Investing In Leaders


Ideas and stories from my growth journey. Warning: If you are interested in a casual, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.

  • The Power of An Unnatural Apology

    What you say after you make a mistake will either begin the healing or double the damage. Tweet This There is great power in an honest, full apology.Customer service experts know that a complaint is actually a golden opportunity to create a raving fan if you handle it well. Surgeons are taught that the best way to avoid a malpractice lawsuit is actually to give a heartfelt apology to the family, not avoid and excuse. Marriage counselors help couple reverse years of pain by apologizing instead of defending.

    sorry comic

    In just about every field of human interaction, a good apology has been proven to be a game changer. But in all those fields, it’s also revealed that our default state is not to apologize well. It’s to explain why it wasn’t really entirely our fault. It’s to protect and defend, rather than humble ourselves.

    Many of us have never seen someone offer a full apology, which includes:

    1) Name the behavior you’re sorry for. Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Not even close to enough. What exactly did you do (or fail to do) that was wrong? Own it and name it.

    2) Acknowledge how it made them feel. This is not permission to say, “I’m sorry you felt hurt” and avoid naming what you did wrong. That’s a false apology. This is a separate sentence after you named what you did wrong. Once the mistake is identified, say something like, “I can see that it hurt you” or “I realize this made you feel ignored.”

    3) Say what you’ll do differently from now on. Offer a plan on how you’ll make sure this won’t happen again. Or at least a specific commitment that the next time you’re in this situation, you’ll do the opposite. (Of course, this means you need to follow through what that or this whole apology will be invalidated.)

    4) Don’t make a single excuse or explain why you weren’t really wrong. This might be the hardest part of the apology. At least, it is for me. No defending, explaining, or justifying why you did what you did. Explaining should be handled in a separate conversation. And don’t start that “separate conversation” right after the apology. If you truly do need to explain, you’ll have to come back later, probably another day, and have that conversation.

    But let’s be honest, it usually isn’t necessary to explain. We just want to feel justified so we can avoid the pain of being wrong. When we make a mistake, the guilt and loss felt in that moment is intense. Our impulse is to move away from that as fast as possible. So I challenge to have the strength of character to resist your impulse and make a full apology. Parents, teach your kids to apologize well. Leaders, model for your people a true apology. And spouses, break the cycle of argument with a real apology. Have the courage to sit in that pain for a little bit and make a true, full apology. It will make a bigger difference than you might realize. It could change the future path of your whole relationship.

    This post is my answer to a discussion question from Chapter Four Debrief of How To Fail As A Leader.

    photo credit: sorry via photopin (license)

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    Scott WozniakThe Power of An Unnatural Apology
  • What Do You Do If You Work For A Bad Boss?

    What do you do when your boss is bad leader? In How To Fail As A Leader, one of the main characters has real problems with the vision and direction of his boss. Sadly, this is not a fictional problem. I spoke this week with a friend who is a similar situation. Here’s what I said:

    First, ask yourself if you really are supposed to stay with that leader. Jimmy Collins (former President of Chick-fil-A) taught me that it is our responsibility to choose our bosses well. Tweet This It’s normal to feel stuck. But you have more options than you probably realize. It might take some time to make a transition happen, but you can find a better job with a better boss.

    an unwitting victim screaming man

    But what if you believe you’re supposed to stay with that leader? My friend believed God was calling him to stay for at least a while longer.

    Then ask the leader how they would like to receive feedback. Before you give challenging feedback, ask them what the best way would be to offer input to them—and on what topics they’re willing to listen. Pre-negotiate how to have that conversation. At best, this opens the door for you to come back later with specifics in the way they want. At worst, you’ll find out they aren’t open to challenges before you stick your foot in your mouth.

    But what if—as in my friend’s case—they aren’t open to feedback?

    Is time to establish boundaries to protect yourself. Know what you need to stay healthy and protect that. You might need boundaries around how much time you’ll work. Or you might need to limit how often you’ll talk about how bad your boss is with your colleagues and friends. Stirring up frustration after you’ve decided to live with only makes it harder. You might even need to protect yourself from your own passion for excellence and be willing to do what the boss says even when you don’t agree. Choosing to stay means choosing to follow that leader even when you disagree.

    If you can’t live with these limits, then I refer you back to the first question. Why are you staying? If the only reason is because you can’t see a way out, then you can decide to leave and give yourself the freedom to start figuring out a way to do that well. There are always options, if you’re willing to be both creative and persistent. And be sure to interview your next boss thoroughly. The second time around with the same type of bad leader you won’t learn as much—and it hurts just as bad.

    Lastly, if this is happening to you, do not waste this opportunity. I learned so much from my bad leaders. Hopefully I learned enough that I’m not “teaching” my staff these lessons, too. 🙂 It was painful and exhausting and I don’t recommend staying very long. But while you’re there, squeeze as much learning as you can from it. Don’t let your pain go to waste. Tweet This You might even want to journal during this season, both to help you process your pain and to crystalize the insights.

    This post is my answer to a discussion question from Chapter Four Debrief of How To Fail As A Leader.

    photo credit: an unwitting victim…bwahahhahahaa via photopin (license)

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    Scott WozniakWhat Do You Do If You Work For A Bad Boss?
  • Finding Joy In the Mud

    Life is hard. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

    A few weeks ago I ran my third Tough Mudder. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was an 11 mile course with 25 ridiculous obstacles, including ice water (big bin filled chest high with so much ice that it slowed me down wading through), electric shock station (there’s no way to avoid the live wires hanging down, you get shocked and keep moving), a 20 foot jump into water, and all sorts of walls and monkey bars and, of course, giant mud pits. Like I said: ridiculous.



    So why would I do something that hard even once, let alone three times? Because it’s hard. I have discovered joy in overcoming obstacles. There is a thrill when facing a new problem (Tough Mudder changes their obstacles every year). Bonds form when helping a friend and being helped (I have always run Tough Mudder with someone else). And there is deep satisfaction in overcoming. There’s nothing quite like the moment after you conquer an obstacle—and double that when you finish the course. Plus, I get to act like a ten year old boy again. Big mud pit? Jump in! See a wall? Climb it! Ice tub? I dare you swim through it!

    Sometimes we do need to rest. We can’t be on the course all year long. But we can’t rest all year long either. We aren’t fully alive without some challenges to overcome. Maybe you’ve just come through a major obstacle course in your life. If so, enjoy your rest. But maybe you’ve been resting for a while. If so, it might be time to enjoy some obstacles.

    We thrive in a rhythm of rest and challenge. Both are needed. And both can be fun. Tweet This So if life is throwing a challenge at you, bring a friend, jump in with both feet, and embrace the joy of overcoming.

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    Scott WozniakFinding Joy In the Mud
  • The Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner

    We’ve all encountered a hardheaded, stubborn know-it-all. This kind of boss or neighbor is a stereotype, it’s so common. Especially as kids, we all promised each other we would never end up like that cranky adult (insert your childhood example here). But I realized as I became an adult that attitude is actually the default destination.

    stubborn man

    As a child my natural state was not knowing—needing to learn. Just in case I wasn’t sure, grown ups constantly reminded me. But as I grew and learned, I earned respect. Eventually, people paid me for my knowledge—even gave me awards. And I remember the day, years ago, when I put down a cool looking book on leadership, thinking to myself, I know this stuff already. But a few months later a friend of mine told me what they learned form the book and I realized the price of my arrogance.

    In his classic book, The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin says the primary barrier to progress is the illusion of knowledge and a dedication to expertise (or at least the appearance of it). Tweet This The best discoverers, Boorstin asserts, are not the smartest or most talented, but those who either have the discipline to remain “expert beginners” in their field.

    And I’ve found the more I learn, the harder I have to work to keep learning. Tweet This Our tendency is to rest in our knowledge. The posture of a learner must be chosen.

    As a parent, you can decided you already know your child. But today, when they tell you stories and show off their scribbling, what if you choose to discover who they are as if they are new to you? How would that change the way you interact?

    As a leader, do you already know the best way to solve your team’s problem or your team’s vision? Or will you choose to open yourself up to learning new methods or even choosing a new path? Are you finished learning? Or can you humble yourself and walk today with open eyes and a curious heart? Are you an expert or an expert beginner? What posture do you choose today?

    photo credit: Stubborn. via photopin (license)

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    Scott WozniakThe Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner
  • How to Make Memories of Moments

    A good friend of mine, Lori, went back to college and just recently graduated. She planned to skip the graduation. After all, as an adult with a husband and two kids wouldn’t it just be selfish to make them do all that—and it’s just a formality, right? But at the last minute, she realized getting her diploma in the mail dishonored the significance of this accomplishment in her life. She also talked about the chance to reinforce important messages to her kids about never quitting and dreaming big. So they’re traveling a few hours to the university campus, staying in a bed and breakfast, and making a full day of the graduation experience. Lori decided to engage in ceremony to enrich her and her family’s life.


    In my last post, I shared how I also learned to appreciate the influence potential of ceremonies. Read that if you’re not convinced. This post is for my friend, and everyone like her, wanting to know how to enhance the ceremonies of our lives.

    Create a Special Place: The most typical example is a stage, or even just forming a circle of people. But you could also go to a special location, like engagement proposals on the mountaintops and beaches, or leaders going offsite for the retreat or award ceremony. Where you do an activity can make the difference between mundane and memorable. Tweet This

    Idea for Lori: in addition to the graduation ceremony, plan a special meal for the family to have their own ceremony.

    Tell The Story: Whatever you are honoring has a story—and humans remember stories. Here are some tips for telling the story. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Share…

    • the previous situation, especially the challenge or problem in it
    • the choice made by those being honored
    • the price paid (effort, struggle, etc)
    • the result now

    Idea for Lori: Over dinner, have your husband tell this story to commemorate what you’ve done and reinforce these lessons with your kids

    Gift a special object: From biblical times to modern university, people have used special objects to help a ceremony live on in our memories. From stacking twelve stones to diplomas to an employees picture on the wall, something tangible extends the value of a ceremony into the rest of our lives.

    Idea for Lori: Lori will get a diploma from the school. But her husband and kids (hint, hint) could get her something special to give to her during the dinner. 

    Close with a special statement: Weddings close with, “I now pronounce you…” Presidential Inaugurations close with a formal oath. If you create something special you can say at the end, something that connects with the message of the ceremony, it will take the entire moment to the next level.

    Idea for Lori: Close the special meal with the family making a promise to each other or praying a special prayer together.

    This is not an exhaustive list. In fact, I’d love to hear more ideas from you on how to make ceremonies more meaningful and memorable. But hopefully this will get you started as you evaluate and enhance the ceremonies in your life.

    photo credit: 1H7A3212 via photopin (license)

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    Scott WozniakHow to Make Memories of Moments
  • Why Bother With Ceremonies?

    My childhood included institutions rich with ceremonies, from high church liturgy to high class educational institutions to high brow theater. And I decided I didn’t like ceremonies. My energy level certainly didn’t help me sit through formal events (ADD would be putting it mildly). So when I was a new leader I tried to engage in as little ceremony as possible, proud of my enlightened, humble posture. And my leadership suffered for it.

    As I led and learned in a variety of settings I realized that it wasn’t ceremonies I disliked, it was empty ceremonies. The intensity of the ceremony should match the importance of what is honored. Tweet This When someone drones on and on about a routine event, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. But when something truly significant goes down, a serious ceremony is not just helpful, it’s needed. Weddings and funerals would be cheapened without a full ceremony.

    Ceremonies are an attempt to highlight something as worthy of special attention. And strategically planning for these moments can enhance almost every area of our lives. For example, my parents added a ceremony to the birthday parties of my childhood (though we didn’t call it a ceremony). Typically around present opening time (a common ceremonial event at birthday parties) all the guests were asked to share what they liked about the birthday boy or girl. We took turns speaking as the rest of the room listened. They could have just asked everyone to share something in private during the party. But having the entire room sit and listen as others shared, one by one, made it a much more special moment. And then my father always closed that “ceremony” by praying a blessing over the birthday child, laying hands on top of their head. That was anything but an empty ritual for me and my siblings.

    It’s common for leaders to reward a team that has hit a big goal with a “share in private” approach. But spending five minutes to gather the rest of the staff and conduct a small ceremony would honor that team and inspire the rest of the organization.

    proposal surprise

    Romance is in large part built through ceremonies. Getting down on one knee and opening a ring box transforms a simple question into a major moment. If you’re looking to heat up a relationship, consider increasing the intensity and frequency of your ceremonies together—putting on special clothes, going to special places, and saying special things.

    What is most important to you? What would you like to draw special attention to? Does the intensity of your ceremonies match the importance of that area in your life? If not, look for ways to create lasting memories and strong values through more and better ceremonies.

    This post is an answer to a discussion question in the book, How to Fail as a Leader. For more info about that book, go to

    photo credit: Surprise proposal via photopin (license)

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    Scott WozniakWhy Bother With Ceremonies?

Scott Wozniak

Scott has had an exciting and diverse career with a lot of leadership experience, lives changed, impressive consulting clients…blah, blah, blah. More details can be found on the ABOUT page if you’re curious.

What he’s really like: an extroverted people-person (he grew up performing on stages—he thinks the larger the crowd the more fun it is) who craves hours alone to read and think (he’s reading 3-4 books at all times), a card-carrying nerd (he was in the computer club, science club, and even attended a Star Wars convention–dressed as Jedi, of course) who loves extreme sports (Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, skydiving, scuba, black diamond skiing, etc), and a highly competitive man (he works with leaders who aim for being the best in the world at what they do) who believes that the best life is one lived in quiet service to others (he also works with leaders who are trying to change the world for good). Only Jesus, who is his close friend as well as Lord, makes all of that work! Plus, his wife is extremely patient and somehow finds his quirks charming rather than annoying.

Scott’s Latest Book!

How To Fail As A Leader: A fast-paced fable about leaders who totally biff strategy and execution, but learn enough from it to win in the end