The US Declaration of Independence says we “are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’ve always wondered about the word “pursuit” in this sentence. Is it a race? A scramble? A competition? Indeed, sometimes, we feel like if we get/achieve a thing, then we’ll be happy!


Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Author John Powell, in his book “Happiness is an Inside Job” asserts that happiness starts with self and is a by-product of ten life tasks or practices:

  1. Accept ourselves as we are
  2. Accept full responsibility for our lives
  3. Try to fulfill our needs for relaxation, exercise, and nourishment
  4. Make our lives an act of love
  5. Stretch by stepping out of our comfort zones
  6. Learn to be “goodfinders”
  7. Seek growth, not perfection
  8. Learn to communicate effectively
  9. Learn to enjoy the good things in life
  10. Make prayer a part of our daily lives

As I read this book, I was delighted to see that I was doing some things well…and that there were opportunities to be more intentional…and thereby be happier. Made complete sense to me!

I don’t think this is a once-and-done book. You’ll want to read it every year or so to serve as a north star to your happiness!

Related Articles:

Ditch New Year’s Resolutions: Create an “Annual Theme”

Book Review: Factfulness Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Personal Branding Bible: Discover Your Fair Advantage Book Review

As a leader, we want to build and strengthen our team. But what if we are actually dividing our team – and we don’t even know it? You may consider using more inclusive language on your team.

We say, “Let’s go, guys. You can do it!” or “Do you know a guy who can do that?”

Last time I checked, I’m a gal; not a guy. Given my military background, I’m not offended when someone uses the term “guys” and I’ve been known to use the term every once in a while. I always considered “guys” to be gender-neutral.

But it isn’t.

You might be thinking, what’s the big deal?

Part of it is the fact that you want to be inclusive – and not all people identify as a guy or a gal. But it goes deeper than that – especially in male-dominated environments. When you say, “Do we have a guy who can do that” – the visual image that comes to mind is a man. So your brain will go in that direction before you consider other options.

Emily Nichols, a colleague who specializes in Human Skills for Technical People, highlighted the importance of choosing your words carefully in her recent TEDx talk

She says, “Changing our language can indeed change our world. My enthusiasm for less-gendered language reflects my desire for a less-gendered world. One where we aren’t held to feminine beauty standards every day, and don’t have to be ‘one of the guys’ to be seen, heard, and valued in the world of work.”

There are so many other (and more effective) terms you can use that are much more inclusive! Nichols suggests “You just drop it. Don’t say ‘guys’ – just leave it out!”

Nichols adds that “other terms are more inclusive – team members, colleagues, awesome people, beautiful humans – or just plain old everyone. Your choice probably depends on the situation (Email? Presentation? Team huddle?) and your personality.”

Professional EmCee Timothy Hyde shares several of his favorites for a group of people: “Colleagues,” “Associates,” and “My friends.” If you are looking for a phrase that has a harmonious cadence to it, try “One and all,” “Students and scholars,” “Family and friends,” or “You delightful people.”

Of course, there are plenty more. Just find the one or two that feels right for you and your audience, or invite your team to come up with their own moniker.

Related Articles:

Ensure Teamwork Among Multinational Teams

Improve Team Communication – As a Speaker and a Listener!

Should Leaders Tell Employees to Stop Using “Gender Inappropriate” Words?

Want to test your team alignment? Try this thought-provoking team activity:

  1. Ask each team member to take a moment to write down a one-sentence description of the organization’s overall strategy. (Note: You can substitute “overall” for “growth,” “talent,” “technology,” etc.)
  2. Then ask each team member to share their one sentence and for all to listen deeply. Notice the similarities and differences without any criticism or judgment.
  3. After all have shared their sentences, debrief what they heard:
    • Similarities?
    • Differences?
    • How aligned are we?
    • How can we become even more aligned?

In my experience, three things happen during this activity:

  1. Everyone pretty much says the same thing, using the same words. In this case, you have great alignment within the team. It also means that your team is sending a consistent message to the rest of the organization.
  2. Everyone is kinda saying the same thing, but not quite the same way. In this case, you are directionally aligned (we all know we are going to XYZ), but how they convey the strategy is up to interpretation. This is a great time to get everyone on board with a consistent understanding and interpretation of the strategy.
  3. Everyone is saying something slightly different. In this case, the team is directionally unfocused. Great opportunity to dial it in and get super clear on the strategy.
  4. There are more differences than similarities. In this case, the team has probably not had a clear conversation about the strategy. Now is the time to put a stake in the ground and declare your strategy!

Try this quick team activity to determine team alignment with your strategy and let me know how it goes!

Related Articles:

Team Building Activity: Make a Mnemonic Device

Team Building Activity: Vacation Themed Decision Making

9-Step Team Assessment of Team Effectiveness

Just because you brainstormed a bunch of good ideas doesn’t mean they are ALL good ideas! One facilitator tool I use to evaluate the worthiness of ideas is the payoff matrix.

The Payoff Matrix model is a fairly simple 2×2 matrix:

  1. Draw the “x” axis from left to right with the left as “low” and the right side is “high.” This signifies the level of effort.
  2. Draw the “y” axis from top to bottom with the bottom as “low” and the top is “high.” This signifies the amount of payoff derived from the successful completion of the idea.
  1. Place your ideas (hopefully, they are on stickie notes!) at the appropriate place within the box.
  2. After all the ideas are on the matrix, draw a line halfway between the axis so that you have created four boxes. Label the boxes:
    • High Payoff, High Effort = Special Effort
    • High Payoff, Low Effort = Business Opportunity
    • Low Payoff, Low Effort = Quick Win
    • Low Payoff, High Effort = Waste of Time!
  1. Discuss your results.

The payoff matrix allows you to take your best ideas and see how you might strategize the timing of the ideas:

  • Obviously, you want to delete your time wasters!
  • As far as special efforts go, I suggest just picking up one at a time. Start with one, and when it gets close to being finished, start working on the other special efforts.
  • Perhaps you’ll want to start with knocking off the quick wins to show the organization that you heard their input and are making visible changes.
  • Or you can focus on the business opportunities, strategizing which ones to start with.

I’m a big fan of using the payoff matrix to help discover the best ideas and strategize when we should focus on each idea.

Related Articles:

The Role of the Meeting Facilitator

How to Brainstorm a List at Your Next Meeting

Try this Process for High-stakes Decision-making

Some people (and organizations) know exactly what they want to achieve. Victoria Labalme’s book, Risk Forward: Embrace the Unknown and Unlock Your Hidden Genius is for those of us who DON’T.

I absolutely adore this book as it gives us permission NOT to have all the answers. To make the perfect plan. To embrace the fog of NOT knowing and work through the insecurities, outer voices, and myths that accompany that gray space.

Because it happens to all of us. At some point in our life, our career, our journey, we find ourselves in a “profound phase of uncertainty. A cloud of “not knowing.” This little but mighty book is the recipe for moving forward despite of – and because of the unknown. To “Risk Forward.”

Labalme encourages us to find our “inner current” which is already inside of us – the throughline of wisdom that runs through everything we do. To be open and curious about the “crimson star” – the possibility, a whisp of an idea. Because “some of the most celebrated companies and creative endeavors didn’t start with complete clarity, a detailed plan, or a five-year goal. They started with an idea, a wisp, a glimmer of a thought, which the person then followed and explored, often through significant periods of self-doubt.”

This book is your companion to guide, encourage, and inspire you during those periods of self-doubt.

Some of my favorite passages include:

  • Trust the idea that can lead to the idea. “If you’re with others, you can simply say, ‘Okay, this may not be right, but it could be the idea that leads to the idea.’ This statement immediately deflects potential judgment.”
  • “Fuse disparate elements together in unusual ways, even if you don’t see an example represented in the world around you.” For example “the manager who loves poetry and starts her team meetings each Monday with a line from one of her favorite poets. People say it inspires them each week.”
  • “Creative acts are not acts of knowing. They are acts of discovery….you start out with a gut sense that something feels worthwhile only to realize it’s shallow and stale. Then you’re lost for a while, not sure where to turn. Only by wrestling through countless…late nights of self-doubt do you find something new. You can’t make a new discovery by following a preprinted map.”
  • When evaluating input, consider three variables: 1. How does it feel? 2. Who is giving the advice? 3. Is it in line with where you think you want to go?
  • Beware of “the danger of creativity by consensus. an original vision gets adjusted by everyone’s vote until it no longer represents anything of true DARING and DISTINCTION.”
  • Just ‘doing something’ is not a good strategy. “When we’re put under pressure, we tend to bypass doing our due diligence.” Sometimes it is best to take a strategic pause for a few days. Respect your indecision and examine why you might be hesitant. It’s okay to say, “It’s too important of a decision to rush.”

I bet there will be other nuggets of wisdom when I read this book during another foggy moment!

Related Articles:

Strategic Planning Trends: The Top 10 to Consider

Book Review: Unreasonable Hospitality

Ditch New Year’s Resolutions: Create an Annual Theme