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Creating Successful Leaders

David and Goliath


In his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell focuses not only on dispelling the fears attached to being an underdog, but even goes so far as to show how in many cases, being the underdog gives you an advantage. He summarizes some key points in his New Yorker article:

“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly,” he writes. “It was not. Davids win all the time.”

He highlights research conducted by political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft, who looked at all the major wars fought in the last two hundred years, paying close attention to the underdog of each conflict. His findings were surprising: roughly one in three wars were won by a nation that was way out of its league.

That’s a staggering stat on its own. Conventional wisdom would tell us that the underdog should never win, and when he/she does, it’s a fluke. But Arreguín-Toft’s study shows that underdogs win all the time. And that’s not even the most surprising finding.

In the David and Goliath story, David first tries on armor and a sword in preparation to face Goliath. But he’s not comfortable in heavy armor and a big sword. He’s familiar with stones, a sling, and his plain clothes. So he opts to use what he’s most used to, and we know what happens from there.

Similarly, Arreguín-Toft wondered what happened when the underdogs in his study “acknowledged their weaknesses and chose an unconventional strategy,” as Gladwell puts it. “He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs chose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win.”

The Takeaway

1. It’s okay to be the underdog. Own it. Use it to your advantage. Don’t be discouraged when you feel out of your league. Everyone feels this way from time to time.

2. Underdogs win all the time. And it’s not a fluke. Think of all the successful people and businesses that started out with an idea or vision that everyone around them laughed at. There are too many to count. They were all the underdogs at one point.

3. Use what you’re comfortable with to succeed; don’t play by the giant’s rules. Be aware of your unique strengths even in the face of a daunting challenge. Don’t ever let your self-saboteur tell you that you aren’t good enough for the task. It isn’t true.


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Author and professor Brené Brown is a leading voice on leadership and personal growth. Watch the video below to get a snippet of her thoughts on the importance of being courageously vulnerable.

The Takeaway

In your life, take advantage of the opportunities to:

-Speak up, even if you think it might make you look small or unintelligent. Chances are, it won’t.

-Show up. Vulnerability means putting yourself out there precisely when you don’t know what will happen next.

-Be honest. While not always easy to speak the truth in love, it’s always the better way to go.

-Ask good questions, and often. Know the difference between open and closed questions, and when to use which. Click here for a solid explanation of these types of questions.


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I caught a great snippet on the radio in the car the other day. The TED radio hour showcases a wide array of innovative and interesting ideas, and in this case, the program talked about how we define and achieve success in our lives.

Life coach Tony Robbins gave a TED talk asking us to identify our inner drive in life. If you have the time, it’s worth checking out the full talk here.


Otherwise, here are a few stand-out points he makes:

-Don’t think about life in terms of success and failure. Think about what brings the most meaning and value to your life, and chase after that.

-Don’t settle. If you don’t like where you’re life is headed, make a change.

-”Lack of resources” is not an excuse. What it really boils down to is a lack of resourcefulness.

Stay tuned for the month of April, as I’ll take a deeper look at what success is, and how we attain it.

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Actions speak louder than words. And even if you might tell them otherwise, a sure-fire way to demonstrate that you really don’t trust your team, that you really don’t think they’re capable, and that you’d rather just do the work yourself, is to constantly look over their shoulders and second guess their performance and commitment.

As you can imagine (or, have experienced yourself), we don’t respond too well to this type of management. In the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that people are more fulfilled when they get the time and space to master skills of value, and have a sense of ownership of these skills which they can then contribute to a greater cause.

A few ways to create this sort of environment in your business:

1. Set the parameters early on

Your team are a bunch of grown-ups. They should know what’s expected of them. Be clear about your expectations in the beginning. If they are the competent, intelligent people you know they are (why else did you hire them?), you won’t need to remind them.

2. Allow for flexibility when you can

Some people work best in the early morning, while others are night owls. Cater your management to the needs of the team. Let them make their own hours as much as possible. However, there are some jobs, like retail, that simply can’t accommodate much flexibility.

3. Trust your team to get the job done on time

With the parameters set, trust that your team possesses strong time management skills. Think innocent until proven guilty–if it turns out that some of your people may need extra management, then intervene and help them, but only once it’s clear they need the help.


In every case, be the voice of clarity and encouragement when you manage. The goal should be that everyone knows exactly what they are doing, and why, and that they feel motivated and trusted to do their best work in the way that works best for them.


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friendship at work

Friendship on the job can be beneficial to everyone. It makes work a fun place to be. It brings unity and camaraderie to the business. 

But friendships can potentially make it hard on your responsibility as a leader to remain consistent and fair. It might be easy for you to give your friend a break, extend a deadline, or ignore or overlook a mistake. And this is where having friends in your business can be detrimental.

The recent Harvard Business Review article offers a few helpful insights on how to navigate the tricky waters of managing your friends.

1. You’ll make them angry sometimes, but this is okay.

You have a job to do. Above all, remember why you’re there, in the position you’re in. You’ll have to “turn up the heat” on everyone from time to time, and this includes your friends.

They probably won’t be too pleased at this, at least not at first. Remember that this is their problem, not yours. Stay consistent, compassionate, but firm with your staff, and in time your work friends will appreciate and respect your consistency.

2. Learn to disagree with friends while still being their friend.

Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship. You can be passionate about a disagreement without being disrespectful. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s possible.

3. Keep work out of it at the dinner party.

When you spend time with them outside the office, remember the rules and standards of the workplace do not apply outside.

4. This arrangement won’t always work.

In some cases, having friends that report to you just doesn’t work. As the article’s author, Peter Bregman, points out: “Even if you have clarity about your role as a leader, emotional mastery, and friendship skills, the other person may not be able to live with your decisions.” As tough as it is, it’s better for both parties in this case to accept the reality of the situation and move on.

On the flip side, there are countless instances where your friendship with a staff member motivates them to do their best work. This is why knowing your staff is so crucial, so that you’ll be able to determine the relational dynamics early on and avoid potential conflicts.


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More and more workers are stepping out of the office permanently, according to an article I just read which talks about how working from home has risen from three years ago.

The benefit for the worker is pretty obvious, and workers have been in favor of this for a long time. More flexible hours, convenience, and independence, to name a few. But now business owners too are beginning to see the value of the mobile worker.

The reason for this, according to the article, is “the access they [business owners] now have to professionals without geography posing a barrier.” Thanks to technologies like Skype and cloud-based file sharing, businesses now have a much larger pool of talent to choose from without needing to keep their search limited to the city where their headquarters is based.

Having a mobile workforce also boosts productivity, as workers feel more ownership over their work and enjoy the freedom to work where and when they choose.

So the benefits are pretty compelling. Is this something you’ve considered for your business?

To get comfortable with a new approach to leading and managing people, you’ll need to:

-Familiarize yourself with the tools that ensure communication between you and the mobile worker. Skype, the internal social media site Yammer, and Dropbox (or something like it) are crucial.

-Trust your mobile workers know what to do without your constant supervision. Micro-management, which I’m opposed to in the first place, is impossible with this worker arrangement.

-Determine what jobs can be done outside the workplace.

-Make a point to have face-to-face meetings periodically. The power of real face-time always trumps mobile communication, so schedule consistent times where mobile workers can come in and feel a part of the team.


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For those of you just getting started on your career, or for those who may be in a transitionary period, you may be running up against the “catch-22″ of the job hunt. You know what I’m talking about, that annoying part of a job advertisement that says “entry level position,” followed directly by “three years of experience required.”

Here are a few tried-and-true ways to get the career ball rolling. Remember, the beginning of anyone’s career is often sluggish, so it’s imperative that you follow the Three P’s, and stay patient, persistent and positive.

1. Take Any Opportunity That Comes Your Way.

Even if it’s volunteer work or an unpaid internship, if it has anything to do with your field, say yes. You can’t afford to be too picky at first. Any experience looks great on a resume, but more importantly, any experience equips you with the confidence in yourself to meet your career goals.

2. Be Conscious of Your Personal Brand.

What are your strengths? Where do your interests lie? How do these apply to the field you’d like to break into? How will employers perceive you, and more importantly, how are you demonstrating your skills and strengths? These are questions that you must be able to answer in order to be a competitive prospective employee.

3. Network, network, network!

Do informational interviews. Follow up on leads. Keep your LinkedIn profile and your resume current. You never know if and when you’ll encounter the big breakthrough, so be ready at all times.

4. Don’t Be Discouraged.

Sometimes the market is just plain old tough tough, and that’s not your fault. All you can do is your best. Don’t let a bad economy make you feel like you’re not qualified. Staying proactive even in when jobs are scarce will show employers your resilience, which will help you land the job when the time comes.

5. Take Advantage of the Internet.

We live in a unique time: the information age. There are countless online resources at your disposal, including social media sites, job listings, blogs, and event notifications. Keep your eyes peeled and learn all you can.

Good luck!

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