How Can You Know?

If you’re in a leadership position then one of your core responsibilities is developing the people you are leading. Key to developing your people is understanding what motivates them to accept change in their lives. 

So how can you know what motivates them? Well I have a rather shocking and provocative idea. 

You could ask.

I know that’s not really shocking or provocative. It only seems that way because so few people in positions of leadership flat out ask their people what motivates them. Many of those who do ask only do it within the confines of an annual review process. That is NOT nearly often enough. 

When you ask you should be prepared to receive no answer…at least at first. Your people may initially be surprised by the question since it’s so rarely asked. So give them a day or two and ask again. 

One of the reasons the question is so rarely asked is that many people in leadership positions believe the answer is likely to be “money.” As in, more of it. But Authentic Leaders know that money is seldom the answer because money is actually a very poor motivator. If people have enough money to pay their bills and meet their basic needs then more money isn’t likely to motivate changed behavior. 

Once you know what motivates them then ask a follow up question. Something along the lines of, “how can I help you attain and retain that motivated frame of mind?” 

Those two questions should be asked anytime you see one of your people struggling to keep themselves motivated. Asking shows you care. If you don’t care enough about them to help them remain motivated to reach their potential then you don’t care enough about them to actually lead them. 

So stay close enough to your people to detect reduced motivation in it’s early stages. The sooner you catch it the sooner you, and your people, will overcome it. Never forget, your most expensive employees are not the ones you pay the most. The most expensive people in your entire organization are those who are unmotivated and disengaged. They receive a paycheck and provide little in return. 

These days, no organization can afford that.

Day-tight Compartments

The world is being overtaken with worry. Well…that’s not exactly right, it would be more accurate to say the world has been overtaken with worry. We have more to worry about than ever before. 

Or do we?

I think it’s good to keep “things” in perspective so let’s look at a few numbers. 40% of the things most people worry about never happen. 30% of the things people worry about are completely out of their control. They couldn’t change them if they tried. 20% of our worries come straight out of someone else’s opinion and have nothing to do with fact. 

If I’m counting my fingers and toes correctly that adds up to 90%! 90% of our worrying is a complete waste of time and energy. 90% of our worrying does nothing but pummel our joy and enthusiasm. We receive no return on that investment of time and energy so stop investing in worry. 

So what about the other 10%?

In Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (the greatest book every written on the subject of controlling worry) he provides a set of principles that are life changing. One of them has served me particularly well. It’s one of the first principles in the book and it says to “live in day-tight compartments.” 

That principle simply says don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. It says to focus all your energy on what is happening right now because that’s what you have the greatest chance of controlling. 

Take the pandemic for instance. I have no idea (does anybody?) how this ends. I have no idea what happens tomorrow or next week. I just know what I can do today to give myself and my family the best chance of staying healthy…so that’s where I’m focusing my energy. 

I have a bunch of big presentations coming up in the next few weeks. If I tried to focus on all of them I’d probably go crazy. So I’m only focused on my next one. That’s the presentation that has to be the best. Once I’m done with that one then it’s the next one that must be the best. The fact that some of these are on the same day or consecutive days makes no difference, they are all in their own “tight compartments” and they will happen one at a time. So why worry about one a couple weeks away?

I know the first thought of many people when they hear “don’t worry” is “easier said than done.” Well EVERYTHING worth doing is easier said than done. But here’s another bit of advice from Mr. Carnegie’s book that might help.

He says when facing trouble to do these three things:

  • Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
  • Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.
  • Then calmly work to improve upon the worst possible outcome.

I’ve found very few antidotes to worry that are more effective than using your time and energy to solve the issue that’s causing the worry. Even if you’re unsuccessful you’ll have eliminated a great deal of worry from your life. 

So worry if you must but don’t worry about yesterday, that’s now completely out of your control. And don’t borrow worry from tomorrow, just deal with it as it comes. There is at least a 40% chance that it never does. 

Stop Telling and Start Asking

I like salespeople who love their products. Enthusiasm is vital to success in sales. If the salesperson can’t get excited about what they are selling how will they ever get a prospect excited enough to buy it? 

But…

Great salespeople temper their enthusiasm long enough to ask questions. They discover what it is about their products that will excite and benefit their customers. Instead of telling prospects EVERYTHING about their products they ask questions. The answers help them determine how and even if, their product or service can help the customer. 

We’ve all come across a salesperson who begins their “pitch” by claiming to know exactly what we need. Aside from the fact that the most professional salespeople make presentations and not pitches, I just don’t buy from people who know exactly what I need before they ask me a single question.

I know salespeople don’t do it intentionally but they do great damage to their credibility when they tell before they ask. They appear interested in moving product whether it helps a customer or not. They seem to be purely transactional salespeople. 

The best salespeople ask the best questions. They almost always ask the most questions too. They ask questions that cause the customer to think a little. They also don’t mind a bit of silence while the customer is thinking. 

If you’re in sales and your prospects and customers can instantly answer any question you ask then it’s likely you’re not asking “deep” questions. Deep questions uncover your prospects real issues. Sometimes the prospect isn’t even aware of the seriousness of the issue. Questions help the sales professional bring it to the surface. Those deep questions help you, and sometimes the prospect too, understand what it would mean to resolve the issue once and for all. 

Ultimately deep questions help the sales professional know whether or not their product or service is a match for the prospect or customer. 

That’s vital because no ethical salesperson will ever sell or product or service that they know will not benefit the buyer in any way. 

Professional salespeople never “wing it” when it comes to asking questions. Some may not have specific questions prepared in advance. But all will certainly have the information they need well mapped out before they begin even an initial sales call. 

Odds are, and I’m mean no offense here, but odds are overwhelming that you are leaving important customer information buried for the simple reason that you’re not asking enough deep questions. 

If you’re in sales then ask more questions. In fact, even if you’re not in sales you should know that asking questions…and listening to the answers, is the fastest way to learn. I understand that some salespeople find asking questions to be scary, but I don’t understand why.

I mean after all, when was the last time you saw a headline in the newspaper that said, “Salesperson shot dead for asking a deep question? 

I’ve never seen that either so ask away! 

One Good Thing

I’d like to ask you to do yourself a favor. It’s not a big ask, it’s really very simple. In many ways it’s a small thing but the results could be anything but small.

In fact this little thing could have a huge positive impact on your life. 

I’d like to ask you to take note of one good thing that happened to you or around you. I’d like to ask you to do that every single day…forever. Then I’d like you to share that one good thing with someone else. Tweet them, text them, post it, pin it, or call somebody to tell them. But tell at least one person each day about that one good thing. 

Then, ask them to start taking note of one good thing that happened to them or around them and ask them to share it with at least other person a day. Every single day…forever. 

Despite what you may initially think it’s not difficult to find one good thing every single day. We only have to keep our eyes and hearts open to it. We may need to “tune out” some of the negative stuff to see the good things but that’s not such a bad thing. That might actually be the biggest benefit of looking out for the good stuff. 

Let’s flood social media with good stuff. Let’s overwhelm every instant messaging app on the planet with good things happening to people everyday of the week. Let’s clog every cell phone tower in the world with cell phone traffic talking about the good we see and feel as we go about our lives. 

Let’s do those things even on our most challenging day because even on our “days from hell” something good is happening to us or around us. So share the good with others. Every single day! 

If every single day seems like too much for you then just do it today. Don’t concern yourself with every single day. Make it easy on yourself and just do it each day…I’m pretty sure that will work out fine too. 

How…and When to Solve Problems

I saw an article a while back that said, “problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do.” While problem solving is a critical skill for all Authentic Leaders it is most certainly NOT the  “essence” of what they exist to do. 

If you were to ask me I’d say the true essence of Authentic Leadership is influencing others to become leaders themselves. Authentic Leaders do not grow a bigger following, they grow more leaders. It is the leaders they develop who will prevent many problems from happening in the first place. 

If someone in a leadership position is spending the majority of their time solving problems and putting out fires it is very likely they are not an Authentic Leader. It is far more likely that they are a first class arsonist. They are better at putting out fires because they started most of them. 

But, despite the best efforts of even the most accomplished leaders problems do pop up periodically. Authentic Leaders don’t run from them, they solve them.

Here is an effective 7 Step Process that many Authentic Leaders use when facing a problem. I didn’t develop this process but I can tell you that following it will help you permanently solve a problem. 

7 Step Problem Solving Process

Step 1: Define the Problem. What is the problem? 

Step 2: Clarify the Problem.

Step 3: Define the Goals. 

Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem. 

Step 5: Develop Action Plan. 

Step 6: Execute Action Plan. 

Step 7: Evaluate the Results. 

There are two areas I want to focus on. First is step four, identify the root cause of the problem. When I think about the root cause of problems I’m reminded of the story of a top executive of a Dog Food Company speaking to his entire sales and marketing team. Sales had been slipping and his talk was one of those “rally the troops” kind of talks. He began by asking “who has the best dog food in the world?” 

The team responded with shouts of “WE DO!” He then asked who has the best sales and marketing teams in the industry?” Again he was met with shouts of “IT’S US, WE DO!” Then he asked, “So why aren’t we selling more Dog Food?” To which he was met with a deafening silence. 

Finally one brave salesperson spoke up and said, “because the dogs don’t like our dog food.” That lone salesperson had just identified the root cause of the drop in sales. Many companies would have identified the loss of sales as the problem and invested in sales promotions and marketing programs. That would not have solved the real problem because they were not dealing with the root cause. 

Without understanding the root cause of a problem the best outcome you can hope for is covering up the problem with a bandaid. The real problem still exists. You may feel better because you’ve “done something” but you haven’t solved the problem. 

The next area I want to focus on is step six, execute the action plan. See that word “action” right before plan? The best plan in the world has no chance if it’s never put into action. It may sound surprising but many many good plans fail for that very reason, they are never put into action. 

If you’re not going to put your plan into action save yourself a bunch of time and skip the first 5 steps. Then learn to live with the problem cause it’s going to be a permanent house guest.

Now let’s discuss when to solve a problem. The best time to solve a problem might be as soon as it’s identified. It also might be the worst time to solve a problem. 

If you have all the information you need to permanently solve a problem then go ahead and solve it immediately. But I’m going to guess that of you had all the information to permanently solve a problem that the problem wouldn’t exist in the first place. 

So live with the problem a bit. Invest some time with it. Get to know it. Work to understand it. Examine it from all angles. Ask others to do the same. Gather loads of information about the problem and possible solutions.

Then use the 7 step process to pick the best solution and solve the problem permanently. 

Of course there will be times when you won’t have the luxury of getting to know the complete problem. Sometimes you’ll need to use your instincts and experience to “guess your best.” But if you’re an experienced process driven problem solver your best guess is going to be pretty darn good. 

One final thought, your attitude matters when dealing with problems. So don’t see even the biggest problem as an obstacle. See it for what it really is, a huge opportunity to improve. 

If that’s your mindset then your problem is half-solved already. 

The Customer is Always Right

There is an excellent Grocery Store chain in the Northeastern United States. It’s called Stew Leonard’s. In the grocery business there is formula that determines the retail volume you should expect given the square footage of your space. The bigger the store the more retail volume…seems pretty basic. 

Except Stew Leonard’s has always been known to blow past that formula. In theory they should not be able to sell as much as they do given the size of their stores. 

But their most basic business principle has always been, “The Customer is Always Right.”

That principle is so important that they have it etched into a three-ton granite rock that is placed near the entrance to their store. It also includes an equally important second principle, or rule if you will. 

On the rock you’ll see: “Our Policy – Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

Now that’s kinda nice in principle but we all know in real life it’s a bunch of bull. Except it’s not. Not for the most customer centric businesses anyway. 

When I do Customer Service training I’ll begin by asking the groups about their roles as customer service representatives. I want to know what they think their job is. I get all the usual answers and for the most part they are pretty accurate. 

But I have never gotten the one answer I’m looking for. The answer I’m most looking for is this: “to make the customer right.” 

When everyone, not just customer service people, but everyone in an organization sees their fundamental responsibility as “making the customer right” you’ll have customers beating a path to your door. 

Making the customer right can sometimes mean influencing an often emotional customer to think differently about the situation. Sometimes it can mean adjusting your organization’s policy on the fly. Sometimes it can just mean changing your way of thinking… actually it will almost always mean changing your way of thinking. 

It means changing your way of thinking from “how can I show this customer they are wrong to how can I make this customer right.” It means changing our mentality to one of “winning” a dispute with a customer to one of winning the customer for life. 

Making the customer right can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes the customer doesn’t exactly motivate us to want to help them be right. But seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. It is also not the customer’s responsibility to motivate us to help them. 

Of this I am certain; if you do not always put the customer first in your business then you run the risk of becoming the last place they want to do business with. 

That doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to me so never forget rule #1, the customer is always right…even if you have to work some magic to make it so!

The Most Important Thing to Know

I often tweet about success. I also often get replies that I have no business defining success for someone else. That is 100% true.

Defining success is deeply personal. 

I met a couple a few years ago who felt very successful. They were in their sixties and didn’t have a dime saved up for retirement. They had worked on and off through the years and for most of their adult lives had received some kind of government assistance. They had no disabilities and except for a few aches and pains that come with being in your sixties they were both healthy as could be. 

I was very curious about these two and that perhaps made me overly bold about asking them a few questions. One I asked was about their plans for living in retirement with no income besides a likely small social security check. They weren’t the least bit offended. In fact they smiled and said, “we’re talking to our retirement plan right now.”

There assumption was that “somebody” will always take care of them because in America, “they have to.” And they were fine with that. They didn’t need a lot to be happy and they were okay with living off the efforts of others. Having what they needed and being comfortable with how they received it was their definition of success. 

I was a little shocked with their answer but the longer I thought about it the more I began to think, “good for them!” They have found their personal formula for success. Who am I to judge? Their definition of success is about as far away from mine as you could get but that’s okay, it’s THEIR definition of success. It works for them. 

Whatever your definition of success is, it only needs to work for you. If you’re going to be happy in life it is important that you know that. Do not let other people define what success looks like for you. Ever!

You also must be willing to accept the fact that other people might disagree with your definition. As for the couple who are willing to live off the effort of others I would prefer to burn my money in a pit before they get their hands on it. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the most important thing to know and the most important thing to know is that your definition of success belongs to you and you alone. 

I kinda hate writing this post. In fact this is one of those posts where I sat down to write one thing but something completely different came out. I really do wish the whole world would accept a unified, socially acceptable definition of success so we can properly judge people as successes or failures. I also wish the Easter Bunny was real. 

But since neither of those are real I’ll share with you what may be the second most important thing to know. You’ll never make yourself happier by trying to judge someone else according to your standards of personal success. 

So don’t judge. Realize that one of the things that make people special is how different we all are. So when somebody doesn’t meet your standards of success don’t try to sway them to your way of thinking. Just say, “well ain’t you special,” and they can’t take that however they want.