Bookends and Rearview Mirrors

Don McGrath, Ph.D.

Have you ever experienced something very small precipitating into something big? A thing that made you recognize something about your life that stayed with you for days, weeks, months, or years?

I did, and it all started out with a goofy video in an airport while passing time waiting to board a flight from California to my home in Colorado. You can watch the video here.

You see, I was on my way home from speaking at an event in Los Angeles, and at that event, there was a panel of entrepreneurs who shared what motivated them to give so much of themselves to their businesses. It struck me how most of them shared something very painful from their past. For one it was that her family cast her out for being different. Another shared how he had earlier felt lost on his spiritual journey and wanted to help others through theirs. Another person shared their struggle as a cancer survivor. Their stories were emotional and very touching.

One of the panelists or the moderator, I can’t recall who, shared a thought that stuck with me. They shared that the reason we have a rearview mirror is so that we can be aware of what’s behind us, but that mirror is very small compared to our windshield, which is our future. And how the panelist had managed to take something powerful from their past and turn it into something amazing now, and how what they are doing has such promise for the future. Wow…I thought that was really powerful, so I made that goofy video! Okay, I was a little bored too.

A short time after hitting the post button in Facebook, my cell phone pinged telling me I had a text message. It was my eldest sister, Mary Ann. We are the family bookends, with my sisters Kathy, Gerri, and Donna being between in age.

Her text read, “Saw your video clip that mentions the rearview mirror…One that I’ve heard and love is: look in the rearview mirror, but don’t stare!”

To which I replied, “Love it! I love this analogy.”

I continued to muse, “Why are they tinted at night?”

Mary Ann replied, “Supposedly to reduce glare?”

To which I said, “So you don’t get blinded by glowing things from your past?”

Not knowing when to stop I said, “Why are they adjustable?”

A few minutes passed before the next ping, “Ah…like it! Adjustable…to accommodate different perspectives…yes, this is fun!” she said.

I then suggested, “We should write an article about this little exchange. We could call it bookends and rearview mirrors!”

So, that is what precipitated this article, and further thoughts about the rearview mirror analogy. Maybe in a future article I’ll share some of these.

But, that’s not the big thing. The big thing is that my eldest sister and I, though furthest apart in age, and living a thousand miles apart, can instantly connect and collaborate on writing an article so effortlessly.

Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s the history we share. Maybe it’s our shared love for understanding people. I don’t know. What I do know is that I find writing this article with her extremely fulfilling.


Mary Ann Rafferty

We are both fired up and enthusiastic about the work we do, so when we connect, it’s like sparks running along a wire!  Like Don, I am matched with work that continues to bring out the best in me and in others.  One day a couple of years ago, I was driving across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco on my way to a business meeting – clear and confident and full of energy and optimism, thinking: “I can’t believe they pay me so much money to have this much fun!”.

When our sibling energies have an opportunity to connect, the sparks fly and there’s no telling what can happen.


About the Authors

Don McGrath, Ph.D. is an award-winning author and speaker, having written 50 Athletes Over 50, Vertical Mind: Psychological Approaches for Optimal Rock Climbing, and The Climb: A Leadership Fable About Navigating Challenging Change. He led high-performance engineering teams in Fortune 500 companies for nearly 30 years, and is also an accomplished rock climber, having scaled thousands of difficult climbs around the world. He now combines his passions for rock climbing and achieving high-performance to help individuals and teams claim their own summits in their lives and their businesses. You can learn more about Don at, and you can reach him directly at


Mary Ann Rafferty is an Executive Coach and Corporate Transition Expert for Life Sciences Industry. Mary Ann offers broad life sciences industry knowledge and demonstrated success in strategic issue assessment, pragmatic problem-solving, organizational development, executive compensation, and talent   development. She is proud to have successfully aided numerous corporate leaders in realizing both their own and their organizations’ potential during times of change.


Interview with Dan Marti

This post is part of a series that summarize interviews I’ve done with rock climbers who are also leaders in some aspect of their life. I’ve long been a believer that beyond being a fun and challenging pursuit, rock climbing teaches us many lessons about leading ourselves and leading others. My goal in doing these interviews is to learn what other leaders have experienced to deepen my understanding of the transformative power that climbing can have on us. I plan on launching a podcast tiled The Climb with the full interviews, so stay tuned.

A few months ago, I sent an email to the people on my email list asking how rock climbing has changed their life. One email I received opened and closed with the following sentence.

“Once I was a fat guy that saw a climber and became inspired.  I set out with impossible intentions to someday climb mountains. I PROVED THE IMPOSSIBLE!”

It came from Dan Marti, and I was intrigued. After exchanging a few more emails, I decided that I wanted to share his inspiring story. The following is an excerpt from our interview.

Dan Marti - Climbing transformed his life

Dan Marti - Climbing transformed his life

Don:   So why don't you bring us back and tell us a little bit about before that day when you saw the climber that inspired you. Where were you at and what was going on?

Dan:   Well, I just moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was about 380 pounds, and basically a walking train wreck. I wasn't at all physically fit, nor mentally fit at that point of time in my life. I had just moved back from Texas. I worked in construction in my father's construction company. With a job like that, with your father's company, you can be pretty slack, because it's not like I was going to get fired.

I never worked out. I had never really been an athlete, never participated in any sports.

On top of that, I was in a car wreck and hurt my knee. After that I really couldn't do much. I drank way too much. I ate crappy food.

Dan before he discovered rock climbing

Dan before he discovered rock climbing

Don:   So, it sounds like you weren't in a good spot and yet one day you saw a climber, and it had an impact on you. Tell us about what happened.

Dan:   I actually moved to Custer, South Dakota. I got a job with the state working with adjudicated youth. I moved into a house and the very first person I met was a guy named Matt Mieczkowski. He was a rock climbing guide in the Tetons of Wyoming. I met him the very first day I moved in, and turns out that we ended up working at the same place.

When I started working, I would randomly see Matt at work and saw pictures on his desk of him rock climbing, and the guy seemed so physically strong and mentally sound. I remember thinking, rock climbers must be the toughest mentally and physically strong people in the world. And me being overweight and mentally in shambles, I was like, I want to be like that. I want to be one of those guys.

Don:   I think that maybe makes you a little different than most people. I think a lot of people would think that climbing was really cool, but could never really imagine doing it.

There must have been an activating moment when you decided that you really could climb and you took some action.

Dan:   I had another friend that opened up a gym and he started training people. He was really stoked about training people, so I started training with him and getting stronger.

I trained and pushed myself because my friends were stoked to see me get in better shape. Two years down the road I was able to get out and rock-climb. But I think the turning point was when I did my first pull-up. I was like, I think I got a shot at this. Having been over 300 pounds, I honestly never thought I'd ever be able to do a pull-up.

Don:   It sounds like some chance meetings with people changed your life.

Dan:   I can say that there are three people that changed my life, and I met them all within the same three months period. And that would be Matt Mieczkowski, my friend Ryan Brodrick at the gym in South Dakota who, and Kasey Kendrick, my buddy that let me stay at his place in Custer.

So, yeah, hands down, three people I met within 3 months of each other, completely by chance, changed my life.

Don:   That's something for all of us to think about because we could be that person to someone, right?

Dan:   Yeah, we never know who you'll inspire.

Dan now that he discovered climbing

Dan now that he discovered climbing

Don:   I was at a class last week, and somebody had a really cool quote that said, “big doors swing on small hinges.

Meaning that small things can lead to big changes.

So, you were inspired. Tell us the transformation that happened, and what it meant for you from a psychological standpoint. How did it change your life?

Dan:   I wouldn't even say climbing changed my life. I would say it actually gave me a life, because I don't really think what I was living at that time would be considered much of a life.

Losing the weight and getting stronger spilled over to success in other parts of my life. I got promoted at work to being a wellness instructor, and I worked with adjudicated youth in the court system. I got to take them outside and run through the Black Hills and do all sorts of fun outdoor activities.

Then I got put into a leadership role, and that's when my confidence and mental ability really started to take off. I became mentally stronger.

I learned to push past all sorts of obstacles. I did a lot of things that I had never thought I could do. I ran a half marathon. What 400-pound guy would ever run a half-marathon someday?

Don:   Wow, Dan. This story gets more interesting the more we talk.

So, you were inspired by climbing. You were working out. It really gave you a start, but then it had a significant impact on your career.

Dan:   Absolutely. I would not have got that promotion, if the supervisors didn't see me work hard, didn't see me train, didn't see me make that effort.

Don:   Wow, that's really amazing, how it just snowballed your confidence.

Dan:   Yeah, like I said, climbing gave me a life.

Don:   So, you said you came across Vertical Mind. Tell me a little bit about how you came to discover the book.

Dan:   I ran across Vertical Mind at a little climbing shop in South Dakota. I bought the book, and I actually started using the steps, learning about developing scripts and actually practicing it. And I was amazed, like, wow, this really works. This is easy. You just have to do it.

Don:   I really like that. One of my favorite sayings when I give talks is that, success rewards action.

Dan:   Absolutely.

Don:   We can read all we want. When you decide to take some action, that’s when magic happens. When you actually take action, it can change things dramatically.

This is a great example.

Then what happened?

Dan:   I think you refer to it as fear of failure in your book, but it was so hard for me to go climb with a lot of locals because they're such a small community and all better climbers than me.

I was scared that, if I screwed up and didn’t climb well, I would never get invited to go climb with them again. I was terrified that I might not get up a route. And that I wouldn't have climbing partners again.

Don:   So, what happened?

Dan:   I started climbing with my friend Matt Mieczkowski, but I only climbed with him once, because he had a wife and kids and was a very busy guy.

So, I went and bought Craig Luebben's Mastering the Basics and $600 worth of climbing gear, and convinced a couple of my friends to go out climbing with me.

I only climbed that once with Matt, so the next time I climbed was my first lead climb.

Don:   Wow. That's taking action.

Dan:   I also climbed with a lot of people that were passing through town and were on the Partner Search list at the local climbing shop. I did that for years before I ever climbed with a local.

The first time I climbed with a local, he led this 5.9 off-width that I was terrified I would not make it up. But, I tried. And tried. It took me about 45 minutes, but I did eventually get up it.

He was impressed by my effort because that took serious heart and effort.

After that, he pretty much called me every time he wanted to go climb. So, I had my first regular climbing partner.

Don:   So, rather than thinking less of you for struggling, it had the opposite effect. 

Dan:   Yes.

So, after I started having regular climbing partners, I started pushing myself by climbing with people not as skillful as myself. This made me stronger and more confident in my abilities.

About that time, I got another promotion at work and a really cool opportunity emerged. The superintendent for the state department where I worked was an old-school climber, and one day he came up to Matt Mieczkowski and me and asked us to write a climbing program to integrate into our corrective thinking curriculum.

For us, this was huge. It took us about two and a half years to get it approved. But we would eventually take adjudicated youth out climbing, and tie it into our corrective thinking program, which was a really cool experience.

The kids loved it, and we loved doing it.

Don:   What a fantastic thread, from you being inspired by Matt, and then having other people supporting you, giving you those life clues of where you needed to go.

And now you're providing similar opportunities to others.

Dan:   Yeah, it was a really great experience. I worked there and did that for eight and a half years, Don.

Don: So have you seen some transformations in some of the kids that went through that program?

Dan:   Oh, yeah. Huge. Just three weeks ago, I was back home in Nebraska visiting my parents, and I ran into a kid that was in my program. He had been in a lot of trouble, much due to bad parenting. He was so stoked to see me, and all he could talk about was the off-trail runs we did, and going out rock climbing with Matt and I. And hands down he told me it changed his life. He's doing great now.

Don:   That's fantastic. Getting to be that person in somebody else's life. It's pretty powerful.

Dan:   Yeah. And I run into those kids here and there. And I've never had one of those kids be a jerk or say he hated what happened or we were jerks to him.

All of them had a positive experience.

Don:   How about your favorite motivational or leadership quote?

Dan:   I have two that I really like. One is, “prove the impossible.” That was by Dave Tate in his book, Under the Bar.

And the other one was inscribed by my friend Matt Mieczkowski in a copy of the book The Freedom of the Hills that he gave me when he moved to Pennsylvania. It said, “when in doubt, climb higher.”

Don:   So, looking back on your journey, what was the biggest lesson you learned?

Dan:   The biggest thing I learned was how to get organized and manage my time.

Once I had structure in my life, all my goals just seemed to get done.

Don:   If you came across someone who was considering climbing, but they had some fear, or they were scared. What would you say to them?

Dan:   I would tell them that being scared of climbing is a natural fear. Fear of falling is a real thing. I would tell them that we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones to become better people, whether it's in climbing or anything else. So why not tie into a rope and see where it'll take you.

Don:   There are probably some people who are going to read this post or hear the podcast, who may be thinking, yeah, somebody else can make big changes in their lives. Maybe I can.

What would you say to that person?

Dan:   I would say, go for it. Do it. 100%.

And I'm big on giving back. People took care of me. Three people changed my life.

If there's anyone out there who needs help with their own transformation, I’ll go out of my way to help them.

Don:   Alright, so... if you're out there and you're reading this or listening to this, and you're saying, gosh, I'm in this bad place. You've got an offer from Dan.

And Dan, how can people reach out to you?

Dan: I will hands down go down the extra mile for anyone who contacts me.

Don:   That's very gracious, Dan.

And I'm going to double down on that offer. Anybody who wants support in taking on that big adventure in their life, I'm there too. And I think, if you're reading this, you know how to get a hold of me,

Don:   Dan, I think you're a great example of how we are just one or two people away from achieving whatever we want in life. Three people changed your life.

Dan:   Yeah, absolutely. Like we touched on earlier, you never know what's going to inspire somebody. It could be something little, just like it was for me. Just meeting Matt and hearing stories about climbing, that changed my life.

Don:   And I guess for the listeners, a call to action is, if you know of someone in your life that you believe has more in them, be that person.

Big doors swing from small hinges.

Dan, thanks for sharing your story. I think it will inspire people into action.

Interview with Climber and Pastor Jon Lemmond

Interview with Climber and Pastor Jon Lemmond

This post is part of a series that summarize interviews I’ve done with rock climbers who are also leaders in some aspect of their life. I’ve long been a believer that beyond being a fun and challenging pursuit, rock climbing teaches us many lessons about leading ourselves and leading others. My goal in doing these interviews is to learn what other leaders have experienced to deepen my understanding of the transformative power that climbing can have on us.

I plan on launching a podcast tiled The Climb with the full interviews this month, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interview with Jon Lemmond, who is a climber and a Pastor of a church. He shared some very cool insights with me.

Interview with Climber and Leader Brad Beggs

This post is the first in a series that summarize interviews I've done with rock climbers who are also leaders in some aspect of their life. I've long been a believer that beyond being a fun and challenging pursuit, rock climbing teaches us many lessons about leading ourselves and leading others. My goal in doing these interviews is to learn what other leaders have experienced to deepen my understanding of the transformative power that climbing can have on us.

I plan on launching a podcast with the full interviews later this year, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interview with Brad Beggs, who runs the University of Tennessee at Knoxville Outdoor Program.

   Growth takes place outside the comfort zone

   Growth takes place outside the comfort zone

Don: Outside of your leadership experience with the University of Tennessee, is there anything else that others should know about your leadership background?

Brad: I have a graduate degree from the University of Tennessee in Recreation Administration, that focused pretty heavily on leadership. I also was the chair of the City of Greenville, North Carolina Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission.

I also served as the co-chair for the Student Development Committee for the national organization Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE), where my focus was on training students to be leaders in roles in whatever kind of job they were pursuing after college.

Don: Sounds like you’ve had leadership experience in an administrative role, also in the community. And a little bit as some entrepreneurial work you’re doing, right?

Brad: Yes. On the side, I’m running a guidebook business for paddling in eastern North Carolina. A lot of people know that area for amazing paddling in the outer banks and the western part of the state, but the whole center part of the state has a lot of amazing paddling and it doesn’t get a lot of notice. This is important to a lot of communities looking to make use of their rivers and their lakes for economic development.

Don: Fantastic, so why don’t you tell me a little bit about your rock climbing background and what rock climbing means to you?

Brad: My very first experience climbing came when I was 16 years old. I was with my parents on vacation at Kitty Hawk, and there was this indoor wall. It was a tourist thing. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me try it, and I got up the really easy part and couldn’t do a small overhang. There were no indoor gyms at that time where I lived, so when I got to college at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts where they had a really strong outdoor program and an indoor climbing wall, I really got into it. I loved the movement and it reminded me a lot of my time in ballet. I did ballet for 10 years with the Canton Ballet.


Don: You talked about ballet. I often liken delicate climbing to dancing. I’ve never met anyone who has actually been a climber and also a ballet dancer. Can you comment on any analogies there?

Brad: In ballet, you might have eight to sixteen seconds of choreography that you learning at any one time. And your choreographer or artistic director will expect you to get those moves down pretty close to perfect. It needs to get refined in terms of holding the positions properly and expressing certain energy. Once you have that down, then you move onto the next move. That small chunking is similar to red pointing a route. Learning full-on ballets like Nutcracker or Dracula might be 10-minutes at a time, sort of like learning a pitch for a multi-pitch climb. Rehearsing for a red point was really familiar and comfortable for me.

Then there is also the idea of having a partnership. In ballet, you have to know your partner really well. You have to really have great communication. And if you don’t, you’re going to drop on each other. You’re not going to look good on stage. It’s similar to climbing partners.

You also learn to be front and center and stay calm. You learn to stay calm because you don’t want to have a fall or mess something up in front of 1,000 people.

Don: Many of us have this fear of failure or being in front of others even if it’s at the crags. I’m sure that mindset has been useful to you, having that experience.

Brad: I think it really came in useful in my first ever public leadership position with the City of Greenville Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. I was 29 at that time. Everybody on the Commission was probably 15 to 20 years senior to me, and a lot more experienced in city politics.

It was a bit intimidating, but from my training in ballet and climbing I had this comfort of being out in front.

Don: How about a piece of advice or tip that’s been useful to you for others who have that kind of anxiety around being front and center?

Brad: Finding smaller positions that are of lower consequence is very, very useful. I used to have a lot of anxiety when talking to complete strangers and starting up conversations. It helped me to read The Game by Neil Strauss. It’s a book about his experience to become a pickup artist when he was working at the New York Times.

In the book, he suggests that we need learn our human interaction skill sets. If you want to be comfortable talking with women, you need to be comfortable talking with people. That’s really where your actual issue is. He suggests practicing this by talking with cashiers or wait staff in short conversations.

Then you can apply that idea of chunking things down. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, find a group in which to speak where the consequences aren’t high. And just like climbing, you go from 5.8 to 5.9, 5.9 to 5.10. Before you know it, you’ll be really good at it.

Don: I love that whole chunking it down thing. We talk a lot about that in Vertical Mind. I think it’s great advice. When I talk about leadership, in my mind there’s two distinct pieces of leadership. One, I call personal leadership – is leading yourself. Then the other is people leadership which is leading others. So how about something you learned from climbing that helped you to lead yourself?

Brad: I’ve learned that I really need to study where my stop and resting points are. I need to figure out where I think the cruxes are. An example of how I applied this is when I had graduated college and trying to figure out what the next step was in my career. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a computer science person or a mountain guide, so I tried both. I really liked being a mountain guide thing, so I started looking at a lot of job descriptions for mountaineering jobs. From this, I figured out what steps I needed to take to have a successful career as a mountain guide.

Once I had figured that out, I laid out my career plan of experiences, certifications and training I needed. Then I made a wall paper for my laptop with my plan, so I would see it every time I used my computer. When I wanted to surf the internet, check emails, or work on a project, it was there as my reminder.

I would check stuff on that list whenever I accomplished it. It was a great way to hold myself accountable.

Don: I really love that because I’m a big believer in that tool as a visualization aid. I think that’s a great thing because you’ll see it all the time. That’s fantastic.

You’ve accomplished several significant goals. However, I’m sure there were setbacks. I’d like to hear a little bit about what you would consider one of the biggest setbacks.

Brad: While I was living in eastern North Carolina, which is a Mecca for a paddling, I did a lot of paddling. Rock climbing on the other hand, was four hours away, so my rock climbing ability really plateaued.

Well I was finally available to work on the paddling. The paddling was great professionally, but the challenge in that region and the setback was not being around a lot of similar people who wanted to get after it. Whether that was with paddling or in climbing or they want to start their own businesses, or they want to really improve who they were or how they saw that world. I had a really difficult time in my seven and a half years there, finding enough people that were really similar to me in those particular regards.

A lesson that I applied from rock climbing that helped me in this situation is how sometimes things don’t work out, and you just have to deal with it. Maybe it rains the day you plan to go do a climb you’re excited about. I was living in North Carolina by choice, and I knew it was temporary. I just needed to know that it wouldn’t be raining forever, and the climb would still be there when it stopped. That really helped me.

Don: Sometimes in climbing, and elsewhere in our lives, there is just some misery.

Brad: Yes, exactly. You’ve got to embrace the suffering. It is transient, even though sometimes it feels like it will never pass. Just keep that in mind that it will.

Don: I know for me, climbing has done a great deal in terms of my own personal development. And it sounds like for you too. Is there a resource that you have come across, a book, a podcast, a kind of leadership, a personal development that you’d like to share?

Brad: The book is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I also like I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Those books are super actionable in terms of how can you automate certain aspects of your life.

Don: How about your favorite leadership quote and why?

Brad: Growth takes place out of the comfort zone. Staying comfortable can be great for a while, but over time you lose your motivation. You lose your desire.

Don: One of the things that I hear most if I go to a cocktail party or a dinner party and I meet people who aren’t climbers, and they find out that I climb, is, “I could never do that. I could never climb.” What would you tell someone who was scared of climbing that would maybe persuade them that they should try it?

Brad: I would start having the conversation in an indirect way. I’d ask them about what their real fear is. Some people might say, “Oh, I’m afraid of heights.” While you might see them standing next to a railing or a nice overlook with no guard rail and they’re perfectly comfortable. Sometimes what they say is really an excuse or a shield to hide behind because they don’t want to be outside their comfort zone. They don’t want to have this idea of lack of control. They don’t want to feel a sense of embarrassment or a sense of failure that they can’t get off the ground.

When people have said this to me, I start thinking about who this person is. What do I know about their background. I’ll ask some probing question. Have they traveled somewhere new recently? What is a new thing that they recently tried they enjoyed? When was the last time that they did something new that made them a little bit uncomfortable that turned out to be a really enjoyable experience? If you want to try rock climbing it will be similar to that.

Don: I really like that approach. Leading the outdoor programs, you probably saw some real big transformations happen with some of the people in the program or clients for the program. Can you share with us one that sticks in your mind?

Brad: There was one student, who I’ll call Anna. When she first started working for me, a lot of the older staff members were like, “What the heck? Why are you hiring her? She’s so quiet.” But in my interview with her, I’d seen her come alive when I asked about some of her favorite experiences growing up in the outdoors. Her cover letter was really well written and talked about the meaning of being outside with her dad and hunting and fishing. She really wanted to be able to provide those experiences to other people.

I knew she had her motivation. By the time she graduated as a senior, she had become a great leader. Some of the older staff members said, “That’s Anna! I remember her when she was quiet and shy, and had a hard time speaking. Now she’s very social, very gregarious.”

Don: Well Brad, it’s really been a pleasure talking to you today about what you’ve learned, and sharing some of your resources and insights. I want to thank you for your time today.

Brad: Thank you for having this conversation. I appreciate all the work that you’re doing and letting people to know that rock climbing is more than an idle activity for a fringe group.

Don: Absolutely, I’m hoping to keep doing and bringing some of these stories to others.

Brad: Right on.

What can we learn about leadership from superheroes and zombies?

I was at a writers’ conference a couple of weeks ago, and I happened to be at the luncheon table with a friend of Michael Ignacio Jr., who told me that Michael studies superheroes in a leadership context. And as you know, I love leadership and I think Michael has a very cool twist on things. The following is an excerpt from our interview. I hope you enjoy it, and learn something.

Don: Tell me about your background and what brought you to the topic of super heroes and leadership.

Michael: I love coming up with creative ideas in order to change the perceptions of how we see things. I used to work in higher education, and I wanted to come up with a way to combine my love of creativity with my academic development. The reason why I chose superheroes is because when I looked at superhero teams like the Justice League or the X-Men, they had dynamic that I felt could be compared to a work environment...for non-super heroes, that it is.

Don: What did you see in those teams that made you think that that was applicable to regular human work teams?

Michael: On a super hero team, I identify six archetypes that were relevant to the workplace. You always have a leader – someone who takes charge and tries to initiate things. You always have a mastermind of some sort, someone who is able to come up with plans and strategies. You have a powerhouse, people who are able to take on difficult tasks that other people on the team may not capable of doing. You have a face, someone who is really good at interacting with people and finding out information. You have specialists who are specialized in certain areas. .

Don: In the human work world, sometimes it’s not really clear who the leader is. Can give me an example of the leader from Justice League or X Men?

Michael: Interestingly enough, the Justice League has a rotating leadership, depending on the project.

You could also have people who are both the leader, as well as having some other role. The important thing is that team member voices are being heard, ideas are being shared, and direction is being given. The dynamics of the team is more important than who the leader is.

Don: How abut with X-Men?

Michael: You might say that Professor X is the leader, but I think either Storm or Cyclops is, depending on the team and mission. I would say that Professor X has great leadership skills, but he plays more of an executive sponsor role. He makes sure that they have what they need in order to be successful.

Don: One thing I have noticed and I’ve read in some of my research is that one of the most common ways for teams to fail is lack of clarity on the goal, and clarity on roles and responsibility. So, in the case of one of your super hero groups how is this rotating leadership communicated? How is it really well understood, because if it’s not understood it seems like that would cause problems?

Michael: I talk about that in my upcoming book, Supercharger Team. N such cases, a team needs to communicate very well in order to be effective. An example is the Justice League. Whenever they have meetings where they come and talk to one another, they make sure to let everyone know all aspects about the situation and the plan. Even if they some members already know, like for example Aquaman may already know about who is polluting his ocean. Batman and the Green Lantern might still want to let everyone else know, and explain all the details they know, so everyone is on the same page.

Don: I’ve seen cases where egos make it very difficult for the teams to work together. I can only imagine that among teams of superheroes that’s got to be even a bigger challenge. Have you seen that?

Michael: I have not seen it any worse in super heroes than in humans. Our egos can be just as big.

Don: So, have you been able to apply some of the lessons that you learned from the superhero paradigm to a team that you worked on?

Michael: One of the lessons that I had to learn was that you need the right people on the team. If someone is not a good fit, they have to go.

Don: I’m a big Jim Collins fan. And in his book Good to Great he talks about getting the right people on the bus as the number one thing in having a great team. Have there been super hero teams where they had to get rid of somebody because they didn’t have the right people on the bus?

Michael: There was a character in the Justice League called the Huntress. I remember this from the cartoon shows when I was growing up. She was sort of a violent vigilante, who didn’t always adhere to the Justice League’s ethics. She was removed from the team because of this.

Don: It’s really amazing how one person who doesn’t share either the common goal, the style, or doesn’t fit the culture can really screw up a team.

Michael: I had to remove someone from my Kapuha Press team, because they were not a good fit for the actual company. That was a tough challenge, because I didn’t want to let someone go, but that’s ultimately what happened. It was a good lesson. I’m now able to recognize when someone isn’t right for the team, and I avoid hiring them.

Don: How about a leader that you personally admire.

Michael: Lando Calrissian, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The reason why I chose him was everyone gives Lando a lot of grief because he betrayed Han Solo to the empire, but from an ethical standpoint he actually had to do it, because he was in an administrator role. He was the administrator over the Cloud City Bespin facility. And a lot of people really relied on him for leadership, safety and security. So, he actually had to make a difficult decision was because he really had an ethical and moral responsibility to the employees that were employed under him to serve them the best way he could rather than help his friend.

Don: Yes, those are hard times to be a leader, when you have to make difficult decisions that affect other people’s lives. That’s the crucible that determines your long-term success. I was in the tech industry, so I’ve had the misfortune of having to give a lot of people their pink slips when the company was going through tough times. No one ever wants to do that, but you have to make tough decisions sometimes. It’s been my experience that if you take the broadest perspective, and not your own perspective, or that of Joe or Bill or Bob…If you really try to do the best for the global being, than in the end, people continue to trust you to lead them.

Michael: I also have noticed that when I’m put in difficult situations like that, the very first time that you have to do it, it’s super uncomfortable. But the more you do it, the more confident you become. No one enjoys firing people, but you become more adept at handling those situations, and learn how to handle in the most professional way.

Don: So, the leader that you chose, Lando. So what is his super power?

Michael: Actually, he doesn’t really have a super power, but his strengths is that he’s very charismatic. And he has a lot of courage. The background of Lando is that he was a gambler and a smuggler way back in the Star Wars history. Because of this, he is able to have the grit to handle difficult decisions.

Don: As I was preparing for this interview, I got thinking about this how superheroes are an exaggeration of all of us humans. All of us have our own little mini super power or strength, and our kryptonite or challenge. And For instance, I know my own super power is my optimism. My wife and I will be out climbing and it’ll start raining. She’ll say, “Oh, it’s raining.” I’ll say, “The heavy stuff isn’t coming down for a while yet. We’ve got time to do one more climb.”

My kryptonite is boredom. I hate boredom. What would your super power and your kryptonite be?

Michael: I’m really good at that and I also have a lot of professional fortitude. I’m really good at digging in and I have a lot of tenacity. I don’t give up, some people might call that stubborn but I work really, really hard and I try to do my very, very best.

My kryptonite would be that I have so many ideas and so much passion that sometimes I have to take a step back and realize, “Okay, I need to actually process what I’m doing,” rather than just rush and start acting on the ideas.

Don: In a past conversation, you mentioned a little bit about zombies and leadership. And I am a huge Walking Dead fan. I’m crazy about that show. Can you tell me what you learned about zombies and leadership?

Michael: There is a great book by Scott Kenemore, titled Zen of Zombie.

Zombies have great goal orientation, and they also have great transparency. Zombies want brains or flesh, and that is a metaphor for their goals. They’re not deterred. They aren’t afraid. They’re not egocentric. They do whatever they can regardless of how long it takes to move towards their goal, which is fantastic. I think a lot of professionals in the industry could benefit from having a lot more fortitude in terms of not necessarily being the immediate gratification, but saying, “Okay, I’m going to be patient. I’m going to work hard. I’m always going to keep on moving towards my goal even if it’s a single step at a time.

Don: So, work like a zombie?

Michael: Yes. More or less. In regards to transparency, when you see a zombie you know exactly what’s about to go down. They don’t do anything they’re not supposed to. They don’t do anything out of character.

Don: That’s interesting like the not being deterred. Certainly, they just keep going and keep going and keep going until their head is punctured or something. Although, their negotiating tactics leave something to be desired.

Michael: I think it’s all a matter of perspective, in terms of negotiation, zombies are great at attrition. They’re going to wait you out until you’re like, “Okay fine, I’m going to do whatever it is to make this go forward.” Like for example if you have humans in a building and they’re like, “Huh, we’re safe in this building.” The zombie is not going to be like, “Oh no, the humans are in the building I can’t get them.” They’re going to be like, “Okay, this is wonderful. This is an opportunity. Let’s surround the building until they make a mistake.”

Don: I think one of my challenges as a leader is that I tend to be not only an optimist, but also a diplomat. There are times when that works, but there are times when it doesn’t. I read something the other day where someone said that they’ve never seen a lion go up to a gazelle and ask for permission to attack it, that there are situations where you just have to go for what you need. I think that’s been a personality challenge for me in some of my leadership. There are just some times when hey, you got to take it as the zombies  and the lions do, right?

Michael: That’s one of my challenges, knowing when it’s appropriate to be assertive versus trying to be patient. And so I can definitely understand that.

Don: So, we talked about the zombies. Now what have you done with that? Have you taken any of those lessons and been able to put any of those into use?

Michael: I apply those in my own professional and personal life in trying to have the fortitude to endure whatever challenges I encounter. I try and keep calm.

Don: When I think about leadership I always think there are two kinds of leadership. There’s what I call personal leadership, which is leading yourself, and then there’s people leadership which is leading others. And you told me about Kapuha Press that you started. Tell us about Kapuha Press, what it is, how it came about and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Michael: Several years ago, I was trying to become a traditionally published author. I had these great stories, but when I tried sending them off to traditional publishers or agents, I would constantly get, “No, I’m sorry. This isn’t what we’re looking for.” It’s really disheartening.

So, I began looking into self publishing. It was pretty easy to get a story self-published. I realized that I could help other people as well.

Don:  I’m kind of hoping that this has been interesting for the people who are going to come across this blog post. And people may want to read a little bit more about what you’re doing and see more of your thoughts on your super heroes or zombies in leadership, or Kapuha Press. Where can people find out more about what you’re up to?

Michael: All of that information is on

Don: I really appreciate you talking to me today and telling us a little bit about your thoughts, and helping us to understand how some of the paradigms of superheros and zombies, can help us to understand how to be better leaders. So, thank you so much.

Michael: Thank you very much for this opportunity. It was a pleasure to talk with you.

Understanding How Your Personality Affects Others

In my last post, I introduced the Big Five personality model. If you took the assessment, I hope the results didn't surprise you. In this post, I'll discuss how your personality affects your work with others, your boss and your co-workers.

The 5 factors are N, E, O, A, and C.

Let's recall what N stands for.

N - Need for Stability: People who are high in N (N+) tend to be reactive and prefer low stress environments. People who are low in N (N-) tend to be very calm, even in stressful situations.

If you are N- and your boss or associate is N+, your calm could be interpreted as not recognizing or caring about a problem that your they are very concerned about. In this case, you should be sure they understand that you are concerned also and that you understand the impact the problem may have. Tell them what you plan to do about it.

If you are N+ and your boss or associate is N-, and you express a high degree of concern over an issue, you may be seen as being alarmist or over-reactive. If this is the case, have a discussion with them about where they believe the issue sits in priority with other issues and activities.

Be aware that if your entire team is N+, stress within the team can take a toll on performance and team health. It may be good to add some N- staff to the team.

Let's recall what E stands for.

E - Extroversion: People with high E (E+) like to be in the thick of the action and are outgoing. People with low E (E-) tend to be reserved and like a quiet environment.

If you are E- and your boss or associate is E+, be sure to communicate to them that you prefer to know the agenda prior to a meeting, and that you like to know ahead of time if you are expected to lead a conversation. In one on one meetings, it would be good to let them know that you are E- and that your desire for solitude is not personal. It's just your personality.

If you are E+ and your boss or associate is E-, be sure to take their personality into account when preparing for meetings with them. Give them an agenda ahead of time and let them know what will be expected of them. Keep meetings brief and focused.

Be aware that teams with most members low in E tend to under-communicate within the group and with others. You can help by asking about who else needs to know about the result of a discussion or meeting.

Let's recall what O stands for.

O - Originality: People high in O (O+) love new ideas and tend to enjoy artistic endeavors. People low in O (O-) prefer familiar environments.

If you are O- and your boss or associate is O+, you can be seen as a great asset in carrying out repetitious tasks that they would hate. Play to this strength.

If you are O+ and your boss or associate is O-, and you push new ideas on them before the ideas are vetted, they may tire of all your ideas and see you as a dreamer and not a doer. You should be selective of what ideas you push for, and you should do enough vetting of your ideas before pushing them too hard..

Be aware of having a balance of O+ and O- on your teams, so that new ideas are generated, yet progress is made on more mundane tasks.

Let's recall what A stands for.

A - Agreeableness: People with high A (A+) tend to accommodate the needs and desires of others over their own needs. People with low A (A-) tend to put their own interests ahead of those of others.

If you are A- and your boss or associate is A+, you will find little resistance to your ideas and opinions. Be sure to take the time to understand what they really think. They will have opinions, even if they don't share them readily with you. In the short term, you will get your way, but in the long run, they will resent your pushiness.

If you are A+ and your boss or associate is A-, you may find that you seldom get what you need or want. Put your thoughts, logic, and arguments in writing, so that they can be more readily digested and comprehended.

Be aware that team members with extremely low levels of A can be very damaging to the team. Be sure to make them aware when they steamroll others, and coach them to become more curious about the needs of others.

Let's recall what C stands for.

C - Conscientiousness: People with high C (C+) tend to focus on a goal or goals. Those with low C (C-) tend to like spontaneous pursuits and can get distracted easily.

If you are C- and your boss or associate is C+, learn not to resent their discipline and focus. Rather, use it to your advantage. Sit down with them and discuss priorities and ideas for efficient ways to get the work done.

If you are C+ and your boss or associate is C-, you might become frustrated with the lack of discipline in the team. Try and use your talents to help the team stay organized and on track. With time, you will be seen as a very valuable team member.

As you read through the scenarios, I'll bet that at least one of them felt familiar. I hope that you are able to take at least one tip away from this article, and that it helps you work better with your boss or co-workers.

Your Personality is Important

Your Personality is Important

In many life situations, much of our success depends on our ability to understand and act on the personality dynamics of situations. If I am working as part of a team towards a goal, how I work as part of the team depends largely on how my personality fits in with other team members, and how I modulate my communication and actions based on the personality of others. If I am trying to sell someone a product or an idea, my success depends largely on how I pitch to their needs and personality. Because of this, there have been several personality tests developed by various researchers, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Since I plan on using a personality assessment in my work with individuals and teams, I did some research into the most popular assessments and in this series of articles, I'll explain more about the one that I chose and why.

Two Types of Leadership

In reflecting on what got me to the point where I could pursue my passion and leave my job, I discovered two types of leadership, personal Leadership and people leadership.

Personal leadership is the recognition that you have the personal power to define what you want; figure out what you need to do to get you there; and do whatever it takes. Where did I learn to embrace the principles of personal leadership? Through reading many personal development books and my love for two sports that require strength and endurance—running and rock climbing, which I have devoted many years of my life to.

These experiences taught me about dreaming of big, inspiring goals and doing the work needed to reach them. The lessons that I learned taught me not only that I could set and reach big goals, but they also showed me how to do it. This learning helped me achieve several big goals in my life including getting my Ph.D. while working full-time; publishing several books, also while working full-time; and becoming a multi-millionaire at age 52.

It was about twelve years ago that I set the formidable goal of becoming semi-retired by the age of 50. For me, this meant having the money and flexibility to pursue different, and hopefully more fulfilling work, than I was doing at the time.

I was an engineer by trade and did enjoy the work. I must say though, that it was not my life’s passion. The career had been good to me and provided me many challenges and much growth. It also helped me provide for me and mine for many years. But, I wanted to pursue my passions—the things that I can’t wait to do every day; the things that make me smile and really enjoy life.

At that time, my net worth was less than $150,000 between equity in my home and my 401K. To many, it would seem like I had a good start, but when I did the math, I found out that I needed millions in net worth to make my goal a reality. From all the training and experiences I had, I knew that to reach this goal, I needed to have a plan. I knew that I needed to be prepared to be flexible and modify my plan if things didn’t go as I expected. I also knew that I was ready to do what needed to be done to make it happen.

My first step, was to hire a financial adviser. Together, we figured out what I needed to earn and save each year in order to reach my goal. I had a plan and I worked to follow it. However, things did not play out exactly as I planned, when one of the worst recessions in U.S. history hit shortly after we inked my plan. I remained committed to my goal and stayed flexible. Remarkably, at age 53, my net worth ended up exceeding my best-case projection in the plan, by a few hundred thousand dollars.

While personal leadership enabled me to have the vision, create the plan, and have the grit to see it through; people leadership abilities gave me the increased earning power that I needed to reach the goal. People leadership is the ability to lead people in accomplishing a goal or goals. During my engineering career, I had led highly successful teams of over 200 people in designing and bringing semiconductor chips with nearly half a billion transistors in them to market.

For 20 years, I constantly worked to improve myself as a leader, taking training classes, reading leadership books, and organizing leadership book clubs. I loved teamwork and leading teams, and immersed myself in learning as much as I could about being the best leader that I could be. My commitment to leadership paid off as I became one of the highest-rated leaders in all the companies that I worked for.

Research shows that leaders get paid significantly more (60% to 75% more) than non-leaders, and I was no exception. By the time I left my last leadership job, I was making in the deep six figures and was in the top 1% earners in the nation. You might be saying, “Yeah Don, but I’m not you.” While it’s true that you are not me, you can develop the same leadership abilities that I possess and significantly increase your earning power.

If you want to learn more about personal leadership and people leadership and how they can help you build wealth and find fulfillment, download my Lead and Grow Rich e-book here.

You're too young to retire!

In my last post, I told you about how I found myself ready to be done working and not knowing for sure what was next. In this post, I'll share what and how I decided that.

One day, when I was out for a walk on a clear and brisk Colorado morning and pondering my next move, I got an idea.

You see, in the months preceding my planned departure from my last job, as word started to get out that I was leaving my career to pursue writing and speaking, I often got the same response.

“You’re too young to retire!”

After sharing a laugh, I would respond by saying that I still planned to work, but that I just wasn’t sure what exactly I would be doing. Many would tell me how jealous they were that I had the financial freedom to follow my passions at my age. I didn’t see myself as any different than anyone else and I knew that others could achieve the same thing that I did, if they had a plan for accomplishing it.

As I paused during my walk to reflect on my thoughts, it occurred to me that maybe I could write about and teach people to do what I had done, which was to attain a really big goal—to attain financial freedom at a relatively young age. After all, I didn’t get a huge inheritance or win a lottery. I had actually been purposeful about achieving this goal for about ten years.

This concept set my mind in motion, as I attempted to reprocess exactly how I had accomplished this. After hours of pondering, it occurred to me that the key was leadership. It was leadership that got me here—and nothing else. I further deduced there were two types of leadership involved, personal leadership and people leadership. It was then and there that I decided to write this book about leadership. Striving to reach big goals scares most people. I wanted to empower people to reach the big goals in their lives, financial or otherwise, through personal and people leadership.

In my next post, I'll explain the two aspects of leadership that I discovered that put me where I was on that day.

I don't have to work anymore...Really?

As I sat at my financial advisor’s desk for my annual review, he started the conversation by stating, “You don’t have to work anymore.”

“Really?” I thought.

At the time, I was an Engineering Director responsible for leading a team of about 50 engineers. Over the previous 30 years, I had served in various leadership roles within corporations. At times, I led teams of over 200 people. Now, at age 52, I found myself a multi-millionaire. I no longer had to work if I didn’t want to, but I did want to. I knew though, that I didn’t want to continue doing the same sort of work. I had been there and done that. I was ready for a new adventure and a new way to make a contribution to the world.

Over the previous six years, I had developed an interest in writing and had published several books. My most successful book was Vertical Mind: Psychological Approaches for Optimal Rock Climbing. I targeted rock climbers with an interest in toughening up their mental strength. You see, I am an avid rock climber with over 25 years’ experience in rock climbing. I really enjoyed the promotional aspects of authoring Vertical Mind, like speaking, writing, and presenting workshops; but I wanted to work in an area where I would have more impact on people’s lives. I wanted to change people’s lives in a much bigger way than I could through climbing alone. What would my new focus be? How could I help people in a bigger way?

In my next blog post, I'll explain how.