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. 

A Mulligan for 2020?

If you’re a golfer then you’re familiar with the word mulligan. For those unfamiliar with the greatest game played on turf a mulligan is an extra shot allowed in an informal round of golf. This shot will not be counted and is “allowed” by opposing players after a particularly poor shot. It’s also know as a “do-over.” 

A mulligan on the golf course always sounds like a good idea until the extra shot turns out to be worse than the original shot. You don’t get to pick the better of the two shots, if you decide to take a mulligan then you are stuck with the outcome of that shot. So you better make darn sure the second shot couldn’t be worse than the first. 

I’ve read and heard a lot about how everyone deserves a mulligan for the year 2020. I’ve heard most of the year how it would be great if we could forget 2020 and pretend as if it never happened. 

For some people that would truly be wonderful. 2020 has indeed been a terrible year for some people. People who have lost a loved one especially. Their pain can never be fully erased, a better 2021 will not offset their loss. For me, I believe people who lost a loved one to the pandemic have every right to want 2020 to be over and done.

People who worked their whole lives to start and grow a business only to see it wither and die are a close second. Their loss and grief can be almost as severe as losing a family member. The only consolation for that group is that there is a possibility of starting over. It’s not fair that they should have to; it could actually be more challenging the second time around but at least it’s possible. 

2020 has been a year of loss in many many other ways. The most common is loss of physical contact with family and friends. As my wife reminded me this past week we lost time with our kids and grandkids that we can never get back. I hate that but as bad as it is other people have lost so much more. 

So before we ask for a mulligan for 2020 maybe we should consider exactly how bad it was for some of us. I don’t want to insult anyone by trying to minimizing the struggles of 2020, it was a terrible year for many people. For many people but not for most. Most of us experienced small pain in the butt type losses. We all must be careful to not equate our relatively small losses with the gigantic losses of others. 

For me rather than take a mulligan for 2020 I’m going to continue to try to survive the pandemic. But I’m also going to make a great effort to support, however I can, those who truly suffered a horrific loss in the last year. 

My losses in the last year were nothing when compared to others. I’m betting that’s true for many many of the people reading this post. So how about joining me in making 2021 a better year for other people and not a year for worrying about the relatively little things we missed in 2020.

Are you with me?

Zombie Culture

When I speak on delegating I often make the comment that leaders shouldn’t be doing anything that someone who works for them could be doing. Leaders should only be doing the things that only they can do. If they are doing something that someone else could do then they aren’t doing something that only they can do. 

Of all the things that only a leader can do perhaps none is more important than developing and nurturing the culture of their organization. 

Despite the significance of culture within an organization many leaders overlook the strategic importance of intentionally cultivating the “feel” of their organization. They know on some level that culture matters so they may talk about it’s importance. But they virtually never show it’s importance. 

Talking about culture without backing up the talk with actions is almost worse than not talking about it at all. It can make a leader seem clueless about what’s happening in their own organization. All talk and no action makes it hard to tell if the leader is trying to fool their people or if they are trying to fool themselves. 

Creating a valuable culture within an organization requires a laser focused intentionality. A culture worth having doesn’t happen by accident. It grows out of a positive vision for the future.  A vision where people matter most. 

Authentic Leaders know that the surest way to grow their business is to care about their people. You may be able to fool some of the people into thinking you care about them for a while but sooner or later they will figure out you don’t. 

When your people figure out that you really don’t care about them they won’t care much about investing themselves in the organization either. 

Authentic Leaders know that they cannot talk their organizations into a healthy, growing and caring organization. They must lead the organization to a strong and productive culture. That leadership means showing people that they are valued always. That leadership means demonstrating, showing, even proving, that they are cared for above everything else. 

Even profits.

There are consulting companies today who seem to operate on the premise of “take care of the bottom line and everything else will take care of itself.” They are dead wrong. Emphasis on the “dead” because they are slowing killing the organizations they are supposed to be helping. 

As much as the business world has changed over time there remains one constant truth. That truth is this: take care of your people and they will take great care of the bottom line. 

No, not ever, not even once was there a company that was able to sustain itself with a culture of “profit before people.” 

Culture that is not fed a consistent diet of deeply caring leadership, two-way communication, valuing people of all ages and backgrounds, and fully transparent decision making will NOT die. It will turn onto a culture of disengagement. It turns into a culture of people doing their jobs with the minimum amount of effort required to keep those jobs.

It turns into a zombie culture. 

So if you’re the person at the top of the organizational chart I have a question for you. How many days has it been since you made focused, intentional steps towards building a culture of caring and growth within your organization? How many days had it been since your people realized you took that intentional step?

If the answer to either question is more than a day then your culture is heading in the wrong direction. Only the person at the very top of the organization can change that direction, that task cannot be delegated. 

Don’t try to delegate what only you can do. Work today and each day to build the culture you want to have in your organization….or not. It’s your choice and it’s likely the most important leadership choice you’ll ever make.

Back to Basics

As the story goes, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would start every training camp the same way. He would hold up a football and announce with great gusto, “This is a football.” 

Keep in mind he was speaking to a room full of professional football players. I think I’m safe in assuming that they all had at least a passing familiarity (pun intended) with what a football looked like. 

But Coach Lombardi was making a point. His point was we are going to begin with the basics because it’s the basics that will make us champions. 

You may not be a professional football player but that point is as applicable to you as it was to those Green Bay Packers. 

Skipping the basics, or believing your skills are so advanced that the basics no longer apply to you is one sure way to fall short of your potential. 

As the year ahead comes into focus it’s a great time to review your own “basics.” What have you skipped, or simply forgotten, that used to bring you great results? Maybe you used to send thank you notes…remember those, the kind you wrote out by hand, put in an envelope and dropped in a blue box on the corner? That practice remains to this day a solid basic skill when building and nurturing relationships. Perhaps more than ever considering how rare thank you notes have become. 

Maybe you skip making yourself a prioritized task list each morning. Using a prioritized task list is key to strong time management. For most people it’s not that they don’t have enough time, it’s that they lack a clear sense of priorities. 

People who prioritize what they want and need to accomplish will in fact accomplish much more than the people who don’t. Even if you’ve never applied that basic skill to your life before, now would be a great time to start. 

There are so many “basics” to success that I could go on forever. But instead I’ll encourage you to invest some time to think back to some of your greatest successes. What were some of the basics that helped you achieve that success? Are you still using them? If not can you say with specificity why you’re not? Or have they somehow faded away with not much thought as to why?

Consider the basics you need to be consistently successful and then go back to them. This is a great example of when “going back” is the fastest path forward to future success. 

So, what are you going back to?