CHU On Self Leadership – Baby Boomers: Stop Using the C-Word! 

Summary/ Net: Boomers, please stop believing that you “can’t do” things you never mastered before – or better yet – tried without success in the past.  Use “The 5 T’s” to overcome your lack of confidence: Try, Training, The Right Tools, The Requisite Time, and Trial and Error.

I wrote this for three reasons:

  1. Few things frustrate me more than hearing friends, family members, and colleagues say they “can’t” do something when I know they have the capability to learn how to do it.
  2. I recently realized that over the course of my adult life, I have – on multiple occasions – told myself that I “can’t” (or more correctly, “couldn’t,” as these were in the past) do things I later learned to master. A few examples:
  • I thought I couldn’t learn to use a computer, then use Excel, then use “v-lookup” and “pivot tables.” Now, I have completed advanced Excel courses, can create PowerPoint faster than I can talk, and am learning Python.  Similarly, I went from not knowing how to create a simple video to making videos for my nonprofit, policy/ political, and other clients, learning Adobe Premier Pro to do so.
  • I thought I wasn’t handy; couldn’t be trusted to hang a shelf in our apartment. Today, I know I can do finished carpentry, recently building a cabinet that looks like a speaker with a lift to conceal a 70-inch TV in my living room.  I also made a set of bookcases that match the ones built by my friend and excellent carpenter/ contractor “Mr. Wayne.”
  • Although anyone who knows me today has a hard time believing this, not that long ago I thought I couldn’t ride a “drop bar” road bike. So much so that when I started cycling again about 12 years ago, my first purchase was a “flat bar” road bike.  Now, I ride several thousand miles a year on my beloved PARLEE RZ7 – training for endurance cycling events to raise money for research to find a cure for pediatric brain cancer.
  1. I also realized that – living in the 21st century – there are 5 “T’s” we can all use to overcome this lack of self-confidence in our ability to learn how to do most anything: Try, Training, The Right Tools, The Requisite Time, and Trial and Error.

The “5 T’s”

  1. Try

You never know what you can do until you try

– C.S. Lewis

Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”

– Michelle Obama




It’s a trite tautology to say that we fail at 100% of the things we never attempt, but it’s also true.  That said, we have the benefit of living in the 21st century and the “4 T’s” dramatically increase the odds that we can all master new skills and capabilities if we summon the courage to try and take advantage of the resources to help.

  1. Training

Training is everything.”

– Mark Twain

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”                                                                                 –  Henry Ford

While “I don’t know how to do X” or “I’ve never been trained how to do Y” prior to 2008 might have been somewhat acceptable excuses for using the C-Word, that all changed in 2005, when YouTube was created.  Today, YouTube has over 90,000 lectures, tutorials, and courses on a wide range of subjects.  Want to learn how to build a finished carpenter-quality bookcase? Check!  Or to play almost any song on any instrument? Check! Adobe Premiere Pro? Check!

I remember first realizing this when my son Myles started his business making custom grip tape for skateboards in 2011 at age 12.  He sat at our family PC in the kitchen and taught himself how to use Photoshop to turn photos into drawings and then separate the images into individual layers to make stencils for spray painting the color images on the grip tape.  I remember asking Myles why he was using YouTube to learn Photoshop when his skateboarding coach’s wife was the lead instructor at New England School of Digital Photography.  His response – “I can do it myself.  And this is faster.”

In addition to YouTube, there are hundreds of online courses available from excellent providers, including Udemy, Kahn Academy, and LinkedIn Learning.  And most major universities are making their classes available to audit online for free.

  1. Tools

“Make sure that you always have the right tools for the job. It’s no use trying to eat a steak with a teaspoon and a straw.” – Anthony T. Hincks

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs

Again, living and learning in the 21st century we have so many excellent tools available to help us learn and do new things.  Using Apple device apps like “Clips” which automatically convert voice to text captions on videos or the right “jig” to make sure the holes for shelf clips on a bookcase line up perfectly makes these formerly formidable tasks incredibly easy.

My transition from telling myself I couldn’t be trusted to mount a TV on the wall to hanging French doors and creating matching built in bookcases in my office was forced on me by the Covid-19 labor shortage.  My awesome contractor extraordinaire “Mr. Wayne” was too busy with larger renovation jobs to help me with my “house perfect list” projects, so I decided to figure out how to complete them myself.  I soon realized that I could buy both the materials – and some really cool “man toy” power tools like a power compound MITRE box – for less than paying someone else to do it for me.  And I get the wonderful byproduct of having more cordless power tools than I ever dreamed of.  (A colleague once said to me: “You realize you are a little boy in a grown man’s body!)

  1. Time

“Time isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.”                                                                                                        – Miles Davis

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration.  The rest of us just get up and do the work.”                             – Stephen King


To learn new things, once you have acquired the requisite training and tools (and training on how to use the tools), you have to put in the time.

Depending on the complexity of the material, skills, or project you are committed to tackling, the requisite time will vary.  As someone who has worked my entire adult life to manage the challenges of ADHD, I often find “getting started” to be one of the greatest hurdles to learning new skills (or completing tasks).  I have found that setting my iPhone timer for 15-20 minutes a very helpful strategy for getting going, saying to myself “Anyone can do this for 20 minutes!” And I often find myself re-setting the 20-minute timer – at times for hours.

Depending on the complexity of your challenge, great strides can be made over a few weeks or months by learning and practicing for as little as ten minutes a day.  I am a great fan of the book Atomic Habits, which praises the compounding power of just doing something one percent more each day. Language learning apps like Babble and brain training tools like Brain HQ are great tools for learning new skills and improving focus, short term processing memory and pattern recognition in bite sized lessons and games that yield significant improvement with little time invested on a daily basis.

Atomic Habits also recommends developing “habit stacking” routines, where you combine new routines with existing ones.  Examples from the fitness world include doing 50 air squats and heel raises while taking your daily shower or completing a few language and brain training exercises from Babble and Brain HQ while on the treadmill or stationary bike.

Other types of intellectual capital can be created by investing in a few hours of training.  Examples include specific software skill hands-on training – a few years ago, I invested in a one day 6-hour advanced Excel course produced by the company ONLC and was amazed at how much I learned (and was able to focus thanks to the extraordinary instructor and course design) and was able to apply immediately after completing the course.  A one-or two-hour cooking class can transfer a ton of skills and knowledge toward mastering new recipes and techniques, and weekend tennis or golf schools can raise your game to the next level.

  1. Trial & Error/ Try Again.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”                                                                                                                                                                             – Thomas Edison

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”                                                                                                                                                           – Abert Einstein

The journey of learning new skills will often require a healthy dose of “trial and error.”  I learned the hard way during my “self-apprenticeship” to acquire finish carpentry skills to practice any permanent tasks – e.g. cutting, drilling and especially routing – on scrap wood before trying to rout out the space to countersink hinges on a finished door!  “Measure twice, cut once” is also a helpful mantra.

While writing this article, I thought a lot about why I succumbed to the negative self-talk of the “C-Word” for so many years.  One of the root causes of this destructive thinking appeared to be pervious failures at specific tasks, which given my career success as both an entrepreneur and consultant, is puzzling.  Although consultants and entrepreneurs/ business leaders have very different skills and attitudes on many levels, one phase both professions abhor is “We tried that already, and it didn’t work,” a phrase often used by “experienced” clients, managers, and traditional investors to kill innovative ideas, approaches, and products.


Imagine if Thomas Edison had held that point of view – I might be writing this article by the light of a whale oil lamp! Edison “failed” more than 1,000 times before producing a working light bulb, but is remembered for his beautiful quote “I have not failed 10,000 times–I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways it will not work.”

Or if Apple had concluded that a personal assistant/ communication device could not be developed and commercially successful based on the failed Newton – a brick size device launched in 1993.

While I am a huge fan of the trial-and-error method and learning from one’s mistakes, I also keep in mind Einstein’s definition of insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”  To stop using the dreaded “C-Word” and happily live on a vertical learning curve, it’s important to differentiate between learning new skills or creating new products and services that require constant repetition with many errors along the way – such as learning to play Hendrix’ Little Wing on guitar – with those that require continuous innovation and improvement – like the “Newton to iPhone” example above.  One of the greatest lessons I learned from my late father was the power of “Creative Persistence,” and I have often said that creative persistence is the key to all entrepreneurial success.  (For more on this, see my article “A Tribute To the Original Collaboration Evangelist.”)

Will Koehrsen’s excellent article “The Mundanity of Excellence: Talent Does Not Determine Success and Why That Terrifies People,” echoes many of these points in his excellent summary of “The Mundanity of Excellence” by Daniel Chambliss and also draws on insights from the books Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (Ericsson); Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (Hutchinson); Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Duckworth); Principles (Dalio) and The Power of Habit (Duhigg). Koehersen’s summary of these great works:

“When we objectively study excellence, we discover:

  1. Excellence requires doing small, ordinary things consistently right.
  2. Innate talent is not responsible for high achievement.
  3. Significant improvement results from qualitative changes in how you practice skills, not from doing more of the same.

I hope this challenge to those of my – and all – generations to stop using the “C-Word” by leveraging the “5 T’s” is of value to you.  I would appreciate both your feedback on this article and any strategies you have used to learn and master new things.




Summary/ Net: 1. Keep smart, fight Russian disinformation and propaganda, and share with others. 2. Contribute to Operation Support the Front Lines in Free Ukraine. 3. Patronize Ukrainian artists and businesses. 4. Help Ukrainian refugees. 5. Write elected officials and candidates.

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6 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Beautiful Mother

Today is the 103rd Anniversary of my beautiful mother’s birthday.  At her 2004 memorial service, I spoke about 6 of the most important lessons she taught me by the way she lived her 85 years.  Recently, I have thought a lot about the Leadership Lessons I learned from her words and actions:

  1. Take care of yourself
  2. Sweat the details
  3. Never stop learning
  4. Listen and communicate
  5. Always be optimistic, and
  6. Help others in need.

A few details about these lessons and how my mother modeled them follow:

 1. “Take care of yourself.”

It is critical that leaders take care of themselves – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – in order to maximize their ability to lead others.  Self-care enables leaders to both operate at their full potential in terms of their personal productivity and Intellectual, Implementational and Inspirational Leadership Skills and it sets a great role model for those they lead.

We found a file in my mother‘s desk over the weekend labeled, “inspirational quotes.” One of the items in the file was a handwritten page titled Don’t forget to note. In the first quote was “age is not an important unless you are a cheese.”

As amazing as it sounds, my mother spent only 27 of her 30,561 days in the hospital, and 12 of those were to give birth to my sisters and me. At the age of 82, my mother planned a vacation to Canaan Valley State Park. During that trip we also visited Blackwater Falls where she insisted on walking down and back up over 100 stairs to see the beautiful river.

How did she stay so healthy? My mother was wise. Living at a time when the benefits of diet and exercise were not nearly as well known or promoted as they are today, my mother knew. When we were kids, our next-door neighbors often had hamburgers and French fries or heaping plates of pasta for dinner but not us.   Never French fries. Occasionally pasta, but only if accompanied by three vegetables – two green and one starch. And, we had to eat three bites of everything, no matter how “yucky” it was.

I can remember when I was around 10 years old my mother doing leg lifts on her bedroom floor and other exercises to accomplish what we now call “strengthening the core.“ Today, these exercises are performed daily by professional athletes and weekend warriors as well.

My mother had amazing discipline.  She somehow managed to live in the Governor’s Mansion – home of the world’s largest cookie jar always full of the chef’s homemade chocolate chip cookies – and not gain a pound! I am sure I put on more weight during a weekend visit than she did living there for four (actually eight in total) years.

2. “Sweat the details.”

As a lifelong student of business (and leadership) successes and failures, I have come to believe that one of the greatest causes of business failure continues to be leaders who do not understand the details of their enterprise – literally the micro and macroeconomics of their products and services and those of their partners and customers. The collapse of Enron, the subprime mortgage/ credit default swap crisis are prime examples. So too are the tombstones of the “dot bomb” era.

Manners, appearance and knowing the correct way to do “all things” were of great importance to my mother. As children, we were all homeschooled with the details Emily Post’s book of etiquette. I can assure you my sisters and I were as thrilled about this part of our education as most kids would be today. But I can also assure you that a few years later, when attending a formal eight course dinner at Oxford or the Greenbrier or the White House, we were thankful we knew what to do with all that silverware.

When my father became governor at the age of 34 in 1956, my mother was thrust upon the national stage with him. She knew that part of her role as First Lady was to represent the people of West Virginia on that stage and that her appearance and performance were important elements to transforming the brand of our state. A few weeks before she passed on, mother told my sister Sharon that she would make sure to look especially good on the days she wasn’t feeling so well, so that others were less likely to notice.  Great advice I have used frequently over the years.

3. “Never stop learning.”

Related to the point above, leaders have to love being on a vertcal learning curve.  This is critically important in the globally connected, technology and AI driven rapidly evolving economy of the 21st century.  As Jim Fowler – EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Nationwide and former GE CIO says, “Success in the 21st century is dependent on one’s ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn new ways of doing business.”

 My mother believed in lifelong learning, and was a devoted consumer of newspapers, magazines, books and especially her beloved NPR

In 1995, my ex-wife Patty and I gave my mother a computer for Christmas. Before leaving West Virginia, we wrote out detailed instructions on exactly (we thought) how to compose and send an email.  When we returned home to Toronto, we found several “emails” from her that read something like this:

Dear Patty and Craig, thank you for the wonderful comp

Dear Patty and Craig thank you for the wonderful comp

Dear Patty and Craig thank you for the wonderful comp

Need help, the words keep disappearing!

We realized that the words were scrolling off the screen – not something that happens on an IBM Selectric typewriter!  So, at the time, we thought maybe a computer wasn’t the best gift idea we ever had. But just three days before she passed, we were thrilled to receive an email from mom, announcing that after almost a decade of “needing to learn to use email,” she had succeeded!

4. “Talk a lot, listen to and communicate with your family.”

The more leadership experience I gain and the more leaders I learn from, the more I believe that communication – thoughtful, effective two-way communication and listening to your team members, partners, and customers rise to the top of the most important characteristics of successful leaders.

After leaving the Governor’s Mansion, my father thought it would be a good idea to return to the family home in Huntington, West Virginia. My mother thought differently, wanting it to be a short drive to see her Charleston grandkids. Guess who won?

Shortly after our first child Jordan was born, I asked my mother for advice on being a parent.  Without pause, she said “Communicate. Talk to your kids as much as you can and make sure you listen to them when they talk. And you and Patty talk and listen to each other too.”

My mother was always there for her family, whether that meant walking upstairs stadium or theater stairs to watch a ball game or see a play, or flying to Toronto and Boston for grandparents’ day. Her home was filled with pictures of her kids and her grandkids.  And even at 85, she was still the cruise director of the family, scheduling vacations, cooking Easter dinner, and planning our annual family photoshoot.

5. “Always be an optimist.”

In addition to knowing the details of their enterprise economics, leaders – especially entrepreneurs striving to create something truly new – must have the ability to find a “path to daylight’ no matter how challenging or difficult the hurdles they are confronted with. This is one of the most critical communication skills of inspirational leaders.  One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, who wrote “It always seems impossible until someone does it.”

My mother was a social worker, a first lady, and a tireless advocate for helping underserved children – challenging roles during a very challenging time. My mother truly did see a world where the glass was always “half full. “ She almost never complained and had the almost unbelievable strength to make it through even the most difficult times.  When it was time to leave the Governor’s Mansion in 2001, my siblings and I thought it would be a good idea for mom and dad to move to Edgewood Summit, a beautiful independent and assisted living facility. They thought otherwise, and again, they won. One of the reasons my mom gave for not wanting to live there was she didn’t want to look like a “little old lady riding the bus.”  At that time she was 83 years old and maybe 4’10 and 1/2” tall  – on a good day –  but I remember thinking, “If you think you don’t look like a little old lady, we can roll with that!”

6. “Help others in need.”

Since my mother’s passing, the brand enhancing, economic and talent acquisition benefits of being good members of the communities businesses operate in and their commitment to helping those born in underserved zip codes succeed have been well documented. Leaders need to walk the walk and lead by example to realize these benefits.

As the West Virginia newspapers’ wonderful stories about my mother’s passing reminded us, her legacy is not only that of a loving wife, mother, and grandmother but also of a devoted public servant in her own quiet way. From her early career as a social worker to making time to support the Cammack Children Center for Orphans – even as a young mother with three small children and a traveling husband – to her incredible service as the first lady of West Virginia, my mother used all of her resources and assets to help those in need, to help those who were not lucky enough to have parents or access to education or basic healthcare. She was a tireless and effective advocate for children and women’s issues and we can all honor her life’s work by following in her footsteps

Although my mother’s body left this earth in 2004, to all who were blessed to know her and especially those of us who got to call her mom or grandmom, her soul and spirit are very much with us today and will remain forever in the lessons she taught by how she lived:

Take care of yourself

Sweat the details

Never stop learning

Listen and communicate with your family

Always be optimistic, and

Help others in need.

My mother kept this quote from Emerson on her desk:

To laugh often and much: to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to appreciate beauty; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.   

 My mother clearly succeeded and I am blessed to have learned and remind myself of these lessons from her.


The Most Important Leadership Book I Have Read (and the shortest blog post!)

Net: One of the most important roles of leaders and managers is to “look for people doing things right and tell them.”

Like most companies, The Loyalty Group (now the LoyaltyOne division of Alliance Data) had Operating Principles.  Ours were:

  • Work together
  • Be at cause
  • Respect & challenge each other
  • Teach & learn
  • Have fun

One of my goals when seizing the opportunity to start a new company was to create a culture where we were we were all driven by the goal of creating the future first and doing what others found impossible while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.  I quickly learned that simply espousing these principals and putting them on the walls of our offices was perhaps necessary but terribly insufficient to create the kind of culture we envisioned.

After a few (painful) false starts we built these principles into several company processes and policies:

  • Recruiting – no one was asked to join the company before a senior executive (often me) had shared our Operating Principles with the potential employee and received their commitment to leading by these principles.
  • We hired an industrial psychologist to conduct an anonymous employee feedback survey twice a year. The survey included questions about our managers’ leadership style and asked employees to rate their managers on how well they modeled “leading by the Operating Principles.”
  • 10% of the bonus for anyone who managed one or more employees was calculated based on their team members’ responses to “leading by the Operating Principles” questions.
  • We probably terminated more employees for violating our Operating Principles than for any other reason.

Given the importance of our Operating Principles and our commitment to taking employee feedback seriously, the semi-annual meeting when our industrial psychiatrist presented the results was well attended and no one was checking email or otherwise “not present.”

Although over two decades ago, I still remember the first meeting we had with our psychologist to review the employees’ feedback like it was yesterday.  Our team member’s feedback was fairly positive until she came to the section on “communication.”  Although our industrial psychologist was a highly professional and buttoned down PhD, I believe her exact words were “you all suck at communication.”  She clearly had our attention as everyone on the management team was at least somewhat stunned at her proclamation.  We thought we were doing all the right things when it came to communication – we had monthly town meetings, a frequent feedback culture, shared company updates through email blasts, I had lunch with five customer service representatives every month and our leadership team “double jacked” in our call center several times a year.

Our psychologist told us we needed to read The One Minute Manager.  Published several years before our meeting, I had seen the book in bookstores but never bought it.  At that time, I was a big reader, but focused on consuming “serious” books published by Harvard, MIT or Oxford; books on strategy, leadership and customer service.  The One Minute Manager looked to be about 50 pages long and I didn’t think it could possibly add value to me or other leaders of our company.  But given her feedback and alarming “you suck” conclusion, I bought it at Toronto’s Pearson Airport that evening and read it on my flight to Montreal.

The book’s most important message was simple: Leaders and managers should make it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them.” This is especially important for entry level team members and anyone joining an “apprenticeship business,” like Bain Consulting in the 80’s, Loyalty or Year Up where, over the course of their existence, these industry leaders have developed approaches, processes and other practices to deliver their mission.

Looking for people doing things right and telling them is critical for at least two reasons:

  1. Team members, especially those new to the company or industry, often do not realize when they are doing something “right.” I remember this being modeled expertly by my Bridgespan colleague Susan Wolf Ditkoff when we were developing a strategy for the nonprofit Common Cents.  On one occasion, Mandy Taft, a relatively new member of our team (but with significant work experience prior to joining Bridgespan) had presented to our client.  As soon as we got in a taxi for LGA, Susan said to Mandy “you did a great job presenting this morning and let me tell you exactly what you did that was effective…”
  2. Thankfully, our industrial psychologist told us exactly what we were doing wrong during the meeting mentioned above at the Loyalty Group. Our leadership error wasn’t that we didn’t give positive feedback – it was that we almost always followed up a “great work” comment with something like “but, did you ever think about doing this…” or “what if we added this…”  Unbeknownst to us, a lot of our team members where hearing “she/he thinks I could have done this better.”  Immediately after this session, our leadership team made it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them” and also were more conscious of and thoughtful about adding constructive feedback – often separating the “plus” from the “delta” in Year Up parlance.

Although I believe LoyaltyOne’s specific operating principles have evolved over the past two decades, I’m pretty sure their spirit lives on and that they are one of the major contributors to the company’s extraordinary track record. Long after I handed over the leadership reigns to JS and BAP, the company continues to define what it means to “create the future while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.”  Few companies can match their accomplishments, including: 20%+ annual growth; one of the key drivers of the highest performing North American stocks; perennially selected as one of the best companies to work for, best companies for diversity, best companies for women,and best corporate culture.  I will forever be grateful to Sir Keith Mills who gave me the opportunity to play a small part in getting this wonderful enterprise off the ground, but the real credit goes to my leadership team members, every one of our associates and those that continue to lead the company into the future.

Love to hear your favorite leadership books or others that have had a significant impact on you.



Leading by f*ing up

My brilliant friend Morra Aarons-Mele, creator of the podcast “Hiding in the Bathroom” and author of a book by the same name subtitled “An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You Would Rather Stay Home),” recently posted the poignant question “How do you stop obsessing over a f-up?” on Facebook.

I responded to her post:

Here’s how I TRY to put f-ups behind me. 1. Write it down 2. Identify lessons learned, if any. 3. Share my mistakes with team members and mentees.

 At our company The Loyalty Group, we hosted annual Experience Sharing Conferences with the management teams of our sister companies from around the world. A highlight was always the presentations by each CEO on the biggest mistakes made over the past year. One of our Operating Principles was “Learn from you mistakes, don’t dwell on them. Identify the lessons learned, share them and move on.”

Morra’s question and several recent experiences with leaders who seem hesitant to ever admit – much less promote – their mistakes stimulated this article.

Here’s what you can do to use your mistakes to add value to the missions you pursue and the teams you lead:

  1. Be ruthlessly self-candid about the mistakes you have made. Recognize them.
  2. After you recover, think about the lessons learned. What – in hindsight – could you have done before the moment of your mistake to have prevented it?  I have often found this simple matrix from Chapter 3 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People helpful:


In his book, Covey makes the important point that leaders often find their days consumed with responding to and managing both work and personal “emergencies” and “crisis.”  They live in Quadrant 1, spending their time on critically important and urgent issues.  His more important insight is that many of these crisis could have been avoided if leaders focused more on and invested in Quadrant 2 activities and issues:

One of the challenges of this paradox is – in most cases – if you don’t invest in Quadrant 2 initiatives today, you likely won’t lose a customer, key employee or experience other professional or personal pain today.  E.g. If you don’t get some exercise today, it’s unlikely that will lead to a heart attack.  Another challenge is we often find it difficult to find the time to prioritize Quadrant 2 activities because we end up spending all of our time putting out Quadrant 1 fires.  This analysis may be helpful as you think through the lessons learned from your most recent mistake. One of our insights was that we needed to make Quadrant 2 initiatives mandatory and – on the rare occasion  when all else failed – give them same “nights and weekends” priority we would Quadrant 1 emergencies.

  1. Share –  and even consider promoting – the mistakes you have made with your colleagues, the teams you lead and the people you mentor. In order to successfully do this, you need to both lead by example – share your own mistakes – and ensure you have created a consistent culture and a work environment where employees feel safe sharing their own mistakes.  One way we did this at The Loyalty Group (now Alliance Data’s LoyaltyOne division) was to incorporate the company’s 10 Operating Principles into to our bi-annual employee feedback survey.  One section of the survey asked employees to rate their manager’s performance re “leading by each of the Operating Principles” over the past six months on a one to 10 scale.   And we put some teeth in our commitment to leading by our Operating Principles by basing 10% of all managers’ annual bonus on their team members’ responses to these questions.  Perhaps more importantly, I am sure we fired more managers for not leading by our Operating Principles than for any other reason.
  2. Continuously analyze the root causes of mistakes and make sure you are investing in training, capabilities, programs and other resources to decrease the probability of repeating them.
  3. Although we all try to not make the same mistake twice and thereby modeling Einstein’s axiom “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different results is the definition of insanity,” mistakes will inevitably happen.  Sometimes more than once.  If this happens, repeat steps 1-5 and keep moving forward.  I’s OK to cut yourself some slack.

Please share your experiences with learning by and leading from your mistakes.


PMC Collaboration Kicking Cancer’s Ass

Last weekend I rode CHUBike 160 miles in my 3rd Pan Mass Challenge along with 60 of my Year Up TEAM DMITRI! colleagues and thousands of other like-minded cyclists. The PMC is the world’s most successful athletic fund raiser, having raised over $450 million dollars for cancer research.

It may also be the best example of the power of collaboration I have ever seen. Started in 1980 by Billy Starr, an extraordinary social entrepreneur who still leads the PMC today, the organization not only raises more money than any other athletic fundraiser, it also leverages the support of thousands of volunteers and many corporate sponsors to raise funds more efficiently than any other nonprofit I have examined. By building a world class brand and recruiting and training 4000 volunteers, Billy and his uber talented team have increased their annual funds raised from $10,000 in 1980 and are on track to raise $48,000,000 this year . Check this out:



My friend and amazing PMC CFO Michelle Sommer was kind enough to share the above data with me. I was blown away by the way the organization leverages volunteers and corporate sponsors to enable them to contribute 100% of every dollar raised by riders to fund research to cure cancer. I was also able to compare PMC’s efficiency with that of other nonprofits. Again, blown away as, according to Quatrro’s 2016 NFP Benchmark Report, the average nonprofit with revenue greater than $2MM spends 21% on overhead vs. the PMC’s 9%:

It’s not about the data, it’s about people’s lives

Although I am clearly a “data guy,” I would ride the PMC every year I am able to help defeat cancer even if I weren’t so impressed with their efficiency and effectiveness.

Over the past three years, our Year Up PMC Team has been blessed to have Dmitri Itzkovitz as our “PMC Pedal Partner.” Dmitri was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor when he only 8 years old. He recently turned 14 and is one of the nicest and most courageous young men I have had the privilege to know. I have also come to know his father Daniel (see photo of Daniel and Dmitri taken during this year’s PMC at the top of this article). Through Daniel, I learned that only 4 percent of cancer research funds are dedicated to curing pediatric cancer. Sadly, I also recently learned that cancer is the second leading cause of death among young children.  We ride to change that. 100% of the money I raise and contribute goes to the Dmitri Itzkovitz Pediatric Brain Tumor Fund at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Click on this picture to virtually meet Dmitri:

If you would like to support my ride and contribute to this life saving research, you can do so here:

or by mailing a contribution to:

Craig Underwood 83504-2
Pan-Mass Challenge
PO Box 415590
Boston, MA 02241-5590