Are you a Mensch or a Mouse?

Photo by jaarenwicklund via Flickr

Last week a girlfriend was recapping a TV interview with a Hollywood big-wig. “He actually seems like a real mensch”, she remarked.  (‘Mensch’ is a Yiddish word that literally means ‘human being’, but connotes a particularly fine, upstanding individual.) The surprise in her tone struck me – as if it was a novel concept that someone with such a profile can be a good person.

Lately, with so many leaders and (former) idols being called out on abusing their power and status, we’re getting used to breaking stories about their disgusting behaviour, offensive comments, deflected mistakes and exposed lies. That said, I coach many industry leaders – not quite Hollywood moguls, but significantly influential nonetheless – who are real mensches.

I took an informal poll among my network. I asked, “What makes a mensch of a leader?” Here’s what stood out:

They’re Humble. Everything this person asks of others, they do too, even if only on occasion. Sometimes they get the group coffee or make the photocopies. There’s never even a hint that they’re more important than the next person. They apologize easily and admit when they’re unsure.

They’re Thoughtful. They ask people about what matters to them. It’s clear they truly care about others’ experiences and feelings; they’re all in when they speak to you. They check in about their impact, and are particularly concerned about embarrassing anyone.

They’re Generous. mensch graciously gives time to their work team and colleagues, friends and family. They help out. They put their money and name behind causes they deem important.

They’re Respectful. They’re polite to everyone, regardless of position or gender: wait staff, receptionists, the intern, their peers. Even in a hurry or in a conflict, they’re fully present and their language is constructive. (And when they slip up, they own it.)

They Share the Credit. With awareness that their success is dependent on so many contributors, they graciously thank even the most peripheral ones when there’s a big win.

They’re Consistent. True mensches are the way they are, in both public and private situations. (These types are no good at faking it, anyway.)

So, a special shout out to the good people who are successful at the top because they’ve risen to the occasion, and inspired others to want to follow them.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Is Entrepreneurship for you?

photo by Manuel de Tillesse via Flickr

I do think some people are born entrepreneurs. I’ve met them, and am fascinated by them. These are the people who, as kids, were using their allowance to buy stickers in bulk to sell at a premium to friends in the playground, when the rest of us were merely trading “smellies” for “shinies”. (Forgive me if the girly ‘80’s reference leaves you scratching your head.)
Different from the business brain always on the lookout for the money-making opportunity, many of today’s entrepreneurs are simply people who find themselves drawn to customizing their career in a way that can’t be satisfied by any employer. A desire for the freedom to design their own path. Which brings me to my need to clarify what’s really required- and what’s not- when it comes to hanging out a shingle of your own.

To do your own thing…..


  • An understanding of the difference between a “lifestyle business” and a true “start up”. In this world of a-new-app-a-minute, some think that entrepreneurship means being the next Twitter. That’s one way to go. These businesses are true “start ups”, complete with a vision to scale it to the moon and a willingness to put in virtually unlimited effort to do so. A “lifestyle business”, on the other hand, is one in which you of course make money – hopefully a whole bunch of money – but your aim is to hit a healthy target, pay off your mortgage (or buy your boat) and enjoy life. At some point you won’t want to work more for more dollars. Both types of business can be extremely satisfying.
  • A willingness to meet new people. When on your own, no matter what kind of business you’re in, you’ll have to be a people person (or be good at faking it!) Whether your targets are investors, clients or strategic partners, I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who hide out at their desk. That said, you don’t have to be a bubbly extrovert; it’s more about getting comfortable with your own style of relating to others. If this part makes you nervous, you might benefit from this from these tips for entrepreneurial introverts from Entrepreneur magazine.
  • A healthy target market. Someone’s gotta buy your goods or services. Make sure what you’re offering brings a benefit to a good chunk of people, and that it’s something they can’t – or don’t want to – do themselves.
  • A willingness to ask for help. Be prepared to reach out to your network and industry experts. Starting a business can be invigorating, but it can also be a slog at times. Learning from others can keep you from making those times harder on yourself than they have to be. Hiring a coach can also keep you focused, accountable and positive.
  • Personal support. Emotional backing is so important. Make sure you have one (or many) people who can encourage you and be a listening ear. If you live with a partner and/or have a family, it’s also important to understand what financial implication is tied to your venture and come to agreements about how money will be managed as you ramp up, and where the limits are. Literally, talk real dollars and timelines.
  • Resilience. Do you believe in the mantras “you get out of it what you put into it” and “failure is rich with learning”? If so, you probably have the natural resilience you need. And if you’re running low, check out the initiative, F***Up Nights (FUN): presentations from brave entrepreneurs who share failure stories and the associated learning for which they’re grateful. Or, just Google “failure stories”! You’ve had the right dose of inspiration when you can say to yourself (in the words of my coaching client on the cusp of taking the leap), “the worst that can happen is I’ll earn a badge of courage for trying.”


  • A never-been-done-before idea, invention, or something “disruptive”. The world needs innovation, that’s for sure. But it’s not the only way to think about going out on your own. You can take something that works and make it better (which is, frankly, also innovation), you can jump into a market that has space for another player, or you can piggyback on something awesome that someone else has already started. (Also referred to as the first follower, described amusingly by Derek Sivers in his TED talk, How to start a movement.)
  • A huge appetite for risk. “Go big or go home” is not the only way. You can start something while still at your current job, or launch a service business with very little overhead. Michael Katchen, the 20-something founder of the wildly successful online financial robo-advisor Wealthsimple, started with only an Excel-based investment template for a few people in his personal network. From there, the seeds took root, and proved something worthwhile to put more in to.
  • A desire to work alone. Working alone doesn’t have to be lonely. You’ll be networking, perhaps collaborating on projects, taking courses, etc. You may opt to build a team around you. And if it’s not enough, create more opportunities to surround yourself with people. Recently, two entrepreneurial friends and I took our laptops to the lake, to enjoy a productive and social workday at the cottage. (Shout out to brilliant founders Amy Laski of Felicity PR and Nadia Sapiro of Throughline Strategy!)
  • A 20-page strategy. Sure, you need some sort of plan. And the more money you’re investing, the more detailed it should be. That said, you can get off the ground by identifying a “best case scenario”, what you think that would take, and where to start. Then you go from there. The bulk of the planning can be done once you’ve worked in the business for a few months and you can see how it might really play out. Don’t get stuck in solidifying every detail before you take action.

Got what you need? What’s stopping you?
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
– Chinese Proverb





Want to slack off? Permission granted.

Photo by: Michael Summers via Flickr

Even A+ professionals face times in their career where they just can’t stomach putting their all into work. It usually happens when something personal demands significant energy. And by “demands”, I mean, “jumps up and down and yells”- in order to break the trance of the hyper-focused over-achiever.

I’m reading a book called Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World after hearing the author, Joann Lublin, speak last week at the University of Toronto. I walked away from the event totally pumped, willing to be the Coach that launches her clients to their dreams. But I was reminded earlier this week that depending on your state of mind, Ms. Lublin’s message could be inspiring or exhausting. As a seasoned Wall Street Journal writer and editor, she spoke of persistence, innovative action and resilience as common characteristics of exceptionally successful women. I agree! Sometimes, though, we (men and women) just don’t have it in us.

The reminder came from a client, who told me a story about ending up in the hospital emergency room with her dear Mother, who was in the late stages of fighting cancer. After her Mother was admitted, this doting-daughter-ambitious-professional was undeniably distracted by the fact that she was a presenter in a Town Hall meeting the next day at work. Well prepared for it, she phoned a friend to get her thoughts on whether she should pop into the office to do her piece, and was met with “Are you crazy!?!” – a sentiment that matched her conscience exactly. It was sobering: she realized that her career was inconsequential in that moment. Caring for her Mother was her number one job.

We all appreciate that family, health and emotional wellbeing is paramount, but we sometimes forget. When faced with something that forces us to remember, be it illness, divorce, burnout, a new baby or an ultimatum from a neglected someone we love, it’s shocked into focus. Greedily, work has trouble sharing a top spot on a priority list. Some periods in our life, therefore, necessitate us demoting it. Not just for an evening, but more like a few months. The most dedicated of us would call this “slacking off”, while the majority would call it “more than good enough right now.”

Here’s an action plan for embarking on some short-term, justified slacking. (Because a go-getter always needs a plan!)



Putting [yourself/relevant loved one] first

Noticing feelings of guilt and consciously choosing a different way of thinking (Self-compassion? Responsibility? Pride?)

Breathing more deeply


Giving away your recovery and recharging time

Worrying about where you’re getting to 


Delivering good work

Relating to, and communicating with, your team


Sounds a little scary, I know. But not as scary as ignoring your instincts. Perhaps there’s a reason you came across this post today. 😉

Set 8 Key Goals for 2017 (Yup, specifically 8. And yes, I know it’s almost March.)

U.S. Navy photo by Bill Austin/Released via Flickr

In honour of all of you whose new year’s resolution resolve has faded, this post is about a better way to set yourself up for success this year. Your life is multi-dimensional and your annual goals should be, too. We all know what happens when we say things like, “this is the year I lose 20 lbs!” Even if you stick with it and make it happen, it’s pretty wearing to make everything, the whole year through about a singular goal. There is so much more to who you are and who you’re striving to be.

It’s why I suggest to my clients that they create not one, but EIGHT goals to represent the various important areas of life. Below, I’ve described suggested “life categories”, and some questions that can help bring your aspirations into focus.

  1. Health

How do I want my body to feel by the end of 2017?

How do I want to feel about my body by the end of 2017?

In what way to I want to measure progress toward increased physical wellbeing?

  1. Fun and Recreation

What’s missing in my life in terms of FUN and PLAY?

What do I want to add (or add back) in this year to compliment other ways I spend my time?

  1. Personal Relationships (Friends, Family, Spouse)

How satisfied am I with the state of my key personal relationships?

What does a great relationship with [my spouse, my Mom, my buddy Paul] look like?

What tangible thing can I do to move us in that direction?

  1. Physical Environment

To what extent does my home, my city, my workplace setting bring me joy?

What’s the smallest change that could have the biggest impact here?

What’s the biggest change I could make and what would it take?

  1. Career

How am I defining career success for myself this year?

What am I wiling to do to get there and what are the most effective first steps?

What am I NOT willing to do?

  1. Money

What role will money play in my life this year?

What can I control when it comes to my money and how can I make peace with what I can’t control?

  1. Personal Growth & Learning

In 10 years’ time, what do I want to be very skilled at?

To what extent can I realistically enhance my capabilities or knowledge this year to support this longer-term target?

  1. Being (You’ll see where I’m going with this one…)

How do I want BE this year to support my success? (eg: positive, focused, grateful, easy on myself, etc.)

Find an official place to record your annual goals, and go for it. Since you got a little bit of a late start on 2017, set a reminder to check in half way, in August. But the most important question to consider in goal setting of any type is: Who will I ask to hold me accountable?




Does the idea of self-promotion make you want to throw up?

photo by Fitz Gerard Villafuerte via Flickr

photo by Fitz Gerard Villafuerte via Flickr

Pro-actively advertising what’s great about yourself is often referenced as a tip to get ahead in business.

Does the idea of self-promotion make you want to throw up?

For many people, the answer is “Yes, it does. It feels that horrible.”

It’s a common feeling. You might be shy to toot your own horn, feel scummy playing politics or consider it unseemly to be self-interested. It would be many people’s worst nightmare to be labelled as a braggart, fake, or all-about-me, and therefore not a practice they would consider.

But what if…say, by magic… your accomplishments, ideas, effort and natural talents were widely known? How would that feel? How would it impact you? Maybe you’d be more appreciated, less frustrated, more invested. Perhaps you’ll get more of the work you love, influence important changes or be asked to lead more significantly.

Although I can’t offer you a magic spell, I’ll suggest the next best thing: self-promotion actions so simple and natural, it’ll feel like a trick. These no excuses self-promotion activities are little more than taking opportunities to mention your work that are handed to you on a silver platter.

So without further ado….

Your [anti-nausea] no-excuses self-promotion opportunities

Opportunity #1 : Waiting for food/drink in the kitchen.

 I promise, while you zap your chilli or brew your pod coffee, anyone in your presence will ask, “How are you?”.

The trick: Answer the question with real information about what you’re doing (and why it’s important, if they’re not familiar with what you’re referring to.)

I might suggest something like:

“Great. Working hard on abc project. It’ll determine the funding we get for next year.”

“Busy! Gearing up to lead a big meeting with Jack for approval of the next stage of our project.

“Lots going on. We’re moving full speed ahead after my team’s win last week”


Opportunity #2:
The elevator

It’s totally okay in an elevator to just smile and utter a hardly-audible “hi”, even if you know the person. But choose to do just a little more with the captive audience, and it could have big benefits.

The trick: If you step into an elevator with someone you know, enter with a “how’s it going?” and you’ll surely get one back. Then, not different from the aforementioned kitchen scenario, you simply answer the question in a descriptive sentence about the substance your work. (Do feel free to return the favour by asking some specific questions of your fellow rider so that they can share more with you.)

Opportunity #3:
An office visitor

Whenever you host someone, there’s that few minutes of small talk that needs to happen as you lead up to the primary subject matter. Make it count every time, whether you’re speaking with a senior leader visiting from another office, a client, a vendor or the IT guy. Here, you have more time than in an elevator, but a comfortable escape route because ultimately you must get down to business.

The trick: Answer the catch-up version of the “how’s it going” question with “Busy!” Followed by some info about something you’re working on that promises to have impact instead of ending there. (To whatever extent you can, depending on your audience and confidentiality.) Now another person knows what’s really going on behind your closed door. You never know who’s going to spread the word.

Opportunity #4:
The scheduled update

Whether it’s a team meeting or a one-on-one with your Manager, here you’re being asked to let people in on what you’re doing. I really can’t think of a more obvious place to take full advantage.

The trick: Don’t give in to the temptation to review your to-do list out loud. Instead, highlight:

  • what’s going well in the process of your work (Maybe you’re ahead of schedule? You’ve figured out a better way? You got buy-in from a key person?),
  • your dedication to long-term strategic projects, even if just at the beginning stages, and
  • the (wonderful) results of things already completed.

Opportunity #5:
 A LinkedIn update

You don’t have to speak to anyone at all to look accomplished online!

The trick: Every year at performance evaluation time, use your written review as a prompt to add the year’s key accomplishments to your LinkedIn profile. There’s a place on LinkedIn for awards and publications, too, if applicable. For this annual exercise, if you switch on your “Sharing Profile Edits” in your privacy settings, your contacts will be notified of certain updates, such as a title change.


What do you wish people “just knew” about what you do?