From Dan Peña – Executive Coach and Mentor to the High Performer.

Dear Subscriber and Friend,


As I sit here at 35,000 feet on the way to somewhere coming from nowhere, I sip on a beverage wondering why?, why?, why?

The guy next to me is reading some book and on the cover jacket it says "There are only two emotions: Love – our natural inheritance, and Fear – an invention of our minds." It goes on to say ……each instant of the day we choose between these two, and our choice determines the kind of day we will have and how we will perceive the world……

Assuming this is true I can better speak to the later of this proverb – "and fear an invention of our minds", after-all this is not an astrological newsletter and I am no expert on love, or matters of the heart!

For those of you that read my materials, listen to my tapes, or have heard me in person you know one of my favourite proverbs is "FEAR – False Expectations Appearing Real"

I’m in my 32nd year of business and I can count on two hands (without my thumbs) the times I was really afraid of something. In reality I can count on one hand when I felt real fear – and I can say I have been gripped by fear that kept me from acting only once. I was 11, or 12 years old and was so fearful it affected my breathing and I believe my rational thought. A big, older, kid chased me down and was about to do something – I DID NOT KNOW WHAT! Of course at that age it’s questionable how much rational thought is possible, but I can assure you I was "shit scared".

The above scenario is quite different than the time I acted out of anger or rage – as a younger man.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned I have for all of my professional business career been an extreme optimist! In hindsight sometimes too long! (But I can assure you an optimist will do better in life than a pessimist). I’ve said various things, over the years some of which are listed on my website (which has been updated, yet, again): "Bad times don’t last, but tough people do!" or "I may be wrong, but I am never in doubt!" And other Peñaisms/proverbs, either down playing negative thought, or even belittling it. The reality of life is bad things do happen – even to good people! Even to people that "never give up or never surrender!" Such a real story will follow. I’ve received permission to relate it in detail.

Many people believe firmly I am a man who can throw caution to the wind and follows the war-like standards of "full speed ahead and take no prisoners." Such a perceived persona has served me well over the years but probably has left a false impression for my "other" skill sets.

For those of you that have seen me in "the eye of the tiger" you know I can’t be intimidated. I act as if "there are no limits to my abilities", knowing ALL PEOPLE DO HAVE LIMITS. I coach the same precepts – and it works! My experience is these limits are mainly perceived limits that become real. "Perception is reality" – another of my favourites. (I am not referring to physical/strength limits, etc. where limits are more defind).

In one of my favourite Newsletters, # 23, (which I recommend you read often) I quote the meeting results and outcome, of some very bright people that are responsible for various extraordinary accomplishments. These men had founded and grown large public companies; were heads of huge consultancy firms; all still were extremely well THOUGHT OF AND STILL WERE ON THE QUEST TO BE BETTER! In that Newsletter the "Stockdale Paradox" is referenced. (Admiral Stockdale is a true American hero receiving The Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for bravery! I strongly recommend his book. Go to "Google" and find out more).

"Admiral Stockdale survived 7 years of torture in Vietnam not by being overly "optimistic" of being rescued within weeks, but by being realistic of knowing it could be years. The other "optimistic" American POWs around him died from broken expectations and hearts…of hope to be rescued within weeks. REALISTS ARE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH THEMSELVES…YET THEY STILL HAVE AN UNWAVING BELIEF THAT THEY WILL PREVAIL. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION, EVEN IN THE FACE OF GREAT ADVERSITY…JUST KNOW WHAT YOUR ADVERSITY REALLY IS!"

As an aside the U.S. space program at NASA is based on "failure is not an option."

Most of us don’t understand what "Your adversity really is!" People fabricate and delude themselves! I act as a permanent reality check for the people I work with!

Even though I have grown older, and ostensibly more mature, I have adhered to this principle subconsciously almost all my adult life. I believe my military background is the main cause for this attitude. I am a realist that is not only brutally honest with myself (though my wife and children would disagree), but others as well. I have tempered my actions with others in recent years. No good comes from over emphasising the negatives that are obvious to even the casual observer! No good comes from beating the less gifted! No good comes from kicking mental cripples! But I believe with all my heart GREATNESS DOES COME FROM PRESSING HARD THE GIFTED AND PRESSING EVEN HARDER THE SUPER GIFTED!


I write as an afterthought to a very recent The Guthrie Group (TGG) consulting experience with various unique personalities (I have changed the circumstances, but not the outcome, to protect the innocent and guilty even though my clients concurred with me telling the story so others might benefit. The bulk of the story remains very accurate. If the shareholder result had not been good I would not have written anything). Unique because of their varied backgrounds and ages. Interestingly there were two women involved, one on each side. The ages of all spanned 32 to 67! At times over a 22 hour period there were some 14 – 15 people involved in a share purchase and compensation negotiation. The reality was one public company was taking it’s third step towards an unwanted takeover. It was unwanted by the three founders who TGG represented. It involved the heads of three public companies and many professional advisors, lawyers, accountants, investment bankers and others.

The balance between what is best in man and worst in man came into play. I found it extremely interesting what people would do in representing their own self interests, claiming it was benefiting others. It was almost child-like. In fact my youngest son could have been more persuasive in some instances. After all he just completed Freshman Philosophy and Public Speaking at university.

It was a roller coaster of emotions and at the end of 22 hours most involved managed to support sub rosa what was best for themselves whilst crying they were protecting others. It’s not often you see a top-notch lawyer with his head in his hands – crying! Of course he might have gone down as a culprit! Shareholder’s rights was the cry! And by God there were tears! It was a confusing situation that developed over a two year period – AND PROFESSIONALS AND DIRECTORS MAY HAVE SUPPORTED QUESTIONABLE ACTIONS IN THE PAST! – SOUND FAMILIAR? It was a mini Enron! It was saveable at the cost of three heads – the founders – and a great deal of money. I am sure the Enron shareholders and advisors would settle for that outcome this minute.

At the end of a very long day most concerned were acting in a manner consistent with self preservation and only coincidentally the shareholders benefited! I was saddened, but hardly surprised. Massive fear, matched with greed and avarice, won the day once more!

The fear of being exposed (in a real sense) to a situation not known can be terrifying and throw most completely out of their "comfort zone". The few people I still work with closely are consistently pushed, or gently prodded depending on their personality by me beyond those boundaries. Sometimes I push too hard! Better too hard than too soft! For that which does not kill me makes me stronger – another favourite. It takes time to understand how far or close to the precipice you can go!

In the above transaction I was brought in late, passed the eleventh hour. The clients had used my services over the years very effectively, yet really only superficially. I say superficially, because if they had followed the precepts diligently they could have avoided this outcome. They took the easy way, or should I say more conventional way, on many occasions – as most often do! They came to me in the past when they needed me and only when there was a problem and always waiting too long. Never to really plan – always to react! And as with most, never giving ALL the important information. At times it felt like being spoon fed as if I couldn’t take the whole truth, OR THEY WERE TOO EMBARRASSED TO SAY WHAT THEY HAD DONE.

At no time did I meet the personalities they referred to over those years. As I came to know they believed because of MY PERCEIVED STRONG AND TOUGH personality, I would so disenfranchise the other parties over the action/dispute in question no long term good would come from it. Or worse they would not be able to deal with the individuals ever again. In hindsight losing a few of these personalities would have been a good thing! Of course THEIR actions got them in trouble in the first place – NOT MINE! It appears they were so sure I couldn’t deal with sensitive situations in an acceptable manner they called me very infrequently. Of course they had become rich and famous – and in that lofty position you tend to listen less and begin to believe your press clippings and, or forget who helped you get there.

Me being involved, at all, only came about after we accidentally bumped into each other 14 days before at an airport in the USA. Due to that chance meeting, whilst only getting part of the information, I sent them 48 hours later a long email outlining what was about to occur and how I could help. I said their advisors, board and mentor would find reason to protect themselves at their expense – crying shareholder value and corporate governance! Of course this is their job! (But it doesn’t have to be always at the expense of the founders.)

Twelve days later they called in a panic saying everything I wrote had occurred, or was happening to them now! Could I help NOW – this very minute! I said yes! I immediately engaged the best gutter fighting NYC transaction lawyer I knew and I jumped on a plane, calling from the air to arrange for my TGG accountant partner to meet me there, prepared for battle.

They called when the stakes were high – my favourite position! This last episode came when their corporate life was about to end with dishonour! Their fellow board of directors and Chairman/mentor had turned their backs on them as often happens when fear enters the decision making process. (I am not writing to justify anybody’s actions taken before I got involved. There obviously were many mistakes and ill informed actions taken by all concerned. Much of the professional advise was biased and self-serving and some was wrong).

The false expectations of my, off again on again, clients and former part-time mentees was fearful enough to keep them from calling me earlier for assistance. Giving them the benefit of the doubt they may not have even thought of me, until they luckily saw me. And as I’ve said, "I’d rather be lucky than smart!" Yet another favourite.

When "emotional flooding" comes – that’s when perceived and real problems come faster than we can deal with or process, and after the obvious choice, or solutions go unnoticed or even thought of, no matter how fundamental or rudimentary – even a well balanced and trained individual can have trouble making sense of what’s happening or what to do. At best they usually say or do nothing at this point. No action is taken because they are literally paralysed with fear!

I must say in all candour I have not suffered from this malady since 1966 when I entered the military where you are taught to make quick decisions no matter what!

Not making decisions isn’t an anomaly. More people don’t take the decision to request assistance (not just from me) sooner because: They just don’t want to hear; They know they should have called earlier; They are embarrassed for the action they took, or for the non-action; They believe emotionally, or financially they can’t afford advice; They don’t understand how bad things really are; AND, OR THEY FOOLISHLY THINK THEY COULD DO IT THEMSELVES!

I can’t recall how many times professionals, especially lawyers, are, brought into situations too late. The expectations of being put through an uncomfortable situation keeps people from taking action. This discomfort could be raised by what friends, family, and colleagues will think or more importantly say. People don’t want to embarrass themselves! One of my favourite Peñaisms comes to mind here "It doesn’t matter what the morons say". Of course in most cultures and large organisations this is very difficult (but not impossible) to implement unless you are Chairman / CEO! Jack Welch (GE), Lou Gestner (IBM), and Bill Gates (Microsoft) are such men! Steve Jobs (Apple) is such a man, but got thrown out and returned again triumphantly!

The above scenario is life for most. Perception is reality and individuals most often fear due to circumstances they don’t understand and don’t know how to ask about, or can’t control – or as I was told during the marathon 22 hour negotiation ordeal "you don’t know what you don’t know". This was said by a man who had made 35 million dollars by age 30 and now at 32 was up against it – big time!

At a post-mortem after the conclusion of the above, the clients I represented told me they were extremely tired and pleasantly surprised at the outcome I got for them. Of course they were experiencing post seller’s syndrome (PSS), or seller’s remorse. They received the best result possible, especially, given the time. They were at least four time deadlines whilst I was involved. The last one I remember was 2am, or the buyer would leave! We returned to the meeting at 4am and went through to 1pm. We had been across town in our lawyer’s office negotiating by phone and email. Of course he and his team stayed.

The Chairman/mentor left three times in the beginning saying he was quitting and couldn’t deal with his former mentees. I followed him out and brought him back time after time! He was obviously concerned about his reputation as were the other directors and advisors – it’s called "self interest!" If this public company didn’t take immediate action more than a few reputations would be severely tainted, including advisors – and a couple possibly ruined. Their primary battle scare was it would take many people down and this was the ONLY alternative. There was not much mention of shareholder value at this point! Of course with additional time there could have been other alternatives, but it’s important to note in the end the shareholders did get a good deal!

The founders were stunned how so many personalities were professionally managed and guided with me not raising my voice even once. Their expectations were proven wrong! Basically I used divide and conquer – even using separate locations – me shuttling back and forth – not separate rooms which is normal. The only time I almost raised my voice was when the three related this fact to me. I had been told by a partner/colleague (who was very familiar with the founders and helped console exposed nerves), though they had become wealthy following my advice and precepts they were afraid I couldn’t save them now! They perceived Dan and QLA only got acquisitions done and Dream Teams organised, etc! The partner/colleague had told them their concerns were false. After all, how could Dan have dealt with The Vatican, the Israeli government, et al, and the countless situations over 30 years, if he didn’t know what to say and how to say it at the appropriate time? As some of you know even the Devil can be charming! The founders were scared! Emotional flooding was at work! Though young men they looked old beyond their time and haggard.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned an extremely professional outcome was the result as far as the founders were concerned. Even the buyers were happy. And as I said the shareholders did well. The buyers were there to make a deal – not fool around! It was merely a matter of price, terms and conditions as it always is in a deal! I can’t call the outcome fair to the founders. Nor can I say I would have accepted the outcome myself. In fact I told the buyer I would not have accepted myself, but I wasn’t there to make a deal I liked! I was there for my clients. It was the best they ALL could get given the dicey circumstances and I knew it! And they knew it!


The above clients were founders of a company they took public. A darling of the stock market. One of the founders was elected CEO of the year in 2000. All three became wealthy as a result of founding and growing their baby dramatically. One founder was literally married to the company – no wife or prospects. They were first and biggest in their industry, and all this in less than ten years – they had it all! It was a true rags to riches scenario.

They all attributed their spectacular growth to my teachings and methodology. I met them early in my coaching career. They adopted QLA regimen to go public. They joined the Clubs I suggested and reorganised their advisors and Board of Directors at my suggestion in 1999/2000 after going public. Those board members (including their mentor) and advisors ultimately helped them out the door when the company ran into troubles. I did not pick the board or advisors, I said they needed higher profile individuals to go to the next level. After that there were no other requests from them since 2000. They felt they could do it on their own!

I am not saying there were small problems! They were big problems! Remember another Peñaism; Big Success-Big Rewards = Big Problems! All problems could have been dealt with if faced head-on much earlier! Even if they had those extra twelve days I could have obtained a better result for them and they may have still been in charge!

Several times during the 22 hours they all commentated they had gone through the entire QLA cycle – from inception of an idea to a focused exit, but not the kind of exit they expected, or wanted! They said "Dan you write and speak about getting thrown out, you are right, this is exactly what can happen". I said, "What do you mean can? It is happening!" I tell all that will listen, very few know when to exit on their own – I speak from experience! Founding a company and staying the course are two different skill sets. Dell and Gates are rare exceptions! It is much easier to pick the more correct course of action when you have lived it yourself – or been there! Done that! Most haven’t!

This letter is focussed on two main themes:

1. Fear and your comfort zone dictates much, if not all, of our lives, and
2. Never underestimate how wrong you can be. (Another favourite).

The thought of the unknown keeps people from taking action most of their lives. Think of your own situation. Some people use "I must gather facts and do more research" as an excuse for no action! Others will say what will happen to me if I am wrong? Others will say "what will people think?" And still others use simple denial!

As Bill Gates says, "Think it! Do it! Fix it!"

How often have we all underestimated the consequences? How often have we all over estimated the outcome? This is the dilemma and why battle experience is needed if you want to lessen the pain and agony through the journey and increase the probabilities of success.

The above scenario illustrates how people picked to strengthen and consolidate a position ultimately used their power and influence to their own end and safety first, WHILST THE SHAREHOLDERS WERE PULLED ALONG FOR THE RIDE, MOSTLY BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE SAME WAGON! And, ironically, the one individual that could help was brought in almost too late because of a FEAR THAT WAS A FALSE EXPECTATION APPEARING REAL!

The founders surely deserved better, but by THEIR OWN INDECISION, lack of experience and fear got a lesser result.

Don’t let it happen to you! Take early, experienced, action!

To Your Quantum Leap
Dan Peña

P.S. In case you are wondering – the founders are less wealthy! And my new task is how can I help early in the decision making process – and what next?

P.P.S. Man is differentiated by the ability to chase down a dream – no other animal, or thing can do that! They did!

P.P.P.S. The cemetery is filled with so many people who died not realising their potential. They have potential still to fulfill.

P.P.P.P.S. You may have received a newsletter from "Noble Manhatten" – unsubscribe if you wish – They may have managed to get hold of our mailing list due to an error made by our internet server.