Category Archives: Communication

LEAD through Service Failures

One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.

Continue reading LEAD through Service Failures

Lead Like a Sherpa

Lead

In my second of three posts about Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, I examine the organization’s central tag: “Lead”. This amazing program touched the lives of over 9,500 young people last year across the world.

At this year’s Training Institute, I heard an approach to leadership that I hadn’t before. It came during a sort of train-the-trainer session on how to prepare adults to facilitate groups of young people. Don’t stop reading! You’d be surprised how applicable it is to the professional world.

Lead Like a Sherpa
Image courtesy Frank Kovalchek, CC

“When you’re leading these groups, you’ve got to be part chaperone and part Sherpa.” Sherpa? What in the world is a Sherpa? That comes later, she says.

The first part I understand: whether you’ve got a group of 8-10 teenagers or 100 employees, a leader has to keep an eye on his or her charges. After all, someone has to enforce the rules and answer the policy questions. Somebody’s got to be the chaperone.

When it comes to being a good chaperone, you’ve got to LEAD: Listen to your team, Empathize to build relationships, Activate their strengths and passions, and Direct them toward proper and powerful outlets for their talents or frustrations.

But what was that other word? Sherpas are Himalayans renowned for their mountaineering. Often, these skillful locals will guide expeditions of even the most experienced climbers. They carry packs and equipment and know the safest paths to the summit.

Leaders act as chaperones, that’s true. But their most important title is Sherpa. It’s our job to guide these emerging leaders through the safe passages, warning them where the footing is unsure, and guiding them safely to the summit.

We can’t climb the mountain passes for these emerging leaders. We can only show them the way, making sure they take advantage of the lessons of the past and catch a vision for the future.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn!

What to Do with Blogging Employees

Great! One of your employees has started a blog. Now what?

Blog-commentskkkkk
By Cortega9 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When I started blogging, a former employer freaked out. I would leak all of our secrets! I’d say something that reflected poorly on the company! I’d spill the beans on something highly confidential! Continue reading What to Do with Blogging Employees

Leaders Open Doors

A radically simple leadership approach to lift people, profits, and performance. The subtitle says it all! Bill Treasurer delivers a very short, very simple treatise on leadership: Leaders Open Doors.

Leaders Open Doors

One thing I want to make perfectly clear is that I don’t get paid for anything I write here. Bill’s book impacted me in a way that I want to share with you. More than a book review, let this post serve as an impact statement.

Leaders Open Doors is 91 pages, counting the acknowledgments. It’s so short I read it in one sitting. For me, Bill breaks leadership into three duh-worthy characteristics.

Leadership is Simple

That’s a bit condescending, right? For some of us, learning about leadership is a lifelong undertaking. Some people, like Bill, have advanced degrees in the art and science of leadership! When I’m trying to be extra impressive, I cobble together big words so y’all know I’m sophisticated.

But Bill boils leadership down to its purpose: creating opportunities for others. The message is dead-simple and spelled out in big letters on the cover: Leaders Open Doors

Leadership is Inclusive

This is a characteristic that I often don’t think about. Sometimes, I’m tempted to think that we’ve moved beyond having to worry about race or gender diversity.

In Leaders Open Doors, Bill brings out some points about including “others” in your team’s leadership and making the effort to invest in these individuals. Every year, dozens of race or gender inequality stories flash across our TV screens. Bill’s treatment of “other” inclusion in our organizations is rich stuff.

Especially for a white male born and raised in the South. Inclusive open-door leadership is a challenge for me because I’m not often faced with the reality of being an “other”. Bill pointed out this area of growth opportunity for me in a way that was gentle but powerful.

Leadership is Personal

Not only does Bill give excellent examples from his professional experience, he relates personal periods of growth and what it took to get there. In this way, he is modeling open-door leadership by opening the door to his heart.

Too often we try to compartmentalize our relationships: these are church friends, these are hunting buddies, and these are work acquaintances. How professional we are, keeping work relationships neat and tidy!

The fact is, you work with some incredible people. It’s time to get to know them and to let them get to know you. Deepening these relationships leads inevitably to much more meaningful work.

Leaders Open Doors

I’m so grateful to Bill Treasurer for writing this book. He cut straight to the heart with his personal call to simplify our understanding of leadership. I’m also grateful to Dan Rockwell (The Leadership Freak) for introducing me to Bill’s work.

Leaders Open Doors is so much more than I’ve listed here. Throughout, Bill poses questions to help you focus on how you can open doors for others wherever you are.

Something I love about Bill’s book is that it lives out his message: all of the profits from the book are donated to help open doors for children with disabilities. Additionally, Bill shares experiences and anecdotes from his professional network throughout.

That’s what most impacts me about this book; even in its writing, Bill is trying to open the door for you and me to learn and grow as leaders.

Get the book here; I don’t earn affiliate fees or anything like that. I just honestly believe it will change the way you view your call to leadership.

You can connect with me on Twitter and Google+!

So You Got Screwed…Now What?

You’ve been cheated or taken advantage of. Someone– a boss, a coworker, a friend– took advantage of your trust. You made an agreement with someone and got screwed.

Get over it.

Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures, CC
Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures, CC

I’m not being mean here; I’m not just talking to you, either. I’m talking to myself.

For weeks I’ve been bitter, fuming over a broken agreement. What’s worse, the agreement was just between myself and someone I thought I could trust! The details weren’t outlined in a contract or announced to coworkers. I got screwed and nobody knows it.

When we’re wronged, there’s a yearning for some semblance of justice. We don’t want to get over it! We ache for validation. We beg God to smite the wrongdoer. We (read: I) want to see this “karma” thing take its toll.

Even now, I’d love to use my fledgling platform to articulate how badly I was wronged and who did it! But if I (read: we) allow these people to control my thoughts in such a way, I’m really doing wrong by myself.

Sinatra said: “The greatest revenge is massive success.” It’s true! In order to get there, we’ve got to take responsibility for our feelings. We’ve got to turn the focus from our transgressors to ourselves.

5 Steps to Get Over It:

  1. Reflect: So this seems a little cheesy, right. But time to grieve what we lost (even if it was just a delusion to begin with) is important. A period of reflection will allow you to examine the reality of what happened. In order to get over it, we’ve got to figure out what “it” really is or was in the first place.
  2. Recharge: This doesn’t have to take place in a secluded cabin in the woods. Whatever makes you feel alive, do that. Resist the urge to climb in a bed with a gallon of ice cream. That’s never a good place.
  3. Release: Some people require real, actual, tangible closure. If you need to approach the person who wronged you and express forgiveness, do that. But don’t make it about telling the world what that person did wrong. In my situation, I’m going to privately release and forgive my transgressor and work through the bitterness.
  4. Resolve: Decide in your heart to be better than your missed opportunity. Don’t make it an “I’ll show him!” Show yourself what you’re capable of. Dream big and get after it.
  5. Re-Get Over It: Couldn’t find a good re- word for this. But get over it! Whether you’re a teenager or a keenager (read: really old), you’ve only got so long to live. You’ve got even less time to be out there doing crazy dream-building stuff. Don’t allow someone else to make that time about them.

You’ve been lied to or done wrong in the past and it will probably happen again. “Get over it” is probably not a sympathetic or empathetic response. But it’s vital for your long-term success.

The quicker you can put a situation (and sometimes a person) in the rearview mirror, the better.

You can connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+!

The Power of Youth

Is being young an obstacle or an opportunity?

I asked a room full of ninth-grade students this question and was surprised that any of them at all viewed youth as an opportunity. Even into my twenties, my relative youth often seems like the biggest obstacle to success.

"Baby Boy Typing," Paul Inkles, CC
“Baby Boy Typing,” Paul Inkles, CC

When I was a manager in fast-food and active in business leadership roles, my youth often disqualified or discredited me in the eyes of my coworkers and the team members I led. Spectacular ideas that might require significant change were suddenly naive pipe dreams. Buy-in was hard to come by.

When you’re having to really grind it out against such tremendous resistance, it can be tempting to throw in the towel. But with persistence, effort and enthusiasm are recognized and rewarded.

From ninth-grade into your twenties (and perhaps beyond), some people will try to make your youth (or even youthful qualities like “enthusiasm”, “energy”, “excitement”, and “not being a jaded *bleep*-hole”) an obstacle.

Don’t let it happen.

The fact is that successful leaders will empower you to utilize the gift of youth to your (and your team’s) advantage. Older leaders will appreciate your drive and seek to develop you.

Your youth is an opportunity. People want to see you succeed.

Get excited. Don’t be afraid to take the reins when you can. Infect others with your enthusiasm.

You may be too young to drive or vote or run for a particular office or join a certain social club. But you’re never too young to make a difference. You’re never too young to lead.

For the aforementioned jaded *bleep*-holes, I acknowledge the importance of experience. But the most experienced leader in the world without the courage to take action will fail to lead every time. Put aside your sour disposition long enough to develop the young people in your organization.

Here’s a sobering thought: older people generally die before younger people. One day you’re going to need the young people you’re growing up. Are you empowering young leaders to be the bold standard-bearers of tomorrow or are you hammering out beat-down cowards to do what you’ve always done?

There is power in youth. Harness it for yourself and for your community.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

When Community Matters Most

Communities are all the rage. Whether it’s Google+, Facebook, or a mentor group, everyone is encouraging you to discover and grow communities. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work; what’s the return on investment here?

Photo Credit Mel Aclaro, CC
Photo Credit Mel Aclaro, CC

At the funeral home, I often see communities coming together. Sunday school classes, groups of friends, and families turn out in great numbers to show support to people deeply affected by grief. Years of history and relationship-building have led to the brief moments that pass in silence between friends.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve totally failed. Not only have I dropped the ball posting on my blog, I’ve hit a low level of contentment in more than one area of my life. Maybe you’ve been here, too.

But in the midst of my pity party, the communities I’ve found have really stepped up. Online friends like Dan Black and Skip Prichard have promoted blog posts in my digital absence. Mentors and advocates have stepped up to encourage me. I can’t wait to go to the men’s group I participate in on Friday; fresh challenges await!

When I read business articles about building brands or growing tribes, the authors often try to demonstrate a return on investment– even if the investment is really just time or a line item in the budget. I saw a breathless article recently exclaiming that a top-producing insurance agent in my extended network had managed to convert a (as in one) social media connection into a funded policy.

We’ve distorted the meaning of the word “friend” by our social media body counts. How many Facebook friends do you have? How many people “follow” you on Twitter? Is there a way to monetize your 300 (or 500 or 1,000) blog views per day?

Let me join my voice to the building roar: Connections (online or offline) do not exist to drive your bottom dollar. Connections are not always leads and do not only exist in one place or another. The greatest return on your investment is community.

When the house is quiet after a loss. When the mind just won’t crank after a disappointment. When your heart doesn’t seem bold enough to push through the resistance.

Real communities are made up of true friends. And true friends show up in your absence.

When have you relied on friends? How are you deepening your connections into lasting friendships?

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

The Shackles of Expectation

Were you expecting an Expectation, Part 2? Joke’s on you. Or me, since I felt led to explain the title-joke.

Here’s the deal: expectations are sometimes healthy. We expect certain things: good service for a fair price, excellent service for a little more; an honest effort and decent grades from our kids; respect and teamwork from our coworkers.

Certain expectations, though, destroy opportunities.

Photo Courtesy Peter Eckersley, CC
Photo Courtesy Peter Eckersley, CC

I have used the example of Jesus’s Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem to illustrate the danger of expectations. It wasn’t wrong for the people of Jerusalem to get their hopes up. In their excitement, though, they missed the whole point.

People on both sides of the Messiah argument knew what Jesus was “supposed” to do. They crammed him into their “Messiah,” “Prophet,” and/or “Heretic” boxes. The high priests and elders weighed and judged him, the young Jewish politicians clamored for a mighty deliverer from their earthly oppressors.

But he disappointed them all.

Even Pontius Pilate, one of my favorite New Testament characters, failed the test of Expectation. Believing he had the perfect solution, that perhaps he would save Jesus, Pilate put a no-brainer decision to the people expecting a rational answer. Who should go free: the notorious murderer or wandering miracle man?

But they disappointed him.

Opportunities are destroyed when we expect:

  • Who He or She Should Be: It’s OK to expect a certain level of performance out of team members and friends. But when we try to fundamentally alter someone’s personality or trade out their strengths or hammer down their weaknesses, we’re wasting both parties’ time. Disappointment awaits! Get to know your team or group of friend’s strengths and play to those. You never know when your organization’s next visionary leader is sitting right in front of you. And you never will if you stifle her talents and shoot down her dreams.
  • What They Will Say: Too often we try to get our way or fulfill our own expectations by manipulating others. We manufacture buy-in through one means or another. Sometimes we’re so confident of our influence that we resort to the madness of wholly-democratic decision-making. When it comes to your vision, you’ve got to create genuine buy-in, and it must come from you. When it’s time to do the right– not the popular– thing, you’ve got to get the people behind the decision, not hitch the outcome to a coin-toss.

Shocked, the disciples fled a crowd that had days earlier swept Jesus into town in a raucous parade. Incredulous, Pilate washed his hands and turned over an innocent man.

In both cases, it was the arrogance of certainty that turned expectation into a deadly disease. Jesus must be this or that. The masses must punish a heinous criminal.

Don’t allow that same spirit to come over your encounters with new team members or friends. Humble your heart with the knowledge that there is still much to learn.

Don’t shackle greatness with your lousy expectations.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

4 Ways to Lose the Future

Pessimistic? Maybe. But there are a lot of things I see happening in businesses (and lives!) that absolutely shred the future. And not in an 80’s hair-band guitar-solo way.

Image courtesy DieselDemon, CC
Image courtesy DieselDemon, CC

When I worked in food service, I worked with a lot of twenty-somethings who made terrible decisions at least twice a day. I’m guilty of my own mistakes, for sure, but I’ve seen a lot. As a developing leader, I’ve noticed that similarly terrible decisions are dressed up as progress in businesses all over the place!

Here’s a roadmap to totally derailing your future:

  1. Feed Your Bad Habits: In your personal life, this looks like some sort of addiction. Maybe it’s an addiction to alcohol or controlled substances. Maybe it’s an addiction to self (that’s mine) or recognition. In your business, this looks like rewarding poor performance or bad behavior. It looks like keeping a team member around for all the wrong reasons. 
  2. Starve Your Talents: Sure, spend your time developing where you’re weak. These are “areas of opportunity,” right? Your greatest opportunity lies in developing your talents into strengths. (Hint: Ignore the sarcasm. Find your strengths.) In your business, you might believe that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. In the process, your strongest or most promising “links” are being ignored– and possibly leaving the chain!
  3. Work Harder!: You’ve encountered resistance. You’re behind on your sales forecast. Just put your head down, put your shoulder into it, and work harder! Drive your team harder to perform! Don’t stop and think or research your obstacles. Don’t evaluate your own performance. Just do more of what you’ve been doing. You’ll drive harder, faster, and longer toward that pit you’re headed to.
  4. Make Mo’ Money!: “What’s the main purpose of our business?” The training manager was talking to 20 or more new managers at a Wendy’s corporate center. “To make money!” Business is all about profit, right? Cut corners. Delay pay raises. Make those numbers. Personally, this may look like making decisions based on money alone. Higher-paying jobs might lure you into discontentment or make you into a scape-goat. But it’s a raise! It’s a promotion! Make mo’ money!

Losing the future is not an inevitable course. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to get on the wrong road, though. Each of these steps (or missteps) find their beginnings in not-half-bad advice. Just remember: it only takes one bad railroad tie to derail a train.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

How to Deal with the Unfamiliar

In our part of the country, “religious difference” means Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Once in a while, though, our funeral home has the privilege of serving Hindu or Buddhist families. Sometimes, this is uncomfortable for me; can you imagine how uncomfortable such an unfamiliar experience must be for these families?

Image: pashukaru76, CC
Image: pashukaru76, CC

 

I had no idea what I was doing as I sought to guide this family through planning their ceremonies. To be honest, they were unsure of what they were doing. With so much uncertainty, I was more that a little intimidated.

As I reflect on the process, I have developed a five-step process to dealing with any kind of uncertainty:

  1. Find a Point of Contact: About halfway through the service, I realized my point of contact was unfamiliar with Buddhist customs, so I sought out the Buddhist monk who would lead the ceremony. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English. Finally, I listened for a family member who spoke English well enough to navigate complex issues and was familiar with the family needs.
  2. Understand Their Need(s): Until this point, I probably knew more about rocket science than Buddhist funeral customs. We had served a Buddhist family not long before, but everything was totally different this time. Once I had found a point of contact, I listened for every detail of the ceremony, seeking not just to know their needs but to understand the ceremony each part supported.
  3. Know Your Need(s): After I understood the family’s needs, I sat down and made a list of everything I would need: facilities, materials, props, help, time. I listed out what I didn’t know, I listed out attitudes that I needed to change to genuinely serve this family, and I listed out the details of the ceremony I needed to pay special attention to. By making lists, I was able to break a complex ceremony into small, easier-to-accomplish task groups and goals.
  4. Connect Your Resources with Their Needs: A lot of repurposing went on with our materials and props. Having identified what I needed, I put these things in place and waited to see how the family would arrange what I had set out. We dedicated a space for their use, matched tablecloths as closely as we could, and adjusted our staff and facilities to the family’s needs.
  5. Be Flexible: Toward the end of the ceremony, everything changed. Nearing wit’s end after a three-day crash course on Buddhist funeral rites, it would have been easy to lose my grip on calm! But a few minor adjustments in our plans (even at the last minute) were easy to pull off and enabled a critical process to take place right when it needed to. A cool head and quick feet are acquired traits, but essential!

I can’t tell you how many situations could fit into this progression. Whether it means overcoming language or culture barriers, moving a project into uncharted territory, or evaluating your personal leadership journey, you must be courageous and refuse to let challenges become obstacles.

When an uncertain or uncomfortable beginning evolves into a rewarding experience, you’ve done more than provide great service– you’ve captured the heart of a new friend.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!