Category Archives: Service

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


Last weekend, I attended the Training Institute for Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership. This amazing program touched the lives of over 9,500 young people last year across the world. These next three weeks will focus on HOBY’s tagline and insights from the Training Institute.

It’s the job of leaders to raise up more leaders. But we can’t do that without stepping out of the way and empowering others.

Photo courtesy  Frederic Bisson , CC
Photo courtesy Frederic Bisson , CC

When we empower, we give power.

You can’t empower someone by patronizing them. It takes giving real, tangible power to others! This can be difficult if you started or built a company or program. But truly empowering others means endorsing them– and then letting them take the reins.

When we empower, we make powerful.

Remember that feeling you got the first time someone really believed in you. It happens every time you truly empower another individual. When we raise up leaders, we give them practical experience handling power in the appropriate fashion. In so doing, we’re creating powerful influencers unafraid to empower others. We’re lending them our influence and what power we wield– and it will be returned with interest.

When we empower, then, we multiply power.

Hogging all the power, making all the decisions, and running the show means your influence will only go to the end of your reach. By raising up new leaders, we extend the reach of our influence and magnify the message we’re spreading. By empowering young leaders to take the reins and, in turn, empower others, we’re multiplying power.

It’s difficult, but I’m learning to turn over the reins and share influence. As I do, I’m beginning to truly realize that leadership is a two-way street. We have so much to learn from those we lead! We benefit so greatly from those we empower.

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

5 Retail Leadership Solutions

My home state: Arkansas. It makes my heart bleed blue and white to see Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club dropping the ball so hard. If they would let me, I’d lead a workshop for any supervisors and/or managers at any Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club for free.

Continue reading 5 Retail Leadership Solutions

The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

Looks like we’re in a bumper crop of morons. It’s not a very nice thought, but it’s one that rages in my mind far too often. Especially when I’m in the middle of a store noticing a massive retail leadership failure.

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Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC
Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC

I just returned from Wal-Mart with two bottles of bleach and a box of lightbulbs. As I approached the front of the store to break my shortest-actual-shopping-trip record, my heart filled with dread. Lines and lines of piled-high baskets. Drawn like so many moths to the blue lights over three checkout stations. Continue reading The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

One Direction (Not the Band)

Remember January? When I promised to post each week? It’s May, it’s not happening, and I need to come clean on some things.

Photo Courtesy toffehoff, CC
Photo Courtesy toffehoff, CC

Over the last almost-two-years, I’ve been Director of Family Service at my wife’s family funeral firm. It’s been incredibly rewarding work; being on call all hours of the night and occasionally finding myself in really unpleasant situations could not rob me of the fulfillment that came with guiding families through a healthy grieving process.

Over that time, I’ve also enjoyed serving in a leadership capacity. I’ve trained new staff, diversified our memorial product offerings, written an operations manual, and sought to serve my coworkers. This time has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.

None of that has meant that I feel called to be there.

I don’t regret it a minute, but it’s time to move on. My calling is to create better communities and greater opportunities for young people. To that end, I volunteer with several youth organizations and work in the community to connect young people with service opportunities. Starting two weeks ago, I’m uniting my calling with my what-I’m-actually-doing.

It’s been really difficult because:

  • Success is Seductive. With each success we celebrate, we feel more and more “called” to do what we do. People even say so! If we’re so good at something, it must be what we’re called to do.
  • Expectations are Dangerous.  When the pressure is on, we surely don’t want to disappoint those who we think are counting on us. In fact, it’s easy to want to fit into their expectations of who we should be and what we should be doing. Especially when they’re paying us and/or we’re related.
  • Fear is Powerful. All of these self-help gurus that want you to believe that fear is powerless are living in dreamland. Fear can grip you– and even be legitimate! Let’s say you’ve got two kids, a mortgage, and other responsibilities. Will stepping out be worth it? What is the value of becoming who you want to be versus being what you need to be?
  • We Can Only Control So Much. My biggest fear, honestly, is being realized in my old workplace. I’m afraid that my legacy there is being torn down, old practices are creeping back in. Mostly, I’m afraid I’ve become the cause of every problem or the butt of every joke. It’s probably happening, but I’m not in control of it. The flip-side of this hold-me-up is what I can control– what I will do and who I will be.

A measure of hope can be found in what I can control, what expect and believe of myself, the peace I gain through prayer and faith in my next step, and the promise of a future about which can be passionate. I’m moving in one direction, aligning my passions and my calling into an actionable and intentional existence.

Would you pray for me? This week I’m studying for and taking the GRE. Hopefully, this Fall will see me start a Master of Arts program in College Student Affairs. I belong on a campus somewhere, connecting young people with their passions and with a promising future. Now that I know it (and believe it), the easy part is getting there.

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!

What to Do with Momentum

You leave the big meeting or company retreat and spirits are high. You go to a leadership conference and ideas are flying. So now what?

Photo Courtesy Loyola Hoops via Flickr. CC
Photo Courtesy Loyola Hoops via Flickr. CC

Recently I’ve been following the success of a new program from Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). One of my favorite programs, HOBY helps young people discover their passions and develop leadership through service to others.

All through the event, HOBY participants are pumped up, surrounded by like-minded, driven individuals who have huge dreams. When they go home, though, the students are thrust back into the “real world,” where everything seems ho-hum by comparison. It’s called the HOBY Hangover.

You’ve experienced this, right? You’ve got a great idea, you prepare a great proposal, and then BAM! Your presentation has to wait. You have a meeting with your team, you formulate a plan, you make assignments, and then…everyone goes back to their figurative cubicles.

How do you keep momentum alive? I’ll tell you what I strive to do:

  • Feed It: The simple truth is that momentum naturally slumps off without careful attention. You’ve got to provide fuel by recognizing progress. Feed the momentum first by setting small goals and second by publicly celebrating accomplishment.
  • Lead It: What happens when momentum gets ahead of you? You’re dragged right through the dirt! You’ve got to manage momentum so that you lead the charge or have systems in place that allow you to ride the wave. You may want to delegate or share leadership, spreading ownership of the project.
  • Speed It: Even if you have a ridiculously successful experience and your team’s project or task is complete, have another project lined up to take advantage of the momentum of the team and the chemistry you have built. We judge our experiences by our current expectations; dare to be always moving the bar.

Here’s another key to maintaining or taking advantage of momentum: do something! I’m the world’s worst about planning and planning and planning and having a great plan and drafting an excellent grant proposal and formulating breath-taking scaling schemes…get the picture?

When you leave HOBY– whatever your HOBY is– with a purpose and a passion, act on it. You could write out a plan, but you’ve got one hiding in the back corner of your mind already, right? Make it happen.

If you don’t know how, e-mail me at For absolutely free, I’ll help you turn a passion into an idea, an idea into a plan, and a plan into a project. No gimmicks or time-share presentations. It’s what I’m passionate about.

Just don’t let that feeling of urgency, that ache to get started, that unstoppable momentum…run and hide when you hit the “real world”.

Are you struggling with your own HOBY Hangover? Take my prescription above and call me in the morning.

Build Value, Even With “No”

My parents-in-law are quite popular with my kids. It’s a pretty universal experience– kids love grandparents! When you never have to say “No,” you don’t have much conflict.

Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons
Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons

Recently I approached an Office Depot about donating copy services to a great cause with which I volunteer. I prepared a 60-second elevator pitch of our project and our needs, articulating the value we bring to kids and the community as well as our gift-in-kind copy needs. My calculation of the gift-in-kind donation: about $80.

When I walked in, the employee at the copy desk was very kind and paged the manager. Although she was wearing an earpiece attached to her walkie-talkie, I could hear the manager’s aggravation. I knew it was a “No” right away, but I stuck around just in case.

“Hi, I’m Justin Buck,” I greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand. But he met me with a blank stare, circling the counter and ignoring my weathervane-ing arm. After probably ten seconds of talking, he interrupted me.

“Look, I get like fifteen of you a day. If you want to bring in a letter asking for whatever it is you want, you can. You might get a discount or something.” After an uncomfortable silence, I smiled and thanked him for his time.

Here’s what he missed:

Everyone is a customer! I’m not just begging for money or favors, here. Our family business uses Office Depot for almost all of our supplies, even though we could probably get a better deal at Sam’s Club (where we already have a membership). I’ll start the cost analysis tomorrow and pitch the switch to my wife, who makes our financial decisions.

Every interaction should build value! Imagine if the manager had told me that his store donated $XXXX in copy services each year and was simply overbudget. Imagine if he had said he would advocate for discounted printing to his management team. All of a sudden, he’s built loyalty in me by spinning a “no” into a value statement.

His team was watching! I purposely selected a time in the day when I knew the store wouldn’t be busy. The manager’s team (the kind copy-desk girl, a cashier, and a trainee) had nothing to do but watch him totally fail at interacting with a customer. Because we replicate what our leaders do, I cannot envision a bright future for customer relations at this manager’s store.

At the Funeral Home, we often have to turn down opportunities to donate to worthy causes. If a great cause crops up and fits our mission, we can usually find the funds to support it; even when we can’t, I often find myself writing a personal check to affirm the organization’s efforts.

This experience, though, reminds me to treat every interaction with the dignity and attention that builds value. Even if the answer is “No”.

In the comments: How do you say “No” without damaging relationships? 

Cry-Babies Don’t Create Solutions

Leaders are problem-solvers. But it’s easy to mistake complaining about problems for actually solving problems.

Photo Courtesy Brandon Baunach (flickr: bbaunach), Creative Commons
Photo Courtesy Brandon Baunach (flickr: bbaunach), Creative Commons

Every organization has problems. When you’re new in town (or simply in the office), it’s incredibly easy to spot opportunities for improvement. It’s also easy to sink into complaining with your new coworkers, especially if it makes it easier to fit in.

Those decisions you make– whether early in your career or when you’re already established– to do your brainstorming around the water cooler could make a difference when it’s time to take a leadership role.

The truth is, nobody builds influence by backbiting or trying to get ahead by tearing others down. It can be tempting to take advantage of a superior’s mistakes or time of weakness; rather than trying to stamp out your “competition” or climb to the top with a boot in your coworkers’ face, be a solution-producer.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Complain Less: Complaining feels good, right? Cut it out. You’re eroding your influence with coworkers (even your co-complainers). Besides, suppose your boss gets wind that you’re a pot-stirrer. Farewell, trust.
  • Serve More: Find a way to offer your help to a struggling coworker or boss. Whether he or she is suffering from burn-out or problem-solvers’-block, some help will be appreciated. Just don’t offer your help in a way that says “you’re not doing well.”
  • Develop and Invest in Your Ideas: For a long time, I really struggled with offering ideas as soon as they popped into my head. At least most of these were great ideas that needed a little nurturing. Unfortunately, I’ve found that some coworkers (and even managers) are eager to let the air out of your balloon. Develop your ideas before you share them.
  • Seek Input: Find a trusted leader or coworker and get his or her input on your ideas. Get lunch. Float your ideas. Ask for help strengthening the weak spots so that your now-developed ideas have some push. In addition to strengthening the ideas, you’ll secure some buy-in from a coworker or leader.
  • Test the Waters: Try out some of those ideas on your current situation. See how guests or customers react to the tweaks you’ve made to the way you view and execute your work. Work out the kinks and use the time to perfect the new solutions.
  • Present Your Success: When you’ve developed your ideas, sought input, secured buy-in, and tested the waters, it’s time to report to the boss. If he or she is engaged in team members’ daily work, you may have had other opportunities to present your ideas. The most powerful illustrations of your solutions, though, are those times when they turn a problem into an opportunity…and you knock it out of the park.

Examine your heart! If you’re seeking to displace a boss or climb over coworkers, you’ll find limited success. With a heart to serve, your personal transformation could extend to the entire organization.

Have you been climbed over before? How did it affect your ideas about how to “get to the top”? How can you get there with the respect and admiration of your coworkers?

On “Death: It’s a Living”

You may or may not know that I’m a funeral professional. In November I will be a licensed Funeral Director in the state of Arkansas, having joined the business my wife’s family has owned and operated since 1969.

How does a political science major end up working in a funeral home? Since I began working here, I’ve found the funeral industry to be one with the greatest potential to impact someone’s life. As much (or more) ministry occurs under our roof as under the steeples of many churches.

That’s why I was dismayed to hear about CNBC’s special “Death: It’s a Living”. You would think that a look at our business would be a good thing, and I’m confident enough to offer anyone a behind-the-scenes look at our business. (Seriously. E-mail me.) The simple fact is that not all funeral establishments operate to our standards. Not every Funeral Director has a heart to serve families.

And the media is scandal-hungry.

Here are a few observations about “Death: It’s a Living”.

1. Funeral Back-Biting. Sure, some funeral homes operate as though we live in the early 1900s. Heck, some of them still operate as though we live in the mid-1800s! But “modern” funeral providers offering unique services outside the walls of a funeral home seemed to be highly critical of funeral homes. What is amazing to me is that most of these services deride funeral homes for “exorbitant” charges but themselves charge thousands of dollars for peripheral services such as rocketing cremated remains into space or creating coral reefs with them.

2. Discounting Funeral Directors’ Expertise. I know some people (some entire firms, really) in the industry who are burnt out or do not offer their hearts in conjunction with their services to families. But the majority of the Funeral Directors I work with are incredibly compassionate. They are expert concierges, as a Funeral Director in the show put it. They are excellent event planners. They are also experts when it comes to the care of living people and dead bodies. Which brings us to the next point…

3. Seeing Your Loved One. The “critic” in the series seemed skeptical about the value of seeing a loved one after he or she has passed away. Leading grief experts (see: Alan Wolfelt, et al.) agree that seeing a loved one after his or her death is essential to a healthy grieving process. By the way, I’ve helped almost 100 families over this past year; every single family who has viewed their loved one has commented about its importance in helping them cope at many stages in the grieving process.

4. Caskets. The special generalized casket prices to an extreme level. In fact, the reporter said casket sales were the “bread and butter” of funeral home profits. Some caskets are even marked up as much as (gasp!) 100%. A 100% markup is not even close to regular retail rates and markups (on the low side). Additionally, casket sales are neither the bread nor the butter in most business models. In fact, a well-run funeral home should balance casket sale profits with service charges to meet operating expenses and produce a modest profit. As a final point, casket prices in our funeral home range from $895 to $13,000. I don’t know of a single time we’ve sold the most expensive casket, and a majority of our caskets are sold for about $1,995, as opposed to what’s presented as the norm by CNBC.

It’s not that the CNBC special was all bad; some parts were interesting even for someone in the funeral profession. It’s just exhausting dedicating my life and making family sacrifices to do my heart’s work with grieving families only to be continually demonized by a scandal-hungry media machine.

If you want to see the funeral profession at its finest, find a reputable family-owned business during the summer and spend some time getting to know your friendly neighborhood Funeral Director.

Questions? I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.