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Feb 28 / Daniela Bryan

The Secret Truth About the Executive Spouse


I am about to tell you something about your spouse that your spouse is afraid to tell you. s a matter of fact she might not even realize it herself.

I am going to reveal the truth about the executive spouse.

The term ‘executive spouse’ (my mother was one) refers to the person who is on the receiving end of the freedom your salary provides. Most articles about executive spouses describe spouses as trusted advisors, the person who listens at the end of the day or at after your return home from a trip. But there is a dark side that no one talks about.

What is an executive spouse?

For an executive the benefits of having a spouse are very clear.

You want the love of your life by your side, who doesn’t?

In addition, social scientists appear to be united about the strong correlation between marriage and higher net worth, according to a New York Times article, dated Feb 6, 2015. “It’s a plain fact that people who are married have more income, wealth and savings that last into their retirement,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

You can share the burden of running a household, especially, if there are children. I only know of one senior leader who has chosen to not have a ‘home’ by setting up shop in various hotel suites around the world. And even Nicolas Berggruen ended his ‘homeless billionaire’ status in 2014.

Social functions are easier to manage with a spouse rather than having to bring an escort or showing up alone. Let’s face it, showing up alone, opens up a whole other can of worms.

Last but not least, look at the statistics cited in this article of Business News Daily: “For many CEOs and business owners, their wives and husbands are the first people they turn to for advice when making major decisions, according to a new study from the staffing firm Adecco. Specifically, nearly 40 percent of CEOs and business owners said the opinions of their spouse matter most to them when making big business decisions.”

Enough said. There are many advantages to having a wife or husband when you are CEO of a company.

The dark side of the executive spouse

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the drawbacks as well.

I just got off the phone with a senior executive client who is working for a large multinational corporation. He travels frequently and works long hours. He is passionate about his work and a dedicated and loving husband and father.

He told me how he came up with this brilliant idea last week, and I do agree it is a brilliant idea, that will change the entire industry he is working in. Full of excitement he came home and told his wife. Guess how she responded to the news?

“See you in 30 years, honey!”


All he could think was: ‘Don’t say that…!’

It didn’t stop him in his tracks, but it certainly slowed him down. Some of his enthusiasm vanished. And maybe rightfully so. A marriage is a partnership in which you share responsibilities as well as a life.

This is not the first time I have heard this kind of comment. Senior executives trust their spouses and want them to share in their excitement and help them sort out difficult decisions. However, spouses have an agenda that is often overlooked. I don’t mean this maliciously, just matter-of-factly.

1. Know Your Spouse Will Have an Agenda

When your company requires you to move to China, or London, or Santiago, your wife is not necessarily as excited as you are. There are different responsibilities at play and different desires. Where will the kids go to school? Who will take care of the aging parent? The fear of the unknown might creep in. Having an agenda is not necessarily a bad thing. However, being aware of the different attachments will reduce the risk for all involved.

2. Seek Different Perspectives

When difficult decisions need to be made, I want to encourage you to seek out different perspectives from different sources. Different perspectives will shed new light on the scenario. You will be able to assess more clearly who is concerned, aka afraid of what?

3. Minimize Risk

Is it time to identify your personal advisory committee?

As senior leader you are in the business of making decisions. Making decisions takes energy and relevant information, experience and an accurate assessment of risk. How can you minimize risk? In my experience senior leaders need to assemble a team of people they can reach out to for relevant input. We tend to have these teams in place in the work environment. But how about for life altering decisions, who will help us there? Examples of who I have seen on senior leaders advisory committees are independent financial advisors (not stock brokers), attorneys (especially estate attorneys), executive coaches (hired through the corporation, or ideally independent), health experts ranging from physicians to personal trainers, nutritionists to physical therapists, mentors and family members.

4. Hire a Coach

Coaches are bound by confidentiality agreements and can be more objective than anyone else in your life. They offer you an opportunity to speak out loud about the options you are weighing, which means you get to think it through without wandering off topic. Talking it through is different than thinking it through. They can hold you accountable to being aligned with your values and your dreams and keep you focused on your goals. They can act as a great sounding board for what you can’t discuss with anyone else.

Do you want an outside perspective? Email me to book your strategy session:

Jan 29 / Daniela Bryan

What I Learned About Leadership from My Recent Trip to Patagonia

PatagoniaHow to Be A Better Leader   Over the holidays, we were able to coordinate four busy schedules and steal ourselves away to a far away land. What’s nice about having kids in college is that they begin to be independent and self sufficient. On the other hand they end up being just as busy as the rest of us and getting all four of us to go some place becomes increasingly difficult. However, my two kids, their dad and I found ourselves on a flight to Santiago, Chile mid December, a time when everyone is busy with preparations for the holidays and year-end financial transactions. This brings me to lesson number one:

1)   Make time for what matters most We have all been working hard in 2014 and there is always more to do. It is up to us to stop the merry go round for what truly matters. For us family comes first. Time flies by and you can’t turn back the clock. You must take the time, your most precious resource, for the essential things in life. No excuses! In the business world this might translate into taking time out with your team. Everyone works so hard and investment in relationships will pay off in the long run. Patagonia2     “Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work.” Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project (NYT, Feb 9 2013) (

After a few fun days in Santiago, a cultural mixture of Europe and America with a distinctively South American twist, we were greeted by our guide, Lucas, at Punta Arenas airport. All we knew about Lucas was that he was fluent in Spanish and English, and that he would be with us for the next eight days in Patagonia. We were strangers, but quickly got to know one another. Lucas was welcoming and eager to make us feel comfortable. He engaged us in fun conversations, had a great sense of humor and was diligent about meeting our strange diet requirements (no sugar, no lactose for some of us). A few years ago I found myself in a workshop with “Flawless Consulting”author Peter Block ( who taught me an important lesson:

2) Welcome Strangers Lucas Lucas was an expert in welcoming us. He was open and communicative and eager to make us feel at home. One way he was accomplishing this was by serving us good quality food. “Feeding is caring,”he said and made sure we were being served the finest ingredients Chile had to offer. Even a simple sandwich made with care and out of real food, served in making us feel welcome.   Have you ever evaluated the ‘welcoming’ process at your current place of work? How were you treated when you first arrived at your company? How are you welcoming new employees that are joining your team? Dialogue, humor, food all serve to break the ice and make people feel as if they belong right away.   While we are on the subject of food, good nutrition leads to good performance. Filling a car with higher octane gas will perform better.

3) Insist on Good Fuel for Higher Performance   Since we were tracking almost 65km, we needed to put good food into our bodies. Lucas ensured that we got good quality food at regular intervals. I know all too many folks who don’t practice this at work. People often skip meals or think a Latte from Starbucks will sustain them – but it doesn’t. If you are the boss, pay attention to the fuel available and consumed by your team members. Cereal often available in high tech start-up companies might not be the best choice. The same goes for excessive use of alcohol. But that warrants another article.

4) Dress in layers – the weather changes quickly   Traveling this close to the Antarctic had its special challenges. The weather was changing constantly, wind, rain, hail, snow, sunshine within just a few minutes. Thanks to the folks from The Southern Terrain ( our outfitters, we were well prepared. Many layers assured comfort during the fast changing climate conditions. Lucas would tell us at specific spots on the trail to take off a layer or double up as the case may be. Sure enough once we walked around the next bend we were glad he had encouraged us to change clothes.   Most of us find ourselves in quickly changing conditions at work also. Being well-prepared and conscious of upcoming events helps in the transition. When was the last time you told your team members to put on another layer of protection because you anticipated strong headwinds, due to changing regulations or stiff competition? Focus on controlling what you can.

5) The desire to know doesnt improve the experience   Initially, we were unsure of our hiking capabilities. The terrain was new and we couldn’t gauge distance and speed of our ascends. We found ourselves wondering, and sometimes asking, how much further would we have to go. Invariably, the answer was “another hour or so…,”when sometimes it was probably more like two to three hours. In all fairness the extended time frame was probably due to us taking photographs rather than an inaccuracy of the time estimate given. However, over time, we began to relax and trust. We became more in tune with our physical capabilities and the terrain. We trusted Lucas and focused more on the experience that the destination.   How often are you focused on the end result, getting the earnings report completed or succeeding at the Board Meeting instead of focusing on the action steps it takes to reach the goal? The journey to success is much more rewarding than the end result. Claudio

6) Its hard to appreciate your office when you see it every day   One of our excursions was an ice climb on Glacier Grey, a truly memorable experience. We met Claudio, our ice climb guide at the pier, where he outfitted us with our necessary gear including helmets, crampons and ice axes. A boat took us across the lake to a landing spot near the glacier. We followed Claudio across rugged terrain for an hour until we arrived at the glacier. Fully outfitted we started exploring the glacier with deep crevasses and meandering rivers. It was breathtakingly beautiful, at the same time sobering to see how much of the ice is melting in just a short time. Eventually, Claudio guided us back to the boat and we rode the surf avoiding icebergs on the way back to shore. At one point I complemented Claudio on what a nice office he has and I was surprised that he didn’t seem as excited as I thought. It turned out that he took groups like ours to the glacier twice a day, every day. As beautiful as the glacier is and even considering that people come from all over the world to experience it, it still got a little old for him.   What about your office? Is it getting a little old? What do you need in order to appreciate the beauty of your work and your work environment? How can you tap back into appreciation for what you have accomplished and get to experience every day?

7) Have a Plan B, C and even D   On the last day of visiting Glacier Grey we had planned on taking the boat across the lake to meet up with our driver. It was supposed to be a 2-hour ride in a small nut shell of a vessel. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating and the boat was canceled. The only way to meet up with our driver at the arranged time, and actually at a slightly different location was for us to hike, which we had not anticipated. However, Lucas was on it. He knew when we had to hike, organized the porters for our luggage, arranged the driver and made sure we were fit to trek. He had a perfect Plan B mapped out. When I complemented him on it, he replied that in Patagonia just having a Plan B was not enough – you also need Plan C and sometimes Plan D. Things change quickly, the weather, the terrain, the health and well-being of the trekkers, etc., that multiple plans have to be anticipated at all times. It gave new meaning to being prepared and anticipating change.   What are your Plans B, C and D? What are you doing to anticipate the unexpected?

8) Give back, pay forward, contribute   Recently, I have made a point of seeking out individuals or organizations that do good in the world anywhere I travel to. If you are following my path, you know that I did a service trip to an Indian orphanage last October. Being in Patagonia I had a renewed interest in doing good for the environment. It’s heart wrenching to see the melting glacier. And I noticed a real effort by the lodges and the guides to reduce, reuse and recycle. Lucas surprised me one day when we were waiting for one of our catamaran rides. He had noticed a red plastic cup on the bottom of one of the ice cold lakes. He did not hesitate to take off his boots and socks, pulled up his pants and sleeves and waded into the freezing lake. He retrieved the cup with a huge smile on his face. It prompted me to ask him about what organizations he would recommend for me to support their efforts. Here are two I felt good about:

Valpo Interviene, an NGO in Valparaiso, Chile focused on reducing, reusing and recycling by involving the entire community. Take a look at their projects, quite impressive!

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund focused on the sustainability of Torres del Paine National Park, a sister organization to Yosemite National Park.

These two organizations are meaningful to me, since I made connections on the ground and I saw firsthand what is being done there. What organizations are meaningful to you? What leadership can you demonstrate with your team by getting involved? We can’t sit on the sideline any longer. Every bit helps.   It is time for everyone to step up to the leadership they are capable of. What leadership will you demonstrate today?

Nov 30 / Daniela Bryan

Part 3 – Return. Meaning Making

I had every intention of writing this blog while in India. I couldn’t. India is just too much in your face. I needed space to reflect. I shared an incredible experience with my fellow travelers and only they would fully understand. When my kids returned from India, they weren’t able to fully express what their experience was like either. I get it now. You just can’t describe it. You have to experience it. Any description of what happened or what India is like would be incomplete and not do the experience justice. I have so appreciated to share stories with my kids upon my return, because they have been there and they got it. In addition, they get to relive their experiences by hearing my stories. I have known for a long time that returning is the hardest part of the journey. It’s where meaning gets solidified, where the stories get manifested, where the nuggets come out. It is important to speak, write and relive the stories for them to become part of you. Anyone who gets denied this time of reflection and learning is cutting the experience short. How difficult must it be to return home from war or describe what it was like to hold a human heart during open heart surgery?

Brahma Bull in Old Delhi

Brahma Bull in Old Delhi

Peanuts, Raisins, Pistachios, Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds

Peanuts, Raisins, Pistachios, Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds

Colorful Spices in Delhi's spice market

Colorful Spices in Delhi’s spice market

I am different because I traveled to India. I am different because of who I traveled with and what I have experienced. This blog has been an attempt of making meaning and allow others to witness. It was important for me to share images on facebook while traveling. But this writing makes it complete. It helps me come full circle in the circle of life. Thank you for being there…

“India is Hotel California:

            you check out any time you like,

            but you can never leave.”

                        ~Sarah MacDonald

Bateshwar Temples

Bateshwar Temples

Nov 30 / Daniela Bryan

Part 2 – Journey. Learning

Our trusted and competent drivers.

Our trusted and competent drivers.

After leaving Sri Ram Ashram, we embarked on a road trip – not exactly like the kind of road trip one imagines on the west coast of the United States or in Europe. Rashmi had hired a minibus with two drivers, only one of whom drove. Different skill sets? Well labor is cheap in India. One person drove the entire time and the job of the other apparently was to ask for directions and to pay the tolls. At one point when they weren’t sure about where to go while on a a three lane expressway, they stopped alongside a parked car. As we approached we saw bare feet sticking out of the window. Apparently, the driver had decided to take a nap on the slow lane of the freeway. And he is the one we asked for directions while blocking the number two lane. Shortly thereafter, three vehicles came toward us in the fast lane. Wait, weren’t they supposed to be on the other side of the median strip?  We encountered ‘Geisterfahrer’ several times, but it didn’t seem to phase our driver. Once we stopped for an entire herd of cows to cross the freeway. Road trip Indian style!

Mindfulness in action.

Mindfulness in action.


Communication would have been tricky without Rashmi’s ability to speak Hindi fluently. Even tour guides, whose ability to speak English quite well, surprised us with head wobbling and accents that left us questioning. Considering that there are 19 different languages in India, it is amazing that people understand each other as well as they are.


Handmade tools

Handmade tools

This woman was talking on her cell phone while trying to sell greens.

This woman was talking on her cell phone while trying to sell greens.

This road trip was a great way to experience country and culture to learn about Hinduism, Islam, Sikh and Jain religions. We were able to experience wildlife (not very much in India) and artisans, commerce and food. What struck me again were the extremes. The beauty of the gemstones of the Taj Mahal and the basic tools with which this beauty is created. Beautiful textiles are created with minimal tools and in basic conditions. Wildlife exists more in the form of livestock, bulls, camels, horses dogs rather than in natural settings like our parks. However, we were able to witness gharials, a sort of thin-snouted crocodile, and river dolphins in the Chantal river.  You can have a satisfying meal for $2/person or for 50 $/person. Food and spices are definitely part of the experience. Two thirds of the population are Hindus and hence vegetarians. Moslems are overwhelmingly involved in the meat business. The most expensive hotels can easily compete with the best hotels in the world. In contrast, the dung huts people live in is mind blowing. Of the 1.3 billion people living in India, one third is illiterate meaning they can’t read or write their name. That’s as if everyone in the United States was illiterate. And they live on a landmass approximately 1/4 of the U.S. The population growth is hard to comprehend as well. During my lifetime, the population of India tripled from 400 million to 1.3 billion people. Way of life ranges from a seemingly medieval camel fair in Pushkar and cellphone use by peasants to the most luxurious palaces the moguls lived in. The contrast is most striking and hard to make sense of..


part 3: Return.  Meaning Making

Bateshwar Temple, one out of 101!

Bateshwar Temple, one out of 101!

Jama Masjid, the principle mosque of Old Delhi.It's courtyard can hold 25,000 people.

Jama Masjid, the principle mosque of Old Delhi.It’s courtyard can hold 25,000 people.

Mirror inlays at the Amber Fort

Mirror inlays at the Amber Fort

Marble Ganesh figurine, the elephant-headed God with inlaid gemstones. He brings good fortune.

Marble Ganesh figurine, the elephant-headed God with inlaid gemstones. He brings good fortune.



Nov 30 / Daniela Bryan

Part 2 – Journey. Rewarding

Sri Ram Ashram is an amazing place. Founded by the silent monk, Baba Hari Dass over 20 years ago, the orphanage is home to about 75 children and young adults. It’s a home and sanctuary for the unwanted, the underprivileged, the kids in the margins that would normally fall through the cracks. We were greeted by happy and smiling children. We were also greeted by lice and conjunctivitis that were making the rounds. But by and large the Ashram kids were healthy and well cared for. Seeing how children in the nearby villages live demonstrated how lucky the Ashram kids are. They have a large family with 74 brothers and sisters, a roof over their heads, food and education. The support they get in terms of schooling, health care and life skills is remarkable.

Compared to how some of the village kids live, the Ashram kids seem very fortunate.

Arabic lessons in home of Sahanpur villager.

Arabic lessons in home of Sahanpur villager.

Bucket bath at the orphanage

Bucket bath at the orphanage

The facilities at the Ashram are good. The nurturing environment and care from staff, siblings, supporters and visitors is the foundation for success. The Ashram kids have a chance to thrive in the face of adversity. I have heard some of the stories of when they arrived at the Ashram, malnourished, abused, sick and forgotten. It’s inspirational to hear about their successes:

Getting ready for building mud huts for Diwali.

Getting ready for building mud huts for Diwali.

Village kids

Village kids

Soma, who attended my daughter’s class as of 6th grade, was left as a tiny baby, in a pile of trash at a remote temple in Haridwar. Seeing where she came from makes me appreciate and respect Soma even more than I had previously. Her journey has been an incredible uphill battle, and yet she has endured and is succeeding. Soma is now a Gates Millennium scholar studying at UCLA in California.

Orphans often don’t have birth certificates. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to even obtain a passport? Obtaining a passport is one challenge, actually getting a visa to travel to certain countries is sheer P1010794impossible. Vijay is an athlete and passionate about cross fit. When he got on the radar of cross fit executives, he was invited to a cross fit conference in San Diego. He was denied a U.S. visa twice, and the possibilities of him attending were meager.  But his perseverance paid off. He eventually did receive his visa and traveled to San Diego for the conference. Recently, he opened his first cross fit studio in Delhi.

Sonia, obviously a UCSC fan in India.

Sonia, obviously a UCSC fan in India.

Prema arrived at the orphanage at age ten, traumatized and alone. She is now a sweet and somewhat shy 24-year-old about to move to Delhi to work at a travel agency and study German. In January, she will marry a German, whom she met when he visited the Ashram a little while ago. Eventually, she will relocate with her husband to Germany.

Tree hugging at the orphanage.

Tree hugging at the orphanage.

The results of 20 years of nurturing and loving these children are impressive. I have no doubt that the young children who we played with, who taught us how to make ladoos (an Indian sweet made from cashews, sugar, raisins, almonds and cream) and who welcomed us with open arms to celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, will grow up to be contributing members of society. Considering that many of them don’t even have birth certificates and are born into the untouchable caste of India this success is short of miraculous. I will never forget the smiles, the hugs, and the love at this place. Succeeding in the face of adversity is inspirational.

Part 2- Journey. Learning:

Nov 30 / Daniela Bryan

Part 2 – The Journey. Unsettling

“Entire families share motorcycles; toddlers stand between dads’ knees or clutch his back, wives sit sidesaddle while snuggling babies. Auto-rickshaws zip around like tiny toys, Ambassador cars – half Rolls-Royce and half Soviet tank – cruise with class. Huge tinsel-decorated trucks rumble and groan, filthy lime-green buses fly around like kamikaze cans squeezing out a chunky sauce of arms and legs. Shoes dangle from back bumpers and black demonic faces poke out red tongues from windscreens; theses are for good luck.”

            ~ Sarah MacDonald in Holy Cow

What a great description of traffic in Delhi!

Whole families on motorcycles. Too bad you can't hear the horn looking at this picture.

Whole families on motorcycles. Too bad you can’t hear the horn looking at this picture.

Now add a few Brahma bulls, camels, horses, the occasional elephant or monkey and you get the picture. Being in the streets of Delhi is a full body experience that no picture can express fully.

How many can we pile in there?

How many can we pile in there?

The sight of a thousand ‘almost’ accidents a minute, the sound of honking horns and revving engines, the smell of diesel exhaust fumes and humanity are overwhelming. But somehow the system, or lack thereof, seems to work. It definitely takes some getting used to though.

Experiencing Delhi train station was a bit more like my memory of Delhi airport 30 years ago. Beggars, porters, hawkers, travelers, luggage and animals all mixed into one cauldron. The potion seems toxic and without our fearless leader, Rashmi, I don’t think we would have been able to navigate. Especially considering that we had about 30 pieces of luggage thanks to fellow orphan supporter, Serena Potter, Group Vice President for Serena has been coming to the orphanage for years, supplying the kids with clothes. A big shout out to Serena!


How come none of the kids fall off the motorcycles. Their moms, sitting side saddle, barely seem to hold on.

How come none of the kids fall off the motorcycles?  Their moms, sitting side saddle, barely seem to hold on.

Making it through challenges such as getting tons of luggage on and off the train in little time made the trip exciting. You can’t plan for this mayhem. You can only work your way through in the moment, go with the flow and be determined. Our persistence was rewarded with smiling faces at the ashram..

Part 2: Journey. Rewarding

Nov 30 / Daniela Bryan

Compare and Contrast – India — Part 1- Calling. Desire

I had no intention of coming back – ever!

The Taj Mahal, symmetry at its finest.

The Taj Mahal, symmetry at its finest.

Thirty years ago, I visited India for the first time. The stop over at the Delhi airport was enough to keep me at bay. After a memorable flight, where many Indian passengers decided to stretch out on the aircraft floor, arriving at 1 a.m. in fierce heat and humidity at an airport without air conditioning, stepping over travelers on your way to the terminal, and schlepping your own luggage made it a rather unpleasant if not miserable experience. So, I tuned India out.

Why did I want to come back after all?

I hadn’t even thought of returning until about 3 years ago, when our daughter in her senior year of high school, had the opportunity to go to India with her class mates. Last year our son, also in his senior year of high school, was able go on a similar trip. Much like my daughter he too was able to travel to an orphanage that is closely connected to the school our kids attended. He was able to visit the children and deliver necessary supplies. Parents weren’t allowed on these senior trips, which, in hindsight, I understand. The purpose was for them to bond with their peers through shared experiences not to be ‘helicoptered’ by their parents. However, I found the prospect of supporting and experiencing an orphanage very intriguing. The seed was planted.

When one of my book club members last year asked, if I would be interested in going to India, specifically to the Ashram, I jumped on it, however not without trepidation. As one ages the comforts of western life become very enticing and the memories of my brief encounter with India were still vivid.

Eventually our group consisted of five women, three from Santa Cruz, one from Seattle and Rashmi, the head of the orphanage, who has spent the last 20 years building and running Sri Ram Orphanage and me. The intention was to visit the kids during their Diwali celebration, which is sort of a mix between Christmas and New Years. All Indians celebrate Diwali regardless of their faith, and Rashmi assured us it would be a good time to bring supplies and help out where needed.

Mr. Singh, our driver, proudly presenting his saber.

Mr. Singh, our driver, proudly presenting his saber.

Our plan was for all of us to meet up in Delhi. I was nervous about my arrival and pleasantly surprised when the arrival process at Delhi airport this time was painless. I arrived to an air conditioned building with fellow travelers queuing up orderly. Security advancements in the last 30 years make it now mandatory for people to be in possession of a plane ticket in order to be in the airport. Humanity doesn’t hit one until exiting the airport, unlike 30 years ago, where one was confronted even on the plane inbound. I was picked up by my driver, Mr Singh, authentic looking with a turban. Later I learned that all Sikhs wear a turban, let their hair grow and wear a saber, which he proudly showed off in this photograph. He struck me as very gentle and protective, and I was happy to see him several times throughout our trip.  He picked me up from the airport and confidently navigated through the light traffic in Delhi to a beautiful hotel, the Leela Palace. This place was so peaceful and serene that I thought: “This isn’t bad at all. I can do this. India has changed,” I thought, until we left the hotel  in the morning.

part 2 – Journey. Unsettling

Oct 30 / Daniela Bryan

What I Learned About Leadership from Michael Tilson Thomas


Last month, I found myself sitting in the front row of Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Sitting in the front gave me a unique opportunity to observe Michael Tilson Thomas’ leadership up close. He has been Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony for the last 20 years and has a much deserved following. Here is what I learned about leadership by observing him:


1)   Tell people what you will tell them

When I purchased the tickets I was surprised to learn that there would be a 30 minute lecture prior to the performance. I didn’t really know what to expect, but since I am a lifelong learner, I was curious to see what the lecture would be like. It is quite common to get a write up about the composer and the performers in the playbill, but the lecture added an element of depth I wasn’t anticipating, but very much delighted by. Not only were we told about the lives of the composers and the context in which they composed their pieces, we also got some recorded samples of certain phrases, which would then make it easier to understand the pieces during the actual performance. It set the scene for true audio pleasure during the actual performance. You didn’t need to ‘figure’it out, you could just marvel in the flow of the music. This was a perfect example of telling the audience what you will tell them, before you tell them, but in different words. Well done indeed!

2) Delegate leadership

The first piece was Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. The piece was performed by only string instruments and I was surprised to find out that there was no conductor at the podium. However, there was no absence of a leader. Instead of the conductor, the first violin was in charge. What a great example of delegated leadership in absence of the maestro.

3) Be surprising

Just because composers wrote pieces for certain instruments, doesn’t mean that one can’t include an element of surprise. In this case a certain section of the piece was played by a Harpsicord and not a violin. In today’s world of entrepreneurship, one might call this disruptive. The different instrument introduced a change, which wasn’t even revealed in the lecture. However, we were told to listen for the change. So, we were all listening for what the choice would be. Great change management. Tell people there will be change, and don’t spoil the surprise.

4) Be willing to take risks

The second piece performed was called Ice Field composed by Henry Brant in 2001. It was composed specifically for Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco and there aren’t even any recordings of Ice Field. Instruments were strewn in different sections of the symphony hall, only the strings and the organ were on the front stage. Michael Tilson Thomas did a beautiful job introducing the different instrument sections with humor, since not all of them could be seen depending on where one sat. What I found most remarkable was the last statement he made, which went something like this: We have given a lot of unique performances, but this one is probably the most out there. What a way to take risks. He knew it was a risk and listening to some of the comments in the ladies’room immediately following the piece, the risk taken was not well received by some. But I give him credit for taking the risk and sticking with it. How can we possible evolve, if we never expose ourselves to something new?

5) Give people an experience

As mentioned above, the orchestra for this piece was spread around the concert hall giving the audience a completely new experience. Not more of the same and not something, one could listen to on a recording at home. On the contrary there is no known recording of this piece anywhere. Thereby, Thomas provided a one-of-a-kind experience. Fabulous!

6) Mix things up

Also unexpected was Cameron Carpenter, a world renown organist, who doesn’t exactly fit the image of the stereotypical classical musician. Mohawk and leather pants were in stark contrast to the suits and ties of the rest of the orchestra. Way to mix things up, be original and perform with confidence. I loved it. As a matter of fact I was inspired and curious, so I spent quite some time watching a number of You Tube videos with Cameron Carpenter, a master of his craft. Way to inspire…

7) Take the long view

Leadership requires taking the long view. Selecting the pieces, creating an experience, leading the orchestra, guiding the audience through 2.5 hours of entertainment is not as easy as it might seem. It requires a view with a vision, a view from an elevated stands. One cannot conduct a piece, project, change process from being in the crowd, but from being above and ahead. The leadership demonstrated was palpable to me. Amazing what one can observe from 30,000 feet up above or looking at the impact down the road.

8) The key is in the transitions

Have you ever watched a conductor? There are sections where seemingly not much is going on and yet at other times the gestures and the facial expressions, the movement becomes ever so pronounced. This heightened communication happens mostly during the transitions, when things change. How many times have you found yourself in a some sort of change process and communication seems to come to a screeching halt? It heightens the fear, leaves one hanging with lots of unknowns. As leaders, when things are changing, communication needs to be ramped up. And since we are in an increasingly fast changing world, communication needs to be stepped up for all of us, way beyond what we think is needed.

9) Engage your audience

A few seats over from my seat was a young adult who caught my attention. As I was watching him, I noticed that he was conducting the pieces as well. The expression on his face was pure joy! He was riveted by the performance and had no qualms about making his delight known. I don’t want to make any assumptions, and yet I figured that he must have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I found it fascinating how he could express his enjoyment. And even more fascinating was the fact that Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra were able to engage on such a deep level with him and the audience. How remarkable! How many speeches or presentations have you endured that didn’t move you one bit? This one did and deserves credit for a job well done.

10) What happens when the music stops?

What a beautiful phrase MTT left me with. “What happens when the music stops?”The concert lasted a little over 2 hours, but the experience has stayed with me. Isn’t that what we want our customers to walk away with? Isn’t that what we want our employees and our shareholders to walk away with? Therefore, I must ask you, the leader:

What does happen when YOUR music stops?

Sep 30 / Daniela Bryan

Do you Want to Change the World With Me?


It’s September. The month I was born. Long ago, I have made the month of September a time of reflection. Not only does my birthday spark a heightened sense of gratitude for having been born and being alive and healthy, it also causes me to reflect on how I am giving time, talent and treasure to things that matter, to make a difference in the world. By making a difference, I have impact and I can change the world. Throughout this year I have  co-created a team building effort for a client to raise funds and goods for a local school of underprivileged children (see blog post of April 1, 2014, I have served on the Board of Directors of a local school, I have supported family, friends and clients in their fundraising efforts to find cures for diseases. I have raised funds for access to fresh water in India. I have given in many other ways, small and large. Next month, I am traveling to India to support an orphanage. And, I want to be more strategic with my giving.


To spark my reflection this month, I picked up a book by Laura Arrilaga-Andreessen, founder of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund, Founder and Chairman of Stanford PACS and Professor of Strategic Philanthropy at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her book Giving 2.0 is a must read for anyone who has ever given time or money to any cause. It is full of thought provoking questions, resources and ideas, offers insights into how to start a giving journal and how to make your giving more impactful. All proceeds from the book are donated to charitable causes. Way to walk the talk! If you do pick up the book, which I strongly suggest, make sure you read it while having access to the internet. You will want to look up all the organizations that Laura points out. I was doing exactly that when I stumbled across a Coursera course that Laura will be teaching next month. For those of you not familiar with Coursera, go check out these fabulous courses that very esteemed universities from around the world are offering for free! ( I digress.


The course that Laura Arrilaga-Andreessen will be teaching is called Giving 2.0: The MOOC and starts on October 6 for 6 weeks and is absolutely free. You can participate from home and be connected to the rest of the world:


“Giving 2.0: The MOOC is a six-week course. Each week has a particular theme and 5-10 content-packed and activity-rich, video modules exploring that theme. Video modules will include lectures from Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen as well as interviews, discussions and lectures given by guest speakers. Guest speakers are renowned leaders in multiple industries including philanthropy, technology and business, who will provide unique insights into course topics. Students will have the opportunity to join Talkabouts –small virtual meeting groups created to discuss class-related topics. By the course’s conclusion, students will have created an Individual Giving Action Plan to guide their future giving in a highly effective and meaningful way. Students will also complete a formal nonprofit assessment. Students will consider and vote on eligible nonprofits and collaboratively determine which ones receive Learning By Giving Foundation grants. Students will also be provided with ongoing, post-MOOC philanthropy education content that will support continued development and execution of their philanthropic goals.”

The best thing is that you will participate in a grant making process during which up to $100,000 of Learning By Giving Foundation capital will be allocated to student-selected nonprofits. How cool is that?


Needless to say I signed up for the course, and I hope you will join me. And together we will change the world.


Here is the link to the class:


And it’s absolutely free!

Aug 30 / Daniela Bryan

Ways to Maintaining Confidentiality in the Workplace


“Knowledge is power. Information is power.”~ Robin Morgan


Maintaining confidentiality builds trust – and is difficult!


In many years of coaching clients to maximize their potential I have been privy to sensitive stories about betrayal, addiction, abuse, fraud and divorce. Often I hear about an employee about to be terminated or an employee about to quit long before anyone else does. This information is sensitive and confidential. The temptation to share the ‘burden’with someone has been and continues to be great at times. And yet, I am bound by the International Coach Federation Code of Ethics, which states that:


I will maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all client and sponsor information. I will have a clear agreement or contract before releasing information to another person, unless required by law.


What about you? Are you adhering to the same standards? What is your standard?


When people just tell you …


Humans are inherently curious and the desire to obtain information seems hard wired into our brains. This desire seems to be heightened, for example, if a coworker offers information you are not supposed to share. Yet information, especially information given in confidence, comes with responsibility. Sometimes it is better, if you don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes. When someone says to you: ”Can you keep a secret?”  know that this might be a burden.


When people pressure you to tell them


Sometimes people know that you know, or at least they think they know. They will ask you over and over to tell them the scoop. This is gossip – beware! Resist the temptation and take a stand for trust and integrity. If it was your secret, would you want everyone to know? Resist the 30 seconds of fame at a cocktail party and keep the information tucked away.


Guard confidential information with discipline


If you have given your word, guard the information with discipline, lock your file drawers, encrypt your computer, have conversations with insiders in privacy and make sure they are indeed insiders. Especially in the workplace, walls have ears. Reflect on your habits of communication. Beware of the belief that confidentiality just happens. Keeping information in confidence takes practice. In 15 years of keeping client conversations confidential, I have developed my own system:


1)   Tell people up front that you can’t share certain information. This applies equally to spouses, children or parents. 2) Be conscious and intentional about any records you keep. (My client notes are kept to a minimum, get locked daily and are destroyed in regular intervals). 3) Keep conversations private. For example, I use a sound machine when I am on client calls, so others that might be in the house can’t hear my end of the conversation. Face to face meetings often take place at the workplace or in private meeting rooms and not out in public. I would never have client phone call at Starbucks!


The word confidential comes from the Latin word confidere. Con’ stands for ‘with’ and ‘fidere’ stands for trust, so ‘with trust.’

Anyone providing you with confidential information trusts you with that information. How to best build trust in the workplace? Keep entrusted information confidential. Just because you know, doesn’t mean you have to share.

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