Category: Learning

Q&A with Kevin Kruse, founder of LEADx

Kevin Kruse believes that wholehearted leadership for employee engagement is the key to unlocking dramatic business results and better relationships for individuals.
And if you think that’s something that I’d agree with, you’re absolutely right. I do.
Kevin interviewed me last year on his LEADx podcast where we had a great conversation about effective meetings, and I’m delighted that he has agreed to do a Q&A. He currently serves as the Founder and CEO of LEADx, an online learning platform that provides free leadership development for millions of people around the world. He has built and sold several multimillion-dollar tech companies, authored numerous books (including the New York Times bestseller We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement) and currently serves as a Forbes leadership columnist.
Let’s dive in!
Paul: Have you always been interested in leadership? What led you to create LEADx?
Kevin: Well I wouldn’t say always. In fact, I was a horrible boss when I was in my twenties, and my first couple of companies failed miserably. Eventually, I was mentored by some ex-Gallup executives who gave me a master class in leadership and employee engagement, and I had a total transformation. My company started growing like crazy, and we even won a Best Place to Work in PA award.
When I sold my last company, almost ten years ago, I took a lot of time off. I’m a single Dad with three kids and wanted to put them first and also to spend some time working for nonprofits. And that’s also when I started writing books. But my kids are grown now, two are off to college, so I figured it was time to put my entrepreneur hat back on. When I thought about the single biggest factor in my own success, it came down to leadership. Self-leadership, leadership in my family, and of course leadership at work. So I launched a “next generation” leadership company: LEADx.
Paul: LEADx is a completely free learning platform, which is surprising. Why did you decide to make it free?
Kevin: As I was thinking about what my next company would be, it would have been so easy to start another custom e-learning company. That’s what my previous companies were, and I could have just called up my old employees, called up my old clients, and boom—I’d have a multimillion dollar company again in no time. But I did the rocking-chair test. Would I be happy just having another small lifestyle business when I’m 80 rocking away on my porch? Nice life? Sure. But would I be satisfied? No.
So I really want to do something so big that the odds are that it will fail. It’s so big that I don’t know how we’ll get there. So I thought, why don’t we create 100 million leaders in 10 years? After all, if you want free K-12 education you can use Khan Academy. If you want free college education there’s edX. But what about free leadership development? What about free management training? What about free access to professional development? It hasn’t been done yet. So I figure, let’s give it a try.
Paul: You talk about the idea of “Massive Emotional Commitment.” Can you tell us more about what that is?
Kevin: That’s just a common term for employee engagement. I don’t know why people make engagement so hard and confusing. It’s really simple to me. If we actually care about the organization we work for and care about the mission—if we’re emotionally committed to the company—we’re going to give extra effort. An engaged salesperson will sell just as hard on a Friday afternoon as she does on a Monday. A customer service rep will be just as patient at the end of the shift as he is at the beginning of the shift. When we care, we give extra effort, we have fewer accidents, and we stay in our jobs longer.
Paul: On your podcast, you often ask your guests to share a time when they failed and what they learned from that experience. Why do you ask this question?
Kevin: It’s the entrepreneur in me. So many people never do what they really want to do because they’re afraid they’ll fail. Or in life we get scolded by our boss, or we lose a big account, or a publisher rejects our book and we get all bummed out about it. Entrepreneurs are like, “Of course I’m going to fail. I’m going to fail a lot!” It’s just part of the process. So by asking that question—and asking it first—I’m really trying to help all the listeners out there to realize that everyone fails, and everyone fails a lot. It’s required to become successful.
Paul: You also ask your guests to finish up the interview by sharing one idea your audience can put into practice immediately. What are some of your favorite ideas that have been shared?
Kevin: A simple life-changing idea was offered by Dan Pink who said every morning, the first thing he does is write his most important task—MIT—on his whiteboard. This single act of identifying and writing down our most important task for the day dramatically increases our productivity and even our quality of life. Jason Fried, of Basecamp, said we should just cancel our next meeting. Amy Morin told us to immediately praise efforts, not results, whether at work or at home with our kids. After all, you don’t want people to fear failure, or they’ll never try.
Paul: What ideas have you implemented at home?
Kevin: One idea I’ve adopted is to ask myself each morning, “What am I willing to do today, to become the person I want to be?” It’s intended to be a journaling exercise, and I really should write it out, but usually I just take a few minutes to think about it in my head. I have three areas in life I always try to focus on: health, wealth, and relationships. So for each of those I’ll ask that question. Like, “What am I willing to do today to get the health I want to have?” And I remind myself of a bunch of stuff like eat vegan, keep the carbs to a minimum, it’s leg day don’t skip it! Stuff like that.
Paul: Can you share one really obvious idea or piece of advice that is often missed by leaders? Or people in general?
Kevin: Well it’s obvious and radical at the same time. If you boil down the definition of leadership into a single word, it’s influence. John Maxwell says leadership is influence. Ken Blanchard told me leadership is influence. And if you accept that, then you have to realize that you are leading all the time, because you are influencing all the time. We influence people when we speak up in a meeting, but we also influence the meeting by staying silent. Silence is usually viewed as consent. When we stand up to a bully at school, that person is less likely to bully in the future; if we stay silent—if we are part of bystander syndrome—that bully is more likely to bully again in the future. Psychologists have shown that “social contagion” exists even among strangers. If we’re in a cafeteria line and I grab the fries instead of the fruit—and I would definitely do that—you are more likely to grab the fries as well. Whether I wanted to or not, I influenced you. I led you. This obvious idea is radical because it means leadership is not a choice. We are leading all of the time, whether we want to or not.

Honest reflection is powerful

January is a natural time to reflect on what we have accomplished, what we intend to accomplish, and how we might work to improve ourselves.
One of my favorite articles on personal development is “My Life as a Knowledge Worker” by the late management educator and author Peter F. Drucker. The article appeared in Inc. Magazine in February of 1997, and in it Drucker describes seven personal experiences that taught him how to grow, to change, and to age without becoming a prisoner of the past.
In “The Fourth Experience,” Drucker describes his experience as a young journalist. He was 22 years old and had just become one of three assistant managing editors at a newspaper headed by one of Europe’s leading newspapermen.
The editor-in-chief, then around 50, took infinite pains to train and discipline his young crew. He discussed with each of us every week the work we had done. Twice a year, right after New Year’s and then again before summer vacations began in June, we would spend a Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday discussing our work over the preceding six months. The editor would always start out with the things we had done well. Then he would proceed to the things we had tried to do well. Next he reviewed the things where we had not tried hard enough. And finally, he would subject us to a scathing critique of the things we had done badly or had failed to do. The last two hours of that session would then serve as a projection of our work for the next six months: What were the things on which we should concentrate? What were the things we should improve? What were the things each of us needed to learn? And a week later each of us was expected to submit to the editor-in-chief our new program of work and learning for the next six months. 
What this story illustrates is that reflecting on and telling the truth about the last year’s performance is powerful. Drucker claimed to enjoy these sessions, but he didn’t begin to incorporate them into his own life until about a decade later, when he’d become a professor in the United States and begun writing books. Since then, he set aside two weeks each year to review his work the previous year.
I invite you to take some time—for yourself individually or with your team members—to reflect on the past year and honestly answer the following questions:

What have we done well?
What have we tried to do well?
Where did we not try hard enough?
What did we do badly or fail to do?
On what things do we need to concentrate going forward?
What are the things we need to improve?
What are the things that each of us needs to learn?

While Drucker acknowledged that perfection continued to elude him, the exercise provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate and re-establish priorities, reshape expectations, and set new goals for improving performance in the new year.
To reflect and be empowered by the answers is part of being on a path to be remarkable.
Have a wonderful year!

Q&A with Chris Taylor of

Chris Taylor spends his days working to change the world of work – one conversation at a time – through his company’s flagship program, Actionable Conversations, as well as the book summaries and thought leader interviews at
Founded by Chris is 2008, started off as a passion project and has since turned into something much bigger. On his site, you will find access to over 1000 summaries of business books in bite-size format, all for free. Each summary consists of a brief overview of the book, one key message, and two ways you can easily integrate that message into your life in five minutes or less.
Below are Chris’s thoughts on the importance of building relationships in the workplace, getting the most value out of a book, and his takeaways from spending an entire year reading a book a week.
Paul: You are a big advocate of relationships, especially at work, and say they are the #1 engagement factor. What are some best practices that you’ve learned over the years?
Chris: When we consider the fact that we spend more waking time with our colleagues than we do with our spouse on most given days, it’s wild to think how little time we spend proactively cultivating relationships at work. Beyond the transactional “I need this, you need that” interactions, one of the simplest things we can do to improve relationships is to engage in what my business partner refers to as “middle talk” – something that lives between the “small talk” about weekend activities and discussing the weather and the “big talk” about life purpose, deep desires, etc. Middle talk, then, is about the work we do, the impact we’re having (both with external stakeholders and our immediate working groups). Structuring in as little as one hour of “middle talk” conversation per month can help a team feel more connected and better heard, understood, and appreciated by their peers. This, in turn, drives employee engagement.
Paul: What is the best way to get people to value conversation and make it a priority?
Chris: Like most good habits (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.) the true value is experienced, not told. We recommend that clients make the first three conversations mandatory, with a conversation from the outset that engaging in these conversations will be a personal choice… after each person clearly understands the value (or lack thereof) that comes from the regular interaction. Frame it from the outset – we’re going to have three conversations over the next three months as a group… then we can decide (individually and as a group) if there’s value in continuing to have them. From what we’re seeing right now, 92 percent of teams decide to continue the conversations after those first three. The value of conversation is a fundamentally human need… we just need to be reminded of that sometimes.
Paul: In 2008, you decided to read one personal development book a week for an entire year. What were some unexpected outcomes of this project?
Chris: There were a couple major advantages for me in that project. First and foremost, I was amazed by how many other people gravitated to the idea. Not the idea of “reading” a book a week, per se (lots of people have done that or more), but in the act of applying one concept from each book to my life and/or business. We live in a time of information overload – there’s already, freely available, way more content than any one of us could consume in a lifetime. The value is not so much in knowledge collection so much as it is in knowledge application. Others saw value in the logic of consuming less but applying more and chose to engage in the conversation, which led to the business that is now
The second outcome from the project was a natural connection to a world of thought leaders and passionate content experts. As I finished each book I would write the author, thanking them for their work and sharing a link to the Actionable Summary I had created with my key takeaway from their book. No ask. Just a connection and stated appreciation. As a result, I was fortunate enough to forge some great connections, many of which have expanded into deeper relationships and friendships today. Thinkers like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Susan Cain, Sir Ken Robinson, Simon Sinek and more were gracious enough to invite me into their homes and professional circles. Those connections have heavily influenced my life and business practices.
Paul: One big takeaway I’ve read was that “ideas are only valuable when applied.” What made you come to this conclusion? And are Actionable Books reviews a product of this belief?
Chris: When I started the “book/week” project in 2008, I was a year off the heels of a failed business venture that had sent me down a pretty dark path. Over the course of 2007 I consumed business and personal development books at a voracious pace – three or four a week… but nothing was changing. I was learning a lot, but my life was the same as it had been at the beginning of the year. I realized (around September) that while reading might be fun/interesting/distracting (pick an adjective), unto itself it didn’t create value. It was only through the act of applying what I’d learned that I could make any difference in my life. So, on the dawn of 2008, I decided to change my strategy – (a) slow down the reading pace, (b) identify the key concept from each book that I wanted to practice, (c) build a clear test activity that I could repeat daily for the week, and (d) communicate the plan with a group of individuals who could hold me accountable to the exercise. Then I was able to proactively reinvent the way I interacted with the world.
Paul: What has been your favorite book to review?
Chris: Tough call. I’m a big believer that the right book at the right time for the right person has the power to unlock untold latent potential. So I’d be hesitant to recommend or comment on one specific book for the content’s sake. That said, I remember reading Steve Farber’s Greater Than Yourself shortly after meeting Steve at his home in San Diego. Live texting with him while I was reading the book was pretty memorable. It added a whole new dimension to the book.
Paul: Can you give us some advice on the best way to get value out of a book?
Chris: Don’t get caught up in trying to suck all the value from the book. A well-researched, well-written book will have 15+ gems that you could apply. But you won’t. Not all of them, at least. Better to focus on the one thing that you want to apply from the book. Write it down. Commit to a time frame and a new habit. Try it out and reflect. One idea applied well is infinitely more impactful than a lot of “maybe someday I’ll use that.”

Q&A with Jeremie Kubicek

Sometime around the end of the 20th century, busyness became not just a way of life, but a badge of honor for most Americans. In fact, the busier you are, the faster you work, the more you can multitask – the better. That is how our society now measures competence and success. If you’re busy, you’re important.
Yet leadership expert Jeremie Kubicek would argue that we’re measuring the wrong thing. It’s not about how busy you are, but rather feeling present and productive in every aspect of your life.
I completely agree and so I was delighted to have the chance to speak with him about his new book, 5 GEARS: HOW TO BE PRESENT AND PRODUCTIVE WHEN THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME. In it, he presents a revolutionary method to not only grow your relational intelligence, but increase your daily impact as well.
Now I know what you’re thinking. And no, you’re not too busy to make a change – it’s time to be intentional about the way you live and work in the world!
Here’s my conversation with Jeremie:
The 5 Gears are:

Paul: Thank you for your time.  Let’s start with how you came to write this book—what was the moment when it became clear that this was wanted and needed?
Jeremie:  When we were living in the UK, I was noticing differences in the way my British business partner and I lived our lives. I needed a metaphor to explain and decided to use the manual stick shift to make a point of how at times we were both in the wrong gear at the wrong time and our relational or emotional intelligence at times was not automatic.
Paul:  I think that for many of my clients, the socializing piece would be outside of their comfort zone. How do you coach people who just aren’t into one of the gears?
Jeremie:  Many people despise the social mode (3rd Gear) because they are either introverts and fear what others might ask them as they are rather quite shy, or are a bit arrogant thinking that they are wasting time hearing about other people’s vacations or kids or work, etc. 3rd Gear, social space, is actually the place where people get to try you on. If you negate it then you are actually hurting your influence and reputation because you are hindering the impression others have of you.
Paul:  Regarding the 5th gear, how can people break the compelling appeal of technology and find more time for their focused zone?
Jeremie:  5th Gear is simply the focus gear. For some of us technology actually helps us and for others it traps us into overwork. I have found that creating 5th Gear times on my calendar actually help me move in and out more effectively.
Paul:  Regarding the 4th gear, I’m not a big proponent of multi-tasking. Why do you feel it is important?
Jeremie:  Whether you feel 4th gear is important or not, it simply is. Most of us have customers to call, bills to pay, meetings to have, etc. Multi-tasking simply is what occurs in our task driven world. The secret is to being able to manage it without getting sucked in to its vortex.
Paul:  Regarding the 3rd gear, I’ve always admired people who had the ability to be present to one person at a time in social settings—people who seemed to put the rest of the world on hold while they spoke with me. How can we all achieve this? For people who tend to listen first and speak second, what advice do you have for those who worry about not having anything interesting to say?
Jeremie:  The simplest way I know how to do this is to be interested before being interesting. Most people are thinking about what they will say and miss what others have said. By being focused on being interested first it gives you a chance to ask simple questions like, “where are you from? what do you like to do for fun? etc.” Asking a great question can change the entire view of you from others.
Paul: Regarding 2nd gear, I like your approach much better than trying to achieve the elusive goal of work life balance. How much time should people target for this gear? I know we are all different and our situations are different, but what would be your target for people trying to be fully present with family and friends?
Jeremie:  To connect with others is something that should just naturally happen. If, for instance, I am meeting with someone and we have a lot in common then considering that we both have time, it should naturally move into connect mode (2nd Gear).
Paul: Regarding 1st gear, please share your thinking about both rest and about recharging.
Jeremie:  We all need rest and yet 50% of people don’t seem to get it, because they either don’t know how or are not disciplined enough to make it happen. It is important to know if you recharge by time alone (introvert) or recharge with others (extrovert).
Paul: Effective people seem to have this capacity to observe themselves—where they can see themselves present or interact with others.  You seem to be pointing at that ability in your book. How might people begin to slow down and develop this capacity?
Jeremie:  The key to self-awareness and learning how to be both present and productive, is to know your weaknesses (worst gears) and to shift into the right gear at the right time. I have had to create trigger points or markers that help remind me of what gear to be in. Also, my wife and I have created a joint calendar to decide as a family what gear we should be in at different times of the day.
Paul:  Lastly, for the people who are not relationship oriented, what is your best argument that relationships might be all we have to really make life work?
Jeremie:  Intellect is important and yet in today’s economy, many people can now gain knowledge through the internet and courses. Relational intelligence is a competitive advantage. Most people know that. Unless you have to, most people want to only work with people they like. Relationships give you opportunity and fulfillment. For those that are maybe socially inept there are things you can do that we share in the 5 Gears book. For those that don’t have time, they are actually undermining themselves and may not be aware of it.

Bestselling author Jeremie Kubicek is co-author of 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time and co-founder of GiANT Worldwide, a global company dedicated to transforming and multiplying leaders and teams. Follow him on Twitter at @jeremiekubicek.

Are You Respectful in Your Interactions?

Kent Nerburn, in Letters to My Son, said that you need two things for a relationship to endure: You need the ability to laugh together. And you need to respect how your partner deals with the rest of the world.
I love this because it reminds us to be lighter and more accepting of invitations to enjoy life and the people around us. Nerburn is also pointing out that how we interact with the world matters. People notice how we treat others and the world in general.
Friends, family, and colleagues, in particular, notice when we do not meet their expectations for interacting with others. And just as important, if we act in ways that are consistent with our own values, standards, and beliefs for being in the world, we will be happier.
Here are some traits to reflect upon. Then take a minute to ask yourself the questions. It will give you a great idea of your current mindset, and how you interact with the rest of the world.

Treating people respectfully regardless of their position or relationship (Are you gracious?)
Being ethical (Are your standards high and consistent?)
Being loyal to those not present (Do you undermine or gossip about others?)
Choosing to engage in conversations that add value (Are your conversations worth having?)
Choosing language that expresses respect (Are you civil, courteous?)
Keeping the confidences of others (Are you discreet and mindful about what others share with you?)
Being open (Are you easy to talk to and willing to consider new ideas, questions, and views?)
Being responsive (Do you get back to people quickly when they leave messages or invitations for you?)
Being aware of others (Do you notice people who are not included or participating?)
Using simple courtesies (Do you say please, thank you?)
Respecting other people’s time (Do you ask if this is a good time to talk or avoid making unnecessary requests?)
Giving your word and keeping it (Do you follow through on your commitments?)

The good news? If you’re not happy with your answers, 2015 is just around the corner. In fact, I can’t think of a better time than the New Year to hit the reset button, to begin anew.
So whether you’re catching up with a childhood friend during the holidays or simply passing someone on the sidewalk, remind yourself of the traits above. Be conscious of thoughts, and your actions.
Dave Barry said it simply: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.”