Three Letter Leadership

By: Todd Gehrmann, CEO

Simplicity is not simple. If it were, then everything would be easy. And it’s not. People in positions of power have a tendency to overcomplicate. They build consensus. They hold meetings. They crunch data in their decision-making. All of this can be helpful when making decisions about complex matters. However, the most powerful ideas are often the most simple.

Lincoln delivered the 272 words of the Gettysburg Address in three minutes.

Steve Jobs insisted that the iPhone have one button and simple was his mantra.

Three-letter leadership is about using simple words to achieve superb results.


And is as close to an invisible word in the English language as you can get. It is used hundreds of times a day throughout conversation. So why does it make the list? And is inclusive. It implies that there is more, or if used as a question that you expect more. “And” can be powerful if used properly and in the context of leadership. I recommend using it in two ways. When sharing expectations, “I’d like to see the latest sales report and get your opinion on how we can improve our closing rates.” Or when gently pushing someone to give you more, “And?”


As my friend AJ likes to say, “but” is just a passive aggressive no. This is one that tends to be used more in a negative way. Nonetheless it is still a powerful yet simple word. It should be used in limited quantities and carefully. If during a performance review I say, “You are doing a great job, but…” what comes next is what is truly being heard by the recipient. Try using “and” in place of “but” and see what happens. Your message becomes one of hope. It becomes more forward looking than rooted in the past. “I think you are doing a great job and…”


Yet also implies a positive outcome. It is an inspirational word when used well by a leader. “Q2 is off to a good start. We haven’t hit our target yet.” If you tell a mentee that you think that she is making progress but needs to do more, using the word yet lets her know that you believe in her ability to achieve the goal. “I like the direction you are heading even though you have yet to complete the task.”


The word how opens up the door for important dialogue that you can use to provide leadership, insight, and expectations. If a direct report is working on a project and is providing a progress report one of the best questions you can as is “How?” How are you approaching this challenge? How have you tested this? How are you planning on completing this on time? This three-letter word provides you the opportunity to lead in an inclusive way. You become part of the solution and you get the detailed information you need to lead effectively.

There are dozens of powerful three-letter words that will make a difference in the way you communicate and the way you lead your team to achieve results. What are some of your favorites and WHY?

To learn more about how you can become a better coach, mentor, or manager contact FOCUS Training today at or apply to become part of the next Accelerate Institute class at


The Firefighter Myth: Breaking The Cycle Of Burnout

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Dwight Eisenhower once talked about the need for leaders to avoid confusing the urgent with the important. If you have ever taken a time management class or read a book on how to get your life organized, this idea is probably familiar.

Importance – the value of the task. What are the consequences of non-completion?

Urgency – how quickly the value of the task degrades over time. Can this be done later?

The skill of prioritization, or focusing on what matters most (if you are a devotee of Covey), is essential to leaders at every stage of life from student to professional. Many high performing leaders do a good job of understanding this distinction between urgent and important, and applying it to the way they invest their time and effort. In this way, they avoid the first trap of time management: Distraction – urgent tasks masquerading as important.

However, many high functioning leaders allow themselves to be caught up in the second trap: the Burnout Cycle. Because these leaders have a tendency to take on a lot of responsibility, and because they are sometimes overconfident in their ability to handle a large volume of work, leaders often find themselves spending the day dealing with tasks that are both urgent and important – emergencies. We refer to this as “fighting fires”.

When we spend all day fighting fires, we come home exhausted. We have all been there. When you have had one of those days at school or work, what do you do when you finally arrive home? Most people crash. We need to shut down our brains for a while and recharge the batteries.

This is smart actually, but the problem is that most of us overshoot relaxation and land squarely in the time wasting zone. When we spend our available time on tasks that are not important or urgent it means we are not focusing on preparation, practice, or prevention – the very things that will limit the fires we need to fight tomorrow. And so, after binge watching our favorite Netflix show until 3 AM, we catch a couple hours of sleep, drag ourselves back to our growing task list…and the Burnout Cycle continues.

How do we break this nasty downward spiral? Do you need to quit or give up activities you value? Maybe, if you are truly overcommitted. But, more likely this is an issue of forcing yourself into the right balance of invested time.

Take a lesson from actual fire fighters. If you speak to one you may be surprised to discover that the majority of their time (90% or more) is not spent fighting fires. Instead, they are investing time in practicing their skills, preparing their tools, and preventing fires from happening in the first place. Remember when, as a little kid, firefighters came to your school to talk about fire safety? That is just one small example of their biggest job – making sure that they have to deal with as few emergencies as possible.

So, if you are one of the thousands of high performers out there trapped in the Burnout Cycle, take a moment to reflect. How can you invest some time today to prevent a scramble next week? What can you change about your relaxation routine to make sure you are focused on recovery and not just wasting time? Take a moment right now and make a list of 10 things you can do this week to practice, prepare, or prevent.

The Burnout Cycle is a trap that can be avoided. Take back control.

How Pocahontas Helped Me Grow Up

By: Ruby Thompson


My Pocahontas dress can be spotted in photos of me from the moment my mom bought it, to two years later when it fit more like a mini-skirt. I was absolutely in love with this dress. To avoid ever taking it off, I wore it over my pajamas.

I’m sure a four year old wearing the same costume day after day looked odd. But, my mom supported this obsession whole-heartedly (or maybe the tantrums that came along with the attempt of a change were more convincing).

When I was four years old, I mistakenly expected Pocahontas to be able to go to pre-school like everyone else. When my mom told me otherwise, I absolutely lost my mind. I was not ready to let go of such a dear part of myself.

My mom eventually had to explain to me that I had to be a “big girl” and take off the dress. Besides the fact that it was old, ragged, and did not fit properly anymore, my Pocahontas dress could not transition with me to school. It was a huge comfort for me to wear it, and pre-school was the first time I had to learn that I was not always going to be comfortable.

This experience stuck with me all the way through high school, when I was terrified to leave for college. I was comfortable at home and I was nowhere near ready to leave my family and friends. I even considered going to community college to avoid the need to leave at all.

I avoided applying, visiting, or committing to any college until the last possible moment. I refused to get excited – because I wasn’t – and could tell my parents were not satisfied with my procrastination and lack of enthusiasm. Just like my Pocahontas dress, I was not ready to leave my comfort of home.

College is – as cliché as it sounds – the best part of anyone’s life. You gain so much knowledge and the greatest experiences. I couldn’t see that at that point; I was blinded by the dread of leaving home.

When I did decide to take off my Pocahontas dress, everything was okay. Not only okay, everything was wonderful. Comforts are not necessities and they should never hold you back. Going to college was scary and uncomfortable, but it led to more amazing things than I could have ever imagined.

If you’re afraid of something, it’s most likely because you’re comfortable where you are. Don’t be afraid to let go of that comfort and leap to the unknown. Take off your Pocahontas dress and see what’s waiting for you out there.






Everything You Need to Know About Getting a College Job

By: Megan Ashbrenner

Heading to college for the first time is an exhilarating, but scary experience. Many people find themselves wondering, “What if I don’t fit in?” and, “How do I make friends in a place where I don’t know anyone?”

The good news is almost everyone feels this way when they go to a new school or a new city. The great news is there is a solution! One of the best ways to become more organized and meet new people is to get an on-campus job.

Having an on-campus job helps you become more organized and forces you to prioritize your other activities accordingly. For many students, the adjustment to college is a difficult one, especially when learning how to study on your own time. Working while going to school is a great way to figure out how to plan your time in a way that lets you learn and accomplish your work most efficiently. Some employers even let you do your work in any downtime you may have between helping other students.


Where to lookJob

On-campus jobs vary from location to location. Some schools only have a few to offer, others have various departments and many different student staff positions within those departments. For example, a lot of university stores and restaurants hire students to staff their kitchens. Housing and support services are also great places to look-places like admissions, financial aid and the individual college offices usually look for students to do administrative work. This could be anything from scheduling appointments and meetings to handling applications and tuition checks.

Find it Online

Most schools have a section on their website for student employment; if searching for “student employment” doesn’t work, try searching ‘auxiliary.’ There, you will likely find an online application to fill out. Make sure you fill out every section to the best of your ability, and if they ask for something extra (like a resume or short answer responses), make sure you do them! Most positions will not be able to take you into consideration if you do not follow the application instructions exactly.

Ace the Interview

When it comes to interviewing for a student staff position, treat it as what it is: a real interview, for a real job. If you go into the interview and say, “I just want a job,” “I want to work here because it’s convenient for me,” or “I need to make some money,” you won’t make the great first impression you’re striving for. Instead, talk about wanting to be involved in your campus community, meeting new people and making the best experience you can for your peers. If you are asked for an example, make sure you give an example! And though it may seem like common sense, answer the questions. It’s the quality of the answer that matters, not the length. Of course, everyone gets nervous and may ramble every now and then, but try to not go off on a tangent with your response.

On-campus jobs tend to be very flexible about your schedule, and as an added bonus, you are working with other students who understand what you’re going through. This will turn some of your co-workers into some of your best friends, which is almost as good as having the job in the first place.

Diary of an In-betweener

By: Ruby Thompson


“In-Betweener?”  My mom questioned.

“Yup. That’s exactly what I am.” And at that point, I was convinced that was all I’d ever be.

Okay, yes, in-betweener is a totally made up word. But it describes exactly how I felt all throughout high school and exactly how thousands of other high school kids feel. I wasn’t the best player on the team, but I wasn’t dragging us down either. I took some really hard classes, but I also took some really easy ones. I did well in the things I tried, but I was never “the best” at absolutely anything. I was the poster child of mediocrity – or so I thought.

This deep-rooted feeling of being ordinary turned that “leadership” section of college applications into a nightmare. I never tried to be in charge of anything because I truly believed I was better off being told what to do. Once someone told me what to do, I knew I could do a great job. But nothing inside of me made me feel that I had any authority to make big decisions. And that was exactly my problem.

What makes the president of the recycling club or the captain of the football team’s ideas better than yours? You could – and probably do – have the exact same ideas as the person in charge of you. The only difference is that they took the initiative and had the confidence to put their ideas out there. Once you get past your belief that your ideas aren’t good enough or that someone else could do better, you’ll see that “leadership” section fill up and feel an overwhelming confidence in everything you do.

It took me until I graduated high school and went off to college to realize my potential and understand that my success was in my own hands. I was in charge, and I began to lead myself through my exhausting and exhilarating freshman year. I set out to make new friends, get good grades, and get as involved as possible.  I suddenly became the leader in group projects and a leading voice in class discussions. I stepped out from between the shadows and showed my true colors.

Don’t let the comfort of being an in-betweener keep you from stepping up to the plate. Get out there and take charge. I don’t see myself as an in-betweener anymore – and neither should you.

Have confidence and stand behind everything you do. Start by getting out of your comfort zone and out of the in-between. You’ll be thankful that you did.

Networking 101 By Kate Stolz


As you move forward in your life and career, the term networking will come up. But guess what…you’ve already done it! Networking is a give-and-take relationship and you already have plenty of these. It doesn’t have to be you sending business cards to Mark Zuckerberg. You can network with people you know, people with whom you feel comfortable.

I can remember my high school days,  sitting in “Careers 1001” with Mr. Anderson and hearing about the importance of networking a million times. It was one of those things he underlined, bolded, and used big gestures to ensure we fully understood.

What I didn’t realize was the real importance of networking.  This over- communicated, over-emphasized concept had real significance. It turns out Mr. Anderson used those hand gestures for a reason. He wanted us to see the value.

My class and I understood that networking was something that a teacher thought was important. In my mind, that was equivalent to a teacher saying, “We are going to do something fun today.” This normally meant a group project where there were assigned partners or maybe something really fun like a public speaking activity. Oh, the fun.

It wasn’t until I saw networking in action that I realized what it can do for me. And the fact of the matter was that networking was easy

You remember when you talked with that one neighbor and somehow got a babysitting job? Or remember when you talked with that one friend about how you didn’t have someone taking you to homecoming and BAM, you had a date? If you have talked with someone, and gained something in return, you have experienced first-hand the value of networking.

Despite my every move to ignore Mr. Anderson’s lesson on networking, I realized that it is a valuable piece of a successful future. Networking happens every day, and it is our job to engage in it, even if it’s just with the people closest to us!