Empathy matters

Let me begin by confessing that I’m a bit of an idiot sometimes…

Long story short, I had an iPhone from Verizon that ran out of contract. I found a new carrier that wouldn’t lock me into a 2 year contract. If you know anything about people born after 1978, you know that we don’t really like anyone to tie us down. Oh, and it’s roughly 1/2 price from what Big Red was charging me.

verizonAs a part of the switch, I ordered a new SIM card, popped it in, and then got an error message that this card wouldn’t work because my carrier had to unlock the phone. No problem, right? The phone was paid for.

When that happened, it ported my number from Verizon as if the SIM card worked. Because it didn’t work, I now have a service with a new carrier but no phone that will allow me to use it. That’s when I called Verizon…

“We don’t do that,” the customer service agent said, “we only unlock it if you’re going overseas and want to get a carrier over there.”

Funny thing is, the other carriers will unlock an iPhone, but Verizon says they won’t. Hmmmm…

What emotions do you think I felt?

Yep, all of those. It’s been a few days now (without a cell phone – man I’m in the stone ages) and I’ve had time for my lizard brain to subside and my adult brain kick in. It got me to thinking about empathy.

You see, before this, I wouldn’t have thought much about a company basically refusing to release something that I gave them hard earned money for. Heck, Wouldn’t have crossed my mind because that would be practically stealing! Not so anymore.

Unfortunately, I had to experience first hand the experience of dealing with a company policy that makes me feel like I’m dealing with a thief, or at the very least, a company who doesn’t care even a little bit about me as a customer.

This, however, is not Empathy, it’s Sympathy. Sympathy is feeling the same thing as someone else because you’ve felt it. Empathy is understanding that feeling without ever having necessarily felt that yourself.

I do not have enough empathy. In my job working with successful corporate leaders, I find that my problem is a common one. That’s no excuse; I need more.

Ask yourself, do I empathize? Can I understand and anticipate the way people feel, even if I don’t feel the same way? If you’re a leader, you should probably ask a series of questions like this:

What are we doing that makes people angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feel less important?

I’ll bet that there are great people at Verizon. I’ll bet that some of them can sympathize with my situation. It appears that the problem is that the leaders of that particular company have an Empathy gap. They only see things in terms of dollars and cents and haven’t been able to see what their customer is experiencing. That’s a shame.

Puppy empathySo thanks, Verizon, for helping me stop a minute and think. I am trying to “Make progress every day.”

What about you? Do you have empathy? If so, we need to talk. I have to get better at this if I’m going to serve the way I need to serve. Let’s connect!

There is no try?

ImageYoda was wrong!

Hold on…before you dismiss this as heresy, hear me out.

“Do or not do. There is no try,” is, of course, the line I’m talking about. While I get the line, I don’t buy it.

Try. That’s a tough thing to do. Generally, if you’re like me, you like to think, think, think, think, build, present to the world. The problem with that reasoning is that we get too vested in the outcome or our ‘build’ that we make it hard for people to tell us what needs to be improved.

No one wants to tell you that your baby is ugly. Continue reading



That’s what I just experienced. I’ve had my iPad for exactly 1 week. I love my iPad. I need my iPad. I know iPads are expensive so I have mine in a protective hardshell case.

As I’m flipping it open this morning, the case ever so gracefully allows the iPad to slide out and fall onto the ground, bumping the corner of it. I’m not worried…it fell like 12 inches…then I pick it up…

Panic? Maybe that’s not strong enough…

I picked it up, turned it on and…yep, the green screen!

To say that my lizard brain kicked in would be an understatement. I guess that’s what the first cavemen felt when he woke up after falling asleep accidentally and realizing that he let the first fire in history of mankind go out.

So what did I do?

Fortunately, I have access to millions of people in my network, some of whom have experienced this problem before.

I jumped on Google (thank God for Google!!) and found a forum where people were talking about how to solve it.

Collaboration is awesome! A group of people with made up screen names listing out things to try with my $400 goof.

Saying this out loud sounds ridiculous, but in fact, it worked! Collaboration provided an answer I would’ve had no chance at getting even 10-12 years ago.

What was the answer? Smacking the iPad on a hard surface.

Yes. I smacked my 1 week old iPad on a granite counter top on the recommendation of somebody I’ve never met using a made up name giving advice to people they would never meet and had zero responsibility to.

Thanks to LaxMan25, I’m typing this out on my iPad with a clear screen.

How do you use collaboration at work? Do you trust strangers on the internet more than your co-workers? Your boss? The people who work for you?

I hope I trust them at least enough to smack my $400 item on a hard surface if they suggest it…

Career Insecurities: What do they really mean?

Why are we scared to start something new?

I remember the folklore surrounding sorority rush. I went to a University with a very large sorority population and there was one particular sorority that was known all over campus to have the legendary “circle of fat”. Legend has it that’s where  girls were placed on a pedestal and the other girls would draw on their bodies with a sharpie.

As aweful as that sounds, it didn’t actually happen – urban legend. No one ever experienced it first hand, but every single girl on campus “knew” someone who had a friend who it had happened to.

The very thought of experiencing that kind of vulnerability made even the most beautiful girls on the entire campus tremble with fear.

Anytime we step into a new role, we expect to learn a lot, right? Of course we do. When you accept the new position, there is a lot of uncertainty as you leave the old position/division/company. That’s to be expected. but after awhile, even those who are accustomed to starting something new can get a little stuck – especially when we think the stakes are high!


Because we have insecurities.

Some people just mask them more easily, but we definitely all have them. We all think someone is going to draw circles around our imperfections with a sharpie.

Continue reading

Top 5 things I’ve learned working here:

Today’s my last day.

No, not from this site (sorry), but from my current role teaching leadership and management in the government sector.

On Monday, I’ll start my new role as AVP of Learning and Talent Development for an awesome company here in Birmingham. I am very excited to be trekking back over into the private sector to head up their leadership development programs.

As I’m cleaning out my office today, I’ve been looking back over the last few months and trying to reflect upon some the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve been able to learn from people I work for, people I work with, and people I’ve taught.

Lessons learned (in no particular order):

  1. Make time for fun. Spending time in the classroom, I know that having fun and being engaged is essential to learning. If I want to continue learning in my new spot, or even in life, I must be engaged and have fun.
  2. Expect more from people and they’ll deliver. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great team for a great leader. My immediate manager has made it very clear that he expects us to deliver great product. It doesn’t matter how we get there, just get there. And you know what? It works!
  3. Connect with your team and you’ll be connected. Duh, right? Easy to say; not so easy to do. Everyone can’t be on the team. You should include everyone, but learn who gets it and who doesn’t when you’re trying to move something forward. Often times it’s easier to focus on those who tell you why things can’t change than to run with the folks who are changing things.
  4. Make a difference everyday…even if it doesn’t feel like it’s working. Some days are better than others, no doubt, but as Bob Ferrell say, “Show enthusiasm…I didn’t say be enthusiastic.” His point is that it’s always a show, whether or not you feel like performing.
  5. Practice what you preach. Often, people say “those who can’t do teach.” I can say whole heartedly that you’re going to make much more of an impact than you can imagine if you practice what you preach. It’s easy to say the right things but much harder to live them. I saw that 1st hand when my manger found out I was moving on. We’re good friends and I know he’s sad to see me go, but he’s been genuinely excited for me. Here’s a link to his philosophy. I know for a fact that he lives this. I hope I can always model the behavior I’ve see in him.

I’ve learned countless other things, but these are the 1st 5 I got down on paper. I’m sure I’ll share a few more pretty soon.

See you on the flip side!

Fresh Meat!

Yay, New Guy!!!

No, not the terrible movie…

No, I’m not telling you to get a new boyfriend/husband.

The fact is, new people make you better.

There’s a study from the Kellog School of Business Associate Professor Katherine Phillips that delves into the advantages of diversity within teams. The research suggests that teams performed better when a newcomer was introduced to an existing team, even when the new ideas did not come from the new member.  This suggests, of course, that diversity in and of itself actually promotes productivity increases.

We’ve long believed that diversity promotes different perspectives and different thought processes which ultimately lead to better results. This does occur, but the reasons might be different than expected. We should always examine why we succeed rather than just why we fail. It appears that the new study by Professor Phillips shows that our success from diversity might be for a different reason all together than what we’ve long thought. New people make us dig deeper and perform better.

Obviously, this is important in a company setting; however, the challenge is to transition this into our personal lives. It’s no secret that people gravitate towards people like themselves. Heck, one of the most famous sayings in the world is “birds of a feather…” See.  I didn’t even have to finish it!

The study demonstrates that injecting someone different into a team makes that team perform at a higher level. Why not our own lives? With the understanding that diversity breeds elevated performance, why not interject a little diversity into the rest of your life?

I’m not talking about taking a different route to work, although some are in such a need of change that this might help, but maybe its listening to different music. How about listening to the guy on talk radio that thinks totally opposite of you rather than the guy who you know what he’s going to say before he gets the words out. What would happen if you have lunch at least once a week with someone from a different department than your own? How about going to a different blog from time to time?
The point is, it’s like a marriage; if two of you are exactly alike, you don’t need one of you.  You are better when you are challenged. You are better when you have to think.  Make sure you are challenged in every area of your life.
Find a new guy!  Keep pushing.  Keep Thinking!!!

FISO – Fit In before you Stand Out

“You have to Fit In before you can Stand Out.”

This is a lesson that one of my really smart grad school professors taught me. I certainly think it’s true. Here’s why:

Anytime we take on a new role, whether it’s a new job, new volunteer position, a new anything, there are a couple of things we need to remember:

  1. There are established group norms that you need to understand. It’s a challenge when you jump in with a new perspective and identify problems that need to be fixed. To be successful long term, you need to operate within the framework that exists. Otherwise, you’ll alienate people and make it very difficult to change anything.
  2. As a leader, you inspire people and lead them from where they are. Think about it. If I told you that the way you’d been doing things is completely wrong and you were obviously not as smart as I am since you’re doing it that way, you’d totally blow me off, right? That’s kind of what happens without people saying it out loud. You must build alliances before you go into battle.
  3. You cannot have my mind, until you have my heart. That’s something that many people just don’t understand. There is no shortage of good ideas. There is a shortage of good ideas that are effectively implemented. If you don’t win me over as a person, I don’t give two hoots about your ideas. The upside to this is that when you have won my heart, I’ll go with you and fight for you in ways you never thought possible.

As you move into anything new, look for ways to FISO. Small wins early mean much more than a big “win” that costs you long term.

You’re smart. You’ve got great ideas. You’ve got what it takes…if you’re patient. As a Gen Y, that’s not the way we’re wired. Ironically enough, that is the way we’re led.

You want to contribute. You want to make a difference. You want to be valued and appreciated. So does the new team you’re on.

What do you think? Does FISO sound credible to you?

How’s your vision?

I’m surprised how few people know the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement; however, I’m even more surprised that people don’t have their own, personal vision and mission statement.

If Gen Y can get this right at our age, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish. It focuses us. Can you even imagine how much we can do if we’re focused in an A.D.D. world.

Let’s start the discussion with definitions:

Vision Statement: This simple ONE sentence tells where exactly you want to be.

It’s the WHY behind everything. You should be able to look at that statement and ask yourself the same question anytime you have a decision to make.

“How does this decision move me closer towards that vision?”

Mission Statement: ONE (or possibly 2) sentences that explains the things you do regularly to achieve your mission.

This is the HOW you are going to get there. It involves activities that contribute to the end result you’ve laid out in the vision statement.

Believe it or not, it’s much easier to do this for an organization than it is for an individual…Especially if you’re a Gen-Y. We hate commitment. This sounds an awfully lot like a rule/chain and we’d rather not be tied down.

GOOD NEWS! It’s not a rule, it’s a principle.

Principles guide you in your decisions. No matter where you are in life, you can still use your vision.

Write it out. Maybe think of it as pre-writing your tombstone quote. What do you want people to remember about you? Better yet, what do you want to be? (hint: rich sounds stupid on a tombstone)

I think a great vision is used by my church. It’s simply “To be found faithful as God’s people.” No matter what else, every member of the organization can ask themselves with every decision I make, does this help me to be found faithful as God’s people?

What about you? Do you have a Personal Vision Statement? If not, do you think it could help you understand where you’re going and make decisions along the way?

I do.

Leadership Development – what exactly does that mean?

Leadership Development is all the buzz right now in many companies.

On Google, a quick search for that exact term lends “about 394,000,000 results (0.24 seconds)” and on Amazon it results in 34,975 titles. Wow. That’s a lot!!!

So, what does that mean exactly? Like a great professor I had in B-school taught me to say, “it depends.”

It depends on where you are in life. It depends on what your needs are at the moment. It depends on the person you ask. It depends on what you know. It depends on what you don’t know.

I’d love to answer the question, but I don’t know all those things about your situation right now so let’s tackle a couple of the basic premises behind leadership development.

1. Development means you’re moving forward.

No matter where you are in your career, you probably need leadership development. Often we think of leadership development that’s needed for the C-suite (VP/CEO/Board of Dir) but we don’t consider the everyday learning needed for lower level managers as leadership development on the same level. I’d argue that the leadership development that happens on these lower levels is MUCH more critical to a person’s success than anything they learn at the top.

Sure, the decision may affect more people when you’re at the top, but any structure is only as strong as its foundation. What people learn at the foundational levels will only be amplified as they elevate through an organization. That said, you should work twice as hard to make sure the foundation is right.

2. Development means there’s something to develop.

I’m asked often how a person can be a leader if they’re not a manager. Simple. John Maxwell says “Leadership is Influence: nothing more, nothing less.” If you have influence, you’re a leader. If you’re a leader, you have influence. Whether it’s influencing your family, a little league team, or the sandlot bunch of misfits you manage at the office, leadership is present…good or bad. Either way, you should be trying to develop it within yourself.

3. Development leads to more questions than answers.

The more I know about any subject, the more I realize I don’t know. The best leaders in the world are not the ones barking orders. They’re the ones asking the right questions and inspiring their followers to do the same.

What makes your group strong? What’s their biggest weakness? What kind of plan do we have in place for X? Who out there knows more than I do about Y?

Keep asking questions. When you think you know enough, realize you’re more lost than you’ve ever been…

Those are just a few of the things I’ve noticed in leadership development. What do you see out there around this topic?

What’s your plan for your own leadership development? What do I not know?

Learning to Lead

We are the most educated generation ever. No, I don’t mean we have learned from our experience, necessarily, but that we have the most education…formally…of any other before us. Our parents made it clear that college wasn’t an option for most of us – it was a requirement.

Now, we enter the workforce after a minimum of 16 years in the educational system (many of us close to doubling that with Pre-K and grad school) and if we don’t know how to do anything else, we know how to learn.

That’s a double edged sword.

On one hand, we’ve been in school and learning so long that we are very accustomed to learning regularly both formally and informally thanks to the modern information era. On the other, for the first time in our lives we don’t have a professor who holds our grades in his hand and dangles the threat of a ‘FAIL’ over us to get us moving so we can finally breathe…

Frankly, after seeing Gen Y hit the workforce over the last few years, I’m convinced it’s about a 50/50 split. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re in the 1st group. Congrats!

For those of us who want to keep learning, now what?

Related: Hey Millennials! Learn to lead!!!

I was reading an article written by Kayla Cruz over on YouTern and she eloquently articulates how companies need to offer more leadership development courses to it’s non-supervisory workforce. I agree.

That said, let’s assume you work for a company which DOES offer leadership development opportunities. 

Time to milk the system!!!

Most people get promoted and then learn how to be managers. When someone in management vacates the position, the organization has to get someone in there quickly so there is a very short training period (if any) to get them up to speed. The problem is that managing a function requires a much different skill set than working in that system. That’s when most people flock to training sessions to figure out what to do.

Not us – we are the high achievers (just ask our mom).

We want to learn. We want to grow. We want to run things better, work harder work smarter and contribute right away (we need a trophy!!!).

Take your initiative and put it to work. 

Many entry level positions have down time and offer the perfect opportunity to take classes. Maybe the company isn’t willing to fly you to Vegas for the conference you’ve always wanted (if so, can I work for you?), but there are opportunities all around if you look. 

So, where do I find learning opportunities?

  1. Professional Associations. I’m in training and Development and we have a local association that provides monthly sessions on various T&D topics for $15/month. I figured out that the VP of Programs determined what those topics would be so I volunteered to become the VP of Programs…(what, it’s not all about me?)
  2. Young Professional Groups. Every city has YP groups that offer great social events and learning opportunities. They’re also great places to meet people if you’re new to a city. You can find out where the best places are to eat, drink, and work.
  3. Webinars/Blogs. Don’t quit reading. I know most are crap, but some really are good ways to learn management skills – especially if you can’t leave the office during your down time. Oh, and there are a TON of free ones so it doesn’t cost a thing.
  4. Your company’s training department. True, they made you sit through a video that’s older than I am about how you can’t discriminate (or some other topic circa 1981), but often they offer a lot more than you might realize when it comes to leadership development. Generally, for the non you-screwed-up-now-let’s-send-you-to-training-to-fix-you classes, you have to be proactive and search them out. Ask your manager. Ask the Training Manager. Just ask!

What about you? How do you learn? How are you developing the skills you need for when you’re the one hired into that management role? 

Don’t be like the crappy bosses who really “don’t have a clue what they’re doing.” Be prepared!