"Leadership is a privilege, not a right." "Why do you want to be a leader?" "Those who rely solely on their intelligence and business savvy fly with only one wing - and never really take off." "Leaders owe their employees a personal and genuine purpose." "Consciously use character strengths to define and realize your own purpose." "Here comes a recipe for disaster. Take a generous helping of unrealistic planning and a large helping of personal ego. Stir gently and let it simmer for two and a half years. Voila! A sunken ship!" "If you want to know a man’s character, give him power."
— Abraham Lincoln
"One of the leader’s main tasks is to develop people." "Positive emotions stimulate better neural connections, which ensure more creativity and openness to new things." "The oyster tactic: when irritations become pearls." "Tasks done while multitasking take an average of 30% longer than if done by single-tasking." "Your journey is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re exercising your leadership muscles as you grow and develop." "What helps build team spirit? Positive gossip!" "Psychological safety = Safety zone for all team members." "Fallibility is human: Practice leniency, even with yourself." "The butterfly effect: Small changes can greatly impact other things." "To achieve your goals, focus on your strengths and natural talents." "Authenticity = Recognizing your preferences and accepting yourself as you are." "Recognizing strengths in the workplace means intentionally looking for the good in the person." "Communication preferences have nothing to do with competence or incompetence. They indicate needs and values that others consider important." "Growth Mindset: You grow through challenges and learn each every time." "Effective feedback is about behavior, not about the person as such." "If you can‘t lead yourself, you can’t lead others."

Published by Fielding University Press

ISBN-10 : 1737943972
ISBN-13 : 978-1737943976

Leadership Starts With You

A Leader’s Quest for Leadership Excellence. A business novel.

Leaders nowadays are trained, coached, mentored, and evaluated in 360° feedback surveys. They learn about feedback rules, the theory of employee motivation, and how to set goals. Does this make them excellent leaders? Usually not, because key messages which reach the head but not the heart have little sustainable impact. Leadership is about the whole person, and people love good stories. This book encapsulates the theory of leadership excellence in a gripping story.

A sneak preview of the story ….

Kathleen Battlefield is in line to take over the family-owned business, but her father pulls the rug out from under her just before she is handed the reins. She then embarks on a journey that spans the globe to discover the secret of leadership excellence, which kindles a process of self-exploration and development.

Throughout the story, insights from business, research, and positive psychology underpin Kathleen’s international sparring partners’ ideas and approaches to leadership excellence. The PRISM leadership model, the cornerstone of Kathleen’s learnings, was built on the foundation of decades of scholarly research and hands-on experience, which the author has made in companies worldwide.

Each stop on Kathleen’s journey addresses one facet of the PRISM model. When we look at and experience things from a different perspective, we can perceive them with curiosity and openness (vs. fear and wariness). We can’t change what we see, but we can change how we see it. And with the help of a prism, Kathleen discovers new angles and insights she hasn’t noticed before. Each angle of the prism opens her mind and heart to leading people.

Each chapter concludes with a brief overview for readers to reflect on and apply the key messages. And indeed, as you will discover in the book, you can learn quite a bit about leadership success from an Indian start-up and a lot about leadership failure from the sinking of the Swedish warship Vasa during its maiden voyage in 1628

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Reviews from Readers

Extremely helpful!

Leadership starts with you – I agree 100% with the title. In my daily work as a leader, the content supports me a lot, and with the accompanying workbook, I can keep track of my progress. I can recommend the book to aspiring managers, and even the “experienced ones” can certainly take away one or two insights from it.


A business novel with all the scientific data packed into individual stories: Hats off! The book is addictive. I am literally waiting for the end of the day to continue reading. Thank you, Ms. Breer.

Ingenious inspiration

A must-read for any leader. Incredibly practical approaches are entwined in a story and conveyed very entertainingly. Leadership is nothing to take for granted but requires self-reflection and a fair amount of self-discipline if you want to develop yourself as a leader. “Leadership Starts with You” by Whitney Breer is the perfect guide to leadership excellence.

Management knowledge for daily work

The book is packed with excellent leadership knowledge, packaged in a well-written business novel with a convincing plot. You can tell the author is authentic and has a lot of practical experience. Something that is not always felt in this type of specialty literature. Therefore, definitely 5-stars from me.

A fascinating, exciting, instructive journey.

Super reading flow, lots of education even outside the topic of leadership. Very entertaining and engrossing. Leaders are quite literally “taken along” on the journey in the form of a novel with many concepts and possibilities. Courageous and very descriptive illustration on the topic of “feedback” using the sport of baseball. Four bases – four steps to feedback, which also cannot or must not be omitted. All in all, a very instructive first book, full of enthusiasm for the topic of leadership, which hopefully can illustrate to many leaders how arduous and intensive the path to becoming a good leader is.

Great format

A fantastic idea to bring leadership closer through the lens of a business novel. It makes leadership approachable, authentic, and entertaining. Thank you for Kathleen’s stories and the overviews for reflection

Captivating, educational, and entertaining – leadership is understandable and transparent for all

My relationship with coaching books is otherwise very guarded; this book was recommended to me by a friend. Exciting to read, concepts logically building on each other, and the relevant topics regarding leadership were all brought to me as part of a story. That’s how I remember it. I felt personally spoken to question my behavior and to bring the possibilities for improvement into my real everyday life, not only in the leadership of teams but also in my own leadership. It is on my desk as a daily reminder and for reference.

So true and so helpful

I wish I had this book many years ago, not only for me but for all those who struggle to understand what makes up leadership excellence. I enjoyed this book not only due to the leadership topics packed in the form of a novel but especially for the relevance of the selected topics, tools, and sources. A highly recommended work through and through. Thank you, Whitney 🙂

An inspiring journey to discover your own competencies

I have been working with Whitney for many years as a trainer and coach in her seminars, and what fascinates me most about her and her work is her outstanding ability to wrap complex topics in an exciting, entertaining, and memorable story so that participants can still remember the corresponding tool years later. And that is exactly what she has succeeded in doing in this book: Incorporating current findings from positive psychology and positive leadership into an entertaining, interesting, and touching story that is ultimately about developing a human leadership style. I am full of appreciation: Whitney breaks down the protagonist’s resistance to “soft skills issues” and gives her readers insights, tools, and exercises on (self-)leadership along the way. And along the way, she provides tangible examples of what a business system and culture might look like informed by Positive Psychology. A wonderful journey around the world and into new worlds!

Continuing education, different and yet uniquely exciting

Never before have I been so captivated by my personal development. I only wanted to have a quick look at this book, but after just a few pages, Whitney Breer took me on an exciting journey with her main character, Kathleen. In addition to many educational elements about leadership and leadership skills, you meet very different personalities in different countries. You accompany Kathleen on her travels to India, Sweden, Brazil, etc., and gather impressions and experiences along with her. Through the closeness to Kathleen, one dares to question oneself, and mutual growth begins. The guided self-reflection by the author allows me to have personal learning success. In addition, I was able to start my personal development journey through the accompanying learning journal. This book is a unique and absolutely valuable reading for all those who want to develop themselves in leading and leadership.

What leadership really means

As a woman in leadership, you read a lot of the theory and the “how to.” Then you put the book down, have a lot of theory in your head, and you’re drained. This book is different. It combines the lightness of a novel that wants to entertain with the important topic of leadership. Anyone who has seen the author live or on video will be just as enthusiastic as about the book. It’s great that there are people with so much creativity who convey leadership in a completely different way. Leadership is also about lightness, as heaviness inhibits creativity. THANK YOU for this great book! It has a prominent place on my bookshelf. Hope to hear more from this personable, warm, and great leader!

Actually helpful!!!

Whitney Breer’s business novel is an exciting blend of a great travel narrative and essential elements of leadership excellence. The book is entertaining and, at the same time, very informative. It is worthwhile even as an entrepreneur and business psychologist with over 30 years of leadership experience. Read in a very short time, within two days! Indeed helpful and recommended!

Entertaining “technical” book with many descriptive leadership approaches.

There are many books and a lot of wisdom on the subject of ‘leadership’. Most of it comes from theory. Whitney Breer combines her years of hands-on experience with leadership theory to provide an entertaining journey through tools of positive psychology and leadership approaches. She shows you what it takes to be a reflective leader and use your personality. If you want to develop yourself, seek inspiration, and read an entertaining novel, you should pick up this book. It also offers guided self-reflections at the end of each chapter, guaranteeing learning success on the path to leadership excellence.

Super book to strengthen your own leadership skills – good to read

As a business coach, I have read many leadership and development books. This book conveys a great many concepts, approaches, and ideas. I was impressed that these approaches are not listed one after the other but embedded in a story. This makes it much easier for me to remember the content and thus use it for myself and my coachees.

An absolute must-read for every leader!

Whitney Breer’s book is a blessing in the field of management and career literature because all lessons are wrapped in great descriptive stories. I suffered, rejoiced, and learned alongside the main protagonist, Kathleen. The author manages to captivate the reader in a fantastic way and you really want to know what happens next. I couldn’t put the book down until I was done with it. Now I am in the process of putting what I learned into my daily practice as a manager. The exercises at the end of each chapter are also worth mentioning, which make the practical transfer much easier. For me, a real must-read for every manager!

Very instructive, entertaining, and entertaining!

Whitney Breer wraps the theory of leadership excellence into a compelling story. Learning and entertainment are in absolute harmony with each other. Also, the presentation, structure, and encouragement for self-reflection is a killer. A business novel that I highly recommend!

This book belongs on every executive’s desk – entertaining and educational all in one.

If you Google the author Whitney Breer, you quickly learn that she has been coaching executives worldwide and holding seminars on the subject for over 25 years. This profound practical knowledge is evident in the book, although she has woven “hard management reading” into this entertaining read that is easily digestible by anyone – more than that, it is exciting, amusing, educational, and highly entertaining. For example, the book is about the protagonist Kathleen. She is outstanding professionally but has to leave her father’s company at his behest and travel to some of his friends and mentors who are scattered all over the world. Because as a manager, she lacks: empathy, leadership responsibility, and “love of humanity.” Reluctantly and full of incomprehension, whether this “punishment” Kathleen sets out. This journey takes her to India, New Zealand, Sweden, and Brazil.

Kathleen meets exciting personalities who teach her what it means to live Passion, Purpose and Perseverance consciously. The author explains why Purpose is more than the German term “Bedeutsamkeit” by integrating real facts into fiction. For example, she describes the story of Kennedy, who at Space Center Florida, during an official visit, also spoke to a janitor who shook hands with the president and said, “Sir, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” With this little anecdote, Kathleen learns that when people attach meaning to their job, they perform their duties knowing that they are making a valuable contribution to the team goal and company vision. This fosters intrinsic motivation and boosts the performance of the entire team.

With this elegant trick of the “business novel” genre, the author succeeds in packaging important knowledge about leadership in her book as little pearls that the reader looks forward to.

Concentrated leadership knowledge – very instructive and, at the same time, entertainingly packaged

An exciting and informative business novel that takes readers on an entertaining and educational journey. Step by step, timeless tips and proven tools from leadership development as well as current scientific and research findings, are conveyed while simultaneously creating a space that invites personal reflection and enables growth. Highly recommended for readers who want to lead themselves and others better.

Helpful, easy to read, and yet well-founded.

The business novel is a great read, “although” it contains much theoretical background on positive psychology and leadership. More accessible to me than a pure theory book. I find the guided self-reflection in each chapter classy and helpful. A good book to work on your own leadership style or to work with a team on the topic of leadership and culture in the team. There is also a good supplementary learning journal on the publisher’s website with many practical exercises.

A top non-fiction book that is not! Engaging story and top-notch content for leaders

I have read many books on leadership, but never one like this. The title sounds very factual, and I know Whitney Breer is a top expert on leadership. That’s why I was expecting a top subject matter book. It is simply very different from what I thought it would be! Normally, books like this list important content, procedures, and principles in a more or less dry and factual way. Just like a math lesson in school, where you learn new equations. On the other hand, this book is like a lesson in sports, art, and history all at the same time – all while on the playground during recess with popcorn in your hand and a big screen!

Whitney doesn’t introduce and present you with theories; she explains them in a story! I couldn’t put this riveting “novel” down, dying to know what happened next. And along the way, I learned an incredible amount about myself and leadership! It’s especially exciting when you accept the book’s invitation to travel along, answer the questions and make your own thoughts and notes. Maybe in a few years I won’t know exactly what the abbreviation PRISM means, but the story of Kathleen with her experiences and insights is in my head!


Over the past 25 years, I have had the honor of working with thousands of leaders and their teams from around the world. Some of these teams were high performing and worked closely together like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, such teams were the exception to the rule. Most of the teams I was called to were mired in conflict.

Positive Psychology

The story in this business novel is based, among other things, on research in Positive Psychology and Positive Leadership. Positive Leadership is a model of employee management and motivation, which was developed in particular by Kim Cameron.


I believe that people learn best when content is conveyed through a story. Hardly anyone can remember long lists of facts, let alone implement them successfully and sustainably. And, quite honestly, who wants to spend the time memorizing such lists? On the other hand, stories are easily and fondly remembered when they capture the imagination and heart.

Reading Sample

The Short Bridge

Swarm intelligence, or SI, is a field of study that looks for a relatively optimal approach compared to the traditional approach for problem-solving.

It borrows heavily from insects and animals’ social behavior as their efficiency is directly tied to their survival. There are no wasted movements or actions in the insect or animal world—as everything is designed for efficiency, effectiveness, and continued existence. Ant colonies are one of nature’s organizations that is deeply researched. Ants are fast, efficient, strong, and amazingly resilient.

We could learn a thing or two from them about how well how they work. When researchers look at ant tribes, they study foraging, division of labor, and effective and cooperative interactions. If businesses acted more like ant colonies, they would do better. They, too, would become fast, efficient, strong, and amazingly resilient—and more of them would thrive.

Many ant algorithms have been proposed when studying Ant Colony Optimization (Yes, there is such a thing.) ACO, as it is known, looks at the critical factors in the ant organization that make it function at an optimal level. With ants the optimization begins with the scout ants. The researchers focus on how they search out prime sources for nourishment and more importantly, how they find and communicate the shortest route to the source.

In 1989 a research team from the University of Brussels studying ACO wanted to test this scout ants’ efficiency. They did a variation on what is known as the double bridge experiment testing out how scout ants find the most efficient route to the food source. The researchers created two bridges (hence the name), one longer—the other shorter between the food source and the nest.

In a very rapid time, the entire colony uses the shortest bridge to get to the source. Others quickly begin to bring the source into their colony and effectively and efficiently distribute it throughout. (How that happens is a story for another time.) For now, let’s stay focused on the scout ants. How is it that they communicated the shortest route to their fellow ants?

In a primarily random pattern, all the scouts go out looking for a source. The scouts are dropping pheromones, a little chemical trail as they go along.
These are like the cookie crumb trails to show where you’ve been. (Or in the movie ET, the Reese’s Pieces trails left for ET to follow.) The difference with the scout ants is that if a particular path doesn’t find a source, the pheromones evaporate. If scouts don’t find anything, others won’t follow the wrong path. But when a scout finds a source that will nourish the whole colony, they bring the good stuff back home quickly along the most direct trail. Even if other scouts find the same source, the scout finding the fastest route is the one to follow.

Whitney Breer has found the short bridge. She has found a terrific source and is bringing it home to us in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Then she shows us how we can get to the source that nourishes us in the shortest amount of time.

The source is positive psychology for organizations—golden nuggets of wisdom on applying the best of positive psychology principles in business. The short bridge is storytelling. More than just the facts as the traditional approach uses, she has created the optimal strategy for solving how to make businesses flourish. She tells us the story of a fictitious Kathleen Battlefield, and along the way, leaves tasty cookie crumbs for us to follow. These cookie crumbs are the pheromones that keep us on the right path. Whitney Breer highlights the core principles, like working harder is not smarter, positive contributions, character strengths, SMART goals, the role of passion, purpose, and perseverance, and leadership excellence consists of IQ and EQ. Our scout also shows us kindness in relationships, positive emotions, and mindful listening through Kathleen’s adventure. Every step along the way, these tasty morsels guide us on the right path—the shortest path to bringing this nourishment back to our tribe. Along the way, Whitney gives you a chance to reflect on the journey. Most scouts out in the wilderness don’t do this, but Whitney Breer does—along with all the research to back it up.

How is it then that the other members of the tribe know to follow this scout? ACO researchers explain that since the scout brings back the information fastest, the trail gets followed by more and more ants—making the path known with more substantial pheromones. The excellent scout shows us the way, and as others of the colony follow this path, the tribe makes quick work of getting the nourishment back to their organization to thrive on. In other words, having everyone in the colony read the book is the best way to show them the source and how to get it back home.

Whitney Breer has done the exploration, found the nourishment, and left the trail to take us across the short bridge.

I’d follow her.

Dr. Dan Tomasulo

“Leadership excellence is made up of IQ and EQ. There’s not a shadow of a doubt that you’re a genius when it comes to facts and figures. You’re relentless when it comes to studying and amassing new knowledge. You learn new skills, acquire further qualifications, and can solve technical issues before most folks have even understood what the problem is. I am not second-guessing these strengths in any way. That’s all part of IQ.”

Spencer hesitated for a moment as he searched for the right words. “To be honest, it’s the EQ – the emotional part I mentioned before – the empathy for those around you –”
“You want me to feel sorry for everyone?” she butted in.

“No, not sympathy, I’m talking about empathy. It’s about having a heightened awareness of others’ emotions as well as your own. It includes things like mindful listening – truly being able to hear and understand the message behind other people’s words and being able to put yourself in their shoes and see and feel it from their perspective. Empathy truly appreciates and not just tolerates differences of opinion. Part of EQ means using and appreciating diversity – not just putting up with it. It’s being able to give feedback in a way that doesn’t hurt or attack other people. It’s the ability to build trusting relationships with your employees.”

Spencer paused to let his words sink in.

“Cut to the chase, Dad. You’re not promoting me to CEO? Isn’t that what you, Nate, and I have agreed on? I thought you were planning your retirement, and this is a family-owned company! If I’m not going to be at the helm, then who? Are you backing out on your promise?!” she fumed, as the words spilled out of her.
“You’re simply not ready, and I have a responsibility to the 16,000 employees worldwide who pour their heart into their jobs here at Battlefield Harvesters. It’s too early. You’re not ready to lead,” he said remorsefully.

“That’s not fair, Dad! I have paid my dues here! Do you have any idea what kind of hours I put in? I’m the first in and last out every single day. I have rolled out new product portfolios, increased our turnover, drastically cut running costs – that’s just to name a few things!” she screeched.

“Leadership is a privilege, not a birthright, honey. And as far as I’m concerned, it has nothing to do with paying your dues or working the longest hours in the company. May I ask you a question? And I want an honest answer.”

“Fire away. I’m always honest, as you well know.”

“Why do you want to be a leader?”

“What kind of question is that?!?” she screeched an octave louder.

“Why do you want to be a leader?” he repeated calmly and looked her in the eyes.

Kathleen’s mind went blank as she scrambled for an answer. Her head felt like a vacuum, and she could feel her face turning red. Finally, she stammered, “Because people want to follow someone with a high business acumen and someone who has a clear vision for this company.” Kathleen sat up straight and then added confidently, “And I have both.”

Spencer looked lovingly at his daughter. He had to give it to her – lack of self-confidence was not something she needed to worry about.

Clive continued, “The loss of my brother was tragic, and I was angry. The manufacturer didn’t own up to the technical fault, and we had neither the money nor the personal strength left over for a lawsuit. So, I decided to fight it on my own terms. I didn’t know what purpose was back then. Now I know there’s a name for it.”

He paused to sort his thoughts and then said, “I remember watching President Kennedy on TV in 1961. Our TV might have been black and white back then, but Kennedy sure had a technicolor vision when he announced the so-called Space Race.”

“Space Race?” Ruchii had asked with a puzzled look on her face.

“His major goal was to see that the USA would be the first country to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And as the story goes, when he visited the Space Center down in Florida a year later, he walked into the lobby, and observed a man cleaning the floors. He was probably getting the place all spiffed up for his arrival.”

“And?” Ruchii asked.

“Well, legend has it that Kennedy walked up to that man and shook his hand and asked him what he did at the Space Center. Just some small talk, the president probably thought. Most everyone says ‘facilities manager’ or ‘janitor’ or something down that line when they hear the story. What else would a man do who mopped the floors?”

Ruchii nodded in agreement as she was thinking the same.

Clive grinned and said, “As the story goes, when that man shook Kennedy’s hand, he answered, ‘Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.’ Kennedy was dumbfounded and asked to speak to his boss. Then his boss’s boss. Then his boss’s boss’s boss. And so on and so forth, until he reached the head of the chain of command, the Director of the Space Center.”

Ruchii sat lost in thought next to Clive as the tractor rambled over the field, and he continued his story. “As the story goes, that director told Kennedy that every single person working there – be it a facilities manager or a rocket scientist – made a valuable contribution to that vision. He wanted each employee who reported to work there to find meaning in what they do. ‘Of course, there are clear hierarchies and job titles, but that has nothing to do with meaning’, he told Kennedy firmly. He even broke it down to the example of the man mopping the floor. He told Kennedy that if that man didn’t do his work conscientiously, then accidents could happen. People could slip or fall or hurt themselves – or someone could track dirt and grime into the research facilities and contaminate lab results. And you can’t be the first on the moon if folks are injured or lab results aren’t accurate. He told Kennedy that he wanted all of his employees to understand President Kennedy’s clear vision and have a resounding ‘why’ to the value of their job at the Space Center. Why do they do what they do? He was passionate about fostering this awareness in his employees. When people find meaning in their jobs, their jobs are fulfilling, and they know they make a valuable contribution to the team goal or company vision. This drives intrinsic motivation and boosts team performance.”

The tractor came to a halt as Clive pulled off to the side of the field. “Do you have your steno pad with you, Ruchii? I’d like to show you a technique I’ve used to help identify one’s purpose in life. This technique will help you better understand the difference between meaning and purpose,” he offered. She pulled it out of her backpack and flipped it open to a fresh page.

That evening Kathleen, Lilly, and Nils arrived about an hour before the meeting to set up the room before the participants arrived. Nils opened the meeting in Swedish, explaining that they had an American guest, helping to transition the group into English.

Nils stepped up to the flipchart and drew a large “R” on the paper. Turning to the group, he said, “R stands for Relationships. Leadership excellence means building and fostering healthy relationships with employees and coworkers.” He paused a moment to let the words register and then added, “It also means helping to foster healthy relationships between employees.”

A young man in the group spoke up and asked, “We have to make them like each other?”

Nils smiled and answered, “No. Leadership excellence means taking responsibility for creating a climate where people enjoy coming to work. They feel safe not only in expressing their opinions, but also know that their opinions are appreciated and valued by you and their colleagues. There is a climate where no negative gossiping or online chats about another person takes place. It’s a climate where issues are not swept under the carpet, but rather addressed openly, respectfully, and timely. From Monday to Friday, teams spend more time together than with their own families. The workplace can be seen as an extended family. If people work day in and day out in a toxic environment – gossiping, lack of trust, hurting each other – they will not perform at their best.”

Kathleen thought about the type of climate that her team had. Was it a safe environment where people spoke up and felt appreciated? She somehow doubted it and then jotted down a few thoughts in her journal as Nils asked the group, “What happens when people don’t perform at their best?”

Participants in the room spoke up and said:

“They call in sick.”

“Or just don’t show up.”

“Or burn out and are gone for months.”

“In the meantime, other colleagues have to fill in for their sick coworkers while still getting their own jobs done, and then they are exhausted or frustrated or bitter. As a result, they get sick from work overload.”

“Or all of the above.”

“They stop contributing at meetings. They just sit there passively, not saying a word. It’s like a wave of apathy has rolled over them. They look out the window and daydream or play with their phones.”

“Innovation drops, because there are no new ideas. There is no motivation to speak up and contribute new ideas if you’re not in an environment where you feel safe and appreciated.”

“Productivity and quality drop. They are too busy fighting with each other or finger-pointing when mistakes are made.”

“Right – no ownership for mistakes and no learning from them.”

“And other people wind up making the same mistakes.”

“Then, you wind up with even bigger losses in productivity and quality.”

“There are no heated, passionate debates. No one cares anymore. It’s the classic ‘work-to-rule syndrome’. Everyone does exactly what they are supposed to do, but not one bit more. There is no thinking outside the box, no motivation to go the extra mile and a general sense of apathy.”

“People run to the boss to fix their problems, and the boss ends up like a group leader in kindergarten, solving interpersonal conflicts all day instead of doing what he or she should be doing.”

“And what should he or she be doing?” Nils asked, throwing the question into the round.

“Developing people,” replied a young woman in the back of the room.

“Right!” Nils agreed and reiterated, “developing people.”

“But that’s not his or her only job, is it?” Kathleen asked.

“No, but it’s one of their main jobs,” Nils countered. He then dug around in his satchel and pulled out five cards, waving them in the air.

At the same time, back at the company, Ana was also glancing at her watch. The town hall meeting was taking place after lunch, and she had blocked the next hour to wrap up her budget forecast for the next quarter. Since starting her five-minute-journal a year ago, she had learned, among other things, to prioritize tasks and stay focused. She remembered, in the past, wondering what she had actually done all day when the clock rolled around to 5:30 PM. Essential things that needed her full attention and energy were repeatedly postponed, and more often than not, she wound up either staying later in the office or taking the work home to finish. Neither of the two strategies was pleasing to her family.

She learned through self-discipline and better time management to make time for things that matter most. She planned these things into her workday, shut off her emails, and took no calls during that time slot. She and her assistant called it the “Fire and Blood Rule.” During this time, under no circumstances was she to be disturbed, unless there was a fire or someone so seriously injured that her help was needed. Hence the blood part of the rule. Enrico, her assistant, guarded her door and phone line like a bouncer at a night club and let no one through in that hour.

Once she got the hang of it, she was amazed to find out what she could accomplish in an hour or two of uninterrupted work. This principle had now been rolled out throughout the company. Teams in open-plan offices worked together to spot each other, and everyone scheduled in a time slot of uninterrupted work each day. Moving gradually away from multi-tasking and towards single-tasking had been a massive shift for many employees.

Ana had come across some research on this topic and decided it was worth a try. The research revealed that things that are done through multi-tasking take an average of 30% longer than if they had been done through single-tasking.

“That’s a lot of wasted energy!” she thought.

The article explained that 30% comes from the number of mistakes that are often made and the time needed to correct them, or just starting the same task over and over again because of interruptions. It also included the time the brain simply needs to refocus on what it had just been doing – before it was interrupted. Ana knew that it would be unrealistic to ban multitasking on the job. Many jobs and activities require it, but certainly not every task and definitely not the whole day. Since rolling out the initiative – “Focus” – in which employees are encouraged to set a top priority each day, she had been amazed how much had actually been completed. Some employees reported that they used the time to solve complex issues or simply to handle customer complaints that require calm nerves and full attention. Others used it to plan an important presentation or do research and reading on a relevant topic.

Tui nodded in agreement and continued, “The third keyword in the definition of strength is energizing. In a nutshell, using your strengths provides you with energy. It doesn’t drain you. Many folks talk about flow nowadays. Flow happens when you use your strengths and get so absorbed in a task that the time just flies by. Of course, everyone needs a rest – our energy isn’t limitless. But it’s not draining, that’s for sure. People don’t get restless or fidgety when they find flow in a task. Ever experienced that?”

“Today!” Kathleen smiled. “I love collecting and cross-comparing data. I have to admit that I love numbers,” she said and laughed. “Speaking of numbers, can I share some with you?”

“Fire away!” Tui replied.

“Well, circling back to the Gallup study, the article used a term that I picked up in Sweden during the second leg of my journey: the so-called positivity ratio. This is the ratio of positive, supporting, and appreciative statements versus critical, snide, and negative remarks that hurt a person or a team. I know that high-performing teams have a positivity ratio of six to one. In other words, six positive statements for every critical one. The so-called tipping point is the minimum that a team or person needs to start moving towards an upward spiral – tipping, you know, like a see-saw on a children’s playground. High-performing teams have a minimum positivity ratio of three to one. For example, any team with a ratio of two to one is quite shaky; it wobbles on the tipping point. It doesn’t take much – one snide comment or even a small setback – for the whole team’s performance to head into a downward spiral.,” Kathleen explained.

“So, if I understand you correctly, it boils down to how people talk to each other?” Tui wanted to know.

“Absolutely. Now the Gallup study revealed a so-called Engagement Ratio. This is the number of engaged employees needed to counteract disengaged employees. The study said that companies with engaged workers seriously outperform companies with disengaged workers, which is a no-brainer, I suppose,” Kathleen said.

“How exactly do they outperform them?” Tui asked.

“Well, to quote Gallup,” Kathleen said as she read from her notes, “these companies have a 4x greater earnings-per-share growth, better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and higher profitability than their competitors.”

“If that isn’t reason enough to focus on strengths, I don’t know what is. Do you have the exact numbers on the Engagement Ratio?” Tui asked.

“Yes. It’s four to one. You need four engaged employees to offset every one disengaged employee,” Kathleen stated.

He picked up a piece of chalk and drew an arrow out from the bottom left of mindset and wrote fixed. Then he added a second arrow going off the bottom right and wrote growth.

“Folks with a fixed mindset believe or grow up being told that intelligence and talent are the two primary keys to success. They don’t believe that hard work or effort is required. Either you have it, or you don’t. Their traits, talents, and IQ are fixed. What you are born with is what you have, and either you’re lucky, or you’re not. Her research has shown that when folks have this fixed mindset, they often avoid challenges because they might fail. When obstacles or challenges come their way, they tend to throw in the towel early on and don’t put in the effort required to truly succeed. They also tend to take any criticism as a personal attack, lick their wounds, and don’t learn from it. In addition, instead of being happy for the success of other people, they feel threatened by it or are jealous of it.”

Tom stopped talking, so Kathleen could finish taking notes. “Where does this mindset come from?” she asked him.

“Ah! Good question! I’ll cover that in just a second. Why don’t we look first at the flipside of the coin, growth mindset,” he suggested. Kathleen nodded in agreement, and Tom asked, “What do you think, Kathleen? What is the flipside of a fixed mindset?”

“Well, a 180° flip would mean that folks with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can grow over time. It’s not ‘either you have it, or you don’t.’ A growth mindset means exactly that: growth. They grow from experiences and from learning, implement changes based on critical feedback, and go the extra mile to have success,” Kathleen surmised.

“You hit the nail on the head!” Tom exclaimed.

“A growth mindset is all about mastery, isn’t it? Constant improvement. It is being happy with what you have achieved and yet believing you have the potential to do even more,” Kathleen said as she thought about her discussion in the school in India with Vivek, Ruchii’s husband.

“Exactly. Folks with a growth mindset don’t even believe they are failing when they encounter setbacks. They think they are learning and don’t believe their talents are carved in stone. I guess they are like gardeners in a way,” Tom contemplated.

“What do you mean by ‘gardeners’?” Kathleen questioned him.

“They cultivate their talents and skills over time. That’s what we do here at the rec center with our after-school program …

“Well, I have to give credit where credit is due,” Frank said. “In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explain that there is an emotional and a rational side to change. The emotional side is the elephant, and the rational side is the rider,” he explained as he gingerly picked up the elephant, being careful not to knock the rider off its back. “This rider is perched on top of this huge elephant and believes he is in control because he is holding the reins, but he’s in a dicey position. Anytime this colossus disagrees with the direction the rider is trying to go, he can easily buck him off. The rider is overmatched by the six tons of the elephant and doesn’t have a chance in winning the battle.”

“Well, how does the rider keep the elephant on track then? Does he have to bribe it?” Zoey asked.

“Or beat it?” Cynthia added on.

“Ah! Good questions! Neither if you ask me. Of course, the elephant has strengths as well as weaknesses. The challenge is that the elephant is led by emotions and instincts. It enjoys instant gratification, for example, and sometimes it’s lazy or nervous,” Frank explained.

“And what about its strengths?” Spencer wanted to know.

“Well, emotions are also the elephant’s strengths. It is compassionate, loyal, knowledgeable, and has a long-term memory as well as fierce instincts. It has a lot of energy and motivation, which drives change,” Frank elaborated.

“And the rider? What does he want?” Nate spoke up.

“Well, the rider prefers to think long-term and is ready to do without short-term rewards. He wants to reach his goals – come hell or high water. The rider prefers to rely on his plans, and sometimes, he gets so busy analyzing data and crunching numbers that things don’t move forward. He falls into a ‘stuck’ state,” Frank explained.

“Something like paralysis through analysis?” Kathleen asked.

“Exactly!” Frank confirmed.

“So, the elephant is the good guy, and the rider is the bad guy?” Spencer asked as someone who preferred to rely on his gut feeling.

“No, no. It doesn’t have anything to do with good or bad,” Frank replied and paused to sort his thoughts. “In their book, the Heath brothers argue that if you want to achieve change, you need to appeal to both the rider and the elephant.”

“Like flying with both wings? The strategic and the emotional wings of leadership?” Kathleen asked.

“Exactly!” Frank agreed. “The rider has binoculars and is responsible for planning, strategy, and a clear direction. The elephant has energy, passion, expertise, and power to implement this change.”

“If you don’t mind, I think this is where I come in, Frank,” Kathleen said. She held out her hands, and Frank handed her the elephant and rider.

Discover the Learning Journal
to the book

The learning journal is a separate workbook that accompanies you on your journey of self-discovery throughout the book. All the models and main content from the book “Leadership Starts with You” are illustrated and explored in greater depth. The learning journal gives you the freedom and creative space to write down your own ideas and thoughts.

Go to Leadership Starts with You: A Leader’s Quest for Leadership Excellence – Fielding Graduate University to find out more

About the Author

Whitney Breer is a top speaker, personal coach, and leadership expert with a passion for inspiring and motivating over 90,000 people in 20+ countries over the past 25 years. Raised in the US and now living in Germany, she is an authority in positive psychology, mindset, and resilience. And when it comes to embracing change as an opportunity and rising above, Whitney Breer is top.

Whitney Breer is also the CEO of Lebenskunst, a consulting firm whose core team specializes in organizational and leadership development, change management, and personal resilience. In addition to a Master of Education in Adult Education and English, she also holds a Master of Arts in Human Resource Development and a Master of Education in Human Development, among other degrees. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Human Development at Fielding Graduate University in California.

She has additional qualifications, e.g., as a certified BDVT Business Coach, and is an accredited trainer for Hogan, Insights Discovery, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and DISG Analysis, as well as for Change Management and for Emotional Intelligence Tools (EQ-i 2.0 and EQ-i 360). Her clients include BASF, Bayer, Beiersdorf, Hirschvogel Automotive Group, Evonik, LaPrairie, Innogy, Jacobs Coffee, KPMG, Lufthansa, Pieris Pharmaceutical, Plansee, RWE, Unilever, and Vox.

Vorträge und Seminare

Mit Humor, Kreativität, Leidenschaft, einer mitreißenden Ausstrahlung und einem außergewöhnlichen Talent, komplexe Themen zu veranschaulichen und auf den Punkt zu bringen, motiviert, fesselt und unterhält sie ihre Zuhörer in höchstem Maße. In ihren Vorträgen und Seminaren, die auch auf individuelle Bedarfe angepasst werden, gelingt es ihr spielerisch, den Praxisbezug für ihr Publikum herzustellen und den Raum für eine individuelle Selbstreflexion zu schaffen. Ihre Botschaft ist eindeutig: Wer Veränderung möchte, muss das Leben in die eigene Hand nehmen und zum proaktiven Gestalter werden. Whitney Breer inspiriert das Publikum genau dazu – mit einer Vision dessen, was möglich ist.

„Führung beginnt bei dir“ – der Vortrag

In diesem Vortrag erfahren Sie:

  • Wie Sie Ihr eigenes „Purpose“-Statement formulieren und „Flow“ in Ihrer Arbeit (wieder) entdecken können
  • Wie Sie psychologische Sicherheit und gesunde, vertrauensbasierte Beziehungen in Ihrem Team aufbauen
  • Was High-Performing Teams gemeinsam haben und wie Sie diese Eigenschaften verankern können – egal ob Sie Teamleiter oder Teammitglied sind
  • Wie ansteckend Ihre Einstellung und innere Haltung für andere sind
  • Wie Sie Stärken in sich und in anderen erkennen können
  • Wie Sie einen „Growth-Mindset“ für sich und in Ihrem Unternehmen fördern können
  • Wie Sie effektives, wertschätzendes Feedback geben können, ohne jemand – auch ungewollt – anzugreifen

Für wen ist dieser Vortrag geeignet?

  • Für Manager und Führungskräfte
  • Für alle Mitarbeiter
  • Für Teams
  • Für Jedermann

Egal auf welcher Bühne – Online sowie Präsenz,
der Funke springt auf jeden Fall über:

  • Bei Kundenevents,
  • Vertriebstagungen,
  • Kick-off-Veranstaltungen,
  • Team Workshops,
  • Projektmeetings,
  • bei Messen und Kongressen.

The Podcast to the book