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37 – Secrets to Taking Your Life and Work to the Next Level: An Interview with Cliff Ravenscraft, The Podcast Answer Man


Do you feel stuck in life? If so, it’s time to take things to the next level. In this interview, Cliff Ravenscraft provides practical insights into how to do so.

Most people know Cliff Ravenscraft as “The Podcast Answer Man” for a very good reason.

Since 2005, Cliff has produced over 3,200 of his own podcast episodes and launched the Podcast Answer Man site through which he has helped thousands of individuals and organizations launch successful podcasts.

If you were to look at the top 100 podcasts in the business category of iTunes, more than 50 of those shows were created be people that Cliff trained.

His free course, How to Podcast, has been used by thousands.

Hundreds of people have taken Cliff Ravenscraft’s course, Podcasting A to Z — including us, David Atchison and John Kramp. We tell everyone that if it had not been for Cliff Ravenscraft, we would have never launched Your Leadership Story Podcast.

What many people do not know is that Cliff Ravencraft helps people with far more than podcasting; he helps people take everything they do in life to the next level. That’s what we probe in this fun and encouraging interview.

You’ll learn practical insights you can use today.

  • How perfectionism differs from excellence
  • Why people with great promise sometimes fail to achieve their potential
  • The secret to getting through “the messy middle” in any project in life
  • The importance of focused passion in fueling longterm progress
  • Why a clear process can help you move forward when you get stuck
  • The power of working with a coach on any project that matters to you

We hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as we did preparing it for you.

If you don’t already know about Cliff and his work, you should take the following steps.



Practical Tips for Developing Leaders In All Sorts of Organizations: A Bookmark Edition Podcast


An uncountable number of books have been written about leaders and leadership. Unfortunately, too many of those books fail to focus on one of the core tasks of leadership — developing other leaders.

In some cases, leadership development focuses on training people for their initial leadership roles. In other cases, leadership developing involves equipping people to exercise their leadership skills in a new context.

In this fascinating Bookmark Edition, John Kramp interviews David Atchsion about lessons he has learned about developing leaders, using his experience with RCN as a case study. David started the Retail Christian Network in 2007 as a loose connection of people in the shopping center industry, focusing on a meeting once a year in conduction with one of the major industry meetings in Los Vegas. Since that time,RCN has grown and David has involved other leaders to expand the organization’s influence. Today, RCN continues its annual meeting but has expanded its work with multiple regional meetings and launched its international work this year.

Using the growth and development of RCN as a case study, David shares lessons he has learned about developing leaders that can help any leader in any type of organization. While listening to this episode, here are some of the lessons you will learn.

  • The level of structure and personnel support needed to launch an organization
  • Why exerting a measure of “control” is important in the early days of an organization
  • When “controlling” things helps and when it begins to hurt and limit the organization
  • The importance of drawing on the strengths and capacity of people attracted to an organization’s vision
  • When must a founding leader be directly involved and when can he or she entrust more leadership to others
  • How to capitalize on the natural momentum and growth of an organization
  • The secret to spotting potential leaders and enlist them to specific roles
  • Why it’s important to ask, “What do you think we should do?” rather than saying, “Do this.”

Every endeavor rises and fall on leadership — not only on the leadership capacity of the individual in a key position but also on the degree to which that leader develops other leaders. If you want to expand your leadership influence, this episode will give you some practical tips you can use.

Leading When You Feel Like You’re Underwater – A Bookmark Edition Podcast


If you’re leading now or preparing to lead in the future, you’ll experience “underwater leadership.” You’ll feel like the waves of demands in the job have washed over you and you cannot catch your breath. When that happens, don’t panic. Remember the lessons you’ll learn in this Bookmark Edition of Your Leadership Story Podcast.

In this episode, David Atchison asks John Kramp to share about his leadership experiences 30 days into a new executive position in the publishing industry. In this case, David responded with mercy do John and didn’t laugh too much at John’s challenges . . . perhaps because David continues to experience “underwater leadership” personally.

So get ready to learn some of the following lessons.

  • How to set the right expectations for your first days in a new leadership role
  • What do say when people ask, “How’s it going?”
  • Why asking for help increases rather than decreases your leadership stature
  • How to avoid the feeling of rising panic when things come at you quickly
  • What do to when you’re called on to make a tough leadership position during your first day on the job
  • How your experiences in “underwater leadership” become a great development opportunity for other leaders

Even if you lead in multiple roles over a long career, you’ll often feel like you’re leading underwater. This podcast will help you get ready to tell yourself the truth about that experience so you can push through it and thrive.

How the Phrase, “It’s My Pleasure” Branded a Company: A Bookmark Edition of Your Leadership Story Podcast


In this edition, David Atchison shares about the power of a simple phase, “It’s my pleasure,” to reinforce a company’s brand and then influence culture more broadly.

If you’ve ever eaten in a Chick-fil-A Restaurant, you’ve experienced the power of this phrase first-hand. After receiving your meal, if you say, “Thank you,” the person serving you will say, “It’s my pleasure.” The fascinating thing is that if you go into other restaurants or service businesses close to a Chick-fil-A, you’ll often hear that same powerful phrase.

All of this started because one leader decided that his company and its employees could do better than simply saying, “You’re welcome,” when customers said, “Thank you.”

After listening to this episode, you’ll learn important principles that you can use today.

  • How simple steps leaders take can have a large impact
  • The power of persistence in leadership
  • Why the best leaders refuse to settle for something that is “good enough”
  • How ideas spread within companies and outside of companies
  • The way words shape the “customer experience” and reinforce a brand.

If you want to see these principles in action, take a field trip and eat at a Chick-fil-A Restaurant today. You’ll not only enjoy a great meal, but you’ll also experience the impact a leader can have on a company through one simple phrase.


A Simple Plan to Jump-Start Team-Building As A New Leader: A Bookmark Edition of Your Leadership Story Podcast


What can you do as a new leader in an organization to jump-start the team-building process?

In this Bookmark Edition, David Atchison interviews John Kramp about a simple survey that John developed and used in his new role as SVP of Bible Resources at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Nasvhille and Grand Rapids. The best part of what John did is that it’s easy to use and implement and will work for any leader who wants to accelerate the connection with a new team in the early days of a new leadership role.

In this episode, you’ll discover important principles you can use.

  • Five simple questions you can ask that will help you connect with a new team
  • The importance of completing and sharing your own survey first
  • The value of learning names and faces before your first day on the job
  • Why the first things you do in a new job communicate so much about what you value
  • How an advance survey can make your first in-person meetings with your new team more productive
  • Why a personal survey will not work unless you really care about people
  • The unexpected, positive impact of using a short survey to accelerate team-building

Whether you are leading a new organization, a workgroup, or a group of volunteers, investing the time upfront to get to know people will make a huge impact in what you can accomplish together.


If you want to listen to this short episode but don’t see the audio player, click here. You will be redirected to a new screen. You’ll find the player immediately below the photo.


36 – Leading From All Sides of the Table, An Interview with Paula Puleo


Few people bring as diverse a set of experiences to leadership as does Paula Puleo.

Currently, she is Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Innovation Officer for Academic Partnerships, one of the leading companies helping major universities extend their global reach through technology.

Before that, Paula was the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Michaels, a company with $4.6 billion in sales in 2013 through over 1,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Paula has held executive leadership roles with marketing agencies like RAPP in Dallas, Director of Corporate Marketing for The Limited Brands, and as a Partner with the consulting firm, The Peppers and Rogers Group.

If all that was not enough, Paula was Director of Database Marketing for American Express and Director of Advertising Services for Reader’s Digest. And in 2013, Paula Puleo was listed as one of the Top Women in Business by the Dallas Business Journal.

As she explains in this compelling interview, Paula has exercised marketing leadership from every side of the conference table — major corporations, ad agencies, and a consulting firm. Those experiences have given her unique insights into how marketing has changed and what it takes to be successful in marketing and leadership today.

Even if your primary discipline is not marketing, you will learn important lessons from this interview.

  • The importance of striving to exercise remarkable leadership
  • Why changing corporate terminology can help change corporate culture
  • The power of experiencing business from different perspectives
  • Why there has never been a better time to be a marketing leader
  • Why there has never been a tougher time to be a marketing leader
  • The urgent need for brave leaders
  • How the best leaders stop relying on their credentials and, instead, “know their truth”

The way you think about your career and marketing will be changed or at least enriched as you listen to Paula Puleo share her leadership story.

The Middle School Public Speaking Debacle: A Bookmark Edition of Your Leadership Story Podcast


Every leader does not have to be a great public speaker but every leader must learn how to communicate. So what’s the secret? David Atchison shares his insights in this fun but insightful Bookmark Edition. If you’ve struggled to overcome your fear of speaking to groups of people, you’ll discover principles in this episode that you can begin using immediately.

  • Some simple tricks to mask your fears in front of a group.
  • One dangerous problem to avoid at all costs.
  • What to do when a speech does not go well.
  • Overcoming defeat and persevering until you succeed
  • Why communication is more important than public speaking
  • How every leader can improve as a communicator

Standing in front of people and sharing your ideas intimidates most people. Perhaps that’s why people respect and follow those who learn how to communicate effectively. No matter if you’re an experienced speaker or still terrified of standing in front of people, you’ll find help and encouragement in this episode.

Mastering the Art of Kayak Leadership in Business and Organizations

If you want to learn how to succeed as a leader in business, watch a kayak competition. You’ll discover practical lessons you can apply immediately.


Lesson 1: Anticipate the Current

Those who build kayak courses for world class competition design them to magnify the force of the river. Looking down from above, the fast-flowing water races past in torrents, twisting, white-capping, and tumbling over boulders. Anything dropping into the current becomes enslaved by the current . . . except the kayakers.

Competitors understand the force of the river and respect it.

Sometimes, inexperienced business leaders underestimate the force of the current in their businesses and industries. When they land in a new job, the current carries them downstream before they can adjust.

Veteran leaders don’t make those mistakes. They respect the force of competition and the pace of business. They anticipate the current and drop into their leadership roles prepared to navigate.


Lesson 2: Identify the Gates

In a kayaking competition, the paddlers must navigate through a series of narrow gates, passing through them initially, turning back against the current, then forcing their kayaks upstream then back through the gate a second time. Inexperienced competitors get swept past the gates and are penalized or disqualified.

Every business has a series of “gates” that business leaders must navigate with skill.

  • Establishing a strong strategic plan
  • Implementing an ongoing operational plan
  • Building an appropriate annual budget
  • Equipping the current leadership team and planning for succession
  • Monitoring competitors and responding appropriately
  • Innovating for the future

None of these “gates” are easy. Moving through each one successfully requires agility, skills, and determination. The force of the business will push you in other directions but if you miss any of these gates, you risk leadership disqualification.

The best leaders identify the gates and do what is required to pass through each one.


Lesson 3: Avoid Disaster

Skilled kayakers know how to avoid rocks, how to avoid getting trapped underwater, and how to respond immediately when unexpected events happen. They focus on running the course with precision and in the least amount of time. But they maintain a healthy respect for the dangers their sport entails.

Ineffective business leaders fail to respect potential disasters.

  • Developing a cavalier attitude toward the long-term viability of the business
  • Assuming they can treat employees as they want and still attract and retain talent
  • Launching waves of change without calibrating the impact of change
  • Starting new initiatives without focusing on executing those initiatives
  • Chasing the “new and shiny” while neglecting business fundamentals



In reality, any business can die. The context for the business changes and the leaders fail to respond appropriately. Disaster rolls over the company, demolishing decades of accumulated wealth, and destroying future opportunities.

Years ago, one high-tech leader said, “Only the paranoid survive.” Some viewed him as inordinately negative, while others recognized that he spoke with sober-minded judgment. He understood that current success did not negate future challenges. While others focused on soaring stock prices in the moment, he looked downstream, identified potential danger, and worked to avoid disaster.


Lesson 4: Train to Endure

Watching the best kayakers compete amazes onlookers. “How can anyone do what they do?” the crowd asks. The answer is simple. The competitors do what they have trained to do. They know the demands of their sport and enter the raging river fully prepared for the demands.

A surprising number of business leaders underestimate the demands of guiding a company for long term success. Executive leadership places extreme demands on the men and women in top positions. Those who excel do so because they have trained for what they must do and then pace themselves to do what must be done.

Organizational leadership is like racing down a river of whitewater through rocks and narrow channels and coming out safely on the other end having expended every bit of energy . . . as a result of rigorous training. The naive and ill-prepared pop up at the end of the course battered, broken, bloodied, or worse.

Never follow a leader in business who fails to train, for that leader will not endure.


Lesson 5: Race and Repeat

The men and women who compete at the highest levels in kayaking know that their lives consist of a series of races. One race simply transitions to the next race. On one level, each race will be different. But on another level, each race will have common elements — the force of the current, the water, the obstacles, the gates, and the energy required to force a small boat to do what the athlete wants it to do and not what the river wants it to do.

Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following statements.

Every day in business leadership is different.

Every day in business leadership is the same.

I answered “Yes” to both.

After years of executive leadership, I would say that every day is different in the same ways.

  • Problems come.
  • Problems require work.
  • Problems give way to solutions.

Then you go home and come back the next day. Don’t get me wrong; I think business leadership provides a wonderful challenge. Working with colleagues and leading teams to work through all that emerges challenges and provides an invigorating mixture of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” . . . to borrow an old line from The Wide World of Sports.

Those who thrive in business leadership are those who show up day after day, fully prepared for whatever the day brings, planning proactively, yet prepared to alter all plans as required. Like the kayak competitor who runs the river for hours every day, great leaders train to lead and understand how leading trains.

When all is said and done, kayakers love the river and leaders love the challenge of shaping organizations for long-term success.


Motivation for the Race

The way we think about leadership shapes the way we perform as leaders. Rather than focusing on corner offices and fancy titles, why not watch some kayak racers. Consider the basic lessons that can be learned.

Lesson 1: Anticipate the Current

Lesson 2: Identify the Gates

Lesson 3: Avoid Disaster

Lesson 4: Train to Endure

Lesson 5: Race and Repeat

Do you think these lessons from competitive kayaking can apply to your business challenges? If so, how? Please leave a comment.

035 – Crafting Your Unique Leadership Story: Michael Madon, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury Department


Michael Maden has a BA in English Literature from Cornel but he has not written the great American novel. He has, instead, crafted a fascinating leadership story filled with surprising twists, turns, and obstacles.


A Great Educational Story

Michael Madon has impressive educational credentials with a MBA from the Wharton Business School, a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, and a BA in English Literature from Cornel. And if that was not enough, he even studied Russian in Moscow.


An Unusual Professional Story

Michael Madon is the Vice President of Red Owl Analytics, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Before joining RedOwl earlier this year, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis for the US Department of Treasury where he oversaw the work of more than 150 people and a multi-million dollar budget including the Treasury’s Intelligence Operations Center.

While in the military, Michael Madon became an office and had fascinating assignments including work as the Director of the Iraq Issues Office and the Acting Unit Chief of the Middle East and Europe Team.

Before joining the military, Michael served as a Peace Corp Peace Corp volunteer in Kyrgyzstan.


Crafting Your Unique Leadership Story

By listening to this interview, you’ll not only hear Michael Madon’s fascinating leadership story, but you’ll learn important principles that will help craft your story.

  • The importance of understanding the context of new leadership opportunities
  • How formal education at different internals in your life can provide context for the next step
  • Why leaders must first learn to follow
  • The importance of active following
  • How to find driving purposes for your life then pursue those purposes
  • The value of the unconventional path in life and leadership
  • How do know when it’s time to move from one thing to the next in your leadership life

No matter what you are doing today, you will benefit from Michael Madon’s story and learn principles that you can apply today.


Connecting with Michael Madon


5 Essential Steps for Reaching the “Best Boss Ever” List

In a recent post, I shared five behaviors that will get you listed on the “Worst Boss Ever” list. Now, I want to share how you can reach the auspicious “Best Boss Ever” list.

For my research, I polled the employees in the division I now lead at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Although the sample size is not large enough for quantitative research, the team spreads geographically from Nashville, TN to Grand Rapids, MI, includes men and women, and a wide span of ages. So the findings qualify as a solid qualitative study.

Here’s the good news. People do not expect their “Best Boss Ever” to bring a gold-plated resume or lead at a super-hero level. In fact, you (and I) can do a great job as a “boss” if we take five steps.


Step 1: Know the work.

It sounds like such a small thing to ask—to know the work you propose to lead—but most people can tell horror stories about bosses hired into top jobs for reasons other than competence and experience.

Trouble erupts when these novice bosses proclaim that anyone could do the work in their area. Lacking the humility to learn from those on the front lines, these braggadocios bully bosses make declarations unencumbered by reality.

What a sad situation.

People want a boss who knows the work or has a plan to learn the work quickly. They know that the other key requirements for a “Best Boss” flow from this one.


Step 2: Respect those doing the work.

When people talk about their “Best Bosses,” they tell about men and women who knew and valued the work and the workers. They viewed people as crafters of value, not robots in an assembly line. Respect framed the interactions these “Best Bosses” had with people on an ongoing basis. Respect created an environment in which people thrived.

It’s no wonder that the respect these “Best Bosses” had for those they led made the third step an easy one.


Step 3: Empower people to do their jobs.

Insecure bosses who lack competency struggle to trust people. As a result, they micro-manage, implementing systems that communicate, “I know you’re doing something wrong and I’m going to catch you.”

Not so with the “Best Bosses.” Because they know the work and respect those doing the work, they find it easy to empower people.

They do not abdicate their responsibility to lead and remain aware of required results and the progress toward clear goals. But these great leaders free up time and energy in the organization by infusing people with power rather than choking the organization with needless controls.

Armed with respect and power from the one leading their work, people thrive. It’s no surprise that their growth as people and workers becomes a valued outcome as articulated in Step 4.


Step 4: Develop people for the future.

The greatest value “Best Bosses” provide is not paychecks and job security. These men and women develop those with whom they work so those they lead can expand their knowledge and skills for the marketplace.

In today’s economy, no company can promise “lifetime employment.” But “Best Bosses” promise to develop people so they have the best chance to compete for jobs in the future no matter how the global economy changes.

To develop people for the future, leaders must know the work, respect those doing the work and then empower them to do their jobs. Yet all of this must be done in a context of vision and a focus on results.


Step 5: Provide vision and implement the plan.

When people describe their “Best Bosses,” they use different phrases but refer to similar leadership traits: the ability to describe a compelling future then implement a plan that makes the compelling achievable.

In some cases, “Best Bosses” show greater strength in casting vision. Others excel in developing great plans to implement the vision

To quality as a “Best Boss,” your team will want you to lead them in the right direction and then get results. If you fail in either of these, direction or results, you will negate the first four steps I’ve outlined.


Room On The “Best Boss” List

As I begin my new leadership assignment and reflect on many decades of leadership in churches and corporations, I’m struck by the modest requirements people set for their “Best Bosses.” What people want and need can and should be provided by anyone holding a leadership role.

Organizations of all types pay a high price for bad bosses . . . especially when becoming a “Best Boss” is within reach.

My goal is to be on the “Best Boss List” for the people I am privileged to lead. I hope you will join me in that goal in the context in which you lead.


What about your “Best Boss List”?

Are there additional traits you would add to the “Best Boss List” based on your experience? If so, please leave a comment.