If I received a dollar for every time someone asked me, “What is your greatest advice?”, I’d be a wealthy man. Parents want to share the answer to this question with their children, husbands with their wives and vice versa, friends with their neighbors, and leaders with their followers. Everyone is searching for the golden nugget, the one piece of advice that can make their lives (and careers) a tremendous success.

There is not one nugget that can fit this bill, but I do believe there is one piece of advice that can be a game changer in our lives and in the lives of those that choose to follow us.


That’s my advice. That’s my nugget. That’s my secret sauce that has made me who I am today. Be RUTHLESS.

Now, when you first hear the word ruthless, surely you may think of a negative connotation. Nobody likes ruthless businessmen or businesswomen. Nobody respects a ruthless manager or a leader. And, nobody wants to become a ruthless spouse or parent.

But when you add context to the word ruthless, it can change your life and your career.

Today is one of my close friends Dr. Jeff Chain’s birthday. Here is the text message I sent to him this morning.


Most doctors lead with their heads and have huge egos. But you are different. And you are very rare. You lead and love from the heart. That is what makes you so special. I choose my friends very wisely, and I’m almost ruthless about whom I let have an influence on me. And you, Jeff Chain, are someone that has had a beautiful influence on my life. Happy Birthday my friend!


That is the kind of ruthless I am speaking about. To be ruthlessly intentional with whom we allow to call friends, mentors and influencers on our lives.

People say…

  • I have a beautiful heart. But if you met my friend Brian Flegel from Frederick, MD, you would understand where I learned to love others the way that Brain does so easily.
  • I love learning. But if you met my dear friend Amy Young from St. Paul, MN, you would understand where I learned to be curious and have a love of learning.
  • I am a giver. But if you met my sister-like friend Lisa Haselden from Castle Rock, CO, you would understand where I learned how to give so generously.
  • I am genuine. But if you met my friend Phyllis Hendry Halverson from Washington D.C., you would understand where I learned the beauty of having a genuine heart.
  • I am a wonderful speaker and storyteller. But if you ever heard my buddy John O’Leary from St. Louis share his story, you will understand where I learned the power of words.
  • I influence a lot of lives. But if you met my friend and mentor Bill Graebel from Denver, you would understand where I learned the power of changing people’s lives versus focusing on changing our own lives.
  • I am humble. But if you met my friend Walt Rakowich from Denver you would understand where I learned this most important trait of being a leader.
  • I am loyal. But if you met Corey Turer, my best buddy from high school, you would understand where I learned what loyalty truly means.
  • I am real. But if you met my wife Jill, you would understand where I learned what being the real deal is all about.

The list goes on and on and on. You get my point.

French philosopher, novelist and poet Arsène Houssaye once said a hundred years ago, “Tell me who you love, and I will tell you who you are.”

Tell me who your friends are…who your mentors are…who your work colleagues are…who you spend your free time with, and I will tell you who you are. Simply put, people are a reflection of who we become.

But influence goes both ways. That is where the ruthless comes in. We need to also be ruthlessly intentional who not to allow in our hearts.

I had a golf buddy that used to enjoy showing pictures on his phone of his topless girlfriends. He is no longer my golf buddy. Not because I’m better than him, but because I am human. And if someone flashes a picture of a beautiful woman without any cloths on, it would be hard for me to close my eyes. 

People say you pick your friends and not your family. I know that this may sound ruthless, but I believe we can pick our family as well as our friends. There are relatives in my life that are family, but I choose to set major boundaries. Not because I am better than them, I just don’t want to become like them.

I had a board member when I was the president and CEO of Up with People that had the greatest positive and negative influence on my life. This gentleman was the person that inspired me to spend the rest of my life teaching others about servant leadership, rather than being a narcissist and leading with fear, pride and ego. The list goes on and on and on.

We all need to find the Dr. Chains in our lives. The Brians, Amys, Lisas, Bills, Phyllises, Johns, Coreys, Tims and Jills who make us become the best versions of ourselves. If we are intentional about who we let in our hearts, we are also being intentional about the kind of person we want to become. It’s that simple. And it’s RUTHLESS!