What’s the difference between an employee and a leader?

What’s the difference between an employee and a leader?

You might say it’s responsibility or scope of work, but very often the biggest difference is mindset. 

An employee thinks about their work as a series of tasks to get done. 

Those tasks are clearly defined and their job is to complete them to the satisfaction of their manager or boss. If something isn’t working they might do their best to fix it, but if it’s outside the scope of their job they might also just tell their boss and wait for a solution to be offered. 

A leader thinks about their work as a vision that needs to get created. 

They think about what they want to happen, they assume it’s possible, and then they work to figure out how to make that happen. They have conversations, invent new ways of doing and thinking, ask tough questions, and overcome obstacles in order to bring their vision into a reality. If something goes wrong they accept and adapt as needed. 

Most of us would prefer to lead teams of leaders. 

And yet so many leaders treat their teams as employees. Leaders want their team to do what they would do. So they direct, control, and limit. Worse still they treat their teams as obstacles that need to get fixed, falling into their own employee mindset. 

The world doesn’t need more workers. We need more leaders. And we need leaders who touch, move, and inspire others to lead. 


The Internet Is Like A Dorito

Have you ever looked up from your phone only to realize that you’ve spent 30 mins researching what causes a rash. Or 40 mins watching short videos that added little else than vague amusement to your life.

The internet is masterful at offering us easy to munch ideas, images, and experiences.

It’s like a Dorito, most of the magic is in the coating. Once that’s gone, you’re left with an inferior corn chip with little texture or nutritional value.

We almost never do this in real life. Spending time walking down a street, noticing the architecture of buildings, spending time chatting with a store clerk.

Real life is harder, it’s 3D, it’s complicated, it’s messy. But the payoff is real.

It’s why spending time in nature is so healing. And why spending hours in the digital forest is so exhausting.

So the next time you notice yourself lost in the woods of pages and ideas, you might try going outside and being with yourself for a change.

It may not be as easy or immediately satisfying, but I guarantee it will change your life.


My Whole Team QUIT! And How To Let Go

I’ve been thinking a lot about the choice to let go of something. Hope, people I care about, how I want things to be…


I recently took Facebook off of my phone and Ipad. I rarely go on to check it, just to post and share.

This didn’t feel that hard to let go. I notice an urge to go back and check it sometimes, but generally I just don’t, it’s that simple. If I can survive the urge I stay with letting go.


Recently my amazing assistant told me she wasn’t happy. At first, I tried to figure out a way to get her to stay but I don’t want someone to work for me if they aren’t happy. So we agreed to give it the weekend.

Over the weekend I stayed up SUPER LATE working really hard out of fear and panic. But I eventually saw what I was doing. I relaxed. I accepted. I let go.

So on Monday when my other assistant said she was quitting too it was fine. I felt some fear and I accepted it. I ended up talking to the last remaining member of my team on Wednesday of that week and we got clear it was time for him to move on as well.

I let them go. I was scared. I was sad. But it just felt like what wanted to happen. I relaxed and let go.


There are a few things in my life I continuously struggle to let go.

The need to try really hard.
Remembering my ex.
Dreaming about my future partner.

All of these feel impossible to let go of. Especially in the moment.

Pushing really hard is easy for me. Life has often felt like a bare knuckle boxing match and I just need to punch my way through.

Over and over I see myself doing this and I let go, but it comes back again and again.
I’ve sort of given up on the idea that this will ever go away completely.

Every time I feel resistance, I feel sadness. Part of me wants to reminisce, part of me wants to let go, part of me wants to feel grief.

Slowly I let go but there’s often pain. Even in the clarity of the path ahead.

Finally I often dream or fantasize about who I might be with next.
Having children.
Making love.
Laughing together.
The simple feeling of peace waking up next to someone.

Again and again, I try to let these go.

These are especially difficult because the fantasies often feel really good.
Sometimes they’re painful because it makes me feel even more lonely now.

But slowly I let them go.


Moment to moment these things seem like they never move at all.
At times I feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

But when I look back I see them slowly shift and melt.

I work less hard than I used to.
I go long stretches without thinking about my ex.
I forget about the fantasies and am just here in my life.

In these moments patience is the hardest thing for me to muster
I want to let go faster.
Which generally has me hold on harder.

But slowly, gently. I am learning to let go.


Devotion vs. Obsession

For a lot of my life, I was devoted to things that I couldn’t help but pay attention to. After college, I dated a girl who wasn’t a good fit for me. My roommates at the time took us canoeing and we fought the entire time. Years later they told me they could always tell how a relationship was going for the people they took on these trips. If they fought the relationship usually wouldn’t last.

Still, I couldn’t let her go. Even when she got engaged to someone else I found myself calling her and having these wistful conversations. I wasn’t good for her and she wasn’t good for me. But I was devoted. The devotion just wasn’t by choice.

If you pay attention to music, books, and music this is the kind of devotion you see a lot of. This feeling of not being able to stop thinking about someone, to stop pursuing some dream, to let go of a hunch. And obsession isn’t always bad. People who are obsessed with science and math have made incredible discoveries, but obsession isn’t the most powerful way to relate to devotion.

This is especially true in our relationships but it’s also true for our work.

No matter what it is, a beautiful partner, an amazing project, or a challenging problem to solve, obsession always runs out. It wanes and trembles in the face of reality.

True devotion is more solid than that. True devotion is a choice you make to give yourself to something, and that means giving all of yourself. Not just the self that always feels like showing up. It means giving the part of yourself that’s grumpy, unsure, full of doubt, and tired. It means offering yourself with all of your imperfections.

True devotion finds a way through obstacles and the ebb of energy.

This is the shift the Buddha made before he became enlightened. For years he was obsessed with waking up. He starved himself, stood on one leg for days, and sat with tremendous physical pain, but when he let go of his obsession and instead brought his devotion to practice everything shifted.

This lesson is one I’m still learning, because for me obsession feels more familiar. It feels easier to lose myself in my desire and passion for someone or for a project. And sometimes I let myself. But I don’t stay there.

As I let go of the emotional intoxication of obsession I either return to devotion or I let it go. Because I’m not really interested in living my life from the standpoint of a victim even if it gives some energy and excitement. What I’m interested in is living my life from the standpoint of a leader and giving my full devotion to those things that are truly worthy.


What To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

This article contains affiliate links which means I may make a small commission if you use the link to purchase.

This morning I woke up and found myself lying in bed scrolling through Instagram. I’m not supposed to do that. I’m a powerful coach, a deep spiritual practitioner, a human being on purpose, but that’s what I was doing.

Each year I take most of December off and I enjoy these slow mornings where I can do my practice or watch TV. Work on a new book idea or simply read one for hours in bed. I love my Decembers and yet, each January when it comes time to return to work, I don’t feel like doing anything for about a week.

I don’t feel like checking my email, starting a new project, exercising, or getting on client calls. My body feels like an object in perfect stillness at the center of a frozen universe. It doesn’t want to move, think, or put in effort in any way.

This is where I found myself this morning. Knowing that with a few clicks, I could continue my marathon of The Office, or lose myself in shopping for a valentine’s day gift, or just look at pictures of other people doing stuff.

And when I find myself here I have found a few ways to get myself out.

STEP 1 – Get out of bed.

I can literally go anywhere else in the place I’m staying. The kitchen, the bathroom, the couch in the living room. Just the simple act of getting out of bed moves my energy. It takes me from horizontal to vertical, from inert to active. It can feel like a hard step (even though logically you may think it shouldn’t be hard) but getting out of bed really helps.

STEP 2 – Make the bed

I know, super lame. But making a bed reduces the chances you are going to get back into it. And it invokes your adult mind. Your day matters. Your bed matters. You are preparing your bed for when you will meet it again tonight. At the end of the day you’ll look at your bed and remember that you love yourself. You have set the stage for sleep.

Sleep that will happen later. Not now. Because now there is a day.

STEP 3 – Drink Something (not alcohol)

Water, tea, coffee, juice, it doesn’t matter, but you get bonus points for preparing something to drink. Drinking is a ritual. I spend 10 – 20 mins making coffee every morning. I hand grind beans. I measure water. Yes I’m a bit of a snob about coffee, but this ritual makes a difference to me.

I am preparing something for myself. I am preparing myself for the day. Plus it’s a simple and embodied activity. It is NOT on a screen. It is in the physical world. I boil water, measure beans, time the brew. All of these things are here in this world, where your life is.

STEP 4 – Do something that turns on your mind and/or body

Either one of these works. I mean both are better. But the key is to read something that turns on your mind or do something that turns on your mind or body.

If you’re going to read, pick a devotional, or maybe something on meditation. Bonus points if the chapters are short and inspiring. Anything by Pema Chodron* is great. Or Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind*. The Book of Awakening* is Dope. I even wrote a devotional for coaches, which you can pre-order right now.

Just read something that makes you think. Not the news. Not Facebook. Probably not even a blog post. Something that invites your mind into a deeper experience of yourself.

Same with exercise. It doesn’t have to be intense. Yoga, tai chi, gentle stretching. I love the stuff put out by Gold Medal Bodies. But just move, for 10-15 mins. Anything is better than nothing.

You are invoking engagement through movement. You are creating momentum which can carry you into the day.

STEP 5 – Write or draw something

Do morning pages or write a post about not wanting to do anything. Or just journal for 5-10 mins. Both exercise and reading have a quality of receiving. This is why you need to move very gently into creating.

You don’t have to write or draw anything good. Crap is fine. Maybe even better. The point is to shift. From laying to standing. From mental space to physical space. From preparing to moving. And then from receiving to creating.

So create something. Anything. It can be small. I write little poems sometimes.

The dog upstairs
barks with a low and yearning tone
I hear her
calling for the woods
through the plate glass window
that separates her
from the wild and the past

It’s probably not a great poem. It doesn’t matter. I created it. Now I am creating.

STEP 6 – Begin your day

You’re ready now. You’ve warmed up. You are already doing something. And now that you’re doing something you can do something else.

You could review your tasks for the day, you could work on the hardest one, you could answer your email. Whatever it is. You can more easily move from doing to doing.

And what if you get stuck?

Now you have 5 things you can try to get back on track.

  1. Stand up
  2. Prepare something for later
  3. Drink something
  4. Move or read
  5. Create something

As I move throughout my day I use these simple tasks as a way to bring myself back. Back from the land on inertia and indifference.

You were not made to lay about. You were made to give your gifts to the world.

All it takes is a small reset to remember.

*This article contains affiliate links which means I may make a small commission if you use the link to purchase.


How to Stay Optimistic During Hard Times

Inspiring leaders are known for keeping a positive attitude in hard times.

Winston Churchill inspired the british people with radio addresses and speeches during the worst parts of WWII.

FDR encouraged a nation in tatters with his fireside chats during the great depression.

How do they do it? How do leaders, in the face of incredible challenges, remain optimistic and engaged with their work?

Let’s look at some of the key ways leaders find hope in the midst of turmoil:

What are you committed to?

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.” -Mother Teresa

Great leaders center their lives around great commitments. Commitments that exist beyond the conditions they find themselves in.

These are not reasonable commitments, they are commitments beyond reason. Mother Teresa worked with some of the most disadvantaged people in the world, but her commitment to serve, to elevate, and to love was deeply inspiring.

Many of us have commitments that only exist in the moment. We’re committed to loving so long as they love us back, we’re committed to writing so long as we feel inspired, we’re committed to voting so long as the candidate completely aligns with all of our views.

Great leaders get rid of the “so long as”. They are their commitments. They stay committed beyond where other people would stop. This kind of commitment creates its own hope and optimism because it’s the strength of the commitment that matters, not the results of the moment.

How humble are you willing to be?

“For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.” -Ira Glass

Great leaders are willing to be wrong, to learn, to grow, and to find new ways to succeed.

Many of us are full of pride in who we are or were as leaders. This pride exists until we read the edge of our capabilities. When you hit that edge you are humbled by what you don’t know, what you can’t do, and who you have yet to become.

If you allow yourself to be humbled you can pass through the gate and continue down the path.

If you refuse the call, you go back to where things felt safe and often become cynical about anything beyond what you currently see is possible.

Great leaders are willing to be humbled in order to go forward. They understand that humility in the face of adversity is not defeat, it’s the doorway to victory.

Are willing to accept what is?

When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, ‘Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere.’ -Shunryu Suzuki

Great leaders don’t exist in a state of denial or fantastic thinking, they accept what is, and work from there.

Many of us would simply like to forget that the world is on fire. This is true even if the world at large is on fire or if it’s just our personal world that’s burning. Your desire for things to be ok, or ‘normal’ can override your willingness to see things as they are. This denial can lead you to numb out on fantasy, distractions, or even anger that the world is not how it should be.

From this denial, it’s hard to do anything. How can you act on a world you’re not even living in?

Great leaders don’t hide the truth from themselves. While they may paint a picture of possibility for others or even put their faith in an inspiring vision of the world, they start where they are right now. They choose the world as it is, people as they are, and life as it exists as the foundation to build hope on. This radical acceptance grants them an integrity that makes optimism possible.

The SuperHuman Illusion of Leadership

Most people when faced with adversity complain or avoid the challenge of the moment. Great leaders choose to take on the moment, which can create an illusion that they are superhuman.

But they aren’t, and you don’t have to be either.

Leadership is mostly a choice. A choice to find something you’re willing to commit to beyond reason, a choice to be humbled by the growth being offered to you, a choice to accept what is and begin with step one.

The world doesn’t need any more false superheroes. The world needs leaders and people who decide the problem is theirs — even if they didn’t cause it, don’t know how to solve it, and aren’t sure it’s even possible to make a difference.

Optimism isn’t some magic spell you cast, it’s simply a way of relating to the world, something which has to be renewed again and again. You can start now, you can make the choice to lead.

I hope that’s what you choose.


I Once

I once… bought a same day ticket to New York to tell a woman I loved her and arrived with flowers in my hands.

I once… left my whole life behind me to travel across the US and work as a ski instructor.

I once… got the best job I had ever had, running a cool music venue, making more money then I had ever made.

I once… moved into a Zen monastery intent on discovering the secrets of myself.

The relationship with the woman didn’t last. My car broke down and I haven’t skied again since. I got fired from my job after confronting my boss for stealing. I left the monastery and that entire community soon after.

You could say I once failed. My relationship failed. My plan fell through. I lost my job. I walked away from a path.

You could call these things failures.

I call them adventures.

I touch the edges of these experiences and number them wisdom depth heartbreak love

The wrinkles on my face grow deeper my heart pushes out a bit more

there’s always a reason not to do the thing take the leap go after the dream

But looking back you may say I once and smile



You are looking for something.

Something to keep things interesting, something to keep things safe, a cook set for backpacking, a rack to keep your bathroom organized, a new recipe to try.

But you’re looking for it.

Googling, scanning your newsfeed, asking (for a friend), window shopping, reading reviews, looking at profiles, swiping.

You don’t notice you’re looking.
You’re completely wrapped up in it.

Then you stop and wonder, what is it that I really want?

And you realize you don’t know.

It’s a feeling. Safe and warm, right, good, smart, satisfied.
You know you’ve felt it before.

In bed on a Sunday.
By a campfire.
With a pet in your lap.
A small silence in the middle of a conversation.

You notice that in those moments you weren’t looking.

But it doesn’t stop you from looking now.

Because that moment felt so good and you felt in such the right place.

You can’t help looking, but you can pause, notice what you really want, and remember.

Life comes to us, like a shy cat in the afternoon.
If we are patient and defenseless, it may just curl up with us and take a nap.


Be Still

With so much going on out there, now is a time to be still.

Take your coffee out in the morning, listen to the distant sound of traffic, and birds, and children.

Sit at night, with the lights all turned off and see how many crickets you can hear.

Be with people.

Listen to the sound of their voices lilting, hear their stories, their fears, their hopes, their dreams.

This is as good for leaders, as it is dear friends.

When there is nothing to do.
When you can’t see anyone’s smile.
When it feels like things are beyond comprehension.

Just be still.

And if you notice your own anxiety, or resistance, or grief emerging. Allow it to blossom into tears, into a desire to be held, into feelings deep in your stomach.

Be still with yourself.

Life is a mystery, one more apparent now than usual.
And just like an old detective, sitting quietly and observing the suspects.

Now is a time to be still, to listen, and to notice what you can.


I Don’t Feel Like It

Some mornings you won’t feel like it.

You won’t feel like writing, or exercising, or doing your meditation, or reaching out to clients.

You won’t feel like loving your wife or husband or partner or kids.

Some mornings it will all feel heavy and hard and you’ll wonder if you can just get by without doing it.

Flow people will tell you you’re trying too hard.
Habit people will tell you, you need to try harder.

Both have a point.

The other choice is to remember and empower.

  • Remember why you committed to exercises,
  • Remember why you are committed to coming from love,
  • Remember why you want to be who you said you wanted to be.

Don’t push, don’t relax. Empower instead.

Remember why.
Let it open your heart.
Let it move you, even when you don’t feel like moving.

The tenderness required to choose your life, is the most breathtaking of all.

And it can also be the most incredibly annoying thing to have to do before you have your coffee.

Do it anyway.