Category Archives: Listening

Service…It’s Everyone’s Advantage

service-unsplash-mike-wilson

Take a good look at that picture.  Let it burn onto your consciousness.

As the world becomes smaller, and yet, more remote; as customers become closer, and yet, more distant; as you begin to blend in with everyone else…

Service is all you have to actually differentiate yourself.

When anyone can provide what you provide, do what you do, be what you want to be, your focus on service is all that matters.

How does an individual compete against a huge, well-entrenched company?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

How does a huge, well-entrenched company compete against the scrappy upstart individual?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

Sound familiar?

Who has the advantage in this battle to provide the best service?

The one that actually lives a service-first mindset.  The one that considers the customer’s perspective before their own.  The one that delivers excellent service…every time.  The one who knows that no company can survive or thrive if it forgets about creating an excellent experience for their customer.

Customers always have an alternative.  If your organization isn’t committed to making their experience an excellent one, they’ll figure it out quickly and choose an alternative.  It’s that simple.

It all comes down to execution, which comes from your uncompromising mindset toward service excellence.

Service is your only advantage.  It’s the same advantage everyone else has if they choose to execute on it.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com—Mike Wilson

“I’m bored!”

“Thems was fightin’ words” in our house when I was a kid.  If mom ever heard us utter those two words, she had a list of things for us to do.  We learned quickly to find things to do for ourselves, since mom’s list was definitely not a fun list (toilets, folding clothes, raking leaves, etc.).

I remember one summer, probably the one between 7th and 8th grade.  Our little crew had a solid plan every day.  It usually involved taking a mid-day “break” to watch Get Smart at Denis’ house.  I’m pretty sure they ran two episodes, back-to-back.  So, that took care of about an hour of entertainment.  The rest is a blur of football games, hide-and-seek, swimming at Marty’s, riding bikes, and just about anything else that would keep us from having to say, “I’m bored.”

I suppose it’s all those years of training, followed by “advanced” training in college, and then even more in the work environment.

Stay busy.

Keep moving.

There’s always something to be done.

Don’t be lazy.

If you aren’t busy, you better at least look busy.

Where’s your work ethic?

Aren’t you dedicated to this cause?

Focus on the task at hand!

Don’t be boring (even worse than being bored)!

Somewhere along the way, a lack of movement, or a completed task list, started to equate with the dreaded “b” word.  Somehow, a lack of movement turned into an example of laziness.

Is it even possible to do nothing and be at peace with it?  Or, do we have to tell ourselves that this momentary lack of movement is just a quick break before returning to another of life’s endless tasks?

When did doing nothing go from being a peaceful state to one of guilty boredom…or worse, an example of our laziness?  When did life become a task list?

The next time I’m faced with the challenge of doing absolutely nothing, I hereby promise myself that I won’t be bored (or guilty about my laziness).

I will enjoy the peace of that moment with gratitude.

What’s next? (just kidding)

 

The Puzzles We Build

 

jigsaw-puzzle_pieces

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?

Beware of the Edge

sitting-at-the-edge-of-a-cliff

I recently heard about a sign at the top of Mount Vesuvius.  It reads, “Beware of the edge.”

That’s the only safety precaution in the area.  No guardrails.  Just a sign.

I can hear it now:

“Your honor, I submit that my client had no idea he could plummet to his death by stepping over the edge of that volcano.  If only there’d been a guardrail to prevent his untimely death.”

Or,

“Your honor, we acknowledge that there was a sign that said, “Beware of the edge,” but my client must have thought he was safe as long as he stayed inside the guardrails.  Since there were no guardrails on the mountain, he was clearly misled into a false sense of safety and security…just before his fall.”

How many of us really need a sign, or a guardrail, to tell us to stay away from the edge?  Can’t we see the danger on our own, without the sign?

The truth is, probably not.

Why not?

Simple.  The edge is where the action is.  We know it’s dangerous.  We know our mind will play an imaginary leap that only our subconscious sees when we look over the edge.  We secretly like the butterflies we get in our stomach.

The edge brings sharp focus.  It’s where our imagination is most alive!

Sometimes, the edge represents the end of a long journey.  A challenging climb.  Our view over the edge reminds us of the distance we’ve traveled.  The work we’ve put in to get there.

The edge is like the proverbial flame that draws the moth.  The edge reminds us of how fragile our life is.  One step away from real danger.

How do we approach the edge, and take in its energy, while avoiding the danger that lurks just one step beyond?

It’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves.

But, here’s hoping we don’t discover the answer as we tumble over the edge.

Are You Willing?

“I know this now.  Every man gives his life for what he believes.  Every woman gives her life for what she believes.  Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing.  One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone.  But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying—even more terrible than dying young.”  –Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc lived less than twenty years.  Yet she fought for her beliefs and made a huge impact on history.  She died for her beliefs at an age when many are just beginning their life’s journey.

She knew what she believed in.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice for her beliefs.  Ask anyone who serves or served in the military, a first responder who runs into a burning building to save others, or a newly formed priest who has answered God’s call.  These are just a few examples.  Each of them know what it means to sacrifice for their beliefs.

Sometimes our beliefs emerge quietly without our knowledge.  We go through life, making seemingly inconsequential decisions about what we will and won’t do.  We decide who our friends are, and how much we will let them into our lives.  We decide when to listen.  We decide how honest we will be with the world around us.

We establish habits for living our life, and we go on our merry way.

Do you know what you believe in?  Really?  Do you know what you believe to be true?  Do you know what is important in your life?

Have you made the quiet time in your life that’s necessary to consider these questions?

What if it turns out that the things you believe in aren’t manifested in the way you live?  Are you willing to change your habits?  Are you willing to eliminate the things that don’t support your beliefs?  Will you support your beliefs in the way you live, and the way you work with others?  Are you willing to make your beliefs the centerpiece of your actions in everything you do?

Joan of Arc was right.  One life is all we have, and then it’s gone.

Where are you in that one life?  Is it too late to examine your beliefs and change the way you live?

The answer is clear  But, it won’t become obvious until we make quiet time in our lives to reflect.  When we do, we find it’s never too late to examine our beliefs and change our life.

Every day is a new beginning if we choose to make it so.  It doesn’t matter what happened in the past.  It doesn’t matter who wronged you.  It doesn’t matter if you had a terrible childhood.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve missed opportunities in the past.  It certainly doesn’t matter if you failed in the past.

All that matters is learning what you believe in.  Then, deciding what to do with that new knowledge, starting today.

The only question is:  Are you willing to find out?

 

Beliefs and Values

h/t:  Matthew Kelly

Closing Your Eyes to See More Clearly

Have you ever tried brushing your teeth with your eyes closed, or in total darkness?  I’m sure you’re asking, “How hard can that be?”

Give it a shot and you’ll find out.

Would you be able to find the toothpaste?  How about your toothbrush?  The sink?  Now for the tough part.  Can you put the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush?

Maybe you mastered all of that, and even brushed the proper amount of time.  Are you sure you’re spitting in the sink?  Did you put the toothbrush back where it belongs?  How about the toothpaste?

You (should) brush at least twice a day.  Multiply that by your lifetime of days, and that’s a lot of practice.  Your brain should do it automatically…and it does until you eliminate one sense (sight in this case).  Then it gets a lot harder.

So hard that you may find all your attention focused on that one simple task.  For that moment, you will be fully present.  No distractions.  Only a laser focus on trying to figure out how to get the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush without making a mess.

Our brains are amazing.  The biggest consumer of calories within our bodies.  So, over millions of years of development, our brains have found ways to disengage (in the interest of energy conservation).  Once our brain establishes a pattern for an activity, it flips the “auto-pilot” switch and rests.

Think about all things you do in a day without thinking.  Or, maybe all the things you do while thinking too much.  What if you approached each one a little differently?

Commute to work a completely different way.  Shop in the opposite direction (admit it, when you go to “your” grocery store, you usually go in the same direction).  Put your shoes on starting with the other foot.

Put a penny next to your smart phone.  Pick it up instead of your phone when you get that urge to check your messages.  A penny for your thought.  Maybe you can give those pennies to a charity.  Since this is for your favorite charity, what if you put a $20 bill there instead?  That habit of yours may actually help someone else.

Which brings us back to the original premise.  Brushing your teeth in the dark.  Try it.  You just might see things a bit more clearly.

 

Here’s the kicker.  If you brush in the dark for about a week, it will become second nature to you, and (you guessed it) your brain will once again go on auto-pilot.  Time to switch it up again!

 

Discuss or Defend?

Discussing involves active listening.  Curiosity.  Openness.  It requires genuine interest in ideas, even if they contradict your own.

Defending involves taking and holding a position.  Looking for openings to argue against another idea.  Preparing your response, while you should be listening.

Discussing takes time.  Discussing requires courtesy, respect, and patience.  Defending, not so much.

Most discussions we see on TV, or hear on the radio, aren’t discussions at all.  They’re exercises in defending.  Questions and answers are metered out in an attempt to defend one position or another.

It’s often the same in a business setting.

The search for alignment, a conclusion, a decision, or an all-out victory often trumps everything else, including a meaningful exchange of ideas.

How often do you defend, instead of discuss?  Be honest.  We’re just discussing here…no need to get all defensive.

What if you went through an entire day without defending?  Think you could do it?

 

The Four Most Important Letters in Leadership: L-O-V-E

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about business, politics, sports, charities, social clubs, or just about any other area where human beings come together to accomplish something.  The most important determining factor in an organization’s success is the quality of its leadership.

What makes a strong leader?  Is it the one with the loudest voice?  The guy who makes the best speeches?  The one who puts in the most hours?  Is it the dude ordering people around the most?

Of course, it’s none of these.

The best leaders focus on the four most important letters in leadership:  L-O-V-E

L—Listen and Learn.  Strong leaders are curious.  They never stop asking questions.  They have two ears and one mouth so they can listen twice as much as they talk.  A strong leader listens to employees, customers, competitors, “the market,” and any other source of information available.  A true leader is constantly learning, and knows he doesn’t have all the answers.

O—Observe and Organize.  Leaders make time to observe what’s really happening.  They don’t rely solely on the stories people tell.  They measure the reality.  Leaders organize for success.  They delegate responsibility and authority to others within their organization.  They define processes that multiply their efforts, and the efforts of those they lead.  Ronald Reagan coined the phrase, “trust, but verify,” and strong leaders live by this maxim to ensure their organization is as efficient and scalable as possible.

V—Visualize.  Where are we going?  How will we get there?  These are the two biggest questions leaders face.  The leader’s ability to visualize the future, define and articulate the mission, and steer toward success will make or break their organization.  Look too far into the future, and they may fail to see the short-term obstacles and challenges.  Look too closely at the short-term obstacles, and they may steer their organization off-course and miss its ultimate objective.  Visualization isn’t an independent activity.  The strong leader makes time to help others take emotional ownership of the vision and connect it to what they do each day.

E—Encourage and Execute.  Ultimately, success is all about execution.  A strong leader knows that nothing happens without the people he’s leading.  Encouraging others to give their maximum effort in pursuit of the organization’s vision and goals is the primary role of the leader.  Encouragement comes from the leader’s words and actions.  People will watch and listen to see if their leader’s values and moral compass are something they can support.  They will learn quickly whether their leader cares about their well-being, as well as that of the organization.  A strong leader is sincere in defining what it will take to succeed, and excels at encouraging their team to make it a reality.

It’s no coincidence that these letters spell out love.  It’s the attitude a strong leader brings to their work each and every day.

 

Shameless plug:  If you want to improve your leadership game, check out my new book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

 

The Smartest Person in the Room…

albert_einstein

Isn’t who you think it is.

Isn’t the one who spends most of the meeting talking.

Isn’t the one who thinks everyone will benefit from their wisdom and experience.

Isn’t the one worried about their image as a go-getter.

Isn’t the one trying to answer every question.

Isn’t the one who knows everything.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the answers.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the right questions.

The smartest person is constantly learning, and always curious.

The smartest person spends most of their time listening.

The smartest person always surrounds themselves with other smart people.

The smartest person never worries about who gets the credit.

The smartest person in the room doesn’t care who the smartest person is.