Daniel McGinn: Why Being Mentally Prepared Is Key To Career Success

I spoke to Daniel McGinn, author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, about what science tells us about mental preparation, how to raise your confidence at work, how to become a better public speaker, his pre-performance rituals and best career advice.

McGinn works as a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, where he edits the IdeaWatch and How I Did It sections, manages the magazine’s annual Best Performing CEOs in the World ranking, and edits feature articles on topics including negotiation, sales, and entrepreneurship. Prior to joining HBR in 2010, McGinn spent 17 years as a reporter, bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor at Newsweek, based on New York, Detroit, and Boston. At Newsweek, he wrote cover stories on topics including marriage and children’s television, but he specialized in covering management, writing profiles of leading companies and CEOs. He is also the author of House Lust: America’s Obsession with our Homes, and the editor of How I Did It: Lessons from the Front Lines of Business.

Dan Schawbel: What does science tell us about mental preparation and its impact on our careers and personal lives?

Daniel McGinn: There is a lot of research, most of it in sports psychology or social psychology, suggesting that people who engage in certain behaviors before stressful activities or high-stakes performances will do better. For instance, there are more than a dozen studies showing that athletes who engage in a pre-performance routine—a set of thoughts and actions—before competing tend to score higher. There are studies showing people who listen to a motivational song before an event perform better. Most serious athletes have some sort of routine to get psyched up. (I love watching the Olympics to observe these rituals.) In my book, I’m making the case that people in non-athletic fields—professionals who sell, pitch ideas, litigate, negotiate, give speeches, appear on TV, etc—can use these types of techniques to be better at their jobs, too. There are a lot of examples in my book, from surgeons to comedians to race car drivers, who use these kinds of techniques every day.

Schawbel: A lot of people struggle with confidence issues at work, especially when asking for a raise. What do you recommend to them?

McGinn: Whether or not you can convince your boss to give you a raise is going to depend mostly on the substance of the argument. Can you make a clear and compelling articulation of the value you’re creating for the company that isn’t already reflected in your salary? And even if you make a compelling case, the company has to be able to afford to pay you more. But all that said, you’re right that your mindset can make a difference. You want to go into a meeting like this feeling confident and powerful. There are several techniques you can try, but here’s one. Adam Galinsky, a Columbia professor, has done research in which people are asked to spend a few minutes writing about a time they felt powerful, or about their goals and aspirations, before engaging in group activities or doing a mock interview. This research shows people who wrote about being powerful or goal-oriented subsequently behaved that way. It’s a simple way to prime yourself to be assertive.

Schawbel: What advice would you give to someone who is afraid of public speaking but has to do it for their job?

McGinn: In my book there’s a whole chapter about techniques to reduce this kind of anxiety. Here are three things that can help. There’s a technique called “centering” that musicians at Juilliard learn to use before auditions. It’s complicated to explain in print, but this YouTube video gives a simple explanation. There’s another technique called “reappraisal” which involves trying to subtly shift your emotions, so that instead of feeling “nervous,” you focus on being “excited,” a more positive but similar feeling. Finally, doctors can prescribe beta blockers for people who get nervous before public speaking. Beta blockers inhibit the body’s response to adrenalin, and I’ve interviewed people who say this drug alleviates the physical sensations of stage fright—the dry mouth, sweating, shallow breathing, etc. For some people, this can make a big difference.

Schawbel: What is your pre-performance ritual and how did you form it?

McGinn: It depends on the activity I’m going to perform. Since I’m a writer and editor, the activity I do most frequently—the one that’s most important to my success–is writing. Some days, when the work is easy or not high-stakes, I don’t do anything special—I just sit down and start. But when I’m working on something that’s especially challenging or something with make-or-break consequences, I do engage in rituals to boost my confidence. I spend a few minutes reading a favorite article or two that I wrote earlier in my career, or a good review of one of my books, to reinforce the idea that I’m good at this work. I write in an office where I’ve hung copies of old stories and awards on my wall, for the same reason. (There’s research that this kind of “visual priming” can help people perform.) I used to listen to classical music while I work, but after doing research for the book, I learned that as an introvert, I work better in silence. I used to wear a set of electronic noise-cancelling headphones, but they broke, and I replaced them with a $15 industrial/construction pair. They’re not as comfortable (they kind of squeeze my head) but I’ve found that when I put them on before I write, the physical sensation of the squeezing cues my body that it’s time to buckle down and work. These rituals may sound simple, but that’s kind of the point—small things you habituate as a way to signal yourself that “it’s time to bring my A-game” can make a difference. These are idiosyncratic to my work as a writer, but every person should identify the “use case” that really drives their career, and develop their own pre-performance routine.

Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?

McGinn: I’m not sure I have the expertise or wisdom to be dispensing career advice to others, but I can offer a couple of things that have helped me. First, even though we’re way past the age of the Organization Man, I’ve tended to stick with employers a long time: I’ve worked at Harvard Business Review for seven years, and before that I was at Newsweek for 17. Most people change jobs much more frequently, and there are benefits to that–but there are also costs, sometimes people discount those costs. Second, I’ve been really fortunate to work for employers and bosses that let me take on outside work—such as writing books on the side. Having a gig or a side hustle on top of a traditional job is a great way to diversify professional interests, expand a network, and gain new skills and knowledge. Finally, you can’t underestimate the role that luck plays in the twists and turns of our careers. Planning, talent, and hard work are all important, of course, but many of the successful people I’ve met recognize that random events have played a role in where they ended up. There are some things that are just out of your control.

How To Lead The Push For Diversity In The Workplace


Diversity is such an important topic. Data shows that organizations that are more diverse not only make more money, but are more innovative, smarter, and retain more of their staff.

But more work still needs to be done to continue to advance the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. While the U.S. has increasingly gotten more and more diverse, we still must break down the barriers to diversity that continue to exist in many organizations.

Major tech companies such as Google and Apple are making efforts to boost their own diversity, but they’re still having trouble achieving it. So what can organizations and leaders do to reflect the growing tide of data that shows that diversity simply makes good business sense?

1. Leverage groups/leaders who are already advocating for change. 

Leverage the voice and power of people of influence who are already leading the charge. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, author of A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, said that the biggest problem in the world today is abuse against women. He recognizes that the more diversity there is in any system, the more everyone is better off. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also put this into action in 2015 by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet of 50% women and 50% men. More recently, French President Emmanuel Macron appointed a diverse cabinet by gender, political newcomers and different political leanings.

In the same way that world leaders make diverse picks in their cabinet appointments, business leaders can step up to help change the way organizations are run.

2. Create formal mentoring programs in organizations.

As research shows, mandatory diversity training implemented since the 1960s hasn’t been as effective as initially hoped. However, setting up formal mentoring programs that are volunteer-based (e.g. both the mentors and mentees voluntarily sign up for them), then deliberately pairing minorities and women with those already in leadership positions often opens up the dialogue and interactions between those who might not normally interact. This breaks down barriers and builds support and encouragement for advocating and finding opportunities for mentees. Interactions between these different groups, especially when working towards a common goal, often lead to more openness and breaking down barriers to find similarities

3. Continue to spread the word that diversity increases financial revenue.

Advancing diversity is good business, but it also makes financial sense. Businesses see an increase in ROI when there’s more diversity in the organization – 35% for ethnically diverse companies and 15% for gender-diverse companies. They say this is so because companies are better able to win top talent and increase employee satisfaction.

Educating our leaders and heads of organizations/systems about this benefit can certainly help in changing hearts and minds and continuing to grow more diversity in organizations. Demonstrate the value of diversity on your bottom line, whether you are a manager, senior manager, or higher by increasing diversity in your group. Take that data and hold discussions with your senior leadership to show them the value too in small discussions or one-one-on meetings.

We need to continue to break down barriers and allow diversity to flourish in organizations by educating more and more people about the benefits of inclusion. The organizational dynamic, as well as your bottom line, will grow for the better.


Congratulations, You’re Self-Aware: Now What?


There is no lack of reading on self-awareness and authenticity these days, particularly with the growing research surrounding emotional intelligence. Everywhere you look, there are great articles that speak to the benefits of self-awareness, how to start building your awareness, and so forth.

While this is great, it’s important to recognize that as you become more self-aware, it’s just as necessary to increase your self-regulation as well. Simply being “self-aware” isn’t enough if you’re looking to make lasting changes and positive impacts both on yourself and on those around you.

The Difference Between Self-Awareness And Self-Regulation

I’ve had many conversations about the difference between self-awareness and self-regulation. What’s important to note is that you can be self-aware and choose not to self-regulate – this is a tactic often employed by narcissistic individuals. However, to truly grow within your own emotional intelligence and leadership skills, it’s important to implement what you’ve learned in your self-awareness discovery to your self-regulation.

In the simplest terms, self-awareness is when you understand the impact of your behavior on other people. Self-regulation is being aware of this impact and making adjustments to your behavior, often for the betterment of a situation.

As a leader, you need to be self-aware and self-regulate. When in a leadership role, you are constantly being watched for the type of leader you are, along with the results that your team produces. When you are able to make adjustments to your behavior to support your team, you bring about change for the “greater good” so to speak, as you are able to develop more effective and productive team members. If you are self-aware and do not make any self-regulation adjustments, then typically no change actually happens.

Why Leaders Need To Self-Regulate

When you recognize the impact that your behavior has on others and make specific changes to accommodate, you show that you’re looking to be a strong leader who works with your team to get the best out of them in a positive, non-intimidating manner. A leader strong in both self-awareness and self-regulation can:

  • Motivate more easily. Self-regulation enhances your integrity, which allows you to build better relationships. With this, you’re able to increase trust with your team members, resulting in a more motivated and encouraged team because you know how you can pull the best out of each individual.
  • Increase teamwork and productivity. As a self-aware and self-regulating leader, you’re able to look at the bigger picture, recognizing what your team needs to effectively work together. By adjusting your own behaviors, you’re able to positively guide your team to work together and produce greater results.
  • See a ripple effect. There’s power in being open to feedback, and this is exactly what self-awareness and self-regulation are: a demonstration of how to powerfully grow. By being open and vulnerable with your team, letting them remind you about things you need to self-regulate, you’re quietly showing them that they can do the same. It results in a team focused on growing their own emotional intelligence levels.

How To Increase Your Self-Awareness And Self-Regulation

First and foremost, remember you are human! As you’re growing, you may screw up as you implement new ways of being, and that’s OK. The trick is to objectively look at the “screw-up,” learn from it, then make adjustments to not have this same “screw-up” again.

Now that’s out of the way, there are some key things you can do to increase your self-awareness and self-regulation.

  • Conduct a 360 leadership assessment. This tool highlights your leadership capabilities, including execution, communication, people management, and so on. This provides an objective view of your strengths and weakness, allowing you to focus on areas you need to develop or delegate to be more effective.
  • Ask your team. Part of your role as a leader is to build an effective team. Ask your team members, “How can I support you in your role?” By being vulnerable enough to open yourself up to your team, you not only build trust, but demonstrate that you appreciate their opinions and insights.
  • Listen to feedback from your team. Asking questions of your team is great, but it’s even more important to listen to what they say, then make changes accordingly where it makes sense.
  • Look at yourself objectively. In the moment, it can be hard to be objective. However, growth and change come from being objective when looking at how you act in a situation. Look at a past situation, acknowledge what you did well, and note areas where you could have improved, whether that is in how you spoke to someone, what your body language was, or something else entirely. Then set up systems for making the change in the future.
  • Be curious. Both with yourself and with others. This helps you understand what makes people tick and how your actions impact them. This allows you to then regulate your behaviors and adjust based on the individual you’re leading.

What’s most important is that as you grow in both your self-awareness and self-regulation, you should never “arrive” at being the perfect leader. You have to continually be growing as you become more aware of yourself, as your team changes, and as you meet the goals you’ve set for yourself. Now that you’re self-aware, simply keep growing to continue being effective.

Don’t Ignore Diversity


There is a clear need for increased diversity among our industry’s workforce. In order to more effectively make a change and achieve our organizational missions, we must embrace diversity on all levels, including diversity of race and gender, as well as diversity of geographies, cultures and experiences.

It’s well documented that diversity affects the performance of organizations. For example, research from the Kellogg School of Management has found that heterogeneous groups perform better overall than homogeneous groups because disagreement leads to more careful processing of information. Other academic studies have reached similar conclusions. For any organization that wants to improve the decision-making process, the health of the organization and further the mission, bringing diverse views to the table is imperative.

Making A Difference, One Step At A Time

We must take steps to increase diversity in our individual organizations and the sectors where we have influence. For instance, although the need for increased diversity in business has been established, the finance industry has been slow to adopt this concept. That’s why our company has been hosting panels for human resource professionals in the finance industry to address this issue and prompt concrete changes to hiring practices.

Our company is also much more gender diverse than the accounting industry at large. Not only are 54% of our current students and 46% of our members female, but more than half of our global leadership is female. These numbers have grown steadily year over year.

But improving diversity — whether gender, racial, socioeconomic or otherwise — will not happen without taking specific steps to address the issue:

1. Acknowledge the role of unconscious bias.

Part of increasing diversity in any industry means overcoming unconscious bias, which can negatively impact hiring decisions and create a barrier to increasing diversity. But just being aware of the bias is not enough — unconscious bias training has little to no long-term effect and does not change hiring outcomes, according to Harvard Business review study. So, to keep biases out of the hiring process and instead of trying to change attitudes, firms should review and update their hiring processes at both the recruitment and interviewing stages.

2. Recruit candidates to fit requirements, not preconceived notions.

To encourage diversity, rethink the recruitment channels your organization is using. In our industry, mobile technology and e-technology are increasingly used to recruit and onboard finance professionals, which enables firms to diversify their talent pool. While doing so, the hiring team should also be careful to clearly define the open position, including skills and values needed, prior to looking at resumes and speaking with a candidate, so that hiring managers simply find a candidate that fits the requirements — not the picture they have in their head.

3. Review only necessary information.

Additionally, a key best practice for increasing diversity is reviewing resumes blindly. Remove the names before the hiring team sees them. To go one step further, remove the names of schools and only leave the degree obtained. Then, once you decide to meet candidates, use structured interviews using the clearly defined criteria you developed for the job listing, to find the best person to meet the company’s needs.

Critically examining hiring practices and implementing changes will help organizations move forward toward increasing the diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, the variety of skills, knowledge and ideas that people bring to organizations are more important than ever. Cultivating a diverse team should not be an afterthought, but an integral part of recruiting and retaining talent.


Salaries Are Rising The Fastest At These Jobs

This story originally appeared on LearnVest as “Salaries for These Jobs Are Growing the Fastest (and No, They’re Not All in Tech)”

If you’re angling for a raise, now might be the time to go ahead and make the ask … if you work in a certain set of jobs, that is. A new Glassdoor report shows that while annual median base pay in the United States grew only 2.1% last year (to $51,159), there is a short list of gigs in which compensation has increased more than two times faster than the national average.


Top Jobs With the Fastest Wage Growth

1. Recruiter

Wage Growth: 7.4%

Median Base Pay: $51,216

2. Customer Service Manager

Wage Growth: 7.1%

Median Base Pay: $54,552

3. Restaurant Cook

Wage Growth: 7%

Median Base Pay: $29,097

4. Warehouse Associate

Wage Growth: 6.7%

Median Base Pay: $40,882

5. Bank Teller

Wage Growth: 6.1%

Median Base Pay: $28,744

6. Store Manager

Wage Growth: 4.9%

Median Base Pay: $48,848

7. Maintenance Worker

Wage Growth: 5.7%

Median Base Pay: $43,175

8. Cashier

Wage Growth: 4.6%

Median Base Pay: $27,492

9. Sales Representative

Wage Growth: 4.6%

Median Base Pay: $47,629

Recruiters top the list, in part, because the U.S. is approaching full employment, and filling open roles requires better strategy and talent. So if you belong to this profession, it’s an optimal time to have the salary talk. (You’re probably very good at it since it’s already part of your job description.)

But if your job is on this list and you’re not so confident about money conversations, take this to heart: Knowing your field is paying more and more, you’ll have a good argument for a raise — especially if you’re making less than the median base bay. For an extra boost, here are our tips on how to ask for a raise and get what you deserve.

Seven Lessons Every Startup Founder Can Learn From On Their Journey To Sucess


Leaving a full-time job to start a business at a young age can be intimidating and not to mention, nerve-wracking. Many people prefer a corporate job because it provides security and a steady income. But remember, the younger you are, the more time you have to experiment. If you do not take risks now, then when will you take them? People may tell you that you are too young or too inexperienced, but if you genuinely believe in your business idea, don’t let them bring you down. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking the plunge and learning throughout your journey. Think about how you would feel if the next unicorn company turns out to be exactly the idea you had while you were too afraid to take any risks.

These are some of the essential things I have learned throughout my journey as an entrepreneur:

    1. Solve a real problem: An actual problem that you have faced is the greatest tool to uncover an opportunity for a new product or service. While my co-founder Anuja Shah and I were at university, we realized that students usually end up meeting people only in their dorm or classes. There were many times that we wanted to form a group to play basketball, but couldn’t find enough people. We clearly identified a problem and created an activity-based social app to solve it. Make a difference in people’s lives and give them a reason to pay for your service.
    2. Be innovative: The most innovative ideas bring a completely new perspective and change the meaning of the industry that they are a part of. People are attracted to something that is different, exclusive and opposes the norm. We saw that social media has been criticized for creating loneliness and depression, and decided that we want to change the meaning of social media by making social media more social again, and using technology to foster real-life interactions.
    1. Identify your market niche: In the beginning, focus only on one niche market that is the best fit for your product, and carefully examine what motivates people in it. Every interaction with them should be carefully crafted based on what they would get out of it. I moved halfway across the world from India to New York to launch my startup because after conducting market research, we recognized that the college student market in the U.S. was the best fit for our initial target audience.
    2. Create partnerships: Do not underestimate the power of networking and creating valuable partnerships to minimize your costs. Don’t be afraid to ask investors to give you advice or ask anyone to make an introduction. Initially, I was intimidated by the idea of approaching big brands, and thought they would not get involved in any partnership without a clear increase in their profits. But I found co-working spaces to host our events at absolutely no cost in return for publicity, and created collaborations with bars, student parties, and universities by being persistent. Be creative and confident with what you can offer them, and you will be surprised at how far these partnerships and relationships can take you. Write emails to specific individuals and not the generic email address for that specific company. Find the list of staff to discover the pattern their email addresses follow, such as firstname.lastname@xyzcompany.com. This will improve the rate of responses you receive.
  1. Create a group of influencers: It is important to identify and pamper the first group of influencers who are excited to use your product. This will automatically stimulate a snowball effect and maximize word of mouth. I created an internship program to identify my group of influencers: Initially, I thought students were only motivated by financial motives, but later realized that I could keep them motivated by providing them with a wonderful learning experience that truly benefitted them. Provide these influencers with an exclusive experience that will make them talk about you and boast about your product on their social media. Offer them an experience that makes them feel exclusive.
  2. Be passionate about what you are doing: Make sure you undeniably love what you are doing, and are so passionate about it that you would do anything to fight for your dreams. As an entrepreneur, you will face many challenges. You will be miserable if you are not passionate enough to hustle your way out of everything. It is crucial to adore your entrepreneurial journey and be excited to build an empire of your own and actually make a difference in the world. There were so many times when I became frustrated and wanted to give up, but my vision of connecting people and making the world a more connected and happier place kept me going. I have an emotional attachment to my company, which energizes me to deal with every obstacle.
  3. Create your own luck: Many people blame any failure on bad luck, but I believe that bad luck does not exist. Every person creates their own luck by being positive and believing that they are lucky, along with working hard and persistence. I am inspired by something Steve Jobs once said: ‘The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I am working toward doing that myself.

Four Innovative Post-Secondary Schools

American universities are often rightly criticized for being too expensive and teaching relatively little, yet amidst the thousands of schools there are always a few outliers – institutions that are doing neat things differently. I list four of them below.

Williamson College of the Trades

Richard Clemens has alerted me to the virtues of Williamson College of the Trades near Philadelphia. Since the late 19th century, Williamson has offered a nearly free vocational education, culminating in an associate degree, to a current enrollment of 265 mostly low income young men. It takes no federal government money and is not even in the IPEDS federal data system. Students learn a trade like carpentry or masonry in three years, mixing vocational training with general education. Students live on campus, follow a strict Code of Conduct promoting the core values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence and service. To promote a work ethic and help pay the school’s bills, kids work in food services or maintenance, and are randomly tested for drugs (a positive test is the basis for dismissal). It is a character building and faith-based practical education, financed partially by a fairly substantial endowment ($100 million). Alumni are loyal supporters of the school, and a fair number of graduates ultimately earn college degrees. Dropout rates are astonishingly low – well below that of community colleges.

Berea College

A school that is much like Williamson is Berea College, located in Appalachian Kentucky. It is one of the very few schools where students have most of their costs of attendance covered by private support – it is essentially tuition-free. Like Williamson, most students are poor, and must work some on campus to help defray campus costs. Unlike Williamson, it is not a trade school, it is a pretty good but cheap liberal arts college. Grateful loyal alumni have swelled the endowment over the years, and rather than use private gifts to build ultra-fancy facilities or hire armies of high priced administrators, the school has concentrated on making itself available to deserving poorer individuals. Berea is not unique, but it is perhaps the best known of a small number of schools that put “affordability” at the top of their agenda.

Acton School of Business

A top-notch teacher and highly successful entrepreneur, Jeff Sandefer, along with a couple of colleagues at the University of Texas business school about 15 years ago decided they were not happy with the way entrepreneurship was taught at UT, so they started their own school. The Acton School of Business is unique. My friend Jeff described it to me once as being sort of an academic boot camp – people work very long hours, but get a M.B.A. in a year. Everyone takes the same curriculum. Teachers are entrepreneurs themselves for the most part. Incentives are super great to succeed – I believe teacher compensation is highly tied to classroom performance. Students who excel get a financial break that is substantial. Princeton Review says it is one of America’s top business schools, yet most faculty do not have doctorate degrees (horror of horrors!!). The school is nominally affiliated with Hardin-Simmons University, I assume to get around some silly anti-innovative accreditation rules. At one time, the least successful teacher each year was dropped from the faculty for the next year.

Regular readers are probably sick of my talking about Purdue and its demi-god of a President, Mitch Daniels. But it is so rare for a mainline university to do a whole bunch of new things that likely will make a positive difference. A budget/accounting guru by trade, President Daniels made it his objective to freeze tuition fees, not for a couple of years but for his entire tenure, now in its fifth year. The cost of Purdue, based on in-state sticker prices, has fallen perhaps 15 percent relative to competitors to become a real value proposition. He thought the public and schools themselves needed better information on how college graduates view universities, so he teamed up with Gallup to get that information. He thought, as do I, that Income Share Agreements hold some potential as a student funding device, and so now Purdue has some “skin in the game” regarding its own students. The icing on the cake was Purdue’s plan to buy respected for-profit provider Kaplan, to give Purdue a leadership role in on-line education (a move being fought by some at Purdue and beyond).

There are some other great stories. Michael Crow has done some innovative things at Arizona State. Southern New Hampshire University is an extraordinary innovator in on-line education, as are some private firms like StraighterLine. As the challenges of higher education accelerate (see my piece with Justin Strehle in Monday’s Wall Street Journal), Plato comes to mind: necessity is the mother of invention.

Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.