The Game of Life is Won Behind the Scenes

"The glory and glamour come after the grunt work."
- Jeffrey Fox

My wife recently won ribbons for a quilt she made. It looked beautiful as it was displayed at the Quilt Show. What people didn’t see was her working alone in her sewing room hour upon hour doing tedious and detailed work.

Any time you see the work of a great musician, author, or athlete - know that you are seeing the tip of the iceberg. What happens below the surface (or behind the scenes) is what really determines greatness.

When I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, I saw the original lyrics of some of the greatest songs of all time. They were hand written on a plain sheet of paper and the writing looked like chicken scratch.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, speaks at length of the laborious process of writing a crummy first draft then editing it over and over.

John Wooden's UCLA basketball team won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. They conditioned themselves so well in practice, that late in games when the opposing team was tired, they ran the opposition off the floor.

"When you work hard in silence, success will make the noise."

Talent is important, but not nearly as important as discipline and  persistence. 

In what area of life do you want to be great? How will you get there? 
•    Not by dawdling. 
•    Not by dabbling. 
•    Not by being distracted by trivia. 

Do you want to be in great shape? It will take consistent, disciplined action over an extended period of time.  Do you want to deliver a great presentation? It will take a lot of thought, preparation and practice.

Success and excellence come from training and discipline more often than talent or a lightning bolt of creativity. If you learn to be disciplined, you don’t have to wait around for motivation – just get to work. 

Learn to give your best behind the scenes and you will be rewarded publicly. 

"Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
- Thomas Edison

Play Offense: 4 Ways to Move from Surviving to Thriving

"The best way to predict the future is to create it."
– Peter Drucker

Many people live their lives hoping to ‘get by.’ They hope it will be a good year financially. They hope they don’t get laid off. They hope their kids turn out all right. They hope they don’t mess up in a job interview. 
One of the best things you can do is to decide to live on offense. Living on offense means you make things happen. You are not going to sit back and hope for the best. You are going to move some things. You are taking the steering wheel of your life. 
The #1 habit of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is ‘Be Proactive.' That's the proper placement. Everything starts from there.
Here are four ways you can move from living on defense to living on offense.

Practice Positive Discontent

We should be grateful for all the good things in life, to count our blessings. Gratitude is a very healthy emotion. But there is no reason why we can’t be thankful for all that we have, while we pursue improving our lot in life. While gratitude is healthy, complacency is not. When you become complacent, you coast. And the only direction you can coast is downhill.

Pursue Excellence

Excellence is a lot more fun than mediocrity. Aim high. Don’t think about getting by, think about nailing it! When I have a big speaking engagement, my thought pattern is not “I hope I don’t screw up.” I am a person of faith, so I recite a phrase by the Apostle Paul, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” We need to do more talking to ourselves and less listening to our self-doubting voices. You can’t thrive tentatively.


"The story of the human race is the story
of people selling themselves short."

– Abraham Maslow


View Life as an Adventure 

Try new things. Explore. If you happen to be somewhere you don’t necessarily want to be, (the opera, an infection control meeting, etc.) become curious. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else, decide to be in the moment and learn something new. If your plans don’t go as planned, be flexible. Adjust. If you make a mistake, learn from it and do it better next time.

Make the Best of Any Situation

Despite being proactive, much of what happens to us is still out of our control. We need to decide to make the best of any situation. When adversity strikes, make the best of it. When change is required, make the best of it.

This also goes for positive situations. Years ago I was asked at the last minute to attend a conference in Chicago. The person making the travel arrangements told me, “Don’t tell anyone, but the hotel was completely booked except for the Presidential Suite.” When I arrived at the room, I couldn’t believe how big and luxurious it was. My initial thought was, “I don’t feel comfortable here. I am so out of my element.” Then I decided that I will likely never have this opportunity again, so I took it all in and acted like an important person for 3 days.
Some people think the goal of life is to arrive safely at death. Life is meant to be lived large and to the fullest. Not irresponsibly, but positively and joyfully. 
Average to excellent. Surviving to thriving. Defense to offense.
Make your move.

The One Powerful Secret to Goal Setting

When the why is powerful enough, you can figure out the how.

Most of us have heard all the rules about goal setting. Goals must be specific. Goals must be measurable. Goals must have a deadline. These guidelines are useful. 

But I have found the most powerful practice in goal setting is writing down the ‘why’ behind the goal. This element is strangely missing in most of the literature around goal setting.

We, as humans, are purpose-driven beings. We are engineered and function best when we are on mission. But the fuel behind effective goal setting is understanding, first and foremost, the why you want to achieve a certain goal. Let me give you some examples. 

Right now I am working on three goals. I will share them with you, along with the ‘why’ behind them.

Goal #1: 
Write a book on Employee Engagement and finish it by August 31st.


  • My content gets distributed to a wider audience.
  • My content lives beyond me.
  • I gain greater credibility in my field.
  • It leads to more and better opportunities.
  • It helps crystallize my thinking on the subject.

Goal #2:
Lose 20 pounds by May 31st.

(I started on January 1st. I’m halfway there but slightly behind schedule.)


  • Health - help prevent diabetes, have more energy, live a long and vibrant life for my family’s sake and, hopefully, enjoy grandkids in the future.
  • Increase self-confidence - increased self-discipline leads to increased self-confidence. (Internal Reasons)
  • Look better. Clothes fit better. Increased credibility in my field. (External Reasons)

Goal #3:
Learn to play piano


  • It will be a healthy, emotionally replenishing hobby.
  • It will tap into my creative side.
  • It will challenge me intellectually.
  • It is a hobby I can continue throughout the rest of my life.

I have done a lot of goal setting in my life. But only recently did I discover the importance of being clear on the why. The 'why' is the fuel that powers the how.

I have created a simple Goal Worksheet that includes three sections, 

  • The Goal
  • Why? Reasons for the goal
  • How? Actions to take to achieve the goal

It’s a simple, but powerful tool that can help you in your journey to live life with intention, purpose and power.

What's your why?

Download it here.


Living on Purpose: 5 Powerful Reasons to Set Goals

“The world makes way for a person who knows where they are going.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nobody ever wanders into greatness. Successful people live with intention and purpose. They decide what is important and go after it. They are proactive. 

Setting and moving toward a goal works in harmony with how we are built as humans. We are innately purpose-driven beings. 

The first step to living on purpose is setting goals.

Here are 5 reasons you should set goals:

1. Goals Give Clarity.

It’s been said if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. When you set a clear goal, it is like putting a destination in your GPS. You decide exactly what your destination is. When you take the wrong road while using your GPS, it will steer you back in the right direction. Goals also let you know when you get off course so you can get back on track.

2. Goals Give Focus.

Light diffused is not very powerful, but light focused becomes a laser that can cut through steel. There is power in concentration. Being single-minded helps you accomplish things faster and with higher quality.

3. Goals Give Motivation.

Goals create a structural tension in the mind. Once you set a goal, your mind wants to close the gap from where you are to where you want to be. Right now I have a specific weight goal. I may not always make the right choice regarding exercise or eating, but that goal is always ‘top of mind’ and tempers my behavior.

4. Goals Give Feedback.

If your goal is specific, as it should be, it will give you feedback on your progress. If you have a goal to exercise 4 times a week and you are actually working out 2 times a week, that is pretty clear feedback. You know exactly where you stand in regard to your goal.

5. Goals Give Fulfillment.

We function best and are happiest when we are moving toward a goal. There is nothing more rewarding than deciding what is important in life and then using our time, talent and energy in pursuit of what’s important. 

Research indicates that only 8% of people have clear goals and only 3% have them written down. Be the exception.

"Nothing can add more power to your life than concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets." - Nido Qubein

I have created a very simple goal worksheet. It has three elements:

  • What? A place to write the goal.
  • Why? A place to list the reasons why you desire to achieve the goal.
  • How? Action steps to take in order to achieve your goal.

Download it for free here.


The Whole Package - Warmth and Strength

A few years ago I came across a simple but profound concept. Successful people have a combination of Warmth and Strength.
Some people are high in the area of relationship building, while others are intensely driven and task-oriented. I believe a person can be both. On a scale of 1-10, desire to be a 10 in Warmth and a 10 in Strength.

I like the imagery of the iron hand in a velvet glove because I think we should lead with Warmth. As others get to know us, our inner Strength will be revealed.


Here are some thoughts on how to exhibit both Warmth and Strength.

* Be welcoming and cheerful to others. Make others feel comfortable, put them at ease.
* Express appreciation and encouragement. Send thank you notes. Brag about others. Let others know you believe in them.
* Be kind. Treat restaurant servers, housekeepers, cashiers, etc. with uncommon courtesy.
* Remember and use people’s names. People have an unconscious, positive, emotional reaction at the sound of their name.
* Be empathetic. Call a friend to check on their job search. Ask about their mother who just moved into a nursing home.
* Be others-oriented. Take an interest in others. Don’t always bring the conversation back to you. Be a good listener.
* Invest in others. Willingly share your knowledge and expertise with others.

* Practice self-discipline. Learn to do what you should do, whether you feel like it or not. Finish the project even though you are tired. Hit the gym when you want to relax.
* Step into difficult conversations. Address issues with the person involved rather than complaining about them to everyone else.
* Have the courage of your convictions. Give your opinion in a meeting, even if it is unpopular or everyone else seems to be going in a different direction. When a group is speaking poorly of someone, let them know what you see that is good in the person.
* Develop a set of personal core values. Some suggestions include integrity, courage, discipline, and focus.
* Refuse to be intimidated. Be respectful of everyone but know that, no matter how much money or how high a position another person has, they are no better than you.
* Be resilient. Bounce back from setbacks. Persevere through obstacles. If you are criticized, evaluate the feedback but don't let it affect your self-worth.

As you go through your day, practice situational awareness. There will be times you will need to project warmth. There will be times when you will need to step up with your strength. It's what successful people do.