Friday, October 22, 2010

The Big Question

Do you have a conflict with a boss? A spouse? A co-worker? An ex? And do these conflicts seem unsolvable to you?

Often I find myself in the middle of conflicts like these as a counselor. And over time, I have found a simple question that often changes everything about these conflicts when I ask it. I call it The Big Question. Here it is:

"Is the other person simply a bad person?"

If the answer is "yes," all you can do is set boundaries for yourself. But if the answer is "no," this question can lead you to the common ground where the solution lies.

You see, every conflict fundamentally boils down to a dialogue that goes something like this: "Me, me, me, me, me." "No, me, me, me, me, me." "Yeah, but me, me, me, me, me." And soon we get entrenched in our positions and start building a "villain story" about the other party: "He is out to get me." "She won't listen to common sense." "They are constantly stabbing me in the back."

In reality, we all have a powerful survival instinct that leads us to push back against people who confront us, criticize us, or disagree with us – listen carefully – no matter how right they are. Which means that the laws of physics work against you every time you go, "Me, me, me." So most conflicts normally continue until one party or the other finally goes, "OK, I see: you, you, you." So let's see how this ties in with The Big Question:

-If you believe that your mother is simply meddlesome and judgmental for the sake of pure evil, you may never convince her to stop. But if you realize that she is worried about how well her grandchildren will turn out, then the two of you have something to talk about.

-If your boss is simply a ruthless taskmaster, you may have no option other than to leave. But if you know that he feels people don't respect him or listen to him, there is light on the path.

-If your husband married you for the sole purpose of making you feel worthless, you probably won't stay married much longer. But if underneath it all he needs down time while you need attention, there is hope.

Sometimes people are, in fact, bad people. When someone is sexually harassing you, stealing from your company, or posting compromising pictures of you on the Internet, you don't need to communicate better with them. For some situations, the right answer is to take them to court, talk to your HR department, or simply say "No more."

But in reality, most people aren't just bad people. And if they aren't, chances are that you know it. So ask yourself The Big Question, and take the first step to putting your conflicts behind you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whirlpools and Wolfsburgs

(Photo courtesy of Volkswagen)
In my generation, we were brought up to be Calvinistic. Work now, play later. Save for the future. Delay short-term gratification for the greater good. Yada yada yada.

I would like to suggest that you re-think that ethic. And I feel I have a bunch of psychologists lined up behind me on this one. Allow me to explain.

According to cognitive psychology, we are what we think about ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less. The only real difference between you and the next guy or gal are your thoughts – not your job, your education, or your case of lumbago. So when you treat yourself really well, the message it sends often carries over to the rest of your life.

I was thinking about this point earlier this month as I was soaking in a whirlpool tub in Albany, NY. It was the end of a long week on the road, the night before my umpteenth speaking engagement this year. I had covered 5000 miles and spoken to 500 people that week. But in this moment, I was so relaxed that I could practically float away. And it struck me that the extra $90 I paid out of my own pocket for a Jacuzzi suite was probably the best investment I had made all week.

But here is what is much more important, in my view. As I sat there being pleasantly pounded by warm jets of water, I was also rewarding myself for a lot of hard work, and sending a signal that I believed in myself. And when I strode on stage the next morning with a jaunty, FDR-like sense of confidence and got rave reviews for my talk, I probably more than earned my 90 bucks back in good publicity.

This reminded me of 1996, a year into my fledgling self-employment, when my consulting work all dried up and my old 100K-mile car started acting up at the same time. I stopped by a dealer in hopes of trading for a modest old car, but what caught my eye instead was a drop-dead gorgeous, loaded new Honda Accord with a special two-year lease. Looking in the mirror that night, I realized this was a test of faith – and I will never forget the feeling of having had no work in three months, having no idea when I would ever work again, driving off the lot in the nicest car I had ever owned.

I eventually kept that car for more than seven years. But just like the whirlpool, it wasn't just a matter of having a nice car. It was a signal to myself about flourishing and not just surviving. It was built-in behavioral modification: every time I slipped behind the wheel, I was an important person who was going to be successful. And you know something, it worked.

Of course, you don't have to buy a car to have the same kind of impact. Back in the 1980s, as a software engineer living in Los Angeles, I put aside ten or twenty bucks every week to have a real blowout lunch somewhere. There was something about sitting under the fountains of the Hotel Meridian or the Newport Hilton every week, patting myself on the back, that made it easier to go back and write code - and if you ask me, probably had more than a little to do with the management career that blossomed soon thereafter.

This week I had another one of those moments. Two and a half years ago, when my previous car's lease was up, I sprung for a nice VW Jetta, but always lusted after the turbocharged, 200 HP Wolfsburg Edition (which back then, only came in dull colors that needed more Prozac – my blog about that debate is here). I heard that VW wasn't making the Wolf in 2011, and decided it was now or never. I found a beauty among the handful remaining, silver with white leather seats, and after a small check and a painless trade-in I am now happily zooming around upstate New York going "who-hoo!"

Of course, we all need to do the right things in our lives. Work hard. Live within our means. Give to charity. Don't be a wastrel and neglect the future. I try to do all of these things. But looking back on what has most affected my mental health – and my success – over the years, I'd like to add one more thing to the list: whether it is a rich chocolate dessert or a new sports car, go treat yourself to something really nice once in a while.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Brooks Conrad and learning to fail

I am a huge baseball fan, and there is no finer time of year than the playoffs. It has a totally different vibe than the regular season. Especially when you are there live: compared to the relaxed cadence of a normal Sunday afternoon ballgame, a playoff game has an edgy urgency, in front of a packed house that hangs on every pitch.

Given the knot I feel in my stomach sitting in the stands as a fan, I can only imagine what it is like being one of the 18 men out there in the arena. Some of them are probably locked in doing a job they have done well for years. Others, being human, get caught up in the tension of an atmosphere where one team ultimately succeeds and the other goes home in defeat. And more often than you think, games are decided by human errors that you rarely if ever see during the regular season.

I was thinking of that tense playoff vibe this week reading about Brooks Conrad, a 30-year-old career minor leaguer who suddenly found himself on baseball's biggest stage. Thanks to injuries to two of the star players on the Atlanta Braves' depth chart, he ended up playing second base in a key playoff game – and committed a record three errors, the last of which bobbled a routine play that turned a certain victory into a last-minute defeat. Atlanta bowed out of the playoffs shortly afterward, and after the game Conrad stated that he wished he could "dig a hole and go sleep in there."

So picture this: you have devoted your entire life to becoming a baseball star, enduring years of bus rides and bad food, and finally make it to the top – only to see your moment in the sun drowned out by a chorus of boos, and your name going into the wrong side of the history books. Red Sox great Bill Buckner experienced it when a routine ground ball rolled through his legs to keep the Sox from winning their first World Series in nearly 70 years, and Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood gained a lifelong nickname of "Wide Right" when the Bills lost a Super Bowl on his missed last-second field goal.

So what fascinates me in cases like these – where people fail on some of life's biggest stages – is where they take their lives from there. Some take it on the chin and move on. Like 1993 World Series goat Mitch Williams, who became a respected sports broadcaster, or Buckner, who had a long and distinguished tenure as a baseball coach. Others did not fare so well, like when baseball's Donnie Moore committed suicide three years after surrendering a climactic home run in the playoffs.

What is the difference? In my view, something I call "leaning in" to mistakes. When I was training to become a therapist, I went through an exercise where someone would intentionally criticize my therapy work in front of a group, and I was instructed to simply acknowledge or agree with him. ("You're right. I really did mess that up. In fact, you should have seen me last week – I was even worse! That must have been a really bad experience for my client.") Then the group points out how well you come across by openly discussing all of this criticism.

This was a life-changing experience for me. In a very real sense, my "new toy" over the last three years has been learning to lean into other people's criticism without getting defensive. It works beautifully for other people as well, even in their worst moments. Williams, for example, has made it a point to freely acknowledge and talk about his mistakes in the World Series for years, to the point where he became a welcome and respected figure in the same Philadelphia he lost the Series for.

Nowadays I am often on stage in front of large audiences, sometimes hundreds of people. The vast majority of the time it goes swimmingly. Other times I kick it wide right. Like the time I invited someone on stage to role-play an angry patient with me, and she just got angrier and angrier as she taunted my well-rehearsed techniques. Or the time I name-checked the wrong sports team in the wrong city and was drowned out by a chorus of boos.

I have found that when I lean into these situations with gusto, they usually turn out just fine. The angry person, for example, soon taught both me and the audience a lot about what it's like about her work with challenging people like drug addicts, and it was a great learning experience for all of us. And the sports gaffe led to a productive discussion on what their team does right. Ironically, I feel my worst mistakes often lead me to rave reviews and more business by the time I'm finished.

So smile, Brooks Conrad. Own what happened and lean into it. And then come back next year – or ride off into the sunset – proud of having gotten into the arena to make these mistakes. You'll be fine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The launch of a great new book

Hi everyone - Rich here. If you have seen my posts and tweets lately, you know that I've been helping to promote the launch of a great new book: Healing the Corporate World, from my friend and fellow corporate escapee Maria Gamb.

This book resonates with me on a very personal level. I see so much stress in the workplace today, and at the same time have seen workplaces whose values take them - and their teams - to an entirely new level. I have managed very successful values-based teams myself, and studied and written about them in my own book The Soul of an Organization a few years back.

There are some great free gifts for you, including my own full-length 2004 book The Perfect Company, if you purchase Healing the Corporate World on its launch day Tuesday Oct. 12. But more important, the business world needs this book, and has needed someone with Maria's experience and platform to deliver this message. Thanks and enjoy!

New Author Takes on What's REALLY Ailing the World of Business
New Book Healing the Corporate World by Maria Gamb arrives Tues Oct 12th

"Something is wrong."

These are the first three words that appeared on the page when Maria Gamb first sat down to write her book about what is ailing modern business today.

Maria Gamb, former Fortune 500 executive with over 20 years of experience in the corporate world, and author of the new book Healing the Corporate World: how value-based leadership transforms business from the inside out, knew that stress was endemic in corporate life. She also knew the impact it was having not only upon individuals, but upon entire companies, if not the world as a whole. But rather than settle for the typical approaches to "stress management" so prevalent today, Maria had a different idea altogether as to what the real problem was, and what was needed to rectify it.

By all accounts, Maria was experiencing a highly "successful" career for many years—at least to the naked eye. But inwardly, Maria, a highly sensitive and intuitive woman, with a great belief in the human spirit, felt something was intrinsically wrong with the way businesses were being run in our modern world. Stress wasn't the problem; it was merely the natural symptom that arouse as a result of much deeper issues. Competition, fear, blame, feelings of helplessness, and a sense of not being "seen" had all-too-often become the norm rather than the exception, especially in corporate life. And no amount of stress management would ever make stress go away until these issues were addressed—not only at a personal level, but also at a global level.

She felt it was time to talk about how we were going to transform the business world and heal a seriously ailing system.

Understanding that real change could only come from within, with each person taking personal responsibility for his or her own thoughts and actions, Maria decided to write a book that would serve as a call-to-action to the business community entitled Healing the Corporate World: how value-based leadership transforms business from the inside out.

Maria wrote this book with a passion to start the ripple of change that will do exactly what the title says: HEAL the corporate world. By "healing," she doesn't just mean to rescue our culture from economic crisis, but rather to heal the people and relationships within organizations so they can become healthy, flowing systems for change and creativity that are founded upon values, innovation, personal responsibility and authentic leadership at all levels of the business structure.

And while the title suggests a focus on corporate life, Maria's intention is that the book is NOT just for CEOs, senior managers or even corporations—she sees it as a book for anyone who works, from middle-manager to a new employee on a team to the self-employed and small business owner. Her intention in writing the book is that the principles would be applicable to anyone who wanted to create a more human-focussed society by transforming the way we do business.

The official Amazon launch of Healing the Corporate World starts at 12:01 AM Pacific, Tuesday October 12th. To celebrate the release of this "inspiring and visionary book" (Ernest Chu, bestselling author of Soul Currency), when you purchase Healing the Corporate World on the day of its launch, you can receive a complete library of personal development gifts from dozens of leading authors, business professionals, speakers on the subject of business and self-improvement (including a full-length copy of Rich Gallagher's book The Perfect Company, a Forbes Book Club selection in 2004).

To purchase the book and claim your bonus gifts, go to

When you look at all the bonus gifts, don’t worry about not having enough time to download them all. Maria assures me that as long as you purchase the book during the launch, you’ll have access to the download page until October 31st.

I hope you'll check out Healing the Corporate World on Tuesday October 12th, so we as a society can begin to apply these values-based principles in our work-place, and help start the process of healing for everyone.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Core values and organizational change: Q&A with author Maria Gamb

Today I have the great pleasure of being the host on Day 10 of the Virtual Blog Tour for Healing the Corporate World by author Maria Gamb.

Written by former Fortune 500 executive Maria Gamb, who spent more than 20 years trailblazing businesses valued at upwards of $100 million, Healing the Corporate World is a cutting-edge book examining the deep, and usually unspoken, ailment of the modern corporate world, offering solutions for healing at a personal, financial and even spiritual level. By showing the reader "the four cycles of transformational leadership", Maria provides business leaders, from solo entrepreneurs to corporate senior executives, practical answers on how to transform their organizations from the inside out, and become "Change Agents", consciously creating their own reality.

Yesterday, Maria visited Bryn Johnson at For today’s stop on the tour, I decided to ask Maria some questions about the core values behind workplace change.

* * * * *

Rich: Hi Maria! After my own book The Soul of an Organization came out (about how cultural values change organizations), the number one question I got was "Great! I'll change! Now, how do I change my boss?" What would your answer be?

Maria: I love this question! LOL I get it a lot. Here’s the cold hard truth: Your boss isn’t the problem, you are. I can feel the anxiety rising as you read this! Here’s what I mean. You cannot and should not try to change anyone. It’s none of your business and it’s not your job. Your job is to work on yourself; personally and professionally, to become the best leader, team member, colleague, wife, husband, parent or other. By working on yourself and letting go of what I call “ego behaviors” you come back to your true self. That kind, compassionate, caring person who helps others, contributes the best they can and is open to creativity, innovation and expansion without being attached to “being right” or “getting even” with that boss who you may not like very much.

Often times the things we see in another person are the very things we need to work on changing or improving on our own leadership. That irritating boss is actually probably going to be one of your best teachers!

Rich: Are there core values you feel are universal? Or do they vary from organization to organization?

Maria: I believe that core values are indeed universal. Just about every one of them comes back to 3 grounding principles – they are rooted in love - the care of others, compassion - the connection to others and acceptance - the engagement of others. Most people haven’t considered it this way, but it is so. An organization will tell you which of the 3 is of most importance to them by the values they select. Values of any organization are usually a result of challenges and lessons of those setting these standards.

More than just the values set by an organization; each individual needs to consider what their value-stand is on a personal level. These are their boundaries and rules of engagement. How they choose to operate in this world. And what they believe is important to creating their own happiness and success as well. The power of the organization IS in its people.

Rich: What do you feel the potential is for global and not just individual change along the lines of your book? Is there a "tipping point" where everyone starts to follow?

Maria: The “tipping point” is the realization that the power really does lay with the people – they are far more powerful than they realize. What I am sharing in this book is that it IS up to them to start the momentum and movement in how business is conducted. The shift is going to come from the “middle” – where the most manpower, resources and yes, influence lay. Every small contribution causes a ripple, which leads to a tidal wave. This is a phenomenon Dr. Ernest Lazslo calls the “Butterfly Effect”.

People forget their actions, decisions and the choices they make not only affect them. They are more far-reaching and global than they know. In business this is even more profound depending upon the kind of company you have or work within.

Additionally, these turbulent times have brought us back to fundamental values of trust, integrity and transparency. There is a great need for collaboration, which maximizes resources. The creation of new jobs and businesses are reliant upon creativity and innovation. In short, we, globally, are looking to create security and success. Using principles of cooperation rather than competition is what are required. Those who can embrace this will succeed and thrive. As momentum builds people will jump on board of those who move in this direction. People are unhappy, unfulfilled and as others move towards creating a more fulfilled life and livelihood others will be more inclined to follow rather than feeling like a victim.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Maria Gamb and that you’ll check out her new book Healing the Corporate World, which is coming to Amazon on Tuesday October 12, 2010. You can receive a complete library of beautiful personal development gifts when you buy the book on the day of its launch.

In addition, Maria is hosting an exciting FREE 4-day telesummit entitled “Transforming Business from the Inside Out” on October 4th - 7th with a distinguished panel of 9 of today's most innovative authors and speakers (including me!) on becoming the 'Change Agent' in your business, in your life and in the world!

If you’d like to attend, all you have to do is request a “launch reminder” about the book, and you’ll receive all the information to attend. If you cannot make the live event, you can download the audio at your convenience.

To find out how to buy Maria’s BOOK and receive these gifts, including the FREE pass to the 4-day online telesummit, go to

You can read all about the TELESUMMIT and the guests at

Be sure to follow Maria tomorrow when the next stop on her Virtual Blog Tour is Yvonne Perry blog at

As usual, please do feel free to share your comments and thoughts below. I love reading your feedback.