When People Behave Badly #4027

When People Behave Badly #4027 - GROW GREAT Podcast with Randy Cantrell

He ambles to the front of the room, clicker in hand. Up on the projector is some nondescript slide with too many words. It’s evident that he’s not had a Red Bull this morning. I suspect he may have taken a fist full of tranquilizers within the last hour, but I can’t be sure. Surely not, it’s 7:30am. Maybe he’s just not had his morning coffee.

He’s going to take the team through some new initiatives. Weeks of preparation with his team members are about to finally come together in this conference room with about ten of the company’s top leaders. This meeting has been scheduled for over 2 weeks. The team knows he’s been pumped preparing the plan, and excited to share the whole thing.

Looking closely at him you can tell it’s not a lack of energy we’re seeing. He’s angry. I mean REALLY angry.

As everybody takes their seat folks begin to wonder who is going to be on the hot seat. Turns out the culprit isn’t in the room. One seat is vacant, a VP who has been with the company for 4 years.

Just before 7am the CEO’s cell phone rang. It’s the absent VP. He was arrested last night for driving while under the influence. Profuse apologies abound. The VP says all the appropriate things. He was out late entertaining some clients. The clients called a car to take them back to their hotel. He really thought he would make it home just fine. He was wrong.

Blowing through a red light he admits he never saw resulted in being pulled over. Thankfully, that was the only result. It was late and no cars were coming from the other direction, but a police cruiser was parked nearby to witness the event.

Now the CEO is pre-occupied with too many thoughts having nothing to do with his new proposed initiatives. What should he do with this VP? Fire him? What’s the press going to be like? Who will assume the VP’s responsibilities? It’s just a flood of thoughts and concerns.

Here sit nine people who have blocked the entire morning for this meeting. The CEO opens up a bottle of water, takes a sip and puts the clicker onto the table. His chest heaves as he takes in as much air as he can. He removes his glasses and announces that he’s got to inform them of their missing colleague.

He doesn’t elaborate too much. “If this were you, I don’t think you’d want me to dive into it too deeply. Suffice to say, it’s a serious matter and the outcome is yet to be determined.”

Some of the people around the table admit later that they were thinking, “Man, alive. That could have been me.”

The CEO went straight to the VP of HR/Talent Acquisition after getting that phone call. They discussed some immediate actions to take, then the CEO asked him to speak briefly with the rest of the team about their behavior, especially when behind the wheel — and when they’re with clients, or officially representing the company.

The CEO says, “I know you’ve cleared your morning so we could have this meeting, but given this news I just don’t have it in me to do this today. Instead, I’ve asked Mike (the HR VP) to speak with us – all of us – about making sure we learn from this. I told Mike I wanted this to be about 50% telling us things we likely already know, but need to hear again — and 50% questions. I’m going to ask that we dismiss this meeting promptly at 8am. I know you guys can all adjust your schedule and I’ll make sure I give you ample time to reschedule today’s topic.”

Mike proceeds to candidly, but professionally remind them of what they’ve all heard many times before. But Mike is a pretty decent storyteller. He proceeds to tell them of an event that happened early in his career. A co-worker drove under the influence, had a crash and severely injured the driver of another car. It had a major impression on Mike before he ever got a shot at a leadership role.

Mike then urged the team to discuss real scenarios that may have challenged them in the past. That proved very profitable. Nearly everybody in the room had a great question — one they had encountered before. The meeting ended with the CEO giving each of them permission — well, it was more of a commandment — to use their company credit card to call Uber, a cab, “I don’t care if you call a limo,” he said. We will happily pay that to keep you and everybody safe. Mostly, they were encouraged to behave wisely and soberly when with clients, but the CEO was understandably angry. He didn’t spare the room of his anger, feeling it was necessary to demonstrate how serious he was about this.

It was just a few minutes before 8am when the meeting ended. Nobody was smiling. Everybody was properly sober-minded by the ordeal.

“I’m so mad I can’t see straight,” the CEO confessed afterward. He had displayed an appropriate amount of anger. No ranting or railing. Hurt, disgust and serious disappointment.

The team needed to see it. He’s right. Yes, the circumstances were serious, but his reaction was appropriate — and it wasn’t just for affect. It was genuine. Real. Authentic. Warranted.

What You Tolerate…You Get

Every leader learns it’s true. It doesn’t matter how educated or mature your team may be. Smart people do stupid things.

Some argue that highly successful people, who operate in some of the most stress-filled arenas of work are more prone to party hard – and blow off steam – because that pressure has to go somewhere. Maybe they’re right. But that doesn’t mean the pressure has to go into poor behavior. Or risky actions.

In recent years we’ve seen high ranking United States military officers – including Generals – charged with sexual harassment and a variety of other poor behaviors. These are supposed to be some of the most disciplined people in our society. U.S. Presidents often make seemingly idiotic choices (see Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky). So it’s got nothing to do with brain power, or training, or pedigree, or position, or authority. None of us are immune from making a poor choice – or a series of poor choices. To be sure, the former is far less problematic than the later.

Some organizations are filled with habitual bad behavior. If the CEO tolerates, or even fosters it, it becomes engrained in the culture. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I was exposed to some company cultures where alcohol consumption was an art form. Open bars at company functions were the norm. And these weren’t simply open bars…they were open bars without restraints. It was also an era of heavy drug use among some particular cultures. Was it promoted? No, of course not. Was it tolerated? Absolutely. In some cases, it was even expected in the sense that people viewed it as the norm.

Sexual promiscuity, overt flirtations and other poor behaviors have been a part of some cultures, too. These behaviors aren’t limited to Wall Street stories of greed and lust. Main Street businesses throughout the world experience these things. I wasn’t yet out of high school, working at a hi-fi stereo store owned by a man who constantly flirted with the young girls who worked behind the counter, running the cash registers. One young lady was particularly busty and he was always making inappropriate comments and suggestions to her. She seemed perfectly okay with it, even leveraging it to her advantage…but I still remember how uncomfortable it made many of us who had to witness it.

You Must Have Standards

Some have joked, “We’ve got standards. If you’re still conscious, then you’ve not had too much to drink.” Maybe it sounds funny, but not only is it improper…it’s stupid. Foolish. Irresponsible.

I’m not sure when I first began to encounter HR departments that would focus on ethics. Ethical behavior wasn’t talked about very much when I began my career. Thankfully, I mostly found myself in environments where my comfort level wasn’t taxed. Of course, that was probably because I chose to work in situations that wouldn’t make me uncomfortable. You likely did the same thing if you’re my age. That is, if you were like me – a T totaler and non-party guy. While I could make some religious and moral judgments, that’s not the point. Today’s point is pure business. And from a purely business point of view, tolerating bad and unethical behavior is as risky as being fiscally irresponsible. It’s DANGEROUS.

Female workers with dresses too short, clothing too tight, necklines too low.

Male workers habitually making suggestive comments, inappropriate innuendos and improper physical contact.

Drugs, alcohol, pornography, lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, violence, sex…I wish there weren’t much I hadn’t seen affect a workplace, but there’s not been much. Honestly, it would take quite a lot to shock me anymore. One of the many wonders of growing older and being experienced I suppose.

It’s the leader’s job to set the standards. If you own the joint or you run it, it’s up to YOU. Don’t expect your team to behave better than you do. Or better than you demand.

And you can’t have different standards based on the roles people serve. My roots are in sales. The whole business development sector is focused on the old wine and dine mode of operation. That doesn’t mean it can operate without standards. Nor does it mean a CEO should chuckle it off as just being part of that division. If you’d tolerate in one division, why not tolerate it in every division? Just because your R&D guys and gals have a different role than the Biz Dev crowd doesn’t mean you should give them completely different ethical play books.

Don’t confuse imposing personal convictions or religious beliefs and establishing standards of conduct as being synonymous. Standards are necessary so performance can be expected and predictable. They’re also necessary so chaos doesn’t rule the day, and so the company isn’t put at risk. Having standards – and enforcing them – is the job of every owner, CEO or top leader. If there’s no accountability, then you have no standards. No, it doesn’t matter that you have them written down somewhere and you’re able to show them to me. Let me ask your people if anything happens when they’re not met and I’ll quickly find out how meaningful they are.

Response Specifics Aren’t Universal

Binary reactions can’t be employed. If a person does this, then you (as the leader) will always do that. It just can’t work that way because circumstances and situations are different. However, generally, leaders should have a pre-thought out response. Too often I find leaders haven’t thought about it ahead of time. Then, when it hits the fan, they’re angry, frustrated, or overcome with any number of other feelings that fuel decisions. Sometimes those decisions aren’t always the best, or most appropriate.

What’s right is right. What’s wrong is wrong. Severity differs. Consequences do, too.

Should our VP arrested for DUI lose this job? I don’t know. It wasn’t my call. It was his first ever arrest of any kind. He had no history of inappropriate behavior. No discipline had ever been taken by the company. None. Of any kind. He had taken one of the top 10 clients to dinner. A few bottles of wine had been consumed by all six people at dinner, including the host – the VP. He lived 4 miles away. None of the six people, including him, felt they were intoxicated. They were likely all wrong, but one of them didn’t drink alcohol. She reported they all seemed fully in control when they left. She was shocked the VP had been arrested. News traveled quickly, especially with this client who felt terrible since they had been the recipient of the entertainment.

No business was lost. In fact, the client was at a celebration dinner with the VP because they had just signed a new contract for additional services that resulted in a significant increase in their investment. They assured the CEO that as a client, they had seen no bad behavior on the part of the VP. He had been the perfect host that evening. They felt badly that they hired a car and would have happily given him a ride home had they suspected he wasn’t able to drive.

The blood alcohol level of the offending VP was right at the minimum required to be arrested for DUI. The blown red light was the tipping point. That’s what got the officer’s attention. And the dominos started falling.

It’s a misdemeanor. Company attorneys don’t get involved, except to advice the CEO. They’re confident the VP will suffer minimum penalties given his clean background and other details. As for liabilities and any other exposure for the company — it doesn’t currently seem worrisome. The PR issue is something entirely different though.

So there’s quite a lot to consider. Time will tell how it all plays out.

There’s a precedent in the company for helping employees with substance abuse issues. And the company is diligent in leaning on the HR department to make sure employees have a clear understanding of what is required for them to remain employed. This VP has never been subjected to any of those. His record is spotless and I’m confident that’ll factor into whatever the CEO does. So far, there doesn’t appear to be any PR issue, but that shoe could fall at any moment.

Timing is everything and it so happens the VP has a scheduled vacation beginning Wednesday. Two full weeks. The CEO urges him – at the recommendation of the HR staff – to keep that vacation schedule. It’s been on the books for almost 60 days.

All these details. All these moving parts. You can easily see why one-size won’t fit all.

One thing is universal in this company. The CEO and the company do not tolerate this behavior. The company has no history of encouraging or tolerating it during company work, or even privately. Had the VP been at dinner with his own family, it would have only changed things slightly for this company. A DUI arrest for any reason is unacceptable to them. And as a member of the executive team, the VP is certainly held to a higher standard, not a more slack one.

The response is always universal in that there is one. A blind eye isn’t turned. It’s not swept under the carpet. It’s always dealt with. How? Well, that’s where those universal specifics can’t really exist.

What Should You Do?

First, you should pre-think and establish the standards. 

What behaviors do you want to encourage? What behaviors do you simply not want, ever? Figure out your non-negotiable standards. That doesn’t mean the things you’re willing to list. It means the behaviors you’re willing to enforce. It means the behaviors you’re going to hold people accountable for. If you’re unwilling to hold people accountable for them, then don’t list them.

Second, you must teach and preach them.

No secrets. Everybody must know what the standards are and what’s expected of them. People can best avoid trouble by knowing what may get them into trouble. Don’t blindside people with some secret rule they know nothing about. Make the rules known loudly and often. And provide people with training to help them avoid trouble. It’s your job as the leader to help people succeed. That includes keeping them out of trouble.

Third, you must have high accountability.

This includes consistency, too. That is, you can’t look the other way with some and hammer others. Do the rules apply equally to everybody? Perhaps not, but they must apply fairly. An employee with multiple DUI arrests who is already on a PIP (performance improvement plan) isn’t going to be handled identically to this VP. It doesn’t mean people aren’t held accountable though. If it’s a standard, then it’s worthy of enforcement.

Fourth, you must protect the company.

Sexual harassment issues have put many organizations including virtually every branch of the U.S. military at risk. Some rogue employee who behave inappropriately will put your company at risk, too. This last step or response is an intolerance of poor behavior that violates company standards and puts the company (as well as the employee) at risk. The bottom line is — it’s unacceptable. So don’t accept it.


Maybe it’s been some time since you addressed any of these things. Get it on your calendar. Do it sooner than later. Don’t wait until some crisis hits. Prepare. Plan. Think about it. Form a strategy and get it going.

It’s just like any other form of protection. You have insurance. You have contingency plans. You need a plan to combat bad or unethical (and immoral) behavior. Get on it. Today.


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You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

You Can’t Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020

You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

Thousands of salespeople have sat across from me throughout my career. Some were very good. Most weren’t. Not because they lacked ability, but most lacked what I valued most while leading a company – somebody who really wanted to help me grow my business.

Self-interest is what drives far too many salespeople – and others, for that matter. What’s in it for me? That’s our collective battle cry. I’m okay with it provided we help the other person get what might best help them first. Mutual benefit should be the objective.

Countless sales executives have entered my office for the first time ever, armed to the teeth with a bag (sometimes literally) of tricks they claimed would solve my problems. It always fascinated me how a complete stranger who had spent no time with me, or my organization could have such a solution. Or how they could even know what my problems might be. Focused entirely on what was in it for them, they began their pitch with all the reasons why this solution was ideal for me. It was left up to me to decipher whether or not they really did have something I could find valuable.

That’s a bad strategy for problem solving – no matter if you’re selling a solution or not. Well, actually, even people on the executive team are selling a solution. They’re trying to persuade the organization to accept their idea. The value of their solution isn’t enhanced with a “let me tell you why this is good for me” tactic.

Never put the burden on the buyer – whether it’s your boss, a client or somebody else – to figure out if you’ve got something valuable or not. Presenting the value as the buyer would see it isn’t the same as deciding if it’s right for them, or robbing them of the opportunity to decide for themselves. But let’s back up before we even get to the part where you present a solution.

First Things First. Ask. Investigate.

As a young salesman I read and heard sales trainers use a term that never felt quite right to me. Probe.

Probing is what we were taught to do to uncover a customer’s needs, possible objections and anything else that might help us figure out an ideal solution. Not that there’s anything wrong with the term, it just wasn’t a favorite word for me. My natural style was always to simply have an engaging conversation where I asked customers questions. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I could ask the right question, I could find out more about the customer’s desire. That elevated my ability to figure out what I might have to help them. Or it helped me learn I may not have anything that would help them.

I would often imagine somebody who requested an appointment just to find out more about our company, or me before knocking my door down with a “here’s exactly what you need” pitch. It never happened. Periodically (not very often), I’d see some sales executive who I thought might be open to hearing such a message, and I’d run the idea past him. Most were just polite, but only a few – very few – appeared genuinely startled at such a novel approach. Startled to the point where I thought they might actually try it.

These were the day of the one-call-close. Nothing has changed. People today are aiming for the one-call-close. We’re all busy. Our prospects are busy. We think, “We’ve only got one shot.” That’s not true though. And if it is true, then I want to challenge you to do something more valuable with that one shot.


You can stand out more by not putting your need to make a sale – that includes you executives who are trying to sell your boss on your idea – at the forefront. Instead, try to gain a clearer understanding of the problem. You can substitute pain, desire, want, need or anything else in the place of the word “problem.” Find the word that best fits your situation.

Every single day I’m talking with CEOs. From very small companies to enormous companies. And I always discover the same thing with any of them willing to talk to me – and most of them are willing. Here’s the simple, but service oriented strategy (which isn’t so much a strategy as it’s simply how I naturally operate):

  1. I spend a few minutes (1-2) telling them why I’m reaching out to them. Don’t play some bait and switch game with your prospects (especially your boss). Be candid. Tell people why you’re wanting to hear their story – why you’d like to ask them questions. It’s not an interrogation. It’s a conversation. Don’t make it a grill session.
  2. I then simply ask them to tell me their story. And I shut up. Most open up quickly – evidence they’re not asked this question nearly often enough. We all care about our story. Most of us wish somebody cared enough to ask us about ours. I do care enough. I’m fascinated by the stories I hear. Most days I hear more than one really compelling story. Amazing what you learn simply by asking.
  3. Then I briefly tell them the truth. Sometimes what I do – or anything I might offer – isn’t a good fit for me. That means it won’t be a good fit for them. Other times, I’m not sure. But it’s not up to me to make the call when I don’t know on my end. If I’m thinking, “This may be something valuable for him, but I’m not sure” — then I’ll tell them that. I don’t try to make the decision for them. They need to make the call.
  4. It leads to more conversation or it doesn’t. Either way, I’m good with that and I’m convinced so are they. We both win regardless of the outcome.

I don’t want to sell. And I don’t think selling or sales is a dirty work. I just don’t want to do what most people think of when they think of selling. They think of talking people into things. Manipulation. That’s not what sales is. It is persuasion and influence – which we all want to incorporate into our communication when we know we’ve got something of value…something that can help others. Mostly, it’s giving people an opportunity to solve their problem (remedy the pain, gain some pleasure, get a solution, etc.).

No Agenda Except To Give Others An Opportunity. And Give Yourself An Opportunity To Serve.

Put first things first. Put your prospect (yes, that means your boss, or perhaps a co-worker, or anybody else you’re trying to serve) first. Listen to them. Better yet, express interest in learning as much as you can about what they think, how they feel and what they want or need. Ask. Listen. Pay attention.

People are searching for solutions. Many are staring into space right this minute, wishing somebody would arrive into their life to help them. What if you could be that person? Why can’t you be that person?

My headline isn’t completely true. You can offer a solution without asking a question. You can offer a solution without even listening to the other person. It will be a terrible experience for you – and the person you’re hoping to sell. But you can keep doing it. And keep enjoying a life of disinterested people. They’re disinterested in your solution because you’re disinterested in them.

You reap what you sow.


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Protecting Your Space Vs. Expanding Your Connections - GROW GREAT Podcast Episode 4011

4011 Protecting Your Space Vs. Expanding Your Connections

Protecting Your Space Vs. Expanding Your Connections - GROW GREAT Podcast Episode 4011

CEOs and other executives spend a lot of time in their office. Or conference rooms. Top leaders largely live in spaces they own, if not literally, then figuratively.

These are spaces we protect. The term “gatekeeper” speaks to how protective we are of our professional space. We guard it. Protect it. If we could, we’d build a moat and install a draw bridge. 1530793_c1dce8a6

Some of us have protected our spaces even better than that. We’re locked down and loaded, allowing in only insiders or people we’ve invited.

But this isn’t so much about physical space as it’s about emotional and psychological space. Head space. There’s a paradox happening. The more we protect our physical space, the more we close in our head space. It’s why new ideas can be so tough to come by. Or why we often feel stuck. Our field of vision is stuck. Our attention is stuck. We’re staring at the same walls, the same decor, the same people. We’ve protected our space and it’s the same day after day.

Groundhog day is every day for many CEOs. Except unlike Bill Murray’s character, we don’t get repeated opportunities to get it right. We just get up day after day battling the same issues, confronting the same problems, unable to see our best opportunities because we’re stuck with this same field of vision (and the same soundstage, hearing the same stuff).

Contrast that with getting out of your office to meet somebody new. Many of us can’t remember the last time we did it. We’ve got our friends, our direct reports, our team members and people associated with us professionally. It’s like we’ve hit our limit of people we’re willing to let in our lives. Maybe we’re introverted and it’s awkward to meet somebody new. Maybe we’re extroverted and we’re meeting lots of new people, but they’re just casual meet ‘n greet encounters without much depth. Or we’re more likely the ambiverts (those folks who are in the middle between introverted and extroverted) who just do what we’ve been doing. Unless something jolts us out of our routine, we stick with it. Doing what we always did.

Enter social media and the magic that happens. Five to ten years ago I rarely encountered a top leader who understood the value of social media. Most would say, “I don’t get Facebook. Why would anybody want to post crap on Facebook?” Of course, these same people didn’t use SMS texting either. Today, they regularly use both and don’t think twice about it. In fact, I regularly encounter CEOs and other top leaders who confess they use their cell phone more for texting than talking. That’s how our culture’s adoption of technology changes our behavior. It happens whether we understand it or not – at first.

Sitting at his desk a CEO may go over to the company’s Facebook page to see if any customers have posted something. Over the course of 15 minutes his behavior is drastically changed. He’s open. He’s available. Maybe he directly responds to people on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. He’s open and expansive. All while he’s locked down inside his office.

He logs off and more magic happens. That openness and expansive feeling is gone now. He’s back inside the castle surrounded by the moat. Back to the mindset of life inside the castle. Except this isn’t Camelot and he’s not King Arthur.

Why You Should Get Out Of Your Own Headspace To Create Vacancy

No, I’m not urging you to become an air-head, but I am saying you need some space inside your head (and your life).

One, because your perspective will never change until you do.

The walls inside your fortress are the same, day after day. Same desk. Same furniture. Same decor. All the same.

Have you ever examined your habits? I mean really closely examined them? Well, do that. Jot down what you do the moment you get up in the morning. Do it just until noon. Write down a word or four to describe what you’re doing. Don’t fret about what you’re thinking. Let’s keep it really simple. For now. And don’t pick a day where you’ve got a trip or some other non-typical work schedule. Pick a day like most days.

If you get up at 6am, then you’ll have listed all the things you’ve done – from the smallest to the largest – until noon. Six hours of actions. Six hours of behaviors. For just a single day.

Now look at the list. Carefully think about it. Do you suppose that one day’s list is typical? You know the true answer. Is that day an outlier or does it accurately depict what happens most every day?

Your perspective is driven by what you do. What you do is driven by many auto-pilot decisions. Those auto-pilot decisions are good (mostly) because they prevent you from having to consciously think about all the little decisions you face every single minute and hour. You don’t think about waking up and relieving your bladder. Or brushing your teeth. Or what you’ll wear (even if you make a choice you don’t likely overthink it unless it’s a special day). Or the route you take to work. It’s like you’re sleep walking through life, but you’re awake. Habits drive your behavior and it’s based on your perspective. And it fuels your perspective to continue.

That’s why we mostly think what we think and feel what we feel. Seldom does it change! Many of us aren’t interested in making a change. We’re comfortable with our perspective and our daily habits. Mostly, they’re fine and serve us well. But sometimes benefits turn into problems. A stuck perspective can hurt us by preventing us from considering things we’ve never before considered.

Two, because once you consider a different perspective, you consider new alternatives.

It’s happened to you before. Maybe traffic prevented you from taking your usual route to work. You’ve taken this other route before, but it’s been a long time. As you drive along, it’s a new route and you start looking more closely at the surroundings. You notice a restaurant you’ve never noticed before and wonder if it has always been there, or is it new? You notice it because it’s a restaurant that serves your favorite food. Your attention is heightened because you’re on a different path to work this morning. Curiosity and unfamiliarity are forcing you to pay closer attention. All because your usual route was clogged this morning.

The same thing happens to us personally and professionally. We see different things when we get outside of our head – and our routines. We consider different solutions and see new opportunities. It’s happened to us before, but we mostly resist it. We intentionally surround ourselves with our people – birds of a feather and all that. We talk to the same people, listen to the same stuff, read the same books, pay attention to the same industry experts. Group think overpowers most of us because we do what we do and rarely do anything different.

Three, because once we break outside of our head, we break outside of our space and we expand. It’s called growth.

The most honest CEOs admit they enjoy being comfortable. Who doesn’t? We all want to be comfortable. Only the craziest among us would seek out discomfort. Yet, sometimes momentarily discomfort can pay off bigtime. It happens when we’re sick and go to the doctor. The tests and the treatment may be uncomfortable, but before long they begin to pay off. We feel much better. When you’re sick and feeling badly, you don’t much care if there’s some additional discomfort. Which is why we sometimes work hard to avoid discomfort when we’re not sick. Ask any CEO about an annual physical exam. We hate them. We’re not sick. Why do we need to do this?

Don’t wait until it’s trading one pain for another. Don’t wait until your uncomfortable already. There’s value in embracing a degree (and I emphasize DEGREE) a discomfort so we can expand and grow. It requires intentional decisions to grow. That takes courage, humility and determination. It also takes an openness to admit we can grow into a better version of ourselves. Everybody has room to grow. Doesn’t it make sense that top performers – folks like you (CEOs and other top leaders) – may even have a higher capacity for growth?

CEOs and Top Leaders Are Employee #1 (which means they have the most to gain and the most to give)

It’s not about you being a better human being than everybody else at the office. It’s about a simple business idea: an asset or resource. This one happens to of the human variety. YOU.

Expanding your connections expands your life. It expands your thinking. It provides you valuable changes in perspective. It expands your ability to see opportunities and challenges. Protecting your space has value, but it hinders all that expansion. If you go all in on protection you’ll miss out on all the expansion that’s possible – and profitable.

I regularly ask CEOs about the investment their company makes in growing people. Many give great answers. They’re investing – some heavily – in developing people. I can then ask about their own personal development (professional and personal) and I get a blank stare. It’s quite common to hear a CEO confess they don’t invest much, if anything at all, in themselves. They’ll quickly followup by saying something like, “It’s more important that my people get what they need.”

That’s when I hold up my hands like a side line coach calling a time out. “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What? It’s MORE IMPORTANT that your people get what they need than that you get what you need?”

That usually prompts some rambling and back tracking as they hunt for words to make it not sound as bad it sounds. But it is that bad. And that’s the problem. It’s very bad.

As the top leader YOU are the most important human asset in the company. Again, it doesn’t make you better than anybody else. It’s just true. You’re the most important player on the roster. Like a star quarterback, you have the biggest impact on the performance of the entire team.

Just consider the people you impact. Suppose you have 8 direct reports. Suppose those 8 direct reports each have 3 direct reports. That’s 24 executives or leaders who are directly impacted by YOU. Let’s say there are another 65 employees. We’re now up to 89 people whose professional lives are impacted by YOU. Now let’s add all our suppliers, vendors, partners and others who help us do what we do, but they’re not directly employed by our company. Let’s say you’ve got 35 suppliers, four financial partners and 11 service professionals or other partners. That’s 50 outside partnerships that are impacted by YOU. Those aren’t people – they’re organizations or companies. They represent far more people than just 50. And we’re not yet counting customers! How many of those do you have? And we’re not counting the family members of your employees? How many of those are there? See what I mean?

YOU have a direct impact on hundreds or thousands of people. The ripple effect of your growth – or lack of it – is enormous. I’m not trying to make you think more highly of yourself than you should. This isn’t an ego thing. It’s a business, mathematical thing. It’s quantifiable and real. If you don’t grow, all those people’s lives are negatively impacted. If you grow, they’re all positively impacted. Some more. Some less. But all of them are influenced by your behavior, your decisions and even your mood.

As a business person, if I could offer you a 24x ROI you’d chase me down and make me give you that opportunity because you’ve got no opportunity like that. Those 24 executives in your organization (your 8 direct reports and their 3 direct reports each) represent the 24x. You represent the investment. There’s one of you and 24 of them. Invest one dollar in yourself – one dollar set aside to make you better. One dollar to help you expand your connections and improve your perspective…and 24 people feel the impact.

If the #1 employee in the company isn’t worth an investment, then who is? And there’s another reason why you – the CEO – have the biggest ROI on personal development. CEOs and other top leaders are top performers. Have you ever taken an employee who is doing poorly and put them on a performance improvement plan (PIP)? Sure. We’ve all done it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Because the person is in control of their own behavior. Some choose to listen and comply. Others choose not to. Assume a person complies. Their performance is so weak it’s put their job at risk. What kind of of an improvement – expressed as a percentage – do you need to see before they’re off the hot seat? Twenty five percent? Thirty five percent? Fifty percent? It’s likely a big improvement, else you wouldn’t have put them on a PIP.

You’re the CEO. You’re a top performer, a high achiever. A dollar invested in the person on a PIP may be wasted, or it may pay off slightly. It’ll be small, even if it helps the person turn their performance around. Is a 1% improvement in your performance equal to a double digit improvement in some other people on your team? YES, it is.

Take any thoroughbred race horse capable of running competitively at the track. Compare that horse with any run of the mill horse (the kind we see in pastures around here). If a trainer can get a 1% improvement in that race horse, do you suppose that’s infinitely more valuable than a trainer getting a 25% improvement in that pasture horse? There’s no comparison.

Invest in your own expansion. Grow. Get out of your protection mode. It’s not taking a chance, it’s taking an opportunity. It’s making sure you continue to grow and develop because all the people in your life need it. They deserve it.


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Be In The Moment

During my years of running luxury retailing companies I was constantly urging employees to “be present” and “be in the moment” with shoppers and customers. How can you deliver remarkable customer experiences if you’re not paying close attention to the customer? You can’t. But neither can you deliver a remarkable experience to employees, friends or family without it.


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Don't Be Offensive: IBM's White Shirt Strategy

4004 Don’t Be Offensive: IBM’s White Shirt Strategy

Don't Be Offensive: IBM's White Shirt Strategy

Our next door neighbor was an IBM’er. She traveled a lot. She was single so she said she didn’t mind it much. We had 2 rug rats running loose on the neighborhood. She drove a BMW. We did NOT. It was the early 1980’s and life inside IBM was assumed to be about as good as it gets in corporate America. Of course, I was never attracted to corporate America. Or travel. So I had very little envy for her lifestyle. It wasn’t lost on me that she was living a lifestyle as a single person that I was living with a family of four though. I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

These were the days where IBM set the standard for sales and service. They were the safe bet for any corporate expenditure. Nobody was ever going to be fired, or even endure criticism by selecting IBM as the vendor. IBM representatives were buttoned down (literally) professionals known for dropping from the sky if there was ever a problem.

My neighbor didn’t have it quite as regimented as her male counterparts, but she likely endured much higher scrutiny as a woman. The men of IBM didn’t wear facial hair and wore only white shirts. As she explained it to me, IBM wanted to make sure they did not offend a prospect or a customer. Research had shown them that some people don’t like facial hair…so no facial hair. Research had also shown that people assume a degree of professionalism with a white shirt that may not be assumed if a person wore a blue or yellow shirt. So white shirts it is!

IBM has even chronicled their attire through the years at their website. Just go here and you’ll see years and years of IBM attire.

I have never been an IBM insider so I have no knowledge if this was an official stance or a skunkwork of management. Either way, I’ve had multiple IBM’ers through the years tell me the same thing. Admittedly, my information is all circa 1980’s.

The other day somebody engaged me in a conversation about selling and appealing to as many people as possible. Of course, we quickly began to talk of all the profanity we hear and see today. Something neither of us experienced coming up through the ranks. F bombs abound in social media posts, speeches and blog posts. Yes, there’s a ton of informal marketing going on today that was mostly limited to one-on-one conversations in the old days. You can judge for yourself such matters, but our focal point was on the age old premise IBM followed, “Don’t be offensive.”

There’s little doubt it worked. Well, coupled with great products and services and an intense focus on the customer. I won’t credit IBM’s success of the 1980’s on the white shirts and no facial hair on men (facial hair on a woman would be VERY offensive). But I do understand the thought process.

I even remember reading somewhere an IBM executive make what seemed like a sound argument. He wrote that if a male IBM sales rep were to visit a prospect who didn’t like men with beards, and he (the IBM rep) had a beard…why put yourself at a disadvantage before you ever get an opportunity to inform the prospect what you can do for him. It made sense to me. Still does, actually.

The world has changed. Today in 2016 we’re not dealing with the same culture that existed in the 1980’s. For some, being offensive is a unique positioning intentionally crafted. No, I’m not attracted to it, but many are. Just go on social media and look closely at how profanity has infiltrated the headlines of content marketing – blogs, podcasts, articles, videos and photos. F bombs. S bombs. And everything in between. Being offensive has become a niche marketing tactic to prove hipness.*

*The fact that I even use the term “hipness” proves how unhip I am.

Offensive Vs. Being Unique

I admire IBM’s strategy of being inoffensive. The atmosphere is clouded because I think some people misunderstand offensive and uniqueness. I’m personally opposed to the former, but a big fan of the latter.

Might some people be offended or put off by your uniqueness? Of course. Anything is possible.

button down shirt and tieI hate button down collared shirts worn with a tie. It’s a personal preference thing. They look rumpled and awful. I’m not offended by them, but it’s not an attractive look to me. Whenever I see a guy wearing it, it bugs me. Would I refuse to buy from such a person? I might. I might not. There would probably be other elements involved.

I mean look at that photo — and this guy has loosened his tie. It would look worse with the tie cinched up to his neck. I’m crazy enough that I’d be thinking, “What’s he thinking?” But here’s the deal. I’m not offended by it. I’m put off by the look though.

Offensive is defined as “causing someone to feel deeply hurt, upset, or angry.” No, this look doesn’t offend me. But I can’t imagine facial hair on a man causing offense, even in the 1980’s when I wore a mustache! I was young then. There were plenty of old heads who ran companies though and they had no tolerance for men with facial hair working in their companies. So it made sense to me that IBM wanted clean shaven representatives.

Now there’s a vast difference in that buttoned down collar with a tie look and dropping F bombs.

The question and lesson for us is – what can we do or avoid doing to attract our prospects?

Offensive also means “actively aggressive; attacking.” Profanity laced content is actively aggressive. Intentionally so. I’ve heard some marketers who regularly use it claim it’s who they are and how they roll. They argue that it helps them dissect the market and separate the people willing to do business with them versus those unwilling. They think it clears the way toward more effective reach – namely, giving them a leg up on reaching their “ideal” prospect.

Okay. I’m not sure about all that, but if that’s how they want to roll, no skin off my nose. I’m just unsure I buy it. There are some big name social media rockstars who regularly use profanity. Seems to me an awful lot of people are copying that, wrongly assuming that their profanity is one reason for their popularity. Instead, I’d encourage those people to consider the substance of their content, not their profanity-centric style.

I acknowledge that we’re in an age where style over substance is often a reality. We often ascribe substance where style exists. And where style is absent, we think there must not be any substance. It’s true in music, art and business. Probably in lots of other spaces, too.

Choose your strategy. I’m only encouraging us to consider our strategy carefully so we can give ourselves the best opportunity for success.

The other day I got a meeting with a top business owner. He started the business in the late 1960’s. I’m old. He’s older. I put on a black suit, a white shirt and a striped tie. Yes, I admit I dressed with him in mind. I felt it was the respectful thing to do.

I know others might criticize me for that. They’d say, “Dress the way you want. Be who you want to be. Be who you really are.”

If it were up to me I’d wear my black jeans, my New Balance sneakers and a fleece pullover. But I wanted to have a good interaction with this business owner. I’m trying to engage him in meaningful conversation. I’m not trying to put him off and give him any reason to think, “I don’t want to spend any time with this guy.”

I’m not in the fashion trade. If I were, then perhaps I could understand the argument to dress like I want. I’m in the coaching and consulting business. I need my prospects to talk to me. I’m not going in guns blazing telling them all about me. I’m asking about THEM. I want them to tell me more about themselves and their businesses. How I dress and how I speak could quickly ruin that.

As the owner came to the lobby to greet me, I stood, shook his hand firmly while looking him in the eye and quickly thanked him for making the time to see me. As we were seated in a small conference room he introduced me to his assistant. I introduced myself to her, shook her hand and expressed pleasure in meeting her. It’s manners. Professional etiquette. Appropriate dress and behavior. At least that’s how I view it.

As we began to talk I’m rather certain he got some sense of me and my uniqueness. I hope so. I didn’t talk about myself. I asked him about his career and his business. That’s what I was mostly interested in. I wasn’t interested in finding somebody I had never met before and being able to hold forth telling them all about me. This guy was super smart, very bright and engaging. The meeting went well and I was thrilled to have met him. Will we do business? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I know I had a good meeting because I was prepared and because I made him the focal point of my preparation and my actions. He was the centerpiece of the meeting, not me.

Who is this about?

I’m mostly put off by some of the marketing and positioning I see because I think the focal point is wrong headed. Marketers think it’s about THEM. Not the client or customer. Or prospect.

Nearly every week I tell people that the main benefit of my podcast is likely found in people’s opportunity to click play, listen to a few minutes and figure out whether I’m their cup of tea or not. It gives prospects the opportunity to find out pretty quickly if I’m a personality they can relate to or not. Yes, I’m myself. I’m honest here. The way you hear me talk is how I talk. It would be completely dishonest to speak as I do here, then when you meet me in person I’m some foul-talking, in your face kind of a person. You’d think, “Man, he’s not at all how I thought he’d be.”

For me, it’s disrespectful of the prospect and customer. I find nothing wrong with dressing and preparing for a meeting with the prospect in mind, not myself. There are going to be plenty of people who will never do business with me, for whatever reason. I need to give myself the best chance possible to do business with some. For those few, I want them to see and hear and understand how important they are to my career and my business.

So let’s end with some questions that may help all of us better figure this out.

  1. How does your attire, speech and behavior help you differentiate yourself? Or does it?
  2. How do these things attract prospects? (Is it about attracting the right people or about repelling the wrong people?)
  3. How do these things give success a better chance?
  4. Are you really being true to who you are, or are you being sucked into copying something you think is popular?
  5. Is respect and politeness part of your competitive advantage?

There are tons of other questions worth asking. I’d encourage you to keep asking and answering them. Figure out what you’re doing, what you want to do and examine closely what’s working versus what’s not working.

The goal is improvement. We just want to grow as great as we possibly can.

All the best,

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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