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What You Don’t Know

I don’t watch a lot of television and though I really like watching 60 Minutes (A news weekly in the United States) I rarely take or make the time to see it. 

But I really enjoyed the live show on Christmas evening. I was absolutely fascinated watching Mike Wallace interview Mark Twain. I guess it was live because it was Christmas but whatever the reason it was truly amazing watching two living legends going back and forth talking about a major topic of the day.

Fake news!

One of the more profound things that Twain said was “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” 

His point was that much of what you read on the internet just can’t be believed. He also added that sadly, today it’s just not just the internet you can’t believe, sometimes even the mainstream media reports inaccurate information. Gone are the days when all “news” needed to be verified by two or three sources, now it seems more important to be first than to be right.

Hillary Clinton said recently that fake news was an epidemic in the U.S. Not only is she right but it’s not just the United States, it’s everywhere.

Some people will apparently believe anything. Did you hear about the guy that read about the same Hillary Clinton operating a child sex ring out of a Washington DC pizza shop. This knucklehead went to the pizza shop with a gun to “investigate” for himself. Somehow the gun went off … I think the guy is still in jail.

I mean how crazy do you have to be to believe everything you read online?

Apparently not very crazy. 

In an article published by something called AWDNews on Tuesday December 20, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan if it sent troops into Syria. “We will destroy them with a nuclear attack,” the article quoted Yaalon as saying. There is no evidence that Yaalon ever said those words.

Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Asif responded to the fake news article on his official Twitter as if it were real. He warned Israel that it was not the only nuclear power. “Israeli threatens nuclear retaliation presuming (Pakistan) role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear State too,” Asif wrote late on December 23.

Pakistan has figured out that the “news” reports were fake so the world can live a while longer.

One can only wonder what obviously fake news will be believed next.

Maybe we all need to take a step back and do what real journalists used to do… Verify all information with two or even three sources before we believe it. 

I wouldn’t believe anything I saw in the “news” until I saw it in several places. You’re responsible for what you believe, not the people making stuff up. 

With that I should probably come clean and admit I did not see 60 Minutes on Christmas night. I don’t even know if it was on.

I did not see Mike Wallace interview Mark Twain on live TV. That would have been entirely impossible because Mr. Wallace passed away sometime back and Mr. Twain passed away sometime before that.

But I’d bet a days wages that somebody is right this second searching YouTube to find that Mike Wallace/Mark Twain interview. The amazing thing is that even though the interview never took place they may still be able to find it.

Some people really will believe anything. 

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What Are You Selling?

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope. – Charles Revson

Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon Cosmetics, was not a well liked man. 

He was so offensive in fact that vendors often refused to do business with him. But in spite of his personality he still managed to build a multi-billion dollar cosmetic empire.

That’s because he knew what he was selling – and it wasn’t cosmetics.

His quote above said it all. His ads sold hope by using most of the ad’s space on images of beautiful movie stars and glamorous models. The add copy made bigly promises of instant beauty with nearly no effort. He understood that nobody really wanted cosmetics, what they wanted was the beauty. So that’s what he sold.

I remember one of my first sales managers telling me that the best salespeople sell verbs, not nouns. When it became obvious that I didn’t understand what he meant he clarified it by saying they don’t sell the steak, they sell the sizzle.

Through the years I’ve come to understand that the best salespeople don’t sell their product, they sell what their product can do for a prospect. 

The challenge here is really two-fold. First you have to be selling a product that benefits someone. Then you have to find that someone it benefits and show them how it helps them.

By the way, if you are trying to sell a product without benefits then you need to find another product. If your product is the equivalent of an artificial appendix then it may work great but finding a market for it will be nearly impossible.

If you want to sell more next year then don’t sell what you’re selling, sell what people are buying. Don’t sell what your product is, sell what it does and most importantly sell “why” it does it.

Develop the mindset of helping your customer, not just making the sale. The very best sales professionals know that the more they help the more they sell. The very best sales professionals are passionate and enthusiastic about how their product or service helps a customer and they pass that enthusiasm to their prospects.

Just remember, people will seldom actually buy your product, they will buy what it does….for them.

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Ditch the Resolutions

Want more success in 2017? Then ditch the New Years Resolutions and replace them with a mentor. 

There is so much evidence that New Years Resolutions have no lasting impact that I won’t even bother with explaining why they are almost always a complete waste of time.

There is also ample evidence that having a mentor does have long term impact on the mentees future success. If you truly want greater success in the coming year then your first step is to get yourself a mentor. 

I’ve been blessed throughout my career with mentors who cared as much about me as they cared about their own success. That perhaps is the single greatest attribute a mentor must have, they really need to care about the person they are mentoring.

I get asked on average at least once a week to mentor someone and one of my biggest regrets is that I have to say no. I’m mentoring a few people already and I couldn’t truly be effective mentoring more. Mentoring is serious stuff and requires a serious time commitment on the both of both the mentor and the mentee. 

If you’re serious about having a mentor in 2017 then look for a person who is willing to share their knowledge, skills and expertise. Sadly, too many people in organizations see passing along their knowledge and skills to be a risk to their job security. In fact, nothing is further from the truth. If you have the ability to help others grow then you will always be needed somewhere.

Your mentor needs to be a person who will take a personal interest in you and who desires a personal relationship with you. They must invest themselves in your success. If your mentor frequently needs to cancel or change the time of your meeting then you likely need a different mentor. 

Your mentor needs to be someone who cares enough about you to offer you constructive feedback. They have to have the courage to potentially tell you some things that you may not want to hear. They also need to have the compassion and communication skills to tell you it in such a way as to allow you to hear it, understand it, believe it, and act upon it. 

A good mentor is a person who sets a good example. They regularly achieve their own goals, they are respected by others and they demonstrate successful habits. They “walk their talk” while challenging their mentees to do the same. They never ask someone else to do something that are unwilling to do themselves.

Regardless of your age or level of success you’ll be better off in 2017 if you have a mentor. A real mentor. Formalize a mentoring relationship with someone who can help you grow personally and professionally and see for yourself the difference it will make in your level of success in the New Year!

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What Great Leaders Know

There are so many differences between a person who manages and a person who leads that I could write on that single topic almost exclusively. Great leaders know those differences well.

To be clear, the skill set of a manager is very different than the skill set of a leader. The mindset of a manager is vastly different than the mindset of a leader. To be clear as well, both managers and leaders are critically important for the success of any organization. It is hard to say one is more valuable than the other because without both an organizational will eventually fail. To be crystal clear, there are many people who possess both skill sets, there are far far fewer people who possess both mindsets. 

Managing is about “stuff” and leading is about people. Budgets are managed, inventories are managed, systems are managed, “things” are managed. Leading is solely about people and the singular focus of truly great leaders, at least during those times when they are actually leading, is their people. 

Managers can help people accomplish more for the good of the organization, managers can even motivate people. Many managers in fact look like decent leaders. The only thing missing is the motive of true leadership. The motive of true leadership is to do the right thing for the people simply because it’s the right thing to do. That’s where the mindset comes in.

Managers who look like leaders have the ability to get the compliance of their people. They set up a sort of transactional leadership model that says to their people “you’ll be fine here as long as you do what you’re asked.” Implied of course is the fact that when you stop doing what you’re asked then you won’t be fine anymore. That’s where compliance comes from.

Most people in an organization will in fact do what they are asked. The problem is that most “managed” people will do little more than what they are asked. They can appear to be engaged in the organization and engaged in their work when in fact they are more likely just putting in their hours.

True leaders, great leaders, have no need for the compliance of their people. They earn the commitment of their people and commitment far outweighs compliance. They earn it by putting a relational leadership model on full display. They build real relationships with the very real people they lead. They build them by showing that they care about people.

This doesn’t mean they have to become best buds and hang out together every weekend. A relational leadership model simply demands that the leader truly cares about the people they lead. They understand, they fully and completely understand that “stuff” is managed and people are led. 

The mindset of a manager is “we need to get this done,” the mindset of a leader is “we need to get this done in a people valuing way that builds people up and helps them reach their full potential while getting it done.” 

When we manage people every task is a “one off” exercise and managers find themselves telling their people the same things over and over. Every time a manager asks their people to do something it’s as if they never asked them before.

When we lead people every task is a learning exercise and because the people are committed to their leader they willingly repeat the task again and again without being asked over and over. 

Managing people helps them understand that the work is important. Leading people helps them understand that while the work is important they are more important. 

This sounds worse than I mean it to sound but managers use people to get the job done. Leaders develop people to get the job done. The different motives come directly from the different mindsets. One has immediate short-term impact and one has more patient potentially endless impact.

Make no mistake, people can build semi-successful careers by trying to manage people but people who lead people build more than careers, they build legacies. They build those legacies by building people who become great leaders in their own right. 

You can either be a manager or a leader, if you’re truly blessed you can even be both but your success and the success of your organization will ultimately depend on you understanding the vast difference between the two.

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Decisions Decisions

If you’re a leader then you make many decisions during a year. Some are big and some not so big. But every decision changes something, assuming of course that the decision was acted on. 

I don’t often suggest taking long looks in the rear view mirror but every now and then it serves a purpose. This is the time of year for looking back. A little self-reflection can help you remember some of the lessons of the past year that you may have forgotten.

So while you’re in reflection mode ask yourself, “What decisions that I made in the last year would I like to take back?”

It’s probably not a lot of fun to rehash decisions that didn’t turn out as planned but it can be a valuable exercise. You’ll want to look at the information you used to make the decision. It’s worth noting where the information came from and if you were alone in the decision or if your team agreed with you.

You want to pay particular attention as to whether the actual decision was flawed or if the mistake was in the execution. By the way, the biggest mistake of all is making a decision and then not acting on it…just sayin’.

Reflections on past decisions should be a learning experience. It’s not an opportunity to assign blame to anyone, it’s an opportunity to learn and to avoid the same mistake in the future.

If you discover that there are too many decisions that you would make differently then you know you’ve really grown throughout the year. Your short time of self-reflection should give you the opportunity to use that growth to have an even more successful 2017. 

But remember, you have to first acknowledge a poor decision before you can possibly learn from it.

Think about that too!

 
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Leading by Example

Somewhere around 15 years ago I met a person who ran a small business who was really into what at the time was cutting edge technology. The technology he was so fond of was something called “remote monitoring.” 

It seems simply today but at the time having cameras set up around your business so you could see what was happening when you weren’t there was almost science fiction like. This guy could sit at his computer at home and keep an eye on his employees without them even knowing about it. 

As he was explaining his latest foray into this new world of technology he asked several of us what we thought of it. Most everyone expressed their opinion and most everyone agreed how awesome it was. I didn’t offer an opinion because I was thinking more about what it would be like working for this guy.

Finally he asked me straight out what I was thinking. I was in fact thinking two things; first I was thinking how happy I was not to be working there. (I didn’t tell him that thought) What I did share with him was that it was probably only fair that he would be watching his people that closely since they watched him that closely too.

He was a little taken back by that and asked why his people would be watching him, after all he was the boss.

I said that was exactly why they were watching him. They needed to watch him to determine if he could be trusted. They wanted to see for themselves if his words matched his actions. They wanted to see if he saw them as mere employees or if he really understood that they were people. 

They also wanted to see how they should behave. They wanted to know what was appropriate to say and what behavior would lead to success. 

What this “boss” didn’t understand what that he was their model. His people were going to do what he did about a thousand times faster than they were going to do what he said to do. 

If his actions matched his words then he could be trusted. If not then they knew he was just a boss and not a true leader. 

This boss expected his people to trust him when he had no trust in them at all. He modeled an untrustworthy behavior and he likely received untrustworthy behavior in return. 

He may not have been a true leader but he occupied a leadership position and because of that people followed his example. If you are occupy a leadership position then you are leading by example whether you know it or not. Your people are watching. It’s up to you to provide them with a model of successful behavior.

As someone in a leadership position you should be modeling the kind of attitude that you want your people to have. You should be modeling the type of language you want them to use. You should be modeling the appearance that you want them to have.

You are leading by example. Always! You are leading by example in everything you say and do.

So…what exactly are you modeling for the people you’re supposed to be leading today?

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Your Greatest Business Threat

Pretty much every business in the world does some sort of occasional “threat assessment” to determine areas of their business where they could be vulnerable. Most of these assessments are externally focused and while that is obviously important they miss the single greatest threat to their future. It’s a threat so severe that in many cases it threatens the very existence of their business.

The threat they miss comes from the rapidly changing demographics of the workforce. 

Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every single day. The majority of them retire either a little bit before the age of 65 or a little after. 25% of boomers say they will need to work well past retirement age but many of those say they will significantly scale back their work hours. 

If we assume the age of 65 as the average retirement age then 10,000 Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce everyday. Every single day.

They are replaced by far far fewer Millennials. 

That’s the textbook definition of a problem. A very serious problem. 

In the trucking industry alone, for example, it’s estimated that there will be a shortage of over 100,000 drivers in just the next couple of years. The Millennials who replace boomers will have far less experience and know-how, and will need considerable training to get up-to-speed. This will lead to significant gaps in areas such as engineering, utilities, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and many many more professions. The majority of the less desirable manual labor jobs, even skilled positions like mechanics and service technicians will become increasing challenging, if not impossible, to fill. 

Just as important for leaders is the need for awareness as to just how differently Millennials will behave. Millennials significantly differ from Boomers in a number of ways: They want, actually need, more feedback and attention, and prefer the instant gratification of texting to the slower response of email; they prefer casual attire so they can just be themselves at work; they want tons more flexibility with scheduling and work location; they value the importance of their work over pay and benefits; and they want to be involved in strategy and not just told what to do. (It’s important to keep in mind when discussing generational differences that we’re discussing “generalities,” it’s just as unfair to “pigeonhole” the Millennial generation as any other)

None of this makes Millennials harder to work with or more challenging to lead, it just means a shift in leadership thinking. 

The differences however won’t matter one bit if you’re not proactively planning for the demographic change in your workforce. You won’t need to worry about how to lead a Millennial because you’ll be so far behind the curve that they would never join your organization in the first place.

The threat posed by the changing demographics is so severe that your next threat assessment (or whatever you want to call it) needs to be focused almost exclusively on the internal workings of your organization. Conduct a demographic risk-analysis of your team. What knowledge and skills are likely to leave your organization in the next five years and how will you replace it. 

To be clear, this is not your yearly process for assessing talent and creating succession plans, this is an almost person by person detailed assessment of strength areas that lead to the eventual determination of whether or not those strengths will be required in the future. 

If it’s determined that they will and those strengths are held by a Boomer then you have identified a threat.

If you intend to be in business 15 or 20 or perhaps even 10 years from now, you must develop a sense of urgency around this threat today. There are only so many people to fill the positions you need filled to sustain your business, you are right now, this very day, in competition for an ever shrinking talent pool. It makes no difference if your business is big or small, everybody is in the same boat.

If you’re alarmed at the tone of this post then that’s great, you have received my message in the manner in which I intended. 

I fully understand the difference between a real threat and an irrational apocalyptic kind of threat. This threat is the real kind, VERY very real; the numbers just don’t lie. If you disagree then I wish you luck cause you’re going to need it.