specializing in
partnerships and family businesses
Bruce Johnsen and Associates
824 Munras Ave. Suite G
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 373-5969
Fax: (831) 373-4604
Click on a topic for my brief reflections, newest first.
The Power of "But"
After the Fact
The Brownstone Mine
Meetings: More Bang for the Buck
Calm and Steady
Lessons From a Backpack Trip

During my studies in Counseling, a favorite professor told us, "When you place a 'but' in the middle of a sentence, it tends to negate whatever you said before it." That statement stopped me in my tracks, as I am one of those people who use "but" many times throughout the day. Still, the professor was right; as I examined my speech patterns and the way this simple word was used, I really was sending some confusing messages. The statement I said before "but" meant one thing and the statement after meant another. The end result was unclarity.

For example I might say, "Joe, you have become consistently late in arriving for work. I want you to be here on time every day, but if you are having difficulties at home, it's OK to be a little late." Instead of knowing he must be on time each day, Joe probably remembered only the last part of my warning and knows it's OK to be late if he can develop a good excuse. It would be better for me to just say, "Joe…I want you to be here on time every day."

What can a person do to be more clear in these kinds of cases?

Become aware of when and how you use "but" in your conversation

Consider minimizing the use of "but"

Substitute "and" for "but" when possible

Ask your team members to help raise your awareness of speech patterns which may not be helpful, then work on getting better

It is important to be clear not only in what we want to say, but in what the other person understands. Using "but" properly will save you time, headaches and frustration. And your team members will be grateful for the effort you devote to giving them the best information possible.



Successful individuals and teams will often write up an evaluation of an event or a project when it is completed. In the Army they're called "after action reports", other places it's "lessons learned". Why do busy people spend precious time on this kind of evaluation?

It turns out that success is built on recognizing our failures and weak points, in addition to things that happened to make us proud. And the best time to record this data is as soon as possible after completing the event or project. Here are some key areas to cover:

How well were the goals accomplished?

What strategies and tactics worked well?

If others were involved, who were the stars? What were their strengths?

Again, if others were involved, who didn't do well? Where do they need more work?

What should be done differently next time?

The analysis can be long or it can be short. But the mere act of thinking through what happened, analyzing the event and getting information written down is healthy for an individual or the team. An additional benefit is having this kind of data available when you face a similar task in the future. It will then provide a strong foundation for success.

Take the time to reflect on what happened, after the fact, and how you as an individual or the team could do better next time. You'll be pleased at the returns on your time and thought.


Recently I had the opportunity to hike in one of the canyons high above Bishop, California. Along the trail, high above us, was what looked like an abandoned mine, so it was an exciting moment when we saw the unmarked trail fork that led up to it.

At the site we saw evidence of mineshafts, timber shoring, ore buckets and a storage shed, all of which had suffered from avalanches and harsh winters. The mine was unique in that it was dug into the mountain at a lower elevation and moved via shafts and tunnels upward, rather than down into the earth. So what can we learn from those miners for us and for our teams?

Try to always scan the horizon for new opportunities, while dealing efficiently with the tasks at hand.

Don't be overcome by apparent obstacles. Invent new methods or procedures to get at the "pay dirt".

Personally believe that you can achieve what appears impossible, then spread that attitude to your team members.

If "Plan A" fails, be ready with "Plan B" and then "Plan C". Winners are prepared to overcome any obstacles in their path.

Those miners worked through serious handicaps to achieve their goals: harsh weather, poor transportation (horses or mules, in the case of the Brownstone), limited technology (picks, shovels and dynamite!), periodic avalanches and a series of other "unknown obstacles" that could stop us in our tracks. But they persevered.

Use their tradition to go forward to achieve the best for our society, the organization and for your team.


As many of you know, I am a meeting facilitator. You may not know that I used to hate meetings. Probably for the same reasons you might dislike them: Bad timing, disorganized, conflict-ridden, running overtime, getting nothing accomplished. The list could go on and on. Then I learned that a good meeting could be a vehicle for getting things done and building stronger team relationships. So how could we have these helpful meetings instead of the other negative ones? Here are some thoughts:

• Try to limit the meeting to an hour or less. More frequent meetings will usually get better results than "marathon" meetings.

• Develop an agenda stating the five W's: Why are we having it, when it will happen, who is to attend, where will it be and what are we going to develop as an end product.

• As part of each agenda item, state the amount of time allotted for it, the person responsible and whether the item is for information, discussion and development, or for action.

• Have a person responsible for keeping the meeting focused on the agenda items, keeping within the time allotted and writing up results.

• Circulate the agenda a few days in advance so people can prepare.

• Write up the results of the meeting and get it out to the participants.

• Have some fun at the meetings. Laughter is good medicine.

Experiment with ways to enjoy yourselves while getting things done at meetings. It may take a little creativity, but escaping from the trap of deadly serious meetings will help everyone want to participate. And you team leaders, please remember to hold back a little in meetings and listen more. You'll be surprised at the good ideas your group develops. person or members of the group are doing. When you respond negatively, both you and the situation suffer.

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I'll bet that you have had at least one tough day in recent weeks or months when:

* Someone acted irrationally toward you.

* Unexpected bad news arrived at the worst possible time.

* You over-reacted to something someone said.

Watch what happens to yourself and others when these kinds of situations occur. We naturally tend to have thoughts like "Just say it!", "Whatever!" or "Follow your feelings." Do what your emotions lead you toward, don't think about the consequences and everything will be OK. But do feelings alone always provide the guidance the you and the team need for best long-term results?

It takes some thought and reflection to discern the long-term consequences of today's actions. And to determine if I'm becoming the kind of person the team can depend on. Usually when we do what's best from the longer perspective, we become better people and the best results occur for the group.

Most superior leaders tend to be in control of themselves and the situation, whatever is going on around them. Calm, involved and ready to act in a manner that's best for the team. How do they get that way? Here are some thoughts:

* Replace the angry emotion that sometimes wells up in a difficult moment with calmly trying to understand what's going on and developing a better course of action.

* When receiving bad news, separate the person from the problem. "Killing the messenger" who informs you of a hard situation just ensures that next time you won't get the news until the developing problem is out of control.

* Be the kind of person you want to be, whatever the other person or members of the group are doing. When you respond negatively, both you and the situation suffer.

* Keep the long view of things. In the worst cases, remember that "this too shall pass".

* Be ready to apologize when you're wrong. It nearly always helps.

When faced with a difficult situation, take the time to find out what the right response is, do it in the face of whatever odds, and watch your character develop. Then, when things get tough in the future, people will turn to you because of your record getting the best long-term results for the team and yourself.

Practice being calm and steady in the face of adversity. You'll be pleased with the results.

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Recently I went on a five-day backpack trip in the high Sierra with an old friend. Besides having a wonderful time exploring a beautiful area and experiencing the glories of creation, I was able to detach myself from the busy-ness of my professional life and see the big picture more clearly. Of course all of this was in the spare moments between considering whether to cross a bank-full river, scrambling up to a 10,300 ft pass, laboring under a 40-pound pack, swimming in a chilly mountain lake and other primal experiences the mountains bring us.

It seemed that the backpack trip contained alot of lessons about personal and business life in its texture. Lessons that are easily forgotten in the fast lane of business and the professions.

So what were some of the key points that emerged?

* Be prepared. A little extra time thinking through an upcoming challenge can save many regrets later.

* Don''t plan something to death. It is always good to have a plan; and then to be flexible enough to modify it or throw if out, as the circumstances indicate. The most important part of planning is the process of preparing the plan, not casting the plan in concrete, never to be changed.

* Be ready to live with paradoxes like those above: planning vs. spontaneity, seriousness vs. humor, attention to detail vs. creativity. In the spaces between these extremes, real life exists.

* Sieze the day. When we decided the river was too high and too dangerous to cross, we looked at the topographic map and saw a great mountain pass only 5 miles and 3000 vertical feet away. It was an exciting alternative to our original river crossing leading to a campsite by the high mountain lake. Sometimes when the door to one opportunity is closing, another one is opening, if we just look for it.

* Experience the joys of friendship with colleagues. It's easy to get so engrossed with our own array of responsibilities that we can't find time to spend enjoying the company of co-workers. As an old friend and mentor once said, "Make time for the people first, and the other work will always get done." It's true.

* Live in the moment. The past is gone and the future still a dream. The only moment we have is the one we're living. Whether things are going well or heading quickly in the wrong direction, it's good to taste the excitement, pain, boredom or whatever is coming our way and live it to the fullest. A challenge, but a fulfilling one.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to take 6 months off and hike the Pacific Crest trail from Canada to Mexico, just leaving behind work and its responsibilities. At the same time, I love my work and the people I am privileged to be with in creating a better world. Another paradox, I guess; and an opportunity to live the moment, whatever it may be.

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