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Stop Before You Start

Geez, what happened to 2014? It went fast didn’t it? I hope it was a productive and prosperous year for you. I hope you kept all your resolutions and achieved all your goals. I hope!

Hope is nice but it’s no substitute for an actual plan.

If you’re like the vast majority of people, your resolutions were toast before you received your first paycheck in 2014. If you set goals your odds were somewhat better. If you set goals along with developing a plan for exactly how you would achieve them your odds of reaching them were actually pretty good.

If your plan included what you would stop doing in order to start doing something more productive then your odds of achieving your goals in 2014 were excellent.

Most of us are very busy people, we just don’t have much free time on our calendars. Yet when setting goals for the coming year we just add more to the mix. To be more successful we will start doing_____________. Go ahead and fill in the blank.

Do your goals for 2015 include starting new habits, starting new activities, starting new projects? Well that just isn’t realistic unless you first plan to stop doing something too.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve joined fitness clubs. I budgeted the money to pay for it, but not the time to use them. It was just one more thing that I didn’t have time to do. To be a bit more precise, it wasn’t that I didn’t have the time, I just didn’t make using the clubs a priority. To use them, I would have had to stop doing something else, I CHOOSE not to do that. It wasn’t really a concious choice but it was a choice just the same.

Unless you found yourself with an abundance of time in 2014 it’s foolish to add more to your “to-do” in 2015. Before you add anything new, take something off.

So let me suggest you begin your 2015 planning by making a “Stop-doing” list. A list of those “things” that you do which get you little or nothing in return. Make a concious choice about how you invest your time in 2015. Open up some time in your day to begin doing some new things that help you reach a goal.

Your success in 2015 might not determined by what you do; it may well be determined by what you don’t do any longer.

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FORGIVE This Holiday Season

(Yes, I know this post is a day earlier than normal but it’s kind of a gift and I didn’t want it to be late)

The song says that this is the most wonderful time of the year. I agree! I think most people would agree with that sentiment as well. Most, but not all.

For some people “The Holidays” are the most difficult time of the year. Family gatherings bring with them heightened levels of stress and remembrances of things gone wrong. Often the memories are downright angry.

Sometimes we carry that anger with us for years and years, the weight of it burdening every holiday and family gathering. Anger wears us out, it limits the joy in life.

So this year, whatever holiday it is you celebrate just let go of the anger long enough to remember the good times. Then just forgive whoever and whatever has stood between you and the good memories.

Now, I know that sounds a little Pollyanna. I know how hard forgiveness can be and I know some people have been deeply hurt by others. Understand I’m not suggesting you forget, I’m hoping you will forgive.

Some of the most generous people will give and give, all while holding tightly to the anger and resentment. I’m suggesting that perhaps you to be even more generous this year and FORgive.

Forgive others because even if they don’t deserve it, you do deserve the peace that comes with forgiving.

It doesn’t matter if they are sorry, forgive them anyway. Even if you don’t want a renewed friendship or relationship, forgive them. Just forgive! Hanging on to anger is just too expensive, in every way you can measure it.

One more thing, while you’re forgiving others don’t forget that you also deserve forgiveness. So if it’s needed, forgive yourself too!

This can indeed be the most wonderful time of the year, but YOU must choose to make it so.

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Don’t See the End Too Soon

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!

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Building Loyal Employees

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!

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There is No Value in Free

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!

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Drunk and Stupid Isn’t Good

‘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!

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Are You Truly a Leader?

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!