Don’t Underestimate the Power of Millennials


U.S. Gymnast Simone Biles proudly dons a gold medal. Photo:

With the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics at an end, the young athletes who competed this year remind us all that Millennials are hard working, determined, and anything but complacent.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I have facilitated cross-generational communication seminars. Invariably, someone (older) in the audience will say something like this about the youngest generation: “They don’t even know what hard work is. They have had everything handed to them on a platter. They are the generation of entitlement.” It’s time to set the record straight: Millennials have a lot to offer the world.

This year, I watched in awe at the physical grace and endurance of the young athletes. They came to Rio to win. And many of them did.

Gymnast Simone Biles, 19. What a powerhouse! At just 4’9″ tall, her body was built for gymnastics. She brought home four gold medals, including Women’s Individual All-Around Gymnast, and one bronze medal. Many in the media claim she is the best American gymnast…ever!

Katie Ledecky  Photo:

Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky, 19, dominated the female swimming competition, bringing home a gold medal in the women’s 200 meter, 400 meter, and 800 meter freestyle races, as well as the American team’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay. Add to that the silver medal for the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.

Ryan Murphy, 21. First time to the Olympics, he brought home three gold medals in men’s swimming, the men’s 100 meter and men’s 200 meter backstroke, and the men’s 4 x 100 meter medley relay.

The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Captain Ali Raisman, 22, earned a team gold and individual silver medal.

In an interview, target shooter Virginia Thrasher, 19, who won the gold medal for the 10 meter air rifle shooting competition, casually mentioned that she wasn’t able to stick around Rio because she was starting her sophomore year of college in a few days.

One of my favorites…Gwen Jorgenson, 30, won one of the most grueling competitions in the Olympics, the women’s triathlon. No small feat. I so admire any athlete who can swim, then bike, then run. And then win.

Michael Phelps, 31, the most seasoned American athlete competing in the Rio Olympics, secured 2 individual gold medals, 3 relay medals, and 1 silver individual medal. He remains the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with 28 medals total, 23 of which are gold. He is truly a force of nature.

Multiple gold medalists include swimmers Simone Manuel, 20, Madeline Dirado, 23, Lilly King, 19, Nathan Adrian, and Caleb Dressel, 20, runner Allyson Felix, 30, as well as first-time gold medalist shot putter Michelle Carter, 30. The list goes on.

I know what you’re thinking. “Of course most of the people who compete in the Olympics are young athletes.” I get that.

What struck me about this year’s Olympics was the high level of professionalism of the Millennial athletes (minus one). They showed the world that Millennials have the drive and determination to succeed.

Olympic athlete or not, Millennials offer tremendous value to society and the workplace. Their energy, talent, tenacity, and creative thinking have earned them a place at the table. Let’s invite more of them there, and more often.

Strategy + Focus = A Winning Combination

Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

Serena Williams with Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

The goal of winning 22 tennis championship titles in the Open era was finally achieved by American Serena Williams on Saturday, when she defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany at the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Finals, 7-5, 6-3. Williams now ties Steffi Graf’s record 22 championship wins. Watching the match from beginning to end revealed a winning combination of strategy and focus.

Strategic Action. Something was different in this game. Kerber had defeated Williams at both the Australian Open in January and again at the French Open in June. What was different at Wimbledon was strategy in action. For this match, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, had reviewed the data of those two games to find ways to defeat Kerber. What really won this match was the greater frequency of Williams’ ace serve. It was this one move – strategy – that made all the difference in Williams’ win.

Clarity of Focus. Serena Williams is one of those players who remains clearly focused before the game. Doing the “long walk” from dressing room to court, Williams kept her head phones on as long as she could. It’s a tool that she uses to remain focused, ease tension and promote positive reinforcement. The match lasted just 1 hour, 21 minutes. When you are focused, nothing stands in your way. How focused are you?

Strength. Kerber kept in pace with Williams throughout the entire match. For every point Kerber made, Williams pushed through it and remained strong and positive. Athletes who possess the physical strength to win can lose because of weak thinking. How often do you succumb to your own negative thinking? Give up? Say it’s too hard or too difficult? Sometimes the greater opponent isn’t the one facing you; it’s the opponent in your head, you, who is reacting negatively. When you do find the strength within yourself, you come out of it all, intact and victorious. Recall those moments of victory to help you get through those times of adversity.

Adjustments. Wimbledon is known for its unique grass court. The flip side of that is the unpredictability of outcome. Sometimes a ball will bounce in a different direction, or the wind will catch it and put it somewhere else entirely. How often do you adjust your actions to achieve a winning play? Invest the time in knowing your environment before you arrive; once you’re in play, be mindful of any shifts, and make necessary adjustments.

Grace. The tradition at Wimbledon is to present the non-winner trophy first, then the winner’s trophy second. Kerber walked around the Wimbledon court first, before being interviewed. Then Williams walked around the court, before her interview. In her comments, each woman was graceful and grateful to her opponent for playing extremely well. How often does that happen in the workplace? If someone’s idea is genuinely better than yours, tell her. If you got into a heated discussion with a co-worker, thank him for a great debate. If someone else got that promotion instead of you, congratulate her. How would you act in the workplace if you truly possessed grace?

Positive role models can be found in the public arena, in your community, and in your workplace. How can you present yourself like the true winner that you are? What can you do to inspire others to practice clarity of focus and strategic action?

All In, Against All Odds, the Cleveland Cavaliers is a Team Built on Trust


National Basketball Association

Anyone who has read Patrick Lencioni’s seminal book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, knows that when lack of trust exists in a team, the team will implode. Real trust, on the other hand, builds a solid foundation for any team’s success. Trust is what we have witnessed in the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. Trust provided an iron-clad bond that allowed the team to rise above adversity and win the 2016 NBA championship.

Trust perseverance. At the beginning of this NBA season, no one predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would make it into the finals, let alone win the national championship. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on June 19. Against all odds, the Cavaliers made NBA history, coming back from trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1 at the end of Game 4. The Cavaliers is the first team in NBA history to win a championship from such a significant deficit stance, especially facing a team with the “most games won” record in the NBA this year.

Trust ability. The synergy between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was palpable. In Game 5, the dynamic duo each scored 41 points in the game, breaking an NBA record. In Game 7, LeBron James stormed down the court at record speed to powerfully block Warriors player Iguodala’s layup, now known as The Block. Moments later, Kyrie Irving outmaneuvered Steph Curry’s defensive block and shot a three-pointer, another game changing move.

Trust risks. There were absolutely some nail-biting moments, especially in Games 5, 6, and 7. There were some risky moves, switched-up strategies, and fresh approaches. The Cavs coaching staff and team took risks, and they paid off.

Trust the plan. When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, he publicly committed to bringing an NBA championship to the city. The Cavs came close in 2015, yet the championship went to the Golden State Warriors. LeBron let the fans know that this 2016 championship was for them.

Trust the leadership. Coach Tyronn Lue (I call him Cool Hand Lue), who was elevated into the head coach position mid-season this year, possesses a consistently cool persona, especially in tough times. He never wavers. He never loses his temper. If he questions a referee’s call, he does it in a respectful way. Just five months into his new position, he led the Cavs to a national championship victory. In my opinion, the Coach of the Year Award should go to Lue, because he earned it. MVP LeBron James leads, motivates and inspires his fellow team players to push the limits. In interviews, every player spoke of LeBron’s tremendous leadership, generous spirit and commitment to the team. At the victory rally, LeBron gave accolades to every player for his individual contribution to the team’s success: “I’m nothing without this group behind me. I’m nothing without this coaching staff. I’m nothing without this city.” And let’s remember Cavaliers owner and businessman Dan Gilbert, who has invested millions in downtown Cleveland and in the Cavaliers team. His vision of a championship team began years ago.

Trust the vision. Cavs fans were in shock when longtime Cavs player Andy Varejao was traded mid-season, in exchange for three players: J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. The irony? Varejao joined the Golden State Warriors. Think about how differently this season could have ended without the critical plays of Smith, Jefferson and Frye.

Trust advocates. The city’s celebration began the moment Game 7 ended, with fans crowding downtown Cleveland, welcoming the team home the following day at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and a record estimated 1.3 million people to celebrate at a homecoming parade and rally on June 22. I was part of that 1.3 million crowd and have the sunburn to prove it. Standing for more than four hours and sandwiched in with a sea of other Cavs fans, it was worth every minute. My husband and I were proud to be part of this historic moment in our city. Yes, we have the souvenir T-shirts, caps, pennant, license plate frame, poster, and commemorative newspapers that will never be sold on eBay!

What does this championship mean to the people of Cleveland and to the State of Ohio? Everything. Cleveland is a great city. I love living here. The city has carried many titles – and promotional slogans – over the years: Best Location in the Nation. Comeback City. All-American City. More recent additions: Believeland and a favorite, LeBronland. Whatever you call it, it’s home to the 2016 NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and to MVP LeBron James. And we know, there’s no place like home.

Thank you, Cleveland Cavaliers, for the best 2015-16 season, and for demonstrating trust in action.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast of Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast of Hamilton

Leaders could learn a few things from Broadway’s blockbuster musical, Hamilton. Beyond setting the real-life conflict and duel between Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Aaron Burr, U.S. Vice President, to hip-hop music, there is a deeper lesson behind the scenes that the Hamilton cast teaches us: Love one another.

While watching the CBS-TV broadcast of the annual Tony Awards on Sunday night, I was struck by how well this Broadway cast performs together, and the lessons they teach us:

Create a caring community. Listening to the various acceptance speeches, it became clear that the Hamilton “family” is a cohesive unit. These people truly care about each other. How are you creating a caring community of support and inclusion in your workplace?

Challenge yourself. As A.W. Tozer said, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” It took Lin-Manuel Miranda six years to research and write Hamilton. Most of us would have given up trying when the work got too tough. How are you challenging yourself?

Collaborate. The Broadway community is naturally collaborative. Writers. Producers. Directors. Actors. Costume designers. Choreographers. Stage hands. Box office staff. Management. It takes tremendous collective talent to produce a Broadway hit. Miranda had many collaborators in the creation of Hamilton, both on stage and off. How are you collaborating at work?

Celebrate diversity. Hamilton reminds us that an enriched life comes from working alongside people whose differences open up our thinking. Are you surrounding yourself with people who look like you and think like you, or are you searching for opportunities for cultural growth?

Choose love. With the Orlando tragedy occurring the same day as the Tony Awards, a powerful message was shared: Choose love over hate. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech for best score he said, “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love… cannot be killed or swept aside…now fill the world with music, love and pride.” Are you choosing to be open minded rather than myopic? To be accepting and non-judgmental? When you are, you create a positive energy that wins.

History reminds us that life’s course can be altered in one split second. This present moment. We cannot recreate what actually happened in the past. We cannot live in the future either. We can only possess this moment, in the now. What are you doing to bring your brilliant, authentic self to your workplace every day?

Finding Common Ground: The Ali-Cosell Story

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Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali

There are many lessons that we can learn from boxing legend Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). Yet the one that stands out most in my mind is the special relationship and bond that he shared with sports commentator Howard Cosell.

The two men couldn’t have been any different, yet, they found common ground in sports, a place where they could meet and simply be their best. They were both performers, top in their fields, and eloquent orators. They first met in 1962 and remained colleagues and friends for more than three decades.

Cosell was a brash, highly intelligent sports journalist from Brooklyn. He had a distinctive reporting style and vocal quality, with a heavily nasal delivery, and careful enunciation of every word, stretching them out towards infinity. He asked tough questions and made bold statements. Ali took them all in stride and was an equal match – and partner – for Cosell. When the two got together, it was magical.

Ali carried the title “The Greatest Fighter of All Time” with grace, style and of course showmanship. He threw barbs as strategically as he did jabs and punches. He used words to taunt his opponents, fire up the media and set the stage for a memorable fight. To watch him in the ring at the height of his career was like nothing else we had ever seen. Fast hands, fast feet and fast language. It was a killer combination.

The Ali-Cosell relationship was based on mutual respect. They may not have agreed with each other on everything inside and outside the ring, yet, they were able to come together around the love of the sport and give us a spectacular show. It was evident the two men cared deeply about and respected each other.

As professionals, we can learn a lot from Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s relationship. When you are working with someone whose background, core values, age, ethnicity or personality differs from yours, assume a champion stance. Treat that person with respect and as an equal, and you just may develop a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Volunteerism Provides Lifelong Lessons in Leadership

internal-volunteerism8-734x265“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Marjorie Moore

Thousands of American companies encourage employees to get involved in their communities by helping local or national nonprofit organizations like United Way, Habitat for Humanity, or the American Red Cross. Through volunteerism, employees learn valuable lessons in leadership, teamwork, communication and stewardship that remain with them throughout their lives. Much more than a resume builder, volunteerism allows individuals to learn and use a variety of skills. In honor of National Volunteer Week, give some thought to how you – and your company – can get more involved in your community.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its Volunteering in the United States, 2015 report, which tracked volunteerism from September, 2014-September, 2015. The report revealed that the greatest concentration of volunteers comes in these three categories: Just 14.6% of volunteers did so with social or community service organizations, compared to 25.2% who volunteered in educational or youth services, and 33.1% who volunteered in religious organizations. That means that community and nonprofit organizations must work harder to attract potential volunteers into the fold.

I began volunteering as a Girl Scout in elementary school and then as a Y-Teen through the local YWCA in high school. Having volunteered and led many organizations in my community throughout my professional career, I have learned that today’s volunteer requires shorter, more realistic tasks. Gone are the days when you could “easily” get people to serve on a committee or task for for one year or more. Today’s volunteer prefers to work on smaller, bite-sized tasks that can be completed remotely and in their spare time (what little they have of it).

The good news to come out of the BLS report is this: In recent years, there has been a slight increase of volunteers aged 65 and over. I attribute this to the high number of active Baby Boomers who have retired in recent years and who are looking to put their skills to work as volunteers.

Unsure of what to volunteer for? Consider online matching organizations like VolunteerMatch. What do you want to learn? What cause can you get involved in? What local organization could use your expertise? The choice is yours. Use your talents and skills to serve a community that needs you.

What volunteer opportunities in the community are being offered by your company that would give you greater responsibility and teach you new skills? 

What other volunteer assignments could you introduce your company to, which would elevate your company’s visibility in the community?

For the USSF, It’s Time to Set the Gold Standard

pure-goldThe U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) has an opportunity to strategically position itself as the professional sports organization that represents the best interests of all players, both male and female. Doing so would totally change the culture of professional sports by treating female athletes fairly and equitably. Today’s definition of the gold standard is simply “the paragon of excellence.” It’s time the USSF put this into practice within its own organization.

Why is the topic of equality met with such disinterest or even disdain when it is one of America’s foundational core values?

Recently, five members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to draw attention to the appalling discrepancy in pay between their team and their colleagues of the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team. According to media reports, the USSF’s response to the filing was that it was “an irrational request.”

What is irrational and totally incomprehensible is this: The men’s soccer team earns about double to two-thirds more than female soccer players. Men also can earn up to more than four times what women earn in bonuses. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has delivered multiple wins, earning several gold medals, and in fact is the gold standard of Olympians. Read one of my earlier blog posts referencing how the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team serves as a positive role model.

If the soccer boot were on the other foot and men were earning one-half to two-thirds less than women, what do you think male players would do? They would rise up too.

Many, perhaps most, of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team members are the primary earners in their households, some juggling responsibilities with rearing a growing family or assisting aging parents. They have earned the right to make a decent income just as much as men do. Why should they be treated any differently? They work just as hard at playing an exciting game, which attracts television viewers and major sponsors, increases advertising revenue, generates publicity and boosts the human spirit.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has gone head to head with the USSF. Similar conversations have been occurring for the past few decades.

It’s time for the USSF to embrace fairness and equity within the sport. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is a powerful, well-respected brand. It’s time to acknowledge and reward it.

Master the Executive Summary

executive-summaryIf you want to gain the respect of upper management, communicate with them the way they expect. Deliver information to the C-suite in a format they are accustomed to: The Executive Summary. Make it a point to get to the point quickly and deliver information in a clear, concise way.

Traditionally, an Executive Summary accompanies a larger written document. It provides, at a quick glance, the essence of the core message. It can be as small as a few paragraphs or as expansive as a page or two.

Treat every executive communication, whether verbal or written, as an Executive Summary. When you deliver information in an Executive Summary format, you will get to the point more quickly, your message will be clearer, and you will get invited back to future meetings because senior management will appreciate your brevity.

An executive wants to know three things when you meet:

1. Why are you here? (What’s the purpose of our meeting?)
2. What information do you have to share? and
3. What specifically do you need from me?

It’s that simple. Cater to the way the C-suite thinks.

Use this outline as a template:

Identify why you are there. What is happening? Provide an appropriate set-up. Are you there to:

  • Share results of an important study?
  • Take a project in a different direction?
  • Request more resources?
  • Share a brilliant idea that will save the company money?
  • Provide a project update?

State your case and share supportive information. Do not…I repeat…do not do a data dump. In the most direct, concise manner, tell the executive what you would like to do. What information are you sharing and why? How does it back up the case you have just presented?

Mention specifically what you need. Do you need:

Additional staff?
An endorsement?
A consideration?

Here’s a brief example. The Vice President of Human Resources is meeting with the CEO:

Why you’re there: Changes in the federal healthcare laws require greater compliance from our company. This is a top priority for all of us. Our current HR staff is not equipped to fully monitor these requirements while juggling their current job responsibilities.

State your case: I am recommending the addition of one full-time employee to the HR department to focus on the new federal compliance laws. That would mean an additional $95,000 in the department budget to cover salary and benefits for this new position.

Share information: Companies like ours are pursuing additional staff support. This salary is comparable to what other companies our size are doing. This separate document outlines everything for you (capture details in a leave behind printed document).

What you specifically need from the executive: I would appreciate your consideration and immediate approval to create this new position so I can begin interviewing, and hiring, a new staff person by June 1.

Of course, you will be prepared for the executive to ask questions as you present information. Whether they tell you or show you nonverbally, there is one thing on the minds of executives: “Get to the point.”

When you assume a higher level of leadership with greater responsibilities, you must elevate your presentation style and communication skills when working with the C-suite. Learn to think like executives and communicate in a format they are already accustomed to: The Executive Summary.

Lead Like a Rock Star

Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Leaders can learn a lot from rock stars.

After enjoying the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Saturday night here in Cleveland (yes, Cleveland Rocks!), I realized that there are many lessons that leaders can learn from rock legends. Here are a few illuminations:

Play to your strengths. To be a true rock star, you must find your sweet spot, that place where your talent soars. For inductee Stevie Ray Vaughan (who died way too young in 1990) and Double Trouble, his sweet spot was the unique raw, bluesy sound that he could squeeze out of his guitar. That sound – which bears his name – is unique to him. Be known for something, that one thing, that sets you apart from everyone else.

Inspire others. As Hall of Famer Stevie Wonder introduced inductee Bill Withers, he praised Withers’ soulful compilations like Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Grandma’s Hands, and Lovely Day (one of my favorite songs). Wonder, one of the most prolific songwriters of all time, jokingly said he wished he had written them. People are inspired by not just what you do but how you do it. Let your genius shine.

Surround yourself with brilliant minds. Inductee Ringo Starr, accompanied by Hall of Famer and former fellow Beatles member Paul McCartney along with all inductees and presenters onstage, brought down the house when performing I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends. Leaders can’t succeed on their own. If they try to, they fail as lonely, pathetic micromanagers that nobody likes. Collaboration wins every time. Although every member of the inductee group The Five Royales has passed, their family members spoke about how each member brought a unique talent to the group’s sound.

Acknowledge the help of others. Green Day band members Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt thanked everyone who ever helped them along the way, including people whose floors they slept on as struggling young artists. Every person needs acknowledgment and recognition. It begins with simply saying those two powerful words, “Thank you.” It is no surprise why Green Day’s fans are so devoted to the group. Their level of energy (especially when performing American Idiot) was electrifying.

Be authentic. The most tender memories of inductee Lou Reed, known for his bodacious lifestyle and lyrics, were eloquently captured by longtime companion Laurie Anderson and punk queen and friend Patti Smith who both celebrated the life of a man who lived, truly lived, every moment. Inductee Joan Jett still dons her signature black leather studded jacket and jet-black hair. She and band members, the Blackhearts, are true to the brand. With some leaders, the higher up the ladder they climb, the more of their authentic selves they leave behind. Be true to yourself, your values and vision.

Show your passion and energy. Some people think rock and roll is just for the young. Remember, rock and roll began in the 1950s, so rock legends from that era are still among us and going strong. At the induction ceremony, 80-year old Sam Lay not only played the drums with great vigor, he also sang lead vocals, as a longtime member of inductee group, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Let your energy transcend your age. People will want you to stick around longer!

As a leader, it can be lonely at the top. When you embrace the mindset of a rock star, you will develop loyal fans along the way.

Starbucks’ Sweet Smell of Success

cap-and-gownWith the announcement this week that Starbucks is partnering with Arizona State University (ASU) Online to offer Starbucks workers college tuition reimbursement, it positions both Starbucks and its workers in a favorable light. The coffee giant’s College Achievement Plan provides a win/win for both employer and workers.

How it positions Starbucks: This new plan complements the Starbucks mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” It positions Starbucks as an industry leader, encouraging its workers who work 20 hours or more a week (either part time or full time) to complete their college education through convenient, online courses. It also demonstrates that Starbucks is paying it forward, investing in the future of its workers. And of course it solidifies the iconic Starbucks brand by building a stronger workforce since workers will remain at Starbucks over the long haul.

How it positions Starbucks partners (they are not called employees): It encourages partners to enroll in college and apply what they learn directly to their work. The more partners learn outside the realm of their daily jobs, the more well-rounded they become. As they continue through college, they may work their way up in the organization. When they apply the “pay it forward” philosophy to their own lives, they become more philanthropic and involved in their communities.

Some are criticizing this plan, claiming it creates another corporate monopoly. Within the College Achievement Plan, when partners complete their freshman and sophomore online courses through ASU, they will be given a discount. Completion of their junior and senior year coursework is fully paid by Starbucks. How refreshing for a corporate employer to offer tuition assistance to its workers. Wouldn’t it be nice if more employers invested in their employees’ futures?

What investments are you making in others and in yourself? How are you paying forward?