christine e. middleton

By day... dot connector. consumer strategist. practitioner. coach. helping executives find new ways to expand and grow their bottom lines.

In between hours... student of life. passion for inspired living. truth seeker. advocate of level playing fields. fan of creativity and design.


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Do you find yourself getting anxious just before the spot light turns on you?

You’re normal.

Even the paid stage professionals still get the butterflies! (It’s a sign you’re alive.)

Whether you’re in a meeting where you are expected to speak up or in a social setting, performance anxiety pangs are apart of our normal response system.

(Check out these tricks and tips in Experience Life on overcoming anxiety.)

I used to get pangs all the time. I occasionally still do, especially since I like being behind the scenes running the show vs. having all eyes on me.

BUT, I decided a long time ago if something made me feel afraid I would walk towards it/raise my hand and volunteer for it rather than run the other way.

As a result, along the path of my career I’ve purposely facilitated sessions, given speeches and presentations, taught a virtual class or two, lead business pitches, started my own business, and even flown on a trapeze (not for work) — all because it scared me. 

How I performed doesn’t really matter, although I often surprise myself how capable I really am DESPITE what my brain would have me believe.

Nerves are just a feeling, not an indication of ability. And if you fail, who cares! You are learning/trying/living, and that’s a strategic advantage over time.

The secret is to find the right “trick(s)” that get you out of your comfort zone, focused on the right incentive, and stepping into the future version of yourself. 

Here are a few tid-bits from the Experience Life article, which asks professional actors to shed some light on getting rid of nerves:

  • What if in a scary social situation maybe you’re not actually being tested and found wanting.
  • Maybe the happiness of everyone within a two-mile radius doesn’t depend 100 percent on what you say or do at that moment.
  • Maybe nothing dreadful will happen if you step out of your costume. Maybe other characters can help carry the scene.
  • What if remembering that no single scene is going to make or break your career. The more you practice, the better and more comfortable all your scenes will become. And every day, the curtain rises on a whole new show.

I always reflect on the fact we’re all here to learn and grow. No one has crossed the finish line and got it all figured out. No one.

…If they say they do, that’s when you run the other way.

Not getting what you need from your team? Try this…

Calling all entrepreneurs:

"…Research shows that writing a business plan helps entrepreneurs to turn their business ideas into reality, more than doubling the odds that those beginning the start-up process will progress to becoming owners of up-and-running companies."

That’s mouthful. But the point is planning isn’t obsolete in the modern business world. 

We like to think of the young entrepreneur being wild and stubborn, but I can’t tell you how many experienced entrepreneurs I’ve seen losing millions because they are “too experienced” for creating a plan and allowing those they hire to execute against it. 

Young or old, just because you’re launching a startup or using “social” as your communication tool of choice, please don’t skip this proven step that has so much value, especially as you scale

And let’s be clear:

Strategy doesn’t have to mean thick documents no one reads, but it does need to be thoughtful and based on marketplace needs, opportunities and leveraging strengths. 

Strategy guides daily decisions and maintains a level of focus and consistency that is important in establishing a reputation and brand.

The strategy should also allow room for (if not seek) innovations, improvements and new opportunities to be identified, budgeted, and integrated. 

This blog post by Small Business Trends, provides four reasons a plan is essential - doing so helps you:

1. Create financial models of your businesses under different scenarios, which will help you to see how likely you are to achieve your goals. 

2. Make better business decisions and to execute them more effectively. 

3. Forces you to set deadlines and commit to choices. 

4. Communicate your business idea to others. 

I couldn’t agree more.

good perspective…

"Character education is just as important to education as reading, math, and science."

- Maria Montessori

Does your organization represent… 

Eisenhower’s leadership/team strategy (55:20) or Hitler’s (56:06) in WWII?

Sounds dramatic but take a look! Which is it?

This History Channel documentary takes a look at the strategies, decision-making, failed and successful leadership during the Vietnam, WWII and the Civil wars …all in context of Sun Tsu’s teachings in "The Art of War."

I love looking at history through such lens, as it gives insight into effective leadership, decision-making and business strategy. (After all, past is prologue.)

For example, are you(r):

  • Making decisions by focusing on your “strategic aim” or do you allow operational developments to drive strategy?
  • Exploiting weaknesses (even the less obvious) and changing “the argument” to your strategic advantage or fighting fire with fire?
  • Sabotaging the momentum of initial successes by only focusing on the largest, most obvious obstacles?
  • Instructions and goals clear or up for interpretation by your team leaders?
  • Gaining competitive intelligence for strategic advantage at all times or behaving in ways that support the belief you are untouchable, protected because you (…have many past successes, are bigger than your competitor, etc.)?
  • Willing to sacrifice short term gains for longer-term success?
  • Empowering managers, who have a hands-on perspective  (“enlightened”), to make important, strategic decisions or allowing confusion and fractions to exist?

Or, do you:

  • Know who/what you are up against and learn its strengths and weaknesses to become more savvy or rest on your past successes?
  • Trust what you are told by one (or few individuals) and therefore fill in the logic as to what is happening or do you spend the resources needed to verify information before making decisions?
  • Continue to throw resources at a losing strategy to fix it or re-strategize based on new information?
  • Fight every fight - or look for another way? Do you even know what fights are worth taking on and why?

Is your leader (or are you) at the top:

  • Build trust and be discrete without having an “ivory tower” reputation or culture around you?
  • Able to listen, intelligent and cunning in all the right ways, or rash and arrogant?
  • Contemplative - a deep thinker - someone who gives thought and provides time for preparation yet can move fast and decisively? Or, someone who is reactive, spontaneous, and responds to every opportunity that sounds attractive?
  • Someone who lives beyond their egos and need to be in the spotlight or are they driven by being seen as the hero (which also can come in the form of preventing others from getting the glory)? 

Of course, technology speeds up the process to modern-day decision making, but not the formula to being strategic. 

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” 

― Lao Tzu

If you are leading a group or organization:

Do you find ways to really tap into the the talent around you - beyond those on your immediate team?

Do you seek for new ideas and insights despite the source, or do you default to just listening to your work friends?

This quote from Lao Tzu should give us all pause if we think about it… (and anyone in leadership should).

Trusted sources are one thing, but those sources should be helping you make the best decision for the business, not necessarily for their gain. 

There is a difference.

In other words, your best interest or that of the company might not be the other person’s ultimate goal.

In fact, if trusted sources are heavily swaying, observe before acting. These people - friend or not - may have an agenda backing their motives (e.g., jockeying for next promotion, protecting fiefdom, aiming to get bigger share of budget/power, creating a case study of success to use in future job searches).

These type of motivators are not exceptions to the rule, but very common, especially the more authority and responsibility you take on. People will want to influence you for their gain.

So what if your goal is to win doing the right thing yet everyone around you has other motivations? How do you make “right decisions” despite competing agendas? How can you ensure you’re getting the truth?

It’s not easy, nor an exact science, but the difference between good and great is what you can strive to achieve. Here are a few suggestions in life and business that might help:

  • Always be mindful. Awake vs. too busy to notice what’s really going on around you. Assuming things will go away or resolve itself, believing without verifying is a big mistake. The higher you go, the harder it is so be aware so it’s important to make time to be in touch with those new and old.
  • Listen for what’s not being said… and who is saying what, when. Patterns emerge.
  • Ask those not speaking for their opinion …but do so in a safe environment away from others. (BTW, you have to build a reputation of being discrete and a trusted person for this to really work.) 
  • Move forward decisively, yet always remain open to changing courses when you uncover new information.
  • Create ways for there to be healthy disagreement in your trusted managers - to share ideas, as well as voice dissension. 
  • Provide a way for input across your team and organization. Reward information - good or bad - that leads to positive change.
  • Ask your trusted team to "bullet proof" important decision before making them final. Ask this team to find the flaws for the purpose of making the decision even stronger.  For those in extreme support or dissension, ask these individuals to help you iron clad the decision by approaching the situation from the opposite stance from how they really feel. See what they come up with — it will tell you whether they are trying or stuck in their position. Maybe they bring up valid points that have you not rushing on making this particular decision. OR, maybe you can start seeing who on your team is healthy antagonist vs. obstructionist blocking change…
  • Double check your own self — are you acutely aware of how you get in the way of progress? Are you in the weeds when you should be guiding outcomes, leading change or inspiring others to reach goals? Do you have prescribed ways of doing something or biases that get in the way of allowing the talent around you from bringing forth their best?

Stop reacting to squeaky wheels and trusting only the charismatic. Instead, go deeper. Discern. Take time to “lean in” - literally. Spend time being curious about the inside of your organization and the talent you have onboard, especially those who are rarely listened to. (You might be surprised at the alternate universe that exists the next layer(s) down.)


Tweet this:
“Learn to take risks. Live life everyday and feel the fear because that’s what brings the passion.”

–Sarah Friar (MBA ’00), CFO of Square, Inc.
Read more.

Tweet this:
“There is absolutely no career safety – risk can’t be avoided.”

–Professor Irv Grousbeck

Food for thought: 

"Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses."

- George Washington Carver, scientist, botanist, inventor and educator

George Carver was born into slavery yet defied the odds. Beyond learning to read and write, George went on to college for two degrees.

He became known for his curiosity and dedication, which lead to new uses of peanut, sweet potato, soybean and pecan crops. Important at the time.

And, of the hundreds of products he invented, they included plastics, paints, dyes and a type of gasoline. Things we take for granted today.

It’s amazing to think what each of us are capable of if we just believe we can  (…and get out of our own way).

One common hiring mistake: Hiring more of the same.

Everyone thinking the same way doesn’t produce new results.

This is very different from finding talent who align and fit in with the culture.

I’m always confounded at the prevalence of this mistake. It limits creativity.

Another creativity-enducing nugget shared in this 40-second spot: Time away from the desk, quiet time to contemplate, talking with people who have diverse perspectives, and looking beyond your own backyard and outside your industry for new ideas.

(Consultants can also be a great source of alternative perspectives.)

For more on fastcompany:

The founder of travel startup Peek shares how she stays open to inspiration, wherever it finds her.

Read More>

Love it. And here’s the point:

This is so fun for me you have no idea,” Kathryn Cicoletti says. 

So who is Kathryn and what’s she having fun doing?  Kathryn is creator of MakinSense Babe, a video-driven site that translates financial and investment information into language we all can understand.

About time! 

And apparently, Ms. Cicoletti’s style is similar to Jon Stewart.

Even better.

To launch this site, Ms. Cicoletti left her half a million a year job. “I love the idea of taking things that are generally boring—sorry, finance is really boring, let’s be honest—and making them entertaining.”

And that’s what she’s doing. Clever… sure… needed… yes!

But more than that it’s about loving what you do for a living and in such a way it works for you. The money - it will follow.


…Uning clever analogies and wry wit to simplify financial topics,” Cicoletti’s videos skewer the mainstream financial industry, while making savvy investors of her subscribers.

"I spent a lot of time looking at the landscape to see what is out there and what other people were doing. I wanted to be sure that I was coming at finance and money topics from a different angle.”


Read More>

(via fastcompany)

a quote by Alice Walker worth reflecting upon…

"The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging."

- Molly Ivans, Columnist for several papers, including the New York Times

When we find we’ve offended someone, back ourselves into a corner, made a bad decision, or end up in a pickle of some sort, often our reaction is to keep talking, trying, doing. 

But that is exactly what we shouldn’t do!

Molly’s sage advice - stop digging - is the best course of action. 

Just look at the recent Donald Sterling/LA Clipper scandal to see an example of someone who keeps digging… and how it makes things worse.

Not only was Mr. Sterling giving the press tons of fodder that detrimentally hurt his reputation with important funders and partners, but his continual digging led to court judgments against him.

Most of us won’t be on the national stage like this, but like Mr. Sterling how we conduct ourselves (behind closed doors, in front of cameras, on social media) and treat others is everything. When we find we’ve made a mistake or uncover new information that shows we’re actually wrong, how we respond is critical.  

Spinning, covering the mistake, justifications or denying – all lead to sudden death in the court of public opinion. (Even those who seem to get away with it, they don’t. You just don’t get to see karma catching up to them down the road.)

Rather than continuing to dig, just stop and change approaches. Go to a place of humility. Admit foremost to yourself where you went wrong. Apologize and be prepared to follow it with actions (how ever long it takes) to show the authenticity of your remorse and rebuild trust. Without it, you create a legacy that might conflict with your dreams and goals.

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power."

- President Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln is one of our greatest examples of what makes a good leader.

It’s not because he had certain looks, wore certain clothes or promenaded in certain circles. He wouldn’t have made for “good TV” nor sound bytes news could use.

It was how he approached life, people, situations. It all starts from within, as his quote suggests. 

Here’s one blog that gives a practical outline of what this looks like leading in today’s work environment.

What will happen …if you face and hold greed, anger, judgment, hurt in compassion instead of projecting it in hatred?

This question is really the difference between life and death.

By facing our pain and refusing to send it elsewhere, we stop the drama and hurt we, in turn, create.

We stop blaming. We heal.

We begin to change in profound ways - not only within ourselves, but everyone with whom we come into contact is impacted.

We find freedom from hurts caused by others. We are free to focus our attention and energy on more important things, including happiness, joy, creativity, connection.

The path and the price of transformation might seem hard at first, but so are most things that are important. Don’t let “hard” ever stop you.

Leadership is about setting your own course in a way that inspires others to follow.

…And with good intentions that elevates others, your legacy will be great. 

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