Develop your vocabulary

Lead Well workshop - Sept. 21-22

vocabulary5.001Men imagine that their minds have the command of language, but it often happens that language bears rule over their minds. Francis Bacon

  • According to the Global Language Monitor, as of January 2014, there are about 1,025,109 words in the English language.
  • According to the Collins Corpus, an analytical database of English, around 90% of English speech and writing is made up of approximately 3,500 words. [Shakespeare used 30,000 words in his plays, which is more than the Wall Street Journal used in a 10-year period.]
  • Most people’s routine vocabulary is only a few hundred words.

So we have over a million words to choose from, but the average person only uses a few hundred. We need to correct that deficit. Here’s why.

A good vocabulary helps you communicate.

A person who has a limited vocabulary will have difficulty influencing others with his or her ideas. It’s difficult to sell people on your worldview if you can’t compellingly articulate it.

A good vocabulary helps you think better.

Our vocabulary not only helps us express our thoughts, it creates our thoughts.

When you think, you only have at your disposal, the words you know. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular term, you’re probably unaware of the concepts and meaning it represents.

For instance, do you know the definition of these two words—correlation, causation—and how they relate to each other? If you don’t, you probably don’t understand the concepts they represent. [I talk about these two words in the post – Don’t be superstitious]

Language both expresses our thoughts and creates our thoughts.

Have a plan for expanding your vocabulary

At a minimum, whenever you read a word and you’re unsure of its meaning, look it up. Recently, I read these three words, didn’t understand their meaning, and immediately looked them up: misanthrope, tonic, and simpatico.

  • Try to visualize or personify the word: I have a neighbor who is a misanthrope.
  • Try to use the word in conversation: I said to a friend, “Our relationship is a real tonic to me.”
  • Identify synonyms for the word: simpatico—compatible

These Web sites will send you a word a day along with a definition and proper usage.

  • – opt for the daily newsletter and you’ll get a word a day delivered to your inbox
  • – provides example sentences and audio pronunciation
  • – avoids difficult words and focuses on words you might use in daily conversations
  • – offers more challenging words

Be a lover of words.

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Lead Well 2-day workshop – September 21-22, 2016 in the DFW metroplex. Two intense days of life- and career-enhancing training. More information at

Develop a “yes” approach to life

Information about Lead Well workshop, September 21-22

pessimist_1078789Each of us carries a word in our heart. For some of us the word is “yes.” Yes, we believe we can succeed. Yes, we can learn. Yes, we can make a difference. Others carry a “no,” with all the negative baggage that accompanies it. As leaders, we must realize which word we carry and how it enhances or inhibits our ability to lead. Martin Seligman

Do you know individuals whose default response in life always seems to be “no”? Regardless of the situation, their first impulse is negative. These people are difficult to be with; they exhaust me; I avoid them.

A typical conversation with these doomsayers may sound like this:

  • Can we have some friends over for dinner this weekend?  – No
  • Can we talk about taking a vacation this summer?  – No
  • Can you have the report done by Thursday?  – No
  • Can you help with the kids tomorrow?  – No

Compare and contrast these pessimistic, energy-sucking people with those who have a proclivity toward “yes.” Even when they need to decline, they have a positive way of saying “no.”

  • Can we have some friends over for dinner this weekend? That is a great idea. I’ve had an exhausting week; perhaps we could do it another time.
  • Can we talk about taking a vacation this summer? Sure, when would you like to talk?
  • Can you have the report done by Thursday? I’m having an unusually busy week. Will Friday be okay?
  • Can you help with the kids tomorrow? I know you must be exhausted having been with them all day today. I’d love to watch them in the morning; I’ve got an appointment in the afternoon that I can’t miss. Would it be helpful for me to watch them for the first part of the day?

Relative to this topic, there are two critical questions for you to answer:

  1. Which word do you carry in your heart: yes or no? You may not know the answer to this question. To get an accurate answer, ask several people who know you well and who will speak truth to you.
  2. How can we deal with “carriers of no”? If they are people that you can choose whether or not to be around, avoid them. If not, try to work around them; don’t let their negativity influence you. Like water running off a duck’s back, don’t let their statements find purchase in your life. Increasingly minimize the amount of control they have on your life. (Or, anonymously send them this post along with the message, “You REALLY need to read this.” But, they’re likely to say…)

Fortunately, your inclination toward either “no” or “yes” is a choice. It’s not imbedded in your DNA. It’s not a fixed trait. You can choose. If you’re deeply entrenched in the negative persuasion, choose to change. Behavioral modification is difficult but doable. It will take time. You’ll need the help of others. Start by saying “yes” to the challenge to change.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well 2-day workshop – September 21-22, 2016 in the DFW metroplex. Two intense days of life- and career-enhancing training. More information at

Copy others

copy3.001Most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from someone else. Sam Walton

All good ideas are borrowed; all great ideas are stolen. (I’m being a bit facetious with that statement, but not by much.)

There are few original ideas. Even things that seem unique and proprietary are most likely simply the combination of, or reorganizing of, existing elements, or the next iteration. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Of course, copyrights and patents must be respected and proper attributions given, but 99% of the world’s knowledge is public domain. (That percentage is a wild guess on my part.)

There’s no need to reinvent the pancake.

  • Before you start a new business, visit successful companies similar to what you intend to do and learn from them.
  • If you’ve been in business for years but need to hit the refresh button, observe what others are doing and borrow that which is beneficial.
  • Intentionally study organizations that are dissimilar to yours (perhaps in an entirely different industry) and look for ideas that will transfer.
  • Continuously ask for people’s opinions and input.

Most entrepreneurs are not inventors; they are good spotters. They notice what’s working elsewhere and adapt it to their environments.

Most good ideas are spotted “along the way”—that’s why we must intentionally and continuously “roam the earth” with our eyes and minds open, searching for things we can borrow. Read, travel, visit unfamiliar environments, talk to fully alive people; get out of your dog runs and strike out on a new path, all the while, looking for transferable ideas.

Original ideas are overrated and scarce. Existing ideas are numerous, available, and already vetted.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well 2-day workshop – September 21-22, 2016 in the DFW metroplex. Two intense days of life- and career-enhancing training. More information at

Leaders: master the “helicopter perspective”


God is in the details. —Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Some people can’t see the forest for the trees.

These two statements seem contradictory. Should leaders focus on details or broad issues? The answer is: both.

A helicopter is unique in that, unlike a fixed-wing plane, it can hover over a single geographical area and also quickly change altitude. One moment it can be low to the ground and seconds later it can be thousands of feet high.

This is a good metaphor for the multiple perspectives a leader must continually negotiate. Sometimes you must think granularly and get involved in micro aspects of the organization; moments later you may need to shift to a “high-altitude” and consider macro concerns.

A friend of mine once worked for a Mr. Sewell, who owns several luxury car dealerships in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. He told me an interesting anecdote that illustrates how a good leader continually negotiates a “helicopter perspective.” One day my friend overhead a telephone conversation Sewell was having with the CEO of General Motors. They talked about the global economy, China’s impact on the auto industry, the Fed raising interest rates, and other broad topics. When he finished the phone conversation, Sewell walked to the parts department and asked if the bumper for Mrs. Murphy’s Escalade had arrived.

One moment he was thinking about global concerns, seconds later, about a customer’s bumper.

Winston Churchill also had the ability to toggle between minor and major issues. In their book, We Shall Not Fail: The Inspiring Leadership of Winston Churchill, Sandys and Litman wrote, “Churchill was a man who mastered details without losing sight of the larger picture. He needed to know the progress of countless complicated operations. He wanted to know production figures, delivery dates, forecasts, and statistics.”

Churchill’s mind for detail is exemplified in a memo he sent to the First Lord of the Admiralty during WW2 in which he suggested a way that seamen could communicate more efficiently: “Is it really necessary to describe the Tirpitz (a German Battleship) as the Admiral von Tirpitz in every signal? This must cause a considerable waste of time for signalmen, cipher staff and typists. Surely Tirpitz is good enough for the beast.”

But Churchill also maintained a broad perspective, dealing effectively with large, worldwide events and trends.

The helicopter perspective is essential for leaders but it can also be beneficial in our individual lives. Don’t stay so focused on minutia that you neglect long-term, mega issues. Learn to toggle between details and big-picture items. For instance, in conversations, when we discuss policies, principles and concepts, we are thinking and conversing at a “high-altitude”; when we consider specific examples of those over-arching thoughts, we’re addressing “low-altitude” issues.

For decades, Mary and I have devoted the week between Christmas and New Year’s to long-range planning; we adopt a high-altitude mentality and consider major, long-term issues. But daily, we’re wrestling with “stuff”; issues that are local and specific. We just make sure that all the details contribute to larger aims and intentions.

Develop the indispensable skill of seeing both details and the big-picture.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well 2-day workshop – September 21-22, 2016 in the DFW metroplex. Two intense days of life- and career-enhancing training. More information at