5 Steps to Finding Your Voice

‘I’ve got no voice. I don’t know how to write like me,’ ~ Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary


For me, finding my voice, and learning how to write like “me”, was key to being able to blog, and to get important points across to an audience. Writing like “me”, means to be able to tell a story, to share your thoughts and ideas just as if you are having a face to face conversation with someone. All the while, you are keeping the “person” you are communicating with engaged and interested and connected to you.

So how do you find your voice? How do you write like you? Here are five ways I have found that continue to work for me.

1) Pay attention to the way you converse with people. This is your natural voice. Although you won’t exactly write the way you speak, the closer you can get to a natural conversation in your writing, the more natural it will come across to others.

2) Take your time, and focus your writing in themes and sub-themes. Then try and complete the main ideas in the themes, or sub-themes, in one sitting, if possible. For example, if your theme is your last vacation, then your sub-themes are the specific things you did during your vacation. So pretend you are sitting across from your friend at Starbucks, and in one sitting, tell your friend one of the things you did during your vacation. This helps you flow the story and keep it exciting and interesting.

3) Take frequent steps back, to look at your work, much like you would do if you were painting a wall (or a portrait!), or waxing your car, to make sure you haven’t missed any spots, and to ensure that the work accurately reflects things the way you want them to be. I use WordPress, and it has a Preview feature, so periodically, as I am going along, I preview what I have written. This helps me make sure it still sounds like “me”, that it flows, and represents the way I want my story to come across, and doesn’t sound like some other person has stepped into and taken over my writing.

4) Keep the fancy words and phrases out. Be careful with your sentences and paragraphs. Don’t let them run on, keep then relevant, short, and to the point. Write in a natural speaking tone and your listener (reader) will stick around and continue to pay attention.

5) Write about things you are passionate or feel strongly about. Stay away from “lukewarm” topics and only choose things you would feel comfortable AND excited talking to someone about.

Finding your true voice is one of the most important things you can do to engage people you want to write to. Once you find your voice, you will find yourself naturally writing like you and you will have an engaged audience!

I’d be really interested in knowing if these 5 ideas helped you to find your natural writing voice. Please let me know!

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What My Custom-Made Blue Suit Heard and Saw

I had a suit custom made about 13 years ago. “Bespoke” is the way the British say it. Business Blue. “IBM” blue.  I had 2 others made at the same time, beige and gray. But BLUE was THE suit. 2 pairs of pants to go with it. Suspender buttons sewn in. The jacket had a label on the inside left pocket, that read, “Expressly Made for Henry P. Fiallo”. It fit like a glove. It should have, after 3 fittings. The tailor picked out 3 ties to go with it, 2 blue, 1 red. I was all set. I had BLUE!

Detail of a suit and a tie

Blue – The Classic Suit

I had BLUE made because I had been appointed to take a subsidiary of a parent company public. I would be leading the company, calling on major customers, taking the company story on a 2 week IPO road show, pitching the company to financial analysts, hedge funds and investment bankers, and then, taking it public on the New York Stock Exchange. I did all that, and more.  I named the company, picked the stock symbol and logo, hired staff, and made a multitude of organizational, financial, product and marketing decisions. It was a whirlwind time in my life.

As it turns out, BLUE was with me (actually, on me) during four pivotal events in my life. I’d like to tell you about those four life changing events.

  1. BLUE was there on August 6, 2001 when I rang the opening bell on the first day of trading for our new company. What a day! BLUE and I were at the center of attention. I shook a lot of hands, took a lot of back slaps, performed (played the congas!)  outside the NYSE on stage with Felix Cavalieri and the New Rascals, and was interviewed by the likes of CNN and Bloomberg. I had arrived at the top of the business world, the pinnacle of a 25 year business career, a truly defining moment. And BLUE had been with me every step of the way.
  2. BLUE was there when I crashed and burned. Since going public, the company (my company) began to run into difficulties. Arguably, I performed inadequately as a CEO, and in fact, broke Federal laws in a futile effort to “make the numbers”. On September 15, 2004, after several gut wrenching weeks filled with SEC and Justice Department lawyers, and FBI agents, BLUE was on me when I plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud.
  3. On November 22, 2007, BLUE was there when Chief U.S. District Federal Judge Stephen J. McAuliffe sentenced me to serve 48 months in a Federal Prison. BLUE caught my wife’s tears as she sat next to me in the court room. We had the worst Thanksgiving holiday I can ever remember. I hung Blue up in the closet, since obviously, I was not going to need him for quite a while.  On January 4, 2008, at 2 PM, I voluntarily surrendered myself at the Federal Correctional Facility in Miami, Florida.
  4. Finally, I took BLUE out of the closet, and wore him on stage January 11, 2013, several years after leaving Federal prison, as I addressed 600 employees of an internationally recognized music technology company at their world-wide sales conference.

Blue heard me tell my story to that audience. A story of a meteoric rise from humble beginnings, to a devastating crash for someone who was raised and taught to know better than to take short cuts, and to play with the definition of right and wrong. I told that audience about the 10 mistakes leaders should avoid at all costs (read it here on Michael Hyatt‘s blog). I told the story of a lack of humility, and a failure to hold myself accountable. For the first time, while wearing Blue, I told a story of untruth, lack of integrity, irresponsibility, arrogance, and avoidance. And I shared with them the hard-learned lessons that I came to acquire after I had my freedom taken from me. That fourth time wearing Blue, was cathartic for me, and by far, the most rewarding speech I have ever given.

Blue is close to retirement age. He is somewhat shiny and well worn in many places. Will I replace him? Sure. Everyone needs a good blue suit. But when I do, rest assured that NEW Blue will not have to watch me experience the self-inflicted pain and agony that my last blue suit experienced. And as far as OLD Blue is concerned, he  will keep hanging in my closet, a constant reminder of what I did, and in the end, how I persevered.

What have been your proudest, most rewarding moments? And by contrast, what have you experienced that has left you devastated and broken? How did you recover, and in the end, how did you persevere? I’d love to know!

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7 Leadership Lessons from Iron Man

Leadership lessons are everywhere, if we would just open our eyes and ears. Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources. While watching the film Iron Man with my family for the second time, I sat in amazement while the leadership lessons I had not noticed the first time, unfolded before my eyes. I share the 7 Leadership Lessons from Iron Man with you now.

1) Learn from Your Mistakes - Leaders will make mistakes, but they learn something from every one. Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Tony Stark, is a genius, but he makes mistakes, as we all do. When he is captured by a terrorist group he is shocked into analyzing his predicament, and begins to learn from the mistakes he has made throughout his life. The lesson for us is that we will make mistakes throughout our life, especially as we strive and stretch a little further than we can reach. It allows us to grow, but we become more prone to make mistakes once in a while. When leaders make mistakes, they analyze what they did, learn from it, and move on.

2) Develop Your Sense of Social Responsibility - Tony Stark thought he had a sense of social responsibility. His rationale was that his company had to produce weapons so that the “bad guys” could be kept at bay. The ordeal he went through caused him to realize that this false sense of social responsibility was a result of  justifying an illogical position. When he saw that the weapons he produced were falling into the wrong hands, he finally came to his senses and to the unpopular decision to stop producing weapons, a true social responsibility. Good and thoughtful leaders develop a solid sense of social responsibility as they realize that they and the organizations they lead, are part of a much larger whole.

3) Don’t Allow People to Filter what You Need to Hearif you allow it, some people will try to filter what you should hear. Tony Stark was “filtered” by his supposed right hand man, Obadiah Stane, who did not have Stark’s best interests at heart. A good leader plugs into the organization at various levels to make sure that they get unfiltered communication and feedback. In this manner, they are in tune with what is really going on, and they make better decisions.

4) Don’t Engage in Spin Doctoring – Obadiah Stane was a spin doctor. When Tony Stark announced that he was shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of his company, Stane jumped to the podium and declared to the press, “What we should take away from this is that Tony’s back! And he’s healthier than ever. We’re going to have a little internal discussion and we’ll get back to you with the follow-up”. This is classic spin doctoring (I know because I am not proud to say that I did it a lot in my past).  Rather than tell the truth, and face the facts, Obadiah “spun” an answer. Good leaders don’t spin. Instead, they face the music, tell the truth, pull no punches and meet the issues head on.

5) Let Down Your Facade and Really Communicate - one of the most difficult things I had to learn as a leader, was to get off my high horse, come back down to earth, and communicate. Big words, sophisticated phrasing, complex concepts, and boring analogies and cliches just don´t come across as straightforward and honest. When Tony Stark sat down on the floor at the press conference and just plain talked to people, he was able to communicate his true beliefs and feelings, and to come across credibly. That is what great leaders do, strip away all of the fancy stuff, and just, plain, talk.

6) Develop and Follow Your Noble Cause - you can´t lead unless people are willing to follow. But how do you get people to follow you? Dave Logan, of Tribal Leadership fame tells us that it´s a noble cause that attracts people to a leader, and keeps them engaged and involved. Tony Stark´s first cause, supplying the war machine with weapons, isn´t very noble. But when he develops and talks about his real noble cause, those that have been profiting from the first cause run for the hills, and the true admirers line up solidly behind him. Good leaders have integrity and great skills, as Chris Widener tells us, but great leaders also develop and communicate a noble cause that they follow, and that is what draws followers to them.

7) Never Give Up on What You Believe In - in The Crisis, Thomas Paine described how the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot would “shrink from the service of their country” when the going got tough. It´s only the resilient souls who would stand against the hard blowing winds for what they believe in. Even though he is ultra rich, and has it all and could easily walk away from the fight, Tony Stark doesn’t give in, and doesn’t give up.  Great leaders work through the tough times and stand up for what they believe in, even when it is unpopular. They never give up.

When I took a closer look at Iron Man, I saw these leadership lessons I had missed before. It has reminded me to keep my eyes and ears open, because one never knows where a leadership lesson may be lurking.

What about you? What leadership lessons have you encountered in some unlikely mediums? Share them with us!

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Six Issues that Squeeze Core Values

You firmly believe in Core Values. You have a great, well thought out set of them. Some for yourself, for your marriage, your family, your department, and, if you are the leader of an organization, for your entire group. So the issue is not the LACK of Core Values. Perhaps the issue is, your core values are getting squeezed. Squeezed? Yes, you have every intention of living and leading according to your core values, but “things” are getting in the way, getting in YOUR way, and YOUR core values are suffering.

Photo Credit: http://www.photoexpress.com

Most of us firmly believe that if we develop a platform of basic principles and conduct ourselves according to those, things will come out the way we intended. So what goes wrong that causes us to stray from our core values? Several times in my life, I have struggled with maintaining my true north compass setting, and as I have analyzed why it happened, each time, I can point to a “squeezing” of my core values due to one of the following six issues:

  1. Hectic-ness – when my life gets hectic, I have to take special care. All of that “hectic-ness” can cause me to overlook or inadvertently set aside my core values as I am dealing with the “busy-ness” of life.
  2. Urgency – at times, certain people will insist that we give them attention and even resolve their problem or fulfill their request immediately. As a result, we may drop whatever we are doing and jump to do their bidding. I am watchful of this, because it can cause me to deviate from the established sound principles I live and work by.
  3. Multitasking – I am an arch enemy of multitasking. Research shows that we are less effective when we are trying to do multiple things at the same time. One research study indicates that our IQ can drop as much as ten points and our productivity by 40% when we multitask. Personally, one of my core values is quality, and I know that the quality of my work suffers when I try to get too many things accomplished at the same time. We think we are accomplishing much when we multitask but instead, we are squeezing our core values.
  4. Noise – not many would argue that modern society isn’t a noisy place. If we allow it, that noise can easily drown out our still small voice that whispers core values in our ear. Eventually the gentle nudging of that noise has us doing what we don’t want to do, saying what we don’t want to say, going where we don’t want to go, and becoming what we don’t want to become.
  5. Deadlines – for many of us, deadlines are like a yoke around our necks. On one hand they can help to focus our attention and energy on getting a particular task done. On the other hand , especially for those of us who tend to procrastinate, deadlines can actually cause us to become so obsessed with making a date or milestone that we squeeze some of our core values (like our integrity, honesty, or quality orientation) right out of shape.
  6. Pressure – the dictionary defines pressure as an oppressive condition of physical, mental, social, or economic distress. This one is different than the others in that it encompasses all of those things that push on us. Often in combination, and due to the distress, these things can cause us to lose our bearings and balance. Once we are there, it’s a stone’s throw to a “squeeze” of our values as we succumb to the pressure.

It is not difficult to get wrapped up by one or more of these six issues and experience a squeezing of our core values. The good news is that with our compass guiding us in the right direction and our sails set to catch a good wind we can become resistant to all of these “squeezers” of core values.

What experiences have you had with things that squeeze your core values? Share them with us!

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What Jim Rohn Taught Us About Getting Back to Basics

We continually complicate our own lives. We spread ourselves too thin, procrastinate, second-guess ourselves, make mountains out of molehills, ignore important things, pay attention to all the wrong things, fall prey to mindless distractions, listen to the wrong people, and engage in relativity.
Photo Credit http://www.everystockphoto.com
I certainly have fallen prey to these evils throughout my career. And although I could certainly tell when I was engaging in some of these complications, it took listening to a master who seemed to be watching my every move and reaching in to my soul, to finally drive home the need to get Back to Basics. Although I never met him in person, Jim Rohn was arguably the most influential person I have ever heard, and he assailed these evils constantly and elegantly.


If you have ever listened to the teachings of Jim Rohn, or were fortunate enough to be one of 5 million people to have seen him in person (Mr. Rohn passed away in 2009), you know that his elemental message is one of Basics and Fundamentals. So I present to you the truth about Getting Back to Basics, Jim Rohn style.

  1. Don’t Major in Minor ThingsThere are only a handful of things that truly make a difference in any area of life that you can think of. There aren’t a hundred, not even a dozen. Just a few, 5 or 6, that have the most impact on your life, whether it is your career, your physical health, your marriage or family relationships, or your finances. Find them, constantly refine them, and focus on them.
  2. Don’t Neglect – Once you figure out the major things, the handful of truly impacting things in each area of your life, then do them. Don’t neglect them. If you SHOULD do something, and you CAN do something, but you DON’T do something, that’s a formula for disaster.
  3. Life is About Basic Truths Truth is truth, unchanging, never wavering,. Old. There is no such thing as a new truth (“That phrase doesn’t even make sense!” Jim Rohn used to say).  There may be a new way to apply it for the 21st century, but truth is old. If someone comes along and says to you, “Come see my new factory, we’re manufacturing antiques. Take a look at how we do it”, you’d say, “No! That makes no sense! Antiques are – old!”, just like Truths. Figure out the Basic Truths and live them, because once you know them, you know them.  
  4. Don’t Just Get THROUGH the Day, Get FROM the Day - Many people are just trying to get by. They can’t wait for the 5 o’clock whistle, always looking ahead to Friday. They barely get through the day. Why not change your outlook and philosophy, and instead, get as much as you can FROM the day? There is much to be gotten, but it won’t happen unless you are focused on getting, instead of just getting by.
  5. Be a Lifelong Student Jim Rohn constantly talked about skills, building a library, becoming a voracious reader, and spending time with successful people to learn from  them, and even learning from failure. The Back to Basic message here is that we should never stop learning. For the rest of our lives, we should dedicate ourselves to Personal Development, Growth and Evolution.
The beauty and power of Jim Rohn’s Back to Basics message is its elegant simplicity. No long, rambling, complicated, mantras or new age relativity. Just pure, elemental, unchanging essentials. Classic. Jim Rohn style. His teachings have changed my life.

Do you know who Jim Rohn is? Can you share how you have been impacted by his philosophy? Have  there been other influential people in your life that have shared a Back to Basics message with you? Tell us about it.

Quotes by Jim Rohn, America’s Foremost Business Philosopher, reprinted with permission from Jim Rohn International ©2011.
As a world-renowned author and success expert, Jim Rohn touched millions of lives during his 46-year career as a motivational speaker and messenger of positive life change.
For more information on Jim and his popular personal achievement resources or to subscribe to the weekly Jim Rohn Newsletter, visit www.JimRohn.com.
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5 Reasons to Look in the Mirror

You have blind spots. Just like the cars we drive, you have them. Some of us have HUGE blind spots. Some of us have moderate sized blind spots. And then some are lucky enough to have very small ones. But we all have them.

Over the years, my blind spots have kept me from achieving. At times they have gotten me in trouble.

How do blind spots cause you problems? The list of blind spot problems include:

  1. Blind Spots keep us from seeing things about ourselves that we need to see. Author Dr. James Gills calls this Spiritual Cataracts, which cause an inability to see ourselves as others see us.
  2. Blind spots prevent us from considering other, usually contrasting points of view. Dr. Madeleine Van Hecke, author of Blind Spots devotes a chapter to this in her book.
  3.  Blind Spots keep us from thinking “out of the box” when they cause biases that get in the way of free and creative thinking.
  4. Blind Spots often put us in the position where we fail to see the big picture when we get too close to a particular point (can’t see the forest for the trees)
  5. Blind Spots sometimes lead you to reach a conclusion without examining all of the possible alternatives. Your eventual decision ends up somewhat less than optimal.

Can you prevent (or at a minimum reduce) blind spots? I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t think so! What has worked for me is a handful of things that I work hard to put into practice constantly. These include:

  1. Frequent introspectives (i.e. person in the mirror) exercises. Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program defines this as Step 4, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”.  I do this daily. It requires practice, discipline, and objectivity about yourself.
  2. Engaging trusted friends or mentors to evaluate your behavior, communication, interaction, or other dimensions of your character. This is sometimes referred to as a 360 degree evaluation. It takes a thick skin.
  3. Taking additional time to think through alternatives when I am thinking about and trying to solve problems or issues and not short cutting the process. This technique allows me to consider more alternatives.
  4. Thinking all the way through to potential consequences of my actions. Doing this also makes it easier to consider options I would not have taken the time to look at.
  5. Putting aside my pride and reflecting on the real value of humility . This seems to loosen me up and allows me to see things more clearly.

I have met a very few number of people (maybe three or so?) in my life that I do not believe had any blind spots. In other words, they were so introspective, so in tune with themselves and how they interacted with people and with the general world around them, that they could see everything about themselves that anyone else saw about them. This takes  humility, desire, willingness and practice. The rest of us mere mortals aren’t that lucky.

What about you? Can you recognize your own blind spots? What techniques have you found effective in addressing your blind spots? Do you look at the person in the mirror?

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The ZEN of Second Chances

A mistake can be a small thing. Or it can be a devastating thing. One that can change your life in an instant. The thing is, many times we don’t see the mistake coming until it is too late. Then we have made it, and we start paying the price, begin to experience the consequences for having made it. But this post is not about the mistake. We will talk more about that in a future post. This post is about:


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There is nothing like a second chance. A second chance is like dying, and being brought back to life. It is like  you are drowning, having gone down for the third time, your lungs filling with salt water, the air replaced with salty stinging liquid, your consciousness slowly slipping away, replaced by a cold, black void, and then…a hand pulls you up out of the deep, and you sputter, cough, and breathe life-giving air again.


A bit dramatic, I agree, but this is what it felt like to me when I committed the biggest mistake of my life, experienced the consequence of a 4 year prison sentence, and at the end, was pulled out of the abyss to be given a second chance. So, after having made a mistake of the magnitude that could have devastated and ruined my life, I share with you the Zen of Second Chances, embodied in 5 important things to consider about life-saving second chances.

  1.  Second Chances are a Precious Blessing – recognize and treat a second chance like you would a precious and rare opportunity that did not have to happen to you, but did. When my second chance came, I was truly humbled and grateful for the opportunity. I felt blessed. My actions were like that of a blessed man, and in feeling this way, there was no way I could have taken it for granted.
  2. Don’t Squander Second Chances – take every advantage of a Second Chance. Use it in the spirit which it was given. I squandered many “first” opportunities. This is why I was in a position to receive a second chance at all. How could I possibly squander another opportunity to do what I should have done the first time? Some people do just that! I met many of them while in prison.
  3. Run With Your Second Chance – be ready to execute. Do not hesitate. Do not walk. Run. Take the Second Chance by the horn and make the most out of it that you possibly can. My “first” second chance, while I was in a half-way house for 6 months,  was a job that paid $12 per hour. I treated that opportunity like I did the six figure executive jobs of my past. I “ran” as fast and as far as I could with that second chance.
  4. One Second Chance Breeds Another - be prepared for additional opportunities that WILL come your way. These are the Waves of Second Chances that will follow your first Second Chance. I can’t tell you how many people stepped forward after that initial Second Chance and gave me opportunities that were just as big a blessing and just as precious as the first. If I hadn’t been looking, hadn’t been ready, some of them may have passed me by.
  5. Never Forget Your “Original Sin” – dwelling on the past is not healthy. What’s done is done, and it’s time to move on. Ignoring it and not learning from it is equally if not more unhealthy. The fact is, a Second Chance is a “second chance” because of the original mistake(s) that we made. And the circumstances surrounding your mistake, how you got there, what you did, how you did it, and who you did it with, are important to remember as you embark upon your second chance. I have never forgotten the 10 mistakes I made, and used the learnings as I took advantage of my “Second Chances”.
I believe that most of us deserve a Second Chance. How about you? Can you share what your second chance was, and  how you made the most of it?
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