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.
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.
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.
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.
These days, it’s tempting to think that everything new has been done before. In fact, re-purposing old habits or practices or even picking up new ones at trade conferences is acceptable and encouraged. But (or so) when you’ve got a great original idea, how infuriating is it to see it ripped off?
Not long ago I was driving down a road near the funeral home where I work. That’s odd, I thought, I didn’t think we took out a billboard ad. But plastered up on a billboard was an ad we post each year in local publication: a lighthouse, a message about trusting professionals, and a funeral home log…
Wait a minute! “Second-Rate Funeral Home”?! (Of course, I changed the name of our competitor…to be fair.) Rather than our logo, there was a competitor’s name on our ad next to our funeral home.
Imitation and competitor rip-offs are nothing new. While it’s infuriating that our competitor is trying to tap into our brand, the ad company that created the campaign for us could really care less who buys the ads. Even in my volunteer work and writing, I sometimes see my own ideas being put to use. When these ideas are used to make progress or by a team member of mine, it’s no big deal. But when the competition starts benefiting from it…
I’ve learned to stop worrying. Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (which is sometimes true) or some flowery nicety like that. Rather, because it means:
- We’re Doing Something Right: Not only is our own strategy working, it threatens our largest competitor. While we spend virtually nothing on local advertising, our competitor has rented multiple billboards and run several ineffective mailing campaigns just to keep a marginal share of the market. The continued dominance of our business despite this gauntlet-throwing almost literally in our back yard is encouraging and affirming.
- We Lead the Pack: Our ideas are imitated constantly. Really, it isn’t hard. Funeral Directors who did not last at our establishment attempt to replicate our practices wherever they go! The challenge comes in that unique advantage that no one can teach: each member of our team puts his or her heart into the work we are doing. When families end up at other funeral homes, they are unimpressed, going through the motions of an acceptable service experience. But just attending a service in our funeral home shows them that services– that the people— here are extraordinary.
- Our Competition is Failing to Innovate: Innovators don’t imitate. They might improve on existing practices or mold an idea to their needs, but they don’t blindly copy the industry norm– or their competitors. Businesses who fail to innovate stagnate. The most popular lie/misconception about our industry is that it’s recession-proof. The fact is that these businesses might continue to scrape out operating expenses, but their costs will rise and their prices will shrink as they grow increasingly desperate to compete.
There are some great ideas out there on leadership, service, and building value. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t incorporate those into your business, organization, or personal life. But fit those innovations or trends to the needs of your business and allow them to fuel authentic, home-grown innovation.
If you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you only pick up what he drops. And if she’s a work-horse like most innovators, the droppings are pretty…well, you get the picture.
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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
When my wife and I stayed at a Doubletree, the experience wasn’t perfect. But as we settled into our room, I scanned a piece of material describing the brand’s “Create a Rewarding Experience (CaRE)” philosophy of service.
This philosophy struck me; recently, I have been reading up on several businesses which focus on guests’ experience rather than solely on the product or service. In fact, as the market for companies offering services continues to expand, the buzzword seems to be “experience economy”.
Of course, focusing on or even marketing an experience seems simple when you’re offering hotel stays, vacations, or even, in my case, funeral services. It would seem the philosophy is limited, then, to a niche market segment.
Consider Starbucks. Even when offering a product, experience is key to building a following or customer base to which price seems of little import when compared to how you make them feel.
Experiences that Resonate:
Not Only Exceed but Create Expectations.
Call it being spoiled or having your eyes opened; when a customer, client, or guest has an experience that resonates with her, she will measure future experiences by that standard. She believes there is no better way to experience coffee than from a friendly, energetic barista with free WiFi and a clean, inviting community. Why would anyone want to do it differently?
Meet Unspoken Needs.
Most people will only be directly involved in planning between three and five funerals in their lives. They have questions but aren’t sure what or how to ask. Because I care for 65-80 families in a given year, I know what they need to know. When I’m ready to answer the questions families don’t know they need to ask, when I provide for an unspoken need, it instills confidence and brings comfort that resonates with my client-families.
Stick With Them
Recently, a fellow Funeral Director received a Christmas card from a family he served over two years ago. “Resonate” is more than just a word; an experience should touch someone deeply. As I mentioned, Starbucks has a reputation for creating experiences that stick. Imagine a stressed student fretting over finals. In her haste, the student drops her latté on her way out. Ugh! But when a caring barista rushes out to help and replace her beverage, an experience has resonated– and will stick– with a guest.
Come From the Heart
Those who create experiences that resonate are deeply invested. Whether it’s at a hotel, coffee shop, or funeral home, these people are dedicated to producing the perfect experience. An insincere effort- or a push by management to drive revenue by increasing “perceived” value- may succeed in merely satisfying guests, but will never produce that WOW experience.
Whether you’re a leader in your business, church, community, or peer group, you’ve got to find a way to resonate with your audience. When you do, your relationships will flourish. The rest can’t help but follow.
In the comments: How do you create experiences that resonate? Has an experience ever resonated with you? How did you respond; what did you do with it?