Proven Leadership Truths

Many years ago I worked for a fantastic organization called Dale Carnegie Training. I began as a sales rep selling their courses to businesses and individuals. One of the key selling points we were taught to use was the many benefits of being effective at speaking in front of groups.

I told many many people of the career advantages of being able to deliver an impactful message to an audience either large or small. I said the advantages were huge.

I learned an enormous amount about sales, leadership, and people in general while I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization. But after a bunch of successful years I wanted even more of a challenge so I moved into Corporate America.

After telling people for years what an advantage it was to be able to comfortably and effectively present in front of groups I was still amazed at what a huge advantage it actually was. It is not an absolute “must have” skill for advancement but if you do have it you will move up faster and have much greater impact on those around you.

Communication skills like presenting to groups are especially critical in difficult times. If there was any doubt about that those doubts are quickly being erased. We are discovering how important all communication skills are in times of trouble.

But many other “truths” of leadership are also being proven true in our current environment. Here’s a few of those.

As a leader you really really do set the tone for your team. If you’re convinced “it” can’t be done then rest assured it won’t be done…no matter what you say to your people. You can be the Rah-Rah guy in front of your people but if you don’t believe what you’re saying they will see right through you.

You must understand this pure fact. Your people’s attitude will NOT be better than yours. If you can’t be sincerely positive around your people then do your people a favor and don’t be around them.

Your people, with rare exceptions, will not out perform you. As a leader YOU are the model for successful behavior. If you’re putting out a 50% effort then don’t expect your people to put out a 51% effort.

If you’re blessed as a leader you may have the occasional superstar who is upwardly mobile and willing to outwork you. But for the most part your people will follow your example in all things, including how much effort any task or assignment is worth. If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must authentically lead. That means demonstrating exceptional effort in everything you do.

You can be assured that if your effort is mediocre the effort of your people will be mediocre too.

Leaders who vision cast effectively have a higher percentage of engaged followers. “Leading” isn’t a title or position. “Leading” is a set of activities and characteristics. People will only follow someone if they have some idea where that person is leading them to.

Do you have a vision of where you’re leading your people to? Can you communicate or “cast” that vision out to your people? Is it a vision that includes them and somehow rewards them for helping to achieve that vision?

People will not follow you to Nowheresville. People don’t only want to know where they are following you to, they NEED to know. Which brings us right back to effective communication skills.

Have you shared your vision for the future with your people. Many many people are both wondering what they future holds and worried if they have a place in that future. DO NOT let them worry and wonder.

You’re most expensive employee is not the person you pay the most. Your most expensive employee it the one who is least engaged. Give all of your people a vision of the future that they will want to engage with.

Communication, modeling successful behavior and demonstrating the power of positive attitudes are characteristics of successful leaders. That is being proven out every hour of every day during these challenging times.

Are you a leader who is up for the challenge?

Slowing Down

Ever heard of the saying “speed kills?” It is kind of a given that doing most anything too fast is not a good idea.

What isn’t mentioned often enough however is that going too slow can be just as bad.

I wanted to point that out because I’ve seen some slowing down of late. Many leaders and organizations entered into the current crisis doing a lot of the right things at just the right speed.

They made the proper efforts to keep their people engaged. They communicated appropriate information and didn’t over or under communicate.

I was also impressed with many of the individual efforts I’ve seen. From salespeople reaching out to try and help customers to moms and dads working together to school their kids at home. I was especially impressed with the effort I saw and heard about regarding people making sure to stay in touch with family and friends while pretty much stuck at home.

There have been many good things that have come about as a result of the situation we all find ourselves in. I hope at least some of those things outlast the current situation.

But I kinda feel like many of those efforts are already slowing down. Collectively we are taking our feet off the gas and beginning to drift.

Don’t drift!

Stay focused on how you began dealing with this situation. The things that worked well will work even better when this mess is over and life begins returning to something that feels normal.

Think of it this way… there is a reason the people say “speed up” and a reason they say “slow down.”

Slow apparently has do to with going down. I don’t want to go in that direction. I don’t want my success to go in that direction. I don’t want people thinking my effort, the quality of my work or the amount I care is going in that direction either. I also don’t think you want that.

Intentionally slowing down with a purpose in mind can be good. Allowing slowing down to unintentionally creep into your day is not so good.

Discipline and focus serve you well in good times and bad. Maintain the focus and discipline you had at the beginning of our unusual times. That will give you the opportunity to exit the unusual times better, faster, stronger and more prepared to succeed than when this whole thing started.

Lots of people start strong. The most successful people finish strong as well. Which one are you?

Cry or Try, The Choice is Yours

This is a bit of a challenging post to write. It will also perhaps be a challenging post for some people to read. It is a challenge in both directions because without seeing my facial expressions and hearing my tone of voice some people will think this post is uncaring.

My intent however is the absolute opposite of uncaring.

I’m writing this specifically for people who feel like crying during difficult circumstances. Notice I didn’t say I am writing this TO you, I am writing this FOR you. This is a message you need to hear.

In every difficult circumstance there are two kinds of people. Those who cry over their circumstances and those who try to improve them. Even people who cry about their circumstances know that the people who try to improve their circumstances have a much better chance to succeed.

But they don’t believe they can do anything about their own circumstances. The crying group wears the mantle of victimhood like a $5000 suit or a custom made ball gown. It is a very comfortable fit.

Even with a life full of far more comfortable options they have convinced themselves that they have nothing else to wear.

The trying group on the other hand will wear anything. They don’t care if their plaid pants don’t go with their striped shirt. They will try anything. They know that no matter how poorly their attempt might turn out the only way they can truly fail is to not continue trying.

The trying group believes in themselves. They trust themselves. They know they have what it takes to succeed.

That belief and trust in themselves is all that is separating them from the crying group. The trying group does not have vastly greater skills than the crying group, they just make a choice to use whatever they have.

Trying is hard work. Crying is just hard. Trying gets you somewhere. Crying traps you right where you are. Trying creates hope. Crying creates more crying.

The good news is that the price for moving from the crying group into the trying group is low.

All you need to do is to make a choice. A choice that says I’d rather try and fail 1000 times than to sit here and cry with no chance to improve my situation.

A choice that says I may or may not have what it takes to succeed but I’m going to use everything I do have and see where it leads.

My mom used to tell me to not cry over spilt milk. Yet I spilt my milk all the time and would invariably cry over it. Until I decided that crying wasn’t going to solve my spilling problem. I decided on the solution right then and there…. I haven’t had a glass of milk since.

In any circumstance you can choose an attitude of “Woe is me” or you can chose an attitude of “Wow is me.” Which one you choose sets your life on either a path of success or a path with puddles of spilt milk.

Choose wisely.

A Self Leadership Checkup

Everybody says we need Authentic Leadership right now, perhaps more than ever before. Well it must be true since everybody can’t be wrong. But it seems to me most people talking and writing about leadership these days are missing an important point.

Before you can lead others authentically you must effectively lead yourself.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know the people you lead really need you now. That’s because especially in challenging times people need to be led, not managed. But you’re people too. You need leadership as much as anyone. The difference is you may well have to lead yourself.

So let’s do a quick checkup on your self-leadership skills.

You know that your people need some extra inspiration right now. They look to their leaders to provide it. But it’s pretty tough to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. In those quiet moments (perhaps few and far between right now) how are you staying inspired? What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you aggressively looking for positives to keep your mindset where it needs to be.

It’s as easy for a leader’s attitude to go south as it is for anyone else. If you’re going to keep other people’s spirits up them you’ll have to keep yours up first. Find the possibilities in every challenge. Problems are an opportunity to learn and grow. They provide the chance to become better and more nimble.

Coach yourself to see obstacles as growth opportunities. Remember, your people will do what you do far faster than they will do what you say. Model the attitude and mindset that you want your people to possess.

You are the master of your emotions, no one else. If you do not make the conscious choice of a positive attitude every single day then a subconscious choice will be made for you by events and circumstances. It will not be a choice that serves you well.

Positive attitudes do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.

How are you doing with time management? If you’re suddenly finding yourself leading from home you may find that you don’t have the same level of discipline that comes with working in an office environment.

Setting daily goals can help with this. Goals create discipline. Discipline is simply choosing between what you want now and what you want most. Your goals should be what you want most. Holding yourself accountable to do the same amount of work at home that you would do in the office requires that you keep in mind what you want most.

The “work things” that you may be less accountable to accomplish right now are the means to the things you want most. When my daily work goals are achieved I allow myself what I want most. That would be ice cream! If the work isn’t crossed off my list then the ice cream doesn’t cross my lips.

It is important to remember that no one on earth has more time than you do. No matter how pressured you may feel you do not, I repeat, you do not have a shortage of time. What you most likely do have is a lack of prioritization skills.

Pursue those daily goals with the zeal of a crazy person and you’ll discover you have all the time you need to accomplish every one of your goals.

Are you carefully choosing your words? A leader’s words carry more weight. In challenging times they weigh even more. Choose your words to convey the exact message you’re trying to get across. Remember how you say something can be even more important than the something you say. Are you being mindful of your tone? It is likely you’re doing more communication over the phone than normal. People can’t read your body language so they use the tone of your voice to decipher the meaning of what they are hearing.

It is your responsibility to make sure they are hearing what you intend for them to hear.

Leading others begins with leading yourself exceptionally well. These three areas are not the only leadership skills to focus on for exceptional self-leadership but they will get you on the right path to being a leader who is prepared to lead others in turbulent times.

The Newest Competitor for Sales

A tough new competitor has just re-entered the sales game. This competitor has invaded almost every industry. Whatever you’re selling this competitor is lurking under the surface of every sales opportunity. Sometimes they are not even under the surface, they are sitting boldly on top of YOUR sales opportunity.

This competitor is particularly nasty too. They aren’t even interested in stealing business for themselves. The only thing they want to do is wreck the deal for everyone. They want the salesperson to go away empty handed. Worse, they want to leave the customer empty handed and with no help too.

The name of this competitor is NO! No has a twin sister who has entered the fray as well. Her name is Not Now. If you’re newer to sales you may not be familiar with these formidable competitors. But if you’re not careful they can be much tougher than the competitors you normally face.

The competitor named No and his sister Not Yet are always around but they thrive in uncertain times. They last entered the profession of selling in 2008 and 2009. They were pervasive enough to end the sales careers of many unprepared and unprofessional salespeople. The bad news is that many sales are being lost to No and Not Yet in the current business environment. The good news is that a great many of those lost sales are not truly lost, they are merely delayed.

It is vital that sales professionals understand that while No and Not Yet can slow a sale down they can’t stop it completely.

As effective as No and Not Yet can seem they are readily defeated by replacing the unknowns of today with the information that customers will need tomorrow.

The best salespeople seldom lose a deal to No in uncertain times and they never lose a sale to Not Yet. Product peddlers float to the sidelines when No and Not Yet enter the game. Professional Salespeople hold their ground and expose No and Not Yet as imposters who only want the worst for customers.

Information erases the unknown. If No and Not Yet try to get between you and the customers you’re trying to help STAY IN THE GAME. Provide your customers with the best information you can. Industry information, product information, problem-solving information and whatever advice you can offer based on your own expertise.

Don’t float away from your customers and leave them alone in the vastness of the current unknowns. They may not remember exactly what you’ve done for them in the presence of No and Not Yet but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.

Make them feel like more than a customer. Make them feel as if they matter as a person because in fact they do. Sales right now is far more about helping people than it is about closing a deal. That’s actually always true but it is vital right now.

It’s likely you’re not spending as freely as you were a month ago. Neither are your customers. But one day your own unknowns will be gone and you’ll feel safer spending again. That too will be the same for your customers.

If you can stay with your customers in the presence of No and Not Yet today then your customers will be there for you tomorrow when No and Not Yet have faded away until the next time of uncertainty.

Fear Isn’t Real

There seems to be a lot of fear going around these days. Fear of getting sick, fear of going broke, fear of going broke because you got sick, fear of the unknown and apparently even fear of running out of toilet paper.

All this fear going around is kinda weird since fear isn’t actually real. You can see someone who appears to be scared but you can’t see the fear. You can hear someone scream but you’ve never heard fear make a sound. Fear has no odor, no color and no taste. Show me what fear looks like and I’ll hold up a mirror and show you someone with a vivid imagination.

You’ve never seen fear because fear doesn’t exist.

Dale Carnegie once said the “the only place fear exists is in our minds.” If that were all there was to it then no one would ever be afraid. Unfortunately the mind is very powerful and it frequently convinces us that the unreal is indeed very real.

When your mind convinces you that your fear is real the effects can be devastating. Fear can be and often is fatal to dreams. It paralyzes our thinking and it spreads quickly. Allowed to exist long enough fear will consume all rational thinking. When relational thinking is gone fear can play all kinds of tricks on us. It’s favorite trick seems to be making us believe the possible is actually impossible.

The good news is that there is an antidote for fear. It’s called action. Almost any action will do but nothing beats carefully considered, planned out action.

That is one reason I have so many plans. Plans in case I lose my income. Plans in case I get sick and can’t work. Plans for things out of my control. Yes, I understand that I can’t control things out of my control but I can certainly have a plan for how I will respond to them. So can you!

I have plans so when fear attempts to overtake me I don’t have to think…I just have to take whatever actions my plan says to take. That fake sensation of fear gets swamped by action.

Having a plan before fear attempts it’s takeover is best but it’s not essential. But when fear begins to creep in you must act quickly. Just do something. Do one thing that you know is right. Then do another, a couple of quick actions will buy you a bit of time to do some planning. Be sure that your plan includes lots of action steps because every action you take will weaken fear’s ability to hold you back.

As powerful as fear can feel at times the reality is that fear has only the power that you allow it to have. The secret to eliminating fear in your life is to believe in yourself more than you believe in fear.

Fear is an illusion that is easily exposed by logical thoughts and actions. YOU CAN beat it. You can outthink it. You can out hustle it. You can overpower it with a belief in yourself.

The only question is whether or not you believe you can.

So, do you believe?

Forward to Normal

I sure have heard from lots of people who are waiting and hoping for things to get back to normal.

While I understand that sentiment there are two mistakes being made when we express it.

The first mistake is waiting. DON’T wait! If you’re waiting for what was normal to return I’m afraid you’re going to have a heck of a long wait. Some people and organizations will emerge from the current situation with the potential to be more successful than they were before. They are not going to create that success by waiting.

They are actively evaluating the events swirling around them to determine what they can control and exactly how they can control it. The key word in the previous sentence is “actively.” They are not ruminating over what is. They are creating what will be whenever “what is” is over.

Don’t wait, begin this very moment to determine your exit strategy from this pandemic. Determine what you do right now. Determine what you’ll do when the world reopens for business and how you will maintain that momentum when things start to feel a little more normal.

Speaking of normal…why would anyone want to go “back” to normal? You will not find your future success behind you. It is simply a waste of time and effort hoping for normal to return. It’s not coming back!

I have no better idea than anyone else what “normal” is going to look like a year from now. But I’d bet your next paycheck that it is not going to look like last year’s normal.

Instead of hoping to get “back to normal” you need to be looking forward to normal.

Normal will be different than normal used to be. We can’t fully go back to what was and that’s okay. Abraham Lincoln said “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” We have an incredible opportunity right now to create the next bit of our future. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by!

I know we all love normal. I’m not a bigger fan of change than anyone else but this much I know for sure….things are going to change. They only question we have to answer is this: Is change going to happen to you or is change going to happen because of you?

If I have to be on the change bus I’d much rather be driving. There are plenty of steering wheels to go around, will you join me in determining the future direction on your life?