Leadership is changing!

What makes a good leader? Go ahead, answer…

Truth be told, you’re probably dead on. I have no idea what you said/thought, but in your own mind, it’s true.

You see, people learn how to be a leader from other leaders in most cases. Sure, there have been leaders who were obviously born with the pedigree that virtually ensured their success as a leader (Jesus), but most people who we think of as great leaders learned their skills from someone else.

baby jesusWe learn that in 2 ways:

  1. How to lead
  2. How not to lead

Which of these were you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, #2. Really, it’s a lot like parenting. We either see what our parents did and say to ourselves, “I’m going to do it that way!” OR “My parents did that and there’s no way I’m going to do it that way!”

The problem with that is that the world is changing. Rapidly. I know the boomers thought they were in a world that was changing quickly, but the rate of change today makes the 60’s & 70’s look like the stone ages.

I’ve been approaching leadership development from a different angle for the last 12 months than ever before. The main difference is that I’m working with an organization that is trying to figure out how to transform it’s direction to match what the constant changing landscape is doing in our industry. There’s an old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there.” That could not be more true for us. We, like most in our industry, have operated for a long time on a model that has essentially made competitiveness a race to the bottom – cheapest provider. That’s not sustainable unless you’re Walmart.

As we think about what it’s going to take to be successful, we’re thinking about the kind of leadership that we need.

The answer? A leader who:

  • Can lead change
  • Has the drive to take the business forward, even if they don’t know what’s ahead
  • Can deal with ambiguity
  • Creates new revenue streams that don’t exist today
  • Can find profitable new markets
  • Is comfortable changing the business model

You’re thinking WAIT! What about honesty, integrity, people skills, motivation, etc. Yeah, I know. I didn’t forget. Those don’t make a good leader; they’re table stakes. The leader has to accomplish the things listed above through others and you can’t play without putting in the table stakes.

Recreate/RecycleI’m looking for ways to develop the leaders for tomorrow. That does not mean clone the leaders we have today. We need to think ahead and skate to where the puck is going to be.

What about you? Are you trying to imitate a leader from the past? Are you trying to model or do opposite of what your former boss/parent did?

Are you trying to develop into the kind of leader that will be needed tomorrow or just recreate/recycle/retread what used to be?

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!

Accountability is Awesome!

I’m re-reading a book called The Oz Principle. It’s all about accountability and staying ‘above the line’. I’d really encourage you to read this one. Today, I covered a passage that really, really hit home with me.

Before I finish that thought, let’s cover the definition of accountable. According to Webster’s online dictionary: “Required to explain actions or decisions to someone.”

OzEven the language of this one makes you feel like a victim. “Required to explain…” makes you feel like you’ve got to tell someone why you couldn’t/didn’t do something. I think that’s wrong.

The book defines it, “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results…”

I like this one way better. It makes me think, “Hey, what else can I do now to make this happen?”

See the difference? Now, back to my earlier epiphany.


It’s the part about what can I do NOW. It doesn’t matter that things didn’t go as I thought they should, the question is what can I do now? Anything that happened is, by definition, the past. You cannot change the past. Even if it just happened. What can I do now?

crying baby“But you don’t understand! I lost my job, my spouse is a dufas, my parents were nut jobs, I’m too old to…” Sound familiar?

Okay, now to my epiphany (really this time).

There are people all around me that are stuck in the victim cycle. I recognize it because I’ve been there. I’ve been stuck. It was always “their fault”. I was right. Circumstances beyond my control made that job a dead end. I was a victim and until I chose to ask the question “What can I do NOW,” it didn’t change.

You know those people too. There’s always a reason/excuse why…

Question is, in what part of your life are you stuck in the victim role?

  • Did you have a crazy parent? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? They were crazy – can’t change that – it’s in the past.
  • Are you sick? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? Can’t go back and keep from getting sick – it’s in the past.
  • Are you broke? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? Can’t go back and make better financial decisions – it’s in the past.

Get it? Sometimes life is cruel. Can’t change that. What are you going to do NOW?

A whole new world…

ImageTomorrow, I leave for Seattle. I’m going with a team of senior leaders from my company to visit with executives from several cutting edge organizations. It’s called an immersion experience and was setup by the folks over at The Immersion Lab.

They’re pros. This group really knows not only how to setup the trips and all the logistics that go along with them, but they also know how to debrief the learning the team is experiencing to make sure they’re getting the most out of the time.

I have to admit, when I first heard there was a company that set up these events and got paid really well to do it, I thought to myself, “…America.” (Actually, they’re located in Toronto)

So why on earth will one organization pay a company to setup a chance to go sit with the 3rd organization? 

Because companies need to learn. Just because you work for a large, industry leading, best-in-class organization, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn. 

I know you can’t go sit with the CEO of Microsoft, but why can’t you go sit with the HR pro at the local “best company to work for?” What about the 2 man shop that develops Apps to engage customers where they want to be? What about the guy who runs 3 Chick-fil-a stores who obviously knows a thing or two about hiring good people?

Usually, we have an illusion that the big company in another city has it all together and we just can’t figure it out. Reality? The reality is that they’re over there looking at someone else thinking they have it all figured out.

Every company has something they do well. Every company has something they do poorly. Let’s learn from each other (the good stuff, don’t imitate the bad) and get better!

Be a learner. Wherever you are. 

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep thinking.


A different view

ImageIf you’re smart and self-aware, you have a good idea of what people think about you. Seems simple enough, right?

Problem is, what people see is always based on their perspective. It’s idea that if you hold your hand in front of your face, and then extend it to arms length, it looks like it’s a different size. Realistically, it isn’t but the view is very different based on perspective.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been leading a 360 feedback type leadership assessment. As I’ve interviewed people from all around the participant, there are certainly themes developing. Today, I spoke with a top level executive. 

Man, was the perspective different! Sure, the themes I’d seen were there, but the view of this person from someone who is at that high of a level was very different than what their peers and reports see.

There’s the challenge. I should always be asking myself how others see me, but I should really be concerned with how people above me see me. 


Because their perspective is unique. I can see from here; I cannot see from there. They’ve already accomplished great things and think differently.

To get where they are, I have to think like they think.

Am I concerned with how my friends see me?

Am I concerned with how my boss sees me?

Am I concerned with how my people see me? 

Here’s one for perspective: Am I concerned with how God sees me?

Those are the questions. Answer: I should be…

What Stephen Covey Didn’t Teach Us

ImageYou know who Stephen Covey is. You know that he died recently at the age of 79. You know that he wrote one of the most popular books in history.

Recently, I read a summary of 10 Covey quotes that can change your life, and one of them really paralleled what we were discussing recently and how people make time for what they want to make time for.

Continue reading

Are you willing to wobble?

What am I willing to do to get the people I serve to buy in?

Whether you’re serving an external customer or citizen, or you serve internal clients, ask yourself this question.

Case in point:

Part of my job is to provide leadership and management training to government employees. It’s a fun job, but requires tons of thinking on your feet and preparation to make it count.  Long hours are spent balancing designing and building curriculum that meets objectives along with making it engaging, innovative, and memorable.

Ultimately, we’re teaching people all the things you wish your boss knew – treating people with respect, accountability, effective change management, etc.

In my classes, one way I engage people is through music.  My tastes and playlists are a bit…eclectic… some might say weird. Often, at breaks (and sometimes in the middle of a session) I’ll break out the iPod and play some music to catch people off guard. I also like to get people back from the breaks on time by making them dance if they’re late.

Enter The Wobble.

Whatever the dance craze is, there is always a group of folks who have no idea that it exists.  There are even more who are shocked to hear the song in a class.  Heck, I might even break into my own really sad version of the dance if that’s what it takes to make a connection.

The question, then, is what are you willing to do to make a connection?  Are you willing to make a complete fool of yourself?  Are you willing to wow someone with something they didn’t expect?

I’m not saying you have to drop your coat and tie to do the latest dance craze, but then again, what would it hurt?  Is that what the audience needs from you?

Remember the saying, “All things being equal, people will do business with a friend.” Connecting is about more than good content.

My question to you: What’s your wobble?  I’d love to know.  I might use it!

Customer Service: used car salesman?!?

There are millions of stories about bad customer service, especially in the used car industry.

Setup – I’m frugal when it comes to car shopping…okay, cheap.  I set a target price and don’t buy new cars.  Sorry, Detroit, Dave Ramsey said.  Anyway, I often go to numerous lots and see numerous cars before taking the plunge, usually from an individual.  The experiences are always the same.

Don’t get me started on the  “no haggle pricing” strategy (that’s just American’s being lazy and avoiding confrontation).  Even when I hear that “Dealer X is super-duper fantastically customer focused,” I know they’re really all the same…right?

Wrong!  I met George, a salesman at Chevrolet’s 2nd oldest dealership by accident when I stopped in to look at a vehicle I spotted on the internet.  At the time, the car wasn’t there and I told him I’d return that night to see it on my way home.  I didn’t show.  He called me the next day and told me he had the vehicle back on the lot if I was interested.

Two days passed.  I dropped back by there on my lunch break and George had just returned from taking a woman to the courthouse to apply for a tag (how weird is that?).  The car had been moved to the other lot the dealership has across town.  He told me it would be back this evening.  No problem, I was in a hurry anyway.

At 3:30, George called me and said he had the vehicle.

“Alright,” I thought, “I’ll come by if I get a chance tonight,” or whenever…

THEN…George tells me that he personally went across town and got the car.  He was bringing it to my work so I could see it.

What an amazing lesson for salespeople.  He over-delivered and totally caught me off guard.

When’s the last time you wowed a potential customer?  How about a current one?

Have I bought the car? Not yet.  My wife needs to see it…

I’ve talked to about 15 dealers in the last week.  Guess who just jumped ahead of all of them?

By the way, before you think “I’d go get a car too for a $40k sale’s commission,” this car is less than $10k.  Makes it even better.

FTR, I know, shame on me for stereotyping.  I hate it when people say government employees are lazy and don’t care.

When is the last time you got a letter?

How is your customer service?  Do you have the right people on the bus?  Do they do the right things?  A letter like this might be a good indicator for you.  See if you can recognize the supermarket…


I wanted you to know that I notice when a company hires the best people. On Saturday, 4/14/12, I was shopping with my 17 month old and we were in the aisle by the seafood dept. He dropped the pacifier out of the cart and when I picked it up, Dave (in the seafood dept) asked “sir, can I wash that for you?” I can tell you this is one of the outliers in the customer service world. He took the pacifier, washed it and dried it for me and said “I understand. I’ve been there.”

Please, never forget that your people are the reason “shopping is a pleasure.” I spend about $1k/month at this store but he had no idea. That’s why it’s so impressive. Great people make all the difference! I wonder how that would have looked if I’d been at Walmart…


A VERY satisfied customer

What are your stories like this?  Do your customers rave about your people? We’d love to hear about it.  Share your comments and let us know the other good stories.

Just a chance…it’s FREE!!!

Things are tight right? I mean, if the economy is in the proverbial toilet and we’re cutting costs everywhere, you can’t possibly think you’re getting a raise, can you? Of course not! It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible.

office space“By the way, we’ve got your mid-year evaluations due by the end of the month so make sure you’re working with your managers to complete these. They are an important tool for our company and your professional development…but we aren’t giving merit increases/bonuses this year.”
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it.  Where’s the incentive for stellar performance? Why should your star employees live up to their potential?  How can they remain innovative and keep giving all they have to their jobs?
I’ll tell you: they will remain innovative, live up to their potential, and give all they have to their jobs…somewhere else.  Certainly it’s a tough market.  The star performers, however, know when you’re giving lip-service to people development and when you’re actually practicing it.

Let’s roleplay.  Suppose you, as a manager, were told that your career was very important to your company and that your manager was going to help you get to the next level.  Then, nothing.  Nada. Nil.  Nothing happens because things get tight… and the phone rings.
On the other end of the line is a former coworker telling you how theyobamaarelooking for someone who does exactly what you’re doing for your company now.  It’s not an advancement, but there’s a chance it might lead to it.  Your old company has all but promised for you to be stuck in this dead end job until the next President makes 1,000 promises of changing the economy so why wait it out here?  At least there, there’s a chance.
LloydThat’s all I’m saying.  Blanket policies about advancement, hiring freezes, raises, performance evaluations, etc., just don’t work.  All an employee wants to know is that there’s a chance.  As Lloyd says, “SO YOUR SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE!!!
It doesn’t have to be spending thousands on lavish trips, training seminars, and huge bonuses; however, for those who are top performers, reward them.  Unfortunately, it seems some managers would rather not reward a top performer and have a blanket policy, than to have to deal with those who are not top performers.
Keep evaluating, keep moving, KEEP THINKING!