Bully for Me!
I’m The Cleverest Person in the Room!

Last week, I attended a memorial service for one of my great mentors, the generally acclaimed #1 leadership guru (and extraordinary humanist) (and leader in his own right) Warren Bennis. About 15 of his friends and colleagues spoke—myself included. It was eerie: We each—without exception—said the same thing, albeit in slightly different words. Warren made you feel clever—and at the center of his universe. This ability, in addition to its ultimate expression of humanist existence, may be the effective leader's most valuable attribute when it comes to engaging the mind and heart and soul and energy of others.

Consider these related quotes:

"When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling I was the cleverest person."—Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's (American) mother

"When you are talking to [Bill Clinton], you feel like he doesn't care about anything or anybody else around but you. He makes you feel like the most important person in the room."—Mark Hughes, screenwriter, Forbes blogger

"Leadership is about how you make people feel—about you, about the project or work you're doing together, and especially about themselves."—Betsy Myers, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You

"It was much later that I realized Dad's secret. He gained respect by giving it. He talked and listened to the fourth-grade kids in Spring Valley who shined shoes the same way he talked and listened to a bishop or a college president. He was seriously interested in who you were and what you had to say."—Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Respect

"Rather than talking at the assembled group [about the work], he went about it from the other direction. He started out by asking people to tell us about what mattered to them. By sharing their stories with each other, people felt more connected—these gatherings became an opportunity to go from 'me' to 'us,' and from there to 'What we can do together.'"—Betsy Myers, on Marshall Ganz's work with community organizers, from Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You

I would—literally—beg of you to do more than skim these quotes. To be sure, I was very emotional throughout Warren's service. But I was also stunned at the repetitiveness of the theme among people of remarkably different backgrounds.

Try and translate this into the/your daily practice of leadership. It's not that I think you—or I, for that matter—can match the intensity or sincerity of Warren's engagement. But we can at least be aware of our oft straying attention amidst a harried day. Warren's days were doubtless more harried than yours or mine. But for the duration of the time you were with him—10 minutes or two hours—his ability to make you the star of the drama was matchless. At the very least you can acknowledge the importance of this state of affairs—and raise your personal awareness of your moment-to-moment state of mind. You can also practice attentiveness—one manager reports that she writes "Listen" on her hand before a meeting.

There is, by the way, a virtuous circle process that emerges here. Your attentiveness is fun—that is, you learn a helluva lot about the person, their motivations, and the task at hand via the process that one keen observer calls "fierce listening."

Try it.
You'll like it.
You'll try even harder.
You'll get better.
It works.
(And in the process probably makes you a better person—nice bonus, eh?)

NB: One useful approach to improvement is becoming a formal student of asking good questions. This is an art—but also a science. I.e., you can study and practice deliberately. One point of entry is Ed Schein’s book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Rather Than Telling; also see Schein’s Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. When asking becomes your primary mode of interaction, your attentiveness and other-centeredness more or less automatically go up.

Brand You: 1997 Remembered

From the well-received Dataclysm: Who We Are, by Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid/p. 209:

"While aspiration and the prestige of association may be timeless [branding] concepts, truly new territory has recently opened to the brand people. In 1997, Tom Peters, a motivational speaker and management consultant, published an article called 'The Brand Called You' in Fast Company magazine—and the era of personal branding was born."

(FYI: Mr. Rudder is highly critical of my writing style in the FC article—failing to acknowledge that the piece was edited not by me, but from a phone interview by Fast Company co-founder and former HBR editor Alan Webber; besides, to add a gratuitous remark, Dataclysm, though a fascinating book, scores off-the-charts on lousy writing.) (FYI 2: I want to puke when labeled a "motivational speaker." My definition of a "motivational speaker": fly-weight, self-aggrandizing, delusional dickhead.)

Cool Friend: Bob Sutton (No. 2)

Bob Sutton returns to talk with tompeters.com about his new book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, which he coauthored with fellow Stanford professor Huggy Rao. Filled with impressive case studies, the book describes what works as well as common pitfalls. One of our favorite ideas is characterizing two models for scaling as Catholicism vs. Buddhism. Curious? You can learn more by reading Sutton's new Cool Friends interview. You can also visit the book website, www.scalingupexcellence.com, or follow Bob on Twitter @work_matters.


I've already made a non-trivial update of my Annotated Master. It's now 788 slides long—including over 200 annotation slides.

Thinking about slides per se, I wrote this note—on an early slide in the presentation:

The worst feedback I can get on some slide is, "That was a great quote." Well, I think some of them are pretty darn good. But the point of this presentation is reflection and discussion—and action.

Fact is, I see each of these "great quotes" as fully operational—translatable into "TTDNs”/Things To Do Now.

My great hope is that you will take some bits that pique your interest, ponder them, talk them over informally or formally with colleagues—and, as you see fit, develop a concrete effort to test them in your organizational context.

I'm in this thing for learning and action and personal/organizational improvement—not as a provider of "great" or "clever" quotes.


A New Annotated “Master” Presentation

I've thoroughly enjoyed my last two presentations—to an HR assemblage in Indianapolis and to an entrepreneurial gathering in Edmonton. I was moved to combine the two presentations, add a bit from hither and thither, and then go on an annotation binge. (Something I haven't done for quite a while.)

You'll find the end result here—a 567-slide PowerPoint presentation that includes about 100 "pages" (slides) worth of annotations. The goal is an up-to-date standalone piece. For better or for worse, it adds up to a brief (yes, 567 slides is my version of "brief") representation of "TP's story, circa 2014."

I hope you'll find it of value—and "steal me blind."


The E-Town Festival, an Edmonton Economic Development initiative, finds Tom in Canada today. Quote from their website: "E-Town Festival feeds the mind and heart of people who get excited by innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought." Sounds like Tom is a good fit as one of the headliners!

PPT presentations for downloading:
E-Town Festival, Edmonton Economic Development, Final
E-Town, Edmonton Economic Development, Long

MOOC with a Cool Friend

Trying to grow your organization? Spread pockets of excellence?

There are two days left to sign up! Cool Friend Bob Sutton, a Professor in the Department of Management Science & Engineering at Stanford, is offering a MOOC in scaling. Bob tells us that lots of people are involved in the design of the audio/video, etc., and there will be some cool guest speakers. Sign up here by September 12. The 5-week course begins on September 15.

Bob Sutton is knowledgeable about innumerable organizations and their scaling successes and failures. This is a unique opportunity to take a high quality course.

Note: We'll be talking to him soon for a second Cool Friend interview.

Training = Investment #1

I have ratcheted the volume WAAAAAAY up re training. I unloaded on the topic last week at Indiana HR in Indianapolis. I have subsequently upgraded a document titled "Training: Investment #1."

All yours ...

[Ed. And, there's an update to Excellence. NO EXCUSES! to reflect the changes to the training piece.]

A Few Quotes …

Call me a "motivational speaker"—and I'll be tempted to punch you. On the other hand, I have collected a passel of "inspiring" quotes over the years. I put this little set together for a colleague. All yours …

"This is the true joy of Life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one … being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." —G.B. Shaw, Man and Superman

The master in the art of living
Makes little distinction between
his work and his play.
He hardly knows which is which.
He simply pursues his vision
of EXCELLENCE in whatever he does.
Leaving others to decide whether
he is working or playing.
To him he is always doing both.

Source: Zen Buddhist text

"Make each day a Masterpiece!"—John Wooden, the most successful basketball coach [ever]

"I don't think I was a fine game coach. I think I was a good practice coach."—John Wooden on uber-preparation

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."—Oscar Wilde

"Make your life itself a creative work of art."—Mike Ray, The Highest Goal

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"—Mary Oliver, poet

"Do one thing every day that scares you."—Eleanor Roosevelt

"The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."—Alvin Toffler

"Innovation is opera: Theft and murder and egos and false starts and years in the wilderness and years of treading water ..."—author unknown

"Ever notice that 'What the hell' is always the right decision?"—shrewd observation, attributed to an unknown Hollywood scriptwriter

"No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."—Samuel Beckett

"Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You simply must … DO THINGS."—Ray Bradbury

"You miss 100% of the shots you never take."—Wayne Gretzky

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain."—Ted Rubin, social media guru


Source: Locker room sign posted by NFL football coach Bill Parcells

"The only thing you have power over is to get good at what you do. That's all there is; there ain't no more!"—Sally Field

"There is absolutely nothing that beats hard work. You hoped when you were coming out of college that you were the smartest. It turned out none of us are. But I could sure outwork a lot of folks."—Sallie Krawcheck

"What we do matters to us. Work may not be the most important thing in our lives or the only thing. We may work because we must, but we still want to love, to feel pride in, to respect ourselves for what we do and to make a difference."—Sara Ann Friedman, Work Matters: Women Talk About Their Jobs and Their Lives

"All of our artistic and religious traditions take equally great pains to inform us that we must never mistake a good career for good work. Life is a creative, intimate, unpredictable conversation if it is nothing else—and our life and our work are both the result of the way we hold that passionate conversation."—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

"I WANT TO BE THOROUGHLY USED UP WHEN I DIE. ... Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."—George Bernard Shaw

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting 'GERONIMO!'"—Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer

"It's always showtime."—David D'Alessandro, Career Warfare

"All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves we were all self-employed ... finding our food, feeding ourselves. That's where human history began. ... As civilization came we suppressed it. We became labor because they stamped us, 'You are labor.' We forgot that we are entrepreneurs."—Muhammad Yunus

"Many of us don't see ourselves as leaders, but the truth is that we are all confronted constantly with opportunities to 'take the lead.' [We either] take the lead—or fail to do so."—Betsy Myers, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You

The Big SIX

"We do no great things, only small things with great love."—Mother Teresa

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."—Helen Keller

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."—Anne Frank

"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."—Churchill

"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."—Henry David Thoreau

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."—Victor Frankl

HR Indiana

Tom is speaking at HR Indiana, the largest HR conference in the Midwest. As you know, he has been working for the last few months on an essay, "The Moral Bedrock of Management: Maximizing Human Capital Development." In many ways, he says, that essay will be the basis for his speech. "I try to do my best at every event—but this one, I admit, is special. I believe that changing circumstances—especially technology—put, or will put, damn near every job at risk. Hence companies—from 3 employees to 33,333 employees—have an obligation as never before to develop their team. The good news, as I've said for over 30 years, is that this is also the number one approach to maximizing profit and growth in the mid- to long-term." Tom summarizes his argument on a single slide, with text as follows:

CORPORATE MANDATE #1 2014: Your principal moral obligation as a leader is to develop the skillset, “soft” and “hard,” of every one of the people in your charge (temporary as well as semi-permanent) to the maximum extent of your abilities. The good news: This is also the #1 mid- to long-term … profit maximization strategy!

You'll find here Tom's presentation as given, and a long version that he plans to annotate. We're also including the "Moral Bedrock of Management" essay.

Tom adds, "This is really important to me, and I hope it may push you toward action."


Puzzled at work? Discover ways to put Tom’s ideas into Action.