How to Change A Life – Listen

Posted by Richard Moran.


A man approached me at an airport. I was thousands of miles away from my home.  He introduced himself and asked, “You don’t remember me do you?” I didn’t.

He went on, “Funny how it is, you changed my life and you don’t even remember me. Don’t feel bad. You shouldn’t remember me, but I remember you.” He was at the airport to pick up one of his children. It was just a coincidence that I was arriving.

He told me the story of how we sat next to each other years ago on an airplane from Chicago to San Francisco. I was going home, he was going away. As usual, there was a delay, this time so the plane could be de-iced. What was an already long flight became longer. My seatmate wanted to talk. I didn’t. He was unhappy with his life. I wasn’t. But sometimes a stranger is a good someone to talk to about life topics. The only person who might be better is the friend that knew you when. That friend who remembers who you were when you were twenty-two and can call you on who you are now. Sometimes intimacies are best exchanged with a stranger or that old friend.

So I broke my cardinal rule (at the time) of talking to people on airplanes. Really, I didn’t talk, I only listened. His career was going nowhere. He was in sales for a company that sold industrial kitchen gear. Think pots and pans. He was on the road all the time. His wife was always mad at him and his kids hardly knew him. It took him all of the five-hour flight to tell me all the details of his boss and career and family and I listened.

As we were landing I said, “Sounds like you have two choices: one is to keep at it and be miserable. The other is to make big changes. The second option is more difficult, but if I were you, that is the one I would give serious consideration.” Not rocket science and I am not a counselor but I listened and boiled things down for him. Although we exchanged cards I never expected to connect with him again.

Three months later, a huge box was delivered to my office. A small refrigerator could have been inside. It was a complete set of industrial pots and pans with a note. “Thanks for listening. New, better job and renewed family.”

Now, back in Chicago, years later, I reminded him that I still use the pots and pans he sent years ago. He reminded me that just listening to him and helping him with his options was all it took to change his life.

Sometimes a good listen, even in business, is the way to change a life and maybe an organization.

Author’s Note: For those channeling the movie “Airplanes, Trains, Automobiles” with John Candy and Steve Martin, it’s my favorite movie.

Richard is the author of the new book The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters [A Worker’s Manual]. You can follow his writing on TwitterFacebook, or at his website at

Richard is President of Menlo College in Atherton, CA. He is a noted San Francisco based business leader, best-selling author, speaker, and venture capitalist.

The Misery of Update Reminders

Posted by Richard Moran.


Have you noticed that your devices are always reminding you that updates are available? It is a constant barrage. Do it now? Remind me tomorrow? Stop reminding me is not an option regarding updates. It’s the same on the phone and pretty much everything that we turn on and needs to be recharged. The reminders come from embedded software, apps, people that you hardly know regarding their birthdays and pretty much any icon that hangs around the periphery of the screen.

The reminders are annoying so usually we ignore them even though they are shouting Updates Available! Updates Available! We have all learned the bitter lesson that when we select Update Now, instead of Dismiss, our life is never the same again.

But sometimes we feel guilty and wonder that maybe there is a new feature that will make us more productive.  Or maybe we need to update to be in sync with the rest of the company. Or maybe the old version is going to expire. Forces move us to click on Update. So we click on Install instead of Not Now. And, we immediately regret it. The system shuts down, the lights blink and the timers start broadcasting how much time remains for the install. First, there are thirty seconds remaining, then there is five minutes remaining, then there is two minutes remaining. It’s like a thermometer gone wild. Rebooting, rearranging, re-everything is happening as I hear things whirring and clicking. Sometimes I believe I can smell something burning.

OK, finally. It took ten minutes and the installation is complete. The world should be a better place and I should be a much more productive and efficient person. But wait, the device that is now waking up is not the device we are used to, or so it seems. The new one is not the one we love where the files were in one place and all of our preferences were right there. Everything is in a new place. And we say, never hit Install again, no matter how annoying the reminders.

It’s the small things at work that can make us happy.

Forty Lessons in Leadership from the Presidential Election

Posted by Richard Moran.


With bias toward no party or candidate, the election process was a robust field of leadership lessons. Here are but a few for current and aspiring leaders…

  1. Personal appearance counts and will be scrutinized. Even when it shouldn’t.
  2. Some things take waaaay longer than you think.
  3. You are never off camera.
  4. Inappropriate actions from the past can come back to haunt you. Even from long ago.
  5. The behavior of those closest to you can have a bearing on perceptions of you.
  6. Listening is a highly underrated skill.
  7. Some things ARE worth fighting for.
  8. Others analyze and second-guess the smallest of things.
  9. There is a limit to how much others will listen to you before fatigue sets in.
  10. Some constituents are so set in their ways that you should go without them.
  11. The “10,000 Hour Rule” does apply although it is not recognized.
  12. Sometimes, although there is nothing to talk about, others talk about it.
  13. Being “authentic” has many interpretations.
  14. Timing matters, sometimes it is just not your turn.
  15. Creating a brand is important.
  16. Records are maintained for a long time.
  17. Using certain offensive words will always get you in trouble.
  18. Staying “on message” makes life easier.
  19. Some people will not like you no matter what you do.
  20. Leaders probably don’t read books on leadership.
  21. Success comes at a cost.
  22. Surveys and polls can be pervasive and influence behavior.
  23. Others pay attention to those closest to you on your team.
  24. A sense of humor can come in handy.
  25. Some things may not be a big deal to you but they are to others.
  26. Your children can be an asset and a good sounding board.
  27. Drink more water.
  28. Sometimes it is better to say “I don’t know.” Is Aleppo a person, place or thing?
  29. Content on the Internet can be full of fiction but labeled as true.
  30. Others can obsess on things you don’t consider important.
  31. How you treat others is a lens through which others see you.
  32. Change course if you need to in order to achieve your goals.
  33. More constituents exist than you think.
  34. Threats are a risky tool to use.
  35. Personality can be perceived as an asset as much as experience.
  36. Big ideas garner attention, even if implementation is unclear.
  37. Constituents will forgive mistakes if they are acknowledged.
  38. News shows can be addicting and annoying at the same time.
  39. Some decisions are best considered without the opinions of others.
  40. Change is an inflammatory word.