Telling Lies


I read once that if you want to get comfortable with telling lies to others, you need to get comfortable with telling lies to yourself.  Kind of chilling when you think about it. I agree with the analogy.

Now, what are these self-lies we tell ourselves?  In my case, during my days in the corporate world, it was performance.  For example, if I hit this number I will get an applause at the weekly staff meeting.  I would sit and find myself perspiring and feeling so much adrenaline at the thought of telling my peers how well my group was doing.  The lie I embraced was that age-old dysfunction of; “if I do this or that, I will be liked/loved.”  Did my peers like/love me because of my great feats?  No, and if some were of the flattering variety, it never lasted very long.

Telling, and believing, self-lies is a dangerous habit.  Like an awful addiction to any opiate.  You can never find the strength to stop. It can cripple you from finding and leading an Epic Life.  One scary part is found in how many people/messages are out there to fuel the habit. It ends when the habit births regret.

In the end, lies are lies, no way around it.

Lying to oneself is not only confined to the individual.  But creeps into the organizational world too.  Take the large corporation that proclaims, via marketing, that it values the client.  Ironically, though, its client service department can’t even return phone calls in a reasonable fashion.  The organization continues to print materials, hold town hall meetings, formats focus groups, but the truth is still the same; valuing a client is more of a fantasy.  And by the way, most loyal clients know this.

So what happens if we start embracing the truth versus the lie?  Here are some outcomes to consider:

  1. We can get down to the business of change-for the better.
  2. We’ll stop blaming the competition, our dads, the economy or some other phantasm for our poor results.
  3. Focus and happiness.
  4. A legacy colored in the brush strokes of love and action.
  5. Freedom!

I’m sure there are more outcomes to list, but the point remains for us to stop the lies.  Our Epic Life/Venture depends on it.

5 Questions with Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina, Authors of Rebels at Work


I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time. Lois and Carmen are two thought leaders I admire and respect a great deal. Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within is a great read, and their insights here are powerful. Enjoy!

What or who inspired you to take on the challenge of helping rebels in the workplace?

Lois: A giant light bulb popped for me when I was at an innovation conference and heard Carmen talking about being a heretic within the CIA, and how hard it was to create change inside the “belly of the beast.” I realized that day that I had throughout my career I had either been helping clients create change inside their big organizations or had been shaking things up in my own organizations. I also realized that I had been winging it my entire career, and felt kind of sad about that.. What else might I have been able to do if someone had coached me on what it takes to move new ideas through the politics of any organization? Could I have enjoyed work more? Could I have been kinder and more empathetic? This melancholy motivated me to help others.

Carmen: Well, as Lois said when I retired from the CIA the first significant public speech I gave was about being a heretic at the CIA. I not only connected with Lois, but also with many other people trying to make innovation occur inside big organizations. We too often talk about entrepreneurs and startups, but as hard as that is, I think making change inside existing organizations is harder. Like living in your house while you’re doing a big remodel. When I was at CIA, I was always reflecting on what I was doing. A lot of those reflections evolved into better practices for Rebels at Work.

What keeps you up at night regarding this mission? Are there any storm clouds we should be looking out for?

Lois: how do we reach BOTH the rebels and the executives to whom rebels report? We can teach, mentor and inspire rebels. But for organizations to adapt and grow executives have to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed and they have to know how to coach their rebels. Maybe even more fundamentally, they have to want rebels on their teams, not just tolerate them. The storm cloud I see is that as changing market contexts upend business as usual, most people get scared. And when they get scared they double down and try to make what’s worked before keep on working, shunning the people with the new ideas. Related is that people stop raising new ideas because they know business is not good and they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Carmen: What keeps me up a lot is the worldwide conspiracy for the preservation of mediocrity. For the most part, it’s not an explicit conspiracy, although people who believe things like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are suggesting that we should just settle. All of us, at one time or another, are unwitting members of this conspiracy. I also worry a lot about how hard it is to get people to accept diversity of thinking. This is something I had to deal with during my career. And sometimes I worry it isn’t really improving.

In Chapter 8, you write about the importance of Rebel Self-Care. From a wellbeing perspective, can you expand on that?

Lois: We rebels tend to be passionate and that passion can morph into obsession. Obsession can eat you alive, causing all kinds of bad behavior and blinding us from being able to rationally see what’s what. Taking care of ourselves is the only way to not fall into an obsessive dark hole. It’s the only way to keep a positive perspective and sense of humor. When we lose those, we’re losing our ability to be effective. Maybe we’re just plain losing ourselves. The more committed we are about excelling at our work, the more we need to look after our mental, spiritual and physical well-being. That’s our fuel and our safety net. It’s also what gives meaning to our life and work. (And meaning is a much more satisfying outcome than money or status.)

Carmen: I flunked Rebel Self-Care in my career, so I’m excited that we discuss this in the book and that so many people respond so positively to the message. I lost some of my best friends at the Agency during my time there because I didn’t pay attention to my emotions, that I was approaching a breaking point. All rebels need to avoid that breaking point. When we become cynical and negative, it takes a lot of effort to recover. And sometimes we never do.

Can the strategies found in the book apply to multiple areas of a rebel’s life?

Lois: Ha! Anyone who has teenagers knows what it’s like to be the “boss” of rebels. You love their fresh thinking, their creativity, their intolerance for school and societal rules that just don’t make sense. And yet they make you crazy when they break the rules, do stupid things without understanding the bigger context, and let their emotions run wild. When we coach our teenagers and help them learn how to navigate, they develop capacities for being effective, meaningful citizens of the world. If we simply insist they follow the rules, they just get angrier and more frustrated. Same with rebels and their bosses. As for rebels, the strategies in the book apply to many areas of our lives where we’re trying to get groups of people or organizations to consider new and better approaches than what exists. Parent-Teacher Organizations, church councils, school committees, condo associations, boards of non-profits. It’s about people influencing people.

Carmen: I use my “lizard brain” mantra to control my emotions ALL THE TIME. It really works. One recommendation we make is for rebels to not dominate conversations. In everything we do, we need to listen more.

When you think back on your career, can you recall a manager who once looked negatively at rebels, and then changed their mind? What brought the change on?

Lois: As a lifelong rebel, I pissed off more than a couple of my bosses and most of them came around because of two reasons, and sometimes a third. They realized how much I cared for the organization and wanted all of us to succeed. Second, they often couldn’t believe how many risks I took to make new ideas work. I didn’t just have skin in the game, I had a whole body commitment. From my observations, no manager needs to give rebels the “you have to be accountable” talk. Because I spent my career working for ad agencies and consulting firms, the third thing that turned my bosses into believers was revenue. When my ideas produced new revenue, there was only happiness and support.

Carmen: It’s always surprised me how well I get along with gruff, no-nonsense people. I think I had a couple of managers in my career who first thought I was nuts and then came to believe in what I was doing. This is going to sound arrogant, perhaps, but I think what changed their mind was that they began to appreciate that I had been right all along. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wrong many, many times. But in the late 1990s, I appreciated what the internet was going to do to “knowledge work” sooner than many people in my organization. I had so many arguments with people about applications such as Wikipedia and Social Media. Years later, some of them now ask me how I saw it coming. Well, I can’t explain that at all. Really, I don’t understand why they didn’t see it.








Carmen Medina 

Carmen spent 32 years as a heretic at the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite this, she held several senior positions at the Agency, including serving on the executive team that led the CIA’s analytic directorate. She thinks most organizations don’t have a good way of determining when it’s time to transform and/or “sell” their current business model. Heretics, mavericks, and rebels at work can provide organizations with the important early warning system they so desperately need.

Since retiring from CIA in 2010, Carmen has continued to write and speak about Rebels at Work, analysis and strategic warning, the emergence of new global norms in the 21st century, the future culture of work, and cognitive diversity. She is Puerto Rican by birth and Texan by nationality.  She tweets under @milouness and @RebelsatWork



Lois Kelly

Lois Kelly has been a creative rebel throughout her career, helping some of the most respected companies in the world create new ways to launch products, communicate complicated issues, influence public opinion, deal with crises, go public, adopt innovative business practices, and occasionally try to move mountains.

During this journey, Lois has become a student of change, learning what it takes to get people to embrace new ideas. Her obsession is creating clarity from complexity. Her most meaningful work is leading workshops where people create the future they want for their organizations and companies.

Lois lives in Rhode Island, the smallest and most creative state in the United States, and tweets under @LoisKelly and @RebelsatWork.


Old Leaders, Old Ideas

Decided to take a look back and found this post from June of 2005. Ever experienced old leaders and their old ideas? Maybe you’ve approached your life this way. It’s a dangerous place, either way.


Isn’t it tragic how old leaders bring old ideas?  Here are some reasons for this dysfunction:

  •     Old leaders look through the lens of the past.  A place that “once was”
  •     Old leaders believe (foolishly) that what worked in the past will work again
  •     Old leaders grow old gradually…over time, and die before they are buried
  •     Old leaders are insecure and need an organization that will grow old with them
  •     Old leaders think change applies to others

I was at a holiday get-together this past weekend.  One individual gave me some interesting insights.  She worked for a company where many of the key leaders had moved onto another competitor.  This was the result of a management shake-up some years ago.  These leaders were now trying to implement a structure like the one they had some ten years ago.  She hauntingly noted; “it didn’t work at our place ten years ago, and it won’t work at their new place.”

One of the common mistakes of management is the dysfunction of justifying the old by glorying in the “moments in the sun.”  They experienced the success, and believed that is was a one-way ticket to everlasting success.  Again, old leaders with old ideas.

The Changing Face of Work

In December of last year I caught this article on creativity. Specifically, how creativity is viewed in the work place. I found it rather ironic because of the changing face of work today. In a work world where so much is being turned upside-down, you’d think the creative would be more valued. I carry a bias toward the creative. I belong to that tribe, with great energy and vibe.

Between coaching clients, conversations with decision makers (small and large companies) and the written word, I get a strong sense of how work is changing. The following is not based in theory, and gives a sense of what is here and what’s to come:

  • Employees will soon (1-3 years for the individual and the mid-market) be buying their own health insurance. The employer will contribute an annual dollar amount, but the buying part will be up to you
  • Engagement in the work place will continue to drop until workers feel they have an equal say in what’s going to happen in their specific work function. The millennials are the catalyst here
  • Fear will be a driver of innovation
  • Knowledge transfer is a bigger deal than many think
  • People who are looking for a job should pay attention to disruptive technology. It will either eliminate your job or create a new one. This is good advice for the employed as well
  • For obvious reasons people will need, and maybe forced, to truly manage their lives with an “on-purpose” approach

The bullets above are sobering. Don’t lose you soul navigating the waters.

Recognizing Talent.

The below video clip was shot a couple of years ago.  The relevance continues, especially in these upside-down times we find ourselves in.  We're in a place where recognizing talent is essential.  And by the way, it starts with your soul and the art of searching people. 

I could write further on this, but check-out the video clip for more.


5 Questions with Lois Kelly of Rebels at Work


Welcome to our 5 Questions Series. These are interviews I'll be putting out there in the coming weeks for your digestion and inspiration. There will be a variety of interviews with thought leaders from many different walks, so buckle in.

I'm honored that Lois Kelly is our first interview. I've known Lois for some time now and she never ceases to inspire me. The following conversation is no exception. Enjoy!

Why do rebel thinkers so often feel miserable inside of their organizations? 

Three overwhelming reasons. Restlessness, loneliness, and self-doubt. 

 We’re a restless bunch, always seeing new ways to do things better, easier, faster, better. Yes, I say better twice because we’re wired to keep raising the bar on excellence. Needless to say our ideas and relentless energy often exhaust or threaten our colleagues and bosses. So people often keep us at arm’s length, even those who appreciate the value we bring. This can feel lonely and lead to self-doubt, “Why aren’t they moving now on  this idea? Am I off base? Am I not communicating the value well enough? Is it me or is it the idea? Why can’t I just slow down and take it more slowly like everyone else? Do I belong in this organization?” 

What value do most rebel thinkers bring to the table?

 Rebels have the courage to name the elephants in the room, see new ways to solve problems, bring outside ideas into the organization, and be the first to try new approaches.  My research has found that rebels call out problems others are afraid to (92%) and challenge assumptions and sacred cow practices (92%), both of which are essential to real innovation, but often shunned in organizations.

The other overlooked value rebels bring is devotion to duty. Rebels care more about their organizations than most people. That’s why we ask the difficult questions that most people feel more comfortable avoiding, and risk being snubbed for suggesting unpopular ideas.  We want our organizations to be the very best and we believe that our colleagues and we have what it takes to achieve more than our competitors.

(see the following chart for more)

Why are many managers afraid/intimidated by rebel thinkers?

We tend to trigger three threats that are wired into every person’s pre-frontal cortex, including those of our bosses.  Our ideas often threaten managers’ sense of status, certainty and autonomy. 

An overwhelming number of managers believe that they are supposed to create the strategy and have the answers — and employees are meant to execute on those ideas. Not question them. I’m the boss. I’ve got the senior vice president title. Hence, I know more and you should respect me for it.  It sounds silly in this day and age of empowerment and collaboration, but protecting our status can lead all of us to act in illogical ways. 

We humans are also wired to crave certainty. So when we rebels present innovative ideas that have no best practice precedents or haven’t been Six Sigma’d we trigger fears about certainty. Managers worry, “How will we know this will work? What if we make a mistake?” You get the picture.

The last threat is autonomy. Our managers like doing things their way. To suggest something different is to violate their sense of control and autonomy over what they know and like.

What are the consequences of not engaging with the rebel thinker?

Missed opportunities, a complacent corporate culture, and a talent deficit.

Rebel thinkers see risks and opportunities earlier than most people. This is a tremendously valuable competence in age of such rapid change and smaller windows to seize and capitalize on opportunities. One way to look at rebels is as your “intrapreneurs” bringing entrepreneurial thinking, speed, and competitive instincts inside the organization. They spot ideas and see ways to make them real.

The other consequences are that shutting out rebel thinking sends a signal to the organization that creativity, diversity of thinking and change are not welcome. When that happens, your best talent usually leaves, and the culture becomes complacent. Not rocking the boat. Accepting good enough as good enough.  In today’s hyper competitive world, few organizations can survive with a “good enough” approach.

What is most surprising about corporate rebels?

Rebels are not motivated by formal recognition or financial incentives, nor are they “troublemakers.” They’re self-motivated to want to make a difference to their organization and to solve things that are not working as well as they could. My research found that just 27% want formal recognition. What they do want is to be asked their opinions more often and be invited to work on teams to solve specific issues. They don’t want to just talk about ideas, opportunities and problems, the want to make things happen.

The second surprising thing is how many closeted rebel thinkers there are in companies. People are yearning to do more – and they know more about what to do than most executive teams realize.

About Lois

Lois Kelly is an international marketing strategist, organizational change facilitator, successful author and dynamic speaker. She’s passionate about helping leaders at all levels make innovative ideas real, and serves as a creative outsider, igniting organizations to see new ways to accomplish important goals.


Thoughts on The Synergist by Les McKeown

Very excited to share some thoughts on a new book titled, The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success by Les McKeown. I must say the book is a must for anyone involved or interested in organizational development and teamwork. Mr. McKeown articulates a reliable way for groups to form and perform as a team. As someone who thinks the word team is as worn out as the word leadership, it's refreshing to read a thought leader who truly understands what the word means in the real world.

I am biased in my fondness for this book because he described me, personally, in one of the chapters. It was rather haunting, but in a good way.

Mr. McKeown has a vast background in working the land of organizational development. He applies this in a way that is understandable and relevant, regardless of your position/role. 

Here are some key take-aways I gained from the book:

  • Effective teams are made up of 4 different types (the visionary, the operator, the processor, and the synergist) of people.
  • Every group and team comes to the table with a natural bent. The bent is neither good or bad, it's the human being being who they are.
  • Evey organization is aligned for the outcomes it experiences.
  • There is a life cycle for every team and organization. I found it interesting how choices drive so much of this.
  • Many groups find themselves in a ditch due to their inability to see each player as a unique contributor.
  • The synergist role (the person who brings clarity in an unbiased manner) is a sort of lynch-pin in every high performing team. You'll understand more when you read the book.
  • Mr. McKeown uses real-world examples to drive his premise. 

This post is not long enough to give you all that the book delivers. But the book really is like guidebook. You owe it to yourself to check it out. 

Your People Are Smarter Than You Think

If there is any statement I would want a manager/leader to understand, it would be the following:

    "Your people are smarter than you think."

I feel sorry for those organizations that promote, deify, and plain flatter the pants off of management candidates and new hires (including senior management).  I feel even sorrier for those individuals because most of the time they are not prepared to lead.  It's often a case of letting words on a resume or some performance metric around revenue generation that leads to this ride to hell.

On face of it, you might say congratulations are in order for the recently hired or promoted.  I wouldn't want to stop the celebration and I certainly applaud those who desire to lead people.  The problem rests in not taking time to explain some key and essential truths.  And one of those is:

    "Your People Are Smarter Than You Think."

So You may be wondering why the emphasis on that statement?  Here are the reasons why:

  1. People are tired of corporatese (a language that many organizations use to unknowingly frustrate) and false pretense.
  2. People are tired of managers who feel compelled to remind the world that they are the smartest guy or gal in the room.
  3. People often want to do their jobs with excellence, but they now know that Wall Street is often the prettiest girl in the room. And leaves them feeling the need to watch their back while the CEO gushes over the past quarters numbers. I think you get my point here.
  4. People know the world has changed, but often their leaders are vague on the subject and how it impacts them as an employee.
  5. People know that a title and position do not equal leadership. Thus, they won't really follow if they since an embrace of those two.

The Right System and The Right Process for Growth

Computer motherboard

I know many who have good intentions.  I'm one of them!  I would love to tell you that's all you need to get to where you want to go.  I don't believe it is.  It is vitally important to have a system and process for the growth you seek.  This is applicable to your business and your personal life.

As you may remember, I embarked on my own 30 day breakthrough plan a couple of months ago.  This is the experience from one of our strategic partners Take Time for Your Life.  I'm happy to say that I was successful in my 30 days.  I am grateful for this.  Here's the even bigger take-away:

I was successful because I was using the RIGHT system and process. 

Many organizations today are perplexed by their lack of success and growth.  Maybe profits are up, but employees are disconnected.  Maybe their losing talent to competitors, even though training is abundant inside and outside of the enterprise.  So what gives?  If the organization doesn't have the right system and process failure is not far behind.

Many people in their personal lives struggle with issues for years.  Jumping from one idea or cure to the next.  They're desperate to find a breakthrough and are sincere in their motivations.  Sadly, it can be difficult to sift through all of the noise.  Again, it's paramount to find the Right system and process to address the big issues.  In this space it's important to be a critical thinker when it comes to who you will spend your time and money on.  I've come to a point where I won't partner with anyone that doesn't have a mission approach to what they do. 

Mission-minded people/organizations need to be paid, they need to market, etc., but the mission is always out front first.  They are TRULY interested in you and not yours (thank you St. Paul).

It's pretty clear that organizations can spend millions (they do) on training, engagement, well-being, process improvement and still find themselves languishing.  People can hire coaches, go to seminars, buy books, and find themselves in the same state as a business. 

The Right system and process is the starting point.  After that, you'll know what to do.

Real Collaboration

I had a chance to take a sneak peek at a documentary on Nile Rodgers a few weeks back. It was nicely done, even though it was in Japanese. It really didn't phase me because much of the dialog was from Nile. The short can be viewed here.

It might seem an obvious that collaboration and music go together.  And as someone who is a musician, I would agree that often the two go hand-in-hand.  But what about the rest of the spheres of life and work?  Not so much.  There was one scene where I found myself thinking"that's it."  Nile was working with a group around the production of a Broadway musical he created called Double Time.  If you check-out the clip you'll know what I'm referring to.  But I was struck by the group's dynamics.  There were a few musicians, a vocal ensemble, directors/producers, and Nile.  Each of these folks were doing there work individually and collectively.  One thing was clear, they were moving toward the goal of a great performance.  And isn't great performance what we want?

Have you found some form of collaboration that leads you to a great performance?

In your career experience you may not have found it.  And many never do.  Part of the problem arises in organizational health and our own misplaced priorities.  We don't fully understand how collaboration works and how to get the most from it.  Ironically, you might be involved in it and not even recognize it.  You have to look for it.  You have to want it.  The tragedy is found in those who just do it and don't think anymore about it.  Routine, habit, monotony are keywords here.

Your career should be about more than salary, benefits and MBOs.

I really believe our best and greatest work comes when we collaborate.  It's a key way to leave your fingerprint on this motion picture called "life."  But as with all brilliant things, there are the enemies and the threats.  Let's review a few:

Money and the Desire to Get More-this one is manifested when our endeavors are rooted in making money first.  The emphasis is on the word first.  Making money is not a bad thing, unless it is at the top of the list.  Greed.

Self-Centered Leaders-these folks have no interest in anyone or any endeavor other than themselves.  These types of leaders may mask it, smooth it or even lie about.  Their mission is to be King or Queen-first and last.

Our Fear-We all bear some responsibility for the collapse of collaboration.  We fear so much and find ourselves unwilling to be vulnerable.  I don't need to tell you what a killer fear is.  Collaboration is sabotaged when we are insecure and doubt our place at the table.

I have felt most alive when I've been involved in the art and science of real collaboration.