Is President Obama a Leader?

Isn’t that an interesting title? With a title like that if I write this post just right I should be able to make pretty much everyone who reads it mad. Even if that’s not my intention.

On the surface the title is a ridiculous question. Though it’s much debated in the media there can be no doubt about it; President Obama is a leader. For my conservative friends let me repeat; President Obama is a leader. 

I don’t think I’ve ever done a leadership presentation where I haven’t early on stated that the essence of leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. The Presidency of The United States is a position of influence. If by nothing but position alone President Obama is a leader. He has perhaps more influence than any other living individual in the world. Therefore, he is a leader. 

Now, before my conservative friends go completely off the deep end let me ask a more relevant question. Does President Obama Lead? 

Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. At critical times during his presidency he has been present but his leadership has not. It’s just kind of disappeared. 

Now that I have my liberal friends upset too let me get to the point of this post. It is not about President Obama. It is about you!

Many people reading this post consider themselves to be a leader. They have titles and hold positions in companies and organizations which provide them with a great deal of influence. That, just like President Obama makes them a leader. But it doesn’t mean they truly lead. It doesn’t mean they are an Authentic Leader.

Sometimes, when a leader is most needed their leadership disappears. That happens to a lot of leaders, not just Presidents. 

Does it happen to you? Do you make the all too common mistake of thinking your title or position will lead for you? Do you believe your influence will persuade and motivate people all by itself?

Leadership is not complicated but it also isn’t passive. Leadership is an activity, it must be done to be effective. Leadership is bold, it makes waves, it confronts, it takes risks. Leadership must be visible at all times. It doesn’t always have to be out front but whether it’s elbowing it’s way around the middle of the pack, pushing from the rear, or pulling from the front, it’s presence must be seen, felt, and heard. Always.

Leadership doesn’t just happen, a leader, at least an authentic leader, makes it happen. 

Before you criticize President Obama or any other leader ask yourself what you did last week to DEMONSTRATE your leadership. What ACTIONS will you take this week to DEMONSTRATE that you’re not a leader is name only? 

Allowing your title or position to speak on behalf of your leadership is a lazy way to lead. SHOW you’re a leader through you actions and people will follow. 

After all, everybody knows that actions speak louder than words.

Simple Leadership

The more complicated you try to make leadership the more complicated it will be to lead.

Some people like to make leadership really really complicated. I think they do that in order to put “leaders” or those with leadership titles on a pedestal of some kind. 

The more complicated “leading” is the more valuable a “leader” becomes, or so the popular thinking seems to go. The problem with that thinking is this: leadership is not complicated.

While leading clearly requires a set of leadership skills there are no “tricks” to leading. Manipulation doesn’t work, forcing fear doesn’t last and belittling doesn’t make you bigger.

I have a very simple leadership philosophy; people first, everything else second. Leadership is about people. Leaders build people. Authentic leaders don’t build buildings, they don’t build businesses, they don’t create policies or processes. Authentic leaders build people.

When they build the right people and build enough of them, then the businesses, buildings and processes will come about. Authentic leaders know that businesses and organizations are not successful because of their buildings and policies; they are successful because of their people. Authentic leaders build those people.

There have been many companies throughout history with great products and lucrative markets that didn’t succeed because they didn’t have the people to capitalize on those advantages. The managers of those businesses focused on “stuff” rather than the people.

Every decision an authentic leader makes considers people in some way. No organizational decision is made until the implications for the people of the organization are considered. When an authentic leader puts their people first their people become committed to the leader. That’s when great success becomes possible.

People first, everything else second is the simple mantra of successful, authentic leaders. When your people know you care about them, then and only then will they care to truly follow. 

Authentic leadership is all about people. If your leadership is about anything other than people then it’s likely you’re not an authentic leader. If you’re not an authentic leader then no amount of skills, titles, or positions will help you succeed long-term. 

No one proves their authenticity by saying they care. Your people may listen at times but they watch all the time. If you want them to know without a doubt that you’re an authentic leader then you’re going to have to show them that you care on a regular basis. 

So what do you think… do you care enough to actually show it? Do you care enough to truly lead?

The Big Difference in a Small t

There are 26 letters in the English Alphabet. I use them all and I really would’t say I have a favorite. A good writer can combine those letters to inform people, inspire them, instigate action or maybe even make them laugh.

Depending upon how they are used these 26 letters can have huge impact on people’s lives. While I wouldn’t say I have a favorite letter I can say with certainty the one I like the least; it’s the letter t.

It’s actually just the lowercase t, as some call it, the small t. Truth be told it’s not really even the t, it’s just the t when an apostrophe (‘) is used before it. Even then it’s not so bad, it only gets really bad when the word “can” is used before the apostrophe.

Using can before t with an apostrophe between the n and the t turns the possible into the impossible. It turns positive people into negative people. It takes the hope of success through effort out of the realm of possibility, it limits people’s potential and their future. 

Yes, the small t can do all that.

If you let it. 

Nothing has more weight in determining whether you really can or can’t than your attitude. 

Saying “I can’t” becomes habit forming and it’s a hard habit to break. It wrecks your attitude. Pretty soon you’re convinced that you can’t do anything and you become stuck.

You may not be able to simply talk your way into success but many many people talk their way out of it everyday. Their “negative voice” does them in before they even had a chance to succeed. 

For many less successful people “can’t” simply means “won’t.” They tell themselves they can’t so they won’t have to try. They believe that “can’t” shields them from the risk of failure without realizing that “won’t” dooms them to the failure they so desperately hope to avoid.

If they would only remove the t from “can’t” and tell themselves they can then they just might. I’ve never met a person who couldn’t do more then they thought they could if only they would allow themselves to believe it. 

Believe! Rid your vocabulary of can’t and open up a world of possibilities. Don’t say “I can’t” instead say “How can I” or better yet, just say “I can.” 

Remember, you’re never more than one decision away from changing your life, choose can.

How the Best Salespeople Sell – Part Two

It has long been said that the best salespeople have the gift of gab. It has also long been dead wrong. The best salespeople in fact have the gift of listening. They listen well, very well.

The best salespeople, and the best communicators in general, listen to understand rather than just listening to respond. They listen with all their senses and they listen with their heart. They use their empathy skills to focus not only on what was said but what was actually meant. 

The best salespeople do not “filter” what was said through their own biases or life lens. They accept what was said and don’t simply dismiss the things they don’t want to hear. When speaking with anyone they give that person one of the greatest signs of respect that a person can offer, their full attention. 

The best salespeople ask the best questions and that is not a coincidence. They know what they don’t know and they know that lack of information is a real challenge for a professional salesperson. They also know that challenge is small when compared with what they do know that isn’t so…. misinformation or just plain wrong information, when accepted as fact, will kill salesperson’s chance to really help a prospect and earn their business.

The best salespeople ask lots of questions, particularly open ended questions and they allow the prospect time to think about an answer. They are not afraid of a little silence as the customer searches for an answer. They know that if a prospect or customer can instantly answer every question then they probably aren’t asking meaningful enough questions to uncover real wants and needs. Without understanding those wants and needs a professional salesperson knows their odds of earning a customer’s business go way way down.

The best salespeople seldom discuss price without also discussing value. They believe in the value their product or service provides to the customer. They are skilled at using the information the customer provided when answering questions to help the customer understand and see the value too. When having the price/value discussion the best salespeople do not overstate, exaggerate or lie. EVER!

The best salespeople accept personal responsibility for a lost sale. They work to discover their weakness or the weakness of their offering and then they work to improve it. They work; the best salespeople simply put more effort into getting the results that they want. They know that sales is either the lowest paying easy job they will ever have or the most challenging highest paying job they could ever want. They know that everyday both options are a choice and they choose the challenge and accept the high compensation that comes with it.

They best salespeople hate to lose and they are excellent at hiding that fact. They don’t blame the prospect for their decision to go elsewhere and they don’t rip on the competition. They don’t stop calling on “lost” accounts, instead redoubling their efforts to earn the business back. 

Low performing salespeople will never admit to being outsold but the best salespeople know they can be outsold by other “best” salespeople at any time. They relish that competition and use it to strengthen their resolve and push themselves to constantly improve their product knowledge and skills. 

The best salespeople love the profession of selling and respect it with integrity and high ethical standards. Their goal is not so much to sell as it is to help their customer buy. They know that by doing the right things right the outcome will more times then not be right as well. 

The best salespeople do the right things right. How many of these things do you do right each day? If you were on trial, charged with being a “best” salesperson, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

If not then start building your case today. You can become a best salesperson any time you wish…. Simply do the right things right.

How the Best Salespeople Sell – Part One

I almost never go more than a few days without receiving a tweet or message asking for tips on starting out in sales. It’s an easy question to answer.

It’s easy because unlike so many areas of life, sales, or more accurately, professional selling, has clearly defined right and wrong ways of going about it. If you go about it the right way, you succeed. If you go about it the wrong way, you don’t. Period!

Before I begin I should remind you of my definition of success. You can appear to succeed by lying and cheating but real success must be earned honestly. If you cheated and lied your way to the top then you might be wealthy but you’re not a success. You’re most certainly not a professional salesperson.

Okay, here’s how the best salespeople sell…

They have a defined, repeatable selling process. They always know where in the process they are and what is required to move to the next step of the process. I prefer a sales process that is designed to mirror the emotional buying process that humans go through. Dale Carnegie’s sales process is designed to do just that. I teach a proprietary sales process that is built on many of the same principles. 

I tell salespeople all the time that there are two ways to sell, by process or by accident. If you’re not using a process then how will you know what “worked” and what didn’t? How will you determine if you’re making progress with the customer? How will you know why they purchased from you and why they didn’t? 

If you can’t state, with great specificity, why you lost the last five prospects who didn’t buy from you then you’re likely not using a process. If you can’t state, with even greater specificity, why you’re last five customers purchased from you then you’re likely selling by accident.

You’re odds of long-term sales success go way, way up if you use a well defined sales process. 

Despite what you may have heard, the best salespeople do not always ask for the order. They only ask for the order after they have earned the right to do so. They earn that right by determining if and how their product or service will help their prospect achieve their desired goals and objectives. Once they have earned the right then they indeed always ask for the order. 

Keep in mind that we are talking about professional salespeople so even when they haven’t earned the right to ask for the order they still ask for something. They ask for something that will move the sales process forward; maybe it’s a product demonstration, perhaps an introduction to someone else within the account, maybe it’s a referral. But it is always something. 

If you’re wasting your time and your customer’s time by not moving the sales process forward then you’re likely just a professional visitor, not a professional salesperson. Professional salespeople use their time exceedingly well and are always respectful of the time their customers invest with them.

In Part Two later this week we’ll look at some of the specific skills that the best salespeople are always working on to improve. 

The Rules for Starting Over

If this post didn’t contain a single word other than the title that would still pretty well sum up the rules for starting over. 

There are no rules for starting over.

No requirements. No limitations. No reason you can’t. There is no right way or wrong way. There is just your way. You can start over whenever and however you want.

You may think you’re “too old” to begin again but consider these people who had the same thing said about them: 

Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some “experts” told him it was too late to begin.

Phyllis Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was “too old” to become a success.

Julia Child didn’t even learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t launch her popular show until she was 50.

Harlan Sanders, the Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, was 66 when he began to promote his style of cooking and create an empire.

Each of these individuals had three things in common: they wanted more out of life than they were getting. They believed in themselves when others might have had doubts. They made a decision to begin again. 

Anyone who can make a decision can start anew! 

All that it takes is a decision that says my life is not heading in the direction that I thought it would so I’ll change directions now. It takes a decision and a commitment to do something different than you are doing now. 

This much is certain; if you want tomorrow to produce a different result than the one you have now then you’re going to have to do something different. You need to know and acknowledge that “different” requires change and it will likely be a moment by moment fight to accept the change. 

Here are just a few thoughts if you’re thinking you would like to steer yourself in another direction.

To start over you may need to admit your role in getting yourself where you are today. Until you accept responsibility for what you have, where you are, and why you made the decisions you did it will be very difficult to do anything differently. 

Consider what and who has held you back and decide immediately to eliminate or lesson their impact and influence on your life. Be honest with yourself, not every “friend” is truly a friend. Future success is not just about what you start doing, it may well be even more about what you stop doing.

Take some time to plan and strategize. Decide what you’re willing to invest and when you’re thinking investment don’t just think about money, think about time too. Change takes time, learning new habits takes time. Don’t underestimate the importance of budgeting time to eliminate old habits and replace them with new ones.

Dreams have no age limits but our minds often do. If you think you’re too old the first thing you need to change is your mind. 

Once you do that anything is possible. 

Procrastinators Have Too Much Patience

Successful people know the difference between procrastination and patience. One simply wastes time and one provides the opportunity to think, reflect, plan, and adjust. 

Patience can be productive, procrastination can’t. If procrastination doesn’t kill your chances for success today then it most certainly will tomorrow or perhaps the next day. But it will get you sooner or later.

Despite popular opinion procrastination is not only a lazy person’s problem. Some very busy people struggle with it too. In fact, one of the very reasons they struggle with it is the fact they are too busy. They attempt to do more than is possible and overload their calendars day in and day out. Their calendars  get so full they have no idea where to start, so they frequently don’t actually get started. 

There has never been a time in history when more “tools” were available to help with the scourge of procrastination. You likely have one of those tools in your pocket… or your hand, this very moment. Yes, the very thing that “helps” us procrastinate, our smartphone, can help us stop. 

There are 100’s of apps available to help us be more productive. I’ve tried many of them but my current app of choice is the native “reminders” app on my iphone. It syncs with my laptop and iPad so I have pings and dings and little red numbers popping up all over. It’s annoying but it also has really helped.

I avoid any app that looks like a simple to-do list. I don’t know a single highly productive person that would go near a to-do list. If you use a to-do list and you think you’re highly productive then  I would tell you you’ll be much more productive when you ditch that liar of a tool. 

I call a to-do list a liar because it fools us into thinking that our “busyness” is the same as productivity. We check something off a to-do list and feel good about getting something done. The question is, should we have done it at all. Maybe and maybe not.

I highly recommend any app that allows you to create a Daily Prioritized Task List. This takes your to-do list to a whole new level. You now do things in order of their importance. That requires thought on how you will use your limited hours in a day. You must decide which of the many things you have “to-do” will provide you the biggest payback and force yourself to follow the prioritization. It may even require you to stop doing some less productive things.

Of course there are a couple of problems with all these apps: I can simply turn off my smartphone (highly unlikely) or just choose to ignore it. (highly likely) I’d bet most people reading this are a lot like me.

That’s why the very best tool to help you with your procrastinating tendencies is a tool that’s been around forever. The “tool” is called a mentor. These days some people call it a coach. 

No one climbs a mountain without a climbing partner and for many people climbing a mountain would be easier than overcoming procrastination. So find a coach or mentor and ask them to help you climb the mountain of procrastination. Share your prioritized daily task list and ask them to hold you accountable to tackle each task in order of it’s importance. 

Virtually every person I’ve ever met could accomplish more than they thought they could and virtually every person I’ve met needed someone to help them do it. The right mentor will remind you of the vast difference between procrastination and patience and never allow you to substitute busy for productive. 

Apps are great but they still can’t replace interaction with a human that has the capacity to care enough about you to truly hold you accountable. I hope they never will.