The Lift | Brian@GrowthWorks

The Lift | Brian@GrowthWorks

Working on Purpose Is the Magic of Success...

by Brian McDermott on 07/06/11

I first posted a link to this video in 2010. I watched it again today, thinking about making it assigned viewing for a board of directors I'll be working with later this month. I was struck three years ago, and I am inspired again today by the pertinence of the message... People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it...

The video is TED's standard 18 minutes long. It's persuasive. I came away with a page of notes and a new clarity about why we do business at GrowthWorks the way we do -- because we really believe in the need to raise the value placed on the people side of the equation for business success.

Make a Difference,


Leading Change? Make It Emotional...

by Brian McDermott on 07/06/11

Along with all the bucks and kudos filmmaker James Cameron is reaping from his record-shattering movie, Avatar, he also is being credited for "emotionalizing" the world's environmental plight. Think about this...

Cameron's story about greedy business people devastating nature for profit has stirred hearts, his own and those of millions of others. There's a lesson in this perhaps-unexpected development from this giant Hollywood movie -- and in the tiny-but-also-compelling video attached -- about what it takes to lead change. If you think about it, isn't it stirred-up hearts that so often provide the inspiration, energy, creativity, and endurance people need to go make things different... to make things better?

  • Pay attention in coming months for more stories about Cameron like the one in the New York Times chronicling his crusade against the proposed Belo Monte dam project in Brazil, and watch for others to rally to this and other ecological causes... all because one man told one moving story. 
  •  After you watch this one-minute-and-twenty-nine-second video, try to convince me you'll be able to ignore it's life-saving message.
  • And then, think about the difference you're trying to make and the stories you can tell or the steps you can take to tap into your own heart and the hearts of others you need to follow your lead...


Or Click Here to Watch Video on YouTube...

Make a Difference,


Visit GrowthWorks Inc. for info about my work helping leaders do more than just talk about people being a company's greatest resource

Thanks to my friend Mark Sturgell for sharing the link to Embrace Life commercial...

Working on Purpose... Take this Job and Love It

by Brian McDermott on 07/06/11

We invest way too much of our lives at work to be miserable while we're at it. And yet, we all know people who spend more time complaining than performing.

The most common refrain I hear sounds something like this: "If only I could find a job that had real meaning and value, then I'd be happy."

I understand that sentiment. There are jobs that challenge even the most positive and optimistic among us. I've poured hot tar on rooftops on 90-degree days and loaded newspapers on trucks at 3 in the morning... and complained. But I was raised by a man who had a lifetime of tougher jobs, and yet he brought a sense of passion, purpose, and pride along with his lunch bag to every one of those jobs pretty much every day. (Thanks for the lifelong lesson, Dad.)

Now I watch for people in those potentially spirit-deadening jobs who find a way to soar and make a difference nonetheless. They are reminders.

Here's one. Watch, enjoy, and wonder...

(For Email Subscribers, click here to go to YouTube to watch.)


Make a Difference,


The Girl Effect...

by Brian McDermott on 07/06/11

 Some will disagree with the change. Others will even scoff at the significance of the gesture.

The News: The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is closing the Bush-era loophole in the Title IX legislation that some argued made it easier for colleges and universities to avoid complying with requirements to provide equal opportunity for female athletes. (NYTimes)

I say it's a good day for the planet.

The world can be an unfathomably unfair and hostile place for those born female.

  • I spoke about leadership issues in the finance industry this week with a female executive who said it takes a thick skin for women to get ahead in her field because of the offensive bawdiness some of the boys still bring to the workplace.
  • I learned at the world premier in Minneapolis of a documentary film, Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America, that a woman is assaulted every 18 seconds in America by the man she loves.

Kudos to those in the Obama administration who guided the DOE to this decision. It's a step in the right direction. A question for all of us, though: What can each of us do to help clear the path for the success and well-being of the girls and women in our lives?

Full disclosure: I have a daughter. She's in the Peace Corp. Yup, I'm biased, but I think she's pretty amazing. (Callie's Blog) And I'm posting this article and link in part because I want her to have a great life, but also because I believe the investments made in her so far have helped make the world a little better place. But I would have written this article no matter what, because I believe investing in girls makes the world a better place for my son, too.

If you're looking for ideas or inspiration about something you could do, check out this video (or Click Here to View):

Make a Difference,


Visit GrowthWorks Inc. for info about my work helping business leaders break the habit of doing the same old things the same old way...

The Rocket Science of Leadership...

by Brian McDermott on 07/01/11

Good leadership is tough to define. I’m beginning to think the term is so complex it’s impossible to pin down. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” things… and we all see things so differently.

Forgive the unoriginal approach to making a point, but a two-tenths-of-second web search on “leadership” turns up 138 million citations. A “scholarly” search turns up 1.7 million hits. And if you’re looking for something to hold in your hands to read, you’ll be glad to know Amazon has more than 60,000 titles to choose from.

One of those books begins, “Leadership isn’t rocket science. Our experience says that great leadership is far more complex than that…” The book is one that Gerry Sexton and I wrote a few years ago, Leading Innovation: Creating Workplaces Where People Excel So Organizations Thrive. My sentiments about the difficulty of being a good leader have only been amplified since finishing the book.

My friend and colleague Steve Boehlke puts it this way in the introduction to a “little book” he published, 50 Lessons on Leading for Those With Little Time for Reading (each page is essentially a one-sentence thought provoker): “Whether reading the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu, the power politics of Machiavelli, or the insights of today’s leadership guru Jim Collins, authorities on leadership abound. While humans have been attempting to define leadership for centuries, a clear and simple definition remains elusive. We are often left with the feeling that leadership is beyond ourselves--something we seek, but is beyond our reach.”

The work we do at GrowthWorks with leaders focuses on linking creativity, knowledge, and the human spirit. There are hard core business types who dismiss this kind of "soft" stuff. The evidence is growing, however, that successful leadership is not an either-or proposition when it comes to hard stuff and soft stuff. Both are required.

Perspective Matters: Where Are All the Jerks and Idiots?

by Brian McDermott on 06/30/11

Through the eyes of a child...

381 Little Girl with Drawing A mother was driving in afternoon rush-hour traffic, having just picked up her 7-year-old daughter from school. While Mom drove, the little girl worked quietly, drawing pictures in a notebook on her lap.

After a few minutes, the little girl raised her eyes, looking a little confused at her mother and asked quizzically, "Mom, where are all the jerks and idiots today?"

Mom said, "Oh honey, they're only out when your father is driving."

...the world is a different place.

I'm not the kind of guy who recites affirmations in the mirror to start my mornings. But anybody who's been involved in a project I facilitated can tell you, I am a big advocate for making the choice to go through life not seeing the other drivers as jerks and idiots. I've seen the difference it can make in a life or a business when someone chooses to approach most days with hope and optimism. And I'm so glad there are kids around to remind us what a good idea that is.

Make a Difference,


P.S. Thanks to Jim Clemmer for sharing this story during a recent webinar.

One Day at a Time...

by Brian McDermott on 06/30/11

Got a long-distance call from an old friend, checking in to wish me a Happy St. Patrick's Day and to let me know he'd been clean for a year. No drugs. No alcohol. No more dealing cocaine from the trashed out apartment where I last saw him.

He had been on the brink. His personal story includes having made a ton of money and losing it. Having a family and losing it. Having a bullet rip into his life and almost losing it. 

I don't think it's a coincidence he called, even though it's a rare event when we talk. I bought a book the other day that I had intended to have already mailed to him. The title is, Broken -- My Story of Addiction and Redemption, by William Cope Moyers. 

In the epigraph, Moyers quotes Parker Palmer from The Politics of the Brokenhearted: "A disciple asks the [rabbi], 'Why does the Torah tell us to place these words upon your hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts? The rebbe answers, "It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in."

I heard Moyers speak at a professional association meeting -- these words and others from his personal journey through addiction -- and I knew within minutes I'd be buying several copies of the book to share with people I care about, people I fear are trying to fight this tough disease on their own... people I'm hoping could hear something in this story that  might land in their hearts.

The news in the long-distance was about a job, a reconnection with a son, and a resolve to stay a day at a time on this better course. Thanks for the hopeful call, old friend.

Make a difference,


Broken_Cover Art

5 Lessons about Learning and Leadership... Courtesy of a Daughter with No Fear of Fish Heads

by Brian McDermott on 06/30/11

I have long believed that if I listen well, kids have a lot to teach me about being a better grown-up, a better leader, a better person. My son and daughter have been schooling me for years. A recent lesson came in a handmade card for Father's Day, celebrated in the US, sent by my daughter, Callie, who was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tzactza, Peru at the time.

DISCLAIMER: If you want to score big points with a parent, send a note like the one I'm about to share with you. I'm proud and touched to have my daughter giving me this much credit for my parenting (and I had only an instant of suspicion that she may be about to ask me for something big). I know it may seem like I'm nominating myself for some good daddy award, but I really am putting this out here because of the wisdom I'm hearing in her words.

THE BACK STORY: You need a bit of background to understand the "inside" story on the fish heads that show up in the first paragraph. When Callie was 15 we took a family trip to Spain. When we ordered our first meal at a restaurant in the Plaza Mayor, near where I lived when I was a college student studying abroad, I warned that the fresh-caught trout would come with head and tail attached. Everyone thought I was joking; they had never seen that in their American upbringing. But I wasn't. After the initial shock it was not that big a deal. Trout is a delicate creature. Everyone ate with no major problems. But a week later at a restaurant in Nerja, along the Costa del Sol, Callie ordered another variety of fish that had a much bigger, more intimidating head. She got a bite or two into but couldn't go on. I was eating a delicious...wonderfully blackened swordfish steak I was planning to savor sloooowly...bite... by... bite. I was a bite or two in when I realized to make life right at that moment it would be Callie eating my swordfish. And, to enjoy the punchline, you need to know there is an animal many kids keep as pets in the US that are a delicacy in the Peruvian diet, and we'll be sharing meals on a visit with Callie soon...

The Lessons

I'll lay out the lessons here all-official-like with headings, bullets, and indents, but they'll mean more when hear them in Callie's own voice below.

On Learning:

  • Try new things, even when they're scary.
  • Whenever you can, laugh instead of getting angry.
  • Look for solutions instead of despairing over things that aren't going well.

On Leadership:

  • Stand by the people you're trying to teach and lead. They will need your help.
  • Be ready to teach... and also be ready to keep learning.

Callie's Version of Lessons about Learning and Leadership

NOTE: The outside of this card is a head and shoulders photo of Callie holding a small camp-fire-grilled fish in two hands, with head and tail attached, and looking as if she might swallow it whole...

Callie's Father's Day note 2009189

Happy Father's Day. Thanks, Callie.

Make a Difference,


Too Much to Do?

by Brian McDermott on 06/30/11

I made a to-do list off of my to-do list today, and I'm ending the day feeling I haven't gotten very much done. Not exactly a banner day.

So I went in search for a little solace, and found it in this quote from Ann Lamott. It's one of my favorites. It's from a book she published in 1994, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were at our family cabin... and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"  

Blue Footed Booby
I'm feeling a little better...

Make a Difference,


The Zamboni Principle...

by Brian McDermott on 06/30/11

The Zamboni Principle goes by other names, but it's a simple story about a guy who wanted to drive a big ol' ice-grooming tractor across hockey rinks that makes the lesson stick with me, so that's what I call it.

Zamboni 1 My partner, Gerry, was leading a two-day workshop we had created called Eagles. It was focused on helping people build on their strengths, find their sense of purpose in their lives and work, and to create goals that in many cases became life changing. In the workshop we had people create "vision collages." They cut up magazines and pasted together words and photos they found helpful in expressing what mattered most to them related to work, family, community and spirituality. We would have them start the collages near the end of the first day of the workshop, ask them to complete them overnight, and come prepared to share whatever they were willing to share the next morning.

At the end of this particular workshop, one participant told Gerry he would be late arriving the next morning and was afraid he would miss his chance to present. Gerry assured him, whenever he arrived, they would take time for him to talk about his collage.

He came in at the tail end of the presentations. Although he had missed the inspiration of hearing other people take a few risks in sharing their personal stories, he dove in. As Gerry remembers it, everything was going smoothly as he talked about some newly discovered insights about where he wanted to head in life and what else he would like to accomplish. Then he said something to the effect of... "Now, this next part is going to sound... silly... but I'm going to put it out there. I have always had this powerful desire to drive a Zamboni."

Without missing a beat, almost every person in the group of two dozen pointed across the room and said, "Then you need to talk to him!" Him was the guy who had shared earlier that one of his great passions in life was the off-work-hours he put into coordinating volunteers, ice time, and rink maintenance for the youth hockey association in his community.

Putting it out there for this one guy essentially put a set of Zamboni keys in his hand. Dream achieved.

That was a little thing, but I've seen it happen time and again on things big and small. Someone willing to speak. Someone else willing to listen. Connections made. Needs fulfilled. It's not magic. The work of achievement doesn't go away, but the universe has an uncanny way of bringing together its disparate pieces.

The Zamboni Principle. Put it out there, and then pay attention. Stuff will happen.

Make a Difference,


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