the energy to be resilient.

Worry about things you can control. TURN OFF the news (what’s going to happen is gonna happen whether you’re watching or not). Read fiction, watch dumb TV shows, get out of the house.

I didn’t realize I needed a change of scenery until I had a change of scenery.

The amount of unused vacation time in employee accounts is at an all-time high. That has to end. Leaders need to lead by example and also make employees take that valuable time. The work will remain, and no one is irreplaceable.

I was developing the theme of “anxiety” for our workshop until I realized it’s not about anxiety—it’s about defeating anxiety.

Take care and be safe – and please click here and enjoy a minute of anxiety-free time.

Why You Should Build – And Nourish – A Network

These are lonely times.

Whether you’re working from home or unable to connect with your friends, we are in a lonely era.

That’s why it’s even more essential to reach out to your network.

At Tanzanite, we refer to your network as “spheres.” These are family members, friends, business acquaintances, mentors, colleagues, and former classmates. They can be people you’ve wanted to meet and admire.

I wish social media – especially LinkedIn – was available when I joined the workforce. (But, not even the fax machine was available back then). LI is a free gift to keep track of the people in our lives.

Even if you think you don’t need a network, build one anyway. What about a teacher from your past that influenced you? Reach out, thank them. They’ll have validation and you’ll have given the gift of gratitude.

Every day, I contact 5 people from my key network, using a tool at Tanzanite we call the “5×5 Communicator.” The 5×5 tracks who we contact and when it’s time to re-connect. The goal is to touch 5 people, 5 days a week. These spheres are important to me – clients, influencers, mentors, referral sources, and distant relatives. Most of them are people I no longer see in person.

Go through your connections on LinkedIn. Who are you missing? Make sure everyone in your ‘network’ is a connection. (A good exercise: take a look at the last 100 e-mails or texts you sent – is each one a LI connection?)

Your network, and your closeness to them will significantly impact your professional life. One person might know someone who can fund a business venture. Or someone knows someone who’s hiring for that job you’ve longed for. Trust me: it’s not who you are, it’s whom you know that determines success.

A bonus in these times? You benefit by connecting with people at a time where everyone welcomes that connection.

That doesn’t mean you should go out and connect with random strangers. That technique doesn’t work. Worse it makes you look foolish, and you’ll never be able to separate those you’ve met from those you haven’t.

But as important as building a network is maintaining a network.

One of my mentors, the late Carl Terzian, was as good a networker there was (and he used a rolodex – well, lots of rolodexes). Carl preached you must nourish your network, otherwise it will wither and die.

So if you’re missing someone, reach out to them. Don’t wait until a birthday or anniversary. Call them just because! it’s Monday. Keep in touch. And remember the value of the connection. It’s good for you, and good for your spheres.


Want the 5×5 Communicator tool to use in your business?   Send me a private message info@tanzaniteleaderhip.com and we’ll send it to you!

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.