In Love with Your Own Ideas

I love to plan. I love to plan! Planning is a skill that has served me very well over the years. I’m organized. I get things done. I feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Yesterday was a great example. I reviewed my weekly to-do list, determined which tasks I would complete during each hour of the day, and I finished them all. Go me!

There is a dark side to all my happy planning. When others introduce a different plan, my first thought is to immediately reject it for reasons completely unrelated to merit. I have it in my head that things will progress and play out in a certain way. Depending upon how much I have going on, an alternate plan might even send me sideways. 

This exact thing often happens in the generation of ideas.  We get a thought in our head, decide that it is great, and we want to run with it. This is natural. When we develop a new theory, or a strategy for solving a problem, it makes us feel good. Our egos as fed. Unfortunately, it causes us to shut out others’ notions, which limits the possibilities.

The next time someone gives you an idea that you at first disagree with, explore it more. Ask why. Ask yourself why. Embrace a growth mindset. 

Sometimes the best plans and the best ideas are the ones that are far beyond our comprehension. 

Your Symphony

“The conductor must not only make his orchestra play. He must make them want to play. He must exalt them. Lift them. Start their adrenaline pouring. It is not so much imposing his will on them like a dictator. It is more like projecting his feelings around them…it doesn't really matter how well you move with your hands. It should be in your face. It should be in your expression.” — Leonard Bernstein

Two very similar sentences. Two very different meanings.

The conductor must make his orchestra play.

The conduct must make his orchestra want to play.

The first is a directive. The second facilitates greatness.

As leaders, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard. Any manager can force people to do the work. However, when we celebrate our teams and appreciate them, great things will happen.

“Exalt them.” Hold them in very high regard. Recognize and acknowledge good work. When improvement is needed, coach with enthusiasm and optimism.

“Lift them.” Raise them to a higher position or level. Be authentic. Care more. Create a connection to your values, your mission, and your vision.

Consider the utter joy and appreciation that Bernstein exudes as he conducts his orchestra using only facial expressions.

We exalt and lift those around us because of who we are as leaders. It is not about what we tell people to do and not to do. When we lead as the best version of ourselves, we create our symphony. 

Vision and Values

“Core values determine your culture. Your culture determines behavior. Behavior determines performance.”—Sue Hawkes, EOS Implementer/Author

I recently came across this quote, which really resonated with me. 

In business and as leaders, our personal values shape each discussion, each decision, and each interaction. Likewise, the core values of a team or organization shape the people and the environment within. 

As such, it is beneficial to ask the following questions about the company/team’s core values:

“Do these beliefs reflect not only how we treat our customers, but also how we treat each other?” 

“Do these values make a positive impact?”

“Do we, as leaders, live and work in accordance with these values each and every day?” 

The true core values of an organization are those which the team lives every day. They may or may not be the same as those that are written on the wall.

One of the best bosses that I ever had articulated the values of his team with great care and intention. He created a “Vision and Values” document for the group with our collaboration. He went as far as to review it with potential hires, wanting to communicate how we worked and what we believed in. It was critical to him that the people he hired operated with the same level of integrity. Although we did not refer to them every day, his “Vision and Values” absolutely shaped the culture of our team. 

Culture may be defined as “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” Our core values create that culture, which in turn dictates how people think and act. Positively or negatively. 

You can only manage behavior, not results. Again, behavior determines performance. 

In a thriving environment, everyone buys into the values and lives accordingly. This is reflected in the culture and, ultimately, the performance. 

"You Have Derailed…"

I recently made a trip to NYC to earn my Hogan Personality Assessment certification. The Hogan instruments are highly regarded and utilized by many world-class organizations in hiring and for leadership development. 

The course was outstanding. We learned about evaluating and leveraging strengths, as well as identifying and moderating our so-called “derailers.”

Derailers are personal traits are that can be stumbling blocks for us in our professional lives. When I first heard the word “derail” in my class, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Tommy Boy. The scene when Chris Farley lights the potential customer’s desk on fire is derailment at its finest, and David Spade tells him so

But I digress. Interestingly, our derailers are the dark side of our strengths. In times of stress or complacency, the traits that serve us best are prone to flipping upside down and getting in the way of our professional effectiveness. 

With this explanation in mind, I found it logical to move out of the fixed mindset of evaluating strengths and weaknesses. I became less defensive about my derailers, and more curious about them. 

For example, a strength of mine is attention to detail. I consider every angle before I argue with someone and I hate typos. The dark side of this trait is my “diligence” derailer, or need for everything to be in its place in times of transition or stress. Full disclosure...I’m in the 100th percentile. This just might explain my compulsion to thoroughly scour and organize the house when returning after a few days of travel. Which, by the way, can be quite annoying to those who live with me. 

Which of your traits is usually of tremendous benefit to you, but can sometimes get in your way?

To learn more about using the Hogan Assessments in developing yourself or coaching your team, please reach out to me. I’d love to have the opportunity to help.

Onboarding a New Salesperson

Onboarding a New Sales Person

I heard a story from a colleague about her first day as an outside sales representative. “I was supposed to meet my new boss at a local coffee shop at 9:00 am. I waited for him to arrive for about 30 minutes and then called him, somewhat in a panic, thinking that I was at the wrong meeting place. No answer, no response. Around 3:00 that afternoon, he called me back to tell me that he was confused about the day, had other stuff going on, and that it would be better if we met a couple of days later.”

Hearing this story almost sent me into a state of shock. What kind of message did the “no-show” deliver? What did it do to her level of enthusiasm and motivation, right out of the gate?

While this story is undoubtedly out of the ordinary, many managers do rush through the onboarding process in hopes of getting the new person up and running—out selling, as quickly as possible. When designed with thought and intention, the onboarding process provides the foundation for future success. Pulled together haphazardly, or not done at all, it has the potential to be a costly mistake.   

Here are my Do’s and Don’t’s when onboarding a new salesperson:

  1. Provide an Overview of the Onboarding Period. You need to have a plan for the training/onboarding, ideally in writing for easy reference. Establish goals.  Articulate what you want the employee to have learned and mastered by the end of the period. Doing so demonstrates that you are serious about success and have given thought to what it will take.

  2. Plan, but be Flexible. As important as it is to have a plan in place, recognize that everyone learns differently, and at a different pace. Also, business needs may cause you to move things around. Communicate this on the first day.

  3. Share Your Mission and Vision. When employees feel connected to a purpose beyond their actual responsibilities, their motivation level increases. The best time to lay this foundation is on day one. Consider the Bricklayer parable:

    Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

  4. Build Connections and Relationships. As much as you want your employees to feel connected to your company’s purpose, you want them to connect with the team and the other players. As part of the orientation, build in time for genuine relationships to blossom. Schedule team lunches, job shadowing, etc. Establishing a mentor can be a huge win. The new employee has a second resource. You can delegate some of the training responsibility. The mentor has an opportunity to develop and feels valued.

  5. Celebrate. A small welcome gift or a note expressing your excitement demonstrates that you are a class act and look forward to more celebrations to come.  

Starting on the right footing does not guarantee success, but it serves as a great foundation. Take advantage of this opportunity to take the next step in building a top-performing team and culture.

Leading: Body, Heart, Mind, and Soul

We all want to hire the best people and build a better company. To attract and retain top talent, it is imperative that we cultivate an environment where our people have the tools to do their jobs effectively and the motivation to do so. This will ensure a positive culture, but is no simple task. It is a mission that requires us to bring our best selves to the show.

To lead at our highest potential, we must intentionally care for our bodies, our emotional well-being, our minds, and our spirits. 

Body—We gain strength and stamina by taking care of ourselves physically, which expands our capacity to work. Eat right. Exercise. Get enough sleep. 

Heart—To get the best from others, we must communicate effectively. As leaders, we are on a stage. We need to “respond” rather than “react,” and keep our cool, even when we want to blow. We gain interpersonal effectiveness, empathy, and self-regulation from taking care of ourselves emotionally. Disconnect from work. Laugh. Practice gratitude.

Mind—When we take care of our minds, we are more focused and much better at problem-solving. Plan and manage our time. Take mental breaks (even for five minutes). Minimize multi-tasking.

Soul—We are at our best when we feel connected to a purpose greater than self-interest. In so doing, we increase our effectiveness at work and our motivation level is high. Journal. Meditate. Stop and take a breath. Find the practice that works best for you. 

When we manage these four dimensions of our being, we lead with greater intention and have a meaningful impact on those around us. We create a thriving environment, and the results are profound.

Want to learn more? Attend "Leadership and Professional Effectiveness" on May 30 at the CBA.

Client Referrals and Recommendations: Asking is a Good Thing!

I was recently involved in a sales discussion, where one of the folks posed a topic to discuss. “I hate asking customers for recommendations or referrals. It feels, well…pushy. It’s like I’m making it about me instead of about them.”

I get it. The most trusted salespeople focus on the needs of the client and not their personal agendas. It’s all about the client. As a result, asking for an endorsement can feel uncomfortable, as though it is in opposition to customer centricity.

Simply stated, the testimony of a happy customer is one of the best possible marketing tools. Seeking recommendations is not mutually exclusive from taking care of the customer.

A few tips:

  1. Start with your best clients—those with whom you have the best relationships and that you know are achieving their desired results.

  2. Shift your perspective. Remember, people like to help people. Typically, if you have a happy customer, they will want to help you.

  3. Begin the conversation by asking if they are pleased with your product, service, their results, etc. If they are happy, you are in an ideal position to ask “do you know of anyone else who would benefit?” or “Would you be willing to talk with a potential customer about your experience with me?”

Regularly asking questions about the customer’s experience is a smart practice overall. If you receive critical feedback, you’ve gained additional knowledge and an opportunity to make the client happier. When you hear positive comments, your efforts are affirmed. Asking for referrals/recommendations becomes increasingly natural, and everyone wins.

For Your Development

I was recently catching up with a friend, and the topic shifted to work. “How have things been going?” I asked. “I’m getting frustrated. For over a year, they have been piling extra projects on me, telling me it is ‘for my development,’ and that I am getting ready for the next level. It feels to me like they are just giving me extra work because there is no one else to do it. There is no talk of what skills I need to develop, or any communication about when they think I will be ready for that next level.”

I suggested that he ask for a meeting with his boss to understand what skills he needed to build, get feedback on the work he had completed, and start a dialogue about his development strategy.

Providing special assignments, such as leading a cross-functional team or mentoring, is a fantastic talent development strategy. Ambitious employees gain an opportunity to grow and shine while meeting a business need of the organization. Often, the recipient gains increased exposure to leadership, an occasion to expand professionally, and a chance to demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond.

However, if not managed appropriately, this practice can go south, mainly if it is frequent, and create frustration for the employee. For best results:

  • Set the foundation with a development conversation. Ask the employee to articulate his/her career goals. In return, provide honest feedback about the development that will best serve the employee to reach said goals. Establish additional assignments as a vehicle for growth and discuss how they benefit both the person and the company.

  • At the onset, clarify expectations and illustrate how the employee will benefit.

  • Support the employee through the duration of the project. Provide guidance and feedback. Doing so is especially important if the assignment is a stretch for the employee.

  • Be appreciative.

  • Call a spade a spade. If it’s not a development opportunity, but merely extra work that needs to be done, do not misrepresent.

Taking these steps also ensures that everyone is on the same page, and that open two-way communication ensues, creating a win-win situation.

Single Point of Failure

Several months ago, a friend of mine took a new position as a project manager with a large company. I ran into him last week and asked how things were going. “I like what I am doing,” he replied, “but the manager who hired me is now in a different role, and my new boss…well, he’s a real piece of work.”

I asked him to elaborate.

He went on to tell me about one of his peers, who was battling a severe disease and was needing to take medical leave. “I heard my manager refer to this guy as a ‘single point of failure.’ And if I heard him, others did as well.”

Clearly, this manager did not consider how his words might impact others on the team.

As leaders, we need to remember that it is not just what we say to people; it’s what we say about others. Everything we say and do is observed by others, scrutinously. We build the best teams by using this stage to empower the team through humility and doing the right thing.

Simple Credos from a Life Well-Lived

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"Tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Forgive. Stay the course." This was the life code of George H.W. Bush, according to Jon Meachum in his December 5 eulogy for the 41st president.

The language is plain. The lessons are simple. And these qualities really matter to people when being led. No matter your politics, a leader who lives by these words creates the intangibles of a great team: trust, purpose, and community.

A few thoughts about each:

“Tell the truth.” Truth and kindness are not mutually exclusive. Sharing the good, bad and the ugly may be uncomfortable in the short run, but it ultimately builds trust. If I know that my boss will always tell me the truth, I can follow him/her, without worry of some hidden agenda.

Don’t blame people.” Own it. Learn from it. Apologize when necessary. Think about what you will do differently the next time.

“Be strong.” Remember that on the other side of any challenge is an outcome and a better result.

“Do your best.” Be all in, or don’t be there.

“Forgive.” We are all united in our humanity. We all make mistakes. We can only control what we do. When we don’t forgive, we carry on the negative emotion.

“Stay the course.” The course and direction may not be linear, but that’s okay. Put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

At the end of the day, we want to feel confident that we have led others in a way that makes a proud. We want to reflect upon “a life well-lived.” Following these simple credos is a big step toward leading and living in a meaningful way.