Shaquille O’Neal on Simplicity

I once worked with a CEO who said that the most important part of his job was keeping it simple. Simple communication. Simple instructions. Simple plans.

Consider the great basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. Before a game, a reporter once asked him what it was going to take to win. He poetically said, “I think the winner is going to be the team that scores the most points.”

Shaq could have lectured on the technical in’s and out’s of the team’s strategy, or what he observed in the game footage that would affect his tactics. Instead, he broke the game down to its simplest form – the winner will have the most points.

In the workplace, research has found that complexity is killing innovation. When asked to rank 21 workplace tasks by their overall simplicity, respondents ranked promoting an innovative idea as 18th. Overly complex tasks do not tend to get done, so how many innovative ideas are being lost because of bureaucracy? Consequently, companies that embrace simplicity are more likely to:

  • have readily available information for employees to share,
  • adopt the latest technology,
  • reward employees for new ideas, and
  • promote based on performance (vs office politics).

As a leader, when someone asks you a question, try to avoid the half hour tutorial. What is the most concise, yet thorough, response? If the team needs a plan, start with an overview before going knee deep in your gantt charts. If they need backstory, weed out the extraneous information and stick with what’s relevant.

Think this sounds easy? Give it a shot. Keeping it simple may be the most complex thing you do today.

If you don’t stick to simplicity, you’ll die a horrible death.  — Shaq


Jared Leto on Persistence

In a recent interview, Jared Leto, the Oscar award winning actor and lead singer of the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, stated that the advice he offers to aspiring artists is that they must “be compelled beyond a reasonable doubt to do this. Because if you are not, it’s not worth it. It’s too painful.”

The idea of persistence is just as applicable in leaders. In your pre-leader days, do you remember leaving work without a care in the world? Being off duty meant no responsibility, complete freedom. It would have been easy to remain in a job where you only needed to worry about yourself, but something drove you to want more.

If you don’t have this drive, Jared Leto says, “you should just do something normal, for lack of a better term, because the uncertainty and instability is too great.”

Leaders who are successful do not give up on accomplishing their goals. Despite setbacks (which are inevitable) and people who will tell you it can’t be done (also inevitable), persistence means rising beyond the fear and self-doubt, towards action.

The book The Characteristics of a Successful Entrepreneur provides a few suggestions to help get you through those rough patches:

  • Don’t panic.
  • Take time to ponder and understand the situation.
  • Consider every option and every possibility to solve the problem.
  • Invite a trusted mentor to advise you on the matter.
  • Engage employees who can help.
  • Make a decision, then act.
  • Evaluate the results. If they are unsatisfactory, try something else.

Harvey Weinstein on Altruism

Jay Chandrasekhar, a member of the Broken Lizards comedy troupe and successful movie director, tells a story from early in his career where he’s at the Sundance Festival trying to sell his first big movie.  Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest film producers in Hollywood, agrees to go to the screening.

When the film was over, Harvey walks up to Jay and says, “I’m going to do you a favor. Come meet me at the bar.” They grab a drink as the other studio executives are gawking that Jay is with Harvey. “When you hang out with me,” Harvey said, “you’ll sell your movie.” And Jay did.

Harvey had nothing to gain from this gesture. He had no financial investment or personal stake in the movie or in Jay’s success. They were not even close friends. Harvey merely saw someone talented and decided to help.

Altruism should be an attribute in every leader. For starters, according to research by UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs altruists are more likely to help those around them, are more committed to their work, and are less likely to quit.

Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system. — Donald Moynihan

Put simply, these findings show that helping others makes us happier. But, if you’re happiness is not a motivator, consider that helping others has a domino effect that encourages others to perform good deeds which, in turn, boosts their happiness.

Happy employees are more productive, have lower turnover, and work harder than their unhappy counterparts. As a leader, how much easier is your job if everyone is happily helping each other?

Your ability to display altruistic behaviors can make all the difference. You set the tone.

Jimmy Fallon on Likeability

Jimmy Fallon has been a fixture on late night television for almost twenty years. Whether as a cast member on Saturday Night Live or as a talk show host, Jimmy has always maintained a likeable persona.

You may be thinking that this is a prerequisite for hosting the Tonight Show, but why should a leader care about being liked? Haven’t we always been taught that respect is more important? This is true, but is having both so bad?

According to the book The Likeability Factor, when a leader is “liked,” others are prone to believe what they say and value their guidance – two things that every leader needs to be successful.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about being liked because you pander to the whims of others, refuse to make unpopular decisions, or lower expectations. Being liked is as simple as treating others with respect.

So how can we be more like Jimmy Fallon? The Likeability Factor tells us that there are four critical elements to consider:

Friendliness. Jimmy has an uncanny ability to communicate kindness and openness. His humor is not mean-spirited; everyone is in on the joke.

Relevance. Jimmy connects with others’ interests, wants, and needs. It’s evident in his enthusiasm for whatever he, his guest, and the audience are into.

Empathy. In interviews, Jimmy is able to recognize and acknowledge other’s feelings. He then reacts appropriately.

Realness. Jimmy’s friendliness, relevance, and empathy seem authentic. His sincerity appears to be genuine and honest.

Captain America on Passion

Captain America Shield

Amid another blockbuster movie and an illustrious career serving this country, Captain America has much to teach about how harnessing our passion will make us more effective leaders.

Check out my recent piece on for more…