Tag Archives: Service

Lead Like a Sherpa


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.

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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

Don’t Imitate, Innovate

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?

"Made in China," Courtesy  Michael Mandiberg , CC
“Made in China,” Courtesy Michael Mandiberg , CC

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.


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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 justinbuck.freelance@gmail.com. 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.

Reflecting on Africa: The Baobab

Scattered across the desert in Africa are big, twisting, ugly trees. African lore reports that the baobab tree was once the most beautiful in the world, bearing delicious fruit. But the baobab grew too proud. So God plucked it up, turned the baobab upside down, and stuck it back into the ground. Where a beautiful tree had been before rose the gnarled roots.
Photo Credit: Justin Buck
When I was in high school, I was certain I had everything figured out. While I’m sure that’s an uncommon experience for teenagers (see: all pop culture, ever), I had it bad. I had been given a gift with words and an inquisitive brain…and developed a HUGE ego.
My success didn’t help the matter: I was selected over and over for leadership positions and seminars. I got to go to the World Leadership Congress and Boys Nation, where I met President George W. Bush, Senator Barack Obama, and several other dignitaries.
With all of this worldly experience, I had long decided that my path was through undergraduate studies to law school to a career in international law. I prepared myself early, following politics and learning what I could from interning or working part-time for law firms. I began to learn French, the commerce and colonial language for much of West Africa. It was my dream to transform (single-handed, of course) the continent from barely-developing countries into an empowered people, protected by strong courts and well-constructed Governments.
I was pretty high on myself, but such a big head lends itself to becoming top-heavy. Through a series of rebellious and frankly stupid decisions, I ruined my academic career and impregnated my girlfriend. It didn’t stop with high school, either. A window of grace opened up, providing me with a full scholarship to Henderson State University, where I ended my first semester with a GPA barely above 1.5. So long, law school. So long, Africa. I had been plucked up, turned upside-down, and planted head-first back in the ground.
Finally, under the influence of that same girlfriend (who eventually became my wife) and by the grace of God, I broke down, straightened up, and (with a few more bumps along the road) submitted to following a greater purpose. In the Fall I finished my B.A. in Political Science.
When we decided that law school was not a practical path for our family to take, it was honestly heartbreaking. How would I make a difference to people without access to the courts? After college, though, I’ve found my calling helping people through my work at our family’s Funeral Home.
Not too long after I found contentment with my service as a Funeral Director, I learned of a 10-day mission trip to West Africa. The trip would be subsidized so that young men could afford to go.
Isn’t it the perfect picture of God’s grace that, even through so much rebellion, even in a still-imperfect package, He would provide a way for me to go and build a Kingdom in Africa? He is building a Kingdom in me.
When have you had an experience that brought you great peace? Has there been a time when disaster shook out to be a blessing?

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? 

Paint Does Not a Painter Make

Recently, scientists confirmed the type of paint Picasso preferred. He used this same paint to become one of the most famous painters in history and secure his place as the most influential painter in the modern era. What was the secret sauce? Common house paint!

Photo courtesy Futurilla, Creative Commons
Photo courtesy Futurilla, Creative Commons

The lesson here isn’t hard to spot. Picasso took something ordinary and created extraordinary art. The same stuff I have a hard time keeping off my trim graces the walls of the world’s finest art galleries and museums!

Picasso isn’t alone. Everyday items become powerful tools in the right hands. We can all use the ordinary to create extraordinary work by realizing:

  1. Starving Your Talent is a Mistake: Sometimes, we are too timid to dive into developing a talent. We’re comfortable in our jobs, we’re set in our routines. We starve our natural talents. Before you quit your job and become a “starving artist,” find a way to responsibly explore your natural talents.
  2. Even Limited Resources Are Resources: I am often tempted to dismiss projects before they have a chance. “We don’t have the resources,” I whine. If Picasso can paint masterpieces with common house paint, you can craft a marketing campaign with free outlets like social media and word of mouth.
  3. Your Greatest Resource is YOU: The “secret sauce” to great success is a driven individual or team making it happen. Whether you have the materials you need or the support you covet is immaterial. Whether you have a contagious passion is paramount to success! If you believe in your project, you can believe in yourself. Invest in developing your talents so that you can confidently drive a team to succeed.
  4. Even Great Resources Can’t Guarantee Great Results: My father hit a home run. He had found an eBay auction for an emerging web server/hosting company who was offering unlimited reseller rights to their services. They had great tech support and offered top-notch service. There were only two problems: they hadn’t set a reserve and their marketing was terrible. Consequently, Dad scored unlimited reseller rights for $30 per month. The earning potential is unlimited! …for someone who knows how to run the thing. His unlimited-everything jackpot is being used to park his domains. If you don’t have the know-how to use great resources, they don’t amount to much.
  5. We Choose Our Own Means: Art historians have long thought that Picasso might have used common house paints. He used “inferior” resources on purpose! Apparently, he was among the first to begin doing so, creating a flat appearance that didn’t show brushstrokes. Picasso knew how to use the paints he chose. You must use the resources that fit best with your own purpose and your own talents.

Whether you’re an artist or a data analyst, you can produce amazing results, even with basic resources. As you develop your talents and demonstrate your ability, others will recognize and invest in your efforts.

One Question for the Comments: What resource challenge have you overcome with a creative solution?

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?

Building Your Castle

Few kings in olden days built more than one castle. Frontier forts and military encampments aside, most lords or nobles made building a castle more of a life’s work.

Today, a medieval castle rises in Northwest Arkansas. Outside of that, though, I can’t think of anyone else actually building a castle. But Myles Montplaisir recently got me thinking about the concept as a metaphor for a life’s work.

Michael Hyatt discusses building a home base from which to extend your platform. Building a home base (for your platform) and building your castle (your life’s work) include many similarities. Let’s examine more deeply the castle metaphor.

A castle needs:

  1. An Architect: Simply put, your Castle needs you. You have the vision. You have the drive. You have to make it happen. But Architects don’t just wake up one day, gather their tools, and start building Castles. They have to acquire skills and experience, sometimes working under someone else on a different Castle. An Architect spends time tweaking his style and design before setting out to build his or her masterpiece.
  2. A Site: This might be approximated as a Platform. Michael Hyatt discusses building Platforms at length. Your Site must be carefully selected, but you can’t wait forever for the perfect conditions to present themselves. In short, a site should be prepared over time, establishing the right foundations with solid character and the trust of your circle of friends and greater community. After all, a Castle cannot survive without the means to support itself. Prepare the ground for your Castle by building relationships and cultivating the means to sustain your work.
  3. A Plan: Can you imagine going to work on a construction project with no blueprint? Can you imagine leading troops into battle with no plan? Take your time, consider the needs of your Castle and those who depend upon it, and plan accordingly. Don’t forget to draw your plan in pencil! If you’re not able to make adjustments as you go, your rigid plan will build a cold and inhospitable Castle.
  4. Materials: While your Site is the platform you build your Castle on, the Materials are those things with which you must actually build your life’s work (i.e.: Your Castle). These may include tangibles or intangibles or (more likely) both. You may need physical space to operate out of, you may need a community of contributors or a partnership of professionals, or you may simply need the attention of those you are seeking to impact. Gather these Materials over time to ensure a lasting supply. You wouldn’t want to find out you don’t have what you need when you’re halfway done building!
  5. Builders: You can dream the dream and even, under some circumstances, draw the Plan by yourself, but you could never build a Castle alone. Even if you could, it would take someone to pick up where you left off; a one-man building team would take more than a lifetime to get the job done! These Builders may be friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. They may be Architects-in-Training who you can develop, Architects-Emeritus who can develop you, Architects who regret never finishing their own Castles…every one of them will have his/her own story and motivation. It’s up to you to make this a gratifying experience for each one.
  6. A Crown: A life’s work is never finished. It may have several “Crowning Achievements” along the way, but it has no end. That said, your Castle must have a Crown that acknowledges its arrival and establishment. But the Crown is for the Castle, not the King. This is something I have to remind myself constantly. Because I sometimes suffer from an addiction to self, I often get in the way of my projects or achievements. These aren’t the Middle Ages, folks. There are no serfs, and the servants in today’s leadership culture are often those who sit on the throne! Serve the needs of your constituents– serve the needs of your Castle– and you will find a crown of righteousness for yourself after all.

Myles talks about “King/Queening” your Castle. At the completion of a medieval castle or even some modern buildings, the project is said to have been “crowned”. Until it’s finished, the Castle may seem like a pile of stones or a far-off fantasy. But as the Castle’s Crowning approaches, people will flock to its cause for shelter or a better future or greater opportunities.

A well-built Castle will stand the test of time. People will marvel at how it was built with only “primitive tools”, how something that took so long to realize could have survived the threat of invasion or poverty. To be sure, the skeletons of abandoned Castles lie strewn across the world. But a Castle Crowned, a life’s work pursued, is well worth the toil.