Give your self-confidence the boost you need

A soldier in a rag-tag third-world revolutionary army lost his rifle, so he went to his group’s leader for a replacement.

“What am I going to do?” asked the soldier.  “We are going to have a big battle tomorrow and I don’t have a rifle.”

“Don’t worry,” said his leader.  “The other side doesn’t have very good weapons either and they are so brain-washed they believe anything they hear. Just pretend you are pointing a rifle at them and say, “Bang!  Bang!  It will have the same effect as if you fired a real rifle at them.

“O.K.,” said the soldier skeptically, hitching up his threadbare uniform, “but I lost my bayonet too.”

“Do the same thing,” said his leader, “when the hand-to-hand combat begins, just point your fingers like this and say, ‘Stab!  Stab!  Stab!’  You’ll see it has the same effect as using a bayonet.”

The soldier was even more skeptical of this advice but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.  As the sun came up, the enemy came charging over the hill right at him and he held out his imaginary rifle, saying loudly, “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!”  To his amazement one of them dropped, then another, and then another.  “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted with increasing confidence.

But suddenly he saw a particularly fierce, huge enemy soldier coming right at him. “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted, but the huge enemy soldier kept coming right at him until he was just a few feet away.

“Stab!  Stab!  Stab!” said the frightened soldier, waving his fingers right at his adversary.”

But nothing worked.  The enemy soldier rolled right over him, kicking him in the stomach and stepping on his face.  As he went by, the enemy soldier grunted, “TANK!   TANK!  TANK!”

SelfConfidenceSelf-confidence alone won’t help you succeed, but it’s hard to get started or push through the inevitable obstacles without believing in yourself first.  Do you struggle with self-confidence?  Almost everyone does at some point.

And while you won’t likely come up against any real tanks, the obstacles can set you back if you let them.  Before that happens, you need to do a few things.

  • Review your accomplishments.  You’ve already achieved some successes in your life, right?  List them, on paper if necessary, and identify the skills and strengths you’ve used to succeed.  Consult your list whenever you feel doubt coming on.
  • Seek new knowledge.  If you’re lacking any of the skills you need to achieve your goals, focus on learning them.  The process will remind you that you’re capable of growth, and mastering the skills will give you a mental boost.
  • Face your fears.  Too often we sabotage our self-confidence by hiding from what frightens us.  Identify and examine your fears so you can take action against potential setbacks.  You are more powerful than what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Adjust your thought patterns.  Negative thinking never yields positive results. Reboot immediately if you catch yourself doing any of these:  all-or-nothing thoughts (“If I don’t get this job, I’ll be a total failure”), seeing only the downside (“I finished the project, but what if people see how tough it was for me?”), jumping to conclusions (“Bob didn’t reply to my email – he dislikes me”), or putting yourself down.  Look for the positives in every situation.  You can find them if you try.
  • Pay attention to your appearance.  You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive clothes, but devoting some time to your wardrobe and overall grooming can make you feel better about how you present yourself.  A neat, professional look inspires confidence from others, and helps you put your best foot forward.
  • Know what you want.  Specific goals inspire your best efforts.  You’ll feel more confident and capable with a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your life and career – not someone else’s idea of what’s important.

My friend, Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” offered this advice:  “Believe in yourself.  Have faith in your abilities!  Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.”


Mackay’s Moral:  You can’t buy confidence, but you can sell it!

Life is what you give back

A son and his father are walking in the mountains.  Suddenly, the boy falls, scrapes his knee and screams, “AAAhhhhhhhhh!!!”

To the son’s surprise, he hears his voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains,


Curious, he yells, “Who are you?”  He receives the same answer, “Who are you?”

Angered at the response, he screams, “Coward!”  He receives the answer, “Coward!”

He looks to his father and asks, “What’s going on?”

The father smiles and says, “My son, pay attention.”  And he screams to the mountain, “I admire you!”  The voice answers, “I admire you!”

Again the man screams, “You are a champion!”  The voice answers, “You are a champion!”

The boy is surprised but does not understand.

Then the father explains:  “People call this echo, but really this is life.  It gives you back everything you say and do.  Our life is simply a reflection of our actions.  If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.  If you want competence in your team, improve your competence.  This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life.  Life will give you back everything you have given it.”

Graduation season is upon us, and today I will devote my column to those who are about to embark on a new chapter in their lives.  That isn’t limited to new grads, by the way – every day is a new chapter for each of us.

HarveyGraduationWaking up every morning hoping something wonderful will happen, or someone will appear who will change your life, is the equivalent of letting something or someone else control your life.

You need to be in charge.  You need to decide what actions you will take that will come back to you. And then, integrate those actions into your daily life.  That may be a tall order for someone just starting out in a career, but you do have choices.

If that all sounds vague, it is because I can’t recommend specifics.  What I can do is remind you of a few basic rules of life.

  1. Life isn’t fair.  You’ve heard this over and over, and yet when someone else gets the promotion, makes more money or takes credit for your work, you beat yourself up wondering what happened.  Don’t!  If the situation is beyond your control, get over it and move on to the next opportunity.  Wasting time being bitter will never make you better.
  2. Don’t just let things happen to you, make things happen for you.  If you need more training or education, find a way to make it happen.  If you truly hate your job, figure out where the problem is and fix it if you can.  If you can’t, look for other employment or let your entrepreneurial instincts take over.  When Woody Allen said, “90 percent of life is showing up,” he didn’t mention that the other 10 percent is what makes the difference in your life.
  3. Sometimes it’s risky not to take a risk.  Making a dream come true only happens when you step outside your comfort zone and chart new territory.   And a funny thing will happen:  After you start out taking small risks, you will become more comfortable taking larger – and more rewarding – risks.
  4. Pay attention.  Stay on top of trends, developments, technology and opportunities.  If you can see changes ahead, you can plan and position yourself rather than reacting and regretting.  Few things in business stay secret for long.  Listen and observe so you can be prepared.
  5. Give back.  My father drilled this lesson into my head from the beginning.  There is always someone somewhere who needs your help, your financial support or your expertise.  Give without expecting anything in return.  You’ll benefit in ways you never anticipated.

These rules are simple enough.  Following them is not.  You need to decide what is truly important to you, what values you will live by.  Give serious thought to how you want to live so that you can be content with what life gives you back.

For all the new graduates staring at their futures and wondering what’s ahead, as well as students of life in general, my wish is that you will never feel like life just happened to you.  I wish you success, happiness, wisdom in your decisions and the power to live your dreams.


Mackay’s Moral:  Life is what you make it.  Make it great!

Lessons learned from my parents

As we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I get a little nostalgic thinking about some of the life lessons I learned from these two remarkable people in my life.

When I speak to corporate audiences, I often include a lesson about integrity and corporate ethics: “Act like your mother is watching.”   I’ve lived my life that way, and it’s never failed me.

My mother was a school teacher and taught me the power of education.  I didn’t always listen eagerly, but it instilled in me a desire of continuous education throughout my life.  You are not in school once in your lifetime; you are in school all of your life.  Education is an investment, not an expense.

My father taught me about time management.  I still remember him telling me if I wanted to go fishing, I should be on the dock at 2 p.m. sharp.  There I was at 2:05 p.m., waving bon voyage to my dad who was driving away in the boat without his fishing buddy.  Tough love, lesson learned.

HarveyFamily                                                        (Harvey (top left) and his sister, Margie                                                                                                                                 with their parents)

There were several tough love lessons that really helped me in business.  I remember one in particular.

“Just slide down the banister, and I’ll catch you,” he urged.

“But how do I know you’ll catch me?” I asked.

“Because I’m your father, and I said I would catch you.”

I slid and landed on the carpet.  As I dusted myself off, my dad announced, “Be careful whom you trust when it comes to business.  Remember that business is business.”  This bumpy ride lesson stuck with me and helped me make sure that any business arrangements are backed up with yards of paper.  Agreements prevent disagreements.

My folks also taught me that I could make a difference in the world.  They always pointed out how ordinary people did wonderful things.  It only takes one person to make things better.

My dad insisted that 25 percent of my time should be spent on volunteering, advice I’ve continued to follow.  When you volunteer, in addition to the benefit to the organization, you have an unusual opportunity to hone your selling skills, learn how to run meetings, prepare reports, serve on committees, supervise others, handle rejection and many other skills that can help you in your career, all while serving your community.

One of the most powerful things you can do to influence others is to smile at them, my dad said.  Not to be outdone, my mother used to tell me that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve my looks, “If you’re happy, tell your face.”

About reputation, my dad quoted the adage, “You spend your whole lifetime building a good name and reputation, and one foolish act can destroy it.”

I took his words to heart, and aside from building long-term relationships, there is nothing more important than a good reputation in building a successful business.  Without a positive reputation, success is elusive.

There are many people who were at the top of their game when they made one fatal mistake – due to poor judgment, arrogance or the inability to do the right thing.  Reputations are destroyed, and all the money in the world can’t buy them back.

Also important, Jack Mackay taught me about networking.  I was fortunate.  My father headed the Associated Press in St. Paul, and was a master networker.  He got me started at age 18.  He sat me down and gave me the simple yet effective suggestion of putting every person I met for the rest of my life onto a Rolodex card, now called a contact management system.  He told me to put a little information about each person on the back of the card, and to update it.

And now here is the real key.  You must find a creative way to keep in touch.  Little did I know how much my father’s advice would dramatically help me in the future and actually change my life.

When I was a kid, my dad would take me to his office.  It was a wonderful place.  The walls were covered with photos, tickets and other memorabilia.  Linking everything together were my dad’s favorite aphorisms.  Some were straight from fortune cookies.  I discovered that these little gems were a great way to remember a lesson.  As a result, I’ve been an aphorism junkie all my life, and end all my book chapters and columns with a Mackay’s Moral.  Thanks, mom and dad.


Mackay’s Moral:  Lessons learned in childhood are anything but child’s play. 

For long-term success, give up these detrimental traits

Success isn’t always about dominating the landscape.  Sometimes, to be successful, you have to be prepared to give up some counterproductive behaviors that are holding you back – and you may not even realize you’re guilty.

Old habits are hard to break. And if you don’t even realize that you are practicing some of these behaviors, you may not see a problem.  But if others perceive you as a difficult co-worker, it’s time to take another look at what you are doing.

Be brutally honest with yourself or ask a trusted associate, and see if any of these traits describe you.  If the answer is yes, an attitude adjustment may be in order.


  • The need to be right.  Concentrate on getting results, not on proving your own intelligence and accuracy.  Be open about your mistakes.  Don’t worry about who gets the credit for victory.  Help others succeed, and you’ll share in the glory.
  • Speaking first.  You don’t have to dominate every meeting and conversation.  Ask for others’ ideas and opinions.  Give them the opportunity to share their thoughts, and they’ll become more comfortable communicating with you.
  • Making every decision.  Ask others what they would do, and be willing to accept that there may be more than one way to accomplish a task.  Don’t insist that everyone do things your way.
  • Control.  You can’t stay on top of every task and decision.  Identify what you really need to handle, and delegate responsibility for tasks that others can do just as well.  Accept that some things are beyond your control so you can concentrate on the influence you have.
  • Inflexibility.  If you find yourself balking at new ideas, or resisting change with “but we’ve always done it this way,” it’s time for an attitude adjustment.  Different situations demand different solutions.  And it’s better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.
  • Disloyalty.  Bad-mouthing your company, co-workers, products or services never improves any situation.  Disagreement is not disloyalty.  It’s natural to have differences of opinion.  But it is not professional to disparage another in an attempt to make yourself look better.  Criticism must be constructive, not destructive.
  • Dishonesty.  Just tell the truth.  Honor confidential conversations.  If you prefer not to answer a question, say so, but don’t lie or evade questions.  Trust is the most important word in business, in my opinion.
  • Tunnel vision.  Projects that require cooperation among departments should not provoke competition, but teamwork.  But if each department sees its contribution as the most important, rather than focusing on the big picture, the big picture will be way out of focus.
  • No sense of humor.  It’s important to take your work seriously, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at work.  In fact, I’m a big fan of enjoying your job and making work enjoyable for those around you.  As long as the language is appropriate, i.e., not offensive, demeaning or vulgar, a dose of humor can bring people together and make situations more comfortable.
  • Poor listening skills.  There is a difference between hearing and listening.  Pay attention to what’s being said, and ask questions if you are unclear about the message.  Avoid interrupting, evading eye contact, rushing the speaker and letting your attention wander.  You can win more friends with your ears than with your mouth.
  • Disorganization.  A messy workspace does not demonstrate how busy you are.  Clutter gets in the way of clear thinking.  If you can’t find what you need the moment you need it, you need to get organized.
  • Lack of accountability.  Blaming mistakes or poor results on others, refusing to take responsibility for obvious errors, making excuses instead of finding solutions – it can’t always be someone else’s fault.
  • Poor time management.  First things first.  Setting priorities and meeting deadlines is fundamental to the success of an organization.  If one of the key players operates on a different schedule, the whole project suffers.  Wasting time is wasting money.
  • Impulsiveness.  Learn to think before you speak or act.  You can’t un-say words, and apologies often ring hollow.  Count to ten, count to one hundred, count to whatever it takes to prevent rash and regrettable actions.
  • Vulgarity.  Watch your language.  Even as more and more four-letter words creep into everyday use, they have no place in a respectable business.


Mackay’s Moral:  Clean up your act, or be prepared to clean out your desk.

Breaking down the meaning of leadership

U.S. President and five-star General Dwight Eisenhower used a simple device to illustrate the art of leadership.  Laying an ordinary piece of string on a table, he’d illustrate how you could easily pull it in any direction.

“However, try and push it,” he cautioned, “and it won’t go anywhere.  It’s just that way when it comes to leading people.”

Leadership at any successful organization needs to be plainly defined.  Here’s how I see it:

HarveyLeadershipL is for loyalty.  A leader must be loyal to the organization, and leave no question that he or she is committed to its success.  Loyalty is the distinguishing quality of winners.  That goes for everyone – entrepreneurs, owners, managers and employees.  No exceptions.  A leader models loyalty so that it works top down, bottom up and side-to-side, and at all times.

E is for enthusiasm.  Leaders know that enthusiasm is contagious, and they help spread it around.  If you are excited about hitting the pavement every day, it will show.  And that generates enthusiasm among your employees and customers.  You’ll get what you give.

There is one thing more contagious than enthusiasm, and that is the lack of enthusiasm.

Focus on the positive, even if it is a small thing.  Train your brain to look for the silver lining, and then be amazed at how your improved attitude leads to enthusiasm that permeates the workplace.

A is for adversity.  Truly effective leaders accept adversity as a condition of doing business.  I have never met a successful person who hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity.  Don’t be afraid of adversity – handled properly, it makes you stronger.  It helps you grow.  Problems and people can’t stop you.  The only thing that can stop you is YOU.

D is for determination.  Determined people, particularly determined leaders, possess the stamina and courage to pursue their ambitions despite criticism, ridicule or unfavorable circumstances.  In fact, discouragement usually spurs them on to greater things.  When they get discouraged, they recognize that in order to change their results, some change is in order.  Determined people also exhibit another “D” trait:  discipline.

E is for example.  We lead by example, whether in business, family or friendships.  It doesn’t matter if you’re raising children or managing people, setting a good example is one of the most important leadership skills.  You have to practice what you preach.  How you conduct yourself says more than any instructions you may give.  Set high personal standards and expect the same from your staff.

R is for resilience.  Failure is all too common in business and in life.  Anyone who has ever run a business wakes up regularly with nightmares about the what-ifs.  Successful people are resilient.  They don’t let hard times turn into end times.  Let them lead to your best times.

S is for sincerity.  Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  “Go team go” only works if you are sincerely committed to what you are doing.

H is for heart.  A good decision must factor in the human element.  When your head and your heart say the same thing, you can bet it’s the right answer.  There’s no denying the heart of a leader.  Use your head, to be sure, but don’t ignore what your heart is telling you.

I is for integrity.  Integrity begins at the top.  Leaders must set the example – inspiring employees to do what is right, rather than what is easy.  We must clearly define what is expected throughout the organization, ensuring integrity is first and foremost in our decision-making.  Enduring leaders know that integrity is not optional.

P is for purpose.  Leaders think in terms of goals.  There isn’t a college football coach with a greater sense of purpose than Lou Holtz.  He proved it at Notre Dame, Arkansas, the University of Minnesota and a host of other universities.  Did you know that Lou once coached the New York Jets?  He left the job after only eight months.  Why?  Because, as Lou told me, he came to the job “without a clear sense of purpose.  Absent a focus of my own, I couldn’t give one to the team.  I was embarrassed by my inability to provide them with proper leadership.  So I left.”  Few leaders are as honest.


Mackay’s Moral:  Great leaders know how to “spell out” goals and expectations.