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    Choose to Thrive.

    Not Just Survive.

    What’s driving your decisions? And where are they taking you? Learn why every decision you make is a choice to Thrive – or Just Survive.

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Are You Thriving – Or Just Surviving?

Think about the decisions you make every day. Are you choosing to Thrive? Or Just Survive? And what’s the difference? With more than 30 years of experience, Neal Spencer has gained valuable insights into what guides our personal and professional decisions. Now he shares those lessons with you.

What decisions are you facing?

With the tough decisions that meet us every day, we feel tremendous pressure to make the right choices for our families, our careers, and ourselves.

Who are you listening to?

Advice comes from all around us – relatives, friends, colleagues, teachers, bosses, and others. But where do we find that great advice we really need?

What are your choices?

Decisions feel overwhelming when we are presented with a seemingly endless array of options. But in the end, it all boils down to two basic choices.

Are you choosing to Thrive? Or Just Survive?

How do you Thrive and not Just Survive? Neal presents an effective approach for getting better personal and professional outcomes in your life.


As we navigate our personal and professional lives, how do we Thrive – and not Just Survive? Neal’s message inspires better decisions for individuals and organizations alike.Learn more

Neal Spencer

With more than 30 years of leadership experience, Neal has gained important insights into what drives decisions that lead to success.
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Meet Neal Spencer

Learn how Neal helped one of the country’s most successful accounting firms to Thrive during challenging times.

Meet Neal Spencer


Neal’s session was fantastic and his message, based on a series of personal stories, provided practical advice on how to make effective decisions in order to thrive in one’s life and career.

Chris Graff, VP of Education, Kentucky Chapter of HFMA

Neal provided insight to our group and his presentation was both informative and entertaining. He has significant real-life experience in the professional services industry and is a top notch communicator. If the opportunity arises, we will invite Neal back to speak to our members in the future.

Stan Mork - President, Information Technology Alliance

Neal is a gifted and authoritative presenter. Neal caught on quickly to a vision, and was instrumental in helping INSIDE Public Accounting launch the annual conference, The PRIME Symposium. His personality, knowledge, and sincere passion for the profession came through in his presentations and were well received. Neal is encouraging and positive. His insight on strategy was a draw to our invitation-only guest list and his presentation skills were quite impactful.

Kelly Platt, Principal INSIDE Public Accounting and the Platt Group

As I grow older I only gain more and more respect for your incredible leadership and communication style. I never had the opportunity to thank you for the time and efforts that you invested in my career. You are the standard of excellence for all of the leaders that I interact with and work for to this day.

Bryan, (former employee)

Neal Spencer delivered a moving and inspirational commencement address at OTC’s annual graduation ceremony. His message of choosing to thrive rather than just survive resonated with OTC students. He tailored his message to fit his audience and was able to capture the attention of both the graduating students and their families and friends. His passion for education, leadership experience, and community commitment, made Neal an ideal speaker for more than 8,000 attendees. OTC was fortunate to have Neal deliver our keynote address.

Stephanie Sumners, Chief of Staff


These helpful articles illustrate how you can choose to Thrive – and not Just Survive – every day.

7 Resolutions for Effective Leadership in 2017

December 28, 2016
Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? If you’re in a management position, you’re probably thinking about how to make 2017 a better year for your business. Boosting your leadership effectiveness is a great way to accomplish that goal. Here are my 7 resolutions for becoming a more effective leader and to help your organization Thrive — and not Just Survive — after the ball drops in Times Square. #1: Know that you can become a more effective leader. Don’t think you have what it takes to be a great leader? Think again! Although some folks do seem to have a “natural aptitude” for leadership, anyone, no matter who you are, can improve on that natural skillset to become an effective leader. First, remember that leadership development is a long-term, incremental process. Go ahead and sign up for that leadership training class or conference. But it does you no good unless you use what you learn. If you just keep on doing the same old things, don’t expect much of a return on all that money you spent on leadership training. Leadership is just like any other skill — it takes time to master it. You have to practice leadership skills every day, just like learning to ride a bike, use new technology, or read financial statements. #2: Recruit the right people and support their development. You may be the world’s best accountant, but you still need a qualified attorney to help with legal matters. Or you may be one of the top lawyers in your state, but do you know how to build a website? Assembling a team of passionate, smart individuals will go a long way towards building relationships, developing the right strategy, and executing it effectively. Once you’ve got the right people on your team, empower them to make decisions in their areas of expertise. Support their growth and development. Make sure they have the resources they need to keep improving their own skills as they advance in their careers. And don’t micro-manage.  People make mistakes and sometimes it’s ok to let them make mistakes in order to learn, even though you could have prevented it.   #3: Earn their trust. The Gallup organization studied more than 20,000 leaders in organizations around the world to identify what specific traits people look for in the leaders they respect. Not surprisingly, trust came out as one of the most important factors. There are many things you can do to earn the trust of your team members: Be honest about your mistakes and never shift blame. Don’t gossip or spread rumors. Make ethical decisions, even when it would be more expedient — or more profitable — to do otherwise. You also earn trust by supporting your employees and helping them overcome challenges. #4: Sharpen your decision making by seeking different perspectives. Whether it’s human resources, finances, marketing, or any other domain, you have to juggle a dizzying array of competing agendas when making decisions. One of the biggest mistakes you

Why Become a Motivational Speaker?

November 8, 2016
So you might be wondering why I’m writing a blog on how to be a motivational speaker?  When I retired from my firm I knew I had a next chapter in my life.  The problem, I didn’t know what that was going to be so I started making a list of options.  I thought about buying a company, serving on a number for-profit boards, becoming a CFO or a CEO for a company or even starting my own company in health and fitness.  The furthest thing from my mind was to become a professional motivational speaker. As I started to think about life, I realized I was now in a position to do what I wanted.  And what I wanted was flexibility.  Flexibility to go visit my family and friends who are scattered all across the country.  Flexibility to devote my time and energy to a number of charitable causes I’m passionate about.  And flexibility to control my own schedule and to share what I’ve learned during my 30 year career in public accounting.  So there you have it. Throughout your career, you’ve always gone the extra mile to provide value that your clients just can’t find anywhere else. You’ve learned many lessons along the way, from mentors, teachers, and, yes, your own mistakes. Lessons that could be very helpful for lots of people. But the idea of talking to a room full of strangers makes your blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Motivational speaking, you think, is for someone smarter, cooler, or better-looking than you. How could you possibly hold anyone’s attention? Motivate some random person to change their lives for the better? Four Reasons to Pursue Motivational Speaking A few years ago, Forbes published the ironically-titled article, “There’s No Such Thing as a Motivational Speaker.” Author Nick Morgan, a communication expert and public speaking coach, explains that speaking is not a profession, but rather “a way to communicate your passion about a subject upon which you’re an expert.” Here are four reasons why you might consider adding “motivational speaker” to your resume: #1: There Are People Who Would Benefit from Your Message Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about your audience. What types of folks would get something positive out of your story? A group of aspiring entrepreneurs might appreciate your words of wisdom if you’ve launched a successful business of your own. People trying to improve their health might want to hear from you if you’re a nutritionist or personal trainer. If you’ve overcome a significant personal struggle, your experiences could help others facing similar challenges in life. The best motivational speakers know how to tailor their messages for the needs of specific audiences. Your core topic may be the same, but your delivery should vary so that it’s relatable to the audience, whether you’re speaking to CEOs or a gathering of college students. #2: You Are Passionate about Your Message If you don’t really care about your topic, why should anybody else? According to the

How to Break Bad Habits

September 26, 2016
A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.  – Mark Twain   Most of us have at least one thing we’d like to change about our lives. We all want better relationships. Better finances. And better health. But why is it that so many of us, in spite of our all our knowledge and abilities, can’t seem to get out of the ruts we’re stuck in? Throughout my life and public accounting career, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that it usually isn’t somebody else holding us back. All too often, we are the ones standing in our own way. How do we do this? By holding on to bad habits. Let’s take a look at why harmful habits are hard to break, and how you can replace bad habits with good habits that will help you to Thrive and not Just Survive! How Do Habits Form in the First Place? A few years ago, neuroscientist Reza Habib had 22 people lie inside an MRI machine while they watched images of spinning slot machines. Half of the participants were problem gamblers and the other half were social gamblers who weren’t addicted. And what did she see? When the non-addicts saw a “near miss” on the slot machine, they were able to recognize that they’d lost. But the gambling addicts interpreted the “near miss” as a win, which made them want to keep playing. In other words, a habit physically changes your brain! Habit formation follows a very simple process: Both good and bad habits alike are triggered by a cue, situation, or event. They are learned over time by repetition. They are performed automatically, with little conscious awareness. They are persistent — that’s why changing bad habits is so hard once they’ve formed. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explains that habits are a normal part of life and that positive habits are actually beneficial, such as being able to drive familiar routes on “autopilot.” But sometimes our brains get rewarded for the wrong behaviors, which can lead to negative habits like overeating, addiction, or even excessive computer use. How to Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones Psychologist Roy Baumeister, who studies decision-making and will power, says that self-control is like a muscle. Resisting a temptation leaves you feeling drained the same way you get sore after a workout. That’s why it’s hard to change “cold turkey” — that initial resistance actually makes your craving stronger at first. Here are four steps for breaking bad habits and replacing them with new healthy habits. These steps aren’t necessarily easy, but with persistence they are effective. #1: Become Aware of Your Unhealthy Habits. Breaking habits begins with recognizing the situations that trigger your cravings. What is it that makes you reach for that next cigarette? What makes your mouth water for that supersized heart attack in a sack? Whenever possible, make an effort to

Make the Most Out of Life

September 1, 2016
Do you feel stuck in a rut, even when things look okay on the surface? Is there some goal you’ve given up on because you think it’s out of reach? Does it feel like you’re not making the most out of life? Over the years, both personal and professional experiences have taught me four essential building blocks that are necessary for getting more out of life. Relationships are the foundation of the good life. Kindness builds relationships and personal well-being. Gratitude is like your toothbrush: you must use it faithfully every day. Happiness is a habit you choose, not something you wait for helplessly. These are all quite simple concepts that lots of people talk about, but too few take the all-important step of acting on them. Wondering how to have a good life? Starting today, prioritize these four building blocks and reap the rewards — regardless of what you do, where you live, or how much money you make. #1: Relationships: The Foundation of the Good Life You’ve probably heard the familiar real estate mantra: Location! Location! Location! Well, if you want to make the most of your life, here’s your new mantra: Relationships! Relationships! Relationships! Great relationships promote good health, career success, and a fulfilling personal life. Looking for some hard evidence? Look no further than the long-running Study of Adult Development at Harvard. For more than 75 years, two separate cohorts of men have been studied as they finished school, launched their careers, got married, had children, and went through other life experiences. The first group, known as the Grant Study, focused on 268 Harvard sophomores recruited in 1938 The second group, known as the Glueck Study, consisted of 456 teenage boys from inner city Boston. The men completed a survey about their quality of life every two years, and underwent a physical exam every five years. And what do the results tell us about what makes a good life? Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the study’s director, shared three key lessons in a TED Talk in 2015: Close relationships. Participants who had close relationships with their family, friends, and communities were happier, healthier, and lived longer, while those who were socially isolated were less happy, and suffered more health problems. Quality (not quantity) of relationships. Individuals in so-called “high-conflict” relationships — meaning they argued a lot — were actually less happy than those who were single. Stable, supportive marriages. Those who had healthy marriages performed better on memory tests later in life than those whose family relationships were rife with conflict. #2: Remember that Kindness Is King You don’t need me to tell you that being nice to people makes for better relationships. It might be taking food to a neighbor who’s under the weather, offering moral support to a friend, or mentoring a young person at work. Or it could simply be treating others the way you want to be treated. Well, researchers have also discovered that kindness is right up there

Stand Out with an Entrepreneurial Mindset

August 5, 2016
As a professional services provider, you may not see yourself as an entrepreneur. You’re not inventing a new gadget. You’re just one of thousands performing a similar service throughout the world. Well, that world is changing. There are lots of opportunities for law firms, accountants, consultants, and other professional services, but expertise alone is no longer enough. Let’s talk about how to Thrive — and not Just Survive — by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, no matter what you do! What Is an Entrepreneur, Anyway? Is it the Silicon Valley tech genius? The Wall Street hotshot? That neighbor who owns the gift shop down the block? Being an entrepreneur is about much more than starting a business, or even whether you’re “the boss.” Bruce Bachenheimer, who leads the Entrepreneurship Lab at Pace University, defines entrepreneurship as a mindset. It’s about imagining new ways to solve problems and create value. Here are some key characteristics of an entrepreneur: An eye for opportunity. John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, exemplifies this sentiment: “Some people see problems, and an entrepreneur sees opportunity.” A keen self-awareness. Jenny Ta, founder and CEO of social commerce platform Sqeeqee, describes entrepreneurs as confident, self-motivated individuals who understand their own limitations and are willing to fail and start over. A strong tolerance for risk. According to MJ Gottlieb, co-founder of consulting firm Hustle Branding, an entrepreneur must be willing to take on extreme risks in order to transform ideas into reality. Practical know-how. Elizabeth Amini, CEO of Anti-Aging Games LLC, says you need more than just a great concept. You must know how to reach the right customers who will benefit from what you do. Why Should You Think Like an Entrepreneur? Why would your professional service organization benefit from these entrepreneurial traits? The entrepreneurial mindset helps you focus on value. When you’re always on the lookout for emerging opportunities, you’ll learn to anticipate the needs of clients and prospects and end up being their go to advisor. It helps you differentiate yourself. Today’s consumers are awash in a sea of me-too marketing tactics from businesses trying to get their attention. But while everybody else is bending over backwards to get noticed, you’ll be nurturing sustainable win-win relationships. It helps you respond to change. Whether it’s demographics, technology, or culture, an entrepreneurial mindset helps you find the opportunity embedded in all these challenges, so you’re better equipped to navigate today’s unpredictable environment. How Can You Build Your Entrepreneurial Skills? Here are some good habits that will help you develop the skills of an entrepreneur and succeed in your service industry — whether you’re flying solo in your own practice or you just “made partner” in a multi-million dollar firm. #1: Bring the Enthusiasm A few blogs ago, I asked whether you would still do your current job even if you didn’t need the money. In other words, do you have a career, or just a job? One of the most important qualities of an entrepreneur is passion. Something that energizes

Why Should I Change Now?

July 6, 2016
I’ve always done it this way. I’ve had the same website since 1997. That’s all I have to do, right? That’s the attitude you see from professional services firms who either resist digital marketing — or who just don’t think it matters very much. But in case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed. If somebody needs a lawyer, doctor, accountant, or other service provider, what do they do first? Why, they Google it, of course! They get Facebook recommendations. Peruse customer reviews, videos, and articles to help them make a smart decision. Even if they’ve already heard of you, they’re still going to check you out online before making contact — just to see if you’re “legit.” A full 81% of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase, and 90% of all purchase decisions are influenced by online experiences. The only way to Thrive — and not Just Survive — as a service firm in this environment is to make the right impression online. Here are five keys to making friends with digital marketing. #1: Create a Digital-First Culture Across professional service industries, there are things that every business has to pay attention to — such as customer service, controlling costs, and maintenance. It’s time to add digital marketing strategy to your list of “have-to’s.” It must be a priority, not an afterthought. Adopt a digital-first mindset. Sure, some customers will still want to communicate with service professionals by phone or in person. But most will reach out through digital methods — such as email, texting, or online forms. Digital-first starts at the top. One of the habits of Great Leaders is a focus on the future. If leadership doesn’t embrace digital, how do you expect to gain buy-in? Determine the role of digital marketing. How will it add value to your service? Help you achieve lead generation and other goals? Recognize the digital marketing aspect to other activities. For example, digital is your #1 way to let folks know about a new service. It’ll also help you find the right person to add to your team — and help them find you! But, Neal! I don’t have time to fiddle with my website all day! I’ve got to do my job! And you’re exactly right — you’re just one person, and there are many more jobs to do than one person can handle. And that brings me to my second key to digital marketing success: #2: Get the Right People on Board You may be the best lawyer in town. You bend over backwards to help your clients get the justice they deserve. But if your car breaks down, you don’t fix it yourself, do you? Of course not. You take it to the best mechanic you can afford. So if you have little to no digital marketing experience, why not take the same approach? Remember that no one — not even the boss — has all the answers. It’s okay if you’re not a tech nerd,

You’re Not Entitled to Anything

June 9, 2016
What are we going to do about all these self-centered brats at work? You see them all the time: demanding respect without earning it, seeking praise without lifting a finger, and shirking accountability. Oh, you thought I was talking about entitled Millennials? Actually, I was referring to all those spoiled bosses running around. Often as individuals advance to positions of leadership, many develop a sense of entitlement. Think it doesn’t matter? Think again. A growing body of research shows that poor leadership is bad for morale at work: A majority of people are unhappy in corporate jobs (Grow America). 74% of people surveyed would consider finding a different job today (Harris Interactive). 32% of people are actively looking for a different job (Mercer’s “What’s Working” study). 31% admit that they don’t like their boss (Accenture). Regardless of your position, everything is earned and nothing is given to you. And if you’re the boss, how can you lecture the “entitlement generation” about changing their ways if they see the exact same behaviors coming from you? If you want your organization to Thrive and not Just Survive, always know that your attitude and behavior set an example for everyone else — and that primary responsibility for ending the “culture of entitlement” in the workplace rests with those in leadership roles. What Does Entitled Mean? How do you know the Entitled Leader when you meet them? Psychologist and executive coach Jasbindar Singh says too many folks get seduced by the “position, power, privilege, and perks” of being in charge. She notices that the worst offenders usually lack the self-awareness that they are even acting entitled! An entitlement attitude is correlated with “…self-serving beliefs and behaviors, narcissistic personalities, and arrogance. Conversely, empathy — the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes — tends to be low.” Mark Sanborn, CEO of leadership development firm Sanborn & Associates, Inc., identifies five so-called “entitlement traps” that he’s seen bosses fall into: Expecting respect without giving it: Respect has to be earned and comes from your character and ability, not your position or status in life. Too many bosses demand respect no matter how they treat others. Needing adulation: Constantly seeking unwavering praise will grate on those around you — especially if you withhold appreciation from others. Demanding sacrifice from others: Are you asking employees to take pay cuts without tightening your own belt? Asking them to stay late while you call it a day early? Not showing employees they can trust you: Do you respect people you don’t trust? Enough said. Expecting employees to treat you like a friend: Remember, you want to have a great relationship with your people, but Great Leaders don’t go around expecting their employees to be their best friends. Over the years, I’ve also observed way too many folks who think that a fancy title means they don’t have to face accountability. Only the “underlings” have to answer for their decisions, while the “boss” gets to do whatever he or she

How Great Leaders Thrive in Good Times and Bad

May 6, 2016
If you’re in any kind of organizational leadership role, your ability to adapt to change is essential in today’s world. Circumstances go back and forth between good and bad times at breakneck speed. We all know that tough times call for great leadership, but did you know that the truly effective leader knows how to manage the good times, too? Let’s look at some habits of Great Leaders in business and other fields that help everyone Thrive — and not Just Survive — through good times and bad. Great Leaders Know How to Cope with Good Times What do you mean “cope?” Good times are supposed to be easy, right? Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who has won five national championships in his career, has a different observation. He has discovered that it’s more challenging to motivate his athletes to play their best after they’ve won a title: “It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by…When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep…working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished.” That’s right. Even if you’re the best athlete, sales rep, accountant, or whatever it is you do — all too often success breeds complacency. It kills the hunger that fed your initial drive to achieve. #1: Great Leaders Challenge Everyone to Keep Getting Better You’ve got to challenge every member of your team to keep improving. Everyone feels more invigorated when they’re consistently reaching new levels of success, and you’ll notice more positive energy throughout the organization. Misty Copeland, Principal Female Dancer with the American Ballet Theater, tells us she’s “always working to improve. It’s not about what you’ve done. There’s always room to grow.” Copeland understands that it takes just as much hard work to maintain her success as it did to reach the pinnacle of her field in the first place. By the way, it’s not enough to push your team to keep reaching for excellence. If you’re a Great Leader, you’ll practice what you preach by investing in your own room for improvement! How has your industry changed since you first started? What new skills do you need to build on your accomplishments? Reach out to experts on your team, sign up for a few classes, or get some helpful books — any resources that will improve your own performance. #2: Great Leaders Don’t Just Focus on the “Star Players” Remember, the Great Leader doesn’t play favorites by becoming close friends with a few top performers while ignoring everybody else. After all, it’s the employee who may be struggling a little bit who could give you the greatest return by investing in a little guidance! And that can help make the good times even better. Effective leaders know how to bring out the best in each individual team member. Your people will appreciate that you care enough to help, they’ll be happier at work,

Go Ahead and Brag!

April 5, 2016
In the professional services industry, we often assume clients know the value we provide -- but sometimes we need to do a little bragging.

Are You Living a Passionate Life?

March 21, 2016
Are you living a Passionate Life? Is that even possible for someone like you? Click to learn three friendly hints for choosing a Passionate Life!

5 Habits of Great Leaders

February 16, 2016
No matter how high up the ladder you’ve climbed, you must remember this at all times: People follow their boss because they have to. They follow a leader because they want to.

Adding Value for Professional Services

January 25, 2016
Be the Johnny Cash of Your Professional Services Industry. Maybe you can’t sing a note. Perhaps you’ve never strummed a guitar. But stay with me here.

Millennials Are People Too!

December 14, 2015
“What’s wrong with these darn kids today?” – Every grown-up since the dawn of time. These days, it seems to be quite popular for older folks to gripe about the Millennial generation – the new cohort of young adults who now make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce.

Three Habits of the Value-Added Life

November 18, 2015
Companies obsess over how to provide it to shareholders. They run commercials promising the “best value for your dollar.” You look for it when you spend money with them. But what is value, exactly?

Will $100 Cost You a Client

November 10, 2015
When did clients or customers become secondary? In the last several weeks I’ve experienced examples of not just poor client service, but let me call it stupidity when addressing client concerns. In each case, clients were lost. Can you afford to lose clients you don’t want to lose? Have you trained your team on how to address client issues? If not, I bet you’ve already lost clients you didn’t intend to lose.


Meet some of the organizations that have implemented Neal’s message to Thrive…and not Just Survive.

Choose to Thrive. Not Just Survive. Click here to learn how.