Guest Post: Self Leadership—Challenging Assumed Constraints

John:  This week’s guest post is a real treat for three very good reasons:

  1. Susan Fowler is one of my favorite leadership authors.  If you are not already familiar with her work, become so … quickly.  A blurb at the end has a link to some of her best work.
  2. The topic of this guest post is “Assumed Constraints”.  When you finish reading this, you will know why this is an important self leadership topic and a bit about how to avoid falling into self-limiting traps.
  3. This is a nifty way to introduce yet another engaging title from the One-Minute Manager powerhouse.  Read it and some older and very valuable thinking will appear, along with some freshly updated leadership thinking … all in an easy-read, deceptively simple story that will add value to your leadership journey … if you pay attention and use it.

I will have more to say about this exciting new title later.  For now, just sit back and enjoy …

Self Leadership—Challenging Assumed Constraints

Originally Posted on 5/4/17:

The negative, almost nasty, comment to one of my LinkedIn posts bugged me. I spent 30 minutes formulating a clever response and then, another 30 minutes trying to figure out how to post it. I could see the man’s comment in my notifications, but when I clicked “check it out” or “join the conversation,” I couldn’t find his comment. In pure frustration, I reached out for help from my Millennial social media guru, Kristin.

Her email back to me: You clicked the correct links to respond. I checked the links as well, and I also logged into your profile to look for the comment notification. It appears that he deleted his comment!

She had come to a plausible conclusion that I hadn’t even considered! I am supposed to be a subject matter expert on self leadership, yet I fell prey to an assumed constraint. I held an assumption that I was woefully ignorant when it comes to social media and incapable of solving the problem. I let that belief limit my openness to another possibility—such as, the man deleted his comment.

We fall prey to insidious assumed constraints every day. The way we internalize facts influences our beliefs that shape our intentions, which ultimately leads to our behavior.

Virtually raise your hand if your manager makes more money than you do. Nod your head knowingly if your manager has more position power than you do. Now consider how these facts influence your beliefs about the workplace, shape your intentions, and ultimately determine your behavior—and your relationship with your manager.

  • Comparing my manager’s power and income to my own, I may conclude: I don’t have the power or ability to affect change. This belief leads me to watch painfully as changes happen to me without my input or participation.
  • I may believe that my manager should know when I need more direction for achieving my goal. This belief causes me to wait for her to provide me with an action plan and the resources I need.
  • Even sadder, maybe I believe my boss should know what I need, but is so self-absorbed, she doesn’t even notice. This belief leads me to resent my manager and sabotage the relationship because I don’t trust she has my best interests at heart.

Assumed constraints are beliefs that limit our experience. Self leadership demands the acknowledgement, exploration, and reframing of assumed constraints.

Challenging assumed constraints by flipping them into statements that lead to positive action is an essential mindset of a self leader. For example, what if I took the assumed constraint about power and flipped it? I believe I have the power and ability to affect change. This statement is more likely to lead to productive behavior, such as proactive problem solving or selling my solutions.

The flipped assumed constraint also leads to an exploration of power: What types of power do I have and how can I use my points of power to proactively achieve my goals and make greater contributions to others?

Research provides evidence that self leadership competencies can be learnedand that organizations would be better served by focusing budgets and training employees on self leadership. But learning the skillset also requires cultivating a mindset to challenge assumed constraints, activate your points of power, and be proactive.

Thinking about my assumed constraint for responding to comments on LinkedIn, I take heart that I proactively reached out to a subject matter expert using my relationship power. I feel confident that the next time I find myself frustrated over social media (probably sometime within the next hour or so), I will challenge my assumed constraints by mindfully exploring solutions I wouldn’t have considered before receiving Kristin’s insight. Then, if I really am stymied, I will reach out for direction and support.

Self Leadership is having the mindset and skillset for getting what you need to succeed. For true self leaders, accepting responsibility and taking initiative for the quality of your work and life experience is a continuous pursuit of learning, growing, and achieving. It is the saga that never ends.

Susan FowlerABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the newly revised bestselling Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit

ENCORE POST: Refire! is Hot Stuff …


ME:  Slightly over a year ago, I reviewed this book.  Today I find myself immersed in the concepts of purpose, positive aging, and am spending considerable time figuring out how I can contribute to our generational rewriting of “retirement”.  I keep running into this book, as one of the essential resources for those interested in living a fuller and more meaningful live, right up to the last minute.

The post has been somewhat edited from the original, which posted on February 5, 2015, but my essential feeling remains the same:  THIS BOOK IS READABLE, THOUGHTFUL AND VALUABLE.


promo_03.pngSilly me … based on a cursory glance, I thought this book was about motivating employees to avoid firing or forcing them out.  

Prepared to slog dutifully through the text, notating strong points to share intelligently about the author’s message, I found myself instead absorbed in the perspectives being shared, reading rapidly, with frequent stops for reflection and margin scribbling.  This book engaged me on a very personal level.

Refire, Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life by Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz is simply the right book with the right tone at the right time in the right place …

To refire is to approach life with gusto.  It’s to see each day as an opportunity for adventure and learning?  It’s to infuse passion and zest into every area of your life – emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual.  Heart, head, body, and soul. (pg. 9)

The authors understand clearly that “retirement age” does not mean what it has in the past for most of us.    We  want to continue to live significantly as conditions change around us and Blanchard and Shaevitz share four essential keys to help us do so:


“You can’t enrich your current relationships or forge new ones if you keep on doing the same things in the same ways.”  (pg. 31)

This section is about energizing our emotional connections and the strength that flows from them.  We know that change is essential to build strong emotional ties, but we are often prevented from changing because change involves risk.  We have to become brave.

Unless there’s a legitimate reasons to say no, you say yes! “ (pg. 41) says The Last-Minute Gang

This idea is the single most empowering concept in the book and challenging for many of us who have built comfortable and predictable lives.  Blanchard and Shaevitz encourage us to break out and risk by doing things we might usually pass on.  

This is especially effective when combined with the Nothing Ordinary rule:  

“ …a commitment to uniqueness … not to choose anything ordinary.” (pg.50) Continue reading

Something Old, Something New …

A rehash of old ideas?

Updating to make it seem new? 

Trading on the power of a best-selling title from the far away and long past?

promo_04… Well, YES and NO

The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson is available this week, decades after the original and

highly popular The One Minute Manager by these same two authors burst upon the consciousness of a much different workplace.

In 1982, I had already learned something of management with service in the Retail Wars, as a department manager, associate buyer, and store manager.  I was actually in my second career as a higher education administrator and desperately needed help to know how to deal more effectively with those with whom I worked.  It took me two more years to actually read The One-Minute Manager, and by that time I was into a larger role in a bigger institution in a new state.

So it was a great time to try this idea of having short conversations to help people focus and achieve clarity around what they were trying to do.  At the time, I did not always think of what I did as following Blanchard and Johnson’s model.  I do know that my work then and since has been more successful because I continue to manage by talking to folks in these short, focused interactions.  In retrospect, the concepts of one-minute managing have been an important part of my foundation for everything I have done since.


Much of what you will find in this short and enjoyable new edition is old stuff.  The same basic plot and the same basic goal:  to communicate how to effectively coach and lead others through the eyes of a curious hero.

Many of the concepts and even the titles are the same:  We still set goals and praise good performance in short time frames.


The story has morphed some for our modern sensibilities in ways both trivial and impacting.

Personally, I think the best update was the shift from “reprimand” to “re-direct” in the third of the three one-minute elements of effective leadership.  If only the language changed , this would still signal a more thoughtful and collaborative approach than the traditional command and control model of leadership.  However the authors also weave into the whole revision a coaching sense, and not a managing sense.

Since I believe fervently that a coaching model is most effective in our interactions as managers, leaders, and people sharing the planet, this revised title is both welcome and more effective.


A short and very thoughtful book, which you can leisurely read in a few hours and take a lifetime to absorb and apply.   I only know of a handful of books that really stand the test of time to stay pertinent and useful.  Anything by Viktor Frankl comes easily to mind, and so does the whole One Minute Manager series.   This is a book that represents a concept you need to buy, read and refer to often, and when not actively using it, place it lovingly next to the original version on your Special Bookshelf, where only those most valuable titles live.

Loved it then and loving it even more now in the Heartland ….




Ken Blanchard, PhD is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world. He has co-authored 60 books, including Raving Fans and Gung Ho! with Sheldon Bowles.

His groundbreaking works have been translated into 42 languages and their combined sales total more than 21 million copies. In 2005 he was inducted into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 bestselling authors of all time.

The recipient of numerous leadership awards and honors, he is co-founder with his wife, Margie, of The Ken Blanchard Companies, a leading international training and consulting firm.


Spencer Johnson, MD is one of the most admired thought leaders and widely read authors in the world. His books, including the #1 bestseller Who Moved My Cheese?, are embedded in our language and culture.

Called “The King of Parables” by USA Today, Dr. Johnson is often referred to as the best there is at taking complex subjects and presenting simple solutions that work. His brief books contain insights and practical tools that millions of people use to enjoy more happiness and success with less stress.

Over 50 million copies of Spencer Johnson’s books are in use worldwide in 47 languages.


“The Secret” Is Out … Really

promo_04I like a good story, with realistic characters, a logical plot, and a thoughtful message … which is why I really enjoyed reading the 10th Anniversary edition of “The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do” by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller . . . 

Now, let’s be clear … this title will never become a Hollywood blockbuster.  It has no explosions, no sex, no superhuman stunts.  All you get for your money is solid writing with crisp dialogue about situations familiar to most of us with a satisfying story about one person’s ability to become a more effective leader by serving others.

On the other hand, this would make a GREAT training film as part of an effective leadership development program in any organization.

If you are familiar with Blanchard and Miller’s other works, both individually and as co-authors, you know their style leans to short, easy-to-read, narrative style books which are deceptively simple-appearing.  However, their work is always engaging and useful … if you are serious about considering your own leadership and how you might become a better leader.

At the risk of spoiling the surprise, here’s my interpretation of the secret ofThe Secret”:

Leaders Serve … That’s pretty much the gist

The book provides a reality-based scenario of Debbie Brewster’s learning journey as she slowly learns that basic fact about leading others.  I suspect many of us started out more like Debbie in our perception of leadership than we might like to admit.   She goes from a leadership perspective that involves a focus on herself to where her focus is on others … those she serves … her team.

Debbie learns, as we do along with her, that leadership is about serving others.  Five core components create the focus for servant leadership: 

share_091)  Vision:  See the Future

2)  People:  Engage and Develop Others

3)  Improvement:  Reinvent Continuously

4)  Success:  Value Results and Relationships

5) Credibility:  Embody the Values  

These are not unique or new concepts.  If you are a student and practitioner of leadership, you have seen this all before.

However, this book provides insight into them in a very down-to-earth and easily understandable fashion.  Other authors take hundreds and hundreds of pages loaded with technical terms and convoluted illustrations, often at a mega-level beyond the reality of many of us, to say what Blanchard and Miller do simply, quickly, and effectively.

One quibble:  I am not a big fan of titles likeThe Secret, simply because they imply something mysterious  and difficult to learn … this book is anything but mysterious or difficult.

That said, here are three quick observations about some value-added features in this book:

1)  Debbie has to learn about servant leadership in small doses and take notes along the way … 

Lucky for you that her notes, neatly organized and including only the essentials are available in the back of the book.  She did the work and you get the benefit.  These are “Debbie’s Secret Notes”, so you know they are extra special and valuable.

OK, that was a little sarcastic, but the point remains that you have the core learning of two very accomplished leaders in one simple and straight-forward document.  This one is worth copying and posting somewhere you will often see it and be reminded of the five core components.

2)  Debbie’s leadership journey takes months, but you can read this book the first time in one rainy afternoon …

This is not one of those weighty and academic books, that require long periods of reading and reflection, along with sometimes needing to Google the terms and concepts used to illustrate the points.  Everything is in easily understood language.

NOTE:  Observe that I said “first time” when referring to reading.  This book is worth revisiting every so often, even though you know how it all ends after the first time through. 

3) A Self-Assessment is also included for your use and continued consideration …  

You probably already know where you are with becoming a servant leader, but this simple assessment based on the five core components walks you through the details of how they are lived out.  It serves as both an excellent reinforcement of the concepts in the book and as a measure of where you are at a point.  You will want to revisit this section from time to time, both as a quick refresher and to see how you are growing.

You DO want to become a better leader who serves, right? …

Enjoying another great addition to my leadership learning library in the Heartland ….


For much more about this book and the two authors, check out The Secret.



Ken Blanchard is founder and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, an international management training and consulting firm that he and his wife, Margie Blanchard, began in 1979 in San Diego, California. He is one of the world’s most prominent authors, speakers, and consultants and is the author or coauthor of more than sixty books.

Dr. Blanchard is universally characterized by his friends, colleagues, and clients as one of the most insightful, powerful, and compassionate individuals in business today.

Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world and is respected for his years of groundbreaking work in the fields of leadership and management.



Mark began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. Since that time, he has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, Quality and Customer Satisfaction, Training and Development, and today he serves as the Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness.

During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to over $4 billion. Mark began writing about a decade ago. Today, almost 400,000 copies of The Secret are in print, and it has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Recently, he released The Heart Of Leadership which further explores leadership character and reveals the five habits leaders need to develop. His blog, Great Leaders Serve, is rated as one of the top leadership sites in the world.


Regular Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book prior to publication for review purposes.  It would take a lot more than a free book (of which I have many) to influence my opinion.  Feel free to be slightly jealous if you did not receive a free book, but reflect that if you use the learning in this book, you will regain your purchase price many times over. 

Guest Post: “Must Wins” by Mark Miller

promo_04Today’s guest post is from Mark Miller, co-author of “The Secret:  What Great Leaders Know and Do”.  This post was originally published on Monday, June 9, 2014 at

I’ll have more to say myself about this great anniversary edition, but for now, here’s Mark with some solid leadership thinking …



Have you started working on your 2015 plans for your organization? If not, it’s probably time. Where should you begin? One approach is to determine what’s most critical for your organization to accomplish in the coming years.

I attended a meeting recently in which someone shared the “Must Wins” for their department. After listening for a few minutes, I realized, he was describing what I’ve historically called organizational priorities. His language is far better than mine. To describe something as a “Must Win” gives it importance and urgency.

Here’s a working definition of a “Must Win…”

A statement of strategic intent critical to the health and future success of your organization; substantive enough to require 12 – 60 months of focused attention and deserving of disproportionate time, energy and financial support.

A “Must Win” is not a tactic or a program, nor is it a goal – although there should be metrics established to monitor your progress. It is about closing gaps or seizing opportunities to fundamentally strengthen your organization.

Here are some examples:

1. We must improve our retention among hourly team members.

2. We must meet our quality requirements more consistently.

3. We must establish a successful west coast presence.

4. We must create products and services to reach new customers.

5. We must find new ways to reduce costs across all divisions.

6. We must increase repeat business from our existing customer base.

7. We must develop the business acumen of our people.

8. We must create a leadership culture.

How do you determine what your “Must Wins” should be? That will require a blend of research, hard work, heated debates and a good measure of leadership intuition.

Here are a few questions that may help…

· If a new leadership team took over our organization today, what are the first three things they would do?

· If this new leadership team were creating their 3-year plan, what would they deem most critical?

· If you could eliminate one competitive threat over the next 36 months, what would we choose?

· What could you do to create significant competitive advantage?

· Where are we falling behind our competitors?

· If you were not worried about the difficulty involved, what is the one strategic priority you would certainly embrace?

· What is the most significant gap you need to address over the next 36 months in your organization?

· What should you do if we want to fundamentally strengthen your organization for the next decade?

· If you could only have one strategic initiative for the next 5 years, what would you choose? (You’re certainly not limited to one, but the thought you might be, should force some thoughtful conversations.)

These, and other questions like them, should always be on our mind. Not only are leaders the architects of the future, we set the strategic direction for our organizations. A successful organization cannot do everything – “Must Wins” help us know what we must do.

The future begins today!

clip_image002Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else.  In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing.

The 10th anniversary edition of The Secret will be released September 2, 2014.