Archive | October, 2013

Sometimes the Choice is This Simple

31 Oct


The Big Man Complex

25 Oct


We are all familiar with the “Little Man Complex,” a term used to describe a short man who is overly aggressive or ambitious to compensate for his height. But you don’t hear a lot about the “Big Man Complex,” which is just as prevalent and can teach us a lot about how and why we put limits on ourselves. Let me start with an example.

Wilt chamberlain is considered one of the most dominant athletes of the modern era. He was over 7 feet tall and, when he was playing with the Lakers, was over 300 pounds of muscle and agility. Yet, despite his enormous size and power, he consistently lost to his rival, Bill Russell, who was significantly smaller. Why? Well, obviously the teams around them had something to do with it, but I’d like to suggest that one of Wilt’s primary weaknesses as a player was simply that he was afraid of his own power.

Here is what Wilt had to say in this candid 1997 interview (feel free to watch the first two minutes, but I’ve got the important part below).


Bob Costas: They used to say about you, though you were by far the biggest and strongest man in the league, uncommonly skilled for a Center, that you did not have a “killer instinct.” And I don’t mean that competitively…you could have hurt guys. You could have slammed guys to the floor. You could have looked to pick fights. You didn’t do that.

Bill Russell: That was one of the saving things about playing against the guy that physically imposing… is that I cannot recall even hearing anything about him trying to hurt anybody.

Wilt Chamberlain: That’s good and bad though. You know what I mean?

Bill: You know you could wrap him up and he wasn’t going to hurt you.

Wilt: That’s good and bad though.

Bob: Did you need more killer instinct?

Wilt: Yeah, you know….it could be said (nods)…it could be said…but also remember that when you’re my size, you know, and you try and figure out…also there was a little bit of emotional stuff going on there…because I knew I was bigger and stronger than everybody else, I wanted to also show them that I was skillful. I wasn’t out there to really try to show that I could just knock people over and whatever…

Bob: And you didn’t just want to play into the image of brute strength.

Wilt: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

The takeaway message is….who can’t relate to what Wilt is saying here!? He doesn’t want to get pigeon-holed. He doesn’t want to play into the stereotype of this dominant physical player. Sure, in his given profession, he can completely dominate everyone around him, but that doesn’t make them feel very good. And it isn’t in keeping with the true spirit of the game. And yet, from a basketball perspective, you have to use every advantage you have. He had a huge advantage that he didn’t exploit. He had put a speed limit on himself. He couldn’t beat Bill because he felt like his power was a liability.

Now, you might be thinking, “why in the world would someone do that?” (or you’re thinking, “oh, I see where you’re going here…”), but either way, I’m going to share a little story of my own that hints at an answer. When I was growing up, me and my friends were really into fighting games. Street Fighter 2 was our game of choice and we enjoyed countless hours competing against each other.


There was a problem though. I started practicing more and more and eventually I got to be really good. I quickly learned that this wasn’t a good thing. At least not if I wanted to hang out with my friends. If I won too many matches or if I won too convincingly, they would complain and eventually quit playing all together. So, I learned that if I was too good at something, then I needed to find a way to hide it…or at least balance it just enough so that I wouldn’t disrupt the relationships around me. I learned that being good at something can make other people feel bad. And when you make other people feel bad, they don’t want to spend time with you. I have a hunch that Wilt experienced the same thing in basketball.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, I think the “big man complex” is simply when you hide your natural gifts because its makes other people uncomfortable. You downplay who you are and what you can do because you’re smart enough to recognize that while the world may recognize and reward greatness in general, when it’s someone they know, the world is much more likely to get pissed off and walk away.


So, what can we do about this big man complex? Well, I can share my experience. I think there are two things you can do. First, get some new friends. Seriously. No, really. I’m being completely serious. Get some friends who will genuinely take pride in your accomplishments and will support you when you are struggling. Families aren’t always great at that, but it’s easier to change your social group than it is your family, so I would start there. How, you ask? Go to, facebook, linkedin, etc. and go to some meetings and events. Meet some new people who are into the same things and have the same passion. Trust me, if you’re passionate about being awesome at something, then it won’t take long to find others who are too.


Second, I would stop buying into your own bullshit. I mean seriously. We can be amazing if we want to be. And I’m not pushing that same old generation Y BS that says “you’re already amazing no matter what you do,” I’m saying that if you dedicate yourself to something then the only limits on you will be your own. Sure people won’t like it. That’s natural, but that’s not your business. That is their business. Those are just their own limits and fears bubbling to the surface and being thrown at you. If you really want to stop this cycle, then make a conscious effort to take pride in what others accomplish. How many compliments or congratulations did you give out this week? It doesn’t matter. Do it more. And don’t forget to include yourself.

I think that the big man complex is actually something we all struggle with. Obviously, the little man complex is there too. We are just as likely to hide our insecurities with bold claims and aggression, but we need to remember the subtle forces that work against us as well. Sure there are people out there who will read this and think, “yeah, see everyone is just a hater. I’m going to make it!!” even though they have done absolutely nothing and still haven’t realized that it’s the process not the outcome. But I’m hoping there are at least a few people who can relate to this. I’ll leave you with a far more eloquent version of my thesis. If you know this quote, then I hope it’s a good reminder. If you’ve never heard it before, I hope it’s a wake-up call.


– Marianne Williamson

Beware False Decisions!

21 Oct


In July of 2009 I was driving home from Rockville, Maryland and I was seriously stressed out. I was wrestling with a very big decision; should I leave my current job? It’s a question that a lot of us will ask. In my case, I had just seen an interesting job post and I was already sensing that it was time for me to move on. A lot of questions bounced around. Should I even be looking for a new job right now? What would the commute be like? Would I jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire? Would the culture be any better? Would I have more or less opportunity? Should I pivot a bit and go for a smaller agency in which I could have more influence? And since I really didn’t know the answer to any of these questions and I started feeling really stressed out.

After about an hour of this agonizing thinking, something very profound occurred to me. I was not actually making a decision. In that moment, there was actually no job offer to accept. I hadn’t even applied! Here I was stressing out about a decision that literally did not exist. It was all a fantasy…and it was a fantasy that was stressing me out! 

The only decisions I actually had to make were about my immediate next actions. Not any potential issues way down the road. In that moment I realized that all of this stuff about my career….these deep internal questions…had suddenly emerged in the guise of a decision. That is what was stressing me out. What seemed like a decision was actually just a trigger telling me that I needed to take action. When I realized this, it was very clear what I needed to do….apply for the job, talk to my boss, buy a book on decision making. Suddenly, within about 15 seconds, I had three practical steps that I could take. No stress. No decision. Just action.

Now, obviously at some point down the road I had to make that decision, but when I did, I had all the information I needed. My priorities were clear and the right choice was actually pretty clear. So, my advice is that anytime you ask yourself, “should I…” and that questions feels stressful, it’s probably because you’ve set up a false decision. It’s quite possible that you’ve fallen into the trap of believing, “I should have control over something that I can’t control.” It’s no wonder that we stress ourselves out.

Eliminate all of the potential decisions and focus on the next immediate action. That’s all you can do anyway. No matter how much you stress out about it, no amount of stress, deliberation, or agonizing will give you control over the future. So the only decision that actually matters is…what can I do right now?


Do Wild New Shit

16 Oct


“Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time. If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are and to be inside your zone of competence, you don’t do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you’re stupid. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t go outside the box.”     -Nathan Myhrvold

We could all use a little encouragement…

14 Oct


The following letter was written by Albert Einstein’s father.


13 April 1901

Professor Wilhelm Ostwald
University of Leipzig
Leipzig, Germany

Esteemed Herr Professor!

Please forgive a father who is so bold as to turn to you, esteemed Herr Professor, in the interest of his son.

I shall start by telling you that my son Albert is 22 years old, that … he feels profoundly unhappy with his present lack of position, and his idea that he has gone off the tracks with his career & is now out of touch gets more and more entrenched each day. In addition, he is oppressed by the thought that he is a burden on us, people of modest means….

I have taken the liberty of turning [to you] with the humble request to … write him, if possible, a few words of encouragement, so that he might recover his joy in living and working.

If, in addition, you could secure him an Assistant’s position for now or the next autumn, my gratitude would know no bounds….

I am also taking the liberty of mentioning that my son does not know anything about my unusual step.

I remain, highly esteemed Herr Professor,
your devoted

Hermann Einstein


From The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume I. No answer from Professor Ostwald was ever received. Who in your life could use “a few words of encouragement?”


The Problem with the Leadership Industry

10 Oct


I wanted to share some thoughts on why I think the leadership industry is heading in the wrong direction. We focus too much on the individual leader and not the social system within which individuals operate. In my view, “leadership” is most appropriately understood as a function or role of influence within a social system (or game). It is NOT an individual character trait or skill or ability.

The Leadership Development Outcomes of Action Learning

9 Oct


After many years, I’ve finally submitted my doctoral dissertation. I thought I’d share the abstract of my research. 


An Exploration of Significant Leadership Development Factors in Action Learning: A Comparison of Three Action Learning Programs

 As the need for new leaders has increased, so has the need for better forms of leadership development (Hamel, 2007; Lojeski, 2010; Gratton, 2011). Action learning has been popularized as one of these better forms of leadership development (Peters & Smith, 1998; Byrnes, 2005; ASTD, 2008; Trehan & Pedler, 2011). However, empirical research on the relationship between action learning and leadership development is only just beginning (Marquardt, et. al., 2009; Leonard & Marquardt, 2010). Given that action learning theory evolved out of practice, researchers are now trying to uncover governing variables that account for the observed practice effect (Leonard & Marquardt, 2010). In an effort to systematize the action learning methodology with consistent professional standards, the World Institute of Action Learning (WIAL) has provided a six-component model of action learning for program coaches and designers (Marquardt, 2004; 2011; WIAL, 2013). However, action learning, by definition, is based on the real and timely problems of an organization (Marquardt, 2011; WIAL, 2013) and therefore there is significant variety in how these programs are implemented.

Given these complexities, it is unclear which specific program factors may significantly impact the leadership development of participants. This study attempts to identify those factors by using an exploratory qualitative methodology informed by Moustakas (1994), Patton (2002), and Creswell (2012). Twelve action learning participants in three action learning programs were interviewed and their responses were analyzed by using a reductive thematic analysis.

This study found that two programs were effective in stimulating leadership development outcomes in participants. Participants in the third program showed less certainty and consistency in their responses. Across all three action learning programs, participants showed improvements in self-confidence, problem-solving, expanded professional network, coaching skills, and listening. The most significant program factors leading to these outcomes were the program coach, program maturity, problem type, intended program outcome, a supportive and safe group culture, group diversity, and the group questioning process. Implications for theory and practice and recommendations for future research are included.  


Do Things the Long, Hard, Stupid Way

6 Oct

Frank Chimero provides a great reminder that looking for short cuts is a sure sign that you’re doing it wrong.