5 Ways to Become an Extraordinary Leader

Boss vs. Leader

Some people are born leaders. They always know the right things to say and what needs to be done to achieve their goals. Naturally influential, they easily attract the respect of their followers and colleagues, able to motivate others to work towards a greater objective. But how do they achieve this? And how can others, especially those just beginning to take on a leadership role, emulate their success?

If you feel that you have been unsuccessful in gaining the respect of your employees, have been failing at motivating them, or just simply could not charm your way out of a paper bag, here are 5 ways you can improve yourself as a leader.

1. Do

Do rather than dictate. Just because you are a CEO, a supervisor, or manager, does not automatically make you a leader. Telling everyone what to do and making demands while you sit behind your desk is less than inspirational. Being active and involved in a project, actually getting your hands dirty, will show your employees that you know what you’re doing and that you care about the project. Rather than micro-managing or attempting to control your employees, be one of them. Work alongside them. Just as with team sports, seeing your team captain out there taking hits and putting his heart in the game will inspire you to play harder. Be an example of what you want them to be.

2. Listen

A lot of the time, following your gut and listening to your instincts can be extremely effective. But other times, what you may think is the best solution might not be. Before you make an important decision, get the opinions of others and open your mind to other ideas. What is pressing them? What works for them? What issues are they seeing that you are not? Not only is listening helpful to getting a better handle on the bigger picture and recognizing the existence of other factors, but it also shows your employees that their input matters to you. It shows that you care, and that you are not just out for your own personal interest. Working as team is important, and you must remember that not only are you leading a team, but you are part of that team.

3. Recognize

One of the best ways to bolster productivity and earn the respect of your employees is by showing that you respect them and appreciate the work they are doing. Effective employee recognition begins with finding meaningful and creative ways to make someone feel like the work they are doing is valuable to the company. You don’t have to be their best friend. Just show that you care. Realize that your employees are people who are trying to earn a living and have everyday struggles just like you do. Say thanks, and mean it.

4. Be Positive & Stay Calm

All too often I have dealt with Debbie Downer managers. People who have taken on so much responsibility that they become nervous wrecks, stressing out over anything and everything and taking out their frustrations on their employees as a result. I understand that work can be intensely consuming and overwhelming. With all the fires that need extinguishing, it is easy to forget about the feelings of others. Take a moment to realize that negativity can quickly permeate a room. If you are expressing yourself in an unpleasant way, others around you will might end up feeling anxious too. They will also be less likely to want to be around you or seek your advice. If you want people to follow you, and want to follow you, make it a positive experience. Don’t stress the little things, make yourself dependable and accessible so that others will give you the support you need. That way, everyone wins.

5. Be Extraordinary

As a leader, you are supposed to stand out. The greatest leaders are not just any Average Joes, but people who appeal to a crowd because they offer a new, exciting perspective that people want to be a part of. They are so passionate that they want others to share in it. They are inspirational because they demonstrate confidence and offer something that’s real. People should feel that, under your guidance, they can accomplish anything they strive to accomplish. And they can, as long as you truly want to share your dreams of success with them. Engage them. If you are extraordinary and allow others to be extraordinary, then extraordinary things will most certainly happen.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” —Douglas MacArthur

Water Fights, Karaoke and Scrapbooks – 6 ways to make employees feel special on a budget.

Sunset High Five

Photo Courtesy of johnwiechecki on Flickr

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, Author

Making others feel good is not just a nice thing to do, but it makes you feel good too. Showing your employees and coworkers that you appreciate them inspires motivation and improves morale and productivity within a company. Giving worthwhile recognition is not dependent on the amount of money you spend, recognition is about sincerely appreciating the hard work others do and really meaning it when you say “thank you”. You can’t put a price on memories.

Here are a few Low Cost Recognition Ideas, as well as a Recognition Playlist to get you inspired and spreading the love.

1.  Greet employees every morning, reinforcing the message “I’m glad you’re here.”  It may sound corny, but that’s okay – your job isn’t to win popularity contests, its to make your employees and coworkers feel special.

2. Organize a department-wide water-gun fight in the parking lot in their honor. It’s unusual, it’s fun, employees will remember it for a long time.  Super soakers for employees, tiny water guns for managers – think about it.

3. Let them park in your parking space for a week.  Often times, it’s the little things that make people feel special.  Don’t have a parking space? Buy them a weekly pass at a nearby garage.

4. Put together a scrapbook of memories for an employee who is celebrating a milestone anniversary. Give each person on the team a blank page to fill out with stories or pictures of their experiences with that employee. Then, after the public recognition moment, the individual has not only a treasured award from the company but something from their coworkers that captures their feelings.

5. Create a homemade fun award that is appropriate to what is being recognized. MeritShare provides a fun way to give out virtual awards to your employees and peers that can be humorous yet meaningful.  Customize an award to your company culture, make it fun for people to give and receive!

6. Gather co-workers to sing a light-hearted rendition of a song such as “You Light Up My Life,” “We Are the Champions,” etc.  We put together an employee recognition playlist for you.  If you do this, be sure to record it and put it on Youtube – then send us the link.  Seriously. 

Recognition Playlist:

HubSpot: Creating a Company You Love

Improving Company Culture With Foosball

Photo courtesy of Flickr user @robscomputer

If there is one thing that separates the new generation from previous generations, it is that people are no longer willing to settle. Gone are the days when we would fall into a career and stick with it for the promise of stable paychecks. Money is not the top priority anymore. Now, what matters is that we find meaning in what we do, and that we love what we do.

In order to love what you do, you must appreciate the environment you are working in, as well as the people you are working with. This can be attained through working for a company that has the kind of company culture you are looking to be a part of.

HubSpot, pioneers in inbound marketing who help customers make marketing people love, describes in a recent presentation, how they built their culture and why it works for them and their employees.

Here are the crib notes of HubSpot’s 155 slide presentation on their Company Culture [link to the original presentation]:

“A great culture helps attract great people.”

A “culture” is a “set of shared beliefs, values and practices”. Not only do people want to be part of a great culture that aligns with their beliefs and values, but a company wants to create a great culture in order to attract the kind of people they want working for them. They don’t want people who just have a lot of skills or experience, but people who help further the company by sharing the same passion towards their goals.

The HubSpot Culture Code:

1. We are as maniacal about our metrics as our mission.

It’s not just about numbers. Yes, sales are important to the longevity of the company, but staying true to your mission is what will earn you the love of your customers.

2. We obsess over customers, not competitors.

Delight your customers, educate your customers, Solve for the customer (SFTC).

3. We are radically and uncomfortably transparent.

“Power came from hoarding knowledge, and decisions were made behind closed doors.” Now, power comes from sharing knowledge.

4. We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome.

You don’t need packets full of company policies and procedures to know how to run a company. Use good judgement and remember that results matter more than where or when the work is getting done.

5. We are unreasonably picky about our peers.

Hubspot values employees who have HEART: humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent (open and honest).

6. We invest in individual mastery and market value.

Compensate fairly while investing generously in learning and growth. Work hard as an individual and work hard as a team.

7. We defy conventional “wisdom” because it’s often unwise.

“Great companies don’t throw money at problems, they throw ideas at them”. The companies of today are much different from companies of the past. They do not operate the same way. Complexity always creeps in, so take risks and get rid of unnecessary factors.

8. We speak the truth and face the facts.

If you disagree, it is your job to speak up. An imperfect or controversial decision is better than no decision.

9. We believe in work + life, not work vs. life.


It is important to enjoy work AND life, not just working in order to make money so that you can escape to your life. Maintain a balance. Also, workers these days greatly desire flexibility when choosing a career.

10. We are a perpetual work in progress.

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”- Confucius

Always work hard. Never done iterating, learning, or rethinking.

With so many happy employees facilitating a great company culture that is helping more than 8,000 companies in 56 countries to succeed, other businesses striving to achieve the same success should take note. Becoming a great company does not mean being perfect, but doing your best to make your employees and customers happy while staying aligned with your values. Also, having foosball tables and a fridge stocked with beer doesn’t hurt.

How to Kick Butt at Your Next Job Interview


I am terrible at interviews. I get nervous, lose my train of thought, say awkward things and have trouble forming coherent sentences. The usual comfortableness I feel with others fades away as soon as the torrent of questions begins to weaken my resolve. If I’m lucky, what I say will at least sound intelligent, even if it doesn’t make any sense. Especially between all the um’s and awkward silences.

In an effort to overcome this, I decided to research ways to excel at interviews, as well as asking friends for their advice on what has worked for them. Hopefully my findings can help others who experience the same kind of painful interviewing experiences that I do. Here are some tips broken down into a comprehensive, numerically descending list (because I love making lists):

5. “My advice to someone would be to know the company you are interviewing with. Do your homework on that company.” – Arla Boss

It is imperative to know exactly who you are working for. If they start asking you questions about their company and you have no answers because you didn’t do your research, it may seem like you just don’t care. Trust me, I’ve had it happen, and it’s embarrassing. Employers want to hire people who care about their company and share the same values. Being prepared is essential.

4. “Above everything, show that the two things you care about most are accomplishing the task at hand, and meshing well with your fellow coworkers. Managerial staff always look for those two things when they are hiring a new employee. Will they get the job done effectively and on time? And will they cause a problem with other employees?” -Riley Milligan, Sales Director at Seattle Athletic Club

While it is important to have the necessary qualifications to perform the tasks and duties asked of you, it is just as important to be a team-player and get along well with others. No one wants to hire someone with a crummy attitude, even if their resume is stacked with skills and degrees. It is important to a company and their culture that their employees get along, bounce ideas off each other, and motivate each other. They are looking for the right “cultural fit”. This is the time to let your charming personality shine through!


“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” This is a question interviewers love to ask, and one you should always be prepared to answer. You could try Michael Scott’s technique (see video above), or mention weaknesses that don’t pertain to the position you are applying for. For example, if you are applying to be a graphic designer, you don’t have to be great with numbers. Don’t be fake or dishonest, but try to answer their questions in clever ways.  Think of all the questions they might ask you and prepare your answers in advance. Don’t over-prepare though, you want to sound natural!

2. “In my experience, a large majority of the interview is based not necessarily on the answers you give, but the way you present yourself, self-confidence, grooming, attire, and personality. You are in a way advertising yourself and your capabilities. Show them what you have to bring to the table that your competition doesn’t.”

– Sarah Taylor

Confidence is key. This is a problem that I struggle with, but with more interviews and more practice, it gets better. Employers don’t want someone who is unsure of what they’re doing, or even unsure of themselves. They want someone who is willing to take the reins and perform. When you are at an interview, you are essentially selling yourself. “Dress for success” is a common term, but one that is so true. If you go in looking like you sleep in a cardboard box in an alley way, then you probably won’t make a very good impression. Be creative, and be memorable! Employers usually interview many people for a position, and it’s easy for them to forget the people who were ordinary. Make a great first impression and show them that you are in demand. Rather than be desperate to get the job, they should be desperate to hire you for the job. Show them that you aren’t ordinary, but extraordinary!


This is the most common advice I hear, and probably the easiest to accomplish (unless you hate smiling, then you clearly have other issues). Be friendly and warm. Make eye contact. Be a person that people will want to work with. If you go through the whole interview looking like you are miserable, they definitely will not hire you. If you are applying for a job in the customer service industry, be sure to amp up the smiles and energy! But like I said before, don’t overdo it. Be natural.

And most importantly, be yourself. If that doesn’t work, then you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. The right place for you is where you will be accepted and where your talents will be appreciated. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve.

The Millennial Search for Identity


“The fact of being who a person is”

When researching the topic of identity, I came upon this disappointing definition. I was hoping for something a little more specific, but soon realized that the concept of identity is not an easy one to explain as it can mean something different for everyone. “Who am I?” is a question humans have been asking themselves for centuries, and is one that can have many answers.

I remember going to a new school in the 4th grade. I was a shy kid, but eager to make new friends. Back then, the only social networking site available was the playground, where content of character was measured by how hard you went in the dirt. If you wanted to talk to or hang out with a friend outside of school, you memorized their phone number and walked to their house. If you were bored, you explored the neighborhood. It was a peaceful, private existence.

Fast forward 15 years. Everyone has smart phones, and Facebook rules the social media world. People have multiple online profiles where they can share life events, upload pictures, and connect with friends and strangers all over the world. There are endless ways to interact and communicate, whether through texting, Skype, Instagram, Snapchat, Voxer, or even online social games. Anyone that didn’t have a voice before now has a chance to be heard.

Though we are fortunate to have much more convenient means of communicating and reaching each other, it does not come without a price. Privacy is such an issue, that even with the availability of “privacy settings”, nothing you post online will ever truly be private. Plus, everyone (well at least everyone on your friends list) can see you, your pictures, what you’re doing, what you like, and nearly everything about you. As you are propelled into the spotlight, you might lose sight of yourself and who you really are. Are you the person you portray yourself to be online? Do you even know who you really are, offline, in person?

In an article published by Deseret News, Rachel Lowry explores this struggle and how it has particularly been affecting Generation Y.

“1 out of 4 Millennials say they can only be their true self when alone.”

Whether you are going to work, school, or just hanging out with friends, you put on a different face. The person you are at work, especially if you work in a very professional environment, can be much different than the person you are when you are with close friends or family. In addition to that, you may also have a separate online identity that doesn’t fully correspond to your other identities. With Facebook, for example, you can tell people what you want them to know, withhold what you don’t want them to know, and show them what you want them to see.

 “Only half of Millennials surveyed believed themselves to be authentic and real.”

Although some people may remain authentic and true to themselves, it is easy to get caught up with “likes” and building up a flattering image. No one wants to appear boring or uninteresting. As a result, it’s becoming more and more difficult to know who is telling the truth, and if people really are who they say they are. I know that I personally have talked to people online and when I met them in person, they didn’t turn out to be who I imagined them to be. Sometimes, they don’t even look how you thought they would look. It all becomes very confusing, so what do we do about it?

If you are a Millennial like me, I understand your hardship. As I described earlier, we never had any of this technology when we were young, and then were suddenly expected to change with the times.  Social networks have become like a drug to us as we constantly search for acceptance and inclusion. The popularity contests of high school have carried over into our adult lives.

“Perhaps we should lift our eyes from our screens more often and live the lives we are purporting.”

This is the best way to go about your journey of self-discovery. Do not just spend time talking about your hopes and dreams, go out and follow them! Instead of spending all of your time taking pictures and uploading them to Instagram and Facebook, experience what you are seeing and doing and embrace the feelings it gives you. It’s great to have memories, but work on accumulating memories that no one can see or feel but you. Memories that you can dig up from your mind and feel all over again because you were fully aware and present during those moments. Get out of your comfort zone and do something you have never done before. Open your mind to new possibilities. Then, after you’ve got that out of your system, feel free to share your experiences and newly acquired knowledge with friends.

Identity isn’t about trying to be who you wish you could be, but how you go about being the person that you are. Every action you take and every decision you make reflects on your character and your personality. In order to be satisfied with your identity, it is important to always stay true to your values and do what you think is right. Maintaining the right balance is not uncomplicated, but at those moments you do find it, hold on as long as you can. Never be afraid to be yourself and to take the less trodden path, you might never know what new things you might discover about yourself. As they say, life is what you make it.

Bear Hugs and Thank You’s: Why Saying ‘Thanks’ Means So Much


Here at MeritShare, we strive to help companies motivate their employees by offering a way to give recognition where it is earned. It has been proven that employees who receive thanks and feel that their work is being appreciated will perform better than those who do not receive recognition. This probably does not seem surprising, but I feel that there is more to the story than just a simple act of gratitude, and I would like to explore the psychology behind it.

An article by Jeremy Dean for PsychCentral discusses why giving thanks is not just a nice thing to do for others, but it is also beneficial to the self. Studies show that giving thanks can “improve well-being, physical health, can strengthen social relationships, produce positive emotional states and help us cope with stressful times in our lives”. Personally I feel that this is very true, for I have often experienced what giving and receiving appreciation can do for the heart and mind. When I show gratitude to a friend or loved one, such as buying them flowers or simply telling them how much I love them, I love seeing the biggest smile on their face. Making others happy and making others smile is what makes me smile. It’s like a contagious disease, but a truly wonderful one that I don’t mind being spread all over.

Besides the warm fuzzy feelings it gives us, expressing gratitude can also be beneficial in that people will like you more and be more willing to help you if they believe you appreciate their help. Based on studies published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dean attributes this to the way receiving thanks boosts self-esteem. In one study, those who received a thank you email after providing feedback were more willing to provide further assistance to that person. What is even more intriguing is that those who received the email were more likely to help someone else out, not just the person who gave them thanks. I find this to be a crucial point that extends even beyond this topic for it is a way we can perpetuate peace and generosity throughout the world. It is clear that gratitude is an extremely powerful emotion that can significantly affect your attitude, which in turn affects others and their attitudes.

It’s kind of like that story: A man goes to work and his boss chews him out, so he goes home and takes out his frustrations on his wife, who yells at her son, who beats the dog. It might be a little extreme, but I don’t think anyone can deny that they have never once taken their anger out on someone who didn’t deserve it when they’ve been having a bad day. It happens. This is why I’m encouraging people to give thanks and practice positivity, because it spreads. If you thank someone and offer kindness, not only will they be more likely to offer it back, but will pay it forward to others. This helps everybody, not just you or one person, but everyone you both come into contact with.

Think about it, and practice giving thanks every day. Tell a coworker how much you appreciate all of the hard work they’ve been doing. Give out hugs (it releases oxytocin!). Say “thank you” to strangers who hold the door open for you. It’s not just having manners, it’s boosting self-esteem and propagating positivity to create a better future for you and for future generations. In a time where we are constantly at war while destroying each other and our earth, it is crucial that we support each other and come together, rather than pushing ourselves even further apart.

Thank you so much for reading, and thank you to Kevin Nakao and Travis Pearl for this learning opportunity and for always encouraging my creative freedom. Cheers!

What Up, Soup?! The Hottest New Millennial Craze

What is a Millennial?

Some might say Millennials are driven, creative, tech-savvy, inventive, and ambitious go-getters. Others might say they are lazy, narcissistic over-consumers who have a strange obsession with taking pictures of their own reflection in the mirror. Whichever definition you agree with (or perhaps you agree with both), I think there is one thing that we can all agree on- that Millennials love soup.

Recently my dad showed me this video from The Colbert Report in which Stephen Colbert discusses the hottest new Millennial trend. No, it’s not Gangnam Style, it’s Campbell’s “Go” Soup!

Hilarity ensues:

My dad thought it was so amusing he even bought me a bag. I still haven’t tried it yet, but I will once I’m done building a few soup-inspired playlists on Spotify that I can listen to while enjoying my soup. Then I’ll be ready.

Building a Company Culture: Live Your Values


With the emergence of the Information Revolution and significant advancements in technology, the 21st century arrived with exciting promises of new opportunities for intellectual as well as professional growth. Unlike previous generations, the wage earners of today, many of them Millennials, are more likely to switch careers rather than stay at one job as more rewarding prospects are presented. So what, then, motivates an employee to remain with a company? What provides more satisfaction than the promise of a fatter paycheck?

Jay Wilkinson, president of Firespring, offers an answer.

In the mid 1990’s, Wilkinson launched a company that developed websites, one of the first to do it at a commercial level since the invention of the Internet. Along with a few friends, he started from the bottom and climbed his way to the top, eventually receiving money that allowed him to improve the company and expand into ten more cities around the country. Unfortunately, as tensions arose from infighting and as the economy “tanked” after 9/11, Wilkinson was removed as CEO of his own company. After years of planning and “lean[ing] very very heavy” on the people in the company, he eventually regained control of the company. Now the company has upwards of 70 employees, 3,000 customers in 12 countries, and was named one of 2011 Inc. Magazine’s top 50 Small Company Workplaces. Wilkinson attributes all of this success and the company’s redemption to the way they have built their Company Culture.

What is a Company Culture, and why is it so important to the people working a company? A culture is defined as a set of values and principles shared by members of the group. Some companies have generic values, while others seek to exercise values that coincide with the interests of their employees. People like to be involved, to be recognized, and to feel that the work they are doing is worthwhile. Just offering free coffee and snacks is not enough to make someone feel appreciated. Employees like to feel like they are part of family, all striving towards unity in a goal that benefits everyone.

At Firespring, there are 3 steps they use to “design a sustainable company culture”.

  1. Define your values- Instead of coming up with a predictable list of values, think of values that really resonate with your employees. Get them involved and see what inspires them.
  2. Hire your values- You don’t want just anybody working for your company. You want the people who are passionate about the same values because it adds to the unity of the workplace; everyone working towards one goal. It is more beneficial to a company to hire someone who shares the same mindset as the rest of the crew rather than someone who just has a lot of skills. As Wilkinson says, “Don’t hire the haters”.
  3. Live your values- “Create fellowship” among staff. Show employee and peer recognition. Offer an environment for your employees to grow, work hard, and learn while also providing a fun culture. Being serious all the time was never fun for anyone.

It is evident from Wilkinson’s presentation that Firespring has become a tight-knit community of people who love what they do and love the people they work with because of the culture they have created. They work together, learn together, and have fun together. If you are a company struggling to compete in today’s fast-paced society, it is important to remember that it’s the people, the cogs in the machine, who make a company great.

A Millennial Mindset: Expand or Get Left Behind

Jenn Ballard, Marketing Specialist at MeritShare

Jenn Ballard, Marketing Specialist at MeritShare

This is the first post by Jenn Ballard who is a marketing specialist for MeritShare and helping the team adopt a Millennial mindset.

Now that I am nearly a quarter of a century old, I have accumulated a solid amount of work experience. Looking back at the variety of jobs I’ve held and all of the people I’ve worked with, I’m now noticing the increasing age gap in the workplace and the drama it can lead to.  The recent Forbes article by Jeanne Meister about adopting a Millennial mindset greatly resonated with me.  I was surprised to read that one third of US workers say their boss is younger than they are (according to a recent study by CareerBuilder).

In competitive work environments, where stress runs high as demands increase and employees struggle to make ends meet while desiring recognition for their hard work, it can be difficult to accept that someone younger than you is achieving more success. The injustice of it may even add fuel to the fire.

This is why the Pew Research center created a quiz to illustrate how instead of battling these Millennials, making an effort to adopt a similar mindset could actually relieve some tension as well as improve your performance and the performance of your workplace as a whole. The fact is, by 2020, Millennials will comprise nearly half of the USA workforce and, by 2030, 75% of the global workforce! The Millennials and what they accomplish will help determine our future, so it is important to understand them and work with them. Millennials move faster and think faster, constantly using social technology to connect with others and receive information. The Pew quiz suggests “building” social into your life, such as using social media like Facebook or playing social games instead of watching TV. This just amplifies your options of communication, and opens your connections to diverse groups of people. It is important to be digitally literate and connected to one another, because that is the way we invite others to be open to each other and accept people of all cultures.

Times are different now than they were then and the workforce is constantly increasing in diversity. I will be looking to those with much more experience for advice and I hope they might learn something from me. Everyone has something they can teach others, no matter how old or young they are. The workplace will always be changing and expanding; expand with it so you don’t get left behind.