Listening To Music While Working Can Be Distracting

Young man working at computer with headphones on
Young man working at computer with headphones on | Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez

I’ve heard college students and even business professionals claim that listening to music while working made them more productive. While it’s true that music can lift your mood and give you a relaxed focus, it can also decrease your performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

So when can music improve performance? Annie Murphy Paul, in an article in, wrote “Music can improve performance when a well-practiced expert needs to achieve the relaxed focus necessary to execute a job he’s done many times before.” For example, surgeons often listen to music while they’re performing surgeries and they’re more effective.

The irony, however, is that while the surgeons’ preferred music helped them, the music was distracting to others who work alongside them, such as the anesthetists.

When you are doing repetitive or routine tasks (e.g., folding laundry or filing papers), listening to music can make it less boring. But when you need to perform cognitively demanding tasks, music can actually be distracting. What’s more, singing along to the music may further increase the distraction.

The message is this:

“When you need to give learning and remembering your full attention, silence is golden.” -Annie Murphy Paul

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Link – Listening to Music While Working: Does It Hamper Productivity?

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community. lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant


BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011).

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. Retrieved from

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Job Crafting: Shape, Mold, and Redefine Your Job

In his book, Drive (2011), Daniel Pink wrote that one of the motivating factors for employees is having the autonomy over four areas of work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Pink called these the four Ts: employee’s task, time, technique, and team.

When I was working for a school system overseas in the Northern Mariana Islands, serving the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, I came up with the idea of creating a crisis management workshop. Because there was no such thing in my organization as a 15 percent time (like 3M) or 20 percent time program (like Google), I crafted my job by integrating the crisis management training project into my official job duties.

Job crafting is “actions that employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 180). Job crafting is what workers do to redefine and reimagine their job to make it more personally meaningful to them (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013). Job crafting is initiated by the employee, from the bottom up, and not by the manager from the top down.

There are three types of job crafting techniques: task, relational, and cognitive.

Task crafting [Job crafting through changing tasks] is when employees change their formal job responsibilities by either adding or dropping tasks; by changing/altering the tasks; or the time and effort devoted to different tasks (e.g., “a tech-savvy customer service representative offering to help her colleagues with their IT issues”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Relational crafting [Job crafting through changing relationships] involves altering how, when, or with whom employees interact in the process of performing their job duties (e.g., “a software engineer forming a collaborative relationship with a marketing analyst”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Cognitive crafting [Job crafting through changing your perceptions] is when employees alter the way they perceive the tasks and relationships that comprise their jobs (e.g., “a ticket salesperson seeing the job as an essential part of providing people with entertainment, not just processing orders”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

While the idea of job crafting evokes images of positive benefits (to the employee and the organization employing that individual), it’s worth noting that job crafting can be negative for the organization. Job crafting is positive when the altered meaning of work and the new identities lead to behaviors that align an employee’s work patterns with the organization’s objectives. “However, if job crafting altered connections to others or task boundaries in ways that were at odds with organizational objectives, job crafting could harm rather than enhance organizational effectiveness” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 195).

David Sturt, an executive vice president for O.C. Tanner, shared an interesting story about Ted Geisel and job crafting in a Forbes article.

In the 1950s, “Dick and Jane” books that many schools used were very dry and boring. There weren’t any storyline only illustrations of kids and simple words reused over and over throughout the book.

That all changed when Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, an illustrator pal of William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, redefined and shaped his job into a more meaningful role and, ultimately, “changed the world of children’s books” (Sturt, 2013).

William challenged Ted (better known as Dr. Seuss) to take 225 vocabulary words that every six-year-old knows and then come up with a story that even a first-grader can’t stop reading. Ted’s talent was as an artist, having already done many children’s books. However, he had only drawn for books that were much longer and never with the limitations such as those set by William (Sturt, 2013).

But rather than refusing or giving up, Ted used that opportunity to reimagine children’s books, reframing his job as a storyteller and illustrator. Initially, Ted thought he could finish quickly, but it took him a year and a half to work within the parameters given to him, dealing with one- or two-syllable words and few verbs (Sturt, 2013).

Intent on creating something great, he told himself that if he could just find two words that rhyme, that would be his book. And find them he did.

The two words Ted found that rhymed? Cat and Hat.

“When Ted Geisel (now known as Dr. Seuss) published The Cat In The Hat in 1957, children’s literature was changed dramatically for the better. It was the first successful book that did not talk down to children. It had wacky illustrations, humor, sarcasm, rhythm, character development, and a story line. There was tension and resolution. The cat challenged authority. The children in the story learned a lesson. It was silly, oddball, and unexpected. Gone were the soft illustrations of Dick pulling Spot in a wagon. Instead, Ted’s book had a cat in a top hat, a know-it-all fish, and two blue-haired ‘Thing’ that made a mess of everything. It was different” (Sturt, 2013).

People, young and old, loved it. But what’s especially revolutionary was that the book was instrumental in promoting phonics as a replacement for rote memorization (Sturt, 2013).

“Imagine the loss to the world if Ted had seen William’s challenge as just another job with unreasonable constraints to crank out; if his eyes weren’t open to new possibilities; and if he didn’t have the mindset to do a little job crafting” (Sturt, 2013).

My own job crafting story involved all three of the job crafting techniques (task, relational, and cognitive [Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013]). I altered my job responsibilities to include crisis management and crisis intervention training in the school (task crafting). I reached out to and partnered with a group of school counselors and, along with a half-dozen counselors, started a Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meeting and Training program (relational crafting). Finally, I began to think of myself and my job as a liaison between what was happening at the school-level and what the counselors and administrators were dealing with and my responsibility to assist each school, the school system, and the local community (cognitive crafting).

The impetus for my job crafting came from a frustration with the lack of crisis management training for the schools. Countless conversations with colleagues in and outside the school system coupled with my own observations and experience led to an undeniable conclusion — at least for me — which is that someone needed to start a crisis management workshop and that someone was me. Of course, this was nothing new. Those who live and work on the islands have talked and heard others talk about the need to have some type of crisis management training. The BIG difference, however, is that I not only talk about a problem. I also suggest a solution and then do everything in my power to make that solution work.

As I detailed in my post, Less Talk More Action, there were many challenges and naysayers, but something inside me moved me to keep pressing forward and find creative ways to gain buy-in for my idea.

This crisis management training project was not required nor was it expected of me in my role. But I knew that it would greatly benefit students, teachers, school staff, and the overall school system if we were able to implement this nonviolent crisis intervention workshop.

I would spend nights and weekends absorbed in my project. It was exhilarating and the more I devoted myself, the more energized I became. It truly was intoxicating!

As a result of my being able to work on my own project and select my own teammate, and as validation for my efforts and achievements, I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the CNMI Mental Health Planning Council and even received a Letter of Appreciation from the Executive Director at the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Anyone who’s ever worked on their own project and see it through (from defining the initial problem to the project launch) will tell you the euphoria and sense of accomplishment (and relief) they feel. Beyond any public recognition, accolades, and thanks is the feeling that you did something worthwhile.

Pink said there are three essential elements that motivate us:

1. Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives.
2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

My time working abroad in the Northern Mariana Islands and the crafting of a crisis management training program into my job was one of the most satisfying times in my life (professionally, emotionally, and socially). The ability to have significant control (i.e., autonomy) over what I did, when I did it, how I did it, and with whom I did it was liberating. In addition, what further motivated me was the need to be better at my job and learn new skills and thinking (i.e., mastery). Finally, changing the way I perceived my job role and building new relationships helped me achieve my desire to serve the needs of the children in the school system and the local community (i.e., purpose).

Takeaway: Don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference through your job because you absolutely can. Regardless of what you do or what your position might be in an organization, you can always shape and redefine your job to make it more meaningful. Make sure you do what’s expected of you in your role, but then take the chance to branch out and find creative ways to add something new or different, something that benefits your colleagues, your department, your organization, and your clients.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


3M. Time to Think. Retrieved from

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job Crafting and Meaningful Work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dr. Seuss. (2015). The website. Retrieved from

Goetz, K. (2011, February). How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo. Retrieved from

Google. 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter: “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders. Retrieved from

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Sturt, D. (2013, June). ‘Job Crafting’: The Great Opportunity In The Job You Already Have. Forbes. Retrieved from

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

Stop Telling People You’re a “Thought Leader” Because You’re Not

Is Thought Leadership Old Wine In New Bottles?

There are certain words/phrases that irk me to no end — thought leader or thought leadership is one of them. I cringe every time I see the words “thought leader” or “thought leadership” on a website or by a person’s name.

David Brooks wrote a satirical, op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2013 titled, “The Thought Leader.” Describing the life of a “thought leader,” Brooks wrote:

“[The thought leader] doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. . . .Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention.”

Origin of Thought Leadership

Alexander and Badings (2012) explained in their book “#Thought Leadership Tweet” that the term “thought leaders” originated from Joel Kurtzman while he was editor for Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine. In “Thought Leaders,” Kurtzman traveled the world for two years, interviewing 10 (2 were interviewed by Glenn Rifkin, the book featured 12) leaders (e.g., executives, authors, professors) from across the globe on issues related to business strategy, growth, and HR.

Old Wine In New Bottles

Merely wrapping, repackaging, or pouring old wine into a new bottle does not make it “new wine.” It only means you’re reusing or repackaging an old or existing idea and calling it new.

If you read a thought leader’s writings today, you will rarely find references or citations to ideas he or she borrowed from. These thought leaders tend to take credit for ideas that are, in fact, not new but rather have been around for decades.

For these individuals, their notion of thought leadership is pouring old wine into a new bottle and calling it new wine. Giving themselves the label of being a thought leader and selling this idea to others adds to their pseudo credibility.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be regarded as a thought leader?

What (and Who) Is a Thought Leader?

“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.” -Liz Alexander and Craig Badings

Many consultants are calling themselves thought leaders in the hopes that others might view them as trusted advisors, experts, or even futurists. However, “‘thought leader’ is not a position you choose to adopt, it is bestowed on you by others” (Alexander and Badings, 2012, p. 14).*

*And yet, ironically, after writing that the title “thought leader” is bestowed upon us by others, Alexander and Badings then said, “individual thought leaders are in plentiful supply” but because companies struggle to establish their thought leadership, that was the reason for them [Alexander and Badings] to write a book to help organizations design and implement a thought leadership campaign (their “proven, five-stage ‘Thought Leadership BluePrint.’”).

Not Thought Leaders, Thought Regurgitators

No matter how hard people convince themselves they’re a thought leader, in all likelihood, they’re not. Most people are not thought leaders. Regurgitating old ideas and gift-wrapping them using fancy, new decorative paper (no matter how nice) does not change the fact that you have not come up with a unique and innovative idea.

I love this quote from an article by Cheryl Kim in the Financial Post.

[M]ost people talking about thought leadership have no clue what it means. And most content labeled as ‘thought leadership’ is actually missing the elements of both ‘thought’ and ‘leadership’. -Cheryl Kim

She goes on to say:

“Thought leaders are defined as such because they articulate a problem about which others haven’t spoken, or because they present a novel approach to solving it. Thought leaders change the way people think and what they do. The best thought leaders are actually trying to address a problem or issue at hand — not just talk about it.” -Cheryl Kim

In their coverage of organization development and summarizing the thinking of some OD leaders, William Rothwell and Roland Sullivan (2005) said this:

“[M]uch of contemporary thinking is not truly new and is a trendy version of previous ideas and practices rather than breakthrough in nature” (p. 178).

In his book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, Haslam (2004) quoted McGregor as saying:

“What sometimes appear to be new strategies – decentralization, management by objective, consultative supervision, ‘democratic’ leadership – are usually but old wine in new bottles” (p. 231, citing Pinder, 1984, p. 42).

Are Curators of Ideas & Synthesizers of Information Thought Leaders?

Dorie Clark, in an HBR article, cites Des Dearlove (co-founder of Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers) in explaining that some thought leaders are actually curators of ideas and synthesizers of information:

Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman [are] examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”

Some Criteria for “Thought Leadership”

Daniel Rasmus wrote a nice article in Fast Company titled, “The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership.” In it, he outlined 11 rules to create and elevate thought leadership:

  1. Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  2. Always give it away.
  3. Have a unique perspective.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Address a specific audience.
  6. Get involved.
  7. Admit what you don’t know.
  8. Make your audience feel smarter.
  9. Market thought leadership like a product.
  10. Hire thought leaders.
  11. Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders.

Takeaway: Calling yourself a thought leader doesn’t make you one, neither does having a fancy degree, certification, or job title.

“Just because you have a degree from a top university, you’re CEO of a company or you are certified to teach a certain topic doesn’t make you a thought leader.” -Denise Brosseau

“Thought Leaders move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.”Denise Brosseau

I love what Denise said about a thought leader needing to be patient while possessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to put themselves and their reputation on the line:

“[N]ot just anyone can be a thought leader. Thought leadership takes time (sometimes years); knowledge and expertise in a particular niche; a certain level of commitment and a willingness to buck the status quo or the way things have always been done.”Denise Brosseau

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Alexander, L., & Badings, C. (2012). #Thought Leadership Tweet. Cupertino, CA: THINKaha.

Brooks, D. (2013, December). The thought leader. New York Times. Retrieved from

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is a Thought Leader? FAQ. Retrieved from

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is Thought Leadership? Retrieved from

Haslam, S. A. (2004). Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.

Kim, C. (2014, March). Think you’re a thought leader? You’re probably wrong… but here are 3 ways to become one. Financial Post. Retrieved from

Kurtzman, J. (1998). Thought leaders: Insights on the future of business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pinder, C.C. (1984). Work motivation: Theory, issues and applications. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Rasmus, D. W. (2012, December). The golden rules for creating thoughtful thought leadership. Fast Company. Retrieved from

Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Manager and HR


Description (from a Lominger flyer): In 100 Things, three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management provide the research behind the best people practices in an easy-to-read and easy-to-reference format. You’ll find research, discussion and a “so what” section (that tells you what best practices to follow as a result of the research) on the full range of HR people issues you deal with all the time—change management, HR effectiveness, measurement, campus recruiting, career development, feedback, selection, pay practices and more.

I shared before about how I love Half-Price Books. Recently, I discovered other sources of used books – online bookstores! I’ve been impressed by the convenience, price, and quality of the used books I ordered thus far.

Previously, I had written about Lominger’s (now a part of Korn/Ferry) book, FYI For Your Improvement (a development and coaching tool for learners, managers, mentors, coaches and feedback givers). The FYI book can be used in conjunction with 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

100 Things You Need to Know is listed at $44.95 on the Korn/Ferry website (Lominger originally sold it for $49.95), but I bought a used copy online for $4.00 (that includes shipping/handling)!

What I especially like is that the authors have sifted through, pulled together, and presented research that back up HR and people practices, and then (and this is important) translates that research into what it means for you in your HR role – that is, what should you do based on the research findings. I also love the “How sure are we at this time?” a 5-point scale in which the authors indicate how certain they are of their answer/response.

Here’s an example:

What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?

Select One:

    A. There is a strong relationship; the smarter you are, the better manager you can be.

    B. There is a moderate relationship; the smarter you are, the more likely it is you can manage others well.

    C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

    D. There is no relationship; the level of your IQ has nothing to do with how well you can manage others.

    E. There is a negative relationship; the smarter you are the more likely it is that you won’t listen or delegate.

The correct answer is C: There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

How sure are we at this time (based on the research evidence)?
[on a scale of Hint, Suggestive, Trending, Substantial, Solid] — Substantial*

*Substantial: Enough research has been done to feel strongly about the answer, although further research might shade the answer slightly in one direction or the other.

Next, Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich provide summaries of what they’ve found in support of the conclusion they reached. Finally, in the “So what difference do these findings make?” section, the authors share what you should do that’s in line with the research evidence and what are the best practices that can be gleaned from the research findings.

Human resource practitioners and many others will find 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR to be an incredibly useful, reputable, evidence-based, must-have resource. I wish I could get a copy for every HR, OD, and I/O consultant I know.

As Madigan and Dickson stated, citing Denise Rousseau (2007), there “remains a gap between much academic research on the workplace and I-O and HR practitioners’ day-to-day decision making and managers’ daily activities” (Madigan & Dickson, April 2008, p. 72). 100 Things You Need to Know will help bridge this gap by linking practitioners with research and providing them with guidance in performing their day-to-day activities.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Madigan, J., & Dickson, M. W. (April 2008). Good Science-Good Practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 45(4), 67-72.

Rousseau, D. M. (2007). A sticky, leveraging, and scalable strategy for high-quality connections between organizational practice and science. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 1037-1042.

Cajoling and Betraying Trust

The Oxford American Dictionary defines cajoling as “persuad[ing] someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.” It’s another way of describing how we sweet-talk others into doing our bidding.

A damaging consequence of a leader cajoling employees is losing the employees’ trust or confidence in that leader, and in his words and actions. Although they may, initially, trust the leader it often does not take long for employees to recognize that it’s simply deception designed to get them to do what that leader wanted them to do.

“Cajoling employees (i.e., using persuasive tactics) is a poor leadership approach because it’s more about getting what you want and tricking people into listening to you. It’s sleight of hand. Employees might be deceived for a while into thinking they are following you, but they’ll eventually figure it out.” -John Brandon

FYI: For Your Improvement (2nd ed.) tells us betrayal of trust is problematic when we (a) say one thing but mean or do something else, (b) are inconsistent with our words or acts, and/or (c) fail to deliver on our promises or follow through on our commitments (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

Some reasons why a business professional betrays trust include (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998):

  • Wants to avoid conflict
  • Is dishonest, underhanded, devious
  • Has trouble saying no
  • Is disorganized, has poor time management, or is forgetful

Here are two remedies to help you to not lose people’s trust:

(1) Are you conflict-averse? I knew a guy who would (and could) never say no. He was notorious for always saying yes but everyone knew that he actually meant no. Friends would invite him to come hang out with them and he would always say he’ll meet them there, but, without fail, he would never show up. After a while, his friends stopped asking because they knew his hollow promises (to meet them) were never supported by his actions (of showing up). Some people are so worried about offending others that they’ll say yes or commit to something when they actually have no intention of following through.

Here’s something those who are afraid of saying no don’t realize: People will respect you MORE if you say “NO” instead of saying yes and not mean it.

(2) Intentionally saying things to gain an advantage? Another type of betrayers of trust are folks who “know ahead of time that what [they] are saying is not really true or that [they] really don’t think that [way]” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 455). These people “say things [they] don’t mean to gain an advantage or forward a relationship or get some resources” (p. 455).

When we talk about people who say things they don’t mean just to make a sale or to gain some type of advantage, snake oil salesmen or car salesmen quickly come to mind. But, I bet we all know or work with, or for, someone who does this (i.e., say things they don’t mean or make empty promises, etc.). As the FYI book explains, individuals who habitually overpromise (to impress others) and underdeliver on those promises will “lose in the long term because others will learn to discount promises and only measure results” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, pp. 454-455).

Takeaway: In daily life and in the workplace, people trust us to do what we say we’ll do. Human beings expect and demand a certain level of trust in their interactions with one another. When that trust is severed because a person uses sleight of hand to dupe others into carrying out his/her agenda, relationships are damaged, business projects derail, and drama ensues.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Brandon, J. (2014, November 19). How to Stop Making the Most Common Leadership Mistakes |

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress.

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness.

IBM. What is big data?

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off?

Being an Arrogant Know-It-All: A Surefire Way to Derail Your Career

If you listen to people talk, sometimes overtly and other times more subtly, you’ll catch them talking about themselves, bragging about their own skills/abilities, and/or taking credit for things. It’s funny how people will fall in love with their own ideas, methods, and processes. And when they talk about their ideas, which seems to somehow always originate from their own insights (never anyone else’s), it’s as if it’s something miraculous. I am reminded of those TV infomercials which always claim that before this idea or product came along, things were slow, inefficient, miserable, etc. and that because of this “new” idea/discovery things will now be faster, more efficient, wonderful, etc.

In a previous post, I shared about a book called, FYI-For Your Improvement. In it, under the “career stallers and stoppers” section, there’s an entry for arrogance.

Being arrogant is a problem because a person “always thinks he/she has the right and only answer [and] discounts or dismisses the input of others” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 447). Some causes of arrogance include: lack of feedback, like own ideas too much, very smart and successful, and/or poor reader of others (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

“Arrogance is hard to fix for two reasons: It’s hard to get feedback on what the problem specifically is since people hesitate giving arrogant people any feedback, and it’s hard to change since you don’t listen or read the reactions of others well” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 448).

So what are two remedies for arrogance according to FYI (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 449)?

(1) Answers. Solutions. Conclusions. Statements. Dictates. That’s the staple of arrogant people. Instant output. Sharp reactions. This may be getting you in trouble. You jump to conclusions, categorically dismiss what others say, use challenging words in an absolute tone . . . Give people a chance to talk without interruption. If you’re seen as intolerant or closed, people will often stumble over words in their haste to talk with you or shortcut their argument since they assume you’re not listening anyway. Ask a question, invite them to disagree with you, present their argument back to them softly, let them save face no matter what. Add a 15-second pause into your transactions before you say anything and add two clarifying questions per transaction to signal you’re listening and want to understand.

(2) Watch your non-verbals. Arrogant people look, talk and act arrogantly. As you try to become less arrogant, you need to find out what your non-verbals are. All arrogant people do a series of things that can be viewed by a neutral party and judged to give off the signals of arrogance. Washboard brow. Facial expressions. Body shifting, especially turning away. Impatient finger or pencil tapping. False smile. Tight lips. Looking away. Find out from a trusted friend what you do and try to eliminate those behaviors.

In my 20s, I lived and breathed volleyball and, naturally, found myself coaching others. Many sports coaches will tell you that the hardest players to coach are the ones who do not listen to feedback. They might be talented but uncoachable because they think they’re more talented than they actually are or they don’t think the coach can help them improve.

I remember coaching a girl’s volleyball team and almost all the girls on the team were eager or at least quietly listening. As I was talking and sharing tips about volleyball and how to work as a team, I noticed one girl rolling her eyes, a sign of her displeasure of being coached. I tried several times to engage her because I could see that she was skilled in one or two areas but lacking in others. Unfortunately, due to her arrogance she could not accept the fact that she was not as good as she thought she was or that I, the coach, had the coaching talent to help her. She would blow off practicing with the team and when game day rolled around, she struggled. She started making mistakes but would make it seem as if one of the other teammates had messed up. It created a toxic environment and it was just not fun.

Thinking that you know it all is perhaps one of the worst habits for an athlete but I contend it’s an equally harmful habit to have for a coach, employee, or a boss. When I coach, whether it’s coaching a player on the volleyball court or a director (on presentation skills) in the business office, I never say or act like I know it all. No one can possibly know everything, and the more experience and education I acquire the more I realize just how much I truly do not know.

When I see or hear people taking credit for ideas or patting themselves on the back (after blurting out quick solutions, drawing nifty diagrams on flip charts, or regurgitating what they’ve heard from others or read in a book) alarm bells immediately go off in my head. Don’t delude yourself into believing that your own ideas are best or original. Chances are, they’re not. Take time to listen to other people’s ideas and feedback, and you might discover that they, too, have just as many (sometimes the same or even more) bright ideas and magical solutions as you do.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Self-Development – Suggestions for How To Continually Grow and Change

FYI 2nd ed

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, “I love Half Price Books!” This past weekend, I bought a $65.00 book for $1.00 (actually, with my educator’s discount, it was 90 cents)! In this case, it’s a book I’ve been waiting for a while to get my hands on – FYI: For Your Improvement. It’s an older edition (the 2nd edition), but what a bargain. Incredibly, when I compare the wording and text layout of the 2nd edition to the 5th edition (the most recent version which is $95), I actually prefer the 2nd edition. The content (at least for the competency I looked up) is identical, except for a few extra sections here and there. Other than that, I am surprised how similar the 1998 version (2nd edition) is to the 2009 version (5th edition).

For those not familiar with FYI, it is a guide for coaching and development. It’s a reference guide and library. In the 2nd edition, one section lists the 67 competencies alphabetically by chapter. Each chapter contains descriptions, possible causes, and suggested remedies. Another section I like is called “Career Stallers and Stoppers.” There are 19 chapters devoted to this section.

There are many great entries among the 67 competencies in FYI: For Your Improvement, but the one I found interesting and want to share is self-development (competency #54).

According to Lominger International (now a Korn/Ferry Company), a competency is “a measurable characteristic of a person that is related to success at work. It may be a behavioral skill, a technical skill, an attribute (such as intelligence), or an attitude (such as optimism)” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2011, p. 5).

The “remedies” to these 67 competencies “were developed from research on competencies—what experiences teach them, what they look like, what their elements are. They are also tested ideas from working with executives on what’s getting in their way and how to fix it” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009, p. 14).

The content is so well worded—simple, yet powerful and extremely practical—I will quote them verbatim for the self-development competency (from the 2nd edition) so as not to dilute the message.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 302).

For many of us, being unskilled in developing ourselves means a few of the following (many more are listed in the FYI book):

  • Not putting in the effort to grow and change
  • Not doing anything to act on helpful/constructive feedback
  • Knowing what to do, but not acting on it
  • Is arrogant or defensive
  • Refusing to acknowledge shortcomings

Some remedies include (again, these are verbatim from FYI 2nd ed.):

Assessment. First, get a good multi-source assessment, a 360° questionnaire, or poll 10 people who know you well to give you detailed feedback on what you do well and not well, what they’d like to see you keep doing, start doing and stop doing. You don’t want to waste time on developing things that turn out not to be needs.

Next, divide your skills into these categories:

  • Clear strengths – Me at my best.
  • Overdone strengths – I do too much of a good thing – “I’m so confident that I’m seen as arrogant.”
  • Hidden strengths – Others rate me higher than I rate myself.
  • Blind spots – I rate myself higher than others rate me.
  • Weaknesses – I don’t do it well.
  • Untested areas – I’ve never been involved in strategy formulation.
  • Don’t knows – I need more feedback.

Balance your overdone strengths in important areas. If you’re creative, telling yourself to do less of this won’t work – it’s the primary reason for your success to date. The key is to leave it alone and focus on the unintended consequences. (You’re seen as lacking in detail orientation or disorganized.) Get the downside of your strength up to neutral; the goal is not to be good at it, but rather to see that it doesn’t hurt you.

You can also compensate for your weaknesses rather than build the skill. We are all poor at something and beating on it is counterproductive. If you have failed repeatedly at sales, detail work or public speaking, find others who do this well, change jobs, or restructure your current job. Sometimes you can find indirect ways to compensate. Lincoln managed his temper by writing nasty letters, extracting the key points from the letters, tearing the letters up, then dealing with the key points contained in the letter when he regained composure.

Blind spots. Be very careful of blind spots, since you think you’re much better at this than do others. Resist trying challenging tasks involving this skill until you clearly understand your behavior, have a target model of excellent behavior, and a plan so you don’t get yourself into trouble. Collect more data. Ask someone you trust to monitor you and give you feedback each time. Study three people who are good at this and compare what you do with what they do. Don’t rest until you have cleared up the blind spot.

If you can get a hard copy of this incredibly useful guide (FYI: For Your Improvement), I would strongly recommend that you do so. An older edition works just as well as a newer edition. If you are a manager, a mentor, a coach, or you’re just interested in improving yourself, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. I would not pay full price for it though because you can easily find used copies for a fraction of the list price or, if you’re really lucky, you can find a used copy at your local Half Price Books for a $1.00.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2011). The Leadership Machine: Architecture to Develop Leaders for Any Future (10th anniversary edition). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Book Review: What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work


What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work (2014) (by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton) is a short book. Although it’s listed on Amazon at 272 pages, the book is actually about 240-ish pages, of which only 135 pages is for actual reading. The rest of the book, the second half, is composed of a toolkit called “Identity Reference Guide” which I don’t consider to be content to read, only to reference (which I believe there’s an important distinction).

What Motivates Me is very different from Gostick & Elton’s previous books [“The Carrot Principle” (2009), “The Orange Revolution” (2010), and “All In” (2012) — all published by Free Press].

Perhaps it’s just me or my way of reading or how I prefer a book to be laid out, but just as with StrengthsFinder 2.0, I found reading What Motivates Me choppy. It’s interesting to note that both were essentially self-published [StrengthsFinder 2.0 was published by Gallup Press which is owned by Gallup and for which Rath works; similarly, What Motivates Me is published by The Culture Works, the company co-founded by Gostick and Elton]. There is little flow to the storyline or effort to develop and maintain it. Instead, these types of “books” are more like “workbooks.”

The one part I did enjoy (but felt it was too short) was the chapter on job sculpting, which is making small changes in our nine-to-five jobs.

“In searching for a ‘dream job,’ many people feel they have to make a dramatic leap into the unknown. That’s usually not the case; in fact, we found the vast majority of people are able to sculpt their current roles so they can do more of what they love to do and a little less of what they find demotivating” (Gostick & Elton, 2014, p. 66).

Thus, if I were to look at it from that perspective then there’s potential value in reading the 135 pages (which includes some workbook exercises) and taking the “The Motivators Assessment” (done online and requires a unique passcode . . . just like StrengthsFinder 2.0), and then referencing and working through the “Identity Reference Guide” in the second half of the What Motivates Me book.

Summary: What Motivates Me is not a business book and those who mistake it for one may end up very disappointed. It is a career discovery / career development / life-work motivation book, with a layout very similar (almost identical) to Tom Rath’s “StrengthsFinder 2.0” (which had 30 pages of overview and introduction and the rest devoted to covering 34 themes and ideas for action). Those who are interested in discovering what motivates them and how they can leverage their core motivators to better align with their work or college students struggling to decide on a career may find What Motivates Me useful.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results. New York: Free Press.

Gostick, A. & Elton, C. (2009). The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press.

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). The Orange Revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization. New York: Free Press.

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2014). What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work. Kamas, UT: The Culture Works Press.

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

In Chinese: Crisis Does NOT Mean Danger and Opportunity


JFK was wrong. On, a website about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, firmly corrects an American linguistic blunder that interprets the word “crisis” in Chinese as meaning both “danger” and “opportunity.”

“The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.” -Victor H. Mair

While this linguistic faux pas, no doubt, dates much further back, it was perhaps a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy, in Indianapolis on April 12, 1959 that is most memorable. In his speech, Kennedy incorrectly said that, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”

As Professor Mair explains (the three paragraphs below were taken directly from the article Dr. Mair wrote. I did not put them in block quotation because of formatting issues):

[The word] “crisis” (wēijī) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wēi and jī. . . . While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not (italics added for emphasis) signify “opportunity.”

The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary.

If one wants to find a word containing the element jī that means “opportunity” (i.e., a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement), one needs to look elsewhere than wēijī, which means precisely “crisis” (viz., a dangerous, critical moment). One might choose, for instance, zhuǎnjī (“turn” + “incipient moment” = “favorable turn; turn for the better”), liángjī (“excellent” + “incipient moment” = “opportunity” [!!]), or hǎo shíjī (“good” + “time” + “incipient moment” = “favorable opportunity”).

Take Away: It is scary how easily we take things at face value and accept them as “truths” or “facts” without ever doing the proper research.

*For a more comprehensive discussion, please visit Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.


Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis. How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

John F. Kennedy Quote

Victor H. Mair. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania

I Will Teach My Daughter Not to Be Afraid

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

About a month ago, my wife and I became parents for the very first time. We are so blessed to have a healthy baby girl. She is truly a miracle. I joke with my coworkers that my daughter has very strong lungs.

People say that when you become a parent, your perspective changes and, in fact, so does your whole world. They say that you’ll start to see things in terms of what is best for your child (or children). They’re so right.

My wife and I have made a promise to one another that we will teach our daughter to always respect others, to embrace life with open arms, and to live life to the fullest and not be afraid of following her heart.

One thing I have seen often and continue to see is how people live in fear. I’m not talking about fear of bodily harm or other serious fears. I am talking about the self-inflicted state of fear that holds us prisoners and in a state of limbo.

“If you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong decision. That’s all there is to it. There are few guarantees in life. One of them is that you will make lots of mistakes. The worst thing you can do is wimp out and spend your life in suspended animation, refusing to make a choice because it may not be a perfect one.” ~ Nicholas Lore (author of the book “The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success”)

I know of people who talk about owning their own business or moving abroad to live and work or publish an article or write a book. I believe there are many people like this in the world — I was one of these individuals.

When I look at my life and the decisions that I’ve made I realize that life has presented and continues to present me with many choices which I either took or ignored.

I had a choice to attend Baylor University or other colleges. I chose Baylor. During my sophomore year at Baylor, I wanted to become a professor after watching the movie, “Dead Poets Society.” Instead, I chose to remain with pre-med.

I had a choice to study and do well in my pre-med classes. I chose to be lazy and naturally did poorly. When I reached the end of my pre-med classes (almost completing the pre-med program and just months away from taking the MCAT, medical school entrance exam), I had a choice to keep on the same track of medicine or getting off that train. Despite the pain and anguish it caused me, I got off that train because it was the right choice.

I had a choice to attend law school or say no. I chose law school (but I chose out of fear and attended by default because I didn’t know what else to do with my life). I had a choice to study and do well in my law classes. I chose to be lazy and did poorly.

When life showed me all the signs and signals in the world that I was unhappy in my current path in life, I chose to ignore them all and chugged aimlessly along the train tracks of life.

After years of regrets, self-sabotage, and self-doubt, I finally began to listen to my heart and started to choose (even when I was scared) instead of having things chosen for me.

My life changed in December 1996 when I made the conscious decision to go back to school to get a graduate degree in psychology. But it wasn’t until December 2003 (after getting my graduate degree), when I made the conscious decision to apply for a job over 7,000 miles away on a tropical island, that my life truly changed.

In late January 2004, after a 20+ hour flight and traveling almost halfway around the world, I landed on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean . . . and for the next few years experienced some amazing adventures, did some pretty exciting things, and got to see and do something very different.

In 3½ years on Saipan I played beach volleyball with professional players, saw guys husk coconuts with their teeth, flew on airplanes not much bigger than a Hummer, learned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) from an MMA fighter, created my first website, trained over 800 teachers and professionals on Crisis Intervention and Classroom Management, was invited to offer testimony to the CNMI Legislators on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, helped research and edit the CNMI Assisted Outpatient Treatment Act, produced a “School Crisis Response Handbook,” and had my School Crisis Response Training presentation videotaped. Oh, I also met a wonderful woman who, despite my shortcomings, agreed to become my wife.

Life gives you choices. It’s up to each one of us to consciously choose (even when we are afraid). If we don’t, the choices may sometimes be chosen for us or years will go by and we’ll look back with regret because we had missed out on a great opportunity.

When I tell people that I left Texas to live on an island in the Pacific Ocean because I wanted adventure, excitement, and something different, I typically get three reactions: (1) People are amazed and praise me for taking action to follow my heart, (2) People are confused as to why I would ever want to leave where I was living (Dallas, Texas), and (3) People think that I went through some sort of mid-life crisis.

Taking that job in Saipan was, without a doubt, one of the BEST decisions in my life. For years, I talked and lamented about how I had always lived my life vicariously through others. I was a true dreamer but not a doer. I guess my heart simply got tired of my mind’s wanderlust and had a heart-mind talk. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore those yearnings.

It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision for my life. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.

While in Saipan, I met people who talked about wanting to start this or that, but for whatever reason never did. When I proposed my idea for a crisis management training course many of my colleagues dismissed it. I heard many reasons why it would not work. Good thing I love to prove people wrong. So when someone says something will not work and I think it will, I will do everything in my power to make it work (you can read more about how I did that in this article, “Less Talk, More Action—The PAR Technique.”).

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~ Steve Jobs

So I will teach my daughter, when she’s old enough to understand, to not be afraid. I want her to live her life and fall down and get dirty, and then get back up and try again. I want her to always try her best and give her all, no matter how scared she is or how afraid she might be of what others think or say. I want her to choose, instead of having things chosen for her. And most of all, I want my daughter to never be afraid to fall down or fail — because her daddy fell down and failed (and will fall down and fail again) and got back up.

Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. ~George Washington Carver

*This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D., is an organizational consultant and trainer. He works with organizations to train and develop employees, and promote a healthy and productive work environment. You can find him at

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training from Admiral William H. McRaven

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on YouTube (University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address – Admiral William H. McRaven),

This is an inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.

Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie*.”

*For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand.

The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy. There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill: You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission—is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan—Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often . . . [T]ake some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up.”

“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”

“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”


University of Texas at Austin – Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World

Introverts Are Excellent Just As They Are

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on the TED Talk website, Susan Cain: The power of introverts.

Here is a great 19-minute TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Below are excerpts from her speech.

“I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.”

“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half.”

“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.”

“Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

“When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays.”

“Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”

“Culturally we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”

Three Calls for Action:

(1) “Stop the madness for constant group work . . . I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions — you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas . . . But we need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”

(2) “Go to the wilderness . . . I’m not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”

(3) “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase and why you put it there.”

Extroverts: Take things out of your suitcase “every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy.”

Introverts: “You probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase. And that’s okay. But occasionally . . . I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”


TED Talk – Susan Cain: The power of introverts

The Science of People at Work