As I remember from my early career, computer code is very explicit step-by-step instructions for how you want a computer to respond to a set of commands.  A lot of “if, then” statements and if you place the commas and the parenthesis in the right places, the computer responds as planned.  I’m sure it is more complicated than that now, but for those who do not code, you get the gist. The computer doesn’t make a nuanced call based on everything going on around it; it just knows “if this happens, do this.”

Wired magazine recently had a cover that called out /*the end of code*/ and outlined how the biggest technology companies in Silicon Valley have been pursuing a different approach called machine learning.  With machine learning, the computer is trained through a deep neural network that mimics the layers of connections in the brain.  Google replaced its head of search engine with an expert in machine learning .  It has gotten to the point that it is interesting to watch how Google will defend itself against a European antitrust investigation regarding influencing search results—because, according to author Jason Tanz, Google’s own engineers can’t say exactly how the search works.

Wired Magazine

Perhaps, much like code, we should think about /*the end of leadership training*/ at least in the form in which it currently exists. We, after all, already have neural networks.  We have brains.   In the same way code is logic, so are the behaviors that inspire trust, build engagement, fix systems and processes, and eventually lead to a result.  All leadership training covers the same elements with slightly different words, tools, and inspirational models.  But that logic isn’t enough.  Leadership development efforts, particularly training and coaching, help those that lead others understand the typical “if I do this, then this happens.”

Except sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes people, who are very complicated, aren’t engaged even though the leader has followed every rule on building engagement. Sometimes people don’t extend trust when logically they should.  And sometimes the situation calls for something slightly different than what the training or the executive coach or the newest book outlines.  We need to use our brains, and in addition, something that doesn’t yet exist in Artificial Intelligence—our hearts—and even our spirits, when leading others.

Code hasn’t gone away but the part it plays in the future is changing. Code provides the structure through which the machine learning flows.  Leadership development provides a wonderful baseline, particularly since the competencies to be successful as a leader don’t come naturally to most.  And like code, great leaders use the training and coaching–the leadership development–as a scaffolding for which the neural network can flow in-between.


I’m going to let you in on a secret:  Often, the happier I am, the more discontent and outright bored I become.  And I’m not alone.  According to a Stanford research project, it is because happiness and finding meaning in life don’t necessarily overlap.  Perhaps some of my recent experiences that help define the differences and overlap between meaningfulness and happiness will sound familiar to you–and have implications for your pursuit of both as a leader, a parent, a person searching for meaning in day-to-day life.

  1.  Stress can be meaningful:  For the last three months, by choice and with great intent, I’ve been working 10-15 hours a week vs. the previous 25 years of 50-70 hours a week.  I believe the impact of the work I’ve done has been meaningful, as has the time allotted to assisting with the college applications of my youngest daughter and arriving on time to all of her competitions and school activities (and not checking my e-mail or stepping out for a phone call during the event) and being available at any time that she needs me.  It has been joyful to catch up uninterrupted with friends and family and contribute in a deeper way to my volunteer causes.  But when I’m not doing one of those things, and I’ve exercised and meditated and taken care of household chores, I’m freaking BORED.  I know, it sounds luxurious (yep) and some of you are thinking “wow, why can’t you just be a human being instead of a human doing” (point taken),  or maybe even “that seems like plenty of meaning, what’s wrong with you?” (fair) but I now know the following about myself . . .
  2.  Meaning for some (me) comes from challenge:  I enjoy working on big challenges that seem intractable and unfixable–and sometimes actually fixing them–processes, systems, unmotivated teams, getting more women on corporate boards.  And my brain is wired to need a lot of challenge.  I recently memorized the location on the map of all of the countries in Africa and I’ve now moved to capital cities and the basis of their economies.  Learning and progressing brings me fulfillment and calm.  I’m not sure if the Africa study is meaningful, but it has more meaning than cleaning out the basement storage.
  3. Happiness and meaning can overlap: A great article in The Atlantic was published a few years ago that says that being happy is about feeling good and meaning comes from contributing to others or society in a bigger way. So, of course they can overlap.  That is what being a great caregiver and building a great career is about!  And I truly have found some meaning in every single day, particularly in doing things for other people.

Yet, I yearn to do more.  And any dissatisfaction I experience isn’t based on my circumstances.  It’s based on me.  I’m wired to want to improve things, to impact things, so I will always be at least slightly dissatisfied.  I’m not hoping for more stress or for unhappiness.  I just learned something I didn’t expect–that happiness isn’t the same as meaning.


lego movie

While I’m an engaged reader of leadership books, expert blogs, and HBR, sometimes great leadership lessons come from unlikely sources–in this case, The LEGO movie.  According to the movie website summary,, this 3D animated story follows Emmet, an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO construction worker who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world from President Business, an uptight CEO.  Below are my Top 5 lessons in leadership from The LEGO Movie.

  1. As a mentor, sometimes you need to believe in the person more than they believe in themselves.  When Vitruvius, a mystic voiced by Morgan Freeman, deems Emmet “The Special,” Emmet doesn’t believe he has what it takes to save the world.  Vitruvius sees something in Emmet and encourages, trains, and provides constructive feedback.  (My favorite is along the lines of, “That is a really dumb idea.”  Vitruvius tells it like it is.)  Eventually, Emmet believes in himself and makes the contribution he is destined to make.
  2. Strategic thinking is important, but don’t forget team-building and execution.  The “master-builders” are innovative, smart, and they don’t follow the directions.  But they can’t accomplish anything as a team because they are all creating their own individualistic creations.  Our organizations are more impactful when collaboration has at least equal weight to “lone-wolf” innovative thinking.  Lone-wolves typically hate this fact.
  3. The best CEOs, while justifiably laser-focused on the organization’s goals, still take time to be influenced by the front-line and adjust their course.  President Business, voiced with hilarity by Will Ferrell, had a vision and he was executing with excellence.  But the results he achieved became much better when he listened to Emmet and adjusted course.
  4. Superheroes are not always the best boyfriends (ok, not a leadership lesson, but a good lesson nonetheless).  See Batman as he leaves his girlfriend in a crisis situation so he can go party with some guys he just met.
  5. We are all “the special.”  This is my favorite lesson.  We are all uniquely able to bring our talents and passions to the world and leave a lasting legacy.  Everything that happens in a workday–customer service, meetings, e-mail–would be better if each of us could balance humility with a deep understanding that we have unique worth, that we are all “the special.”

Anyone out there have teenagers, too many e-mails, health problems, a broken/leaky something in the house, aging parents, stressful work, or a lawn that was attacked by spider ants?  And if you had spider ants did you know that if you have a South-facing lawn, you have to water into the late Fall or the spider ants will eat up and kill your lawn? (Who knew?)

And are these anxiety-driving elements in your life mitigated a bit by the fact that you drive the same way to work, work on a computer system you mastered a few years ago, read reports that have the same columns they have had since 2008, and work with a predictable set of people?

I read something that struck home in a book called Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and your Organization.

The authors said that our “way of knowing the world serves as a way to manage persistent anxiety,” and that is why all of us have such a difficult time with change (some more than others).  It isn’t logical, not at all.  But on top of everything in the first paragraph, we “just can’t take” changing the way we enter data or figuring out the new travel policy.

What to do?  First, recognize this “immunity.”  Second, write down what you really have to lose by implementing the change and then, what you might gain.  Think about your organization and why the change is being implemented.  If you must, celebrate the ending of the “old way.”  Mourn the days of unlimited expense accounts, look with longing at the old spreadsheet you used–now being replaced by a standardized process and system.  Call your friend who is being transferred to Kansas.

And through pure force of will, act.  In a new way.  You’ll find that it opens up capability to work through all the other causes of anxiety–because you’re building those change muscles.  And kicking that immunity!


See my article for the Forte Foundation–they inspire women business leaders:

Jennifer Colosimo – DaVita: Seeking Wisdom vs. Seeking Promotion

Jennifer Colosimo has the enviable and somewhat daunting title Vice President of Wisdom at DaVita Healthcare Partners. “It’s extremely difficult to live up to!” she jokes. The vision for the position began with DaVita’s CEO, who hoped to create a function that focused not only on learning, but also on quality of life for DaVita’s 60,000+ employees.

“Our definition of wisdom is this: things you can learn that can help you grow personally and professionally,” Jennifer explains. Wisdom oversees DaVita University, internal marketing and branding, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and green initiatives, to name just a few.

“I couldn’t have ever foreseen that there would be such a job,” she reflects. That said, her role today is consistent with her life-long interest in organizational communication, technology, and change management.

She started out at University of Utah as an undergraduate, focusing on organizational communication, and went on to earn a joint MS in organizational communication and business from Purdue University, which helped her round out her core interests with a deep knowledge of finance, operations, and business.

Right after graduate school, she joined Accenture, a place that championed broad exposure and mentoring. “At Accenture, people were always challenging you to do more than you thought you could do,” she recalls. She had the fortune of meeting a fantastic female mentor – something Jennifer notes was even more rare in 1994 than it is today.

During her time at Accenture, Jennifer worked on the merger between Franklin Quest, creators of the Franklin Planner, and the Covey Leadership Center, an initiative of the noted author Stephen R. Covey. After the merger, she joined as an employee of the company, and stayed for 15 years, eventually ascending to COO. She even co-authored a book with Stephen R. Covey called Great Work, Great Career.

Jennifer says she got where she is by seeking out new solutions rather than seeking promotion. “The way I think about it, when you’re at work, people have problems,” she says. “If you look at what you can do to solve those problems, and approach the conversation by describing what you’ve noticed, and suggesting what you might do to address it, you open up opportunities.”

She continues, “ ‘How can I get promoted?’ is the most boring question in the world. Are you trying to solve a need? Are you trying to do something you are passionate about? Or are you comparing yourself to your friends and thinking you should have a better title? If you look for the big challenges in your organization, and think about what you might do about those, and you deliver on your commitments, opportunities come your way.”

Jennifer joined DaVita, lured by the promise of contributing to a unique corporate culture and staying close to home after years of constant travel. Although that gave her more opportunity to have dinner with her two daughters and her husband, something they try to do most nights, it wasn’t an easy transition.



Direct quotes from my last 360 degree (multi-rater) feedback summary:

“She is a strong, direct communicator and listens well.  Her decisions are well-thought out, she collects information from a wide variety of sources and is democratic.”

“She is too sharp in her communications and doesn’t listen well.  Her mind is made up before the discussion begins.”

Another group of three feedback points, even more confounding:

“She is supportive, calm under stress and shows emotion authentically.”

“She needs to share more of herself, deeper emotion, and invest more time in supporting her team.”

“The main thing I would suggest is that she increase her awareness of wearing her emotions on her face.”

So which is it, do I listen well or not?  Am I “direct” or “sharp?”  Do I need to share more emotion or less or is it just the right authentic amount?  Or do I just need a constant meta-discussion taking place in my head about the emotion on my face so I am “aware?”

Since I’ve facilitated hundreds of 360 degree feedback debriefs, let me share what I  coach an individual receiving feedback:

  1. Look for themes.  Don’t focus on one specific feedback point or invest your time guessing who provided what feedback.  When you receive contradictory feedback as above, look for what the majority of the feedback tells you.
  2. Broad feedback (focused on a competency or a soft skill vs. task-specific) often says as much about the person providing it as it does about you.  Clearly, the person providing communication feedback statement #1 likes the communication style and feels heard.  Person #2 feels the opposite.  You may be treating the people differently or you may be treating them exactly the same and they have different preferences.  I can vouch for the fact that many people have very strong opinions on emotions in the workplace; they have even stronger opinions about women and emotion in the workplace.
  3. The point is to self-reflect on what you are doing well and where you could become more effective in both your relationships and results.  If a variety of different people all perceive a strength or area of improvement the same way, that tells you something.  If it stings, because you know it is true and you hoped no one else knew, that also tells you something.
  4. You can choose to ignore it, but there are logical consequences.  (You might get passed over for promotion; you might get fired; you might not live out your potential or make the contribution you could really make).

Oh, and the entire process can go gangbusters political and kooky-town when it is not just developmental, but part of the performance management process.  When the organization uses it to make decisions regarding things like promotion and compensation or use it in broad talent management conversations or files it with HR–well, the downside of all of that is so well documented that even Wikipedia concludes that you shouldn’t combine the two processes:, and Harvard Business Review weighed in the same way 15 years ago:

I’m FOR 360 degree feedback–despite the contradictions that inevitably emerge when humans do anything– when it is used for developmental purposes only.  And has structure to support the behavioral changes the individual desires to make.  A concise overview of “structure” was recently posted by Marshall Goldsmith @coachgoldsmith at

Let me know if you see it differently!  (see, that was being open to different points of view . . .but maybe my mind is made up before the discussion begins . . .)


From a partnership between Girl Scouts of the USA and “When it comes to girls and ambition, the pattern is clear: girls are discouraged from leading. When a little boy asserts himself, he is called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy”—a precursor to words like “aggressive,” “angry,” and “too ambitious” that plague strong female leaders.”

My experience at the Senior Level is that it is very difficult for a woman to win.  She fits the expected “woman” personality of compassionate and collaborative, which is then often interpreted as “not able to make difficult decisions.”  Or she is “too direct” or “aggressive” and not likeable enough.  I’ve even heard some women called too “alpha.”  For more research about the Catch-22 we find ourselves in and how to do something about it, see

I don’t know if it will lead to the outcomes I want in a career that will likely last another 20+ years, but today I resolve to do what I believe a good leader does:  set a vision, make decisions with both courage and compassion, get results, and use the guideposts of integrity and fairness to lead others.  I’ll support other women and bring young women with me.

AND . . .I expect that members of both genders will be harder on me than they are on my male peers in leadership positions.  I’ll look at all feedback given on written evaluations and in person as worthwhile. Some of it will lead to a behavior change on my part because I truly think it will make me more effective.   I’ll also realize that some of it is based on bias.  Decades of social science backs me on this one:  “Men are expected to be assertive, confident, and opinionated, so we welcome their leadership.  In contrast, women are expected to be kind, nurturing, and compassionate, so when they lead, they are going against our expectations. A man who makes a tough decision at work is often seen as decisive,while a woman who does the same may be seen as impulsive and brash.” (from GSUSA and LeanIn)

I believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to better decisions, better outcomes for teams, better financial returns–and my work makes a difference for those girls that follow my lead.  Go ahead, call it misguided (see LA Times article dated April 17 for this view).  But I’m working to #banbossy.



Good works lead to good work.

In T&D:

The following story was told by Bill John, president of Odyssey Teams, and Jennifer Colosimo, vice president of DaVita HealthCare Partners.


DaVita HealthCare Partners


DaVita Healthcare, one of the largest kidney care companies in the United States, holds an annual conference with 3,000 of its employees to recognize their accomplishments for the year and revisit how the company’s mission and values fit in with its strategic goals. This also is an opportunity for employees to come together to make a difference in a global community, and serves as a powerful reminder of the value of their work in the DaVita community—affecting patients, teammates, and partners.


In April 2013, DaVita held its largest Village Service Day ever in Denver, Colorado. DaVita’s leaders enlisted Odyssey Teams, a training solutions company, to help them host a Village Service Day that would involve employees in citizen leadership-building activities. Odyssey Teams has a signature philanthropic program called Helping Hands, which builds participants’ leadership and teamwork skills as they work together to assemble prosthetic hands.


The Helping Hands program was shaped and delivered as a three-hour session in which attendees could witness the effects of their efforts and time. It was tailored to reinforce the DaVita values of teamwork, fulfillment, and fun through collaboration and working with a sense of purpose.



The three-hour session kicked off with a discussion about being more deliberate while communicating and collaborating on the job. The attendees were then formed into teams of three and set about the task of building prosthetic hands, which would then be donated to organizations serving amputees around the world.

When they convened for the three-hour session, participants were unaware that they would be building prosthetic devices. The activity is well-aligned with the goals of the program—to reconnect with the why of work, how teammates relate to patients and fellow teammates, and how they address challenges. All of this is taught during the process of assembling prostheses.

The session concluded with a discussion of concrete ways to apply the concepts taught in the training to participants’ jobs.


DaVita employees assembled 1,433 prostheses during the three-hour session, the largest single assembly of prosthetic hands Odyssey Teams has ever facilitated. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive and one of the highest scored portions of the Village Service Day.

Lessons learned

Combining expert corporate training with charitable giving is a powerful way to reinforce company values and remind employees of the greater good they accomplish in their day-to-day work.




I’ll be talking about DaVita’s focus on Creating a Culture of Community through our Trilogy of Care:  caring for our patients, our teammates, and our world.  Register for the conference taking place January 9-10 in Denver, CO here:  Employee Engagement Conference registration.


“When you are the new leader of a team, how do you get your team to buy-in to your strategy?” (subtext:  I’ve tried demanding buy-in, and it doesn’t work)

“How do you have difficult performance conversations with people having challenges in their personal life?” (subtext: without seeming like a jerk)

“How do you know if you are balancing your time correctly between building relationships and getting results?” (subtext:  I just graduated from a top MBA program and I’m more comfortable with formulas)

These are some of the questions to me during a recent conversation with 25 new hires at my workplace.  Questions I’ve worked on via deep introspection regarding my values and my hoped-for contribution to the world as well as training and study and practice in management and leadership–for 30 years!  I started at Taco Bell, then checker at a grocery store, retail sales in a department store, new student orientation at my university, marketing in a health care organization, TA during graduate school, waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant, clerical work in two different manufacturing facilities, management consulting, and 18 years in learning, development, operations, technology, and strategy.  And so what was my answer to the questions?

I have some guiding principles that help me make decisions, but people are unpredictable, life is messy, and you can’t control other people’s reactions–so nothing works all the time.  Here are some guiding principles to the overarching question around balancing relationships with results:

1.  No involvement, no commitment.  Some things are non-negotiable, so state what they are.  If you have freedom regarding HOW to accomplish something or decisions to be made in the face of the non-negotiable, involve people as much as you can.

2.  Be mindful and conscious.  Were expectations communicated?  Repeatedly?  With feedback?  Have I listened as much as I’ve talked?  Is this fair?  If our entire working relationship were broadcast on TV, would I feel good about what I’ve said and done?  Have I offered resources within the organization?

3.  Being “nice” isn’t nice.  I learned this from @jack_welch.  If you go a few years (which sometimes turns into 10 years, or 20) thinking, “Mary isn’t really that good.  She doesn’t meet my expectations.  But it wouldn’t be ‘nice’ to talk to her about performance right now” (because her kids are sick, her husband is out of work, she has been struggling).  And then one day, maybe for financial reasons or you being called on the carpet for Mary’s lack of performance, you need to tell her she no longer has a job.  Is that nice?  When you say, “Mary, you weren’t really very good,” shouldn’t she say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”  Of course, treat people with respect, develop the skills to provide feedback appropriately, but being “nice” isn’t the goal.

4.  Ask for feedback from your team.  If you’re a jerk, you’ll hear about it, even if it is masked in political correctness.





"I urge you to read this remarkable book! It offers the push you need to transform yourself, prosper, and get the career satisfaction you crave."
~ Robin Ryan, author of 60 Seconds & You're Hired!