A Coach Looks at 50


January 31st, 2018 was a significant day in my house.

I turned 50 that day and I thought I would share a few reflections from hitting this monumental age. What did I do that day…I helped get our 3 kids that live at home to school. Checked in with our daughter in college. I went to an 8am coaching session with a client. I then traveled about 1 hour to lead an offsite with a new CEO and his executive team. My wife met me at the site and we had a nice dinner and evening of real, adult conversations. We did not celebrate with the kids until a few days later but that was by choice since they had basketball practice, church activities, etc.

What struck me was that this was a pretty normal day (except for the special dinner.) I woke up the next day, got a run in, did normal work and led another offsite that evening. Sounds almost boring, right? Except I loved it. I got to work with clients who I respect and admire what they are trying to do. I got to spend time with my fantastic family and I found time to get a run in. This led me to some interesting insights. This milestone birthday has touched more deeply than any other milestones. 18 and 21 seemed normal. 30—happily married; expecting a child; good job; 40-happily married; 4 children; busy lives but in the right place; 50-happily married; 1 kid in college; life moving fast; first time realizing that I may have lived more life than I have left to live…hmmm?!!

Other insights:

·       I do not think I will ever own a briefcase again

·       I am pretty sure I am done playing racquetball

·       I do not think I will ever own a 3 piece suit

·       I wonder how long I will continue to run 4-5 miles a day. If you had asked at 18 if I would still be running at 50, I would have thought you lost your mind!

·       How have I not gone to Ireland yet? (lots of Irish ancestors!)

·       I do not spend much time caring what others think of me

·       I feel pretty confident in almost all situations

·       I am so blessed to have my parent’s and my wife’s parents alive and in good health. I know this will probably not be the case at 60.

·       I love the work I get to do and will always do some form of this work

·       I spend more time on things I love to do vs. spending times on things I think should or ought to do (coaching sports with kids is great; serving on another volunteer board feels like a should right now.)

·       I am blessed with many friends and I wish I had time to see them more. I will work on seeing them more in my 50’s.


So what does this mean for you? I have found it helpful to sit on the back porch and reflect on my life. It has made me intentional in what I say yes to and what I should stop doing. I encourage you to take some time this year to pause and reflect on your life.

·       What activities are serving you best?

·       Who helps you be your best?

·       What blocks you from being your best?

·       Who is an energy vampire for you that you need to distance yourself from?

·       What are some things you would like to do in the next 2-3 years?

I love books and it is hard for me to let them go. However, the clutter was also making it hard for me to concentrate at times. I donated over 75 books and passed on another 50 to colleagues. It was really hard but I love having a clean bookshelf to fill up with new treasures. Another thought is, can you combine 2 things to help gain more efficiency? I love to run and I do not get to see my friends enough. I go on runs now with friends. I release the speed we are going and just enjoy the time to connect. They normally make me talk during the run, talk during lunch or with a beer afterwards. It works out well for us. How about you…what are finding in your life? Let me know and have an awesome 2018!

Creating Life Margins


We recently conducted a Team offsite.  It was what many organizations do in preparation for a new year.  Our leadership director, Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, did a fabulous job in leading us through the thought process for focusing on things that help drive success.

During our discussion, the topic of life margin came up.  For those who were familiar with life margin, this resonated highly.  Those that were not, it needed some further explanation.  In short, it was about the real vs the ideal.  In other words, how do we make the big things happen without getting excessively overwhelmed? We work on creating margin in our lives.

Scott Eblin in his excellent book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative,
reminds us that we need to be mindful of what our best looks and feels like. My experience has been that the resolution to almost all our professional / personal challenges is linked to how mindful we are of the balance between these four areas:

                                         Time, Energy, People and Communication

Tips for creating life margin:

§  Define the ideal vs the real and intentionally sculpt time to move life towards the ideal.

§  Actively manage personal energy in addition to managing time on the calendar.

§  Set tactful boundaries around people and limit exposure to negativity or toxicity.

§  Know our default personality wiring and that of the important people around us.

The goal is to create some margin for error and for the unexpected. For this to happen we really
have two choices. We can either work faster or accept that not everything will get done, (at least
when we think it should). Please understand this is not excusing lack of productivity, quite the opposite, it’s protecting it! If we can intentionally build in margin, we have some wiggle room and will become less stressed, healthier and more productive.

                            Living habitually in an overwhelmed state is a recipe for disaster

I will be presenting in an academic setting on Stephen Covey’s seventh habit, sharpening the saw. To sharpen the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Stephen Covey points out examples of activities that create life margin and sharpen the saw below.

1)     Physical:                    Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

2)     Social/Emotional:     Making social and meaningful connections with others

3)     Mental:                      Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

4)     Spiritual:                   Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through                                                           meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

Some of my favorite / memorable quotes from Mr. Covey:

§  Start with the end in mind.

§  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

§  The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

§  The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.

§  Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication.
It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

§  There are three constants in life...change, choice and principles.

§  Live out of your imagination, not your history.

§  Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

§  The way we see the problem is the problem.

§  Effective leadership puts first things first. Effective management is discipline,
carrying it out

            So, let’s go out there and create some life margin then fill in around the edges. Cheers!


I was recently facilitating a strategic offsite for a symphony orchestra in Virginia. It was a fascinating experience as I am a big classical music fan. One of the musicians put forward a musical phrase as a marketing concept that “cut to the chase” for those who want to experience the music, but may not want to spend all night doing so.

That concept was Alla Breve.

Alla Breve is Italian music speak for “cut the playing time” or play faster. I think there is some wisdom here to share as we are often faced with the reality of “doing less”, ie cutting the time or “doing more” ie playing faster.

This likely impacts our professional and personal lives.

1)      Are we habitually “out of time” running from one meeting to another?

2)      Is there an on-going sense of frustration that that the task doesn’t fit the time?

3)      How can we shorten the time needed to do what we need to do?

4)      Do we know our “time signatures” and how to change them?

5)      Are we playing solo even though we are part of a larger group?

6)      When orchestrating plans are we being realistic?

7)      When was the last time we intentionally gave back time to somebody else?

8)      When was the last time we actually had time “given back”?

How to apply Alla Breve to the questions above goes a long way to determining if the sounds we fill the air with are sweet, melodic and harmonious or off pitch and in the wrong key.

Alla Breve starts by being mindful of our default time signatures both at home and at work. At Voltage Leadership, we utilize several assessment tools that help people understand their default personalities, motivational factors and cognitive capabilities. This helps illuminate if somebody is playing staccato (disjointed, disconnected) instead of legato (smooth, flowing.) Knowing when to “go hard” ie Allegro vs “when to play more slowly” ie Adagio can make all the difference in the tonal quality of our lives!

A few ideas:

·     Try cutting a one hour meeting to 45 minutes.

·     If the agenda is too long, then do 2-3 items and agree to emailing each other for the rest.

·     Question if you really need to meet weekly for your next project.

·     Review your priorities and meetings for the next week on Friday. Do you still need to attend all the meetings? Who could go in your place? Now, how will you invest your new found time?

So, the next time we are asked to sit through Handel’s Messiah, when we really only need Chopin’s two-minute Waltz, think “Alla Breve” and use the time redeemed to make beautiful music elsewhere!

For further discussion on this concept of Alla Breve in our work lives, listen to this episode of our VoltCast radio show, Illuminating Leadership.


It’s summer. It’s that time of the year for harmonic convergence known as “summer vacation.” School is out. Days are long. Kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement as they anticipate summer fun on their family vacations.  Queue up Chevy Chase and Lindsay Buckingham, “Holiday Road”!!!!

Remember when you were those kids bouncing off the walls? Where did you go and what did do? I sure do. We spent weeks in the summer at a place called Sylvan Beach. Sylvan Beach is on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake in upstate New York. It was home to a turn of the century amusement and theme park. It had all the essentials: the “Hammer”, the “Tilt-a-Hurl”, Haunted House, Wild Mouse, “Barrel of Fun”, Bumper cars, the “Mother of All Carousels” and yes “Skee Ball”. We would take our boat (the orange “tri-hull”) about 30 miles across the lake and run it right up onto the beach next to the vacation cabins we stayed in. I can still smell the fires on beach!

But I digress. Now, fast forward to our present-day world. The challenge is to “Manage Out!” This means planning what we will NOT do on our summer vacation.  At Voltage Leadership, we apply a management tool called “the 5 Gears” (by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram) for those who really need to be present when there doesn’t seem to be enough time. One of those 5 gears is First Gear. First Gear is defined as 100% completely unplugged. This means no “smart” phones, PC’s or internet period. Is that realistic I today’s world?

Only you can answer that. Here are some tips and tools to help you try to achieve First Gear.

·       Planning - Planning builds anticipation and anticipation builds excitement. Plan your vacations well and revel in thinking about what you’ll do. No bigger bummer than a vacation that fails to deliver.

·       Domestic Outsourcing - Housekeeping and childcare are inevitable if you’ve got little ones. Build in some adults only downtime. Bring along a best friend who can be a built-in babysitter. They will become family.

·       To Work or Not to Work -That IS the question. How much control do you have over the situation?  Are you taking calls because your boss is making you? If you must connect, set limits on when and what you will do. For example, working a half an hour each morning before the rest of your family wakes up may be a good compromise.

·       Email Does Not Get its Own Lounge Chair on Your Vacation. Agree upon and communicate beforehand your out of office accessibility before you leave the office. This includes your boss or any other key contacts. Is it a 15-min check in once in the AM every other day? Is that too much?

·       Stop Thinking that the World Revolves Around You - It can make you feel like you are trapped in a cage with lots of pressure. Remember, for this brief period of time, your Family revolves around you. Name a delegate for you before you leave that can handle things in your absence. This not only helps you but can be a development opportunity for them.

·       Have Some Fun – Do you remember how?

For a deeper dive on tips to achieve First Gear while on vacation, check out this episode of the VoltCast radio show, Illuminating Leadership.


Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at a professional healthcare conference attended by leaders from three states.  My topic was great and I was jazzed about presenting it.

The speaker preceding me was a young man named Matt Jones.  Matt is a three-time cancer survivor whose story has been featured in national magazines and on TV shows.  While a senior in college, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and given less than 10% chance of survival.

After developing a fever, Matt slipped out of consciousness.  Unsure if he would make it through the night, doctors had family and friends called.  Matt not only survived but, one year after finishing chemotherapy and relearning how to walk and talk, he completed marathons in San Diego and Rome.  He has since completed marathons on six continents and is in training for the seventh in Antarctica.  He is an impressive young man.

Matt’s message was elegant in its simplicity, “Be mindful of each day.” We could tell by the tone of his laugh that deep down, having looked down the barrel of that gun three times, he really was not affected by what others may have thought of him.

This took me back to 1993 and Jim Valvano’s inspiring words at the Espy’s, (knowing he was not likely to survive as Matt ultimately did).

“...To me, there are three things we all should do every day.  We should do this every day of our lives.  Number one is laugh.  You should laugh every day.  Number two is think.  You should spend some time in thought.  And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.  But think about it.  If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day.  That's a heck of a day.  You do that seven days a week; you're going to have something special….”

“…. Time is very precious to me….”  Jim Valvano.

Matt Jones made me think, “Are all or most of the areas of my life in the right priority?”

 How about you?  Are these areas of your life in the right priority?

1.      Faith

2.      Marriage/Couples/Intimacy

3.      Health/Physical well-being

4.      Family/Parenting

5.      Career/Employment

6.      Friendships/Social life

7.      Education/Personal growth and development

8.      Recreation/Fun/Leisure

9.      Citizenship/Community stewardship

Jimmy Valvano was right.  Don’t hold back.  If there is somebody important to you, tell them.  If there is something you need to say, say it.  If there is something to do, do it.  What are you waiting for?

Laissez les bon temps roulez!


You may be thinking, “Oh no! This sounds complex.”  However, this is not going to be a deep philosophical debate.  I learned this exercise while I was attending my coaching program at Georgetown University.  Take out a piece of paper.  In the left column, write By Saying Yes To…  In the right column, write I am Saying No to…

 Here are some samples from me and from one of my clients:


By Saying Yes to….                                     I am Saying No to…

Coaching Philip’s Basketball Team                 Free time on Tue, Thur, and Sat

                                                                    Dinners with the rest of family

                                                                    Missing an opportunity to connect with Philip


Leaving X Company                                       Stability


                                                                     Short commute

                                                                     Dead end job at X company

                                                                      My frustrating boss


I love to do this activity with people I coach as it helps them go beyond just the pros and cons list.  We rarely consider the opportunity costs of our Yeses.  Instead, we just tend to say, “Yes” and then one of several things occurs: we break commitments, we miss deadlines, we become overwhelmed, we resent that we said yes to the person, etc.  I think this exercise helps leaders start to clarify what they really want to be working on and what are their top priorities.

I was coaching a CEO recently who was overwhelmed and who could not remember when she last had fun.  When I asked her to do this exercise, I began to see that she kept stacking more and more on her plate.  This helped her understand that she needed to be more intentional in what she said yes to and what the consequences of her Yeses were.

This exercise helps people become more mindful.  Mindfulness is a buzz work right now and so let me provide a definition for you:

Mindfulness = Awareness + Intention

Scott Eblin shared this formula in his outstanding book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.  Thus, we first have to become aware of our challenges and then take intentional actions.

 I am curious about:

·       What intentions do you have?

·       How do you honor them?

Scott gives lots of ideas and I highly recommend the book. If you want to learn about how to use this content in your workplace or life, please reach out to me.  

Thanks and create a great day!