274 Stop, Look And Listen: 3 Steps To Improve Your Leadership This Week

Stop, Look And Listen: 3 Steps To Improve Your Leadership This Week - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 274

What a difference a day makes? Think of the difference an entire week can make!

Leadership requires many skills. People who work in leadership development or coaching often approach the topic from various angles. I mostly focus on the aim of leadership — namely, the people being served by leaders. It may not be the coolest approach, but it’s intentional. Free from gimmicks. Most importantly, it works.

This discussion has to start with a sober consideration about humility.

Just the other day I read this about Washington Redskins’ quarterback, RG 3.

“To get better in this league, you have to have a degree of humility,” a personnel director said. “Griffin sees himself like Peyton [Manning], in that light. When he looks in the mirror, he is seeing things that everybody else is not seeing. That is why I was surprised when they gave him the fifth-year [option] and said it was an easy decision.”

I instantly resonated with it because through the years I’ve had a few clients – not many, but a few – who were leaders that lacked introspection, or humility. And I’ve observed that rare kind of leader who doesn’t hear detractors. Most of us do. I’ve experienced far more of us who hear the lone detractor even if the majority are cheering. We have an ability to hear that one lonesome person boo’ing us. Not these people. Their minds work in reverse. The vast majority can be boo’ing, but if only one person is cheering…they can only hear the cheering. I’ve long been fascinated by this ability – which honestly, is more of a curse than anything.

It’s delusion of a high order and it stymies personal growth and progress. It can wreck a team, too. When you’re already perfect improvement is tough to come by. That’s why so few of my clients suffer this malady. People who feel they need no improvement don’t go seeking out people like me. Unfortunately, sometimes for them, their bosses do. Well, they think it’s unfortunate. It’s my job to earn their trust and persuade them I’m there to help. You’d think it’d be easier than it sometimes is. I mean, stop and think about it. I’ve been commissioned to help them — how hard is it to understand that if they improve, then I look like a rockstar! It’s in MY best interest to help them. If they don’t improve, I don’t look so good.

Being Open To Suggestions

Expansion. Growth. Increases. Improvement. These are things every business owner wants.

They all mean more money. More revenues. More profits. More income. More is better!

Leaders, organizations and businesses that are not open to suggestions — ways to get better — are doomed to slip, or fail. Even if current strategies and tactics are working well, they won’t necessarily keep working well. Strategies and tactics have lifespans. Some are more durable than others.

Philosophies can last, or they can last longer.

I’ve implemented many strategies for growing business. Some have worked well. Others have been major failures.


my business philosophy

But I’ve stuck with some core philosophies that continue to serve me well. I’ve stuck one major philosophy that has been live on my About Page for years. It has served me well because I so firmly believe in it that I refuse to deviate from it.

It’s my non-negotiable standard for doing business. It’s not some high-brow “I’m-better-than-you” deal. It’s a real-life, honest-to-goodness way of life. Yes, that means it trumps everything else. Otherwise, what good is it?

If you sell out your philosophy then you’ve got nothing other than the price you sold it for. That first word is very important. Always means always — or it doesn’t. It demands the strongest commitment.

Let’s table any thought of strategy or tactics and stay on the track of this whole philosophy. Think about YOUR philosophy. It’s important because it’s driving your strategies and tactics. It’s also important because it reveals what really matters. It speaks to our character.

So what’s your philosophy? 

If I know somebody’s philosophy — and if I know that it’s non-negotiable — then I’ll know how open they’re likely to be to suggestions for growth and improvement. Oh, I know that personalities matter. A lot. But more often than not the philosophy a person crafts is going to reflect and reveal their personality.

If you’re not open to suggestions of improvement then there’s little point in having this conversation. And there’s no point in even considering alternative strategies or tactics. There certainly isn’t any point in considering any shift or change in philosophy.

Today’s 3-step strategy for leadership improvement isn’t a magic bullet for people with a closed mind. There is NO strategy for a closed mind. That’s why I’ve begun this discussion with the important factor of being open to suggestions. If that’s a problem for you, then you’d better deal with that first. Somebody else can psychoanalyze you if you need help. I’m just going to tell those of you struggling with this, figure it out so you can elevate your performance and the performance of your entire team. That ought to be enough of an upside to compel you to fix it.


Texting and driving can be deadly. According to USA Today about 25% of accidents are caused by cell phone use. With more and more young drivers joining the ranks each year that number is likely going to increase, too.

Safety experts encourage all of us to slow down our texting and driving. NO THEY DON’T. They urge us to STOP.

When something isn’t working, or when something is working against us it’s the only wise option. STOP IT.

There are 2 fundamental components of this step. One is to stop doing harm. The second is to regroup, collect our thoughts and consider our options. This is why all that beginning stuff about being open was critical.

The temptation is to keep moving because too many of us mistake motion for action, accomplishment or progress. I do 3 to 4 miles a day on a treadmill. I’m stationary the entire time, but I’m moving and burning calories. Sure, I’m moving forward in my physical fitness, but geographically, I’m getting nowhere.

Too many leaders are perpetual motion machines. Lots of movement, not enough meaningful action. Some leaders don’t stop long enough to improve. These are the leaders who run around shouting, “Faster, harder. More. More. More.” It’s movement that matters. As long as they see people working, it’s good. You’d better be in your chair at 8am. And at 4:59pm.


You can’t properly meditate or think deeply enough about improvement if you can’t (or won’t) make the time to stop. I don’t want to hear about how busy you are. Or that you can’t stop because there’s just so much going on. I’m not talking about stopping all the work. I’m talking about YOU (the leader) stopping your work. I’m talking about you putting the phone on DND (do not disturb). Shutting down your email. Closing your door. If you prefer to think of this step as PAUSE, then do it. Hit the pause button.

It’s physical, mental and emotional. That last one may be the toughest because it involves your willingness to consider and reconsider. It means you may have felt one way about things or people — and you may have it wrong. Stopping long enough to consider it can give you a fresh perspective. In an upcoming episode I’ll be talking about evidence-based leadership. That’s where your emotional conclusions aren’t purely based on how you feel about a thing or a person, but you actually have some evidence (and I don’t mean one piece of anecdotal evidence) that weighs strongly in favor of your feelings. For example, a leader can say, “I don’t trust him.” Is it based on evidence or is it purely a feeling? It’s important for leaders to avoid letting their emotions pigeonhole their opinions without any evidence to back it up. If the untrusted person has numerous specific incidents of lying, then you’ve got evidence to support you feelings of mistrust. That leads to the next step.


First, look inside yourself.

I want you to really examine one question…

Am I the problem or the solution?

I don’t mean what every member of your team thinks, but I mean what YOU think. I want you to examine your leadership and management. Look at it more carefully (and closely) than you’ve ever looked at it before.

Every leader can sometimes impact things in a negative way. Our team can see us as part of the problem because they don’t see or understand what we see and understand. Our team can see us as part of the problem if they don’t have the confidence to perform. Self-reflection is hard when you’re trying to answer the big question.

For now, ignore what your team thinks or how they feel about the answer to the question. This is about improving your leadership. It’s about improving YOU.

So think clearly and as objectively as possible. Let me help get you started.

What’s the last big thing you faced?

Think of the latest big initiative. Or the last episode involving an employee. It could be anything.

Just focus on one example. Don’t scrutinize an array of things. Think of one.

Now do a post-mortem on your involvement. How did you handle it? Consider your speed, your approach, your tone, your objective, your priorities and everything else that was going through your mind when you were in the throes of it all. Why did you do what you did? Why didn’t you do something else?

Reflect on what others did that compelled or motivated you to steer in the direction you did. Did you maintain focus during the process or did you allow yourself to be distracted by emotions? Did you worry about somebody or something that caused you to go in one direction and not another? Who was it, or what was it? Why did it get in the way?

This is the time to get out the microscope and look very closely at why you did what you did — and why you did it the way you did it.

I once did this exercise with a CEO/founder. He focused on an interaction he had with one of his direct reports that frustrated him. He began by telling me, “He’s so stubborn.” The conversation between the two men was heated because the manager was defending his department’s existence. Seems the CEO was questioning the validity of a business segment run by this manager. I sat and listened as he recounted in great detail the conversation they had.

Some 45 minutes passed with me only asking a few prompting questions along the way. When the CEO came up for air I asked, “Does this manager have a future in your company?” He seemed appalled that I’d ask and retorted, “Of course he does. The guy has been with me about 15 years.”

“Does he know he’s got a future even if you downsize or jettison his department?” I asked. “Yes, he knows he’s got a place here,” said the CEO. “How does he know? Describe that conversation for me,” I inquired.

Within seconds it dawned on him that he’d never had a conversation with this manager. In his head he’d had many conversations. He knew what he wanted to do, but he had never shared it with this direct report. BAM! He was the constraint and didn’t even know it, or know why. Until now. He’d been moving so fast and furious it never dawned on him that he hadn’t shared critical information with this valued employee. And in the process he was now beginning to build strong feelings that this guy was “so stubborn.” Maybe he was stubborn, but the reaction was spawned by being uninformed. The direct report was in the dark and he was appropriately frightened about his own future — and turns out, the future of his team.

I asked the CEO, “Do you want your leaders to care about their people?” Of course he did. It seemed to me he had a manager reporting to him who was behaving perfectly logically and ethically. He wasn’t necessarily stubborn. He was fighting for himself and his people, and he did honestly see value in the work they were doing (and the profits they were generating). But like all employees lower down the food chain, he only knew what he knew. He didn’t know what the CEO and the CEO hadn’t communicated the challenges, solutions or plans.

Let me give you one more powerful question before we move on to the last of the three action items.

What if you’re wrong? 

What if that person isn’t who or what you think they are? What if that situation or circumstance isn’t what you think it is? What if things are very different?

The strongest leaders I know give themselves to regular thoughts and questions like those. But again, they’re all evidence-based leaders, too. They’re not prone to knee-jerk reactions. They don’t shoot from the hip either. It doesn’t mean they’re slow. It just means they’re deliberate. And they’re deliberate with cause.

Give yourself permission to be wrong. And be willing to acknowledge your wrongness with your team. If you want your team to own their mistakes, then you’d better get busy owning yours. A leader who refuses to acknowledge his own weaknesses or mistakes is doomed to be surrounded by people who will never vigorously debate. Such a leader will most often hear what they want, see what they want and NEVER get what they want.


So you’ve stopped long enough to meditate and think. You’ve looked inside yourself to see what role you’re playing in solving or creating problems. Now it’s time to include others. Most notably your inner circle. Every — EVERY — successful leader has at least one person with whom they can shell things down. Some are blessed to have a few people. These are the trusted lieutenants. They are part of the executive team. You trust these people. Completely. And if you don’t, then you’re crazy for keeping them in their current role. You should be moving them along if you don’t trust them. There’s no room for untrustworthy people on your team. I don’t care if they perform with spectacular results. Without trust, you’ve got trouble. Pick which one matters most: trust or trouble.

Let’s assume you’ve got at least one person with whom you can be completely honest. You trust them completely. That doesn’t mean you tell them everything, but it means you could. You protect them from information that could unnecessarily worry them or things they have no control over. But otherwise, you rely on them for feedback, support and honesty.

I’m starting with these people because I’m hopeful you’ve got a relationship that isn’t built on telling you what you want to hear. But that may not be the case. You may be the naked emperor with nobody able to tell you how naked you really are. If so, then you’ve got more work to do than any single podcast episode can address. I’d suggest you get very busy finding a mirror — that’s at least one person at work you’re willing to be told unpleasant truths. If you’re not willing to do that, then I’m hopeful your regime comes to a quick end because you’re damaging the lives and work of others. I don’t much care how your end arrives, but the sooner the better. The world doesn’t need anymore autocratic tyrants.

Sit down with your most trusted people at work. Tell them what you’re doing. That’s right. Let them in on this exercise. Convince them you want candid honesty. Bring them up to speed with the answers you worked out on your own. Tell them that it’s only fair for you to expect improvement in yourself since that’s what you’re requiring from them, and everybody else in the organization. Persuade them that you mean it. If this is a first for you, expect resistance. They won’t likely believe you at first. Don’t strong arm them. Pretend they’re customers who must buy what you’re selling. Give them the best opportunity to buy it. It helps if you’ll own your past transgressions. If you owe them apologies, then do that upfront. Without hesitation or excuse.

Shell it all down with them. Ask them to share what they know. You need their intelligence. You need their insight.


Before you can listen you’ve got to ask for help. This may be the first step in a process of many steps to get people to tell you what you need rather than what you want. Or what they think you want. You want the truth, but before you can get the truth you need information. You need evidence that will direct you to the truth. That means the more information you gather, from as many sources as you can, from the most trusted and reliable sources you’ve got…can lead you to the truth, or at least get you closer to it.

Train your team – your inner circle – to open up to you. This isn’t happening in front of the organization, or in front of those outside your trusted inner circle. This is you guys. Yes, there is a WE and THEM. This is the WE part of the equation. It’s you and your most trusted people working together to help you become a better leader. It’s also the most important work you’re going to do because it’s going to impact the whole organization. Your organization deserves to have the best leader possible. That’s you!

This should be the most candid, free-flowing conversation you’ve ever had with these people. You should just ask questions to provoke further conversation. Don’t attack. Don’t defend. Don’t excuse. Think like a detective. Be non-threatening. You’re their boss so you’re going to have work a lot harder at making them know they’re safe and comfortable to tell you anything!

Be honest with them. Share your concerns, fears and other weaknesses. It’s the best way to make them feel comfortable and trust you. They’ll start opening up after they know you’re willing to open up as you tell them what you’re hoping to accomplish. Just remember to shut up once you’ve got the ball rolling. Some leaders mess it up by continuing to share and they dominate the conversation. That’s not the point. This isn’t a platform for you to hold forth. It’s a platform to get them to open up with you about YOU.

I’m going to make a strong suggestion that you carve out more time than you think you’ll need. I’d encourage you to clear calendars for an entire morning or afternoon. If your organization is formal, don’t set tensions high by telling people to clear their entire afternoon for one-on-one meetings with you, or something of that order. That may heighten their anxiety. Instead, tell the people who are invited to the meeting that you want to have a very casual brainstorming conversation about some ideas that you want to share. Tell them there’s no agenda and they won’t need to bring anything with them to the meeting except their willingness to share. If you want, have snacks and soft drinks or whatever may be appropriate for the time of day. Make this very casual and non-threatening.

If you can, conduct this meeting at a round table, not a conference table with a definite head at either end. Better yet, in my experience, is to gather chairs around in a loose circle, or just you and the other person sitting by or across each other if there are just two of you. Arrange it and set it as you would the friendliest conversation you’ve ever had. You don’t want any barriers to openness.

Lose the business speak. Don’t let yourself fall into behaving or speaking like you do when you conduct a formal business meeting. Talk to these people like they’re your friends – because they are! Don’t speak to them like subordinates or direct reports. Ask them to loosen up and not think of you like their boss. Rather, plead with them to treat you like a friend who needs their help. You do need their help. Make them know how badly you want and need it. Don’t be bashful. That will defeat the point of the conversation.

This needs to be an unfiltered conversation where you’re open to whatever they have to offer – however they want to offer it. If you begin to challenge what they say, or how they say it, then they’ll stop saying anything useful. Think of this as a free-form brainstorming session without rules. Remember, these are your most trusted advisors so you don’t have to worry about anything with them.

Some leaders are fearful that such moments will destroy professional decorum in the workplace. When properly handled I’ve never seen this happen. Don’t underestimate the professionalism of these people. They’re competent people, fully capable of compartmentalizing sessions like this. I often help leaders rehearse how to begin and conduct these sessions because I know it’s not something many leaders have experience with. Most of the clients I’ve helped overthink it and fret unnecessarily about it. More often than not it’s among the most rewarding conversations the top leader has ever had. And it’s so ridiculously simple they wonder why they never did it before.

Follow up.

It’s important that you – and your team – understand the seriousness of this endeavor. This isn’t some phase you’re going through that your people have to endure. This is a very serious work project designed to have maximum positive impact on the organization. They need to understand how serious you are. Follow up is one way to demonstrate that.

Specially, you need to have another session with your inner circle. Give them a few days after the initial conversation. Schedule a second session in the same week. That way they’ve had time to huddle informally amongst themselves. They need time to have those – “What-in-the-world-got-into-her?” – conversations. This is a curve ball they’ve not seen before (assuming that you’ve not been as open with them about such things before). They also need time to distill their thoughts now that they know what this is all about.

Your first conversation was without warning. They purposefully didn’t know what the meeting was about. They just knew it was going to be an informal brainstorming session (and it was). Now they know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Give them some time to collect their thoughts and bring more value in the next session.

There are 2 important steps I want you to take in doing this. One, I want you to end the first session urging them to think about your goal to improve as a leader, and about the things they’ve brought up…plus the things they haven’t yet brought up. Give them one simple admonition: “I want to make sure that as I work to improve my leadership that I see and hear things accurately. So I’m going to ask you to help me gather and distill the evidence. For example, ____________________.” Give them an example of a time when you didn’t get it right. Yes, it can be one you confessed to them during the conversation, but maybe not. That’s up to you, but have one ready to use as you end the meeting. You want to leave them impressed with your commitment to “get it right.” You’re tasking them to help you do that.

Two, I want you to have a brief one-on-one with each of them. For most leaders, this is very small group. In many cases, it’s just one person. No matter, however many people comprise your inner circle, schedule a 15-minute meeting one-on-one with each of them. The sole purpose of this meeting is to make sure they’re comfortable with this process. Reiterate your seriousness to grow as their leader. And reinforce the importance in showing them by example how you hope they’ll lead, too. Sometimes you’ll learn what’s bothering them about this process, or what fears they’ve got. Address those in this brief meeting.


Stop. Give yourself permission and time to think about your leadership. Meditate on how things are and how you’d like them to be. Quieten down the noise in your world or you’ll never be able to see clearly.

Look. Consider your wins and your losses. I believe in soaring with your strengths, but as a leader you must eliminate (as much as possible) the constraints you bring to the workplace. Think about the places where YOU may be the problem. See things as they really are, not as you wish them to be. Accuracy matters!

Listen. Involve your closest, most trusted advisors. These are employees who serve as your inner circle. These aren’t non-work related people. Those people don’t see what your employees see. Give them a safe environment to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

Carve out time over the course of a week to get this started. Don’t stop doing it after a week. Use the intensity of one-week to get it launched. Then, make time regularly to keep doing it. That includes scheduled times with your inner circle to discuss YOUR LEADERSHIP.

If the work inside your organization is important, then why don’t you think work on your leadership is important?

The outcome of this process will an improvement in YOU and your leadership, and the impact it will have on your entire organization. Additionally, those leaders in your inner circle will be dramatically impacted in their own careers as you urge them to avoid neglect in their own leadership growth.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” Well, I could apply that same principle to any number of things, including growth as a leader. You must show yourself to be concerned with your leadership. That will make you a better leader. It’ll also foster higher human performance throughout your organization.


P.S. If you’d like to talk about how I might be able to help you and your team, call me at (214) 736-4406.

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273 Doing What Needs To Be Done (Be Good At What You Do And Keep Getting Better)

Doing What Needs To Be Done (Be Good At What You Do And Keep Getting Better) - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 273

It’s one of those common motivational phrases, “It never gets easy, you just get better.”

It’s not necessarily true though. Sometimes it does get easier. It just depends…

– On how good you are at it

– On how naturally gifted you may be at it

– On how long you’ve been at it

– On how committed you are to it – or how passionate you are to pursue it

– On how willing you are to put in the work

It’s your work. Easy is relative. Getting better is the never-ending goal.

You’ve have to hone your craft. First, you have to learn it. Honing – improving – comes later.

Not everybody is willing to learn. Some want to skip ahead and jump straight to expert status. It’s not uncommon to encounter leaders who think they’ve reached mastery, but they’re really woefully in need of some fundamental learning. Watch any episode of The Profit and you’ll see it. Marcus Lemonis regularly confronts clueless business owners who struggle with his people, process and product formula. That’s their prerogative, but it’s also his choice when he walks away from helping them. These are struggling business owners who have contacted the show for possible help. They’re asking for help. That’s always puzzled me, but it demonstrates the delusions that often plague leaders and business owners.

We think we’ve already figured it out. Or we think we’re already good enough at whatever we’re doing. And sadly, too many leaders think there’s some performance plateau called, Good Enough. There isn’t.

Lose focus and you’ll find out. Stop paying attention to the things that garnered your success and you’ll find out. Let up, stop working so hard and your performance will surely slip.

Be Good At What You Do And Get Better Every Year - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 272Entropy vs. Improvement

en·tro·py – lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder

It happens automatically. That’s why you have to paint your house every few years. And mow your lawn. And vacuum your floors. Just leave things alone and entropy ensues.

im·prove·ment – a thing that makes something better or is better than something else

It only happens intentionally. Even then, it can be tough to come by. And it’s a lot harder than leaving things alone.

Sometimes I’m engaged in conversations with executive leaders about mastery. It’s a fascinating topic and one I don’t suppose gets enough attention in leadership circles. Mostly because it’s difficult to quantify and even tougher to execute. Besides, there’s the aim of the mastery quandary…what are you trying to master? When we’re thinking about leadership there are so many facets to aim at. Do we have to be experts at all of them in order to achieve mastery? Or can we just master most of them?

But improvement needn’t get the mastery distraction. There’s little point in aiming at mastery if we’ve yet to achieve consistent improvement. It’s a “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” conundrum. NO improvement, NO mastery. First things first.

Forget the whole notion of status quo and maintenance. Whether or not it’s possible doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it can’t be our objective as leaders. We can’t look at our organization’s performance and say, “Yeah, that’s good enough. Let’s just keep doing this and no more.” So who cares if we can actually maintain the current condition or not — we shouldn’t want to.

With that said, we’ve now got 2 basic options, directions, from which to choose: get better or get worse. Jack Welch guided General Electric by putting it this way, “Get better, or get beaten.” That sort of brings it home more clearly. In a world where there are always alternative and options – either in the internal marketplace or the external marketplace – those really are our only 2 choices. We either improve and produce good work or we lose our jobs. We improve and produce good work or we lose to the competition. Either way, we either win or we lose.

Improvement is about getting results, but it goes deeper. It’s about getting results fast enough.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Leaders, at any level, are in place to make decisions. Solving problems, making choices and figuring things out — that’s the work of leadership.

At the highest levels leaders aren’t producing specific work. They’re not painting the houses, installing the security systems or serving up french fries. That’s why you’ll see a C-level executive on Undercover Boss look like a blithering idiot when it comes to doing the work. He’s unskilled at it. In most cases, he’s never done it before. She’s out of her element, doing things she’s unaccustomed to. Leadership is a different skill set. It’s all about decision making!

Your operation has a performance level. It’s not static, but it mostly hovers within a range. If you’re a tech start up with venture capital backing your range may be extraordinarily wide. Maybe you’re experiencing 300% growth quarter over quarter. That’s not typical. Far more are experiencing more sane fluctuations, up or down. Sometimes things beyond our control can drive things up or down. Big weather events like hurricanes can drive home improvement sales up, or down (up if people are preparing and repairing; down if the whole area is shut down). But when you examine your “normal” performance range you’ll see how decision-making is the major contributor.

Organizations tend to follow the comfort level of the top leadership. They also follow the expectations of top leadership. Organizations, like people, tend to meet, but not exceed those expectations. Your operation has a comfort zone. If you’re the top leader, it likely mirrors your comfort zone. Ditto for the expectations.

A CEO who expects 3% growth this quarter is likely going to be somewhere in the ballpark of a 3% increase. Maybe it’s a pace he’s comfortable with. Maybe it’s reasonable, like the CEO. Quarter after quarter the CEO makes decisions based on his view of the world, and his operation’s place in it. Down the line, leaders and managers comply with decisions congruent with the CEO’s style, expectations and choices. People who behave differently may not fair too well.

Paid to make good decisions. That’s your function as a leader. And we’ve talked about the importance of not just making the decision, but in executing the decision. That’s just part of it.

Doing What Needs To Be Done

Yes, it presupposes that what needs to be done is the best thing given what’s known. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes it’s more difficult.

The gym where I workout is closed for renovations. The company just reopened another nearby location after completing re-doing it. For now, I’m going to this newly re-opened, completely renovated gym. It’s very nice. All the equipment is new. All the flooring is new.

I’m on a treadmill the other day and smack dab in the middle of the floor – in the direct path where people walk – is a white wadded up paper towel that somebody had dropped. I’ve got enough OCD in me to be bothered by such things. Mostly, I’m a detail freak with a mean streak against service and presentation lapses. A trainer at the gym – a gym employee – steps over the paper towel, ignoring it. Another employee does the same. Then another. And another. Seven employees ignore it in a 15-minute time span. Many more gym clients do the same.

I’m a customer, but I would have picked it up. Nobody does. Men, women, white, black, Asian, old, young, fit, fat – they all completely ignore it. There it sits in the direct path of everybody walking in that area of the gym. I’ve got earbuds in my ears listening to some tunes. I’m on the treadmill wondering how much longer that paper towel is going to sit there. I’m thinking, “As soon as I’m done with this treadmill, I’m going to go pick that up.”

It’s a simple thing. A paper towel in the floor needs to be picked up and placed into a trash bin that stands about 15 feet away. This is not a big decision. This isn’t something a CEO of this outfit needs to be concerned about. Or maybe he should be, given that I’ve been staring anxiously at this paper towel for going on 20 minutes now.

Eventually, a club employee bends down and picks it up. He’s an employee who first encounters it, and does what needs to be done. Unlike his previous co-workers, he does what needs to be done. Why? Why did he pick it up? Why didn’t his co-workers pick it up? Why didn’t any clients pick it up?

This podcast doesn’t have the bandwidth to even consider all the possible answers. Just know that nobody did what needed to be done until this one person did. I’m guessing 50-100 people passed that dropped paper towel. Some passed it more than once. One person picked it up. But then again, only one person could pick it up. Lifting a paper towel from the floor isn’t a two-man job. And it’s not a job that requires repeated action. You pick up the paper towel, walk to the trash bin and throw it in. Job completed.

So I continued on this treadmill pondering these questions and mostly wondering, “If it’s something so easily accomplished, and people still don’t do it — then how can an organization get people to do what needs to be done, when what needs to be done is much harder?”

I started thinking of the clients I serve and the problems they face. Well, to be fair I rarely stop thinking about such things. It’s why I’m good at my craft of serving leaders. I’m very vested in the challenges facing my clients. I feel their pain and I want to help them find solutions.

Immediately I’m thinking of the leaders I’m working with who have team members that have NOT being doing what needs to be done. Some of my clients have team members who have failed to improve in specific areas where they’ve been told improvement is required. I’ve looked into the faces of my clients and seen the pain of knowing they’ve got people on their team who aren’t picking up the dropped paper towels laying around. It’s vexing.

Sometimes employees do only what they’re told. Every rookie supervisor experiences this soon enough. It doesn’t require super diligence to comply with specific instructions. No leader can possibly convey the specific instructions needed to cover every possible situation. Imagine the training session at the gym:

When you see a paper towel laying on the floor, pick it up and put it in the nearest trash bin. 

Imagine how thick that training manual would have to be and how impossibly incomplete it would end up being even if it were multiple volumes. We can’t possibly plan for every single action that needs to be taken by the people in our organizations. Rather, we need a system in place to address that. Some call it culture. Others call it an attitude. It’s a way of life in our organization. It’s our values, beliefs and priorities all rolled up in our identity. It’s who we are and how we roll.

“A” Players Do It The Best

The short answer for why so many people passed by that paper towel without picking it up is – FEAR. It was safer to ignore it. Maybe somebody blew their nose in that paper towel. I’m not picking it up. It surely has somebody’s sweat on it. I’m not touching it.

I thought of all those things when I first spotted it. My immediate thought was to go get another paper towel and use that to pick it up. Right beside the trash bin is a wall dispenser of hand sanitizer. I could have picked it up inside a fresh paper towel, then for good measure used the hand sanitizer. Fear conquered.

But nobody did that. Even the employee who picked it up. He just grabbed it, tossed it in the trash bin and went on his way. You could tell he never thought much about it. He didn’t study it, survey his options and agonize about it. He just saw it, bent down to pick it up and did what needed to be done!

Yes or No

Let me challenge you to eliminate “maybe.” Just take that option off the table. Maybe is no man’s land. Limbo. Nothing gets done in the Land of Maybe.

Instead, take the powerful (but ridiculously simple) lesson from the dropped paper towel. Yes or No. Most people said, “No, I’m not going to pick that up.” Maybe they thought somebody else would do it. Maybe they thought it wasn’t their job, or place to do it. Maybe they were scared of getting kooties. Maybe they were in a hurry and couldn’t take the time to do it. It doesn’t matter why they refused. All that matters is that most people said, “No.”

One guy said, “Yes.” And in a flash, it was done. Accomplished. No longer sitting there on the floor like dog turd in the snow. Problem solved!

Don’t misunderstand. The best answer isn’t always, “Yes.”

Our businesses face many decisions every single day. We don’t say yes to everything. What kind of leader would we be if we did? We’d be like those uncaring, unconcerned parents who just agree with whatever the kids want. It’s a dangerous thing to say yes to everything. “Sure, go ahead,” are famous words uttered by foolish parents. Or foolish leaders.

It could be anything. A budget request. A suggested promotion of an employee. A production request. A process suggestion. Anything.

There’s a right choice. There are less right choices. And there are wrong choices. Sometimes the differences are slight. Other times they’re monumental. But refusing to make a choice rarely leads us to an ideal outcome. Indecision isn’t a top-notch leadership quality.

Choosing “no” isn’t the same thing as refusing to make a choice. When we say, “NO!” we’ve been decisive. We know it. Our people know it. When we waffle or camp out on the fence of indecision we know it. And all our people do, too. See the difference?

Great leaders don’t embrace “maybe.” And they don’t foster their people to embrace it either.

When the information is insufficient to say “yes,” good leaders say, “NO!” Saying, “No, not until_______” isn’t the same thing as saying, “Maybe.” It’s more decisive with a mandate to whomever wants our “yes” to give us more information. “Maybe” puts the burden on us, not the people who want our “yes.” WRONG.

Why is this important? And what does it have to do with getting people to do what needs to be done?

It’s leading by example. If people don’t perceive leadership as being proactive and doing what must be done, they’re going to be less likely to do it themselves. Dad doesn’t help make the bed, why should I make mine? The same logic applies at work. As leadership goes, so it goes with the troops.

Establishing values includes setting the standard in every area of the enterprise. It impacts dress code, conduct, speech, communication, cooperation, collaboration, work ethic, commitment to performance, and anything else that affects our operation.

I’ll give you a one word question that answers all of this…


Why is it important to pick up that paper towel? I know what you may be thinking. “I shouldn’t have to tell people that.” Yes you do. And I’ll go you one better – they deserve for you to tell them. If you’re going to serve your people well, then you have to be willing and able to tell them why things are important.

That dropped paper towel represents an opportunity to show our clients how important it is for us to keep our gym clean. It’s an opportunity to show our clients how attentive we are to the smallest details. If we don’t do the right thing with that paper towel then it signals to our clients that we don’t care about our gym, so why should they? Leaving that towel on the ground tells our clients that we’re irresponsible and carry an “it’s not my job” attitude.

One dropped paper towel screams many important messages to us, and to all our clients. THAT’S why it’s important for you to do the right thing.

In 1982 I was thrust into action running a retail operation that was struggling. The first thing I did was a clean up. I had learned the power of cleaning up in previous engagements. When a clean up is necessary, it means there’s a lack of pride. People no longer care. When you clean up – and do it well – you can instantly get the pride back, or put it place for the first time. It’s one of the most instant things I know that a leader can do to change the climate of a workplace. And if there’s no pride in the workplace or the work, you’ll never achieve high performance. First, you’ve got to make sure people care.

Well, part of the clean up process was a short class on how to vacuum the carpets in the stores. Here I was the 25-year-old leader of a company showing other adults how to vacuum carpet, but it wasn’t demeaning. It was enlightening. It was a way for me to show them why we were going to start doing things differently, better!

The carpet in the stores wasn’t a high plush carpet, but it did have a plush to it unlike inexpensive commercial grade carpeting. Like mowing a lawn, you can tell which way you vacuumed this carpet. If you just went willy-nilly with the vacuum cleaner, it showed. If you vacuumed in a single direction it looked MUCH better. But people weren’t thinking about that. They were just thinking of getting the job done. Doing it well didn’t matter all that much. They just didn’t care. Nobody had given them enough reason to care!

The carpet was just a metaphor for all the other things that ailed us. Stock rooms were atrocious. Behind counters was filth and clutter. Everywhere you looked you could see the same thing – a lack of care. At every turn I told people the stories of WHY it mattered. It wasn’t just me being a clean freak. It wasn’t just some exercise in busting their chops and making them do menial work.

There was a purpose behind every single act of cleaning we did. We were accomplishing a lot more than cleaning. We were establishing new standards of performance (and pride). Together, we were learning why these things mattered, and why they needed to be done properly every single day. Remove the why and you’ve got a bunch of grunt work and resentment. Insert the reason for the clean up and you’ve got, “Oh, okay. That makes sense.”

Did everybody do what needed to be done every single day? No, of course not. But most did. And in time those who refused were gone. Those who refused to pick up the paper towel weren’t allowed to infest the culture. We had no tolerance for their refusal to do what needed to be done because it was unfair to the rest of us who were willing. Again, there was no “maybe.” It was YES or NO. We needed people willing to answer the call by doing what needed to be done.

Today’s show is an exploration. It’s provoking. I can’t wrap this up in a tidy bundle and put a bow on it. I only hope to help you think about how you can better lead your company to learn how to do what must be done. It’s not about micro-managing, or back-seat-driving. It’s about instilling pride and performance among your people. It’s about giving your people permission to do what needs to be done.

I’ve known leaders who behave with such rigid micro-management that if a paper towel needed to be picked up, everybody would be fearful that the boss doesn’t want it picked it up. Or he doesn’t want ME to pick it up. Or he doesn’t want it be picked up now. They want to be the big cheese who goes around telling everybody what to do and how to do it. Otherwise, they see it as insubordination. And these autocratic nut jobs are constantly frustrated by people who won’t just do what needs to be done. It’s their own fault, but they’re too stupid to see that they’re the problem.

So let me close today’s show with some questions.

Do your people know why the things that are important to you…are important?

Do your people know they can and should do what needs to be done without getting a form filled out in triplicate?

What are the consequences for people failing to do what needs to be done?

What are the benefits for people who do what needs to be done?

When people don’t do what needs to be done are you certain it’s a lack of willingness, or might it be a lack of know-how?

How consistent are you in communicating why you expect what you expect?

How consistent are you in communicating how to deliver the results you expect?

How supportive are you in giving people the resources – including consequences or rewards – they need in order to achieve what you want?

Are you the constraint to high performance OR are you a contributor to it?


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272 The Art Of Being Unique (Leaders Determine Culture)

The Art Of Being Unique (Leaders Determine Culture) - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 272

unique – defined –adjective

1. Existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics

2. Having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable

3. Limited in occurrence to a given class, situation, or area

4. Limited to a single outcome or result; without alternative possibilities

5. Not typical; unusual

Seth Godin calls it a purple cow. Drive past any pasture full of cows. You don’t notice them. But, if one cow were purple – completely different and totally unique from all the others – you wouldn’t be able to ignore it.

Jeffrey Gitomer displays it in his “little (red/black/green/yellow) book” series.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a patented sound, which makes them different from any other cycle.

Apple was born to be unique – different. Since 1997 their advertising slogan has been, “Think Different.”

Moleskine notebooks are unlike any notebook on the planet. A rich history and a great story (Van Gogh, Picasso and Hemingway are supposed to have used the original versions) set Moleskine apart.

Think of the unique things or companies that are part of your life – the purple cows. Godin, Gitomer, Apple, Moleskine are but a few that are part of mine.

People talk of performance, quality and other business elements that are worthy of any business discussion. But in the end, it’s uniqueness that makes the big difference.

Uniqueness certainly has an element of performance, quality and other positive attributes – but it may not.

The Floridian is a Ft. Lauderdale diner. It’s an institution. They are open 24/7. They never close – even in hurricane season. They’re known for enormous breakfast plates and a wait staff is surly. “What’doya want?” They’ll get your order right. They’re prompt in their service. They’re attentive. They’re just not warm and fuzzy. They act like they’ve got places to be, and people see. So they waste not time and don’t tolerate you wasting it either. When they ask what you want, you’d best be ready to tell them. Otherwise, they’ll quickly tell you that they’ll be back when you’ve figured it out. It’s their reputation. It’s part of their purple cow. That tactic wouldn’t likely work for us – or many other service companies. But it works for them.

Years ago in Ft. Worth there was an ice cream company named O’Leary’s. Rude service was their shtick. In fact, there was one dish of ice cream that you could order and the entire staff would approach the person who ordered it – as their dish sat in front of them – and about 6 people, armed with whip cream cans, would spray the person, their dish and anybody seated nearby. It was great fun if you were a safe distance away. It was part of their purple cow. People would take visitors there and urge them to order this, and other dishes, that were certain to be embarrassing. Good-natured fun, nothing mean spirited. Order desert from your favorite restaurant and have them do the same thing. The employee would be fired and you’d never go back – but people used to line up to get into O’Leary’s.

Ritz-Carlton wouldn’t be caught dead behaving that way. They have a completely different purple cow. Things are perfect at every Ritz. Neatness, cleanliness and prompt/courteous service are everywhere you look – and even in places where you don’t look. Nothing goes wrong. Ever. And if it should, trust me – the recovery will be second to none. We all understand the phrase, “Putting on the Ritz.”

There are countless ways to find or make oneself unique. Every person, and every company has to discover their own uniqueness and make the most of it. Those who never focus on uniqueness are doomed to be a part of the masses – lost in the crowd, never distinguishable from the herd. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for careers.

Gitomer wears work shirts that say, “Jeffrey” above one front pocket and “Sales Maintenance Department” above the other.

Jeffrey uses humor to his advantage. It’s part of his personality and he works it to his full advantage. Tom Peters could never pull it off. Tom is a button downed Stanford MBA from Vermont who dresses like a New Englander and his purple cow is more guru-oriented than Jeffrey’s.

Well, you certainly get the idea of uniqueness by now. Whether we call it an angle, shtick or approach – a person, or a company’s ability to set themselves apart is THE thing that defines them.

People and companies need to find their uniqueness or they’ll be lost in the herd. Nobody will notice them. Nobody will see any different about them. They’ll go through life unnoticed.

When a person or company fails to be true to the uniqueness that has been successful for them in the past, then they begin to lose their identity. It happens.

In 1948, long before Wal-Mart was even a dream, a couple of clever merchants began the discount retail phenomenon with a store called, Korvettes. Located in New York, New Jersey and Philly it was wildly successful. It was uniquely different. It was like a big department store, but without the high prices. Korvettes constantly promoted. Price and selection.

Korvettes grew. They grew some more. Eventually, they decided they wanted to upscale. They lost their way. They were Wal-Mart before there was a Wal-Mart. Nobody thought they could fail – including those who ran the company. But they were wrong. They lost their uniqueness. Being the price leader is tough row to hoe. The retail landscape is littered with the carcasses of those lost their uniqueness.

Where is your leverage? What are the points of your organization’s uniqueness? What makes your organization special?

What’s the difference between Sleep Experts, Mattress Firm, Mattress Giant and Mattress Pro? What’s the difference between Rooms To Go and The Room Store? What about Nebraska Furniture Mart (they just came to DFW last month)?

The Birthplace of Uniqueness

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Jeffrey Gitomer or The Floridian restaurant. Uniqueness begins with a philosophy, an approach and purposeful intentions. I could argue it also ends there.

Seth Godin sold his technology company back in the day and made out good. Wanting to establish himself as a guru he shaved his head because he thought it would make him stand out. He set out to create his purple cow. It worked. It was first visible in his mind. He had a plan. He created an approach. He had intentions. He was a guru long before anybody knew him, and long before he had ever written a book, or conducted a speech.

While it’s possible for people, or companies, to stumble onto or into uniqueness – it’s much more likely that it’s architected. And it’s much more profitable to take calculated efforts toward accomplishment than to hope you’ll win the lottery.


I don’t mean anything high minded. I simply mean core beliefs. Every company has them, whether they’re stated or not. Go to work for any company and within 3 days you’ll know their core beliefs. Even if nobody states them, you’ll see them.

What would you say are your core beliefs?

An Approach

The philosophy is what drives the approach. The approach is the behavior. It’s where the philosophy is engaged. It’s what people do to bring the philosophy to life.

What would you say is your approach?

Purposeful Intentions

What would you say is your purposeful intention? What is it you intend to accomplishment by your philosophy and your approach? It’s the outcome you’re chasing.

Your Greatest Need

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, was among the first to crystallize the idea that people can become so busy working at their trade or craft – plumbers plumbing, painters painting, doctors treating patients and so on – that they don’t take the time to work on running their businesses better. He pointed out how people need to spend more time working ON their business, rather than just working IN their business.

That’s precisely what all this is about. We have to devote more time to working on our business or organization. We all certainly spend an enormous amount of time working in our companies. We’re all busy working at the tasks at hand, doing whatever it is we do. But we’ve got to put more effort into building the organization and culture necessary to perform well – uniquely well. Being remarkable isn’t easy, but it’s thrilling and people want to be part of it.

Our challenge is finding time – making time – to work toward improving our organization! That’s our greatest need.

It requires dedication and commitment. It demands we carve out some time – daily – to give sober thought to ways we can make ourselves better.

What do you intend to accomplish? How do you intend to get it done?

It’s purposeful intentions. These two questions sum it up.

Hopefully, you’ll spend a little bit of time writing down what you think your approach should be – your thoughts about your company’s philosophy and intentions. Don’t cheat yourself and your organization by just focusing on the actual work product – the stuff you’re busy doing every day. If your leading an organization to focus only on the “to-do-list” and you don’t spend time talking about why and how — then you’re not building an organization. The job of leaders – especially those in the c-level suite – is to build an effective, engaged high performance organization. It’s not to merely manage tasks, or work product.

What’s your purposeful intention?

More clearly asked, “What do we intend to accomplish?” Are we here to create revenues, profits, customers, happy employees, and happy suppliers? Are we here to find cures for the illnesses of the world? Why are we here? What’s our daily purpose? Why do we get out of bed to come to work? Hint: this isn’t the actual work (plumbing, painting, treating patients, etc.) — it’s the reason behind the actual work.

It must be something greater than, “I get out of bed to earn a paycheck.” Passion (strong enthusiasm) requires more than that. And if our passion is completely lost, then we’ve unearthed a problem. Everybody suffers the occasional lack of passion. It happens. Leaders can’t afford to lose their passion.

Some years ago I architected a mandate of sorts to evangelize throughout the retailing company I was running at the time.

To become a sleek, highly maneuverable, viciously competitive retail company

Let’s define some terms, as I meant them then, and as I would still define them today.

“To become” means it’s a constant work in progress – no matter how good we become, we can always become better; the quest never ends.

“Sleek” means quick, fast and efficient. It denotes a group of people capable of focusing on efficiencies and effectiveness.

“Highly maneuverable” means agile, athletic and able to go in a different direction quickly. It’s that “turn on a dime” ability.

“Viciously competitive” means we hate losing. Losing means we fail to capture the business we’re chasing. Losing means we messed up. Losing means we didn’t do our best.

“Vicious” means we can be mean-spirited toward being beaten in the market by others who serve customers better than we do. “Vicious” means we’re intolerant of stupidity and ignorance – mistakes or errors in judgment that are preventable with greater effort, either in know-how or execution. Not in some harsh counterproductive way, but in a way where we don’t dismiss it lightly – a way where we have a greater resolve to fix it so it never happens again. And negligence is always without excuse!

I crafted that company mantra about 20 years ago. Not much has changed in my personal business philosophy. I still feel the same way except back then the company was a luxury retailing company. Today, it’s an executive coaching and consulting company. Maybe in a future show I’ll pull the curtain back and share the process of the current version of my career. Today, part of my uniqueness is my process – which is ridiculously personalized and individual. I’m still fond of the mantra, even though my business today is different. See if you can apply it to your organization.

To become a sleek, highly maneuverable, viciously competitive __________________

I was about 16 when I first hit a sales floor to sell hi-fi gear. I was about 18 when I first became a manager. I was 19 when I began to manage and do purchasing – and was still working a retail sales floor on a daily basis. I was 23 when I began to operate a subsidiary of a larger company.

I grew up in retailing. I’ve seen people deliver superior service, repeatedly — and I’ve seen people who never lifted a finger to do good work, or get better. As I slope toward older age my tolerance for that latter group is growing lower and lower! The reason is simple. They destroy our opportunity. They rob the rest of us of our chance to be everything we hope to become. I resented them when I was 16 — as I vacuumed the floor, cleaned the bathroom and made sure the showroom was show-time ready and they were out back smoking and cutting up.

I resented them when I was 19 as I was busting my hump to earn bonuses by making sure shelves were fully stocked, products were neatly in place on the sales floor and trying to learn the craft of managing business and leading salespeople – only to find that some wouldn’t lift a finger to even put new products out, or properly greet a customer who entered the store.

I resented them when I was 23 and most of us were working to conquer the world, but some didn’t want to contribute to our conquest. Some things never change. My resentment toward losers is one of those things. The apathetic person – Mr. Indifference (or Ms. Indifference) – has always driven me crazy.

Do you have non-negotiable standards? You don’t know what those are? Namely, it’s what your organization requires of employees in order for them to keep their jobs. Those are your non-negotiable standards! You’d better have them if you intend on having a high-flying, hard-charging remarkable company.

But before you get to non-negotiable standards you have to give people their reason for being part of your culture. What’s their purpose? What are the intentions of the company today? And where do your people fit in that plan? All your employees deserve to know the story of where and how they fit. That necessitates a clear understanding of their role and the big picture of where their role impacts the whole.

Employees can’t provide those answers. Employees can’t provide the direction for a company. Leaders are necessary. Leadership provides the direction that is desperately needed by every company! Today’s show is about challenging us, as leaders, to get busy with improving ourselves as leaders. Go back and check out episode 271 – Service & Value: The No-Matter-What Approach To Leadership. If you don’t believe leaders have an obligation to serve the people they lead, then I’m not the voice you’re likely going to listen to anyway. I believe your value is defined by the benefit you provide to the people who comprise your organization. They should be better because of you, not in spite of you.

You Must Make A Positive Difference In The Outcome

In many instances, organizational problems and challenges are the outcome or result of ineffective leadership. That isn’t to say that leadership is always 100% to blame, or that leadership is 100% ineffective. It may be the mere lapse of leadership in a moment. It may be a systemic problem where leadership isn’t paying close enough attention. The bottom line, in every case, is that leaders bear the responsibility. We’re accountable. When things go wrong, we’re responsible. We have to fix it. When things go good, we’re responsible for having put people in positions where they can shine. Good or bad – leaders are accountable.

Harold Geneen was the tough-minded leader of ITT in the 60’s and 70’s. He had a mandate still resonates with me.

“Managers must manage.”

Geneen was a brute. A bully. There’s much about him that I don’t admire. But he certainly understood accountability. I read of him as a teenager while in college and was captivated by a man with such resolve to hold fire to the feet of those who wouldn’t perform. Feeling like I was committed to being a high achiever, I was regularly frustrated by co-workers who were treated identically to those of us busting our butts. I blamed leadership. Now that I know more, I blame leadership even more.

I wanted leadership to hold fire to feet of those smokers who hung around at back while I was busy making sure the floor was performance ready. Every organization needs effective leadership. In spite of Zappo’s new holacracy management style, leadership is always required if high performance is the goal. We’ll see how centralized work groups, leaderlesss work units and other new ideas can be implemented. I’m not a naysayer about those ideas though — because there is still leadership somewhere, if only to implement these new ways of doing the work. Mark it down, somewhere there’s a leader (or group of leaders) driving the culture!

My desire for accountability stems from this one truth –

the initiative of good people (solid performers) is destroyed by the lack of initiative of bad people (poor performers)

Everybody benefits from solid, consistent accountability. The good people are made even better. The bad people are given the chance to become good people or to find new places where they might fit and become good people. Discipline. Responsibility. Wisdom. Those traits can’t exist when leadership can’t or won’t provide it.

So it’s up to us. It’s up to leaders in every organization, at every level.

Dr. Phil is known for saying, “Behave your way to what you want.” I’d only modify that slightly for this discussion about leadership. It’s our job to demand the behavior we want so our organization is able to accomplish what we want, in the way we want, when we want. Yes, it starts with our own behavior (lead by example and all that), but we have to impose our will on the team – for their benefit and the benefit of the organization. Not with brute force, but with persuasion, influence and leading.

If our people don’t perform in the ways necessary for our company to win in the market – it’s our responsibility to fix that.

If we don’t have positions filled as we need, with the best talent possible – it’s our responsibility to fix that.

If we don’t have the consistent performances necessary to make our organization as good as it could be – it’s up to us to fix that.

What Harold Geneen knew and preached was simply the notion of “find a way.” Figure it out. Get busy with it. Do it. Do it now. Without delay.

So, back to the point of our purposeful intentions. As leaders, our first job is to determine what those purposeful intentions are. If we don’t know, how can we pass that on to our team? If we don’t know the point of the sermon, then what are we preaching?

A friend was approached about going to work for a company with a 10-year history. The company was in his field, but they hadn’t been in business nearly as long as the company where he was currently employed. However, it appeared to be a decent opportunity for more money. The CEO, along with the founder of the company, invited him to a breakfast meeting to discuss a potential opportunity.

For 90 minutes they talked. He told them a bit about himself. They told him a bit about their company. When I asked him how the meeting went he reported that it went well.

“What’s their compelling purpose?” I asked him. “What do you mean?” he said.

“Well, what makes them unique? How do they compete? Price? Service? What?” I continued to ask.

Long pause. He didn’t know.

In a couple of phone calls and a 90-minute meeting he had come away without a clue. And this was the CEO and the founder.

I encouraged him to find out a few things. First, who is their target customer (and how do they know where to find them)? Two, what is their compelling offer. Why should anybody do business with them?

A few emails were shot back and forth between him and the CEO. A few phone calls were also made. The CEO delivered the usual bit of rhetoric, but still those questions lingered, unanswered.

He never did find out. If the CEO and founder who interviewed my friend can’t or won’t reveal those things about their company – then who will? And if they can have numerous communications with a prospective employee (somebody they want for an executive position) and not reveal those things, then it makes me wonder…

Do they have purposeful intentions?

Do they have compelling reasons?

It’s entirely possible they don’t. It’s also entirely possible that they do, but they can’t articulate them. In either case I know one thing about them – they’re ineffective leaders! That company needs leadership. Perhaps that was an opportunity for my friend. Perhaps not. He declined to accept the job, in part because of these unanswered questions.

Leaders have to provide those answers. It’s our number one responsibility. It will drive everything else we do. It will determine how effective we are at managing all the functions of our operation and in leading all the people who fulfill those functions.

Simply put, it’s first things first. Our employees must know:

  1. Why are we here?
  2. What’s our purpose?
  3. How are we going to fulfill that purpose?

Once this episode is over you can resume the normal course of your professional life – or – you can elevate your expectations for living more a productive, more invigorated, more successful and more unique life. Not because of what I’ve said, but because you’ve made up your mind that you’re ready to climb up to the next rung in the ladder of your ability to succeed as a effective leader.

Right Here. Right Now.

For as long as I can remember salespeople have heard sales managers ask the tired question, “What have you sold today?” The lesson learned by every salesperson is that what you did yesterday is of no consequence. The life of a salesperson is always best lived in the moment – today.

It’s often difficult for people to live in the moment. We’re creatures of hope. We have hopes that our tomorrows will be better than today. And before you know it, tomorrow is here and it looks an awful lot like yesterday, and the day before. The reason is pretty simple. Hope is not a strategy. We’re doing today what we did yesterday, and the day before.

Everybody has hopes. Everybody has dreams. Everybody wonders what life would be like if they had more money, if they were more physically fit, if they lived in “that neighborhood” or if they could drive “that car.” Hopes and dreams. We’ve all got them. But they’re pretty meaningless really…unless.

Unless, you decide to do something about them. Unless you decide to create a goal – an objective. And with that goal you decide to develop a plan of action – steps you’ll take to advance yourself toward that goal. And you establish some timelines to help you measure the progress you’re making toward the goal.

Ah, there’s the rub. Hope requires no effort. Just sit back, relax and imagine what life could be like if only.

Accomplishments almost always – not always, but almost always – require effort. Luck does happen, but luck is no better strategy than hope.

The pressing question worth asking, and answering is…

What action am I going to take – right here, right now?

Starting. Finishing. Both matter.

We’ve all heard it said that it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish. Well, that’s not entirely true. If your start was poor, then you’re finish may be poor. And then there’s all that stuff in between the start and finish. All those adjustments that might just make a difference.

I know very little about NASCAR, but I know this much. The team that can make proper adjustments during the race has an increased chance of a top finish. The team that wins the pole position isn’t guaranteed a win. They could sit back and relish the great start they made, but they’ll fail if they don’t make proper adjustments throughout the race.

Our professional (and private) lives are no different. While we desire to have a great start – and we want to plan and do everything in our power to make that happen – the fact remains, sometimes initial plans don’t work out. Sometimes you have to alter your course. Sometimes you need plan B, C or Z.

Top among my biggest professional regrets is the start without a finish. Things would sometimes get started, but I’d quickly learn that within time – usually a very short period of time – that something new would erupt to distract us and take us in another direction.

The Hazards Of The Reading CEO

I’m a reader. Many leaders I know are readers. There’s been a longstanding problem with that. Well, that and leaders who attend seminars. Our mind hop around from one good idea to another, to another. We can fall in love with an idea and be anxious to install it in our organization. Nothing wrong with that EXCEPT it can drive us to hop around, starting things and failing to finish them.

We read a new book. It’s filled with great ideas that we can’t wait to execute. We gather our staff and give the orders. Down the organization trickles our new latest, greatest, trickest idea. Rinse and repeat next month after we’ve read a different book, or attended a new seminar. We wear out our organization. They lament every book we read, every seminar we attend and every new idea we’ve got. They’re tired. Exhausted from so much starting only to be stalled in midstream because we’ve now got a new idea that shoves that old new idea to the background. Lots of motion. Not much action. No progress or growth because we’re all busy implementing a new initiative!

HINT #1: Avoid implementing or even discussing a new idea found in a book or seminar until 30 days have passed. If you’re still antsy to try it after 30 days then you’re likely fired up to see it through.

HINT #2: Pick one. Frankly, any one will do. If leaders would embrace one book, one strategy, one seminar golden nugget it would serve them better than trying to embrace all of them. Honestly, I don’t know if it much matters which one either.

Maybe it’s not a new book or seminar. Maybe it’s just the daily fires that erupt, and distract us from our bigger purpose. Let’s categorize all these things as distractions. They draw our attention away from the real work of building a high performing organization. And it becomes our habit. Your people have figured it out, even if you haven’t. They know you for what you are. They judge you on how you behave.

You start something new every month, but never finish anything. You’ve got one book followed by another, by another. You fall in love with every good idea, even if the idea isn’t ideal for your organization. You press hard without any time to breathe or recognize accomplishment. You behave with knee-jerk reactions to many things. You pigeonhole people one time and that’s how it is forever more. You go off at the drop of a hat when don’t go your way. All our negative behavior – and we’ve ALL got some of it – is well known throughout our organization. It’s all the quiet conversation that happens behind our back. It’s the stuff people need to vent to each other so they can maintain sanity as we put them through whatever grind we do sparked by our weakness.

I’m asking you to do exactly what you’re asking your people to do – GET BETTER. You want everybody in your organization to improve, fix what ails them and get better. Why are you exempt from that standard? YOU AREN’T. Start today by behaving in ways that will foster what your organization needs to reach a new level of success.

How can you make sure your start is one that gives you the best chance for success?

a. Sit down and decide what you want, and how you want it.

What accomplishments are most important? What one thing do you really want to get done? It can’t be a list. It can’t be a dozen things. There must be one compelling accomplishment that you seek. Figure that out, within the context of your organization or department. Goals are objectives that you strive to reach. You envision yourself having accomplished them. It’s true that great leaders see the future first. You see no reason why you can’t reach them. They should be tough – challenging, but attainable. It’s disheartening to strive for something that is constantly out of reach. Too many leaders say they’re “stretching” their people. No, they’re robbing people of any chance to win! If people can’t win the game, they’ll quickly lose interest in playing.

When I say sit down, I need to encourage top leaders to do that with their top lieutenants. Every top leader has a right-hand man or woman. Or a few of them. You deserve and they deserve the interaction of doing this together. Every top leader I’ve ever worked with – and urged to include their top people in the process – has experienced a new level of personal satisfaction with their own job and seen growth in their people. Everybody learns valuable lessons by doing this together. The CEO or other top leader makes the ultimate decision, but the art of collaborating with other top leaders about these critical issues accelerates the execution throughout the culture faster, better. There’s no reason to go it alone.

b. Think of your strengths and design a plan around those strengths.

About 10 years ago I went back into the gym. I was well into my 40’s. My objectives were different from the 20 or 30-something guys in the gym. They wanted to be ripped, or shown off for girls. That clearly wasn’t my strength, or objective. My strength was my resolve to improve my overall health. My strength was my determination to get fit so my wife might benefit from my wellness – and hopefully, help her avoid having to take care of me in ill heath. Those were my strengths. I embraced them instead of wishing I was 20 again. Six pack abs just aren’t part of the plan for me. 😉

You get the point. Be true to who you are and what you can accomplish. Your mamma lied to you when she told you that you could be anything you wanted. You can’t. Be thankful you have the opportunity to be the best YOU that you can be. That’ll be good enough to make a positive difference in the world.

Craft your action plan. Think it through. Sure, you’ll likely have to change it, but that’s okay. Modify it, edit it and revise it as often as you must. Just keep the goal in mind. And ask yourself if the action takes you closer to or further away from your goal. It’s a powerful practice that not many people use. Embracing the practice will help contribute to your uniqueness.

c. Get started today.

Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for a better time. There is no better time to start. Procrastination has killed lots of wonderful initiatives. Don’t let it kill yours.

d. Stay with it.

Persistence is very valuable. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t tolerate others who do. Don’t listen to the naysayer. Ignore all distractions and keep moving toward the objective. Relentless pursuit gets rewarded. Avoid the urge to implement every new idea you find. Remember my 30-day rule on book reading, or seminar attending and my hint about picking just one.

I know of no more steps than that. Course correction happens during all of them, but that’s a constant chore. The publishing business calls it editing. Writers will tell you that the power of the finished product is often found in the strength of the editing. Many a best seller wasn’t all that great in its first form. But after repeated editing, presto – it’s brilliant. The same is true of your goal – our goal.

And sometimes it’s not in what you leave in, but in what you leave out. Your organization needs you to leave some things out. If everything is important, then nothing is important. There must be priorities.

So what does all this have to do with being unique?

It’s not how most people approach life. It’s not how most leaders approach their responsibilities toward their company, their employees or their customers. It’s different. That makes the process unique. And people willing to embrace the process can find uniqueness.

Your organization’s uniqueness depends largely, perhaps entirely, on your own uniqueness as a leader. It depends on your willingness to be the leader your company needs to fulfill the established goals – and to adjust those goals. You won’t succeed at everything you try. Not every idea will work. Some will work better than others.

The freaky kid in school was unique. His clothes were odd. His behavior was odd. He drew attention. He wasn’t likely the best student in school. He wasn’t considered the person who would be “most likely to succeed.” He was just different. Freakishly so.

Anybody can embrace that type of uniqueness. It doesn’t require anything other than a boldness, a willingness to endure embarrassment. Apathy for what anybody else thinks.

No, the uniqueness we’re chasing is much tougher to come by. We want our uniqueness to be the compelling reason why employees and clients choose us over our competitors. We want our uniqueness to be such a high-value proposition for those we serve that they can’t imagine life without us. That uniqueness must begin with us. We set the tone. We set the standards. We have to accept responsibility for the final outcome – the result of either reaching or failing to reach our goal. We behave our way to what we want.

Managers must manage. Leaders must lead.

Leaders must lead the quest for uniqueness – or be satisfied to join the heap of The Average. All eyes and ears are fixed on us to see what we’ll do.


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271 Service & Value: The No-Matter-What Approach To Leadership

Service & Value: The No-Matter-What Approach To Leadership - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 271

Leadership is learned. Whether it’s by experience, trial and error, books, mentors, bosses or coaches — we all have to learn it. There may be natural born skills and qualities that are befitting leadership, but we’ve still got to learn it.

I don’t believe in managing people. Maybe it’s just a semantical annoyance to me, but it smacks of manipulation and control. As a business builder I wanted to manipulate and control products and processes. Inventory control is an activity that includes the term, “control.” A business with inventory must manipulate that inventory to operate profitably. I believe in managing products, processes and work. But when it comes to people I believe in leading. That includes training, developing, supporting, serving and accountability.

Executives – organizational leaders – are most often dual-role workers. They have to manage work (all forms of it) and they have to simultaneously lead people.

The fundamental job of every executive is to make high value decisions. That means the decisions must be made quickly and accurately. But there’s a lot more to it.

Making good (even great) decisions requires:

a. due diligence in gathering valid information
b. wise discernment of the options and choices
c. sufficient speed
d. proper efficient execution
e. comprehensive follow-through and accountability

There are some smaller steps within each of these, but that’s the general overview of the decision-making process. This is the central activity of every executive and it’s where we provide value for our organization. We’re paid to make good decisions that bring value to the organization. The better our decision-making, the more value we can bring to the organization. The more value we bring to the organization, the higher our own value. Executive careers rise and fall based on our ability to make good decisions…and that includes our ability to execute. The execution is where our decisions are tested and proven.

All along the way people are involved. We involve people in the information gathering phase. Intelligence isn’t merely facts and figures – it’s insight provided by others. When I enter an organization I’m interested in finding out the collective experience of the team. These days it’s fairly common to encounter a top leader of a team with team members far more experienced in the organization or industry. That’s intelligence the executive can put to good use. The final decision may rest on the executive, but wise leaders will rely on the collective wisdom of others to gather information and explore the various options available before deciding. The more a leader can effectively use that collective wisdom to benefit the process, the better.

People are also involved in the execution of the decision. Leaders need strong, capable people with a high degree of willingness to carry the load of getting the thing done properly. The people doing the work need (and deserve) good leadership to serve and support them in their work.

Service and value are the two major drivers behind effective leadership. Not ego or control. Not ambition or promotion. Every leader’s worth is determined by the positive impact they have on the organization. It’s not merely about doing the work…or in doing the work well. Regularly I hear executives lament some team member whose work product is perfectly fine, if not excellent — but the person is difficult to work with, or alongside. They may have a caustic demeanor, or poor communication skills. It’s rare for such a person to remain part of any team because their value is diminished by their liabilities. So it is with an executive who may be able to make great decisions, but lessen their value due to off-setting negative behaviors.

Service and value are game changing ideas in the life of every truly effective leader. They characterize the very best leaders. Mostly, because they’re not self-serving. By putting the focus on helping others succeed, the effective leader finds new levels of personal success. It’s much easier to talk about than it is to do. But if you can find the path to commit to it, it can change everything and put your executive career on a new trajectory you may have never thought possible. It’s a competitive edge on two fronts: a) it’s uncommon and b) it produces positive results that are difficult to match.

Where’s your value as a leader?

It’s in your value to serving your organization by helping others succeed, or achieve results they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s in your ability to invest in good or great decision-making and in propelling others forward in the work. It’s not easy work. Nor is it work you’ll ever finish. Effective leaders can’t hide, lose focus or put their grow slack in the work.

What’s so hard about it?

All the constraints, hurdles and roadblocks that get in the way. And that’s just for starters. There’s also the hostility of the environments and circumstances. Maybe it’s a down economy, rising interest rates, restricted budgets, limited resources, broken machinery, bad weather and more. Then there are the unforeseen fire storms that crop up just when we thought we had things under control. Just to prove to us how fallible and vulnerable we really are. Humility makers.

These things – and more – provide excuses. Most of us have used one or more of them. Some of us rely on them often.

You hear it when a retailing company says that sales would have been better last month, but we had record rainfall. You hear it when a sale organization complains that an arch rival undercut pricing with predatory marketing tactics. And you hear it when a logistics leader complains that competent truck drivers are almost impossible to hire.

Managers must manage. Leaders must lead. Those are just short quips for the practical reality that every effective leader must eventually learn.

You must perform no matter what.

That doesn’t mean you do whatever it takes by cutting corners, compromising integrity, sacrificing ethics or breaking the law. Nor does it mean you do whatever it takes by trampling on people, alienating partners or cheating customers. It means that you perform acts of service and value regardless of the obstacles or circumstances.

No-Matter-What Is The Acid Test

Many people claim they’d do this or that if only something else were in play. “We’d have hit our quota if only the weather would have been better,” says a sales manager. “I’d be more decisive if my Divisional President would support me, ” says the VP. “If I just had a budget 10% higher I’d be able to execute a better strategy,” says the general manager of production.

These are examples of leaders who’ve yet to learn the “no-matter-what” way to effective leadership. Honestly, I think it’s the ONLY strategy to effective leadership. I’m not saying other styles or methodologies won’t produce positive numbers. I’ve seen autocratic tyrants produce record setting sales and profits. But they’re not sustainable over the long haul. You can cost cut your way to record profits only to find yourself fighting for your financial life just a few quarters down the line. Short-term success can be had by just about any method out there. That’s where the no-matter-what methodology trumps all the others. It’s uncompromising, unwavering and always does the right* thing.

* The right thing being defined as what best serves the organization and the people who help make the organization successful. 

That doesn’t mean that all the people on the team of an effective leader agree with or are pleased with the decisions. It’s not about making people happy. It’s about helping people achieve and perform at their best…or helping them improve toward that end.

Suppose you’re feeling ill. You know something is wrong, but you’ve no idea what. You make an appointment with your doctor. You want to hear her tell you that everything is fine, but you know that’s not true. You’d be pleased to hear that you’ve got an inner ear infection, easily solved with antibiotics. But you’d only be pleased if that’s the truth. What if the truth is grim? Do you still want to hear the truth? Of course you do. It’s your life. It’s important to you. You need to know what’s going on and what options are available to solve this health problem.

You want your doctor to properly diagnose you and inform you no matter what. So it goes with your leadership.

Unfortunately, some leaders deceive their team. They withhold critical information that would help their team perform better. They sabotage the success of others by behaving poorly. Intentions don’t matter. Poor tactics, habits and behaviors are without excuse. And I don’t much care if ignorance is the cause. No organization that strives toward high performance should tolerate ineffective leadership. It’s the responsibility of the organization to hire, train and retain effective leaders. Part of that includes holding leaders accountable. Truth matters. Doing the right thing is always the highest value proposition. Just like the truth told by your doctor about your health.

I ask questions. Lots of questions. I listen. I prompt further discussion. It’s how I accomplish my work of helping – and serving – leaders.

I pay attention to details. Body language. Words. Phrases. Looks. Glances. Stories people tell. What isn’t said.

I’m very driven to help leaders improve because they impact so many lives. Men and women, young and old, are influenced by “the boss.” That makes the work of every boss crucial to the welfare of not just the organization, but of the lives of those they lead. Don’t take that responsibility lightly or casually because it’s important work.

Leadership is a high risk, high value proposition. Your failure will negatively impact many people. Your success will change lives. The value proposition of effective leadership gives bosses an opportunity to not available to just anybody. Many people are clamoring to make a difference. The leader is making a difference. For good. Or bad.

Go all in. Devote yourself to lifelong learning and improving. Learn how to help people more effectively. Commit to serving your team, your organization. Serve your boss. Serve your people. Serve your peers. Don’t be stingy. Or egotistical. Stop fretting about who gets credit. Focus on helping other people do their very best work. That’s where your value is built. It can’t be avoided. It’s apparent when a person is in charge who has that spirit driven by a “no-matter-what” motivation.  Be that leader.


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