Debate to Win

Two businessmen having an argument

“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

While diverse thinking and disagreements can be uncomfortable, they are more likely to lead partners or a team to make progress, innovate, and come up with breakthrough solutions than consensus than “nice” conversations in which people hold back what they think.

Research tells us that cognitive diversity makes groups smarter. Two heads are better than one, and many heads are even better, especially when everyone is willing to share their expertise and opinions.

Unfortunately, most of us fall into a similar pitfalls. We get sucked into trying to “win” so we look good or don’t make the group we represent look bad, which leads us to ignore logic and evidence that go against our original beliefs. And so we fight without making much progress.

We can change this dynamic and move toward more effective discourse as we exchange diverse ideas and debate by arguing honestly for and against the merits of those ideas by training people to adopt the right habits. Remember we’re all on the same team. Just about all debates fall into one of three categories:

  • The kind where the goal is to persuade people you’re right
  • The kind where the goal is to look better than your opponent
  • The kind where the goal is to find better solutions together

The third is the one that helps us get the most out of a group’s cognitive diversity. To steer people in that direction, set the stage by kicking off the discussion with a shared goal, a spirit of inquiry, and emphasis that everyone is on the same team. Remember:

  • We are here together in the spirit of inquiry, as comrades, not adversaries
  • Our shared goal is to find the best way to do X
  • All viewpoints in service of this goal are welcome
  • There is no individual “winner”
  • The team wins if we make progress
  • Everyone is an equal participant and there is no hierarchy or special weight given to one person’s viewpoint over another’s

One of the most difficult and crucial elements of a productive debate is keeping it on one track. We must keep it about facts, logic, and the topic at hand. Arguments tend to fracture, especially when people feel like their ideas or identities are coming under attack. Unfortunately, when people feel strongly about their opinions, they tend to, often subconsciously, resort to logical fallacies, question dodging, bad facts, and outright deception. Or they bring in outside issues to bolster their points and distract people from counterarguments. It’s important for leaders, and participants, to be vigilant, so none of these bad behaviors sneak into debates.

  • A debate is not about who cares more, who’s loudest, who’s most powerful, or who’s most articulate
  • No tricky rhetorical tactics
  • Distinguish between facts and interpretations (stories people have about the facts)
  • Identify logical fallacies, and rewind
  • Check the validity of assertions of fact, and analyze the quality of the evidence, not just the evidence
  • If the debate veers into other topics, acknowledge it and reset

And don’t make or take it personal. Arguments tend to fracture when people feel like their ideas or identities are coming under attack. Emotion and ego begin to play a much bigger role and everyone becomes less likely to appreciate others’ points of view, which greatly reduces the potential for innovation or problem-solving.  To ensure that debates don’t get sidetracked in this way, we need to explicitly depersonalize our arguments.

  • No name calling or personal attacks
  • Stay away from questions that cast judgment on people, rather than their ideas.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that everyone’s intentions are good.
  • Nobody loses face for changing their mind.
  • Reward people for carrying the group forward, rather than being “right”

For a debate to truly be productive, participants need to be willing to respect every viewpoint and change their minds when necessary. This is what psychologists call intellectual humility, and it’s one of the most important skills a good leader and productive debater can develop.

  • Don’t take things personally
  • Listen to and respect every person and their viewpoint, even if you disagree
  • Admit when you realize you’re wrong, and cheerfully concede when others have good points
  • Be curious

It’s important for everyone involved in a discourse; whether it’s a one-on-one over coffee or a public discussion in a board room; to exemplify these habits. But leaders, or whoever has the most power in the room, should be the first to hold themselves accountable to them.

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Questions of the week:

Instead of questions like “how could you believe that?” or “why can’t you see?”, pose “what” questions instead, such as “what makes you feel that way?” or “what has led you to that conclusion?”

Take some time to consider and craft questions that you will use to help you and others navigate debates effectively. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Trust and Communication

candidPsychologically Safe but Brutally Candid

The success of relationships rise and fall on the level of trust and communication that are the norm within a given group, team, society or culture. Low trust and low communication relationships incur a “trust tax”, engendering distrust, fear and uncertainty that often results in delays and inefficiency. When trust is high and communication is candid and free-flowing, relationships thrive and things get done.

Psychological safety is an organizational climate in which individuals feel they can speak truthfully and openly about problems without fear of reprisal. We all love the freedom to speak our minds without fear (we all want to be heard) but psychological safety is a two-way street. If it is safe for me to criticize your ideas, it must also be safe for you to criticize mine – whether you’re higher or lower in the organization than I am.

Straightforward candor is critical to innovation because it is the means by which ideas evolve and improve. Having observed or participated in numerous group, team, leadership and board of directors meetings, I can attest that comfort with candor varies dramatically. In some organizations, people are very comfortable confronting one another about their ideas, methods, and results. Criticism is sharp and honest. People are expected to be able to defend their proposals with data or logic.

In other places, the climate is more polite. Disagreements are restrained. Words are carefully parsed or softened and transparency is opaque. Personal agendas are hidden and critiques are muffled. To challenge too strongly is to risk looking like you’re not a team player. A manager at a company where I once worked captured the essence of the culture when she said, “Our problem is that we are an incredibly nice organization.”

When it comes to sustainable long-term performance, the candid organization will outperform the nice one every time. The latter confuses politeness and niceness with respect. There is nothing inconsistent about being frank and respectful. In fact, I would argue that providing and accepting frank criticism is one of the hallmarks of respect. Accepting a devastating critique of your idea is possible only if you respect the opinion of the person providing that feedback.

Building a culture of candid debate is challenging in organizations where people tend to shy away from confrontation or where such debate is viewed as violating norms of civility. Senior leaders need to set the tone through their own behavior. They must be willing (and able) to constructively critique others’ ideas without being abrasive. One way to encourage this type of culture is for them to demand criticism of their own ideas and proposals.

A good blueprint for this can be found in General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s battle-plan briefing to top officers of the Allied forces three weeks before the invasion of Normandy. As recounted in Eisenhower, a biography by Geoffrey Perret, the general started the meeting by saying, “I consider it the duty of anyone who sees a flaw in this plan not to hesitate to say so. I have no sympathy with anyone, whatever his station, who will not brook criticism. We are here to get the best possible results.”

Eisenhower was not just inviting criticism or asking for input. He was literally demanding it and invoking another sacred aspect of military culture: duty. It’s our duty as leaders to demand more of ourselves and our team. How often do you demand criticism of your ideas from your direct reports?

Questions of the week:

  • What are the costs of a low trust relationship or culture?
  • How truthfully and openly can you speak about problems without fear of reprisal?
  • What can you do to be nice and candid in your communication?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.


As a hospitality, hotel and higher education leader, I’ve learned that being positive is often all about your perspective and the people around you. What appears at first as a failure may actually be something else altogether, an opportunity to grow in an unanticipated way. While there will inevitably be challenges and tough situations, I’ve found that the following five choices can help you enjoy your job and your team every day.

Happy face mug on the beach

Challenges are Learning Opportunities

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for 30 years and have experienced a wide variety of environments and cultures. Being a life-long learner and a student of this fast paced and ever-evolving industry is one of the things that makes my job rewarding and enjoyable. From corporate cultures to university administrations to socioeconomic climates, it’s all constantly changing – which means I’m constantly growing and learning. In our industry we not only have to be thinking about the market today, we must also take into consideration the market three to five years from now. As our team work hard at creating memorable experiences, they must work even harder to understand, assess, and come up with new innovative solutions that will take us far into the future.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

You can always go out there and hire superstars, but without a team that has similar values and positive dispositions, it’s impossible to have a high performing team. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with some amazing people, many of them have become close friends, mentors and advisors. Think about it, we spend more time at work than we do at home. Work with people you enjoy working with, people who help you be the best version of you on a daily basis. Their actions and behaviors reflect their knowledge that every person and position on the team must work together and function well to realize success. The amazing people with whom I have the privilege to work are the reason I jump out of bed every morning.

Keep Your Perspective

There will be times when things aren’t meeting our expectations, and that’s when we will have to put things in perspective. Consider how this moment will feel three or five years from now. I think life works in funny and intentional ways. We will face unexpected and hard situations and in the midst of it, we may struggle and don’t know why, but months or even years down the road it dawns on us that we had to face what we did to help prepare ourselves for this moment. And when this occurs, we are often filled with a deep sense of gratitude and delight. Keep this perspective during our biggest challenges and they will pass. Perspective is powerful… wherever focus goes, energy flows.


What are You Grateful for?

There are many things I’m grateful for in my role, but I’m especially thankful for being able to work on a beautiful university campus (which also happens to be my alma mater) and do what I love to do with and around people who inspire me. Together, we are able to make a difference on a daily basis and impact the lives of our students, staff, faculty and visitors. Quite often it’s as simple as sharing a smile, saying “Hi” or offering to point someone in the right direction. It’s the little things that can make a big difference. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a diverse and energetic team as we support our team members growth and development – often helping them to realize their fullest potential and wildest dreams.

Appreciate the People Who Support You

Hospitality is a team sport. Here we have a cast of so many incredible subject matter experts who not only commit themselves to our mission in their area of responsibility, but they will jump in wherever they are needed to help out. When it comes to hospitality operations, there are many support personnel and teams that operate behind the scenes that are invaluable. Knowing so many people have a vested interest in our success, and appreciating those individual and team contributions, helps me stay positive. Everybody brings a unique, meaningful and necessary input and impact to the team. It’s time to change our expectations for appreciation.

Questions of the week:

  • What do I love most about my job?
  • Who supported me today and how?
  • What did I learn today and how will it help me?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Quality Questions

What is a question? How powerful are questions?
Over the past couple of months I have read books and heard speakers expand on the power of questions. Well know and respected authors and speakers such as John Maxwell, Tony Robbins, Malcolm Gladwell, James Clear and Michael A. Singer all preach the power of great questions. The general consensus is the better the quality of the question, the greater the chances you will experience the befits of a quality answer and uncover new and meaningful distinctions.
Google the word “question” and you will run across the following definition:
ques·tion – a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information.
So, if the goal or intent of a question is to elicit information is it a safe to conclude, the better the question, the better the answer?
Here is a personal example of a distinction that I uncovered last week while I was in West Palm Beach for Date with Destiny. In the past, after something happened to me I would react and ask myself, “What can I do or what do need to do about this?” Instead my new question is, “What does this mean and what can I learn from this?” The first question causes me to act or react while the second challenges me to think and reflect. Both can lead to the same action or outcome.
Asking “What can I do or what do need to do about this?” infers that something must be done and action must be taken. It’s something I, and many others, have been struggling with much of my life. It makes us reactionary. What if no action is required?
Asking “What does this mean and what can I learn from this?” gives me time to process and take a more meaningful and thoughtful action. It causes me to dig deeper. It’s the difference between acting and reaction. It allows me to be intentional.
Asking good questions has many applications. It allows us to set ourselves up to see things with an open mind and heart. They also calibrate our lenses and open us up to possibilities our old questions or bad questions closed us off to.
Are you ready to go a little deeper into the power of questions and go back in time to 400 BC? Here we go…
Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was a classical Greek philosopher who is credited with laying the fundamentals of modern Western philosophy. He is known for creating Socratic irony,  the Socratic method and Socratic questioning.



Socratic questions(SQ) utilized an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions from his students. Socrates believed that “the disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas”.

Plato, a student of Socrates, described his rigorous method of teaching to explain that the teacher assumes an ignorant mindset in order to compel the student to assume the highest level of knowledge. Thus, a student has the ability to acknowledge contradictions, recreate inaccurate or unfinished ideas and critically determine necessary thought.

Socratic questioning is a form of disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we do not know, to follow out logical consequences of thought or to control discussions. Socratic questioning is based on the foundation that thinking has structured logic, and allows underlying thoughts to be questioned.

The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, deep and usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues or problems.

So, how do we frame our questions in a useful and positive manner and apply Sacratic questioning to our everyday life and make it a practice? Quite often it is just a simple shift and opening ourselves to learning, exploring and growing. Instead of asking, “Why me?”ask, “What can I learn from this?”
Instead of asking, “How can I get people to like me?” ask, “What do people like most about me””. Note that questions with negative inferences or ones that close you off to all possibilities limit the quality and positivity and power of the answer. The quality of your questions, whether you are exploring and testing theories in a classroom environment or wondering what the conversation you just had with your boss meant, make all of the difference in the world.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Mathew 7:7
I read somewhere years ago, “knowledge is having the right answer and wisdom is asking the right question”. In any and all situations in life, the right question will take you farther, faster and help you make the most out of your journey.

Questions of the week:

  • How can I improve the quality of my questions?
  • What are my current(s) questions costing me?
  • What is the best question(s) I can ask myself daily?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

New Years Resolution Time

How you can use habits to make your New Year’s resolutions stick?

newyear_resolution_1024x1024I just finish listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear. An insightful and powerful read. Clear reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. If you have read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, there are a number of similarities and the books complement each other.

They both offers frameworks for improving–every day. And provide practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

Charles Duhigg describes how a habit can be formed and how it can be changed. He calls this the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop is composed of the Cue > the Routine > the Reward.

  1. The Cue is some type of trigger that unfolds a set of behavior automatically. A cue can be a certain time of day, a place, an emotion, or being with a certain group of people.
  2. The Routine is the set of behavior that is automatically unfolded because the cue happened. This can be a good routine, like walking up early and exercising, or a bad habit, like smoking when you feel stressed.
  3. The Reward is the most important part, because that is why habits exist.

Duhigg shares that every habit essentially functions the same way: a cue (trigger), a routine (series of actions), and a reward (goes without saying). In some way, the reward poweris the most important part because we’re doing the sequence of cue then routine to get the reward. So, if you want to shift your habits, then you essentially need to find ways to manipulate your cue (time of day, environment, etc.), your routine (going to get fast food, smoke a cigarette, etc.), or your reward structure (how you reward the new routine).

James Clear’s takes a slightly different approach. He defines his framework as the Four Laws of Behavior Change. The Four Laws of Behavior Change consists of a four-step loop that underlies all of human behavior: Cue, Cravings, Response, and Reward. When repeated, this neurological feedback loop leads to the formation of new habits.

  1. Cue; Make it obvious
  2. Craving; Make it attract
  3. Response; Make it easy
  4. Reward; Make it satisfying

Clear shares that if you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. In his book he shares a proven system that can take you to new heights.Atomic

A common belief is that motivation is something that gets you going. The truth is that motivation kicks-in after you’ve get going. Harvard psychologist, Dr. Jerome Bruner, said, “You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feeling yourself into action.”

Rather than optimizing your life for the finish line, Atomic Habits teaches you how to optimize your life for the beginning of your journey. If you can get some quick small wins, you’ll start to develop some confidence, motivation, and momentum. Then, if you have a system in place to keep you going, then that system and process will take you where you want to go.

As you start to plan for 2019, focus on the START, not the FINISH. Build systems (your process) and then habits that can organically take you where you want to go. And make 2019 your best year yet.


Questions of the week:

  • What is the first step that I need to take to create some small wins and positive momentum?
  • Who should I share/ partner on my system with (accountability partner)?
  • What does my best year yet look like?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Team Success

People have to believe that they can make an impact. How do you create an environment that empowers them and supports them so that they can do just that? Believing that you can create change and make a positive impact no matter what your role or position is is fundamental to the success of an organization.

There’s an old saying among sports coaches, “A champion team will defeat a team of champions.” However, as much as we all admire the ideals of teamwork and connectedness there’s also the alternative notion of the “rugged individual” or the “prima donna” who stands out from the crowd and succeeds without help from anyone.


Andrew Carnegie once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Teamwork redefined

Positive psychology has always emphasized the personal wellbeing benefits of social relationships and connectedness to others. If we take it a step further, we can say that connectedness makes good business sense too, improving organizational performance at the highest levels.

Studies show that working with a united team of colleagues helps to develop interactive routines that harness the unique talents of each team member. Performance is more a function of the familiarity that a team member develops with the assets of a given organization. This is a nice way of saying stars only shine due to their colleagues.

In another study, team familiarity (the average number of times that each member had worked with every other member) was a better predictor of guest satisfaction and sustained success than total experience of individual team members.

The makeup of a team

Psychologist and business professor, Adam Grant, summarizes the above findings saying, “So once we get the right people on the bus, let’s make sure they spend some time driving together.”

Simply working with other people doesn’t mean that you’re working as a team, real teamwork implies collaboration, communication and the acknowledgement of a common purpose. A group is more than a gathering of people and not all groups are teams. Teams are a very particular form of group, they are interdependent and focused on structure and activities.

One of the definitions of team that is used in Psychology is this one, “A team is a group of two or more people who interdependently seek to meet a common purpose, often through problem solving, in order to meet their own and their organization’s goals. At a minimum, a team should be a cooperative unit and, at its best, a team is a collaborative unit.”

Different from other strengths that could be cultivated by yourself, teamwork is all about others. Based on the findings of the character strengths in organizations, they found that individually-focused strengths like creativity are unlikely to occur with other-focused strengths like teamwork. When you work in a team, you’re shifting the focus from you to others.

Leader as facilitator

It’s not the role that defines the leader it’s the leader that defines the role and success. So many people believe leadership is an individual sport, a burden to be bore alone. When in actuality it is a team sport. And for you to reach your fullest potential your team must be set up to realize their fullest potential.

A team is nothing but a group of people working in the same office space. Each person has their own strengths and skills. Each could succeed and do great on their own. However, if they worked as an effective team they could accomplish extraordinary results.

Hence, teamwork requires facilitation. A group scores much better if executive administrators are put in. Because they have special skills of facilitation. They manage the process. They understand the process. Any team who manages and pays close attention to work will significantly improve the team’s performance.

In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Questions of the week:

  • How do I become a better team player?
  • How do I better align my efforts and actions with the my organization’s goals?
  • What is my role and how do I contribution to the overall success?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Purpose Matters

Parable of the Bricklayers

Three bricklayers were asked: “What are you doing?”

  • Bricklayer number one says, “I am laying bricks.”
  • Bricklayer number two says, “I am building a church.”
  • Bricklayer number three says, “I am building the house of God.”

The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third bricklayer has a calling.

Purpose (defined here as the intention to contribute to the well-being of others) matters. And the higher up the “success chain” you look, the more purpose you’ll find. Help people realize their purpose and that they are capable of more than they know.

Bricklaying_GW_20101105_6221Think about it, if you can help individuals, you can help teams, if you can help teams you can help companies and help brands and before you know it you are helping and impacting communities and countries.

How I approach others and how I see them matters. Often, when I am around people I know that I am the presence of greatness. Maybe greatness unfound or undeveloped. Regardless, greatness.

You never know who will go on to do good or even greater things. Treat everyone as they are that person. Strive to bring the best out of them and help them be the best version of themselves that they can be.

As you know, great leaders ask great questions. Every week I will offer up a few questions to consider and answer.

Questions of the week:

  • What is my calling?
  • How do I see others?
  • How can I make my team better?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.