A Hiatus for The Daily Difference

The Daily Difference will take an indefinite break beginning today.

We hope to see you back here soon.



Things That Never Healed…

“He broke things in me that never healed.  You gotta ask yourself, “What’s the important stuff?”  What are you fighting for?”

–     Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa in Creed II

We didn’t see this one in the theater so we watched it last night.  As predictable as every other in the series, and almost as good.  Worth the investment of time.

We will all have our Ivan Drago‘s.  We’ll all have people who either intentionally or subconsciously seek to harm us or our families.  We’ll work for people who don’t get it, or we’ll be the people that don’t get it.  In the case of those who wronged us, intentionally or otherwise, any vindictiveness, retaliatory thoughts or plotting or revenge-motivated ideas are a waste.  Of.  Time.  That’s not the important stuff.  What comes next, what we do next is important.  It keeps us focused on our family, our friends, our Blessings and our comparatively pretty excellent life.

Yeah, when we focus on the important stuff, it keeps us aware of what we’re fighting for, or whether there’s really a fight involved at all.

The Eldest of The Three gave me this book for Christmas.  It’s a pretty good way to forgive our Drago’s, fight the good fight and make a difference.

(By the way, Dolph Lundgren has aged much better than Brigitte Nielsen.  Just sayin’…)


Great Storytelling: From and To The Heart

“His speaking went to the heart because it came from the heart.  I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion.  Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself.”

          –     A “young reporter” quoted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book,  Leadership:  In Turbulent Times, describing Abraham Lincoln‘s persuasive abilities

For historical context, at the time this description was penned, Lincoln was arguing against the Kansas / Nebraska Act, which essentially expanded slavery from the traditional North – South or Before – After line drawn previously.

Yesterday we touched on the noun effect; great storytellers.

Today, we get to the verb; great storytelling.

We could probably drop the mic at “to the heart…from the heart,” yet there’s more to it.  If we’re in the business of selling something — and we all are — it doesn’t matter how good we are at telling stories and it doesn’t matter how good our stories are if they don’t move someone from point “A” to point “B,” or from believing or wanting something to believing or wanting something different.

The power of persuasion is important, but only if it creates conviction in others, and that begins with our own conviction to the point of the stories we tell.

Great Storytellers

“A great storyteller will and always be rooted in the people.  It is granted to him to reach back to a whole lifetime, culling from his own experience as well as the experience of others to unfold narratives that provide counsel, advice and direction.”

          –     Walter Benjamin, (1892 – 1940), German essayist, as quoted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times

In the hands of a great storyteller, the story doesn’t have to be all that good.  Check out Aaron Sorkin‘s work if you don’t believe me.  Sports Night, The West Wing and others weren’t based on great stories, but they were told magnificently.

Goodwin’s book is about four presidents (Roosevelts (2), Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson).  In their own rights, each was a very good storyteller, despite being very different in their approach.  Where the concept comes to life is when we learn the influence of great storytellers on the four men, and how it helped them shape their leadership styles.

Who were the great storytellers in your life?  Mine include an uncle, a couple mentors, a teacher or two, a coach and a handful of friends along the way.

What made them great story tellers?  I bet their approaches were rooted in the people, reaching back over a whole lifetime, culling from experiences to establish a narrative that provided counsel, advice and direction.  The point of a storyteller is to adapt the story to the circumstances.  A seminal story in my career, told by one of my mentors has been used to cheer someone up during struggles, motivate them during times of great success and to ground them when they got out over their skis a bit too far.  Same story.  Culling from experiences, providing counsel, advice and direction.

This quote might seem inconsequential in Goodwin’s intended purpose for the book.  That said, it leapt off the page at me, and connected in a way that made it the lead for the Daily Diff’s return from hiatus.

Remember a great storyteller that made a difference for you.  If they’re still around, call them, text them, drop them a hand-written note and let them know…


Leading In Turbulent Times IV

“…he set a dramatic goal for the…team:  even though they had never won anything, Lyndon told them that for the first time in the history of the school, the team would win not only the city and district competitions, but would go on to the state championship.  Straightaway, he had set a psychological target to elevate the team’s ambition before the season ever got underway.”

–     Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Lyndon Johnson, in his early role as debate team coach at Sam Houston High School, in her book Leadership:  In Turbulent Times

Setting psychological targets.  Elevating ambition.  In advance.

The job of a leader is to get more from the team than the team believes they can accomplish.  Having the vision, courage and belief in possibilities is fundamental to being a difference-making leader, in good times and tough times.

Arbitrary target setting is not the same thing as setting psychological targets.

“We will achieve ___% growth selling the same products the same way into the same shrinking market at the same price without adapting our story” is not setting a psychological target or elevating the ambitions of the team.  Companies large-and-small, public-and-private face that challenge.  Now, on the other hand, let’s revisit JFK’s “man on the moon” speech at Rice Stadium on May 25, 1961.  Make no mistake, some of the people closest to Kennedy and many of the people within NASA thought he had lost his mind when he made this speech.  But on July 20, 1969 when “the eagle landed,” and a few hours later, on July 21st when Neil Armstrong took his “one small step,” the accomplishment tied back to the psychological target and elevated ambition Kennedy provided.  The speech is rife with reasons the audacious task could and should be done, each tied to a principle and / or an accomplishment that gave reason-to-believe it could and should be done.

Johnson was deeply committed to the man-on-the-moon goal when he took over for Kennedy after his assassination — and success was made possible, in part, by a mindset that Johnson portrayed when taking over a debate team that had “never won anything” decades before.

(Read the speech if you need a pick-me-up from the current political rhetoric…it’s pretty amazing and casts some interesting context if we attach it to conditions of today….but I digress…)

Honest Abe, Rough-Riding Teddy, FDR and LBJ were tasked with leading during very turbulent times.  Any turbulence we face might be less grandiose in nature, but to the teams we lead, it may be every bit as impactful.

Lessons:  From Lincoln — How curious are we?  How compelled are we to understand?  From Theodore Roosevelt — how well are we connecting to those around us?  From Franklin Roosevelt — how deep, talented and loyal is the team we’re assembling and sustaining?  And from Johnson — what psychological targets are we putting in place to elevate the ambitions of the team and those whom we influence?

The Daily Difference will take some time off for Spring Break next week, and return on March 25th.  



Leading In Turbulent Times III

“Of all the strengths (Franklin) Roosevelt displayed…none was of greater significance than his ability to assemble and sustain a remarkably talented and staunchly loyal team that would remain together in the years ahead.”

–     Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book, Leadership:  In Turbulent Times

It’s almost as if FDR was into the REELAX Model!  Assemble and sustain are a lot like “recruit and retain!”

The recurring theme in Goodwin’s capture of what made these four presidents such strong leaders during turbulent times is consistency.

The best hope we have in turbulent times is to have put in place teams and approaches that serve us well with tailwinds, no winds and in turbulent times.  Roosevelt’s success during tough times was because he’s built the foundation before the times got tough.

The last thing our teams need in tough times is abrupt changes in our approach, unless the times are perfect-storm turbulent.

And it really does start with talent.  Assemble and sustain a team that will remain together…  Lead them consistently and predictably and no matter the turbulence, smooth navigation and safe arrival become much more likely.


Leading In Turbulent Times II

“I went around often enough to have the men get accustomed to me and to have me get accustomed to them so that we began to speak the same language and so that each could begin to live down in other’s mind…the defective quality of being a stranger.”

–     Theodore Roosevelt, as quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s recent book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times”

“Management by walking around,” was the way it was described (among others by Tom Peters in “In Search of Excellence”) and it was the “it” theory of leadership for awhile.  It still should be.


If we’re leaders, it’s almost all about connecting, and it’s almost always about connecting.

The four presidents — Lincoln, both Roosevelts and LBJ, the subjects of DKG’s book — all connected — and unlike our perception of today’s politicians, they connected across the aisle, across race lines, across socio-economic lines; across lines in general.

“The defective quality of being a stranger” is borne out by silver-tower leaders who never leave the silver-tower.  I company I know well had blue carpet (very expensive blue carpet) in the executive area.  The running shtick in that company was “they’d have to leave the blue carpet to know what’s really going on here…”  The execs, it seemed, rarely left the confines of the exec offices.  If companies had a Life360™ – like app on their executive team, it would be interesting to see how frequently they “went around enough” to get connected.

Open-door policies are good, and I’ve never seen a company that didn’t claim to have one.

The open-door never works, though, unless the leader walks out through that open door to get accustomed to the team and have them get accustomed to the leader.  The word “never” is one I use sparingly.  I use it very intentionally here.  If a leader never gets out to connect, they could remove their doors altogether and it wouldn’t matter.

If being a stranger is a “defective quality” for a leader, difference makers know that getting connected is the antidote — not to mention the foundation for leading, and not just in turbulent times.


Leading In Turbulent Times

“While his mind was neither quick nor facile, young Lincoln possessed singular powers of reasoning and comprehension, unflagging curiosity, and a fierce, almost irresistible, compulsion to understand the meaning of what he heard, read or was taught.”

–     Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book Leadership In Turbulent Times (on Lincoln, the Roosevelts and LBJ)

What I love most about this note on Abraham Lincoln is the “unflagging curiosity” and “fierce…irresistible compulsion to understand…”

If we only bring unflagging curiosity to the table every day, we’ll move forward, every day.  And if we truly seek — if we’re compelled — to understand, to get to the “Why?” we’ll have no choice but to make a difference.

It’s not about how quick or bright we are.  It’s about how much we want to learn and how deeply we want to understand.  It worked out ok for Abe.  One could say he made a difference, right?

Make it a great day.

A Different Kind of BFF

“If we believe, but don’t follow, at the end, we’ll hear, “Brilliant performance, but you missed the point.”

–     Mike Housholder, Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of Hope in yesterday’s sermon

I won’t even apologize for going all churchy on you today.  Sorry.  (Wait!  I just said I wouldn’t do that…)  There’s a business lesson here, too.

Everything has an acronym these days, and “BFF” has pretty much marginalized the idea of “best” friendship.  But that’s not the point.

Pastor Mike pointed out that 89% of 30-year-olds whose parents took them to church growing up have an active, fulfilling Faith life, compared to only 11% of 30-year-olds whose parents didn’t take them to church.  But that’s not the point, either.

“What is the point, Heston?” you’re thinking?

The point is, it’s not only about belief.  Something has to activate it in order for belief to take us places while we’re here, on this planet.  I’m not going to go all-chapter-and-verse on you.  The link to the sermon will, however.  That said, for 15 years The Daily Diff has been based on the fact that belief is the most important ingredient in a successful selling / business life.  The point is, it must be activated in order to really take us places.

And the activator is to follow.  To follow.  Reading-between-the-lines isn’t necessary to get Pastor Mike’s context.  The business application is almost as apparent.

It’s one thing — the biggest thing, perhaps — to believe.  Unless we follow that belief, though — actively, in an engaged, committed manner — the magic might never happen and the depth might never be realized.

Believe in your company.  Believe in your product.  Believe in your team, your abilities and your gifts.  And follow that belief actively, with passion and commitment to making a difference.

Since I started unapologetically on a Faith-based-angle, I could take the obvious approach with the headline and suggest who our “BFF” needs to be.

Instead, let me try to paraphrase my notes from Sunday morning, for this Monday morning edition, with apologies to Pastor Mike if I’m too far outside the lines.

The BFF angle I’m suggesting here is that when we Believe and we actively Follow, Fulfillment is the prize.  It feels to me like a prize worth pursuing.






Pain, Suffering and Choice

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

          –     Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1977), Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, survivor of the Holocaust

In a quote the Google® attributes to everyone from Ghandi to “Fake Buddah,” we’ve heard that “pain is inevitable but suffering / misery is optional.”  That is the power Frankl references.  The power to choose our response.  For the record, I say we go with the experience and advice of someone who survived one of history’s greatest horrors on this topic, ok?

Stimulus?  Maybe something spectacular just happened. Maybe something that can only be described with disgust and profanity just happened.  Response; we can bask or gloat, we can cry, mope and play the victim, or we can choose, carefully, a measured response in both the good times and the bad.  Because, we never really know which scenario is at play.

Since I’m on a roll with two quotes already, here’s a third one, a DD Standard from my friend, Dr. Tom Graf.  “Most things in life are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.  Most things just are.”

Power, or whatever we relate to power, is rarely in our grasp.  The power to choose our response, however, is there all the time.

Do we choose more often or just react?  Do we choose well, or do we squander the power we’ve got at our disposal?

Whatever we’re facing today, the best-of-the-best or the lowest-of-lows, let’s choose to choose, and choose well.