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Don’t See the End Too Soon

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I make a lot of mistakes when I play golf. So many in fact that there are days I wonder why I play the game at all. People who play with me would tell you that the biggest mistake I make is that at some point during a round my swing gets too fast and I lose all control over what I’m doing. That’s not entirely true, sometimes my swing is too fast right from the start and never slows down.

That is indeed a big mistake, but it’s not my biggest one. When my swing gets fast my score goes up, the round is pretty much over and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. At least it seems like I can’t.

I think my biggest mistake on the golf course is seeing the end too soon. Here’s what I mean by that. There are days when I play well, at least by my standards. Everything seems to work and I even seem to catch a few breaks. Then I look at the scorecard and start to think….Geez, if I can par the last two holes, or even just bogey them this will be an awesome score.

I instantly stop doing whatever I was doing and boom, the last two holes are double or triple bogeys… or worse. I saw the end too soon and just stopped doing the things I needed to do to successfully complete my round.

One of my mentors once told me that as important as it is to start well, it’s even more important to finish well. I’ve come to learn that’s true, not only in golf, but in most parts of life.

As I publish this post we have about 10 days left in 2014. 10 days left to finish well. These are the days when most people take their foot off the gas and kind of cruise to the end. They are seeing the end of 2014 just a bit too soon.

When I was a high school student, a former Vice-President of the United States came to my school to speak. He had recently lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon. He gave us some advice that I have never forgotten. He said to be careful what you say in your concession speech because it’s really not the last speech of your campaign, it is actually the first speech of your next one.

These final days of 2014 can either be the end of this year or you can choose to use them as a springboard to a successful 2015. You can slow down or you can hit next year running. If your goal is to lose 15 pounds in 2015 you could lose 1 by the end of 2014 and have only 14 left to lose in 2015. You could be 1/15 of the way to your goal before the year even begins.

Here’s the point, you can make all of 2015 better, easier, more productive, and more prosperous by finishing 2014 strong.

As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Don’t let your 2014 be over even one day too soon!

Building Loyal Employees

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According to a study by the Hay Group, a global management consultancy firm, trust and confidence in top leadership is the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization.

Their research also showed that consistent communication in 3 areas was essential to building that trust and confidence. The three areas are:

· Helping employees understand the company’s overall business strategy.
· Helping employees understand how they contribute to achieving key business objectives.
· Sharing information with employees on both how the company is doing and how an employee’s own division is doing.

Now I’m going to make a pretty broad statement here and I want you to understand that I know what I’m about to say is not accurate for every organization but I believe that it is for most.

Most leaders are relatively effective at sharing their organization’s overall strategy and can almost certainly break out their organization’s progress by division or segment when that is required. Where they most often fall short is in explaining how each individual employee contributes to achieving the organization’s goals and objectives.

The scary thing is, of the three essential areas, knowing where “they fit” and how they contribute is most important for individual employees.

Most leaders are so focused on the results that they tend to overlook where the results truly come from. Systems and a good process only help get to the results, it’s actually people, human beings, who make the results happen.

Their efforts need to be recognized. Notice I said NEED! That need doesn’t make them weak, it doesn’t make them egocentric, it doesn’t make them “high maintenance,” it merely makes them human.

Every person you lead NEEDS to know that they matter; they need to know that the effort they put forth contributes to the success of the organization. You can’t let them know that too often, and you can’t be too specific. Make it a point to give them examples of exactly how something they did added value or made a positive impact.

If you’re leading a large organization you may not be able to share personally with everyone how their role makes a difference but it is your responsibility to ensure that leaders at every level of your organization let their people know that they and their job matters.

Once your people know that what they do matters they will no longer feel as if they “have” to do it, they will “want” to do it and they will want to do it well. They will trust you and their confidence in you and your organization will grow. They will not only be satisfied employees, they will become loyal to their role, to the organization, and to you, their leader.

They will become the people you need to have with you in order to succeed!

There is No Value in Free

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When I was growing up there was a little bakery in our neighborhood that sold the best brownies. They were 10 cents each or two for a quarter. They sold lots of brownies 2 at a time.

I wonder to this day how long it took for people to figure out that the “deal” wasn’t such a good deal.

I think the pricing worked because everyone loves a bargain. We love bargains so much that sometimes we don’t stop to even figure out if we’re really getting one.

Salespeople were just people before they began selling so they are just like everyone else, they love a good deal too. They especially love offering them to their customers and prospects. So much so that they often throw around the word “free” as if what they are offering is no better a bargain than 10 cent brownies selling at two for a quarter.

Thoughtful, professional salespeople don’t offer anything for free. They don’t need to because they add value, real value to every transaction.

Salespeople who offer “free” anything are also more likely to attempt to earn business by selling on price. That is a short-term strategy that is not sustainable in the long-term. When you sell on price you eventually lose on price.

So here’s some guidance for salespeople looking to be more professional: Understand that the only things truly free are those that bring no value to anyone. If your offering something of value to your prospect then stop saying it’s free.

Share with your prospects that you’re willing to absorb the cost in order to provide them with additional value, or that you and your company are willing to make the investment on their behalf for some additional product. If something offers real value then it can’t be free, somebody has to pay for it. If that somebody is you or your company then tell that to your prospect, don’t just devalue your offering by being lazy and saying it is “free.”

If you’re a professional salesperson and you, your company, and your product bring real value to customers then say so, repeatedly. To most people, if only subconsciously, “free” means “worth nothing” even if the free thing is something they want.

Always look for ways to ADD value, not subtract it. You will sell more, at higher margins, and you won’t have to offer anything “free” to do it.

Now, go sell something!

Drunk and Stupid Isn’t Good

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‘Tis the season to celebrate. Sometimes we celebrate with work colleagues, and sometimes there are spirits involved. The alcohol kind of spirits.

That is a dangerous combination.

In one of the greatest movies ever made, Animal House, Dean Wormer tells Flounder that “Drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

It’s no way to go through a business gathering either.

I’ve seen literally countless careers destroyed at various business functions where a person either didn’t or couldn’t control their intake of “filter remover.” The result was they did or said something that ended their career immediately or in the very near term.

So have fun, enjoy your time with colleagues, build your network, and socialize. Just remember your “brand” is on full display, out in the open in all it’s fragile glory or brutal disgrace.

You only get so much credibility in life and you need to decide how much of that valuable commodity you’re willing to risk for a couple of extra beers.

I’ve written about this before but it is worth repeating. I believe we all have a credibility bank, when we fail to honor a commitment, fail to match our words with our actions or just plain lie, our “bank” suffers a large withdrawal. When we consistently keep our word, do as we say we will do and our actions match our words then our “bank” receives a small deposit.

It takes a whole lot of those little deposits to make up for even one withdrawal. That may not seem fair but it is what it is. The amount of credibility in your credibility bank has a direct impact on every suggestion you make, every idea you present and every opportunity for promotion in your career. You may not like it, you may not agree with it but that’s the way it is.

I’m always surprised by people who get drunk with colleagues or customers in an attempt to “relationship build” and are then surprised when the same colleague or customer doesn’t take them seriously in a business setting.

You will never be able to fully “unsay” what you have said. A few beers or a couple of drinks can make anyone say something they wouldn’t normally say. All the regret in the world can’t put the words back in your mouth so be careful.

Some of the best advice I ever received was this: think BEFORE you talk. Maybe this is even better advice: think BEFORE you drink!

Are You Truly a Leader?

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John Maxwell’s one word definition of leadership is this: Influence

I agree, sort of. Only sort of because what you do doesn’t make you a leader, why you do it does.

Dictionaries define influence as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

Everyone has at least a little influence. We all have some effect the behavior of those around us, just as they have some effect on ours. We have that effect whether we intend to or not. So does that mean everyone is a leader whether they intend to be or not? I would say no.

That means we probably cannot define leadership with just one word. We need two.

Intentional influence. Okay, maybe we need three words…. Intentional directed influence.

Wandering around influencing others does not make you a leader. Being keenly aware of your influence and using it to intentionally change behavior and build character makes you a leader.

Now, for those of you who do not currently have a fancy title or top position and believe you need one to be a leader let me say this:

You don’t.

People don’t follow titles or positions. They follow people and the people they choose to follow are the ones who they believe care about them enough to help them succeed.

Now, for those of you who do have a title or position and believe that makes you a leader let me say this:

It doesn’t.

If your influence comes only from your title or position then you may be a manager, you may be a boss, but you’re almost certainly not a leader. Your title may give you a little higher level of influence temporarily but consider this…

If you lost your title, lost your position, lost your authority to reward and discipline, would you get the same results from the people around you? Would your influence level remain high? Would people still follow you?

Those are huge questions. To answer yes you need an amazing amount of confidence in your leadership ability. I hope you were able to answer yes. Be aware however, the brights lights of important sounding titles and lofty positions can blind even the most well intentioned person to their shortcomings. So if you answered yes I also hope your people would agree with you. If you AND your people agree then there can be no doubt; you are truly a leader.

Influencing others is a part of life, intentionally influencing others is the essence of leadership. Don’t squander your chance at leadership by just letting influence happen. Be intentional with how you influence, influence to build, influence to build people and organizations. Develop positive influence.

When your influence is positive your leadership can outlast you. That’s great leadership!

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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Once upon a time there lived a lovely princess named Snow White. Her vain and wicked stepmother, the Queen, feared that some day Snow White’s beauty would surpass her own. So she dressed the princess in rags and forced her to work as a maid. Each day the vain queen consulted her magic mirror, “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”… and as long as the mirror answered, “You are the fairest of them all,” Snow White was safe from the Queen’s cruel jealousy.

Wouldn’t we all like a mirror that would tell us each day just how great we are. The thing is, some people really do seem to have one. They look in the mirror and the image they see is far different than the image they project to other people.

When we see ourselves we are most often crystal clear on exactly what we meant to say. We make good, appropriate decisions and when we look in the mirror we see somebody worth far more than they are being paid and someone not fully appreciated for the greatness they bring into the world everyday. We know precisely how to leverage our strengths and how to eliminate our weaknesses.

Or perhaps you look into the mirror and the person who looks back adds no value to their world, they are misunderstood and are destined to just wander through life until their time on earth is done.

It’s very likely that neither of those “reflections” is accurate. They are not accurate because hardly anyone sees themselves in the same way others see them. Their mirrors are not providing a reflection that truly shows the reality of their life.

So as we near the end of 2014 here is the best advice I could ever give anyone for a better 2015: get yourself an accurate mirror.

That “mirror” I’m talking about is actually a mentor or coach. Your mentor should be someone who cares about you enough to be open and honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses.

Your mentor needs to be self-reflective because if you want someone to share their wisdom with you, they need to have wisdom to share. Some people simply don’t spend much time thinking about their own experience. You’ll want a mentor that can explain what worked in their life AND why it worked. Your mentor can’t pass along what they don’t know so self-reflection is a key.

If you want a mentor that trusts you then you must be able to trust your mentor. In a good mentor relationship, you need to be able to be honest about your own life and circumstances – and you need to be certain that what you share won’t go beyond your mentor. If they can’t be trusted to keep confidences, your relationship will be superficial at best – actually damaging at worst.

If you’re brave enough to ask your mentor for advice then your mentor needs to be brave enough to give you a straight answer. Don’t look for a mentor who will sugar-coat the truth. Take your advice straight-up, with no sweetness and no politically correct wishy-washy coaching added.
Look for a generous, giving mentor, a mentor who truly wants the best for you. A true mentor will never feel threatened by your success. A generous mentor will invest the time required to help you become your very best. Your success will actually be a priority for them.

Some individuals may choose to hire a coach or a mentor. The same requirements apply; the one big difference is a professional coach may work with you for a predetermined amount of time, on one area of your life in particular or to help you achieve one big goal. Hiring a professional coach is not an expense, it is one of the best investments you can make, it’s an investment in yourself.

Either way you should know this: you will be more successful with someone to help you smooth out life’s bumps then you will ever be by going it alone.

I’m not sure I was clear enough with that so let me repeat it: you WILL be more successful with a coach or a mentor in your life than you will be without one. No matter how successful you are today you WILL be more successful when you add a coach or mentor to your life.

Got it? Then get one!

The Problem With Problems

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A very long time ago I worked for a company that offered the finest training available anywhere. They still do. It is simply life-changing training that no other training organization has been able to duplicate, despite the fact that many have tried.

I was tasked with penetrating a very large account, one of the largest companies in the world, that we had done virtually no business with. They were all very nice people, happy to grant me time and “answer” any question I asked. The question I asked most frequently was: what type of problems do you face in your role?

The answer was always the same: nothing, not a thing, no problems at all.

With tens of thousands of employees spread around the world I knew that just wasn’t possible. But everyone answered the same. I asked my father, a 40 year employee of this large organization why they wouldn’t share with me.

He told me that they were being open, there just wasn’t any “problems.” There were issues, challenges, and opportunities but no problems, absolutely zero problems.

I changed my tactics and began to ask about challenges and issues. The combination of that new strategy on my part, and a change in leadership near the top of the organization resulted in it becoming the largest account ever for the world renowned training company.

It turns out the management team at the company I was trying to sell to was well-coached to think not in terms of problems but rather challenges and opportunities. Maybe too well coached.

Problems are real, they need to be addressed differently than mere challenges and opportunities. Left unattended problems almost always grow. Left unattended problems can destroy even the best organizations.

Here’s why I’m writing about this now. I wrote a post on problem solving a while back and in the post I recommended “living” with a problem a bit before trying to solve it. There are many benefits to getting to know a problem before rushing to eliminate it. When we “solution jump” we may address a symptom but miss the real underlying cause. Getting to know the problem makes that less likely.

So here’s the problem with my problem solving advice. Sometimes when we live with a problem too long we stop noticing the problem. We get too cozy with it. We see newer, fresher problems and begin to focus on those. Meanwhile, the first problem begins to grow under the surface until it is much harder to solve. Sometimes much much harder.

So here’s an addendum to my advice. Yes, live with a problem a bit before rushing to solve it. But LIVE with it, don’t get comfortable with it. Put a deadline on how long you’re willing to live with it. When the deadline arrives take action. Even if you have no additional insights or information take action based on what you do have. Even if you don’t have the total solution ACT on the information you have. A partial solution is better than no solution. The key is action.

That large organization I referred to had many unsolved problems because mere “challenges” didn’t seem so urgent. When we used that ugly word “problem” many things changed for the better. Working with that company is how I learned that semantics do matter.

Problem solving requires action, never put up with a problem for so long that it convinces you that it’s not really a problem. Don’t mistake a challenge for a problem. The first can help you grow, the second can help you grow or be the death of you. The first one can be your friend, the second most certainly is not.

Now, go deal with that problem you’ve been tolerating way too long!

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