Start It From The Top.


’Tis the season to start setting New Year’s resolutions. Every year, I set several personal goals, but this year, I want to set a few resolutions for my work, too. Here’s the first:

I read this wonderful quote in a Chris Pratt profile about the tone that the star of a movie or TV show can set for the rest of the cast and crew:

”It starts from the top,” he explains. ”I learned that from working with Amy Poehler. If I’m not an asshole, no one else is allowed to be.”

I love that. The same, I’d argue, is true for everything else a leader does. The leader of a team can set the tone by:

-Showing up early.

-Doing a little extra to help other teams.

Asking great questions, and actively listening to what others have to say.

-Overcommunicating when working with other teams.

Being a better encourager.

-Being willing to test out new ideas.

-Always doing the work.

If you do those things, everyone else on your team needs to, too.

So here’s a work resolution: In 2017, be more mindful about the example you set as a leader at your workplace. Your team looks to you to understand how to do the work. Make sure you’re giving them a good model to follow.

This Behind-The-Scenes Video Of The ‘SNL’ Crew Tearing Down A Set In Two Minutes Is Absolutely Fascinating.

I love learning about the way other people work — not just what they do during their day, but how they do it. A few years ago, I remember grabbing a burrito at Chipotle late in the afternoon, in the dead time between the lunch rush and dinner. The manager was training a team of new hires how to move customers through the line. The new hires were taking a full minute to get a customer from “Hi, what would you like to order?” to the cashier. The manager wanted them to get it down to 22 seconds. He explained that if there were a dozen people in line, serving a customer in 22 seconds meant that last person in line would be paying for their burrito in a little over 4 minutes. At their current pace, that last customer wouldn’t pay for 12 minutes — and would probably abandon the line for another lunch option long before then.

So I watched as the manager trained each member of the team in ways to shave seconds off of every step of the burrito-making process. The manager kept driving home this message: One person’s work impacts the success of everyone else on the team. It was fascinating to watch.

Which brings me to this video that the “Saturday Night Live” YouTube channel posted a few days ago. Watching the “SNL” crew tear down an entire set in two minutes, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the way everything moves. Four seconds after the actors finish saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”, the crew is already on stage dismantling the set. Then the crew starts dismantling the walls of the set — a set, I should say, that was built specifically to be assembled and dismantled as quickly as possible. And all along, you hear the voice of the director, imploring his team to get the stage clear. We have a family friend who likes to say, “Don’t rush, but hurry up” — and that’s exactly what the director is conveying here.

In less than two minutes, the “SNL” crew manages to make everything on set — the actors, the walls, the fake fireplace, the carpeting — disappear, and those of us watching at home on TV never notice it at all. It’s an impressive bit of teamwork. I don’t know how they move so fast or stay so calm, but they do. I’d watch an entire “SNL” episode just of what happens behind the scenes — I’d love to know more about how their crew trains for the live show. There’s a lot to learn from a team like this.

The One Thing You Can Control Is The Way You Work.

start of the Olympic race

Imagine for a second that you’re a kid again, and you’re fast. You’re really fast. You’re the fastest kid on your block. The fastest guy in your neighborhood. The fastest guy in your school. When you run, everyone else spends a lot of time looking at your backside as you pull away. You don’t run as much as you glide, effortlessly, as though you were born to do this one thing. In a way, you were. For you, running is effortless. You’re the fastest guy in every meet you enter. You’re the fastest kid in the county, the state.

You keep running. You start training with coaches whose whole purpose is to help you find ways to run faster. Your speciality is sprinting, a sport where every hundredth of a second matters. You train to shave .01s off your time. Every fraction of a tick is important. Imagine how many ticks in your life have gone by that you didn’t even notice, and now they all matter. You push every day to find ways to get faster. Your times keep getting better and better. You’re now the fastest guy at your university, the fastest guy at every meet, and those meets are full of runners who were the fastest guy on their street and at their school and in their state — until they ran against you. Imagine that for a second: You were faster than all of them.

One day, you go to a national meet, and you find out that you’re the fastest guy in your entire country. You go to bigger meets, and you win those, too. It’s hard to believe, but the results say it’s true: You’re the fastest guy on the entire continent. Imagine that: the fastest guy out of a billion people! You!

And imagine that you’re so fast that you make it here: To the Olympics. It’s 2008, and you’re in a stadium of tangled steel that the Chinese call the Bird’s Nest. You’re running faster than ever. You’re fast enough to make the quarterfinals of your best race, the 200 meter dash, and then the semis, and then the finals. There are almost 100,000 people in the stands to watch you run for a medal. Imagine: You are one of the eight fastest humans in the world, and now you will run to find out if you are the fastest.

You are not.


You are fourth fastest — still impossibly fast by any definition of the word, but no one seems to care, because the guy one lane over turns out to be the fastest man who ever lived. You are fast, but the guy in lane 5 is a tall Jamaican who runs at speeds that scientists said were unthinkable for humans to reach. He passes you less than five seconds into the turn — nearly impossible in the 200 meter! — and by the time you hit the straightaway, for once, you are looking at someone else’s backside. At the 150 meter mark, you could parallel park an SUV — not some rinky dink little thing, but a Cadillac Escalade — in the gap between him and you.

You still finish fourth in an Olympic final, the fourth fastest human in the world. You’re a quarter of a second away from a bronze, which is damn fast. You’re still the fastest guy on your continent, and an Olympian.

But the Jamaican in lane 5 finishes nearly a full second ahead of you. It’s impossible to imagine, but you try anyway: You are this fast, and yet, there is a human who is that much faster than you. The difference in that one second is the difference between you and sports immortality.

That one second is the difference between you and Usain Bolt.


I think about that 200 meter race a lot. I remember watching the finals live from my hotel room in Beijing, and I remember watching Usain Bolt pass the runner in lane 6 within steps. I couldn’t believe it then, and re-watching that race recently, I can’t believe it now. Bolt’s speed is unfathomable.

That runner I asked you to imagine? His name is Brian Dzingai, and he’s from Zimbabwe. He was the only African runner to make the 200 meter finals in Beijing. I like to think about the work he must have put in to make it to the Olympics. It must have taken an astonishing amount of work — physically, mentally, emotionally — to reach those starting blocks. I imagine that journey often, from the fastest kid on his street to one of the fastest men in the world. But I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to realize, after always being the fastest in every meet, to realize that there were humans who were actually faster than you.

I’ve written before about the idea of running your own race in life, and I’ll take the analogy a step further here: What I learned from watching that 200 meter race is that you truly cannot control what happens to the runners beside you. You cannot control how tall they are, or how fast they are. (Bolt was taller by a head, and faster by 0.92 seconds.) You cannot control the resources they have — money, training facilities, coaching. (Bolt surely had the better of all three.)

And you cannot control what you, yourself, are born with.

What you can control is this: The way you work. The hours you work. And the intensity with which you work.

Everyone else is going to run their race. You have to accept that you can only run yours.

When I re-watch that race, I always think about Brian Dzingai, and the work he put in to reach those starting blocks. There’s a man who imagined greatness in himself, and put in the work to be great. You can only control the work you do, and Brian Dzingai did just that. His work got him to the Olympics.

Here’s to you, Brian — and everyone else who puts in the work.


That photo was taken by photographer Ross Huggett at the 2012 London Games, and is used here thanks to a Creative Commons license and Flickr.

Is There Anything Else I Haven’t Asked About?

ask more questions, by Jonathan Simcoe

There’s a trick that I learned in journalism school that more people should know about. It’s simple: If you’re interviewing a source, ask your questions. Listen carefully, and ask follow-up questions.

And before you end the interview, ask one final question: Is there anything else you want to discuss that I haven’t asked about?

You’d be shocked at how often people say yes. Sometimes, they really want to get something off their chest, but they’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to speak up. So it’s up to you to open the door for them.

This works outside of interviews, too. I’ve found that as a manager, in a 1-to-1 check-in with a direct report, it’s always worth asking, “Is there anything else going on that you want to talk about?” They don’t always have something to say. But when they do want to talk, it’s often something important. And you can use this technique in larger meetings, too, to make sure teams are talking about things that matter to them.

The lesson: Keep the conversation going a little bit longer. You don’t know what you’ll discover until you ask.


That photo at top was taken by photographer Jonathan Simcoe, and first published on

What Would Make This A Great Year?

get running

December is here, and it’s the time of year when I always ask myself one question: What’s left that my team can accomplish before Dec. 31?

I know it’s hard to think about work this time of year. The holidays are almost here, and every week brings more and more people on vacation. You’re shopping. You’re going to holiday parties. I get it, I get it. It’s hard to get big projects done at the end of the year.

But that doesn’t mean your work should stop just because the new year is approaching. The first week of December is a week when I start going through plans from mid-year — or even back at the start of the year! — to find projects that we never quite finished for one reason or another. There are always a handful of them, work half-done, just waiting for someone to finish the job.

When I look through that list of potential December projects, I’m looking for projects that might help my team finish the year strong. I ask myself: What work could we finish this month that would top off a great year of work? Sure, we didn’t do everything we wanted to. But we can always end the year on a high note.

It helps to think of December as a sprint month. It’s that last mile of the marathon, when you find a little more juice in your legs to get to the finish line. It’s an opportunity to get as many things done as possible before that Dec. 31 deadline. And the more you can finish now, the more space you’ll free up to take on bigger, more exciting projects in the new year.


That photo was taken by Tim Gouw, and published on Unsplash.