Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Message to Military Veterans Considering Entrepreneurship

Military veterans from all branches of the armed forces are a special breed apart from their civilian counterparts. Their experience as a veteran has prepared them to face unforeseen challenges, overcome insurmountable odds and demonstrate leadership in a wide variety of environments. 

Their dedication to training, ability to accept responsibility and unrelenting commitment to achieving objectives conclusively demonstrates the strength of their character.

Despite extraordinary risk, they chose to serve their country with distinction, realizing the potential reward for their patriotism could be nothing more than the ultimate sacrifice of their life. While that may be behind them it will always be a part of them; it will shape their mindset, perceptions, and responses forever. 

Their military experience has also created for them a less noticeable (albeit just as permanent) benefit: it has made them the ideal entrepreneurial role model.

The purpose in writing "The Prior-Service Entrepreneur: Veteran Entrepreneurship & Lean Business Start-Up" is two-fold. First, it is crucial to prove to veterans that despite the personal obstacles – overcoming commonly held myths, disadvantageous mindsets and the naturally occurring fears associated with acclimating to a civilian environment – they have both the capacity and ability to pursue an entrepreneurial path and achieve success. Their experience, dedication, and commitment to the defense of American freedom have proven that conclusively.

Second, and more importantly, it is imperative to prove to the military and veteran communities that they have the power to do so. Given the challenges imposed upon individuals in modern culture, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. When veterans believe they have the power to succeed and openly state as much, they are actually affirming their power and a sense of control that cannot be taken away from them. Power is never taken away; it is always relinquished freely. 

Veterans don’t need to be told that twice; their experience has proven that every time they put on a uniform and prepare their mindset for battle in defense of America’s freedoms.

What differentiates veteran business owners from the pack is not their creativity, brilliance, or pedigree. What makes veterans inherently different is their refusal to relinquish their desire to succeed, and renounce their dreams. When society quits, they don’t. 

It’s the veteran’s time now. Their country is calling them again to seize the moment to act, and conquer the challenge of a small business as they have conquered other challenges in their military past ... successfully.

The promising future your sacrifice guaranteed for all Americans can begin for you, today.  Claim it.  It's yours ... you earned it.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

"The Prior-Service Entrepreneur: Veteran Entrepreneurship & Lean Business Start-Up"

ISBN: 1546986693
Format:  Paperback, 364 Pages
Price:  $21.73

Details:  This Second Edition of the 5-Star original text has been updated for 2017, and now features:
- Additional Content:  Creative financing options when banks won't lend
- Over 100 Graphics:  Throughout the text to benefit visual learners
- Updated Content:  Statistical data reflects 2016-2017 trends
- Larger Text:  Easier to read, higher quality printing
- New Formatting:  Improved layout, design, and editing
- Digital Version:  Available to Higher Education on VitalSource

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Build Your Success on a Foundation of Positive Support

In addition to the two primary motivators of human behavior, expectation of reward and fear of punishment, social acceptance would have to rank as one of the most important desires of the human condition. We are gregarious creatures by nature and social interaction serves many of our basic emotional needs.

We may be somewhat limited in our professional capacity to pick and choose with whom we interact, but in our personal lives we have absolute control of our associations. Once you make the decision to adopt an optimistic mindset in support of your goal to achieve success, the people who you choose to allow access to your thoughts and emotions becomes very important.

In short, people you associate with on a personal level have the ability to directly impact your probability of success. 

Understanding this fact imposes upon you the responsibility of picking your acquaintances wisely. Only those who respect your self-esteem, encourage you to be successful and enhance your quality of life should be allowed within the protected inner circle of your personal space.

Conduct a quick mental inventory of those people you currently associate with regularly, both in person and online. After 30 minutes of conversation do you feel energized and uplifted, or do you feel drained and agitated? 

Those who fall into the latter category are toxic personalities – I refer to them as “psychic vampires” – and serve no useful purpose in your life. Regardless of the marginal benefit they provide to you as a “friend,” their infectious negativity demands that they be purged from your social circle as soon as possible. 

Actually, upgrade that timeline to “immediately.”

If that sounds harsh and judgmental on my part, consider what hangs in the balance on the other side of that equation: your success. Now that you’ve committed to a life-changing endeavor in pursuit of achieving your goals and dreams, do you really see the need to be surrounded by pessimists – spewing the negative message of their twisted fatalistic vision – who are going to undermine your optimism at every opportunity? 

That makes as much sense as putting a drug addict in charge of a chain of pharmacies with the expectation that their personal behavior won’t interfere with their business decisions.

In the words of the Greek philosopher Plato, “People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person, or they can stunt your growth and cause you to wilt and die.” You’ve made the decision to rise to the level of exceptional; it’s time to upgrade your expectations for those you call acquaintances.

I’m not suggesting you need to find perfect friends; there’s no such thing. Nor am I suggesting you need to have friends that share your particular vision, and agree with everything you believe. What I am suggesting is those who actively oppose you at every turn need to be removed. 

Once you have made the decision to surgically remove the cancerous personalities from your circle, employ the 5 strategies below to reconstruct your network with positive people who support you.

1. Project your unbridled optimism. You’ve heard the sayings: “like attracts like” and “water seeks its own level.” They’re true. When you outwardly project optimism, like-minded positive people are attracted to you like a moth to a flame. As a bonus, pessimists hate optimists and they’ll avoid you like the plague.

2. Create a litmus test. Set a standard for those people you will befriend. Are they emotionally grounded and optimistic?  Are they goal-oriented and committed to personal and professional growth? Are they there for you when you need them? This isn’t being judgmental; it’s demonstrating discernment.

3. Join local professional groups. Find local organizations with members who share your professional interests, even if they only meet once a month. There’s a good chance if they took the time to get off the computer and out of the house, they’ll be the type of people with whom you’ll want to interact.

4. Utilize online focus groups. Social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook can give you immediate access to unlimited numbers of people who share your goals. Utilize the genius of market segmentation and maximize the utility of social media.

5. Incorporate “Peer Review." Once you develop a support network of positive thinkers, a pessimist might sneak through the fence once in a while. If your group feels uncomfortable with a new arrival, trust their judgment enough to investigate and act accordingly if they prove to be correct.

The choice to surround yourself with optimistic people who share your positive vision is a conscious act. These will be the people who never doubt your abilities, encourage your success and will be there for you when it matters most. 

Misery loves company, but so does success.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

1 Question Can Reveal Your Life's True Purpose

The quest for professional advancement causes each of us to cross paths with numerous people, each of whom seem to be asking the same questions. What motivates you? What are your goals and aspirations? What are your skills and talents?

The questions are useful and necessary, but they fail to get to the heart of the most important issue.

In my conversations with career transition coaches, corporate recruiters and academic advisers I’ve never been asked what I believe to be the most important question of all: What do you believe is your purpose in life?

Has anyone asked you? If not, I’m asking you now.

Over the years I’ve discovered one simple question which, if answered correctly, can reveal your life’s purpose and lead to a level of fulfillment yet to be imagined. What’s the question?

“What is the greatest compliment you could ever receive?”

For the record, not all compliments are created equal. While there may be an infinite number that can inflate an ego, there’s only one compliment that will truly feed your soul.

It's different for each of us, of course, but it's out there waiting to be discovered.

When I ask my clients this question their response is usually the same: “I never thought about it before.” That’s not surprising. We live in a society that extols the virtue of humility, and justifiably so. We’re conditioned from youth to minimize and deflect praise, even to the point of uncomfortably rejecting it outright.

That makes the pondering of praise almost unimaginable.

I promise this question doesn’t violate social norms. The correct answer won’t drive anyone to stare proudly at their own reflection in the mirror with a sense of superiority. Quite the opposite.

The correct answer to this question – once discovered – will inspire you to gaze skyward and feel thankful for being relevant. Moreover, it doesn’t even need to sound like a compliment when offered.

I’ll share with you, as an example, the greatest compliment I could ever receive from anyone: “Michael, that’s interesting. I never thought about it like that before.” Is that even a compliment?

To me, an author and instructor, yes. When I hear those words I perceive an epiphany moment in which a person’s perspectives are broadened and a world of hidden possibilities has been revealed to be acted upon. If those actions effect a positive change in someone’s life, my purpose has been fulfilled.

In many cases it’s simply a matter of giving voice, through the use of words, to thoughts a person already had but hadn’t found a means by which to express it to their satisfaction.

When you discover your own personal answer to the “compliment question,” a few amazing things will happen almost simultaneously.

First, a mental blueprint of the future reveals itself. It will inspire you to launch yourself into life each day, driven by a sense of purpose and focused on a path of relevance.

Next, an explanation of the past reveals itself. You’ll discover threads of commonality woven through seemingly unrelated actions and events, and perceive the underlying motivation (purpose) that drove you to participate.

Finally, the foundation for your legacy question has been firmly established: “How do I want the world to remember me after I’m gone?” When you wake up each morning and embrace life with this question in mind, everyone you touch feels the positive impact of your purpose and focus.

So, let me ask you now: What’s the greatest compliment you could ever receive, from anyone?

What answer will inspire you to humbly feel thankful and relevant? What answer will inspire you to embrace life each day with a sense of purpose? What answer will inspire you to create such a positive impact on others that history will remember the difference you made?

When you discover the answer, act on it.

The world needs your purpose and relevance now, and the unwritten history of the future will ensure your positive impact is never forgotten.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

5 Lessons Special Forces Taught Me About Business

I had the pleasure of speaking at a Wounded Warrior Project workshop on business and entrepreneurship in Tampa, Florida. During our question and answer session a young veteran made a statement that I found incredibly interesting and that served as the inspiration for this article.

The gentleman – a US Army veteran who served as a sniper instructor and team leader – prefaced his question about resume writing with the following statement: “I was an infantry team leader and a sniper instructor, which doesn’t have any real value in the corporate world. So, I wanted to know if you could tell me how …?

Stop right there. I vehemently disagree.

Veterans entering the civilian workforce have to understand that their resumes should actually reflect much more than hard skills and transferable skills; they have to reflect and promote the benefits of life experiences that will prove to be “mission critical” to prospective employers. Further, those benefits need to be communicated to prospective employers effectively.

More importantly, it’s our responsibility as military veterans to educate Corporate America to this fact as well. Not sometime in the future, but now.

My message to civilian employers and aspiring veteran job-seekers is rather straightforward. While you may not immediately see a direct correlation between military training and the job in question, be advised that those experiences have created a mindset that’s directly relevant to succeeding in any business environment.

Consider the 5 following lessons that prove this fact to be true.

1. Planning is essential, but contingency plans are critical.
In the military we rely on the Operation Order to guide our missions, hoping that the intelligence data our mission is based on is accurate and timely. We plan, we train and we prepare to execute the mission flawlessly. We’re inserted into the area of operation and begin our movement to the target when our team leader suddenly exclaims, “WAIT … there’s not supposed to be a river here.

When veterans come face-to-face with Murphy’s Law, they can adapt and overcome. They have contingency plans that allow them to think and react quickly. Highly flexible and reactive individuals don't view chaos as stressful, but as an opportunity to act with determination and distinction. They didn’t get this ability from reading a book.

2. 360-degree awareness gets the team home safely.
The ability to be completely aware in hostile and non-permissive environments saves lives in combat situations. There’s no room for “I should have seen that coming” when it comes to explosive devices or rifle barrels protruding from windows in buildings.

Veterans with this experience have command over their business environment. They walk into offices and immediately scan the walls for informative plaques, and guide introductory conversations after noticing a lapel pin or a class ring on the hand they shook. They seal deals and get the team back successfully.

3. Wait for the best shot, not the perfect shot.
In sniper school we’re trained to patiently wait for our shot, unaffected by our environment. When the target presents itself, we act: range it, dope it, scope it and pull the trigger. We’d like a perfect shot, but we know that if we hold the scope on target too long muscle fatigue sets in and our scope begins a figure-8 wobble. When that happens, we missed our opportunity.

Veterans in the civilian workforce hope for a perfect outcome, but they’re not afraid to execute when ready and make course corrections along the way if needed. They don’t suffer from “paralysis by analysis,” and they certainly don’t succumb to “deer in the headlights” syndrome. They’re doers and fixers.

4. Know when to advance, stand down and retreat.
In our modern age of special operations warfare, small teams of highly specialized personnel with a high degree of autonomy are tasked with successfully executing tactical operations with the hope of having a strategic impact. We’ve been trained to exercise good judgment: we know when it’s right to execute, and we know there are times when the situation requires us to quietly stand down and retreat unnoticed.

Veterans in the civilian workforce don’t let pride and ego override this reality. When a meeting is going badly they know how to gracefully end the conversation and exit with dignity. When contract negotiations stall, they have the judgment to know when to maneuver to a successful conclusion and when to stand down for another opportunity. They didn’t obtain this critical life skill in a classroom.

5. Individuals are strong, but teams are powerful.
Special Operations personnel are the most well-trained and highly lethal individuals on this planet. We also know that despite our strengths we have to sleep, and in a hostile environment that would be impossible were it not for the other members of the team remaining awake and alert. When we execute our missions, we’re as focused on the safety of the team members to our right and left as we are on the mission in front of us. As a cohesive team, the effectiveness of our combined individual skills increases exponentially.

Veterans in the civilian workforce live by the mantra “first my mission, then my men, then myself” and know the powerful capabilities of a cohesive team. They derive satisfaction from their individual accomplishments but realize their potential increases exponentially as a unit. They despise self-absorb, back-stabbing sycophants. If you’ve never heard the term “Blue Falcon,” I encourage you to look it up now.

In summary, if I handed you my resume you’d never see these skills listed … but they’re there. You may not believe Special Forces training is relevant to the sales job you advertised … but it is. The next time a military veteran applies for a position with your company, look beyond the resume and the rifle.

What you’ll discover about our military veterans and their professional capabilities will pleasantly surprise you.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

Entrepreneurship 101: Experience ≥ Education

There is little doubt that formal education is valuable; if you are in a position to pursue higher education I strongly encourage you to do so. Studies have shown a direct correlation between higher education and higher wages.

That’s wonderful news if you aspire to work for someone else. However, not having a formal education does not automatically condemn you to failure.

When I was a teenager the common belief was that in order to succeed in life one had to possess a college degree. The parents of every friend I knew assigned as much value to that belief as they did to the law of gravity.

My parents were no exception as evidenced by the disciplinary measures imposed upon me each and every time I came home from school with a bad report card. My parents had the best of intentions and for that I am grateful.

Unfortunately, in the process of encouraging good grades and higher education, the unspoken (but well understood) consequence of not pursuing a degree was a life destined to be plagued by failure and mediocrity.

My parents didn't lie to me – they told me the truth to the best of their ability as they understood it – but at the end of the day they were wrong.

For the purpose of full disclosure and honesty, I have formal degrees from good institutions of higher learning and I am proud of the fact I invested the time to pursue them. However, I did not finish my undergraduate degree until after I had created and sold my first restaurant concept.

The degree followed my success; not the other way around. When I’m asked if my formal education contributed to my initial entrepreneurial success, I can answer “no” with complete honesty.

Once again, I am not offering this insight as an indictment of formal education. There are successful people that have exceptional academic credentials, and having a formal education is of benefit if you have the desire and the resources to pursue it.

Below are some notable and successful entrepreneurs who were college dropouts. While you know these people for their successful ventures, don’t forget for a minute that they all “started from nothing” in their garages or basements.

When they dropped out of college and started their business concepts they were no different than the majority of American entrepreneurs – broke, struggling and told by others they would "never be successful."

1. Mary Kay Ash: Founder of the popular cosmetics brand Mary Kay, Inc., Ash not only did not go to college – she never saw inside the four walls of any school. Billionaire.

2. Richard Branson: Founder of Virgin Group, Branson dropped out of school when he was 16. His empire now consists of more than 400 companies. Billionaire.

3. Giorgio Armani: Founder of a popular fashion brand, Armani dropped out of medical school because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Billionaire.

4. Jenny Craig: Founder of the popular weight management system, Craig never went to college. Billionaire.

5. Carl Lindner: Founder of United Dairy Farmers, Lindner dropped out of high school at age 14 to help his parents deliver milk for their dairy. Billionaire.

These examples are just of a few of the thousands of success stories in which people relied on their goals and motivation instead of academic credentials. Those who dropped out of school were told at the time they would “amount to nothing.” Those who never even went to school were all but written off by society.

There are other high profile billionaire dropouts that have founded successful companies – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Ellison (Oracle), and Steve Jobs (Apple).

While they may be considered to be the "exceptions to the rule," there's no reason why YOU can't be the exception to the rule until proven otherwise.

I encourage everyone to pursue higher education if the opportunity exists, but it’s proven that lack of formal education won’t automatically bar you from success and prosperity.

In life, the School of Hard Knocks is just as good as an Ivy League education in the hands of those with the mindset and determination to succeed.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

Friday, May 19, 2017

BUSTED! 9 Myths About Entrepreneurs To IGNORE

As an entrepreneur and business coach I've had the opportunity to speak with many who aspire to pursue an entrepreneurial path but have never taken the steps to make their dream a reality. One of the first questions I ask them is, "Why not?"

Some of their reasons are valid. They may have an aversion to risk, or perhaps they're working in a steady career and don't know how to transition seamlessly into entrepreneurship. I accept those reasons and regularly teach how to work through those issues.

What I refuse to accept are the myths they have been told repeatedly that they believe to be indisputable truths.

There are no challenges or barriers in life which are insurmountable. The only exceptions to that statement are lies we choose to tell ourselves. These self-deceptions are the only true barrier between the believer and entrepreneurial success.

The 9 myths listed below are commonly offered as "reasons" for not being able to achieve a degree of success on a professional or financial level. They’re not reasons, they’re excuses.

Let’s do some MYTH-BUSTING.

1. Successful entrepreneurs are genetically "different."
Not only are these people mere mortals like you and I, many of them have experienced adversity at a level well beyond what you and I will ever know. They have all failed miserably at various times, and many have serious learning disabilities.

2. Successful entrepreneurs are more intelligent.
There are geniuses out there but their intellect is focused in one particular area, and they are definitely the exception to the rule. Knowledge, common sense, skills and experience are what make 99% of entrepreneurs successful.

3. Successful entrepreneurs have more talent for business.
Many of these creative and successful people can't even balance a checkbook, but they are smart enough to surround themselves with people who can. If you have access to a good manager and accountant, your lack of business skills don't mean that much. Let's also not forget that over time you'll learn.

4. Successful entrepreneurs have more education.
If that were the case, people such as Richard Branson, Giorgio Armani and Jenny Craig would be serving you burgers and fries instead of being names you actually know. Life experience, common sense and a good business concept are equally as valuable to formal education any day of the week.

5. Successful entrepreneurs have never failed miserably.
The truth is successful people fail more than anyone because they're always trying and never quit. The actor Sylvester Stallone was homeless and cleaning cages at a NYC zoo when he wrote his script for Rocky. Failure in nothing more than a temporary setback that provides a wealth of learning and experience. It's not that successful entrepreneurs don't fail ... they just don't quit.

6. Successful entrepreneurs have extroverted personalities.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are extreme introverts who have overcome their shyness, and only those with the lowest levels of self-esteem allow this myth to exist. If you can smile, be respectful and pleasant with people your personality is good enough.

7. Successful entrepreneurs are willing to take extraordinary risks.
To be an entrepreneur does take some degree of risk, but that risk is involves believing in “self.” Most successful people are not reckless and they mitigate their risk exposure with a vast amount of research before launching any project. We experience risk every day in our lives and deal with it effectively.

8. Successful entrepreneurs started with more money.
Having an unlimited supply of capital might make your business start-up easier, but not having it doesn't stand in your way of launching a successful enterprise. If you have a roof over your head, food on the table and gas for your vehicle you're light years ahead of successful entrepreneurs who began their careers homeless or living on food stamps.

9. Successful entrepreneurs only do it for the money.
Love it or hate it the world is fueled by money. We need it; that's why we work. However, entrepreneurs are motivated by much more than money. Passion drives success, success drives wealth. Money is a result, not a reason.

For every 100 excuses offered as to why success can’t be achieved, only one reason is required to convince a mind that anything is possible. Can you think of any valid reason why you aren't capable of becoming a successful entrepreneur? Even if you can, it won’t be one of the 9 myths listed above.

Consider these myths BUSTED, and remember that the only difference between success and failure is where on the timeline you decide to quit ... or keep going.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

6 Lessons the Military Can Teach Business about Leadership

Our country is suffering from an enormous deficit that’s growing exponentially every year. I’m not speaking of our mind-boggling foreign debt, nor am I speaking of our dwindling supply of intellectual capital. I am referring to the deficit in Corporate America of the brave and pioneering leadership that made the United States the premier global economy.

The most unfortunate piece of this reality is that we don’t suffer from a lack of qualified leadership to lead us back into economic prosperity. Rather, an insulated business community doesn’t truly understand that this resource is readily available.

Recruiters and Human Resource personnel can debate indefinitely regarding which Ivy League institutions have the best business schools in the country, and which produce the most highly qualified graduates. That said, I believe very few people will disagree that the top leadership training program in the United States is, and will continue to be, the U.S. Military.

Given the fact that we have no shortage of MBA graduates – yet we still show signs of a deficit in true business leadership – I have a suggestion for our business and corporate communities.

Start hiring proven leaders and teach them your business instead of hiring business graduates and praying they become leaders.

There are 6 lessons in particular that I leaned in the military which I’ve found to be critical in my 25-years of business experience. Irrespective of the position or career level, these lessons apply to every business model.

1. Taking the first step is always the most difficult decision.
Whether we’re making our first parachute jump from an aircraft, our first fast-rope from a helicopter or our first SCUBA dive from a zodiac craft … our ability to take that first step dictates our success or failure. All of us ask ourselves “Can I do it when the time comes?,” and when that answer is “yes” we succeed.

Ideation without execution has no value, and they’re many more “dreamers” than “doers.” Those who don’t hesitate in taking the first step – taking the difficult assignment and accepting additional responsibility – are a valuable commodity. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

2. Accepting RISK is a requirement, tolerating RECKLESSNESS is not.
When friends first learned I was going to Airborne School they all had the same response: “Kaplan, you’re crazy.” Perhaps. However, after undergoing numerous pre-flight inspections and observing the multiple layers of safety precautions inherent to each jump, I soon realized the risk associated with the action was much less than I had anticipated.

In the business world, the ability to be able to make a distinction between mitigated risk and recklessness is critical: mistakes in judgment can cause entire business units to lose millions of dollars and fail. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

3. Faith in your team, training and equipment significantly reduces fear.
I remember standing at the edge of a 40-foot rappelling tower, preparing to step off and run down its side face-first in an Australian rappel. Would I fall? Would the rope snap? As I stepped off the tower, the instructor on belay pulled tightly on my rope and froze my descent instantly. I learned instantly to have faith in my equipment and my team.

It doesn’t matter if your business employs business consultants, hair stylists or vehicle mechanics. Those employees who have developed this mindset manage their fear response and stress levels much more effectively than those who haven’t. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

4. Never forget the reason you decided to pursue your mission.
Everyone in the military who has ever attended a rigorous training project thought about quitting at some point during the course, me included. When the environment gets miserable and you’re exhausted, those thoughts are natural. We reach down deep, find a reason to persevere and remember what inspired us to voluntarily subject ourselves to these conditions.

Intolerable conditions exist in all business environments: abusive managers, terrible clients and co-workers who would sell out their soul (and you along with it) at the first chance possible. Many times, the first reaction is to quit … unless you have the mindset to persevere. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

5. Despite the best planning, unforeseen things happen.
I remember a parachute jump I made in Israel while participating in a joint training exercise with the Israeli Defense Forces. Their Jumpmasters were great, their pilots were great and their Drop Zone Safety Officers were great. The jump itself was terrible – it involved an olive tree and a cactus – I’ll spare you the details. Things happen; deal with it. Adapt and overcome. Drive on and move forward.

Things regularly go wrong in the world of business. Pipes break, contracts fall through and expected promotions don’t happen as planned. It can be confusing, stressful and even demoralizing. The employees who survive these situations psychologically are the ones who have been trained to do so. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

6. Successful accomplishments make the journey worth the effort.
During my term of military service, US Army Airborne School was the most difficult for me to complete. It wasn’t the most difficult training by any stretch – Airborne School is only the first (and easiest) of many that follow on the SOCOM path – but I had no mental benchmark from which to orient my mindset. When I got my jump wings and realized I accomplished my goal, I realized the pain was worth the effort. Every school that followed gave me the opportunity to prove that if I could survive the experience, the suffering would be worth the effort.

While this lesson may seem the most obvious, it is also the most difficult to follow. One can never truly know this until one has survived the adverse circumstance and persevered until successful. After numerous adversities and numerous successes, this belief becomes intrinsic and non-negotiable. A textbook on business leadership may convey this concept, but it can’t convey the experience that makes it real. The military teaches this to its personnel every day. It’s called “LEADERSHIP.”

I fully understand that graduates of our country’s top “leadership school” must still acquire the education and skills necessary that will allow them the opportunity to be successful in the civilian business world. With all due respect to Corporate America and the Ivy League business schools, however, the coveted skills piece is the easy part.

The mindset, character and experience that create true leaders of industry are what are missing. And that’s the piece our country most desperately needs.

The next time your company is required to choose between a 24-year old MBA with no life experience, and a leader willing and able to acquire the skills you need, choose wisely.

Cultivating the next generation of business leaders who can lead our country onto a path of economic prosperity is the primary line-item of your job description that matters most.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

10 Rules to Confidently Communicate Value

What you say is important. How you say it, even more so.

Anyone transitioning into a new career in any capacity will soon discover that their success is directly proportional to their ability to communicate their experience and value effectively. As a trained and motivated professional you have a lot to offer prospective employers. That said, the only person who can convince them of that fact is YOU.

Whether answering questions in front of an interview board or presenting a business plan to potential investors, successful candidates must develop the skills necessary to become effective communicators.

To be an effective communicator is not the same thing as being a great speaker (or talker). It transcends the commonly held belief that communication is a linear exchange of information: one person speaks while the other listens, then vice versa.

A truly effective communicator understands that interpersonal exchanges of information create a dynamic environment – a fluid interaction – between those speaking and those listening. The spoken word is actually only a small part of the communicative process.

This dynamic environment is always present regardless of the number of people interacting or the degree of formality of the conversation. A conversation between two friends, an informal presentation to a small group and a formal public speaking event to thousands require the same 10 rules to be practiced in order for the communication to be effective.

These rules are not being presented by order of importance; the last rule is equally as important as the first. My experience has led me to believe that the ability to achieve success is impossible without effective communication, and effective communication is impossible without these 10 simple rules.

1. Actively Capture Attention: Initiating a conversation with an audience which is not prepared to hear your message is an exercise in futility. All conversations – whether with one person or a thousand – should begin when the parties involved have their undivided attention focused on each other. Approach the interaction patiently, ensure that eye contact has been established and then begin communicating.

2. Build Personal Trust: Effective communication is much more than conveying information; it’s about evoking emotion that inspires people to embrace and champion your cause. It’s not enough for your message to be understood; it must take root in peoples’ minds and be believed by them as well. The only way your message will impact people on this level is if they trust you. As John Maxwell so wisely stated, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

3. Practice Fluid Speech: Fluid speech, like any other skill, needs to be practiced and requires constant reinforcement. If you are confident and believe in yourself, others will believe in you as well. One of the surest ways to undermine peoples’ confidence in your message is the inability to speak fluidly. People often incorporate interjections and hesitant phrases into their sentences such as “um,” “uh,” and “like.” Not only will this drive your audience insane after 5 minutes, it sends an underlying message that you’re neither confident in yourself nor your message.

4. Practice Engaging Speech: To effectively communicate your message requires you to engage your audience and cause them to be genuinely interested in what you have to say. To do this requires that your speech patterns have a discernible cadence and tempo; monotonous speech tends to bore people to death. Monologues, in addition to sounding rehearsed and completely disingenuous, also tend to put people to sleep more quickly than prescription medications.

5. Practice Congruent Messaging: When you practice congruent messaging, your non-verbal communication (body language) matches your verbal message. While this seems obvious, many people are not aware of their body language and are therefore not aware of the non-verbal messages they are sending. This can be nothing short of disastrous if left unattended, and a lack of congruence in your style of conversation sends mixed signals and confuses the audience.

6. Speak to Individuals: Whenever you communicate either verbally or in writing, your message must be directed at individuals, not the masses. Even when speaking to groups, your goal is to address individuals in that group. It allows you to personalize your interaction and capitalize on the emotional component of the conversation. Have you ever been in an audience listening to a powerful speaker and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this person knows exactly how I feel?" That’s the power of speaking to individuals.

7. Speak in Specifics: Unless you’re a politician intentionally avoiding direct answers and committing to a position, specificity is the rule by which you live when communicating your value. A concise thought has more value than one that is confusing and ambiguous, and speaking in general terms doesn't provide the level of information necessary to engage your audience. In more practical terms, any “informational gaps” in your message will be “filled in” by your audience in ways you did not intend.

8. Practice Active Listening: An effective communicator knows that conversation is a dynamic engagement of “give and take,” and active listening ensures you understand what the other person is saying. In many conversations, when a person begins to speak, the other person sees that break as an opportunity to formulate the next thought to be communicated. This is why many people only hear half of what is actually said in a conversation, and remember only 10% of that half.

9. Monitor the Conversation: This visual skill involves the use of your perception and intuition, and allows you to make needed adjustments in real time. If you are so preoccupied in your own communication that you cannot continually perceive the reaction of your audience to your message, you’re bound to make some mistakes.

10. Master the Topic: When communicating your value to others, you are the topic, and it’s assumed you know your value better than anyone else. If you find yourself answering questions with responses such as “I don’t know” or “I didn't think of that,” you obviously did not give enough thought to the conversation. This can be embarrassing to say the least.

These 10 simple rules, when applied in combination, will serve you well as a solid core for communicating effectively. These principles are not all inclusive of course, but experience has proven that mastery of these 10 rules will afford you a high probability of success when communicating your value to prospective civilian employers.

As you navigate the maze of job interviews, networking events, trade shows and sales meeting ... remember that mastering the art of effective communication takes time and practice. I promise you it's worth the effort.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

5 Lessons in Competitive Advantage from Military Snipers

Individuals and businesses alike are always looking for a competitive advantage that sets them apart from the crowd. Here’s the question: are they looking in the right place?

Job-seekers try to craft brilliant resumes they hope will capture immediate attention from HR personnel and recruiters. Graduate students try to get accepted to Ivy League business schools with the hope of building awe-inspiring pedigrees. Corporate managers try to earn multiple professional certifications with the hope that displaying 30 letters after their name will propel them into the C-suite “Crystal Palace.”

Those are all noble goals and great things to possess. If you have them, I congratulate you. However, what if you don’t have them? Will you be forever denied a competitive advantage in the marketplace and consigned to walk the halls of mediocrity forever? Not hardly.

While brilliant resumes, Ivy League MBA’s and professional certifications are great things to possess, they are still only “things.” True competitive advantage isn’t gained by a thing possessed, but by a mindset developed over time.

As part of my continued effort to promote the value of mindset and experience in Corporate America, allow me to share with you a few of the lessons taught in Military Sniper School that speak directly to the issue of competitive advantage. These lessons are applicable to everyone, period. Anyone can master this proven mindset.

1. Snipers don’t stop when they’re tired; they stop when they’re done.

Advantage #1: Driven by Mission. Strength and stamina are true competitive advantages, but true strength doesn’t come from what you can do – if comes from doing what you previously thought you couldn’t do. That type of strength doesn’t come from the body; it comes from the mind.

In the world of business, a person who’s mission-driven will run circles around those who aren’t in spite of their degrees and certifications. Their mission feeds them the energy they need to persevere, and gives them the mental stamina to weather the storm and drive on in spite of overwhelming odds.

2. Snipers aren’t deadly because they have rifles; they’re deadly because they’ve learned how to weaponize math.

Advantage #2: Expertise, not Equipment. Have you ever wondered what’s going through a snipers’ mind right before he pulls the trigger? Mathematics. He’s adding and subtracting fractions, calculating geometric angles and solving time vs. distance equations. The rifle is nothing more than an extension of a snipers’ true lethality: his mind.

In today’s business environment it’s easy to misplace our focus on technology, degrees and certifications as the source of our competitive advantage. That’s a mistake. Those things provide knowledge, but knowledge in and of itself isn’t power. Applied knowledge is power. True competitive advantage can be identified when one is left with nothing but their minds with which to compete … and they win anyway.

3. The sniper motto is “One Shot, One Kill,” not “Spray and Pray.”

Advantage #3: Economy & Efficiency. Studies of the Vietnam War have revealed that conventional forces expended 50,000 rounds of ammunition per enemy kill ($23,000) versus snipers who expended 1.3 rounds per kill ($0.17). The ROI snipers bring to the table is obvious.

Job-seekers sending out hundreds of resumes and sales managers chasing hundreds of prospects would benefit from this lesson. A person who adapts the efficiency inherent to “on shot, one kill” has a distinct competitive advantage in the business world. A person who can manage time, laser-focus on tasks and identify well-suited audiences for their message can accomplish infinitely more than those who don't.

4. Snipers wait for the best shot, not the perfect shot.

Advantage #4: Opportunity & Timing. In sniper school we’re trained to patiently wait for our shot, unaffected by our environment. When the target presents itself, we act: range it, dope it, scope it and pull the trigger. We’d like a perfect shot, but we know that if we hold the scope on target too long muscle fatigue sets in and our scope begins a figure-8 wobble. When that happens, we missed our opportunity.

Ideation without execution has no value, and a person willing to step up, take action and make subsequent course corrections has a distinct advantage over those suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”

5. One sniper can change the world with a bullet on the right target.

Advantage #5: Driven by Purpose. History is replete with examples of snipers having a strategic impact on future events. Dictatorial leaders have been deposed in dangerous rogue nations, drug cartels have been disbanded, and innocent lives have been spared in hostage situations that could have very easily resulted in mass casualties.

A person in the business world who is driven by purpose is the most powerful force to be reckoned with by far. Purpose stems from passion, and those who possess it have a distinct competitive advantage over those who are driven by prestige or material gain.

In the infamous words of Margaret Mead, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. Indeed, that’s all who ever have.” One person can truly change the world, and there’s no reason why that person can’t be you.

True competitive advantage – whether you’re a job-seeker, business owner or corporate professional seeking to excel within your field – is not a thing to be acquired. It’s a mindset that needs to be cultivated, developed and nurtured over time.

Do you really want a distinct competitive advantage in today’s marketplace? Turn your eyes away from the diplomas on your office wall and look in the mirror instead. That’s where it truly exists.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

4 Self-Rescue Tips: Is Life Trying To Drown You?

“People don’t drown by falling into the water. 
They drown by not getting out of it.”
~ Michael I. Kaplan ~

As much as I hate to admit it sometimes, I’m human. There are times I experience bouts of depression, anger and frustration with my environment and current circumstances.

Nowhere was this more apparent to me than during my first few years stumbling down the path of professional self-sufficiency.

I recognize this behavior as perfectly normal and take all the necessary steps to minimize its impact on my life. In the end I have no choice; I am committed to being successful and I realize this temporary mindset stands in my way as an obstacle which needs to be managed.

If we drop our guard and fail to pay attention to the signs, some of which are more obvious than others, it’s fairly easy to get sucked into the abyss of this condition. It’s an ongoing battle all of us must fight when we make the conscious choice to succeed.

To explain this condition in broad terms, I offer the analogy of a drowning victim. The victim believes all control has been lost to stay above water despite the fact their arms and legs are functional.

They’re overwhelmed by panic and lose all capacity for rational thought, pleading for help at the top of their lungs while concurrently believing they are deprived of oxygen.

The rescuer, motivated but inexperienced, swims up to the victim with the intention of bringing the victim to safety. Desperate to stay afloat at all costs the victim climbs up on the rescuer. The rescuer is forced under water and drowns. The victim drowns shortly thereafter.

The dynamic described in this analogy accurately reflects the mindset of an individual suffering from “victim status” on dry land.

Individuals who get trapped in a victim mindset are more than pessimistic; having no perceived control over their life or the world around them, they feel completely helpless. Any would-be rescuer that happens to hear their cries for help will soon find themselves as the victim.

Don't become a victim that brings down everyone trying to rescue you. Adopt these 4 tips in your self-rescue plan and use them to your advantage.

Tip #1: Recognize the role of “Secondary Gains.”
In psychological parlance, a secondary gain refers to an indirect benefit, typically in the form of an interpersonal of social advantage, which a person with a victim mentally receives by not overcoming the underlying problems associated with the condition. More simply stated, it’s the mechanism of reward a person initiates to allow them to remain stuck in the victim cycle.

Tip #2: Seek out opportunities for empowerment at any level.
In order to create a sense of empowerment anywhere in your life you must establish non-negotiable boundaries that allow you to express a sense of control over your environment. Only then will you begin to realize you have established a strong enough presence to project that sense of empowerment into other facets of your life.

Tip #3: Recognize that “fault and blame” are useless to you.
Fault and blame serve no other purpose than to transfer rightful ownership of control from one person to another. As a consequence, those who transfer control to another person end up losing it themselves instantly. The price you actually paid for that maneuver was a regression back to a powerless position.

Tip #4: Recognize the need to forgive yourself and others.
If you consider the steps required to defeat the victim mindset the logic of this process is quite simple. Once you recognize secondary gains exist in your behavior, you correct your mindset and break the cycle of entrapment. You then seek out opportunities of empowerment within your environment to establish a sense of control.

Accepting bad experiences from the past as lessons for your future allows you to move forward with no restrictions. Your success demands a “clean slate” with a strong foundation.

Once you have the knowledge needed to defeat the victim mentality and make the choice to adopt a “victor mindset,” the transition from crisis to crisis becomes much easier to manage. Trust me … I know what it feels like to be a "drowning victim" desperately trying to keep my head above water in a search any success to keep me afloat.

There’s nothing better than finally achieving success and getting back on to dry land with an effective self-rescue. Pull yourself out, dry off and drive on … 2017 is going to be a great year.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

6 Tips to Project Bullet-Proof Confidence

Confidence is not a fixed position which, once achieved, is permanently secured. It is a fluid mindset that constantly needs to be adjusted contingent upon the circumstance you happen to experience at any particular moment.

We can be confident in some aspects of our lives while being very insecure in others. For example, I have friends who are business professionals who can speak publicly in front of an audience of thousands of people, but experience anxiety on a “first date” in a quiet restaurant. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that no one can escape; we simply cannot be comfortable with all things at all times.

As a result of societal pressure promoting the virtue of humility, the act of projecting your value and self-worth with confidence can be difficult. Unfortunately, if you’re not convinced of your value no one else will be convinced either.

Remember: you are the brand you’re selling, and an effective and confident delivery means everything. Use the following 6 tips as guide to achieve a balanced approach to confident interactions.

1. Always make eye contact. An insecure person will feel uneasy looking you in the eye, and an arrogant person will stare beyond you looking for the next captive audience that may prove to be more beneficial to their agenda. When you speak with someone, looking them in the eye projects confidence, attentiveness and assures them you have nothing to hide.

2. Don’t justify every action. If you've ever been in a group of people in which someone trips, bumps into someone or drops something it will usually be followed with a justification such as “I didn't see that, I must be tired” or “I've got so much on my mind, I’m not paying attention.” Confident people don’t need to justify their actions in this manner. Accidents happen, life goes on and excuses are unnecessary.

3. Don’t respond immediately to criticism. Confident people don’t need to aggressively defend themselves. If the criticism is constructive and accurate, they graciously accept and apply it. If it’s not they don’t let it bother them. Take the time to listen before you decide one way or another.

4. Don’t demand second opinions. Have you ever been witness to a verbal argument between two people in which at the conclusion of the argument, one of the participants asks you, “I was correct to say that, right?” Confident people don’t need second opinions that serve to justify their ego. They make their point and they stand by it without seeking approval of others.

5. Don’t constantly interrupt. In addition to being proper etiquette, confident people know that “talking over” someone doesn't make their argument more convincing. This habit projects arrogance and gives the impression you care more for your own voice than the opinions of others.

6. Don’t “One Up” your audience. Have you ever been in a group of people in which a person shares a story, and someone else feels compelled to immediately share a life event that’s “bigger and better”? Confident people have nothing to prove in this regard, and they understand the need to let others shine. In addition to appearing arrogant, does it really prove anything?

To have "bullet-proof" confidence is to have absolute faith and trust in your ability to accomplish a task successfully. Inhale confidence, exhale doubt and remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.