Steve Farber photo

A WUP Upside The Head: Part 1.1

Chapter 1

Radical Edge 2 (5)

I live in the Mission Beach area of San Diego, California. It’s a bit different from Michigan, especially in the wintertime, and I was desperately trying to get back there after my conference with the Jims. There are no direct flights from Grand Rapids to San Diego International Airport, unless you had enough cake to hire your own personal jet, which, of course, I didn’t. I was prowling the sleek metal and glass halls of O’Hare and killing time as I waited for my connection, which was delayed for an unspecified amount of time. I had ignored the gate agent’s admonishment to “remain comfortably seated in the boarding area” in case the weather gods suddenly changed their game plan. The airline was having enough trouble negotiating their pilot contracts let alone getting cooperation from the supreme powers that be, so I bugged out to wander the concourse and pump a little blood into my travel weary brain cells.

I had a lot to think about. The meeting had gone okay, I guess. They had all left thinking much bigger thoughts than what they’d come in with, and I felt really good about that. A shift in perspective is no small thing, to be sure, but I was feeling the dull ache of regret—or was it discontent?—that I used to get after teaching the canned, scripted workshops that were the staples of my earlier days in the leadership development business. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the idea of changing the world as the core business and leadership proposition, but I still found myself doubting my ability to actually get it done. I didn’t want people to mention the names of Don Quixote
and Steve Farber in the same breath. Tilting unabashedly at windmills is one thing; slaying dragons is a whole ’nother smoke.

I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a large and very odd billboard advertisement. It was a picture of a blue Oxford button-down shirt with a red power necktie, and it would have been the classic image of clean, conservative business, if not for one bizarre detail: the tie was on fire. Accompanying it was a big, bold headline that read, “Burn Your Boss” and a tagline at the bottom that said, “Report the use of unlicensed software.” This was, essentially, an invitation—no, a challenge—for a person to spy on and rat out their management, and it was punctuated with an 800 number hotline for people to call right now and strike the sparkling, gratifying match of revenge.

Now I have as much respect for intellectual property rights as the next guy. Probably more. I’m not a fan of pirating or plagiarism. I sided with Metallica over the early Napster debates and will gladly pop for a buck a song to download to my iPod as opposed to trolling the web for free sources. Software’s in the same category, especially on an enterprise level. However, “Burn Your Boss?” Have things really gotten that bad? Did these people honestly expect to tap into some unexpressed reservoir of rage trembling under the surface of other business travelers like myself? More importantly, was this ad working? There was one way to find out. I called the number.

I was hoping to get a live person on the line so I could simply ask the question. What I got, though, was a recorded message saying something about their organization and their office hours followed by an invitation to leave your information—about that evil boss, I assumed—after the tone. As to the question of whether their ad was working, I got my answer right away. Before I could say anything, their machine spoke to me. It said, “You cannot leave a message because the mailbox is full.”

Chapter 2

I shoveled the gobs of mail from my box, punched in the security code on the front door, and climbed the two flights of stairs to my apartment overlooking Mission Bay. It was always strange to return home to an empty perch and see how much dust had managed to accumulate on the kitchen counters in just one week. The sea air mixed with fine sand always found its way in with or without the security code.

Like scratching for gems in a litter box, I sifted through the mail—junk, bills, a belated birthday card from my dentist, a check from a recent client project—and threw the whole pile on the round oak kitchen table. There was one item that looked a bit more personal, so I picked it up for closer inspection. I tore open the envelope to find a delicate, handcrafted note card from my friend, Janice, who was a grand high muckity-muck at a local bio-tech company. Janice and I were old friends, and I had recently helped her out of a sticky career jam. The hand-written words inside the card offered a friendly thinking-of-you kind of sentiment followed by a postscript reading,

“I’ve given your name to my friend, Rich Delacroix, CEO of Independence Lending Group. He may be calling you for a coaching engagement. He’s a nice man. Please don’t hurt him.”

She followed it with one of those endearing little emoticons to indicate that she was smiling about that last part. I rooted around in my empty kitchen but no amount of persistence was going to uncover anything resembling food. As I headed back out the door for a Jack in the Box run, my cell jangled a funky electronic tune. “Steve Farber?” inquired the voice on the other end of the line. “This is Rich Delacroix. Janice gave me your number. I know this is short notice, but do you, by chance, have time for a quick visit to my office?”

Here in the 21st century, the archetypal call to action mostly comes via the digital phone. Jack, I thought wistfully, would have to wait in his box a little bit longer.


Independence Lending Group, Inc.’s (ILGI) snappy commercials promising the best mortgage rates and fastest service on the planet were plastered all over the television and radio airwaves. Maybe they were true; all I knew was that the company had grown like gangbusters during the nuclear boom in the real estate market and the feverish refi activity fueled by subterranean interest rates. I’m usually not impressed by people who make fortunes in bull markets, even though, come to think of it, I never have, but this was one of the few mortgage companies that also managed to survive the subsequent economic meltdown. And that was noteworthy.

ILGI’s corporate offices were in La Jolla’s University Town Center (UTC) neighborhood. UTC is a cement and glass amalgam of apartments, office buildings, malls, restaurants, and a Mormon temple that keeps an impressive and watchful eye over the endless traffic on Interstate 5. I parked my Mustang in the visitor’s parking structure and took the elevator up to the 18th floor. The receptionist announced my name into the phone, and before I had a chance to settle into a plush leather chair, Rich Delacroix came bounding through the door on the far end of the waiting area. He was young—mid 30s, I guessed—tan, fit, blond, energetic and, although his attire was casual, exceedingly well dressed. Despite all that, I liked him immediately.

He gripped my hand with an unsurprising firmness and ushered me into his corner office with a view of the Mormon temple that overlooks the endless traffic on Interstate 5. I got lost for a moment in the symbolic possibilities. “Steve,” he said. “Thanks so much for taking the time to come over. I know you’re a busy man with a lot on your plate. So let’s get down to it, okay?” He walked me over to a small conference area in the corner of his corner office, and this time I did sink down into a beautiful, rich, brown leather chair. “Happy to help if I can, Rich,” I said. “What is it that you need?”

“Me, personally? Nothing.” I raised my eyebrows, and he hesitated for a moment. “I don’t mean it to sound that way, I’m not perfect… that’s not what I mean. But I have a very weak link in my management team, and he’s the one that really needs help—or that I need help with.”

It was really rather endearing to see this supremely self-possessed individual squirm as if he had a tapeworm.

This was not a dude who was used to asking anyone for help, let alone a virtual stranger.

“Okay, lay it on me,” I said taking out my yellow legal pad. “Give me the whole story.”


[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. You can go back and read from the beginning here. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself.]

5 Words You’ll (Still) Never Hear on the Campaign Trail

5 Words Blog Cover



[Note to my readers: I first wrote and published this post four years ago in our last US presidential election cycle. Just out of curiosity, I flipped back into my blog archives to see if what I’d written then would still apply.

Well, what do you know? Seems to me that, given this particularly unusual and contentious election contest, it’s even more relevant today.

Whether you’re leaning left, right, or other–politically speaking–whether you’re pulling for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, consider these words and, perhaps, take the opportunity to apply the lesson to your own leadership approach.]

In this (and every) election year, I find myself amazed all over again at the phenomenal effort our elected and would-be elected officials put into the denial of their own mistakes. They don’t ever want to fess up to anything, it seems.

5 words you’ll never hear on the campaign trail:

“Here’s How I Screwed Up.”

I get it; I understand their motives.  They want to get nominated, elected, or re-elected, and they don’t want to give any more grist to their competitors’ meat-grinding mill than absolutely necessary. They want to look perfect.  They want to look invulnerable.  They want us to love them. Or, at least, tolerate them just enough.

I understand that leadership in the political arena is, in many ways, different from the day-to-day, up-close-and-personal leadership you and I practice in our places of work.  But, still, I think our politicos are missing the main point:

There’s no such thing as a perfect human being, and the minute one tries to appear to be perfect, he or she is automatically suspect.

So, how about we all stop trying so hard to market ourselves as flawless?

In fact, how’s about we boldly talk about our mistakes and share what we learned from the experience of falling and failing and flailing?

Again, many people—most, in fact—in positional authority are afraid that if they publicly cop to their mistakes (and fears, too), others will see them as incompetent.  (Competence is an important part of the game, certainly. Let’s agree right now that if you’re incompetent you should just get out of the way).  But there is a difference between mistakes of incompetence and mistakes associated with boldness, innovation or experimentation.

Here’s the question: How bold and public are you willing to be with your own valuable screw-ups?  In other words, how willing are you to let us learn from your mistakes? Whether you’re running for office or not.

How have you screwed up?

Care to go first?

The Radical Edge Serialized on

Hard Rock Quotes

[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself. Here comes the first bite. Enjoy!]


In the years since my first book, The Radical Leap, was first published, I’ve heard from countless business people about the importance of LEAP (cultivate Love, generate Energy, inspire Audacity, and provide Proof) in their own endeavors at work. I’ve met many of these folks and have seen the awesome things they’re doing—and attempting to do—to make their colleagues’, employees’, and customers’ lives more meaningful by applying the practices of Extreme Leadership.

And that’s unbelievably gratifying, to be sure.

But here’s what’s really blown my mind: I’ve also heard from students struggling with who they want to be and what they want to do, graduates nervously embarking on fledgling careers, clergy inspiring their congregations, and teachers tackling the sticky challenges of education. They were not—as we say in business—my “target market”; yet, LEAP has given each of them a good dose of inspiration and a road map to change their lives for the better.

Now that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

The Radical Edge is also a story—a parable, if you will—about Extreme Leadership. Yes, it’s for business people, and, yes, it’s for anyone else, too. Wherever you are in your life, and whatever position you may hold (or aspire to hold) at work, I believe the principles in these pages will stoke your fires, amp your volume, and help you change your world—whatever that world may be.

The characters you are about to meet represent people (or combinations of people) who’ve inspired me over the years. The same goes for the places and events. In other words, I’ve jumbled the made–up stuff with the “real” to the point that I’m not even sure where the facts end and the fiction begins. But that’s what made writing it so much fun.

The important thing, though, is that the ideas, principles, and actions are as real as it gets. You’re about to take a journey into the elements of personal and professional transformation. May it bring you higher levels of business success, deepened personal clarity, and a greater ability to shape your world.

May it bring you to The Radical Edge.


I was stuck deep in the wilds of Michigan, in the middle of winter, on the back end of a raging snowstorm that had left the countryside covered in—what do poets like to call it?—“a downy soft blanket of white.” That sounds much nicer than “a blinding, frozen wasteland,” which is a much more accurate image. I wasn’t exactly stranded out on the tundra, however, I was holed up in a toasty conference room inside a quaint but efficient bed and breakfast built for the burgeoning corporate off-site market. Moreover, I wasn’t alone because I was facilitating an executive retreat for, and I mean this in the nicest way, a roomful of middle-aged, white guys named “Jim.”

Blatant gender and ethnic homogeneity aside, this was a group of very intelligent, dependable and steadfast mid to senior level managers of a large Cedar Rapids-based manufacturing company, and I was an experienced and newly re-energized leadership consultant on a mission. The group was thrashing around trying to come to terms with a question that I had just dropped on them like a sack of salt on the roadway. It wasn’t the kind of question that they teach in facilitator school—such as, for example, “Who would like to volunteer to jump out of a tree?”— but a question that demanded the group look at their role and their company’s role from an entirely different perspective. A question that required a very deep level of thought and reflection as well as a steroidal dose of intellectual and moral courage, and that reflected my new perspective on the nature of meaningful life and work in the 21st century:

“How are we going to change the world?”

Apparently, it was a question that invited the inner cynic frothing with spittle and ablaze with venom to emerge, as well.

“Are you kidding me? What kind of question is that?” raged Jim.

“Ummm, a really important one?” I offered.

“How is that supposed to help me with my ridiculous workload, Steve? I mean, c’mon.”

“Look,” said another Jim. “I think it’s a good question. I think we should be willing to consider it at least. It’ll make for a good discussion, anyway.” Several Jims nodded in support.

“Hold on,” said Cynical Jim. “I don’t think this is just about having a discussion.” He looked at me. “I’m assuming that you don’t want us to just talk about how we’re going to change the world, you want us to do it. Am I right?”

“Yeah. That’s about right.”

“One question for you, then, Steve.”


“Assuming that we spend the time on this instead of the other really important questions that we need to address at this meeting, and assuming that we actually come up with an answer—”

“Good assumptions,” I encouraged.

“Okay, then here’s the question I’ll want answered: What, exactly, does a person like me need to do to make it all happen?”

“You mean what do you personally have to do to change the world?”

“As long as we’re asking the deep questions, yeah.”

“And another thing,” said another Jim. “We do have a business to run here. Are we just supposed to forget about that while we’re out changing the world?”

“Yeah,” said yet another, “not to mention having something resembling a personal life in our spare time.”

I paused. I looked out the window. I looked back at Jim. I opened my mouth. I closed it again. These were damned good questions.

I wished I had the answers.

The Power of Vulnerability

In a previous post, I listed “Vulnerability” as one of 5 Great Leadership Risks. In movies, leaders tend to be shown as super strong and svelte, dressed in an impenetrable and dashing suit with a walk that means business and talk that means taking … Read the full article→

The Case for Love as a Hard-Core Business Principle

Psychologists tell us that all emotions, decisions, and actions are rooted in one of the two basic human motives: love or fear. Love gives rise to things like generosity, respect, joy, patience, honor, understanding, honesty, growth, and abundance; … Read the full article→

Your Energy Is Contagious (So Make Sure It’s Positive)

Like it or not, as a leader you have a significant impact on the energy around you at work. You’re either generating passion, enthusiasm and drive in people, or you’re sucking it out of them. Your ideal, therefore, is to display positive energy in … Read the full article→

10 Public Speaking Tips For Company Leaders [Infographic]

After my two and a half decades of experience as a leadership keynote speaker (or what many generically call a motivational speaker), I've learned a few things about the craft that will help you in your public speaking endeavors, too. Whether … Read the full article→

5 Great Leadership Risks

I wish I could tell you that there’s a clear-cut, linear path to becoming a leader, but there isn’t; instead, you'll need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable-ness of learning from your personal successes and failures as you go. And by … Read the full article→

Poolside From Sunny San Diego

Dive Deep Into LEAP! Hanging out in my back yard this weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that Extreme Leadership Certification is less than 2 months away! And there are only a few spots left...   … Read the full article→

An Appropriate Event to Generate Energy

Next week I'll be speaking in New Orleans at the American Wind Energy Association's annual meeting. And since "Generate Energy" is an Extreme Leadership practice, I think I'll be in good company. The Wind Energy world is fascinating and … Read the full article→