Do your clients really love you? Here is one measure

Yesterday I had a discussion with a partner that has done an amazing job helping me promote my business during my first year of operation.  The discussion was difficult because I need to alter my relationship with them from a monthly basis to an as needed basis.  They were valuable and I need them on my virtual team, but I have to do things a little differently in year 2.  It was a great discussion and I left feeling upbeat, as I always do.  As I sat down this morning I realized I had to add another sales goal to my list – Find Clark Communications another client to replace my business. I like them so much I want to sell for them, and they did not ask me to do this. I know that is a strange reaction, but that is how good they have been to me.  I owe them another client.  

So what do they do that makes them so special?

  • They get as excited about my business as I do:  When someone really believes in you it is obvious – they always have energy for what you are doing and it always feels like you should be paying them more.  Imagine that last thought?
  • They really care about how I am doing:  The first question from them is always about me – then about my business. Startup is not easy.  They understand that and tend to the entrepreneur first, then the business.
  • Their service feels like a friendship:  Friendship is not about connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook, it is about doing the little things just because.  When you sit next to someone you hear their conversations and do lots of ‘little’ things that are just part of working with someone.  It is part of being a friend – – you do things just because.

American Express made the priceless concept into a commercial that always made me smile.  One question we should be asking ourselves every day is What can I do to become priceless to my clients?  Hmmmmmm . . . . . . . .

Thanks Clark Communications.  More specifically, thanks Craig and Jen. 🙂 Now I need to go find that new client . . . .

Self-Awareness 101: Why it matters and 5 questions to get started

A few days ago my 8-year-old daughter shared an observation.  She said “Daddy, when you come on field trips my teacher always gives you the new kids for our group.  You like to meet new people.”  Her comments made me step back because she sees that about me as does her teacher, who I have known for nine years.  I thought about what she saw, and she was right.  It pains me to see someone standing away from a group of people looking alone and lost.  I like to find those people, connect with them, and get them connected.  In my professional life, nothing irritates me more than seeing a poor onboarding program at a company or no resources put towards helping new leaders or teams be successful. 

Moments like this happen every day, but too often we let them pass by.  As our jobs and leaders change more frequently, understanding who we are and what we need to be successful and happy is important.  In fact, it is more than just important, it is critical. 

So here are the five sets of questions that make up Self-Awareness 101.  Being able to answer these will help you build a base of knowledge to use when being approached for a tough project or a new job assignment.

  • What do I do extremely well?  What are my talents?
  • What am I passionate about?  What gets me excited?
  • What do I need from my job?  What rewards mean the most to me?
  • What are the realities in my life right now?
  • What demotivates me?

In his book Mastery, George Leonard teaches us that mastery is a journey, not a destination.  Mastery of ourselves (ie. Self-Awareness) starts with commiting to understand ourselves and seek answers to these five questions, even if the answers come from an eight year old.  Enjoy the journey.

The Career Question No One Asks – and 5 Questions All Leaders Should Answer

A couple of times a year I do a keynote address to high school students for something Junior Achievement calls a reverse job shadow.  This is a day where people come to the school to talk about their careers.  One question I always ask the students is:

  • Did any of the presenters share a mistake they made during their career journey? 

The answer is always no – which is a shame.  We get the students into a room to help them consider career choices, and we don’t take the time to tell them mistakes are part of the journey.  Like any journey, career journeys are not defined by the mistakes, but by our response to those mistakes.   They should know that, and we all need to remember that.

Next time you have a chance to tell your story, make sure you include the answers to these questions:

  • What careers/degrees/jobs did you have before you found this one?
  • What is one thing you wish someone had told you before you started?
  • What is the biggest mistake you ever made and what did it teach you?
  • What part of your job is more fun than hard?
  • What part of your job is more hard than fun?

If you are a leader, what would be the impact of sharing this information with your people? 

Remember . . . Vulnerable <> Weak.

I know I said I would do that, but . . TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Four common causes and solutions

TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Does not consistently follow through on commitments

It was a team of eight people and we had just gone through a DiSC assessment and were discussing the results.  One of the individuals was particularly stressed out, and as we were talking through strengths and weaknesses she had an epiphany.  She said “I am overwhelmed with my work and exhausted.  I have too much to do because I cannot say no, and as a result I am missing deadlines.”

It is not normal behavior to not complete tasks on time.  We are not all task focused people first, but under normal circumstances we should all be capable of hitting deadlines.  So what gets in the way?  Here are the four most common causes of TrustBUSTER™ #9:

  1. Ignorance – In his Situational Leadership Model, Ken Blanchard called the initial development stage the enthusiastic beginners.  Remember when you would say yes to things, even though you had no idea how to complete the task?   Also, remember that ignorance is only a temporary condition. (hopefully)  Solution:  Recognize ignorance and either shorten the performance leash (check in frequently) or offer to partner/coach through the task the first time. 
  2. Trying to please – There are many different situations that contribute to this problem.  Fear from seeing people lose their jobs that results in feeling that yes is the only answer.  A high performing team of highly driven individuals and you want to do your share.  A leader that puts in 70 hours a week, and there is an expectation (real or imaginary) to keep up.  Solution:  Focus on having conversations  that define expectations and reveal how people are feeling about tasks.  In addition, self-awareness and understanding how teammates are wired so the situations above can be addressed openly.
  3. Big eyes / little stomach – We have all been there.  The buffet looked great and a little bit of everything is the decision.  The certain outcome is feeling sick and dissatisfied.  Some enjoy the challenge of too much or feel they are at their best when overwhelmed.  Even the best take on too much sometimes.  Solution:  Make it a habit to have frequent discussions about priorities to make sure expectations are clear.  Individuals have to learn to recognize limits and how an overloaded task list can negatively impact the overall team.
  4. Not enough time – There are people in every group that have time boundaries.  Whether it is someone working part-time, a single parent, or maybe someone who has learned through a heart attack that they need to keep their stress levels down.  Solution: Talk about it.  Not everyone wants to live a life of too much to do at work.   If it does not fit the culture (ex.  a startup company) then get that on the table and make the decision that is best for the individual AND the organization. 

How can a leader proactively address this TrustBUSTER™?  First of all, leaders need to be fanatics about making it safe to question priorities.  Secondly, making accountability a norm within the team is critical.  Mistakes will happen, but missed deadlines have to be discussed openly and the problems/barriers have to be named and addressed.  Always have the questions in hand “What will it take to get things back on track?” or “What has to change or fixed?”

trU Tips 10 – Do virtual teams need leaders? Truths and challenges.

This posting is a monthly letter distributed to followers of The trU Group focused on exploring a leadership topic or answering a question from a reader.  To sign up to receive trU Tips as a monthly email click here.  My promise is to only use this mailing list to distribute trU Tips – so do not worry about getting many emails from me each month.

To view past trU Tips click here.

What I’m hearing

A friend posed a question to me, “In this new virtual world, how does the role of the leader change?”

What it means

Leading people in situations where information and decisions flow around you as the leader is challenging.  It could be creating a blog or an on-line community within a tool like NING to bring people together around a common interest or goal (this is a team).  In these situations participation is voluntary.

Seth Godin writes about this in his book Tribes, and says “Great leaders create movements by inspiring the Tribe (i.e. Team) to communicate.”  Godin’s challenge to lead in a tribe is very similar to the servant leadership idea that has been around for a couple of decades.  While Godin is writing about a virtual community, it mirrors reasons Peter Drucker often shared that  promoted the value of leading in a not for profit situation as a development opportunity for any leader.  Leading in situations where people have to want to follow you because they don’t have to follow requires a leader to lead differently.

The bottom line is that all teams need leaders.   Whether virtual or face to face, teams need goals, guidelines, and overall accountability to be successful.  However, leading in a virtual situation will expose people who have to lead through control and direct authority.  They will be found out quickly and painfully because their lack of passion around enabling, giving, and listening. 

The on-line world is bringing back the servant leader model in another form.  The concept is that people will not follow or work as hard for leaders that do not possess the relational capacity to connect with their people.  Generation Y/Millennials entering the workforce make this skill even more critical for leaders.  If you are interested in exploring the connection read The Servant by James Hunter and Tribes by Seth Godin.  In leadership literature there are few new ideas, only new approaches. 

What you should do

Make a list of all your leaders (direct reports) and your future leaders (high potentials).  Identify 5-6 characteristics/skills you feel are important for leaders to possess at your organization.  If building positive relationships with staff at all levels is not on your list then add it.  Rate each person versus your leadership criteria using the terms: strength, skilled, weakness, or unsure.

Explore your data by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What skill jumps out?
  • Is anyone not showing strength in building positive relationships?
  • How would I be rated?

Looking for a partner to connect this information with your operational or strategic plans for your business?  Contact me.   Scott@thetrugroup.com

Building a Strong Team – no ropes needed, just a BBQ

I read a great story today about a team that developed largely through the actions of the team members.   It is about the Michigan State University offensive line and what they did to build a more cohesive and higher performing team.   It resonated with me because it was done largely through two things that we can all afford:  attitude and time.  Highlights for me:

  • Leadership (the coach) set the goal to develop a more dominant running game.  (result was +30 yds/game in 2010 vs 2009)
  • Their time together off the field was spent around a barbeque – eating.  (ie.  no ropes course or expensive consultants were needed)
  • The quarterback provided leadership (via encouragement) by buying t-shirts for the linemen to help show their unity and pride. (ie. no $$ compensation was needed to motivate this group)
  • No significant individual honors were received by any of the offensive lineman.
  • The opponents recognize their teamwork, and the players use the word PRIDE to describe how they feel about what they have accomplished.  What great key measures.

It is not certain that their team will win their bowl game, but it is certain that this group of young men have shown us they understand how to build an effective team.   Here is the link  – http://www.tidesports.com/article/20101228/NEWS/101229701/1011?p=2&tc=pg

I care… really! TrustBUSTER™ #8

TrustBUSTER™ #8 – Shows little concern about me a person

When I stand in front of a room of leaders and ask the question “How many of you care about your people?”, 100% of the people raise their hands.  I believe that 99.9% of leaders care about their people.  (I will save a discussion about that .01% for later)

Recently, I led a group discussion around trust that divided 30 people into four groups based on personality type.  I provided them with the TrustBUSTER™ list and asked them to identify one behavior on the list they saw most frequently from the other three styles.  One group received feedback from all of the other groups that #8 was the behavior that tripped them up.  The group receiving this feedback was the task focused/achievement oriented group.  This is the same group that 60+% of executive teams fall into based on my past experience.

Why does this happen? A manufacturing supervisor once shared this wisdom with me, “Intentions without action equals SQUAT”.  In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey makes the point that “We judge ourselves on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions.”  Both quotes lead to the same conclusion, if people don’t see it they don’t believe it.

As a leader, how do you bridge the gap between your actions and the perception of the people reporting to you?  Here are three ways to keep this TrustBUSTER™ from tripping you up:

  • Self Assessment: Test your knowledge of your people by asking these questions.  What are the names of their spouse/children?  Where do they live?  What non work activities are most important to them?  What is the biggest event going on in their life right now?  Take a moment to evaluate how you answered these questions.  This is pretty basic stuff, so if you missed anything you need to spend more time with your people.
  • Monday/Friday rule:  Spend time on Friday connecting with people to hear about their week or upcoming weekend activities.  Spend Monday hearing how the weekend came together or what they are looking forward to during the week.  (take a few notes after each conversation if you are like me and forget things)
  • Find a partner to help:  If you are an executive chances are you have way to much to do and connecting with your people is not a strength.  Find someone around you that will remind of key dates for your people(birthday, anniversary) and keep a pulse on what significant things that are happening with those in your team or department.  Enlist their help to remind you of opportunities to connect.

What would people say is your focus during the holidays? Quick thoughts

Christmas cookies in Czech republic.
Image via Wikipedia

I get emails from people who think about things that are important to me.  An email came in today from an organization that helps remind me to stay focused on the relationships in my life and gives me gentle reminders around my core beliefs and faith.  Below is an excerpt they shared that comes from an unknown author.  It is a message for Christmas, but could easily be applied to any holiday or celebration that is a tradition to someone.  Tasks have to get done, but how we accomplish them is our choice.  

What role and focus would people say you have this week?  Give it some thought.  Blessings . . . .

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just a decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on my love for Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

Joy – 3 Steps to Create More as a Leader

Map showing ten largest municipalities in Mich...
Image via Wikipedia

I participated in a panel discussion around the ‘new normal’ in Michigan business that was sponsored by CORP! Magazine.  If there is one message everyone is sure of it is that the economic recovery will be slow and the main thing individuals look for to measure improvement (jobs / income) might not get back to normal depending on your profession.  Regardless of the speed of the rebound, there are things leaders can do to create more energy in the workplace.  This also applies to followers.  We need to create more JOY.

What is joy?  Joy is not a superficial adjective, it goes deeper than that.  The Joy I am talking about is a noun, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is a source or cause of delight.  Words are important, and the word source jumps out at me because it makes me think of a deep flowing spring that fills a lake or starts a river.  Something that we know is down there because we see it emerge and create something powerful and beautiful.  Thinking of that, as leaders we need to be a source for more joy in our workplace.  Here are three ways to make that happen.

1.  You first! Joy is a choice.  Being able to look at what we do, at whatever the situation is, and commit to being hopeful is the first step.  Jim Collins presented what he called the Stockdale Paradox in his book Good to Great, which was to “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.”  A first step, make it a habit to smile and greet people.  Another move is starting each speech by recognizing a couple of people for their attitude as well as a specific accomplishment in the past week.  

2.  Ask others to join: It has been a tough few years for workers.  At one point I saw a statistic that 69% of people had either taken a pay cut or lost their job. A simple first move for leaders, start every meeting with your executive team by asking people to share what they see is going right this week.  Cover the tough stuff, but start with the positive stuff.  For any name mentioned make a point to have people email them or call them after the meeting to congratulate them. 

3.  Allow space for the opposite – but get back to joy: I worked with someone who used to ask for what he called a “Carnegie free zone” every now and then.  It was a break from the great Dale Carnegie’s mantra to never engage in the 3 C’s (criticizing, condemning, complaining).  This zone was 5 minutes of unloading the thoughts and frustrations of the day.  At the end, the goal was to ask a simple question – “So what can I do about it?”  Choose a positive step, a potential solution to some nagging problem, and then get after it.  A second move is to purposefully create this space in your one on one time with each team member.  Accomplish this by inserting the following questions into the one on one agenda (that you should be doing at least monthly).

  • What is your biggest frustration right now?
  • What can I do to help make it go away?
  • What move can you do to help make it go away?

Remember that joy is not ignorance.  We need to face realities, both personally as leaders and in the presence of our teams.  Joy is more about attitude.  So Leader – you first!

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

I facilitated 30 people from a department doing a basic what is your behavioral style activity that divided the team up into 4 styles.  I made the comment that it is not uncommon for a senior leadership team to be almost 100% concentrated in the more task focused groups in an exercise like this.  I asked the leaders in the room to raise their hands.  The count was 5 task focused to 1 people focused.  Surprising to them, but not to me.

This TrustBUSTER™ is almost 100% focused on people who tend to put task (getting job done) before people (building relationships).  This happens for two reasons.  First, executives have been rewarded for getting work accomplished.  Their talents for achievement, problem solving, and energy to overcome obstacles helped bring them to the c-suite.  They are used to winning.  If you are on their team it works.  If you are on another team it often looks like TrustBUSTER™ #7.  Secondly, communication and change management come after the debate and decision-making has already happened within the executive team.  Unfortunately, it is the communication plan and ensuing change management that gets overlooked because all the energy has gone into the decision.  Without providing the reasons why this is a good move for the overall organization, teams will fill in the blanks.  This is where people begin to assign reasons for the change that are based on what they perceive is important to the leaders.  Is it reality?  Without any other information, perception becomes reality.  Enter TrustBUSTER™ #7.

How do leaders avoid this?  Here are three steps to making this TrustBUSTER™ less of an issue:

  1. Be diligent about establishing goals and resolving conflicting goals as part of the planning process.  This team should leave this process ready to support the decisions that were made.
  2. Communicate WHY a decision is made when rolling out a change to your teams.  Be transparent about the reasons and get their input during the decision making when possible.
  3. Focus on building relationships and trust all the time.  There will be decisions you have to make where you cannot share the entire WHY.  Having built trust will make forgiveness available when it is needed.