What You May Not Know About How Much They’re Paying Attention to You


I have been in positions for 29 of the last 31 years (exceptions: first year of law school and first year as a lawyer) when people supposedly had to pay attention to me.  I’ve run teams, coached clients, taught students and most important raised three kids.  So, they looked to me.  I’ve made lots of mistakes utilizing the privilege of their attention.  One example sticks out.  I loved “Justice,” a class for which I was a teaching assistant at Harvard. Michael Sandel was a brilliant professor, the material was gripping, and the students great.  One day I got filmed by an education grad student whose job was to help folks like me become better teachers.  And, a week later he showed me the tape.  I wanted to crawl under the table. I was so B-O-R-I-N-G it was painful. God bless that fellow who was so encouraging about what I was doing right and gave me hope that I could do better in the future.

So, when we have positions of authority, what is it we want from students, staffs, and our kids?  Yes, of course it varies and the question is terribly broad. But don’t we always want their ENERGY! We want them at least to “pay” attention. We want them to “spend” energy understanding what we’re saying, and we almost always hope that they will leave more prepared to “spend” some time and “spend” some energy doing new things or doing things better. And this task demands something from us.

Springsteen sings, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  M.A. Hastings my former business partner (and business teacher) used to say, “You don’t light a fire with a wet match.”

But a picture is better than my words.  Perhaps you saw my wife, Jennifer Granholm speaking on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention.  If you have only seen convention speeches through TV, what you can’t appreciate is that the delegates are a bored and unruly sort.  They are networking, talking, napping, texting, stretching, yawning, and doing just about anything else but “paying” their attention.  When Jennifer stepped on that stage in a seemingly unceasing line of big names like John Kerry and Caroline Kennedy and Eva Longoria — not to mention the two headliners at the top of the ticket – she faced just such a crowd.  If you haven’t seen what she did, I invite you to check it out.  The level of energy which she brought – which the crowd then matched and fueled – was extraordinary.

So, what does this have to do with you?  I hope I’ve given you two pictures: one of me, thinking I was interesting, but with students who must have been bored out of their minds.  And one of Jennifer, with a message that she cared about very deeply, with energy she brought, and with energy that spread like a match to a pool of gasoline.

Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society grabbed students’ attention. Bruce Springsteen rocks from the top of his show.  Detroiters remember how Dennis Rodman could ignite a whole team by diving into the stands.

So, think of THEM to remind you of your job on this Monday morning.  Not a big chance I will bring the kind of energy my wife does, or that you will stand on a desk as Robin Williams might, but if you ratchet your energy up by — what you think is 50% — you might raise it by 15%, and that could make a load of difference in,

Leading with your best self,


  • Thank you for this posting, Dan. We were out of the country. I’ve always admired your wife, Jennifer Granholm. She definitely moved the entire convention out of neutral. Maybe the music in the background should have been “get your motor running, head out on the highway.”

  • Thanks Dan for always being open to feedback and if I had Jennifer’s contact information, I would love to give her some brotherly love and feedback because I care about you two very much. Here is my shorten version, I listened to Bill Clinton, played back the video twice to catch what I missed becaused he held my attention and had very meaningful things to say… On the other hand, as much as I love JMG, I did not hear one word of her speech because she appeared to be totally out of her comfort zone … She is a very bright and dynamic person without the extra energy or as some said — boost after drinking another 10, 5-hour energy drinks. Jen is a super communicator when she is herself!!! I did not hear much of what she said nor do I remember what she was talking about! In my humble opinion, Jennifer can rival Bill with her intellect, I just not sure we got that from her speech nor from the stark reactions that followed. I’m not an education grad student, but I am a fan of JMG and I would love to get 10 minutes as her “coach” again!!!

    • Robert,
      I might suggest as a friend that your comment says as much about your listening as Jen’s speaking 🙂
      The fact that you “did not hear one word” is fascinating. You (chose to be) on a different wavelength and heard static. This happens to us all. So, a crowd that was “tuned in” had a different experience than you. It would be interesting to look inside your tuner and see why it couldn’t adjust to this message.
      Your suggestion — plausible to be sure – is that you have what JD Salinger wished for all young people, a great “crap detector.” You determined she was being inauthentic and tuned out. Okay.
      I would suggest that Jennifer brought her passion but the major thing we saw was THE CROWD’s passion, their sense that the system is not working for them and that Obama stood up for America, for workers, etc. In a sense she was not herself. Like a great Baptist preacher she was chaneling the congregation’s hopes and fears and intensity. In this sense, I agree with you and with others who thought she seemed “out of character.” In an almost literal sense, she was.
      Thanks for weighing in!

  • Sometimes we need to give ourselves “permission” to ramp it up and show that extra energy- even if it may be out of our everyday norm. And when you do “go for it”- it can be reenergizing for yourself as a presenter. But, taking that first step to “just do it” is the hardest part.

  • This RFL reads more as a justification/excuse- making than any type of lesson on real leadership. Sure, there were people that liked the speech and she surely got the crowd on her side. Frankly, and honestly speaking, as we can do with RFL, I was embarrassed for the state of Michigan. The fact that some pundits asked if she was drunk or “on something” means that she got people’s attention, but did so in the same way that Lydnsey Lohan grabs peoples’ attention. I’m sorry but your wife left Michigan behind and left it in bad shape. In addition, her speech said no one would come and help until “the calvary” arrived in Barrack Obama. She must have forgotten how George Bush provided the first assistance to keep the industry from collapsing. She must have forgotten how she personally thanked Mr. Bush for doing so. But who cares about facts when you have great attack lines about elevators and workers getting the shaft. This speech was not straight on the facts — a key to good leadership — and was more about a failing politician looking to grab attention after her time in the limelight expired years ago. EGO EGO EGO! Yes, there were lessons to be taught from this speech, but not the ones you highlighted.

    • Jason,
      Thanks so much for writing and sharing your perspective.
      It’s funny how we use the expression “This RFL reads…”
      It would be more accurate to say, “I (Jason) read this RFL as…”
      For I wrote the RFL — as I generally do — to focus in on one dimension of leadership. You chose not to “read” that point, which is fine. Let’s just acknowledge though that the point of the RFL was quite specifically about energy as ONE dimension of leading others.
      Your interpretation says much about you as indeed mine says about me. And one could certainly argue as you and Robert Davis (unlike yourself a D and a “supporter”) do, that this “emotion” has no place; it shortcuts complicated issues; etc.
      Perhaps. Plato banished poetry from his Republic because he didn’t like the way it excited the passions. Yet passion is a part of leadership.
      On we go.

    • I found it “Howard Dean” like. It definately did not translate outside of the convention hall. I was embarressed for her not just because she seem “drunk” with power but because it was full of half truths.

      • The partisan crowd in Charlotte loved it. Kudos to that. But the outside world, including many here in Michigan, weren’t laughing with her… but at her. Speech-making has always been a plus for her, it is a talent that many cannot do, as you note in today’s message. I just wish that passion could have been applied outside of State of the State addresses, when real work and not sound bites were needed to move Michigan forward.

        • Jason,

          Thanks for weighing in again. I am sincerely curious — from a leadership standpoint — about your “wish” that she could have applied this passion. I wonder if you can give it more meaning?

          The context as you probably were aware was on the one hand a brutal economic meltdown and on the other two polar approaches: the Rs from a policy standpoint were committed without wavering to not raising revenue (including by removing obsolete tax credits that gave SOME well-protect companies advantages over everyone else), and from a political standpoint, they were committed to not letting her get anything done (Mitch McConnellism: our job is to defeat the President). So…I wonder where this passion might have worked? Should she have stirred up the base more? Should she have gone after the middle? And with what forums when people are so literally “turned off” to politics.
          I think it’s a really interesting question. I saw a woman every single day who was fanatically passionate about her work (her team in state government would report the same thing I am certain). How might she have shown/used that more/better?
          Glad you wrote back,

          • Whatever “passion” she might have had was held in check by the strangle hold the UAW had on her. Her jubulence at the DNC was fitting since the bailout of GM was really a bailout of the UAW by giving the shaft to the bond holders.

          • Who says I am not a supporter? I voted for your wife twice. I realize though that I made a mistake and invested in failed leadership. Since my comments were deemed “critical” and I noted the general mood of the State of Michigan I must be “one of them” and not “one of us.” Thus, I can be dismissed. This is exactly the problem with politics. The people of this great state got pulled in with great speeches and charismatic smiles. I sure did. Now, we have a “plain Jane” governor who lacks pizzazz. But he is getting the job done: behind the scenes with comprehensive plans, sound negotiating and horse trading. He also is not always doing things his own party wants him to do. He’s being a governor doing what is best for the people… not getting reelected or to please party faithful. People are seeing that — and not seeing the unpassed budget cause roadside stops to get closed — and his approval ratings are really growing. Hmm. Maybe people deserve more credit than they get.

        • Jason,

          You are not being “dismissed” because you’re “not a supporter.” The point I have been discussing is energy. Far from dismissing you, I’ve been trying to engage with you out of respect for you good faith and intellect. I’m sorry if you FEEL dismissed; that has not been my intent.

          Your suggestion that the difference between JG and Governor Snyder is that she expressed passion and he didn’t, doesn’t seem very plausible to me. I will absolutely give you that the Gov is — as he promised he would be — a “tough nerd.” He has been business-like and he has gotten a lot of his agenda done. That self-definition was brilliant, because his actions resonate with how he described himself. Kudos to him.

          But with any objectivity (I realize it may seem weird for Jennifer’s biggest supporter to be talking objectivity, yet I march on…), I’d suggest that the two major differences between these two govs’ are

          (a) an economy on the rebound ((and if we believed the highly exaggerated idea that governor’s are responsible for creating economic growth in a globally competitive economy, then I’d say she gets some huge credit for that; in this case given her incredibly PASSIONATE lobbying on behalf of American autos — the biggest part of Michigan’s economic recovery – she DOES deserve credit for that; and (b) Snyder is a Republican with a Republican-controlled legislature and with tax revenues that have risen thanks to — (1) a better-if-not-great-economy, and (2) a more reasonable tax rate that Jennifer and the legislature pushed for after Engler and company created a state budget based on an utterly unsustainable 3.5% unemployment rate. Unlike my wife, Snyder did not inherit this brutal structural deficit.

          So, again I would suggest to you that PASSION is one piece of leadership. And it surely is not a negative thing, or perhaps you would say Izzo, Patton, Lombardi, Dr. King, etc etc were poor leaders because they were too passionate. Head-and-heart, my friend; they are complements not enemies!


  • Danny,

    Outstanding piece!

    By far one of your best.

    I am so proud to be known as an “enthusiastic” coach. At times I question whether I should calm down a little bit but when an East Lansing Trojan sports fan bumps into me at the coffee shop and says, “I love your energy on the sidelines,” well, that’s all I need to hear.

    I once heard a great quote, “Years wrinkle the skin but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…”

    Keep up the great.

    JG was amazing last week at the Convention.

    Hope family is doing well.

  • Dan,

    I ran a volunteer Youth Basketball Leagues for years and at the end of every season we would send out a questionnaire to the parents asking them their opinions on the league. Every league one of our most passion filled coaches would get remarks from the other team like “that coach doesn’t belong around children” or “it should be coaching – not abuse.” Yet, I kept the coach around because her own team always gave her higher praise than any other coach in the program. Always telling me how much their team had learned and how much their child was enjoying the basketball and the coach.

    Your wife’s speech was giving “her team” a message they loved and her excitement made them excited.

    In a situation where she was not the ultimate star of the night it was the perfect speech to fire up the faithful, wake them up, and get them ready to hear the next speaker.

      • I would like to compare your wife’s speech to Condoleezza Rice.

        I read Condoleezza’s speech online before she delivered it on TV. When I read the speech I felt it was a very powerful and emotional speech.

        Then I watched her deliver it and was highly disappointed. These conventions are about getting the party excited at this giant pep rally and on paper both your wife’s speech and Condoleezza’s had plenty for their “team” to get behind and cheer with passion and insanity.
        The “other team” is always going to find issues.

        The pace of your wife’s talking allowed the audience to participate and it had an upward trajectory throughout.

        Condoleezza’s on the other hand kept raising to a point that the crowd could get excited gave them what they wanted to go crazy over, and then instead of letting the crowd join the excitement, she kept talking.

        The crowd being polite would stop and listen. She did this multiple times and her delivery took a great speech on paper and turned it into having all of the excitement of a wonky policy meeting.

        One persons voice and Cadence brought everyone into her speech while the other persons voice and delivery excluded the crowd.

  • Dan, as a neutral observer Jen was “rabble rousing”/”preaching to the converted”. Surely a normal politician’s approach at a party convention. Personally I found it hillarious, but then most US politicians are when they’re not downright dangerous.
    The dating games “Big Hair” was much better and it wasn’t just the hair that was big! WHEY HEY!
    It was a pity that NBC ignored live coverage of the paralympics, NOW there were real examples of real athletes inspiring people.
    Something those in authority forget. Real life is more than hyped up PR gimmicks

    Is this a fair summary of the 2 Presidential Candidates: a/ “Tax the poor and spare the rich””
    b/ “Tax the rich and the poor”?

    THE debates between the candidates should be enlightening.

  • You may use the following suggestions and strategies to help children who are experiencing difficulties with attention. Many of those listed are accommodations — they work around a child’s difficulty by offering alternative approaches. Slowing the speed of a presentation for someone who is not alert is one example. Strategies — more research-based methods — are designed to specifically strengthen a weakness. For example, a child with attention problems might benefit from a system of cues that helps her ability to stay focused. From the strategies suggested below, select those that you and your child think might work best. Allow longer breaks. Extending the amount of time given for breaks (such as recess) can be beneficial, especially for elementary-school children. Use different methods of instruction. Use verbal, visual, and experiential methods to enhance attention. Make frequent shifts between discussion, reading, and hands-on group activities. Accentuate important information. Let children know when important information is about to be presented. Slow the speed of oral delivery, include pauses, and accentuate by intonation and gesture what is most important. Preview, repeat, and summarize important points. Have children discuss the lesson. Take time during a lesson for children to talk to each other about the facts or skills they are learning, such as what strategies they are using to complete an activity. Be a coach or a mentor. Make statements about how you schedule your daily activities and the positive benefits of such planning and scheduling. Be a check-in person with whom the child can share what he’s accomplished.

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