Skip to content

UXL Blog

Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Leadership

David and Goliath


In his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell focuses not only on dispelling the fears attached to being an underdog, but even goes so far as to show how in many cases, being the underdog gives you an advantage. He summarizes some key points in his New Yorker article:

“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly,” he writes. “It was not. Davids win all the time.”

He highlights research conducted by political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft, who looked at all the major wars fought in the last two hundred years, paying close attention to the underdog of each conflict. His findings were surprising: roughly one in three wars were won by a nation that was way out of its league.

That’s a staggering stat on its own. Conventional wisdom would tell us that the underdog should never win, and when he/she does, it’s a fluke. But Arreguín-Toft’s study shows that underdogs win all the time. And that’s not even the most surprising finding.

In the David and Goliath story, David first tries on armor and a sword in preparation to face Goliath. But he’s not comfortable in heavy armor and a big sword. He’s familiar with stones, a sling, and his plain clothes. So he opts to use what he’s most used to, and we know what happens from there.

Similarly, Arreguín-Toft wondered what happened when the underdogs in his study “acknowledged their weaknesses and chose an unconventional strategy,” as Gladwell puts it. “He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs chose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win.”

The Takeaway

1. It’s okay to be the underdog. Own it. Use it to your advantage. Don’t be discouraged when you feel out of your league. Everyone feels this way from time to time.

2. Underdogs win all the time. And it’s not a fluke. Think of all the successful people and businesses that started out with an idea or vision that everyone around them laughed at. There are too many to count. They were all the underdogs at one point.

3. Use what you’re comfortable with to succeed; don’t play by the giant’s rules. Be aware of your unique strengths even in the face of a daunting challenge. Don’t ever let your self-saboteur tell you that you aren’t good enough for the task. It isn’t true.


Tags: , , , , ,

Author and professor Brené Brown is a leading voice on leadership and personal growth. Watch the video below to get a snippet of her thoughts on the importance of being courageously vulnerable.

The Takeaway

In your life, take advantage of the opportunities to:

Speak up, even if you think it might make you look small or unintelligent. Chances are, it won’t.

Show up. Vulnerability means putting yourself out there precisely when you don’t know what will happen next.

Be honest. While not always easy to speak the truth in love, it’s always the better way to go.

Ask good questions, and often. Know the difference between open and closed questions, and when to use which. Click here for a solid explanation of these types of questions.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I caught a great snippet on the radio in the car the other day. The TED radio hour showcases a wide array of innovative and interesting ideas, and in this case, the program talked about how we define and achieve success in our lives.

Life coach Tony Robbins gave a TED talk asking us to identify our inner drive in life. If you have the time, it’s worth checking out the full talk here.


Otherwise, here are a few stand-out points he makes:

-Don’t think about life in terms of success and failure. Think about what brings the most meaning and value to your life, and chase after that.

-Don’t settle. If you don’t like where you’re life is headed, make a change.

-“Lack of resources” is not an excuse. What it really boils down to is a lack of resourcefulness.

Stay tuned for the month of April, as I’ll take a deeper look at what success is, and how we attain it.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Actions speak louder than words. And even if you might tell them otherwise, a sure-fire way to demonstrate that you really don’t trust your team, that you really don’t think they’re capable, and that you’d rather just do the work yourself, is to constantly look over their shoulders and second guess their performance and commitment.

As you can imagine (or, have experienced yourself), we don’t respond too well to this type of management. In the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that people are more fulfilled when they get the time and space to master skills of value, and have a sense of ownership of these skills which they can then contribute to a greater cause.

A few ways to create this sort of environment in your business:

1. Set the parameters early on

Your team are a bunch of grown-ups. They should know what’s expected of them. Be clear about your expectations in the beginning. If they are the competent, intelligent people you know they are (why else did you hire them?), you won’t need to remind them.

2. Allow for flexibility when you can

Some people work best in the early morning, while others are night owls. Cater your management to the needs of the team. Let them make their own hours as much as possible. However, there are some jobs, like retail, that simply can’t accommodate much flexibility.

3. Trust your team to get the job done on time

With the parameters set, trust that your team possesses strong time management skills. Think innocent until proven guilty–if it turns out that some of your people may need extra management, then intervene and help them, but only once it’s clear they need the help.


In every case, be the voice of clarity and encouragement when you manage. The goal should be that everyone knows exactly what they are doing, and why, and that they feel motivated and trusted to do their best work in the way that works best for them.


Tags: , , , , , ,

friendship at work

Friendship on the job can be beneficial to everyone. It makes work a fun place to be. It brings unity and camaraderie to the business. 

But friendships can potentially make it hard on your responsibility as a leader to remain consistent and fair. It might be easy for you to give your friend a break, extend a deadline, or ignore or overlook a mistake. And this is where having friends in your business can be detrimental.

The recent Harvard Business Review article offers a few helpful insights on how to navigate the tricky waters of managing your friends.

1. You’ll make them angry sometimes, but this is okay.

You have a job to do. Above all, remember why you’re there, in the position you’re in. You’ll have to “turn up the heat” on everyone from time to time, and this includes your friends.

They probably won’t be too pleased at this, at least not at first. Remember that this is their problem, not yours. Stay consistent, compassionate, but firm with your staff, and in time your work friends will appreciate and respect your consistency.

2. Learn to disagree with friends while still being their friend.

Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship. You can be passionate about a disagreement without being disrespectful. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s possible.

3. Keep work out of it at the dinner party.

When you spend time with them outside the office, remember the rules and standards of the workplace do not apply outside.

4. This arrangement won’t always work.

In some cases, having friends that report to you just doesn’t work. As the article’s author, Peter Bregman, points out: “Even if you have clarity about your role as a leader, emotional mastery, and friendship skills, the other person may not be able to live with your decisions.” As tough as it is, it’s better for both parties in this case to accept the reality of the situation and move on.

On the flip side, there are countless instances where your friendship with a staff member motivates them to do their best work. This is why knowing your staff is so crucial, so that you’ll be able to determine the relational dynamics early on and avoid potential conflicts.


Tags: , , , , , ,

better than yesterday

We show our true colors when things don’t go as planned. It’s easy to be kind, confident and happy when everything goes our way, but not so much when we encounter that unavoidable road block.

If you have a pulse, you’re going to hit road blocks. So how do you prepare yourself to deal with failures and letdowns with grace and character?

1.  Take a step back.

Think of all the times in your life when you thought it was the end of the world. How often did that turn out to be true? I’m guessing never, since the world is clearly still here. It’s easy to get trapped in doomsday thinking when you run into a real problem. The truth is, it’s almost never as bad as you think it is at that given moment. When you learn to reinforce this while you’re brain is in crisis mode, you’ll be able to take a step back and see the situation more clearly.

2. Don’t give up.

Your self-destructive voice in your head I like to call your saboteur will take every stumble as a chance to encourage you to throw in the towel. Don’t listen!

It takes thousands of hours of work to reach success and mastery, and nobody gets it the first time around. Be patient with yourself, and keep plugging away.

3. Reach out.

Letdowns, failures, and detours can be embarrassing. The last thing you may feel like doing is going to someone else for help and support. But just remember, there’s no shame in failure, only shame in not trying in the first place. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how happy your friends and family will be to get behind you. You need only be humble and honest about your situation.

4. Revise your plan of attack.

If you’re constantly failing at the same task or project, there’s a good chance you need to change your plan altogether. The definition of insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Take hiccups as a chance to reassess your strategy. What’s not working? Why? How can you make it work? You may need to reign in your goals a bit, and this is okay. It’s better to make incremental steps forward than to have grand plans that you’re unable to reach.

Take comfort in the fact that setbacks are part of the process, and keep plugging away!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brainstorming_Young_iStock_4653977XSmallOne of my favorite parts of business is brainstorming. I love getting all my people in a room together and letting them unleash their ideas and opinions. The energy level in these types of meetings is usually sky high, as laughter and enthusiasm for upcoming projects abound.

I’ve had a lot of experience conducting successful brainstorm sessions, but there was a time when I wondered whether these types of meetings were useful. After all, how often do they result in off topic digressions, scattered tidbits and unorganized, unfocused planning? A bit too much, if truth be told.

I had to learn that as the person guiding the brainstorming, it was my responsibility to keep the ideas pushing forward toward the end objective. To do that, I developed a few techniques:

1. First and foremost, keep the atmosphere light and low-pressure. Your team is with you for a reason. You trust their ability and their input. However, there are always those of us who are less eager to speak up. To get the ball rolling, make it clear that the brainstorm is a safe place to get creative without fear of judgement.

2. Lay out the objectives of the meeting beforehand. Giving your team time to think things through on their own before the meeting will help keep them focused and realistic. While improvisation and wild ideas are part of the fun of any brainstorm session, specifying clear objectives up front will enhance the meeting’s productivity.

3. Provide a visual map of the meeting as you go. I like using big sheets of paper and a box of colored markers. Friends of mine swear by a good old white board, while still others have gone digital and taken notes with a laptop and a projector. It doesn’t matter what medium you use, but I highly recommend guiding the meeting visually to keep the team from being bored, confused or disengaged.

4. Ask specific questions of each of your team members. Show them that they are valued by tailoring questions to their skill sets and asking their opinions.

5. delegate the work once a solution is reached, and email the notes you took for the team to go back to for reference.

Good luck, and have fun!

Tags: , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: