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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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?
Of course I would be writing on cookies. Judging by my midsection, you could say I’m somewhat attached. But cookies are more than just delectable diet-devastators. In the hospitality industry, cookies are often props; they say “Welcome!” and “Make yourself comfortable.” They invite guests to indulge and relax. If they are freshly baked, their aroma pleasantly reminds guests of Grandma’s kitchen. It’s hard to be unhappy when cookie-scent is wafting through the air.
Not too long ago, my wife and I were visiting Northwest Arkansas. We had heard great things about the Doubletree brand, and friends had told us about the greeting they received at the front desk: a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie. Sure enough, all over the Doubletree website, this greeting is hailed as part of the company’s culture of caring for its guests. Exhausted from the long drive but re-invigorated by the prospect of the evening’s adventures, we hurriedly settled our things into the hotel room. It was great! The suite was spacious and beautiful, smelled clean and fresh, and (my usual complaint) the temperature was cool and relaxing. As we were settling in, I read all the little cards in the room; the company had done a great job branding and reinforcing its culture through the in-room literature. But a picture of a piled-high plate of cookies reminded me we had not been offered one when we checked in. The cookie at check-in was not a major draw for us. But our expectation had been set, and the items in our room only reminded us that the hotel staff had missed a detail.
In our Funeral Home, we bake fresh cookies for each Visitation. When guests arrive, the Funeral Home is filled with the sweet aroma, and we let our families know that freshly-baked cookies await them in the family lounge. This gesture tells the family “I didn’t set out a few dozen from a bulk box; I anticipated your arrival and baked these cookies especially for you and your guests.” Among other things, the care expressed through this small gesture has helped build the community’s expectation of excellence from our staff. Really, everyone has expectations set on them: customers expect service from businesses (good or bad), individuals expect certain characteristics in friends, etc. The three keys to exceeding these expectations are:
- Communicating Your Culture
Whether you are an individual or a business, you have a culture. Clearly articulating who you are lets others know what to expect from you. Often, people think that it’s easier to exceed expectations when there are no expectations. I’ve got news for you: from the time someone hears your name, sees your face, or walks into your business, they’ve got expectations. If you’re not setting expectations, they’re being set for you.
- Dedication to Details
Details, details, details! From spell-checking correspondence and advertising to ensuring that your appearance is inviting, details will help you win or lose. If you miss a detail, you can be sure someone will notice: your client, your friend/coworker, or your boss. Sometimes this means keeping checklists or setting up reminders on your electronic devices. Do it!
- Executing Excellence
If you’re always setting high expectations, the challenge isnot to meet them; you must exceed expectations. This sounds dangerous: how can you keep exceeding expectations if the “bar” is set higher and higher every day? Businesses and individuals must be constantly developing themselves and improving on what they have learned. Change for the sake of change is not progress; be sure that you are executing excellence and improving the delivery of your products or services with each interaction.
Our stay with the Doubletree in Bentonville was excellent. But often people don’t hear about the room temperature, the comfortable beds, and the excellent suites. They hear a goofy story about a missing cookie.
When is the last time you had a poor service experience? Has there been a time when a company’s service was great but one of their promises was unfulfilled? Leave your thoughts in the comments.