Why Your Audacious Goal May Fail

June 5, 2019

It’s been a busy winter with lots of projects, clients and new writing goals – which brings me to the topic on my mind today: audacious goals…and how they can fail.

Who doesn’t love being inspired by a bold vision or audacious goal?

The lure of going where no one has gone before can be scintillating. An audacious goal draws in other pathbreakers; provides a rallying cry for your start-up business or big project. Yet over the past few months, through various executive coaching discussions and board meetings, the truth revealed itself to me.

Audacious goals can be a bad idea in the real world.­­

Years ago, in their book Built to Last, Jerry Porras and Jim Collins introduced the idea of audacious goals.They called them “big hairy audacious goals” or “BHAGs”, to be specific. According to these researchers/authors, the “built to last companies,” a group of 18 visionary long-lasting companies that outperformed their peers on financial measures in the stock market, reached for the stars in terms of disrupting the market place. Since the book was published, countless corporate websites claim “audacious goals” as part of their cultural fabric; untold leaders have drawn their teams in with the promise of the promised land. ­

In my coaching with executives, I see leaders who are reaching for big ideas and bold moves. From charting a ground-breaking path in the marketplace, to testing out exciting new partnerships or aggressive time lines, to stepping into the “chief” role when you’ve usually been the person behind the chief.

The main problem: setting the big vision is the easy part. It’s how to get there that’s the challenge. When jumping into the rapids, it’s easy to get pulled down.

So how do you chart a clear course?

·  Monitor your internal dialogue. In each situation, it wasn’t just the goal that was the challenge. It was the internal dialogue the executive had with themselves about why they couldn’t do it. Instead of taking a bold step forward, they were each hiding behind more tactical operations—I just don’t have time; there aren’t enough resources. Self-doubt tripped them up as they wondered, ‘do I have what it takes to succeed?’

· Go for an experiment instead of perfection. Taking the first step is a common barrier. Don’t try to be perfect. In fact, expect that your first step will not be perfect and break off a component. What’s some small part you could try? Is there a different kind of content?  While you’re putting that big stake in the ground, what small step would get you closer to a meaningful end?

· Reach out to someone who can help. Find a coach or mentor who can help. An executive coach is a great idea, but there are already people in your network who would be honored to be a sounding board.

It’s a biological fact: we humans are vulnerable to shiny objects, which trigger associations with water, a necessary nutrient for our growth and sustainability. Audacious goals are the shiny objects and the nutrients of business. As leaders, we thirst for the fresh idea that will sustain and grow our business.

So chart the course and you will achieve that goal

The Secret to Leading Effectively in the New Way of Work

May 11, 2018

It’s not your grandfather’s world of work, when everything was connected, from the factory town to lunch breaks at Mom and Pop’s on Main street.

What’s the secret to bringing people together to work with passion toward a common purpose, vision and goals in the new way of work?

The answer: Depth of Connection.

I’ve been speaking about Depth of Connection in my talk, Who Dunit? How Hollywood is Killing HR from stages in Pittsburgh, Dallas and Charlotte. I even opened one night in front of a Comedy Improv audience in Dallas, which is hilarious because you, my friends and colleagues, all know that I’m not actually funny.

What is Depth of Connection?

It’s the human glue that brings effective teams together—when people find the win-win in the NeXus between the needs of the organization and the person. Communities fit in there too, but we’ll talk about that another day.

You—the leader—create Depth of Connection in the workplace when you create the conditions for people to find the three things they crave most from the work experience:

  • Purpose: For some, this means a project or task that is personally meaningful; for others, it’s a paycheck they can live on.
  • Relationships: Everyone wants a boss who has their back; colleagues who care. Everyone.
  • Development: In a world changing at a pace 300 times faster than any point in human history, professional development enables people of all levels to take charge of their lives by taking charge of their careers.

How can you, the leader, create Depth of Connection?

Use my 4-EQ’s.
 To bring more Depth of Connection into your team, ask people to share their answers to my 4 Easy Questions, which I shared when I keynoted at this year’s Mass Bay Project Management Institute 40th Anniversary Conference:

1. Which role do I tend to play on teams?
2. How do I prefer to contribute and be included?
3. What is something I would like to learn or experience as a result of being part of this team?
4. What do I need from this team to be successful

Avanti: Stop Being, Start Doing

March 23, 2018

Much of my writing is about The Nexus – that magical intersection where your professional passions merge with the needs and goals of your organization to create a win/win that moves productivity forward toward the big goals. That is the core of my recent book and the foundation of what I coach leaders about how to get the best out of themselves and their organizations.

But when I look at my own Nexus and how I got there, I see a winding path and there were times I got stuck…

Many of you were with me along the journey of another book I started to write many years ago, When We Were Made in America. (That’s the latest title. I haven’t given up on that work.) After Grub Street, Boston’s premier, national creative writing center, accepted me into their 10-month pilot program called the Non-Fiction Career Lab, I imagined I’d write that book in nine months. But I struggled with the lack of self-confidence that comes at mid-career when you dare to leap from something you know (leadership coaching and organizational consulting) to the unknown, which for me was non-fiction writing. When I settled in my seat every Wednesday, I felt intimidated by the sheer talent of my instructors and classmates, who included a brilliant New York Times columnist, a celebrated local author, and rising-star classmate whose work was immediately featured in Boston Magazine. They were quick to pick up nuanced ideas and writing conventions and used sophisticated words.

But what stood out the most, is they got up to bat, made more shots on goal, submitted their writing to journals, periodicals and magazines and got back on the horse, rejection after rejection. My friend Molly submitted an essay to more than 100 outlets and never gave up until she got that essay published. Between you and me, I took one shot on goal and submitted an article to HBR, got rejected and didn’t submit anything else.  Struggling to find the core message of my writing, I felt miserable; disconnected; farther from The Nexus than when I’d started. I froze and could not move forward.

Have you seen this bumper sticker that advises, “You’re a Human Being, not a Human Doing”? I hate that bumper sticker because the truth is I am happiest when I act; move forward. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits to being still and reflecting. “We don’t learn by doing, we learn by reflecting on doing,” the educator John Dewey famously said. But we can’t remain frozen in our dreams or thoughts without acting in the world, without taking a shot on goal or getting up to bat once we’ve decided on a goal, direction or purpose.

My heritage is Italian, and my family spent a few years living in Rome, Italy. Italians use the word avanti, which means “move forward.” Action is what enables you to gain experience and learn about the world, a topic, someone else; yourself. I find myself not wanting to sit still. I want to be in the world. To be connected. To move forward. With verve.

How about you? From this perch, with so much of 2018 still ahead, what is your “doing”? What is something you’ve been wanting to do but have been afraid, frozen?

Write that down, let it sink in … and then say AVANTI!

What is your NEXUS?

February 20, 2018

I write from my kitchen table on a frosty January morning, still thinking about the year ahead:

What are my goals?

Who do I want to be?

When I look back at this year, from the vantage point of being a 90-year old in a rocking chair, what will have been most important? What will I feel good about? What will I want to remember from 2018?

The year 2017 brought many blessings, including the warm reception for Take Charge of Your VIEW: Career Advice You Won’t Get From Your Boss. With that book and the bustle that followed came a greater sense of moving toward my life purpose.

The goal I set for the beginning of 2018 to was to articulate what my work is about – in one word.

Big companies are known for a brand, an intangible quality beyond the product they offer.

Starbucks offers lifestyle; their stores have a vibe they call “verve.”

Disney offers happiness through magic.

At Prior Consulting, we provide leadership coaching and change consulting. But what one word can capture the essence of the unique way our vision and work impacts the world?

I brainstormed the things we do:

Win-Win relationships
Future of Work

But none of these fully capture the essence of how our clients shift when we work together. Digging deeper, I realized that my specialty is helping clients zoom in on where these ideas connect, where they join together to make something bigger—what I call The Nexus..

Your Nexus is where your work feels connected to a deeper purpose; where your vision and passion intersect with the goals and needs of your organization; your community and the world.

The Nexus is where we connect to each other, and ourselves, to make something bigger happen.

What is your Nexus? Who will you connect with in 2018 to create something bigger? And how will you together make your mark in the world?

Recent media events:

Interview in Forbes.com by Jessica Lutz:  If You Feel Stuck at Work, Quitting Might Not Be Your Best Option


TV interview on The Take with Sue O’Connel on NECN/ NBC 10 Boston


Article published on Recruiter.com: Feeling Stuck? How to Make Your Old Job Feel New




November 22, 2017

It’s that time of year to think about what we are thankful for. With the publication of my book this year and the rush of excitement and events that followed, my thoughts go back to how my journey as an author started twenty years ago…at midnight on Thanksgiving.

Turkey leftovers chilled in the refrigerator. Our six-week old son and three-year old daughter slept upstairs in my in-laws’ home. The tables were cleaned, lights dimmed. I sat alone at the kitchen table, cursor blinking on the laptop, and typed the first words on a research paper on career development I had been invited to publish through the Executive Development Roundtable at Boston University.

At midnight, my father in-law appeared at the kitchen doorway. “What are doing?” he asked. I replied that if I didn’t write up my research findings on the career development practices of 17 organizations now, I’d never find time when I returned to work. The world was changing. Jobs were changing. A new way of work was emerging. Career development would be key to the success of employees and employers alike.

Fast-forward twenty years.
 This past June, that six-week old baby, now a wonderful young man, accompanied me to the New York Book Expo to launch, “Take Charge of Your VIEW: Career Advice You Won’t Get From Your Boss.” The reception since then has been amazing. In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about my interviews with Forbes; the Economist; podcasters and radio stations across the country, and even a few case studies about how organizations have been using my book to build win-win relationships so people bring their best selves to their work and organizations achieve bold goals. Everyone thrives today and tomorrow. That’s the vision I share in my book.

I can’t find the words to express my heartfelt thanks to so many of you who have been with me along this journey. From old friends to new champions, you’ve filled my heart with the belief that it takes a village to get anything worthwhile accomplished. Thank you for so much support.

Speaking of gratitude.
 Because I always want this column to be practical, I’d like to share a gratitude tip I’ve picked up in my work as a Research Coach for physicians coping with stress and burnout due to mounting pressures and change. If you want more flow and satisfaction in your work today, keep a gratitude journal and make it specific. Flow is that feeling of being completely absorbed in work that you love. Gratitude is “the strength most associated with life satisfaction, happiness, achievement, building better relationships and improvements in psychological and physical health,” say the researchers at The VIA Institute.[i] Your gratitude journal memorializes moments of flow. I’ve noticed that the people who get the most from this practice make it specific. You can too. Answer these three questions each day:

-What is one thing you are grateful for today?
-What is one specific interaction with a colleague, customer, or boss that you felt good about?
-What is one pearl of wisdom, something you learned?

TIP: Consider starting a gratitude journal this week, during Thanksgiving, a time of being thankful and reflecting on what is good.

Wishing you and your loved-ones abundant peace this Thanksgiving, and the life and career of your dreams along the path.

With gratitude,

PS: To my Boston area friends, Take Charge of Your VIEW will soon be available at Newtonville Books and at Brookline Booksmith!

The Remaining Secrets of Great Teams

July 21, 2017

Before my new book on career development, Take Charge of Your VIEW, launched last month, I was writing to you about the five key ingredients in the secret sauce that makes great teams. I took a break from this to let everyone know about my book release, but am now returning to let you know the remaining ingredients that lead to success.

A quick reminder, the first three ingredients are the need to inspire purpose, establish team norms and support each other.

Here are the final two ingredients:

Ingredient #4: Ownership

What I believe: when it comes to work, quality is love. My Nana’s sauce was delicious because she sweated the details: she hovered over the bubbling red liquid to ensure it simmered at just the right temperature, protected it from high heat, and focused her attention as she added salt or oregano.

Your work quality is your love. It reflects the time and energy you are willing to allocate to provide great service, produce a great product, be a great Manager/Leader.

Crucial to ownership is understanding that group quality is every individual team member’s job. Each team member is the one person ultimately responsible for their own tasks and when each individual achieves, the team as a whole achieves.

Tips you can use: In your next team meeting, ask each team member to describe what quality means to them. Tell them about why you are passionate about your work. What do you love? How can the team help one another demonstrate ownership for what you achieve together?

Ingredient #5: Trustworthiness

What’s the most important ingredient in the relationship between team members? Trust, you say?

Philosopher Onora O’Neill respectfully disagrees. Focusing on trust “gets the equation backwards,” O’Neill says in her TedTalk. Trust is something other people earn from you. Trustworthiness, on the other hand, is something you earn from other people.

O’Neill defines trustworthiness as your capacity to consistently demonstrate three qualities, being:

  • Reliable: you follow through with commitments and keep promises.
  • Sincere: you are transparent about your motives.
  • Competent: you demonstrate the skills needed to get the job done.

Instead of worrying about how your colleagues need to earn your trust, be the kind of person that your colleagues trust. You will not only get more done together, but will have more fun doing it.

Tips you can use: In your next team meeting, ask team members to describe how they can personally demonstrate more trustworthiness.

That’s a wrap! Thanks for going on this journey with me to uncover the 5 key ingredients in the secret sauce of great teams:

  1. Inspiring Purpose
  2. Team Norms
  3. Supporting Each Other
  4. Ownership of the Work
  5. Trustworthiness

I hope you’ve taken away some useful insights and practical tips.

In the meantime, I wish you and your teams much satisfaction and success, wherever you are in your journey.

Who Do You Work For?

July 6, 2017

Welcome to Careers 3.0 – we all work for ourselves now.

A few days before my new book, Take Charge of Your VIEW, launched on June 2, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Marion Estienne PhD, in her podcast on leadership, Present Tense Future Perfect.

We had a wonderful conversation about my book and the nature of career development today. Here are some nuggets from our wide ranging conversation:

Corporate culture has changed from a place where employees follow a pre-determined path of tasks and promotions that automatically take them to the next opportunity in the organization (Careers 1.0) to one where the employees seek out opportunities that line up with their passions and strengths. In today’s “careers 3.0 culture” you work for yourself, whether you have your own company or work for an organization.

No longer is career development side-lined to the HR department of a company. In companies that thrive today, career development is a core part of corporate culture. Companies want engaged employees and engagement surveys show that career development ranks as one of the top three qualities people look for in a company. The bottom line is that people are looking for work that taps into their best self.

This is a win-win for the employee and the company. The best leaders and company cultures are those that support their people to take charge of their careers by exploring how they can develop themselves within the company and providing opportunities for self-development. Two factors must exist for this to happen: first, employees must be given the tools to help them navigate work opportunities at the organization; second, managers must be willing to have these meaningful conversations with employees about their development and engage then in conversations about their VIEW.

Today’s Tip: The best leaders and company cultures are those that support their people to take charge of their careers.

I invite you to listen to the entire show about career development today and the six-week journey my book will take you through to find your best self.

Present Tense Future Perfect podcast link here.

Direct link to my interview here.

More Secrets of Great Teams

May 19, 2017

In our previous post, we met in my grandmother’s kitchen and I introduced the first of five secret ingredients of great teams. We began with inspiring purpose. It’s time to reveal the next two.

Ingredient #2: Team Norms

Tony* had the steering wheel. Seven of us crowded in a circle, gripped the metal bar, and pedaled across a parking lot at the Googleplex.

It was a sunny afternoon in Palo Alto, California. Our group, the Executive Development Roundtable, part of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, had been walking the campus with its 3.1 million square feet of office space on an insider’s tour. When we stumbled upon this strange, yellow contraption of pedals and bike seats, we jumped at the chance to take a Google’s “meeting bike” for a test drive.

I imagine that the seven-seat bicycle shaped like a roundtable was just one of Google’s many experiments to uncover the secrets of great teams. More symbolic than practical, Google’s insatiable appetite to dissect the behaviors that drive team performance led to a data-driven study.

Two hundred Google teams went under the microscope to pinpoint the special sauce of a great Google team. The findings surprised the quants (people who really, really, really like numbers): great teams live by a set of norms. Norms are agreements about how people will work with one another. The two norms of most importance? Turn-taking and empathy.

Turn-taking means giving each person a chance to be heard. Empathy is the skill of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. How would your team do under Google’s microscope?

Tips you can use: In your next team meeting, ask people to read this New York Times’ article on Google’s findings. Lead a discussion where you ask the team to pinpoint instances of turn-taking and empathy. Ask how the team could increase the use of these crucial skills, for greater enjoyment and productivity.

Up next, we’ll head to Arlington, Virginia, to learn about ingredient #3, where I was certified in a powerful team coaching approach by my friends at consulting firm Corentus.
*That isn’t ‘Tony’’s real name.

Ingredient #3: Supporting Each Other

Think of the best team you’ve been part of. What qualities did that team possess? How did youfeel about being part of that team?

If you are like most people, your best team was committed to an inspiring purpose and lived by a set of norms. But more than that, you probably felt like your team mates were on your side. And you returned the feeling.

My friends at the consulting firm Corentus stumbled upon this insight through their 20+years of studying the DNA of great teams. I learned this on a wooded campus in Arlington, Virginia during their team coaching certification.

On the best teams, people are mutually supportive of one another’s professional goals. They achieve great heights by helping each other stretch and achieve the things that matter personally to one another.

Tips you can use:  
In your next offsite retreat, make time for people to share their professional goals. Lead a discussion about how you can help one another find more enjoyment in the NeXus between people’s personal, professional dreams as well as the organization’s goals.

Our next post will tell you about ingredients 4 & 5 and leave you will the full recipe for the Secret Sauce of Great Teams.

Enable Your Employees to Take Charge of their Careers

March 30, 2017

In our last post, we introduced three tips for moving people in to the Nexus at your organization. As a reminder, the Nexus is that brilliant place where company business goals and people’s passion meet for optimal performance.

Here we will dive deeper into these concepts so you can easily apply them at work:

  1. Be specific when communicating your vision.People want clear direction and meaningful work. In Jeffrey’s company we generated a list of projects and tasks that are specific to the company. Managers use the list in career conversations with people to match development goals with work that optimizes the Nexus.
  1. Strengthen your coaching muscle.As managers, we tend to give people advice but they learn more when we ask meaningful questions. At Jeffrey’s company, we trained managers how to coach for both continuous and career development
  1. People don’t learn from challenging assignments, they learn by reflecting on their experience.Schedule time for periodic conversations that reveal insight and lessons learned that people apply to improving both on the job performance, which prepares them for future roles and opportunities.

Remember, relationships are ongoing and there is no finish line.

We’ve been following Jeffrey in our recent posts, whose challenge was to keep people engaged who had worked at his company for more than three years. At Jeffrey’s company Prior Consulting piloted tools that enabled fresh career conversations. Some people left after realizing that the source of their burnout was the result of a small overlap between their interests and the company needs. This is healthy.
Jeffrey reports that managers, not HR, take ownership for building relationships with people, delegating more effectively and coaching people more frequently.

The benefit: people have a clear sense of their strengths and development areas. Managers and employees work together to close the gaps.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you want to move your team into the Nexus, enable people to take charge of their careers.

The Key to Higher Employee Engagement

February 13, 2017

In today’s post we will be talking about the manager/employee relationship and how that affects workplace engagement and productivity.

TODAY’S TIP: Career Development = Quality Relationships = Employee Engagement

Remember Jeffrey from our previous post? His challenge was to keep people engaged who had worked at his company for more than three years. He realized that the Nexus, that place where an organization’s goals and people’s passion meet, creates optimal performance for both the organization and the person, and that this is the best answer to employee engagement and company success.

Jeffrey discovered that the best way to reach the Nexus was for his organization to focus on the quality of relationships between managers and people. Quality relationships happen when mangers actively coach their people on their career development path, and this lead to high levels of engagement.  Career development happens on the job, when people have challenging assignments and managers that coach effectively.  The outcome: higher employee engagement and people’s willingness to give their extra time and energy


People long for coaching and mentoring, especially when it comes to feeling good about their work today and charting their future path.  In fact, career development ranks as the top reason why people switch jobs, especially Millennials. Show your employees you care, and they will show you that they care. When employees get grounded in their personal values, they perform better, says author Amy Cuddy. Career development activities, such as having employees create a personal vision to guide their life and work,empower people to uncover their passion and take charge of their careers.  

Actively mentoring your employee’s career development path is the surprising key to building quality relationships and engaging employees.  Stay tuned for our next post which will give you tips on moving people to the Nexus in your organization.

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