Sunday, May 22, 2011

Slow Down & Listen

A friend of mine, a gentleman my wife and I met while delivering Meals on Wheels, has a unique perspective on life, which he shares with me each time we are together.  I doubt he has any overt motive to impart lessons on me, but the fact that he's 94 years old means that by definition, he has wisdom to share with nearly everything he says.

Now, this isn't your average 94 year old.  He owns a cell phone, and he knows how to program numbers into it.  He drives his car around town to run errands and to eat at McDonalds.  And he still holds the record for the most touchdowns scored in a football game at the local high school (7 in 1934).

During one of our recent visits, my friend asked me if I had ever seen the ads on TV that say we need faster phone service and faster cable TV.  When I told him I had, his question to me was:  "Why?  Why do I need a faster phone or faster cable TV?  When I turn on my TV, it comes on.  When the phone rings and I answer "Hello", the person on the other end says "Hello" right back.  How much faster do I need?  Are people in that much of a hurry that they need to be able to talk before I have a chance to respond?"

As I thought about his comment, the deeper message in what he had said struck me.  Frequently, we are in too much of a hurry to listen to what others are saying.  We have a message we want to deliver and whatever else gets in our way, we're going to deliver it.  How often have you met somebody new only to  forget their name 30 seconds later because you were so focused on what YOU were going to say next?  How many sales people make customer presentations without ever asking the customer what it is they want or need?  How often do we tell employees what we want them to do, without taking the time to explain why?

We are so often in such a rush to tell people what we want to say that we don't slow down and listen to what is important to them.  Mobile communication technology has made this even more of an issue.  It is hard to really listen in 140 character messages.  But, that doesn't mean we can't.  Take the time to engage with others in real time.  Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, take a walk or have lunch together.  And when you do, make sure you listen.  Whether it is a client, a co-worker, family member or friend, what should be important to you is what is important to them.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflection and Direction

As 2010 comes to a close, it is important to take time to reflect on the past twelve months.   Make note of the things you did well, and ponder those things you wish you could have done better.  Your reflection should set the stage for thinking about how you are going to approach the new year and how you will face the new challenges and opportunities the future holds.
Whether 2010 was a good year for you or a year worthy of improvement, the time you spend in reflection and the attitude with which you approach 2011 will set the tone for your success in the coming year.  Think about what you will do differently in 2011.  How will you be more effective?  How will you deal differently with people?  What will you contribute to your business, to the community, to your family and your friends?

Think too about the baggage you need to leave behind.  Negative energy detracts from the positive gains you might make in the coming year.  Don't waste time fretting the past.  You cannot change what has happened, you can only impact your future.  Your attitude as you enter the new year will set the tone for your success.  My favorite message on the power of attitude is by writer and clergyman Charles R. Swindol, which he concludes by saying:  
"I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you...we are in charge of our ATTITUDES."
Keep this in mind as you prepare for 2011.

Finally, to help ensure your goals become reality, share them with someone close to you.  This will transform your goals from thoughts or words on paper to a shared commitment, written with the ink of your integrity.  

I wish you all the best in 2011.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Play the Face Card

I've become a big believer in social media.  In fact, I love it!  Our business Knicava could never have positioned itself as it has without the incredible connectivity the social media world facilitates.  Our friend and social media mentor Mark Schaefer has even posted a great story about our success in this area.   Our total investment has been no more than a tutorial by Mark and a bit of time every day connecting to others through FacebookTwitter, Linked-In and our daily blog-reader.

That said, and with no disrespect to the social media world, allow me to now move to the real premise of this post.  NOTHING can replace the value of face-to-face meetings and communication.  Social media is great; its connectivity is endless.  E-mail allows for expedient written communication and the phone still serves as a valuable tool for personalizing contact between two people.  But face-to-face is where the deal gets done.

The challenge with electronic media is that they are one-dimensional; two if you are on the phone, and perhaps 2-1/2 on a video call.  Each missing dimension leaves a void to be filled in by the receiving party, which means what you intended to say may not be what the person on the other end "hears".   That comical tone running through your head as you typed may not match the angry tone your reader saw, despite the :) smiley face.  Even on the phone, the missing dimension of visual cues can mean the difference between closing a deal or walking away from it because you didn't see them blink.  

By personalizing a relationship through a face-to-face meeting, obstacles can be easily overcome and goals more readily accomplished.  From the initial handshake at introduction to eye contact, voice inflection, body language and the general warmth associated with human interaction a personal meeting helps create an environment of cooperation and one-mindedness, which can often be missed in electronic interactions.

So post and tweet away.  Build your base and initiate targeted relationships through social media and other electronic means.  But when the chips are on the table and it's time to close the deal, play the face card and increase  your chances of success.

For more detail on the effect of body language in business situations, read the linked blog by Martin Zwilling.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Powerful is Your Network?

Your network is one of the most powerful business tools in your toolbox.  But the network isn't just about numbers.  You must build quality into your networking process.

It is true that more connections will increase the probability that somebody in your network aligns with your needs, but managing your network strictly to the numbers will give you a false sense of security.  Anyone can accumulate numbers, but the best of you will build a powerful network of quality connections.

Here are five keys to building and maintaining a powerful business network:
  1. Treat every introduction as an opportunity to add to your network.  One mistake I see people frequently make is filtering relationship opportunities before they have the chance to assess them for potential.  Everybody you meet has the possibility of adding value to your network.  Just because you work in transportation and the person you just met is a jewelry designer doesn't mean you can't find business value in the relationship.  Get to know the other person, help them get to know you and...
  2. Assess every networking opportunity for shared potential.  Your network isn't only about how others can help you.  It is equally about how you can help others.  In fact, the best networks are built on the premise of helping first before asking for help.  Be prepared to approach new network prospects with your value proposition and probe for ways that you can help them.  If you are seen as a person who can solve problems for others, people will line up to help you when you need it most.
  3. Actively manage your network.  Your network is a living organism.  Therefore, it requires constant feeding and nurturing.  Think of it like managing a sales territory.  A good sales person is always in touch with their customers, regardless of where they are in the sales cycle.  You need to do the same with your network.  It may help you to categorize your network connections, giving them a relative priority and to evaluate the priority on a regular basis.  That way you can make sure  you are focusing your time and attention on the relationships that are most likely to align with your current activities and needs.
  4. Don't rely on formal organization relationships for your network.  Many times, particularly with younger people, I have seen a tremendous dependency on the formal organization for their network.  Don't just network within your daily operating sphere.  The best networks are built outside your day to day activities.  Those are the people who will still be there if your current job or company change - for whatever reason.
  5. Help others build their network.  One of the best things you can do for others is to help them build their networks.  Every time you make a new connection,  you should try to introduce that person to two new contacts.  This is a great way to quickly establish the shared potential of your new relationship, and it will ultimately lead to expansion of your own network.
To some, having an overt plan to manage your network may seem a bit mercenary.  However, a powerful network is critical to long term success and your network will ultimately be the foundation of your career.  If you plan and manage it well and if you put the time into developing quality two-way relationships, your network will pay you back many times over.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Give Thanks

On this Thanksgiving day, let us all give thanks for everything that has blessed our lives -

Give thanks for our founding fathers; for their wisdom, for their vision and for their courage.

Give thanks for our families who surround us, who support us and who encourage us even when others won't.

Give thanks for our freedom, for our liberty and for this great nation.

Give thanks for our health.

Give thanks for those who have fought and for those who continue to fight to defend our sovereign rights.

Give thanks for our children who hold the future in their hands and who are not afraid to dream of what could be.

Give thanks for those who serve our communities; those who protect us, those who teach us and those who heal us.

Give thanks for friends, and special thanks for those friends who are no longer with us.

Give thanks for life, that most precious gift.

Give thanks for our spiritual leaders who have chosen a life of humility and grace.

Give thanks to God, the creator of all that is before us.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    The Five-P's of Leadership

    Over the course of my career, I have used a leadership model, which has proven to be very effective in building engaged teams focused on achieving a common set of goals.  The results have been consistently impressive.  In many cases, the teams surprised themselves by far exceeding their own expectations or the expectations that had been set for them; expectations, which at the time were considered by many on the team to be unachievable.

    The Five-P's are five simple principles to be balanced across the organization.  Skipping one, or focusing only on two or three will lessen potential and will create challenging hurdles when it comes to execution.

    The Five-P's are:
    1. Purpose
    2. Perspective
    3. Presence
    4. Process
    5. People
    Purpose:  This is also commonly referred to a the vision and/or the mission.  As the leader you must provide a clearly defined purpose for the team.  You have to create a compelling vision of what will be different.  You must be able to clearly articulate a picture of success and how success will impact the organization and how employees, customers, suppliers and other critical stakeholders will operate in the new environment.  Your statement of purpose must be as simple and as informative as possible.  It must provide clear direction and it must be something the team can reference as an anchor point when faced with decisions.  A well defined purpose will enable your team to make the right decisions based on whether their choice takes them closer to or farther from the desired state.

    Perspective:  Once you have your purpose clearly defined, you need to provide perspective to your team members so each of them understands exactly how their role and daily activities contribute to the greater purpose.  When you provide perspective, team members will be more likely to be able to make decisions on their own, without always having to delegate critical decisions up.  Perspective must range from the top to bottom of the organization.  This critical element is probably the most overlooked in any organization attempting to drive change.  Leaders often believe that after spending time creating their purpose, printing snappy posters and making colorful powerpoint presentations, their job is done:  everybody is on board and success is just around the corner.  The truth is that people more than one layer removed from the creation of the purpose often don't understand it and don't know how their role will contribute to it.  Spending the time to create perspective will go a long way to ensuring success for your team.

    Presence:  The most effective tool in any leader's arsenal is their presence among the critical stakeholders.  Presence means getting up from your desk, and getting out with your people, your customers and your suppliers.  In today's world of instant communications:  e-mail, text messaging, video conferences, etc., the art of presence has been lost in many organizations.  There is NO substitute for face to face interaction.  When people can see the leader's commitment to their new purpose, when they can hear it in the leader's voice and when they can ask the leader directly about how things will change for the organization and for them as individuals, they will be more likely to align themselves with the change and dedicate their efforts to making it happen.

    Process:  Every organization must have a commitment to process and to continuous process improvement.  Without sounding bureaucratic,  I do believe it is important to establish clear processes and procedures for critical operating elements and to follow those closely.  It is also important to ensure that any formal processes and procedures are regularly evaluated for relevance and that those who are involved in their execution are committed to continually improving them.  It is also important that process improvement be managed through a disciplined change management system, which records the reason for change, the desired outcome of change and the actual outcome of the change for future reference.  This important step helps to avoid the future problem of not knowing why a particular change was made and perhaps changing something back to a prior state, without understanding the consequences.

    People:  Last but not least, people must be the focus of every leader.  This may be cliche, but people are the foundation of every organization.  The common thread through each of the previous four elements of this model is the way they connect to the people in the organization.  The most successful leaders I have worked with are the ones who know how to engage the hearts and minds of the majority of their employee base.  Doing so leverages their leadership influence and allows the leader to spend more time focused on developing and executing strategy, and less time dealing with tactical concerns.

    I have found that the simple step of communicating this model to my team before embarking on change goes a long way to helping them to align with the details of whatever changes are required.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Golden Wisdom

    In the last few months, I have come to develop a greater appreciation for the incredible wisdom of our elders.  Maybe this comes from the time my wife and I spend on weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries.  Or perhaps it's my hope that as I am getting older, younger generations will find something useful in what I have to say.

    I received my latest installment of aged wisdom from the 90 year old man who sits near me at our local high school football games.  At a recent game, while I was visiting with him at half time, this gentleman told me the incredible story of his father's journey to the United States in the early 1900's.  My friend and his wife presented a fascinating tale of how his grandfather divided a bag of gold coins among his children the night before their village was to be raided and told them to flee under cover of darkness and to spread their family to the ends of the earth.  With nothing but a few pieces of gold and the clothes on his back, my friend's then 15 year old father made his way from the mountainous Middle Eastern village that had been his ancestral home for centuries to the Boston Harbor, and eventually to Nashville where he became a successful and wealthy business man.

    As my friend finished the story he held out his hand and showed me a gold ring with a small gold coin inlaid in its face.  He told me the ring was made with one of the coins his father had brought with him on his journey.  He then explained that gold had saved his father's life and gold would continue to provide security for his family's future.

    As impressive as that story was, it was my friend's next statement that I found to be even more noteworthy.  He looked directly into my eyes and said:  "Let me tell you something.  Gold is a secure investment and gold saved my family, but nothing will secure your future better than integrity and a strong work ethic."

    Gold, or any wealth by itself is finite.  Left alone, it will eventually run out.  The gold my friend's grandfather gave his children for their escape was enough to secure their freedom and to ensure a continuing family bloodline, but little more.  Once my friend's father arrived in the US, it was his work ethic and moral compass that turned a few remaining gold coins into a thriving business and a family fortune.  This poor immigrant didn't hope for success, or wait for a handout; he worked for his fortune and he earned security for himself and his family.

    By combining a strong desire to work for success and a core set of values upon which your life is based, your life will be golden too, just as the life of my friend had been.