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May 2013

Are you Entrepreneurial? I Doubt It.

Our brains are not always connected to our mouths. We say stuff that sounds good that gets embedded in our hard drives and flows out our pieholes without any awareness of the meaning of these words. I meet lots of people who tell me their dreams, goals and ideas. I listen to the words they use. Robotically spoken words that have become de rigueur to sound smart and modern. Apparently if you are human with a pulse you now have certain traits because everyone now utters these attributes as their own. Here are the top 2 that have become commodities and to me suspicious:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Creative/Innovative
These words once meant something important and special. No longer. 

What people really like is being in environments described by these words. Everyone loves to work in "entrepreneurial", "innovative" or "creative" organizations. But that does NOT make you these things. This is the confusion.

Breathing the air in Africa never makes you African. Being around talent does not make you talented. Being the son of an artist has never made me artistic. :)

First of all you have to prove with evidence that you are any words you use. Like Robin Williams, you would have at least 5 stories queued up ready to "ad lib" your proof that you are what you say you are. I know this sounds basic, but most people don't have any proof ready so there is nothing behind the curtain. In my experience these people are not evil purveyors of deceit, but they usually have not filtered what is directly flowing out of their craniums. So they do deceive themselves. These words and many others are part of their memorized routines, reflexive habits that occur well outside of their consciousness. IAmEntrepreneur1240-copy

When you use these words and all of you do, please be prepared to defend them with other words and examples you have thought about.

Let me just focus on Entrepreneurial. This one bugs me more than the rest. This is a sacred word to me. I know and have worked with true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are friends of mine. And you are no entrepreneur! (you know who you are)

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Are You Entrepreneurial? This means you like taking chances; you take risks; you embrace failure and love to iterate. You are driven by passion and the problem you desire to solve. Most entreprenuers have been fired multiple times. They quit cozy jobs with dental benefits to pursue a passion or an audacious concept with no benefits.  Entreprenuers have glorious stories of failure. They have some stories of success. They always have side projects they are building in their proverbial garages. You are not entrepreneurial sometimes. You can't just turn on your entrepreneurial talent. It is in your DNA and it manifests itself everywhere you are. 

So if this is not you and you have no proof, stop saying you are entrepreneurial!

Big difference between claiming to be entrepreneurial and wanting to become an entrepreneur! It's great to aspire to be an entrepreneur. Seek them out as mentors, engage in entrepreneurial ventures, and explore your entreprenerial side. Try it on for size. The bug will bite you or not. You will know when it happens. Then this term will be true for you. Only then will you understand why true entrepreneurs recoil at hearing imposters cheapen this way of living and working by recklessly and irresponsibly adding "entrepreneurial" to their list of words in their resumes.

Let's also help others stop using these words when they are not true. Evaluate the words you use and be prepared to back them up with deeds.

Thanks for reading. John

Name Dropper Syndrome

I used to have NDS--Name Dropper Syndrome. The superficial use of other people's names to impress and where the user does not know the named person well at all. I am a recovering name dropper. I  went through Name Dropper rehab. 12 steps to cure my addiction. But it takes vigilance and the support of others to manage my temptations. I want to Name Drop all of the time. I have urges to tell people who I met or who I "know". But I realized after a long time of name dropping and hearing others do it--we do it because of our own insecurity ( I know Duh!) But like many bad habits, no one told me. My mentors never counseled me. No one ever said, "Hey stop using other people's names to make yourself look good." It was through my own self awareness that I got on the path to addressing my problem. Name dropper

We all know NDS sufferers. People who have a Tourette's like ability to cough out names to impress you. I now play a game with these people. People I interview or I meet that clearly have NDS-- I count the names. I have always counted ums, ers, uhs. I know this is weird, but you know me. :) I counted these interrupting and distracting sounds when I became aware of my own usage. I went through trainings where others counted my ums or rang a bell! I do the same with names dropped. It is like a fantastic video game in my mind. The bigger the names the louder the whizz bang sound in my mind. The name dropper mentions someone I know--small splash sound. They mention a celebrity --Kapow! They mention a world leader, Bill Gates etc--fireworks!

The other day I met one of the world record holders for my game. He was a machine gun of name dropping. Hard to keep up with him. My mind was awash in explosions and bright lights and whatever he was trying to tell me was lost. I know I may need a different kind of rehab!

Don't confuse NDS with being referred by someone you know!

Be aware of yourself. Never show up and throw up. Think before you talk. Self edit. And Get feedback.

Name dropping done in excess and done recklessly hurts your brand. Can make you look superficial and egotistical. 

If someone you know has NDS--help them . Friends don't let friends name drop. Now that is mentoring I could have used. 

Thanks for reading. John

Do I look like my next job?

Was watching the Golf Hall of Fame Induction ceremony the other night. Fred Couples was inducted and introduced by sportscaster Jim Nantz. Jim re-told the great story about the dreams they had as classmates and team mates on the University of Houston golf team. In 1978 Fred Couples and Jim Nantz, a broadcast journalism student at the time, rehearsed many times the scenario where Fred won the Masters and Jim interviewed him holding a fake microphone. On April 12, 1992 this very dream ACTUALLY happened, just like they had planned. Freddie won the Masters and Jim interviewed him in Butler Cabin fourteen years later! 

Fred and jim
Fred Couples and Jim Nantz 1992

Part of looking like your next job means you prepare for it, you envision it, and you have rehearsed it. 

But the salient point here is they had a dream. They knew what they wanted. Their vision proceeded their ambitiousness.

It's never foolish to begin preparing for a transition no matter how many years away it is or where you are in your career. Muriel Wilkins

Amy Gallo advocates these principles in her blog:


  • Look for every opportunity to demonstrate your leadership potential, at work and outside t
  • Support your boss in reaching her goals
  • Find people in positions you aspire to and study what makes them successful


  • Let your ambitions distract you from doing your current job well
  • Exert authority where you don't have any — use influence to prove your leadership chops
  • Find the right time to openly discuss your ambitions

I was sitting at a career event dinner and a young woman across the table from me blurts out, "Hey, is there any truth that I should look like I want my boss's job?" I paused and asked whether she was talking about dressing for success or was it more than that. She said, "Yes, what I wear, but also what I do." Now before all of you roll your eyes and groan--how naive this young lady is--let me tell you few people, young and more mature, get this. One of the funny parts of this story is I learned later that her boss was sitting next to me!

She clearly had thought about this question and showed some guts to ask it. Here's a brief synopsis of our exchange:

First make sure you know what you want and want what you know. Yes, how you look, act, talk, perform, shapes your brand within the organization. Your brand is what people think about what you bring to work. Your brand is where people think you are going. Your brand is the potential others, including you boss, see for you. (Not what you see for yourself) So, how you look matters. But what you say and what you do matters more. 

I mentioned the PIE research to her. Where your Performance is a given and is the least influential in your promotability. It is your Image (your brand) and your Exposure (your visibility) that dwarf your performance  in terms of your promotability. This surprised her.

We discussed her "managing up" skills. Does she help her boss beyond her job by making observations, preparing thought pieces, giving feedback, and anticipating her boss's needs?

A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that's just fine, because she's leading up.   Seth Godin

And then I said, "You gotta look like your next job." Meaning--if you dress down to your level then people may not see you as a manager or an executive. We all know the clothes don't make the person, but your brand is your brand. If the culture at your place of employment is managers wear suits, then you need to adjust your look. If your culture is the executives get in early or stay late. Or if the culture is reading certain publications or attending certain events. Then you need to adapt to these cultural norms and values.

My favorite story on this topic is when a gang member named Leonard came to Father Greg Boyle to seek his advice on getting a job. Leonard told him that he gets interviews but never an offer. Leonard had tattooed on his forehead in 3 inch letters F#@K THE WORLD. I met Leonard after he had that tattoo removed from his head and now he has more opportunities. 

I know this is extreme but I have seen, worked with, and managed people who discuss their lofty career plans out of one side of their mouth and then they come to work looking like they don't care. Their dress communicates the same phrase as Leonard's old forehead!

Management, the executive team, see potential in the performance and then the brand of the person. 

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Use your network and your mentors to  check your forehead. :) To check your vision. To check what you want. To check your brand. That will help you see yourself and find out if you look like your next job. 

Thanks for reading.  John

The Women Who Have Mentored and Inspired Me

Last week I was honored to be the keynoter for the Professional Mentoring Luncheon for Women in Cable Telecommunications. Here's an excerpt from my speech: 

My career and success since my early days in cable have been disproportionately influenced by women. Women who taught me what was important and how to understand my own potential. Women who were role models for me. Women who helped an average guy succeed!

I think of my wife’s mother Youngsook whose family escaped North Korea. She became a Korean War bride and entered the US not really speaking any English. She went on to earn her BA, MA and PhD in Anthropology and wrote a textbook that is still used in colleges today. Her story is another reflection of the American dream. Her wit, intelligence, and love for life are legendary. I never met her before her untimely death at the age of 49, but her memory mentors me.

Youngsook circa 1957

My mother spent 4 years in the internment camps during WW2, then became an American mom of the 50’s confined to the home in a male dominated world of limited choices. At the age of 49, she decided to take a painting class. Last year she was on the cover story of American Artist Magazine. Her lessons about how to use the right side of my brain, the importance of community service and that it is never too late to change, mentors me everyday. 

After I left the cable world my boss at the UCLA Alumni Association was Bea Mandel who became the first female alumni regent of the University of California in 125 years. Bea was a tough no-nonsense leader who taught me about focus and results. After I left UCLA, I was involved in a pioneering effort to develop online higher education. I ended up reporting to Paula Singer when my little venture got merged into Sylvan Learning Systems. Since 2003 I have been a member of the Walden University Board which she chairs. Paula teaches me how to blend an uncompromising standard of ethics and extraordinary growth with candor and charm. When I led Big Brothers Big Sisters here in Los Angeles, I met hundreds of mothers who wanted a mentor for their daughter or son. And there is nothing like the commitment and desire in the eyes of a mother who wants a better life for her children. My work was re-energized each and every time I looked into those eyes. 5 years later I met Neeru Khosla and learned about CK12 and her vision for free virtual standards based textbooks.  I was treated to her passion that knew no boundaries and always focused on getting to the goal no matter how impossible it may seem. From there I was hired by Antonia Hernandez for my current job. Antonia is a true leader who provides clear direction and gets out of your way. She employs a wonderful concoction of passion, charm, and influence to make things happen. She teaches me everyday to appreciate and respect the purpose of our work.

Lastly my wife  Sarah, and my daughters Jenna and Malia have have taught me to be more patient, loving and how to lead with my heart. When you are a minority in your own family you either adapt or you suffer!

I have learned and continue to learn the most important life and leadership lessons from women who have mentored me.

We are all role models. We mentor people who watch us. All of you are helping other women or other men by the example we set, by revealing our possibilities. 

What is our role and our obligation to make a difference, to help others, to become the best we can be? I submit to you that we each need to do more.

Deepak Chopra and Dave Ramsey--Why do we take jobs we don’t want, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.

We have to move from transactional to transformational lives.

We have to move from lives of busyness to the business of our lives.

We have to move from lives of indifference to making a difference.

 Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable

For the afflictions are great and we are far too comfortable.

We should be more uncomfortable.

In all my experiences I have learned that mentoring is a lifestyle that engages others in a compassionate act of tough love to get to our truths

To awaken the possibilities in each other

To help each other make courageous decisions

To solve problems by putting the needs of others first

To answer the question What do we want? Really? 

Choices: The Path less traveled, The Path of least resistance, or The Path with your heart?

 “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo

I meet a lot of people that say they are so busy that they just want stability. They want things not to change. They want to keep what they have. They deceive themselves. No one who is ambitious and wants a better life for themselves wants stability. No parent who loves their kids wants things to stay the same. Nobody who is alive, who is conscious of the needs in our community, of the inequities in our society wants things to stay the same.

"Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." Madame Marie Curie

Great mentoring is getting to our truths, to our passions-- to our true selves.

Mentoring is not shoulding on each other.

 Three Mentoring Goals for Your Work Together

 First: It is not about me it is about WE. We can’t do it alone. We need to help each other, understand one another. Get out of our bubbles of commonality and diversify our life experiences. We have to embrace our common destiny. That our hopes and dreams all linked, connected, networked together. We have to get beyond me and strengthen the WE.

 Second: Align our lives with our passions. What do we really want? What inspires us? How do we awaken the spirit within each of us that we have a lot more to give? Pablo Casals Takes courage to listen to your goodness and act on it. Locked inside each of us is our truths—like a sculpture locked inside the granite. It takes a hammer and chisel to sculpt. Freeing our passions from the stone of complacency is hard work.

 Third: Lead by example. We have to mentor and help one another. Each of us is a role model whether we like it or not. People look to us as an example of what to do and how to live. They need to see what is possible. What example are we setting? Who are we mentoring? What difference are we making? We each have to live our legacy. Our legacy is the example we set. That is the legacy we leave.

 This is our time. There is no other time.

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin

Right now. Lean in, but stand up, stand for something, otherwise we fall, we fall for anything.

We have much for which to be grateful. But what will we do to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts.

Thank you for being here and being you.

Thank you for what you will do for each other.

Thank you for not giving up on yourself, on your dreams and the dreams of others.

We need your dreams.

Thanks for reading. John