Leadership

What all Great Leaders Do…

Simon Sinek gives about the best description I’ve ever seen on the powerful effects of Trust.

I really don’t want to say too much here, best just to take a little while to listen to this while you’re typing and soak it in.

The 9 Questions Leaders Ask

A friend recently commented on a post where I stated that great leaders ask great questions. In fact, I believe that to be the bulwark of their mission. But what kinds? Here are a few from the top of my head:

  1. Who are we and who do we want to be as an organization? Everything flows from this question and its importance shouldn’t be overlooked – and it begs the next one…
  2. What does that look like in practice? If we’re going to do it, we should have an idea of what we’re aiming at.
  3. What does success look like in this instance? How do we know if we’ve achieved our mission? If we don’t know there’s not much point in pursuing it.
  4. What traits does an organization possess that we aspire to be? Who are our role models? Is there someone doing it incredibly well already? What do we want to adopt from what they’re doing?
  5. What’s the craziest thing you’d do if you owned this company? Often times asking questions without the limits of rational conditions gets the mind to say things it wouldn’t normally. Pick at the thread and trace it back to the underlying point of the statement – see what it’s trying to say.
  6. Does this fit our mission? Southwest airlines is famous for being “The low cost airline” so their CEO famously stated they wouldn’t  add salads on a flight from Vegas to Seattle as it didn’t fit the mission. What are we doing that’s outside our mission?
  7. Why are we doing this and not something else? A number of factors pop up that make us do things: pride, ease, cost, budgets, etc…. this can be a great moment to educate our team by explaining the thought process of what we do and why.
  8. If you were a client/customer would you buy this? How would you feel about the policy/practice? It can be a good reflection to see how our decisions affect others and if we’d be OK with them. It may seem small internally, but it always resonates outward.
  9. What’s our guiding philosophy say in regards to this proposal? A leader is never done wondering if their current practices are in alignment with the companies goals and ethos.

Ultimately, I think the leader is tasked with keeping forever in mind the ultimate goals and philosophy of the organization and further charged with keeping them sacred – to make sure that everything taken on comports with that world view. Or, if confronted with a new situation that compels change of the founding philosophy, to make the hard changes and sell them to the rest of the team.

As always, nothing important happens without meaningful communication.

So what which questions do you think your group should ask, often?

Not Quite Ready to Live…

Not Quite Ready to Live...

I’m not sure why it feels this way, but I’m sure it’s not just me. In fact, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who actually said it first, and hell, that was what, 130 years ago?

Sure, there’s the tired expressions like “life is what happens when you’re making plans” and “life is the journey not the destination.” True to both of those, though not very useful in ridding us of this annoying tickle in our brain stem – the one that nags us that we’re just not LIVING, you know?

I think what Emerson meant, and what bothers me most, is the recognition that the “living” we’re never doing, is the kind that forces us to meld our highest desires and our most basic actions.

We want to be productive, but ‘damn it! the Oscars are on!’ We want to be more connected to our friends, but we can’t put down our smart phones for the person in the room telling us about their day. We want to get further ahead in life, but we neglect to take the steps to make it happen on our own.

Obtaining the authentic kind of living, the only true happiness available, is a process that requires nearly reckless independence from the rest of humanity. It requires that no one else set the docket for your day or your life besides you – even if that means you’re out of the loop on a lot of trivial things.

I don’t mean run off to a cabin in the woods (it’s been done before), I mean one has to reject a whole slate of obligations, or observances of custom in order to pair it down to what ultimately matters. To give those things, and little else, the total time and attention to live an authentic life.

Who gives a damn if you’re fast approaching 40 and there’s not a suitable candidate for a spouse in sight? Are you happy with your life? Do you do the things you’d ultimately love to do and say to hell with the rest? Do you work to make yourself the kind of person you’d like to be? REALLY like to be?

I can promise you this: If you are truly happy – No bullshit, actually, infectiously, enthusiastically, forest-fire-of-confidence-happy, then you won’t have a problem finding a spouse. Or a job. Or a friend. Or a good time on a Friday night.

Because you’ll make those things happen on your own. You’ll decide for yourself what a good time is and won’t have it decided for you by some televised guidos with a penchant for fist-pumping. Unless you like fist pumping, in your heart of hearts, in which case go nuts.

I think the “getting ready to live” is the idea that one day, we’ll just wake up and ‘want’ to; do all the things that are good for us, or what others would like us to do, or what we think we’d like ourselves to do. That doesn’t happen – it just results in more waiting for us to magically align with something we think we want or are told we want.

Don’t wait. Don’t think your going to wake up with a series of immutable desires that compel you to; work out, fall in love with accounting, or go to church three times a week.

Do: focus on what you love and what an actual life you’d die for looks like, and what steps exist between you and that life.

The happiest people around never hide their passion, and give few damns about what anyone ultimately thinks. No way that’s a coincidence.

Thank God It’s Monday! No, Seriously…

I have a confession: I love Mondays. Yeah, you heard it – Mondays rule.

Mondays suck for some people. They used to suck for me. I first learned “TGIF” when I was in elementary school. First heard my parents play drive-time afternoon radio on the way home from school about how awesome it was that one didn’t have to work for two days. It seemed, well… normal.

If you work for someone else and you view your work as something that’s just a requirement and not a huge opportunity, then TGIF makes sense as a mantra. Me? I’d prefer not to go through life that way and you don’t have to either.

Hat tip to Eric Thomas (the super intense guy in this video) for coining the alternate term, “TGIM.” If you haven’t seen his other videos, I highly recommend them as opposed to a shot of 5-hour energy. His passion is infectious and worthy of imitation. If you care about being the best version of yourself possible, then this is what you need to get behind. To hell with YOLO, all you need to know is that Monday is the starting gun of awesomeness.

Monday is where you get to shake off two days of lethargy and open up an early lead on the rest of the pack. Well rested, you can hunker down and attack the week, making Friday hope you never arrive for when you do, you’ll surely slay it with the intensity of an apex predator.

Any work, even work for someone else, should be in the service of your ultimate goals. Where do you want to go and who do you want to be? Working gets us there and Monday is a damn fine place to start. Fridays often piss me off as I wish I had another day to get more done in that week. In fact, regardless of how much we got done, another day would always be welcome. Monday guarantees you four more whereas Friday promises none.

JFK once said, “Don’t pray for easier lives, pray to be stronger men.” With the same sentiment, don’t wish for easier days, wish for greater opportunity – and nothing has more opportunity in it than a Monday morning, pregnant with possibility.

Your Silence Isn’t Helping Anyone…

Your silence isn’t helping anyone. Least of all you.

Sure, it fits with all the things you’ve been told. That it’s better to “fly under the radar” and to “live to fight another battle.” The problem is you aren’t looking for any battles. And you definitely aren’t looking to live another day – because you’re not doing any living right now. At least not the kind that matters.

I’m not talking about rock climbing and cliff diving and all the risky things one does with one’s life that might provide a rare dose of adrenaline. I’m talking about the day-to-day living that would do a lot to make you happier and more successful. It’s easy to be daring when jumping out of a plane with a trained instructor strapped to your posterior, but another thing altogether to open your mouth at the next meeting and say the unpopular thing that needs to be said.

Forgive me, I’ve been reading/listening to an insane amount of Seth Godin lately, and like all good philosopher poets (we’re calling a “marketing guru” this now? – I am) they have their ONE. BIG. THING. And Godin’s is seductively simple: Make Art. Cause a ruckus. Be bold. Sure, there’s a lot more, but this is the overarching summary in my eyes. And it’s a summation that rings big ass church bells in my noggin.

As a business leader and overall fan of the human condition, I’m constantly motivated by learning what motivates people – or as I’m finding out – what holds them back. My current project is leading a team of 40+ in the daily operations of an off-campus Student Housing community near UCF. It’s exhilarating and every bit a seething mass of awesomeness. At the same time, a big part of my role is as teacher to a number of them whom are still in college and finding their way in the world. This is the messiest part, and also my favorite.

On certain days (read: the best days) I pontificate a lot. My passion gets to run free and I become a whirling dervish of know-how. I try to start with underlying principles and work up from there to the more concrete issue at hand. If you don’t know the “why” you won’t care about the “how”, I always think.

With that in mind, and a good dose of Godin in my ears, I’ve come to believe the biggest restraining force working on anyone is the fear of being wrong. No one likes it and frankly, we’re not taught how to deal with it and accept it. In fact, we’re taught to avoid the whole possibility entirely:

  • If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Everyone has their own opinion
  • Who are you to say?
  • There’s a time and a place and this isn’t it. (Never is!)
  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. (this is my favorite)

It’s all part of the same thing. Sit down. Stay quiet. Hide your art. Hide your knowledge. Hide your passion. No one can crap all over your dream if you don’t actually do anything to make it concrete. This extends past dreams to mere notions of “wouldn’t this be cool…” so we don’t dare do anything we’re not explicitly told to.

It sucks. And I’ve known this for as long as I can remember. I’m done with it.

I’ve had a great career thus far and I owe it entirely to my inability to shut my pie hole. I say the wrong things at the wrong times. I break rules and conventions when they don’t suit the mission and act as obstacles to our goals. I don’t do this recklessly, but do you realize how many rules exist because some idiot not following it could do real damage?

And failure has been a big part of it. I’ve screwed up royally for sure. Mostly, I’ve finished with far more success than not, and in failing, have cleared a new path of others who could benefit from my failure. It gets seen, it gets celebrated. “Whoops, I did something stupid guys – but this is why I did it.”

So speak up. Stand up. Be counted on. Be a part of whatever it is you’re already a part of instead of just dipping in your seat to avoid getting called on. Guess what? They know you’re there and they know you’ve got nothing to say. Isn’t that way worse than being thought stupid?

Prepare. Learn. Think. And sit up straight next time, lean forward and open that mouth god gave you. Your living doesn’t happen on the weekends or in a mountain – it happens wherever you are, everyday.

Worst case? They fire you for looking/thinking/saying something stupid. You move on, get a new gig, and you are in a better place for it. And most importantly you’ve learned something.

Your silence? No one wants that. Unless a movie is on. Then by all means shut up.

Short Doesn’t Mean ‘Memorable’…

I had a realization today, as I addressed about a dozen members of our “Bistro 106” staff and it was this:

Company culture best gets communicated through the stories we tell.

We have this sign posted in a few places around the community – namely on the inside of doors from the kitchen to the dining room. Each person there probably touches it 20 times per day. Yet, no one could name all six words of the mission statement. Yes, I said ‘six WORDS’.

Short doesn't necessarily mean memorable. At least not by itself.

Short doesn’t necessarily mean memorable. At least not by itself.

Please know, I take full responsibility for this.

A culture that doesn’t get talked about – that doesn’t have stories told about it – won’t spread.

Realizing this, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.  So I explained how we’d come up with these six words and in this combination: It was because NOT doing these three things was the source of all of our problems, at every level of our organization.

I offered specifics on all the unprofessional, buck-passing, value-crushing things we’d done in the past. It wasn’t pretty, and many of our newer recruits (say 50%) were surprised to hear that this had been the case. The veterans just nodded their heads and recalled how bad things had been. Not that they’re perfect now – in fact, that was partly the reason for this meeting – to take us from a “rules culture” to a “philosophical” one. A culture where people’s passions were aroused and their minds dwelled on their work.

I told stories about two versions of our business: one in which we hold these key components in our hearts and our brains every moment, and another version where we did whatever we wanted. Not hard to imagine how these two worlds would look after a short while.

Nearly as bad was the version in which everyone was simply a wage-slave and wasn’t permitted to think or act for the greater goals of our company. What a miserable life that would be.

In fact, I told them all that if I couldn’t enjoy what I did for a living, I would:
1. Seek to change it for the better through action and suggestions.    If that didn’t work I’d have to…
2. Find work elsewhere, or if that was somehow impossible I’d…
3. Kill myself.

Actually, that last one is a little drastic, but I use the hyperbole for effect. It’s that important to me – people ought to enjoy what they spend the overwhelming majority of their time doing! Anything else is insanity.

Sure, more rules and “Carrot & Stick” management can get any group to be better, but it has it’s limits. It’s rooted in the industrial revolution’s relationship between labor and management. Toyota has long since shown that even for cranking out widgets, it’s a poor model for running a team. Then why should we use it for running people who are supposed to surprise and delight our clients.

I always hated meetings where a group gets yelled at for what a few have failed to do properly. In fact, I hate groups. I love teams, but I hate groups. I’ll always prefer to have a meeting with a team and get them excited about the things we need to do to succeed. When you do this, the carrots and the sticks take care of themselves.

Don’t Mess With Texas, or The Power of Stories…

I had five meetings today. That’s a lot for me in my current position as I don’t typically have five in a week. I’d heard a maxim “The only people who enjoy meetings are the ones doing the talking” and it’s served me well. These meetings were different though – I had stories to tell.

More on that in a minute…

You’re no doubt familiar with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas“, especially if you’ve ever been to the state. What you probably don’t know is that it was/is an advertising campaign to curb littering. Yeah, littering.

I wouldn’t mess with it if I were you.

It was a huge deal for the state that cost around $20 million per year in highway clean up. The problem was massive and so were the proposed solutions: stiff fines, stronger enforcement, pleading messages to “keep Texas beautiful” printed on everything in sight – nothing worked.

The solution came from a pair of creatives at an advertising agency which tapped into the power of stories. They looked at their target market (18-35 year old males – the ones most likely to litter) and found a story that spoke to them. Texas, having been its own country for a time, has a strong independence streak, and possibly more pride than any other state. To be a Texan is a badge of honor and a huge part of one’s identity. It even applies to transplants to the state – it doesn’t take long for converts to adopt the “Don’t mess with Texas” attitude. It’s really quite something to see.

The campaign consisted of State heroes in print and video, conveying that Texas wasn’t to be screwed with, and that if it were, well… not good things would happen. Check out this classic commercial for an example.

The beauty of the campaign is how well it stuck with people. Dan and Chip Heath relay the whole process in their book “Made to Stick” which I can’t recommend enough. By telling these guys a story: “Texans are proud of their state. It’s the best state there is! All other states suck by comparison! You’re a Texan and all Texans (REAL TEXANS, anyway) don’t litter! They don’t degrade the proudest state in the Union. They defend it in with their dying breath. People in Arizona or California may litter, but not us by god.”

That’s a powerful story. It’ s simple and yet still manages to have a massive impact on behavior. I relay this story as I’m trying to do the same thing. In fact, I think the test of a leader is how much they can affect the culture of their team for the better. What kinds of stories do they tell? What effect do those stories have? How did we get better? This is the most significant part of  my job.

texting

“Oh, yeah… what? Water is included. I think…”

So today was about telling stories to my team and what separates us from the rest:  “Other Agents text their BFFs on tours and ignore prospects, we stand and greet people with a warm smile and an eager handshake.

We ask lots of questions because we want to get things just right for our clients, even if that means referring them to the place down the street if it’s a better fit. That’s what we do. We’re great at our jobs and we make a difference in people’s lives. We seek to constantly get better. This is who we are. Other people, they’re not as good, and who cares – we’re not them. We’re us, and we’re elite!”

Motivating, right? The truth is, I LOVE these meetings. I get animated and excited and start wildly gesticulating all over the place. I can’t help it. I swear, I get as much out of these meetings as I give, I think. And that’s why five meetings wasn’t so hard. It was important and it was empowering and thoroughly necessary.

At it’s core, telling stories (the right ones) is what leadership is all about. Fortunately, I really like telling stories.

“Be Confident”… why didn’t I think of that?

A friend recently posted a very nice Facebook update that read something akin to “Be Confident. Be Fierce. Be Rad.”

Confidence

Ok, she didn’t actually say “Be rad” but that would have been a nice touch.

As I was in an introspective place when I read it, I thought “Oh, why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to be confident today! Psssshhh.” As though confidence is a thing you decide to do vs. a thing you either are or aren’t. Try: “Be experienced today” and see how far you get. Confidence, like experience, is a thing that once obtained tends to become a part of you. Before you blow me up here, I know there are a myriad of exceptions and confidence can be lost – but just go with me on this one.

Working in Student Housing, one of the hardest things to do is to get College Student Leasing Specialists to be confident in the selling process. To most people, sales is a filthy, perverse word readily eliciting the image of a car salesman wearing tweed and twirling his waxed mustache, like some silent-film-era-villain, while he forces some damsel into purchasing a Jetta at 13.9% interest – with an extended warranty. Terrible things, no doubt.

So before I can tell them to “Ask for the sale! Close EVERY lease!” (read: Be Confident) and do my best Alec Baldwin impression from “Glenngary Glen Ross” I need to build their confidence. There are multiple ways of doing this but I have my favorites that tend to resonate with everyone.

Often I’ll ask them to tell me about their last big purchase. Inevitably this is a laptop. When I ask them how they decided which one to buy from the endless sea of choices they’ll inform me that they went into a Best Buy and told the person what they wanted and that person told them which was right for them. VOILA! SUCCESS! Could it really be that easy? 

You want confidence? Here it is: These people are coming to you because you are that person! You’re the expert! People buy things from people who they believe know more than them on the subject and have the solution to their problem! Your prospective Residents WANT YOU TO ASK THEM TO SIGN A LEASE! They may not consciously know it, but they want to be told. A guy doesn’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.

Alec Baldwin - "Second prize is a set of steak knives"

So true Alec. So true. 

Often, after this exchange, confidence levels soar as our Leasing people understand their role in a new light, and their own capabilities. The frame changes from, “can I ask someone to sign a $10k lease after 45 minutes of meeting them?” to “can I attempt to solve someone’s problem that is looking to me to do just that?”

p.s. 2nd prize is a set of steak knives. 

Instead of imploring someone to be “something”, can you help to actually make them “something”? Can you offer a quote, a perspective, a new way of looking at things that helps make them; confident, proud, assertive, aware, concerned, involved – or any other adjective? 

3 Vital Principles of Leadership

Most people have at one time or another been a leader on a sport’s team, class project, or chaired a club they were in. The term “natural born leader” readily applies: You’ve got charisma, machismo, that something… extra – a spark, a way about you that makes others take notice and follow your lead. Congrats! Most proactive and driven young people have some form of this talent. Then, over time, it sort of seems to… vanish.

Learning and Leading buttons

Press the left button, then the right.

Like any gift or ability, it takes nurturing to make it grow. Great Leaders (capital L!) “watch tape” of themselves and learn WHY they’re so good and how to get even better.  This requires a high degree of self awareness, which, when combined with a desire for continuous learning, becomes quite a powerful asset.

To be any kind of a Leader, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing 3 fundamental things:

braveheart

"AAAAGGHHH, Follow me to greatly improved sales! AAAAGGGHH"

1. Inspire People – Everyone wants to be a part of something greater than themselves’ and it doesn’t matter if it’s selling ice cubes to eskimos or toppling a despotic regime – give them a vision of where they want to go – where YOU want to go – and why it’s so great there! A common purpose is a flag to rally around!
2. Communicate – Does everyone know the vision? Is it easily digestable? if you can’t explain your vision in less than 10 seconds then the answer is probably “no.” Give people a vision of a hill in battle and tell them how, with their help, you’re all going to get over that hill. People will pick up that flag and run into cannon fire if you’ve done it right.
3. Empower and Encourage – Free your people to solve their own day-to-day problems. Remove obstacles to their success, aim to make the road just a little smoother! Celebrate victories, however small, and be lavish in your praise for excellent work. It costs nothing but your caring -which is all people really want at the end of the day.

Patton is THE MAN!

“Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that “we are holding our position.” We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose and we’re going to kick him in the ass. We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!” – General George S. Patton.

You can say a lot of things about Patton, but you can’t say that he didn’t have a way of communicating a vision!

These principles are only as good as the person who practices them. Are you kind? Devoted? Do you posses integrity and honesty down to your core? Are you flexible without breaking? Do you stand for something? Do you truly desire to see those in your charge succeed and move on to better things? Can you put the team above yourself? Can you see the best in those you lead, and work to get that ‘best’ out of them? To get them to see it as well?

A great Leader can only become so through a deeply authentic commitment to their people. Don’t baby them, but do lead and protect them. Don’t make excuses for them, rather help them to keep from making excuses themselves. Finally, let them lead you from time to time – you’ll be surprised to see where they take you!