TIL: the agenda is a suggestion

Today I Learned

Meetings are a request for scarce resources, made days (or weeks) before the event. In the time between the meeting request and the event, new information appears and relationships evolve.

What this means to me

Any discussion should include the most important topics that the attendees need to address at the time of the meeting, not only those proposed in the agenda when the meeting was scheduled. If we don’t, we are wasting scarce resources, denying ourselves the current truth, and ultimately weakening our relationships.

Putting this knowledge to work

After reviewing the proposed agenda for a scheduled meeting, raise what I believe to be the most important topics to the discuss with the other attendees, and allow the group to decide how to devote the remaining time. Follow up 1:1 afterwards as needed to discuss the most important topics.

Two quick examples

  • Arriving at a standing monthly meeting, we review the pre-defined agenda and standard “status deck.” There are critical resourcing issues that emerged since the last meeting that aren’t on the agenda but are impacting the team’s rate of progress, so I ask the team is we can spend 10 minutes during the current meeting discussing that issue or to find another time before the end of the day that’s more convenient .
  • When I get a vague or empty meeting request from a person I don’t work closely with, I decline the meeting request and politely request clarification on what they want to achieve with the discussion. Sometimes a quick phone call can help soften this reply as it’s somewhat unusual in corporate culture.


If you have questions or feedback about this idea, or about my new short-form post type “TIL,” please leave a comment below.


TIL: the stress comes from guessing

Today I Learned

Anxiety and stress in our most important relationships arises from guessing what others want from us, and from guessing how we should “show up” for them.

What this means to me

During intense conversations at home or at work, when I am guessing what the other person needs from me I feel anxious and physically stressed. This causes the conversation (and therefore the relationship) to degrade in a few ways:

  1. I’m no longer listening fully to the other person because I’m distracted by thinking about my own feelings and needs.
  2. In a state of “arousal” (fight-or-flight) my listening and attention will get even worse.
  3. The other person, seeing me in a stress state, could react to that with their own stress response, amplifying the anxiety and stress of the conversation.

Putting this knowledge to work

Just ask the other person what they need, and to tell them what you need, so that we can show up for each other in the most helpful way and avoid the stress of guessing.

Two quick examples

  • When my spouse starts telling me about a difficult part of the day, I can say “that sounds tough…do you need strategy or sympathy from me right now?”
  • When I am talking with someone on my team about a challenge we need to solve, be explicit about my expectations: “I just need to talk through this scenario with someone – can you help poke some holes in my hypothesis? If there are any actions for you afterwards, I’ll be specific.”


If you have questions or feedback about this idea, or about my new short-form post type “TIL,” please leave a comment below.

Is The Executive Maybe part of your working vocabulary?

Effective leadership requires both decisive action and compelling communication, with integrity throughout. In an economy shifting towards knowledge and service roles, most employees will have more observations of a leader’s communications–both written and in person–than the leader’s direct actions. Think for a moment about the best communicating leader you’ve encountered: he or she certainly has an expansive vocabulary and evocative style. But there’s one little word, when used precisely, that can upgrade any leader’s communications: maybe.


The Executive Maybe is both stealthy and powerful; like the Jedi mind trick, but without the condescension. After observing the Executive Maybe in its natural environment, I’ve observed two key uses:


  1. To redirect a proposal. When an employee proposes a new idea or next step, this flavor of the Executive Maybe applies a very soft rejection and redirects the conversation to another idea. As the pace of the conversation continues, the person who provided the idea likely won’t recall that their suggestion was ignored. Note: this technique is less effective on people familiar with Jack Johnson’s early work.
  2. To set a stretch goal. By invoking a hypothetical future state, this flavor of the Executive Maybe reduces apprehension that often accompanies the challenge of reaching new performance levels. By suggesting “maybe we could…” the leader instills the belief in her team that they can achieve it.

Now that your awareness of the Executive Maybe is heightened, listen for it in your organization and observe its effectiveness. Try it out with your team and see how they respond. It certainly won’t be the most exotic word in your leadership vocabulary, but will it be the most powerful? Maybe.

image credit: arresteddevelopment.wikia.com

A problem best left unsolved

I’ve never been particularly good at planning my future. Especially before age 30, I was content to follow the path that others suggested. What I studied, where I worked, and my hobbies arose more by not saying no to a suggestion than by my own design. I believed this lack of foresight was a complex problem, compounding my discomfort.
Two recent revelations came as welcome surprises. First, my unexpected actual life is more rewarding than attaining the expected life would be. If 18 year old Ryan opened the mail one day to find a biography of 38 year old Ryan, he would laugh and call it impossible. If I had obediently checked the boxes of personal and professional achievement my elders set before me as a teen, the best I could feel is a sense of relief. Instead, I experience moments of wide-eyed disbelief at the wild path I followed to today.
Second, less concern about the future leaves more attention to invest in the present. Every moment of worry or wonder about tomorrow is a moment of today that escapes unnoticed.

Choose to make fresh tracks…on and off the snow.

With such a wonderful current life, I can be certain of troubling, sad, and difficult times ahead. At least one recession, war, or pandemic will occur in my lifetime; or all three. The death of my parents’ generation will disrupt the current equilibrium of my family. Accident or acute illness for my wife or children is inescapable. I also expect to make mistakes as a husband, father, and employee. But with vigilance not to repeat the mistakes of my past, I can extend my fulfillment into future “todays.”
So in hindsight, it’s better that I never figured out how to plan my life. Each day, my intent is to demonstrate the values my wife and I wish to instill in our children. Perhaps they too will find that not over-planning the future will lead to a happier present.


image: groupon.com

Quick Take: Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Quick Take on the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Yes, this is a psychology book: it helps you understand human emotions, cognitive patterns, and communication styles in order to build more effective relationships. Jeb Blount’s book, Sales EQ, explains these concepts in the context of the very specific relationships that exist between a seller and his or her stakeholders.


Most popular sales books focus on the sales process, qualification techniques, and the mechanics of closing (Sales EQ adds a few of its own, also). Let’s call these “the what” of selling. Other sales books define common personas, found in either buyers or sellers, exploring the attributes of each persona and how they lead to higher or lower win rates (Sales EQ also contributes to this category. Let’s call these “the who” of selling.

What sets Sales EQ apart, and what makes this such a unique and profound work when compared to other sales books, is how concisely and comprehensively it covers “the how” that sits behind both the what and the who of sales effectiveness. Blount takes the framework from Daniel Goleman’s research on Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (HBR, 1998-2001), and expands it to include concepts on decision making and communication introduced by authors spanning Cialdini, Pink, Heath, Carter, Ekman & the Dalai Lama, and more.

  • Has your team burned through a stack of sales methodology books and acronyms, from SPIN Selling, to The Challenger Sale, BANT, DISCOVER, MEDDIC, WOLFE, and everything in between, yet still struggles with low quota attainment and high turnover?
  • Have you sat in the room with a top-notch seller–either as a peer or a buyer–and been mystified with how effortlessly they get to “yes”?
  • Even more acutely, have you listened to a recording of yourself on a sales call and wondered “who is that monster and why in the world did he/she say that?”

For anyone who nodded to the questions above, or would simply like the convenience of finding 12 books on human emotion and communication condensed down in one volume, Sales EQ is a must-read.

Interested? Review my list of the key concepts from the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Look for a downloadable book summary soon, here on leadertainment.com. In the meantime, check out other highly recommended books on the essential reading list.

image: amazon.com

The surprising place to start building a stronger network

As you build your network, start by ensuring you project a genuine self-image to others

Networking doesn’t start with opening accounts at LinkedIn, Facebook, Qzone, and Vkontakte. Whether we choose connect with clicks or handshakes, the part that makes the connection meaningful is the person. So forget about how you’re meeting people, who they are, and why you want to meet them: start with yourself.

  1. Be yourself. In order to inspire trust and make genuine connections with others, you need to know (and be completely comfortable with) who you are and what you stand for. Think about the other people you have meaningful relationships with, who you are drawn to and why. You don’t need to be a peer of another person to develop a meaningful relationship with them, but “pretending” that you are a peer will make that impossible. References: True North, What got you here won’t get you there.
  2. Give before you take, and don’t “keep score.” When you are generous with your help, advice, etc. with your relationships, you will find that the rewards come back with greater magnitude and at (pleasantly) surprising times. Reference: How to win friends and influence people.
  3. Don’t ask permission to help. If you see an area in which you would like to help another person (by giving feedback, offering direct support, etc.), just help. It is very hard to damage a relationship by helping someone with the genuine intent on their success. Asking if the other person would like your help puts a barrier in the way and “costs” the other person something.
  4. Seek out groups of people with whom you have few, but important, things in common. Common sense and scientific studies show that “weak ties” in a network are most important for building a broad network. So skip the Eastern Cleveland Tax Accountants’ Society mixer to volunteer at a soup kitchen or talk to the other parents at the state soccer tournament.

As with many things, you can test this approach to networking by looking at the situation in reverse: you just met a person who seems to agree with whatever you think, who makes a big effort to talk “at your level” rather than his or her own, and keeps asking what he or she can do to help you with your job search. When that face pops up with a request to connect online, how fast will you reach for the Ignore button?