By Dan Coughlin

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 Dads have been on my mind lately.

My father, Eugene Coughlin, passed away on March 18, 2009. I called him Dad.

My father-in-law, Arnold Bizer, passed away on March 28, 2017. I called him Pa.

For the first time I do not have a father figure in my life. However, those two men had an enormously positive impact on my life, and their influence in so many ways is engrained in me. I think the lessons they taught me have value for dads who want to be successful business leaders. Here are some of the lessons I learned from them.

Lesson #1: Family first, work second.

Both Dad and Pa put family first. They were both remarkably focused on their wives and their children. They made sure their families were the center of their lives, and that their work was a secondary priority. It’s easy for people to let their work run their lives rather than their life running their work. Dad and Pa made sure that their work was a subset of their lives, but not the center of their lives.

How do you make your family your first priority every day?

Lesson #2: Take work seriously.

They both worked for 40 years. Dad worked at Laclede Gas Company for 40 years, mainly as a salesman in new construction, from 1949 – 1991. He was up every day by 6 AM. He put on a suit every day and went to work. Pa was a Senior Minister for two different United Church of Christ churches from 1952 – 1992. I only knew him after he retired, but I’ve heard many stories about him teaching Confirmation Classes from 8 – 10 AM on Saturday mornings, and leading the church in many other activities they took on. He literally had to leave town during vacations in order to step away from the work of the church.

Are you giving your work your best effort? Keep your family first, but take your work seriously.

Lesson #3: Remember the enormous value of simplicity.

In many ways these two remarkably influential men lived simple lives, and they wanted it that way. Being fancy was not in their nature. Dad used to say when friends came to our house for the first time, “We’re just plain folks. You can just be yourself here.” Pa had absolutely no interest in being fancy. If I spent too much money on a new sports jacket or suit, he would look at me in a funny way.

Look at your life. What can you do to simplify various areas of your life?

Lesson #4: Show you can handle responsibility.

If you can’t be responsible enough to be a good dad, how can an organization possibly trust you to be responsible for large numbers of employees and significant financial investments? If you take shortcuts at home with your children, how do you keep that habit from creeping into your work? We are who we are wherever we are. We can’t fake it for very long. The habits you have at home are likely to become the habits you have at work.

What are your responsibilities at home in the next two weeks? Do them well.

What are your responsibilities at work in the next two weeks? Do them well.

Do them in that order.

Lesson #5: Handle money intelligently.

Neither Dad nor Pa ever made a ton of money. Probably not a half-ton or quarter-ton either. But you know what they did? They lived within their means. They didn’t go into a ton of debt. Not a half-ton or quarter-ton either. They had money left in the bank for their wives to live on after they died. It’s not how much you make, it’s how you handle what you make.

Are you handling the money you earn intelligently?

Lesson #6: If you’re man enough to create a child, then be man enough to raise a child the right way.

Obviously I’ve been very lucky to have two wonderful father figures in my life. Two men who engrained in me a very specific code on how to live my life. No shortcuts. No living on the fringe. No playing around with the important relationships in my life.

However, I’ve come to learn that some dads are not like that. They leave their kids either before they know them, or when they are very young. In some cases, dads physically or sexually abuse their children.

I can’t think of anything crueler or more awful than a father who abandons or abuses his children.

If you were man enough to create a child, then be man enough to raise the child in a loving way. Be involved in the child’s life. Care about the child’s well-being. Listen to the child’s dreams and do what you can to support that child on a path that strengthens his or her self-esteem.

Being a dad is more important than being a business leader. It’s way, way, way more important. As a dad you will have a lasting impact on another person’s life either positively or negatively. Choose how you want that impact to turn out.

I have a quote by my bed and in my office. It’s a double daily reminder that I’ve had since my daughter, Sarah, was born on April 21, 1999.

It says, “100 years from now it will not matter the type of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

Here’s to you, Dad and Pa. Thank you for the incredibly important impact you had on my life.

Twelve Lessons from Six Days in New York City

Twelve Lessons from Six Days in New York City


By Dan Coughlin

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Barb and I took our kids, Ben and Sarah, to New York City recently for six days. First time we’ve ever done that. Technically it was Sarah’s Senior Trip, but it turned out to be a massive learning experience for me. Here are twelve lessons I learned that I think can be used in any business.


Lesson #1: Build a magnet.


What is New York City? How do you define it?


That question went through my mind as went from Times Square to Central Park to The Plaza Hotel to Tiffany’s to the NBA store to the Statue of Liberty to the 9/11 Memorial to the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center to a Broadway Show to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden to the NBC Studios to the Today Show and to Ellen’s Stardust Theater.


It finally hit me. NYC is a magnet. It attracts great architects, builders, actors, designers, entertainers, athletes, and so on.


In your business, who do you want to attract to you in the form of employees and customers? Around what type of value do you want to magnetize these people to you both personally and as an organization?


Lesson #2: Be polite.


Despite all contrary reports, everyone we met in NYC was friendly and patient, including employees and citizens. It made our experience really, really enjoyable.


Are you and the people you work with polite and friendly and easy to work with, or cranky and bossy and difficult to work with?


Lesson #3: Maintain breadth and depth.


Within the type of business you want to be in, provide both breadth and depth. NYC covers sports to business to the arts to education to entertainment with an extraordinary level of breadth and depth. That’s what we should all aspire to provide in the area we want to work in.


Lesson #4: Be really, really good at what you do.


The singers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner were amazing. They were also the waiters and waitresses in the diner working for tip money. The Uber drivers were incredible, even during a 12-inch snowstorm. All the actors and actresses in Wicked, the show on Broadway we saw, were phenomenal. The pages on the NBC Studio Tour were like long-term professionals. The 9/11 Memorial is breathtaking, and the new World Trade Center is 1776 feet high (get it?), making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. As I turned 360 degrees, there were incredible buildings everywhere I looked.


Whatever you do you need to do it really, really well. That’s how you stand out in any crowd.


Lesson #5: Stay calm and have fun.


If I had to drive in NYC, I would be stressed out. As in heart attack stress. The drivers we met were laughing at our stress. Somehow a bicycle rider magically went in between two taxis and came out without a scratch. Al Roker and Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were smiling on the set of The Today Show and when they came outside in 25-degree weather.


A restaurant named Tony’s di Napoli was packed at 10 PM on a Sunday night, and the waiters and waitresses looked totally relaxed.


Have fun with whatever you do. We look back now and laugh that our plane had to land in Albany for a few hours because the weather was too bad at LaGuardia Airport.


Lesson #6: Make it timeless and practical.


While we were on vacation I was reading a great book by Chip and Joanna Gaines called The Magnolia Story. Joanna explains how she focuses on her home designs being both timeless and practical. That’s what NYC was like. Timeless in many ways, and yet practical and functional at the same time.


As you focus on creating value for customers, consider how to make it timeless and practical.


Lesson #7: Have spaces that help you re-energize.


In the middle of Manhattan on property that has to be worth a billion dollars rests Central Park. Think about that. NYC values 843 acres of prime real estate to re-energize yourself so much that they have preserved it since 1858.


What spaces do you have at home and at work that help you to re-energize? Value those spaces in your life. Invest in creating and preserving them. You will need them to keep growing as a person and as an organization.


Lesson #8: Think and act for the long term.


The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center were built during the Great Depression. Not the Great Recession, but the Great Depression as in 85 years ago. Central Park was built 160 years ago. The Statue of Liberty was built in 1875, and stands just as proudly as ever.


Do work that has a lasting impact, as in its impact will last for many generations, not for the next three months.


Lesson #9: Time with your family is invaluable.


Quite literally the four of us were within twenty feet of each other every minute for six days, or so it seemed. That would be two teenagers and two people in their fifties. And it was awesome. Your work is not your life. Your work is a subset of your life. Enjoy your family. The best investment I know of is time with your family.


Lesson #10: Be ready for your moment.


Matt Lauer is really good at what he does. He’s been the co-anchor of The Today Show for 20 years. We saw where Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for his first 10 years, and where Jimmy Fallon does it today, or tonight. Chip and Joanna Gaines had been fixing up homes for over ten years before their hit television show, Fixer Upper, became a reality.


All these folks got an opportunity, and they were ready for that moment.


If you received an incredible break right now in your work, would you be ready to seize that moment and make the most of it?


Lesson #11: Make your work interactive with your customers.


At The Today Show, Barb shook hands with Matt Lauer (Perhaps the highlight for her not only of our trip, but of our marriage. Just kidding honey. I think.) Sarah gave a high five to Jenna Bush on The Today Show. Al Roker took the time to shake hands with nearly every person around the outdoor stage. Ben talked NBA basketball with an Uber driver. We were all on The Today Show for about two seconds as the camera scanned the crowd.

Do you create memorable experiences as you interact with your customers? Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain. Get out and interact with your customers.

Lesson #12: You have to have freedom to build a great business.

We spent one day just getting to the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial. It really hit me that no great business exists without people having the freedom to make decisions and take risks. We wouldn’t have that freedom if it were not for millions of military people sacrificing enormously to preserve that freedom. Freedom should be cherished for the incredible value that it brings to all of us every day.

And then we have to have the courage to hang on to that freedom and use it. My favorite lines in Wicked were from the song, Defying Gravity. Here they are:

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules Of someone else’s game

Too late for second-guessing

Too late to go back to sleep It’s time to trust my instincts Close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try Defying gravity

I think I’ll try Defying gravity

Appreciate your freedom and have the courage to make the most of it. Don’t play by the rules of someone else’s game. Learn from every life situation you’re in, and apply those lessons to making a significant difference in your work and in your life.
About Dan Coughlin

Dan Coughlin is president of The Coughlin Company, Inc., a management consulting firm focused on improving executive effectiveness and significance. He serves as a thinking partner for executives and business owners toward improving their most important desired business outcomes. He also provides keynote speeches and seminars on effectiveness and leadership. Visit his free Business Leadership Idea Center at

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Clarify your Purpose, Understand your Self, Apply your Self toward your Purpose

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If you want to make a significant difference at work, I suggest these three steps:

  1. Clarify Your Purpose
  2. Understand your Self
  3. Apply your Self to Fulfill Your Purpose

Clarify Your Purpose

You have to believe your work matters and that it is purposeful before you will pour yourself into it to the degree that will make a significant difference, the type of difference that will make a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.

This is a working article. In other words, you will need to do some work beyond just reading the words. Please take five minutes and jot down your answers to this question:

If I do a great job with my work, what will be the benefits to the following people?

My Organization –

My Work Group –

Our Customers –

Our Suppliers –

My Family –

Myself –

Okay, go back and invest five more minutes in that exercise. Really clarify why your work matters greatly.

(Sources: Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and The Unheard Cry for Meaning.)

Understand your Self 

If anybody wants to achieve anything, the first step is to figure out what the person has to work with to achieve the goal. The same is of course true if we want to fulfill our purpose at work. We first have to figure out what we have going for ourselves that we can apply to fulfill our purpose.

I’m allowed one fancy word per article. My fancy word for this article is individuation. It’s a really old word that Carl Jung used a lot. Individuation means “the lifelong process of becoming the complete human being you were born to be.” It means “waking up to your total self” and “actualizing the blueprint of the main elements of your personality.” It also means “discovering the uniqueness of yourself, finding out what you are not and finding out who you are.” (Source: Inner Work, pages 7 and 11, by Robert Johnson). Jung used the word “Self” to mean “the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego.” (Source: Wikipedia on “Self in Jungian Psychology”)

In this article, I’m going to focus on two parts of your Self: your Personal ID, and your personal needs.

Your Personal ID

The word personality seems to have taken on a limited meaning. People will say, “That person has a nice personality,” or “That person has a mean personality.” In that context, the word “personality” seems a very small snapshot of the person. In reality, the person’s personality represents the enormous scope of the individual.

I’m going to change the word “personality” to “personal-ity” to “Personal ID”. Every person has a Personal ID that is made up of his or her temperament and character.

Now I need to recommend an incredibly powerful book called Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. This is the most useful book I’ve ever read on understanding people. The only concerning part of the book that I saw was it was first written in 1979 and then updated in 1999 so it says something like, “One day women will be great executives in business.” Obviously that day has arrived. Other than that, I think the ideas in this book are tremendously useful today. So here’s a brief synopsis of the book.

On page 20, Keirsey says that the two sides of an individual’s personality are temperament and character. He defines temperament as “a configuration of inclinations” and character as “a configuration of habits.” He says “character is disposition and temperament is pre-disposition. Each individual develops habits appropriate to his or her temperament…Temperament is the inborn form of human nature; character, the emergent form, which develops through the interaction of temperament and environment.”

Here’s my translation. You are hard-wired at birth with a given temperament. You had no choice in what temperament you received. You can’t change it. It’s not based on your birth order or your parents parenting style or your socio-economic surroundings.

According to Keirsey, there are four types of temperaments: The Artisan, The Guardian, The Idealist, and the Rationalist.

Here’s a brief explanation of each one, but again I encourage you to read the book, Please Understand Me II.

The Artisan – The creator, the maker, the doer. This person’s strength is tactics and getting stuff built or created.

The Guardian – This person protects and nurtures other people. Think of putting up guardrails. This person’s strength is putting together logical plans, following through on them, and making sure other people follow through on them.

The Idealist – This person is driven by ideas, purposes, causes, dreams, and visions of what can be in the future. Think of an Idea List. This person’s strength is diplomacy and moving other people with words.

The Rationalist – This person focuses on determining what makes the most rational sense. Think of a Rational List. This person’s strength is strategy.

Each temperament brings with it strengths and weaknesses. Accept yourself as you are with your temperament, and accept other people with their temperaments. If we try to change our temperaments or try to change other people’s temperaments, we are trying to do the impossible. Please don’t do that. It wastes an enormous amount of time and energy that you could be using toward making a significant difference at work.

To understand which temperament you have, you need to do another homework assignment. Go to and click on “Take the Test”. It’s a free personality test. It will take you about ten minutes to do it. Then you will receive your test results for free. Please write the result down. It will look something like “ISTJ” or “ENFP”. There are 16 different results. You will get one of them.

According to Keirsey, here is how to decode the result you receive:

SP – The Artisan Temperament

SJ – The Guardian Temperament

NF – The Idealist Temperament

NT – The Rationalist Temperament

You were born with your temperament. You had no choice. It is your key to making a difference in the world.

From your temperament evolves your character. Your character is who you really are today. Your character is made of your habitual ways of talking and the things you talk about and the ways you interact with other people and the attitudes you have toward different people and different situations. Your habits come from your beliefs. Your character is the beliefs that drive your habits. Your character is always evolving, but the evolution always stays within the confines of your temperament. You can change your beliefs, but at this moment they are what they are.

If you are really going to make a significant difference at work, you need to make sure you do your work by staying true to your temperament and character. For example, an Idealist would make a lousy Artisan, and an Artisan would make a lousy Idealist. You can’t be someone you’re not. You can’t do something well that you don’t believe. Approach your work from the perspective of who you really are as a person in terms of your temperament and your character, the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. We can waste a lifetime trying to be someone we’re not. Accept your Self as you are and apply that Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work.

Your Personal Needs

There’s one more aspect of your Self I want you to think about, and that is your specific needs.

Here’s your next work assignment. Take a few minutes and jot down your answers to these questions:

(Autonomy) How much freedom do you need at work? (Range: Tell me what to do and watch over me, Tell me the outcome you want me to hit and I’ll find a way to get there, or I’ll decide on what outcomes to go after and how to get there.)

(Competency) How much ability do you want to have? (Range: I can do this job, I can do this job well, or I have mastered the ability to do this job.)

(Recognition) How much recognition do I need in my work? (Range: My boss knows my name, I am acknowledged publicly for the work I do, or My title and awards are continually updated to reflect my current status in the organization.)

(Fulfillment) How much fulfillment do I need at work? (Range: I receive a paycheck, I enjoy my work, or I feel deeply fulfilled in doing what I do.)

(Relationships) What kind of relationships do I need at work? (Range: It’s socially fun to work with these people, I’m part of a great team that does great work, or I feel tremendously purposeful when I interact with these people.)

(Organizational Impact) What kind of an impact do you need to make on the organization? (Range: I’m a member of a team, I influence the way other people think in the organization, or I’m the final decision-maker on important topics.)

Now go back and read over your answers and add in any more thoughts you have.

Apply Your Self toward Your Purpose

Your Personal ID consists of your temperament, your character, and your personal needs. Your Personal ID (personality) is unique to you. It’s like your Social Security Number. No one else has your Personal ID.

Ok, it’s time for one more work assignment. Write out your answer to this question in a paragraph or bullet point format:

How can I apply my temperament and character toward fulfilling my purpose at work while still staying true to my personal needs?

Okay, try that again. Keep writing. Keep thinking, and then write some more. It’s not an easy assignment, but it’s also not an impossible assignment.

Only you can determine how to apply your Self, which is all of you, the whole kit and caboodle, toward fulfilling your purpose at work. Of course, the same is true for fulfilling your purpose in life beyond work.


Please take some time to clarify your purpose at work. Understand why your work matters.

Please take some time to understand your Self. Read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey and take the test at Think about your character and the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. Think about your personal needs at work.

And then please think, really think, about how you can apply your Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work. It is how you will make a truly significant difference, a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.

Simplify: The Mother of all Power Tools

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We buy power tools to increase our efficiency and effectiveness. We do this for our personal lives, we do this for our work groups, and we do this for our organizations. Oftentimes, power tools are devices like smartphones, video conferencing, self-propelled lawn mowers, and on and on. They have become cheaper to buy and easier to use

However, the mother of all power tools is not a device, but rather a belief. It’s the belief in the power of simplifying our lives.

When we simplify our lives, we increase our chances of being efficient and effective because we’re not letting our time and energy and talents to be dissipated over a ton of unnecessary things.

Here are some ways you might consider simplifying your life.

Simplify Your Stuff

I’m a keeper of memories.

I keep notes and little mementos and books and tapes and CDs and DVDs and audiocassettes and video cassettes from a wide range of life experiences. Over the past 35 years I’ve collected and held on to boxes and boxes of things and more than 300 books. About every two years I pull all of my stuff off of shelves in my house and empty the boxes on to my bed. Then I force myself to look at every item and decide if I really want to keep it. I go through every book on my bookshelves and ask myself if I still want it. A few days ago I got rid of four boxes of stuff, three bags of paper, and about 60 audiocassettes and 40 video cassettes, which was good because I no longer have an audio cassette or video cassette player. You can donate music and books to your local library, and they can resell them and the money goes to the library.

It’s amazing how that activity freed up space in my brain and space in my house.

Simplify Your Spending

It’s wonderful how much stress we take out of our system when we stop spending beyond our means. When we save money and refuse to buy things that we don’t have the money to pay for, we simplify our lives. Personal debt complicates our lives. Saving money simplifies our lives.

Several years ago I worked with a client I couldn’t stand because I absolutely needed the money as the world economy almost collapsed in 2008 – 2010. I took on a project that was a nightmare, but paid pretty well.

From that I learned the enormous value of simplifying my spending. When you live within your means you don’t have to take on work that you can’t stand. You get to work with only the kind of people you want to work with. It’s amazing how nice an old car can look when it’s all paid off.

Look at where your money goes. Where can you simplify your spending?

Simplify What You Eat and Drink

Sugar, grease, and dough have a way of taking over our lives. It’s incredible how fast cookies, brownies, ice cream, cupcakes, candy, pizza, and beer can work together to complicate our health in ways that eat up, no pun intended, our energy.

Like a tsunami gaining momentum, bad eating habits can overwhelm the benefits of any past diet. Simplifying our eating habits is a daily challenge for many of us, but the benefits can be tremendous in terms of increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Simplify Your Relationships

When you carry bad relationships (defined as someone who drives you crazy and where you feel worse off after you see him or her as opposed to before you see him or her) around, it’s like carrying a giant backpack of rocks everywhere you go.

Do yourself an enormous favor.

Look at the non-family relationships in your life. Those are the people you hang around with by choice. If you identify one, or more, of those relationships that is eating up your time and energy in a negative way, then just quietly slip out of the relationship and move on. Don’t make a big deal about it. That would eat up even more of your time and energy. Just move on without that person in your regular routine.

Simplify Any Loose Ends

If there is anything in your life that is causing you to lose sleep, just simply clean it up. If you cheat on your travel expenses by fifty dollars a month or you do something that bothers you and it feels like a child tugging on your coat all the time, then acknowledge it within yourself and stop doing it. Cleaning up those loose ends can allow you to sleep better at night, and can free up more time and energy for you to be more efficient and more effective every day.

Simplify Your Website

Okay, one more. Since almost every organization no matter how big or how small it is has a website, I encourage you to consider simplifying your website. I have a theory that simpler websites are better than complicated websites.

Think of a website like a soda machine. You walk up, you look at the options, and you press a button. Very simple. How simple is your website?

One of my favorite websites is Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, and you can see everything they have to offer on their website like you’re walking up to a soda machine and pushing a button.


The mother of all power tools is to simplify your life. This will allow you to focus on the things you really want to focus on and apply your strengths and passions in a way that will really make a significant difference in the world.