Category Archives: Leadership

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

The Reasons We Quit…

Are usually not the real reasons.

Sure, we’ll have our story about how someone or something created the untenable situation that pushed us to quit.

We can talk about how continuing would have been a waste of our time and energy.

We can even describe how the emotional toll was so great that we needed to make the change before some type of permanent damage occurred.

All these reasons contain elements of truth.  But, not the whole truth.

The whole truth lies in the balance of authority and responsibility.

Authority and responsibility live on opposite sides of life’s biggest equation.  When we perceive that the authority we have matches up with the responsibility we’re carrying, we feel balanced.  Satisfied.

But, get them out of whack, and our dissatisfaction begins to climb.  Left unattended, the dissatisfaction we feel (subconsciously at first) will begin to overtake our patience.  The cascade toward departure begins.

A world where we have ultimate authority and no responsibility would be nice.  The “power” to do whatever we want without any ownership of the outcomes.  Of course, this is a fantasy world.

Having authority over anything means having responsibility.

The key is the balance.

So, back to the quit or don’t quit decision:

If we stay the course, we’ll be forced to take ownership.  We’ll need to assume authority and expend a ton of emotional energy.  We can’t blame the “other.”  When we decide not to quit, we’re deciding that it’s okay to be responsible for making the situation a success (however that gets defined in our heads).

Quitting is the easy way out of this “authority-responsibility” conundrum.  It requires a lot less energy and eliminates our risk of failure.  It doesn’t matter that the act of quitting may be an admission of failure in the first place.  That’s just a sunk cost.  The key is how much emotional energy we’ll have to expend in the future.

Why does any of this matter?  We aren’t planning to quit any time soon.  It’s not in our nature.

True, but what about everyone around you?  What about the people who report to you?  What about your teammates?  What about your friends?

It turns out they’re working through this same authority-responsibility equation in their own lives.

And guess who has both the authority and responsibility to help them with balancing their equation.

You.

 

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The Dodge

Here’s a paradox about productivity:

I’m often most productive when dodging the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

I always know when I’m avoiding a task, even if tell myself I’m not.  That task that seems undoable, requires multiple synchronized steps, requires difficult decisions, involves lots of other people who may not be “on board,” or the task with a nebulous benefit way out in the future.

It’s easy to dodge these challenging tasks and focus on the simple stuff.  That list of to-dos I can knock out in an afternoon.

I know I’m not doing the tough thing, but at least I’m being productive.  Nobody can accuse me of being lazy if I just keep moving.

This is the curse of staying busy, while not accomplishing anything.

I can dodge all I want.  I can tell myself stories to justify my delay.

It doesn’t matter, the tough task will still be there, waiting.

Here’s another paradox:

When I finally face the tough task, the one I’ve been avoiding, it usually starts to look a lot easier.  The next indicated steps begin to show themselves.  The unwieldy becomes doable.

The dodge makes the tough task appear bigger than it really is.

It comes down to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the difficult.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of failure.  Fear of success (yes, this is a thing).

What if this task is harder than I imagined?  What if it owns me?  What if I can’t do it?  What if someone sees me fail?

The answer to all these questions is, “So what.  Get started anyway.  Stop dodging and start doing.”

“Knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.” – Seth Godin

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

 

My Leadership Prayer

God, please grant me,

The faith and judgment to make sound decisions, and

The courage to change those decisions when they’re wrong.

The everlasting hope that, together, our organization can and will be successful.

The fortitude to seek continuous improvement in everything we do.

 

Integrity and a just heart to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

A charitable approach to my employees, my customers and my competitors.

The ability to focus on the vital few while ignoring the distracting many, and

The prudence to deploy our limited capital wisely.

 

Oh, loving God,

Allow me to work from a place of humility, forsaking my prideful thoughts.

Help me look to others for motivation, not as a source of jealous envy.

Give me the self-control to reject greed, striving for what is needed and nothing more.

Show me that the trappings and status of my position are temporary and undeserved.

 

Always remind me that my life’s mission is to serve others before myself,

Helping my organization grow by focusing on the growth of every team member.

Remind me to provide life-giving feedback and questions that encourage rather than belittle,

To view mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Help me understand that all of us are smarter and more creative than one of us.

 

Give me the strength and endurance to persevere through times of trouble.

Give me the vision to see beyond today,

To always strive for a better tomorrow.

Help me to become a positive example for others in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions.

I invite You into each and every minute of my life.

Grant me the peace that comes from Your eternal and infinite love, now and forever.

Amen

 

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions always want more time.

Decisions always want more data.

Decisions always want more opinions.

 

Decisions don’t like risk.

Decisions don’t like being wrong.

Decisions don’t like upsetting people.

 

Decisions choose the path of least resistance, whenever allowed.

 

Decisions like being easy.

Decisions like being popular.

Decisions like being swayed by others.

 

Decisions like to follow.

Decisions like to blame someone.

Decisions like hiding behind distractions.

 

Decisions prefer urgency over importance.

Decisions prefer not to decide.

Decisions rarely see at a distance.

 

Decisions are just ideas until we turn them into action.  They’ll be difficult.  They’ll lack information.  They’ll often be wrong.

Decide anyway!

Each of us gets to make our own decisions…even when we choose not to decide.

All the rest are the stories we tell to justify the decisions we’ve made.

 

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

 

I’m not afraid of heights…

…but I am afraid of ladders.

When I heard someone at the gym saying this to his workout buddy, he was referring to the reason he doesn’t put up Christmas lights.  He hates climbing on ladders.

For the record, I’m not too keen on climbing ladders either.

My immediate thought was how easy it is to dream of and visualize reaching the heights of our chosen field.  The hard part is the ladder.

Choosing the right ladder, or series of ladders.

Our ladder needs to be sturdy enough to take our weight and the weight of everyone else making the same climb.

It’s easy to pick the nearest ladder or the one where we can see the top.  But that’s not always the right one.

And, once we choose, how long should we climb before jumping to another ladder?

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground.  Your definition of success.  The “why” for your climb.

Are these easy questions to answer?  Definitely, not.

Here’s the tricky part:  your answers to these fundamental questions of why will morph over time.  Something you thought was important in high school isn’t important when you’re 25, or 30.  Similarly, something that’s important when you’re 30 isn’t so important when you’re 50, or 65.

Our answers also adapt to our surroundings, to the people we see the most.  It’s human nature.  We adapt to survive.  We compromise to fit with those around us.  Our perceptions are shaped by what’s closest.

The good news is that with the internet, blog sites, news sites, books, videos, and podcasts, the definition of “closest” has changed.  While it’s true that we still work closely with the ten people that are near us, we have access to a universe of ideas and perspectives far beyond our “local” reach.  All we have to do is choose to look.

What about heights and climbing ladders?  They matter.  But not as much as why you’re climbing in the first place.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  –Stephen Covey

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The Big Ass Wall!

How to build a wall:

  • Determine where it’s going and what it looks like
  • Dig a trench for the foundation and set your forms
  • Install reinforcing steel
  • Pour concrete for the foundation and let it set
  • Get a load of bricks and mortar
  • Did I mention that you should decide if you’re building this wall yourself?
  • Lay down the first course of bricks, ensuring they’re perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Install scaffolding when your wall gets too high to reach from the ground
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • For a super strong wall, fill all the open cells with concrete
  • Cap off your wall with one final course of perfectly level and properly-spaced bricks
  • Clean-up after yourself
  • Admire your wall.
  • Go build another one.

Building anything of value requires the same steps (in roughly the same order) as building a big ass wall…one brick at a time.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Never Hit on 13!

“Son, I’d just stay on that if I were you.  Your job is to make the dealer bust.  We’re countin’ on you to get this right.”

My new “mentor” spoke with a confidence borne of the many decades of experience showing on his weathered face.

I didn’t realize it, but the open seat I filled at the Blackjack table was the third-base seat.  That meant I was the last player to get cards before the dealer.

He continued, since he must have figured this young fella sitting next to him could use some more of his wisdom.  He could tell this was my first time playing Blackjack in Vegas.  “If the dealer has a six or less, you make sure she gets the 10 card that’s sittin’ in that shoe.  Do you realize how many 10 cards there are in that thing?  Each one is a bust card for her.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way until he mentioned it.  There are a ton of 10 cards in each deck…16 to be exact.  And, if you add in the 8’s and 9’s, which are also bust cards for the dealer if she has a 14 or higher, that’s 24 cards out of 52 that are bust cards (nearly half).

I couldn’t believe I should stay on 13.  The dealer was showing a 2 of clubs.

Two people had already hit and busted.  My mentor’s wife stayed with her 18.  My mentor stayed with his 20.  Now all eyes were on me and my 13.

My $5 chip wasn’t the only money at risk.  My mentor and his wife each had $25 chips up and they were counting on me to make the right choice.

Sure, there’s a bunch of 10 cards in there, but there’s also a bunch of non-10 cards.  And, the dealer may have a 9 facing down, so that’s 11.  A sure path to 21 and a rousing defeat for everyone at the table.

13 seemed a long way from 21 and not a very powerful way to win.  It sure would be great if I drew a 7 or an 8 and could defend against the dealer’s next hit card.

What to do?

My new mentor could sense my quandary.  He could see that this newbie had no idea how this game was played.  “Son, remember your job. Make her bust.”

I decided to stay on my 13.  The dealer turned over her down card.  It was a King.  She had 12.  She hit and pulled a 10.  Bust!

“Are you gonna let that $10 ride?  Seems like you have the hang of that seat.  Time to see what it can do for ya.”

Another decision.  I looked at the other players and saw them putting up their new chips.  My mentor and his wife were letting their $50 ride.

I left my chips up and waited for my cards.  This time, the cards were in my favor and I had 20.  My mentor had 12, and his wife had 17.  The dealer was showing a 6.

“Looks like I’m in the third-base seat for this hand, since you’ve got a 20,” he said as he motioned that he’d be staying.  I followed suit and stayed with my 20.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a Queen.  She had 16 and was required to hit.  Another Queen showed up.  Dealer bust, again!

This “13 strategy” was showing some strength.

“Are you gonna let that ride again?”

Feeling a bit more comfortable with my situation, it was an easy decision to let my $20 ride for the next hand.  Mr. Mentor and his wife let their $100 ride.  They were on a roll!

This was more than I’d ever bet in Vegas.  A whole $20!  And my new friends each had $100 on the line!  I could feel my heartbeat racing as the cards were dealt.

My mentor’s wife received a pair of Aces. My mentor had 17.  I had 12.  The dealer was showing a 4.  This was a perfect setup for my new-found strategy.

The first two players each hit on their hands and received low cards.  Both were still in and stayed.  My mentor’s wife split her Aces and placed a new $100 chip on the table.  The next card was an 8.  She stayed with that hand.  Her other Ace received a 10.  Blackjack!  The dealer paid her $150 in chips for that hand and moved on to Mr. Mentor.  He stayed with his 17.

It was all up to me.  That’s when things went sideways.

I started obsessing on the number 7.  What if I stay and the dealer pulls a 7 out of the shoe?  That would give her 21 (this all assumes that her down card is a 10, of course).  If she gets a 21, she’d beat me and everyone else at the table.

But, if I got that 7, I’d have 19 and be sitting pretty against whatever she had.

Somehow, in the heat of that moment, I forgot about holding on 13 (or 12) if the dealer is showing a 6 or less.  I just knew that the next card was a 7.  That 7 was mine to take and I’d be saving the entire table from oblivion.

“Hit me!”

The dealer slid the card from the shoe.  The world started moving in slow-motion.  She slid the card over to my hand and turned it over.  It was a 10!  I busted.  There went my $20!

It gets worse.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a King.  She had 14 and was required to hit.  You guessed it.  That 7 card came up for her.  She now had 21.

I had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for myself and my fellow players.  That 10 that I took should have busted the dealer, but it busted me and then everyone else at the table.

Ashamed, I looked at my fellow players, shaking my head and saying I was sorry for blowing it for them.  Here was a group of strangers I’d only met a few minutes earlier and I’d let each of them down.

My mentor didn’t miss a beat.  He tossed another $25 chip on the table and said, “Those cards don’t care about you.  They don’t get nervous.  They don’t care what happens.  They play by their rules and that’s it.  You knew your rules and ignored them…and that’s how this casino was built.  You’re not the only one who forgets his rules when it matters most.”

I learned the importance of knowing my rules and playing by them.  Every time.  In every situation.

I don’t go to Vegas often.  Whenever I go, I find time to play Blackjack, always from the third-base seat.

 

Note:  The preceding may or may not have happened exactly as described.  Either way, the lesson is clear.  Rules matter…especially your rules.  Know your rules before you play.  Play by your rules when you play.  Don’t lose sight of your rules when things get rough or when things look hopeless.  If you stay true to your rules, you’ll win far more often than you lose.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

 

 

 

Being the Reason

Be the Reason…

Someone smiles

Someone thinks

Someone laughs

Someone finds clarity 

Someone chooses life 

Someone serves others first 

Someone believes more deeply 

Someone learns something new 

Someone goes beyond their limits 

Someone knows they have amazing potential 

Someone has a fond memory they’ll cherish forever 

Your boss can’t imagine delivering results without you 

Your employees can’t imagine delivering results without you 

Both can deliver results without you because you’ve taken the time to ensure they can 

Your children are independent and productive members of society 

Each person you encounter remembers your positive energy 

Your children know right from wrong 

Someone steps outside their habits 

Someone uses their imagination 

Someone enjoys their day 

Someone is inspired

Someone is forgiven

The world is more beautiful.

 

Quick Note:  I originally published a version of this list in June, 2017.  I found it a couple days ago and noticed some things to improve.  I started wondering what my list would look like as an “inspirational poster.”  Would it be easier to read?  Would it have more impact?  I prefer this version.  What do you think?

The Interview—7 topic areas to include every time you conduct an interview

Your success is all about “the people.”  More specifically, your company’s success comes down to the employees you can attract, hire, train, grow, encourage, motivate, challenge, and retain.  In most service-based companies, 95% of the company’s assets go home every night.

Employees make all that customer stuff possible with the skills and work they bring to your company.

A huge step in the “people” process is The Interview.

I call that meeting you’re having with a potential job candidate a recruiting interview.  Why?  Consider what’s happening.  You’re attempting to recruit them to your company, and they’re attempting to recruit you into the belief that they’re the one you should select.

I’ve seen countless articles about ways to “ace an interview,” or “answer all the interview questions correctly,” or “how to control the interview process” from a candidate’s point of view.  To be fair, I’ve also seen a bunch of articles about ways for the interviewer to “put the candidate on defense with curve-ball questions,” or “ways to get the candidate to tell you about their true selves,” or “how to use the secret questions Google (or Apple, or any other successful company) uses in their interviews.”

The reality is that there aren’t any secrets to creating a perfect interview.  Each interview is as unique as the human beings involved.  Having said that, I always try to get the following questions or topics into each recruiting interview I conduct (not necessarily in this order):

  • I’ve seen your written resume.  Can you take a couple minutes and give me your verbal version?  Also, tell me how you found us, and why you’re here today.  I like this line of questions at the beginning because it gives the candidate open-ended questions to talk about their favorite subject (themselves).  It also lets me see what they prioritize or emphasize.  The answers to these questions usually lead to a series of follow-ups and propel the conversation in a way that most candidates find comfortable.

 

  • What do you know about our company and the position we’re trying to fill?  This one lets me know if they’ve done any research on my company.  At a minimum, have they looked at my company’s website for a few minutes?  They can also tell me about people they know who either work for my company or people who have told them about my company.  Do they have a sense of what makes this company special?  Do they know the company’s position in the marketplace?  What is their view of the company’s reputation?

 

  • Tell me about the training you received in your past positions.  How did your training process go?  What did you learn?  This line of questions gets to how “trainable” someone is.  It doesn’t matter if this is a 20-year veteran or someone who’s just out of high school or college.  Getting them to talk about how they learned their craft, obtained their skills, hone their knowledge, their favorite classes, who taught them, etc., provides a window into their trainability.  It’s also good in the interview to mention how important trainability is to you.  You like a person who knows they don’t know everything (since none of us do), and who has the humility to know it’s okay to ask for help.  This person will have to learn how to be successful within your company, regardless of their technical skill set.  The trainability factor is critical in evaluating a candidate’s fit for your company.

 

  • This position works independently.  You won’t have a manager or supervisor (or me) telling you what to do throughout the day.  Tell me about how you’ve worked independently in your past positions.  Do you consider yourself to be a self-starter?  Are you someone who takes the initiative and runs with it?  Tell me about a time when you took the initiative and delivered beyond the expectations of your managers.  This line of questioning is obvious, and often people answer these questions with what they think you want to hear.  It’s important to be thorough in this section of the interview and ask for examples.  How do they anticipate taking the initiative, or being creative, within your company?  It doesn’t matter that they don’t know anything about your environment.  Ask anyway.  See how they respond.  You’re looking to see how engaged and creative this person will be in your environment.

 

  • The “goals” questions…  These are so commonplace that they’re almost cliché.  But, they’re worth asking:  What are your goals with this position you’re applying for?  What do you think is an ideal role for you in a year, two years, five years?  How do you see this company fitting into your personal goals over the next 5 years?  I’m interested in their personal goals, the vision they have of their future, and what they see as their future self.  How does my company fit with their view of the future?

 

  • Do you have any hobbies?  What are you most passionate about?  What do you do when you’re not working?  Often when the person tells me their hobby, I ask them how they got into that hobby, how long they’ve been doing it, what do they like about it…all focused on learning more about this person and what motivates them.  If I happen to know anything about their hobby, I ask some specifics.  If they say that they like to watch movies or read books, I ask them what they saw most recently or the last book they read.  I want to see how they think on their feet, and again, what interests them the most…plus, I’m curious about them as a person.

 

  • I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I also spend time describing the company, its history, why I love it here, the position we’re trying to fill, the reasons the position we’re filling is difficult but rewarding, why it takes a special person to fill the role, and how important the role is within the company.  I want the candidate to know what our company thinks is important, the values we have, and the culture we’re trying to create.  The way a person fits into our specific company culture will be critical to their success.  They may be the best fit technically for a job, but not fit in with the culture…a recipe for failure.

 

  • Wait, I thought there were only seven topics! True, but there’s one more thing to mention:  the technical abilities of this candidate.  The topics listed above will touch on the candidate’s technical skills (whether in accounting, programming, deep tissue massage, customer service, call center operations, marketing, ad copywriting, concrete finishing, auto mechanics, or any other skillsets you’re trying to hire).  But, none of them directly test or assess a candidate’s actual skills.  It turns out that it’s almost impossible to assess a candidate’s actual skills in an interview setting.  Some companies require candidates to take a technical test, but that’s not a common practice.  Beyond a technical test, you have their resume, the stories they’ve told you, your assessment of how they might fit within your organization, and then a leap of faith that they have the skills they’re representing.  Not ideal, but that’s where your ability to assess and improve their performance (once they’re hired) enters the picture (and that’s a topic for another day).

Will these topics ensure a perfect interview?  No.  In fact, you may not get to cover one or more of these topics in the interview (which is a warning sign).

Will these topics guarantee you’ll always choose the perfect candidate?  Again, no.

But, if you cover all these topics, your batting average will increase dramatically, and you might even hit the occasional home run.

 

It’s your turn:  What other topics do you include in your interviews?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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