On Being Extraordinary

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

290 The Power Of Asking Better Questions

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Spend enough time in sales and you’ll soon realize the power of questions. They serve to help you find out if you’re a suitable solution for a prospect. They also help you serve clients better.

One of the first things I learned was how powerful questions are to learn more. Namely, about the people I was attempting to serve. A couple walks into the stereo shop where I was working as a high school kid. I was naturally curious about what they were looking for, why they might be looking for it and what kind of music they most wanted to play. First, I remember being curious about who is really doing the shopping here. Is it her? Is it him? Is he helping her, or vice versa? Only one way to find out. Ask.

I was the naive sales guy willing to ask what others thought might be the stupid question. For me, it was less naiveté and more curiosity. There was also the practical element of it all. I needed to know so I could better serve them. I wanted happy customers. The road to happiness isn’t paved with good intentions or anything other than finding out what must be done, then doing what must be done.

In this particular case she was looking for her first real stereo system – not one of those all-in-one affairs that was the starter system for many of us. She wanted to have a really good, albeit not too expensive system. His job was to make sure she didn’t get scammed. I figured as much.

I didn’t ask the usual questions though. He remarked about that. Others wanted to know, “How much do you want to spend?” I never went there even I knew it was a perfectly logical question. The reason I didn’t go there was because it just didn’t feel right to me. It felt like I was just like everybody else and my big driver then (as now) is that I’m not like everybody else. That’s right. I’m better!

If you’re going to be better than everybody else, then stop doing what everybody else is doing. Ask better questions. Prove you’re different. Better!

I asked her what I asked lots of shoppers during those times in hi-fi stores. “What’s your favorite record right now?”

We’re in the mid-1970’s. I don’t remember what her answer was, but it could have been anything from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres to some Earth, Wind and Fire funk. Who can remember? Not me.

I do remember the question taking her – and her boyfriend back. They came in for stereo gear. We talked music. I didn’t think it odd at all. Why did we want good stereo gear? That’s right. To play our favorite records. Yes, kids. It was the days of vinyl, turntables and phono cartridges.

Ballard StreetThe boyfriend observed that my question wasn’t the first question they’d been asked elsewhere. “Don’t you want to know how much we want to spend?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I figure you guys will spend whatever you want. I don’t have much control of that. I just want to make sure you know what’s available so you can make the best decision.”

Oh, I had him on his heels now. Armed with specs he may have stayed up all night memorizing so as not to be taken advantage of, and so he might appear the knight in shining armor to his sweetheart, a teenage kid stood in front of him armed with nothing but my love of music, my knowledge of the gear and my desire to find out, “What’s your favorite record right now?”

Oh, I asked many more questions about her record collection including what her all-time favorite record was. Her favorite band. The last concert she went to. I knew she hated disco – beginning to be a thing about that time. I was happy about that because I couldn’t stand disco. She had roommates in college and didn’t want anything too big. Or too loud, except when they had parties. On and on this went as I put record after record on a turntable – the records she most loved, of course. Discovered only because I asked.

And I simply walked them through what an expensive system involved, all the while telling them, “I know you’re likely not looking to spend this much, but let’s talk about why these expensive systems cost what they do. That way I can show you what you give up as we walk down toward systems that may be more what you had in mind.”

It was a strategy I used my entire career in consumer electronics – up until the time I walked away from that industry in 2009 (well, I stopped even consulting in that business by 2011). Old habits are hard to break. When you’ve spent a lifetime in an industry it can be tough to walk away, but I did. I had always heard about “step up” selling, but I never did it. Step up selling is when you attempt to step people up a price point, to a higher level where presumably you can make more profit. There’s little to no profit in the low end of any market. Step customers up to a higher price point and you tend to encounter higher profit margins. It seems logical. I just never did it because again, it sounded like everybody else and my motto was to zig when everybody else was zagging. Besides, it felt much better to teach people about the higher end stuff and most admitted nobody ever took the time to do that. I did. But we both know I’m special. 😉

The boyfriend was disarmed right away because he knew I was no threat to him, or his girlfriend – or their budget. I didn’t even know or care what their budget was. I knew it really didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that I have a clear understanding of what she (they) wanted so they could make the best, most informed decision possible and have the system that fit her needs and desires. These things take time. The grand thing about all this for me, at the time, was that we could do it while listening to music. It just doesn’t get much better than that for me. I still miss the hi-fi business. 🙁

I don’t remember how expensive the most expensive system was that we first looked at, but I briefly went over a few key reasons why expensive systems were expensive. Why hi-end turntables performed much better than low-end ones…and why she’d be better off spending more money on the phono cartridge where most people skimped on that and ruined any hope they had to get a great sound. She was learning and my questions demonstrated one key element that good questions always do…

I cared about her.

My competitors hadn’t asked her these questions. They’d gone straight into pitch mode, trying their best to sell her whatever they could. I gave her time, attention and was genuinely interested to know what she most wanted in a hi-fi system. That was over 40 years ago and I’m still the same guy. I’m no longer selling stereo gear (sometimes I wish I were), but I’m still selling, serving people and trying to do good. Working hard to make a positive difference.

You Can Make The Biggest Difference When You Take The Time To Find Out More

I’m typically an impatient man prone to just get on with it. But in the rush to make a sale, I’m like a camel. I can go for long periods of time waiting as I build the relationship, finding out all I can, teaching as much as possible along the way. I know I’ve got my hang up’s. We all do. Maybe for me it’s the desire to appear genuine, knowledgable. I’ve never been too bothered about not being the smartest man in the room. I’ve long joked that even when I’m alone I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But I’m almost always prepared. It doesn’t mean I’m ready, but it means mostly I’m ready enough.

The other day I ran across this little graphic with a quote by Hugh Laurie, the actor who played Dr. House on TV.

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Pretty good, huh? I agree with Hugh. Now is as good a time as any. I just always figured it was up to me to put myself in the best position to make now be as right as possible. And with that, you’d think I might over prepare, but not so much. Perfectionism is not my problem. My willingness to accept imperfection is pretty high, but when you live behind my eyes — that’s just how you have to roll.

You’ve heard the famous quote.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”  Theodore Roosevelt

It’s true. Conversely, I can tell how little you care by how little homework you did, or you little you care to find out what I think, or how I feel. Tell me, don’t ask. And I’ll confirm the shallowness of your concern for me. Ask me, and take the time to really listen. And I’ll know you likely care. Keep doing it and I’ll know how much you care.

Speed dating just gets to a faster no I suspect for those who participate. Speed selling does the same thing.

So I hope I’ve shown you that questions can make you stand out, stand apart from the crowd. They display your genuine care to learn more about the people you’re attempting to serve (those people who may buy something from you). They also serve to give you insight and information that help you make customers happy. Good salespeople are good servants. They don’t want returns, refunds or buyer’s remorse. Ever!

Questions are so powerful they deserve more time than we give them. And more creativity, too.

During my years running retail companies I was fanatically against hearing anybody in stores say, “Can I help you?” It screams, “I’m a salesperson intent on selling you something.” Instead, I taught sales staffs to simply welcome shoppers with a simple, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening” followed by “Welcome to (insert the same of the store).” Then just shut up, but be attentive.

Inevitably the shopper would ask the first question. It might be asking where something was located. Or something else, but the question they asked would be the ice-breaker where our staff members could begin to build the relationship by asking questions designed to help serve the shopper. The intent behind the questions is important.

They must be designed to find out more in ways that demonstrate you want the person to be armed to make the best decision they can make. All the while arming you with the information you need so you don’t waste their time, or get it wrong.

My college couple shopping for a small starter hi-fi system may have been willing to spend the money for a system that would play twice as loud as she’d ever play it, but it would have been the wrong system for her. How would that have helped me serve her better? How would that have given her anything good to say about me, or the store I represented? I wanted her to tell all her friends about me. I wanted her parties to be successful and for my name to be dropped as the guy who sold her that killer system everybody was enjoying. Getting it wrong would have negated all those things.

Getting it right demands that you ask the right questions at the right time. And today, I’m challenging you to formulate better questions. Get outside the space you operate in. Your industry – whatever industry it may be – it overrun with “me, too” copycat-itis. Every industry is. We find somebody succeeding at something and instantly put it into practice never fully even knowing why it may work for them. Sales gurus peddle scripts guaranteed to bring in more sales. “We’ve tried this script on over 10,000 calls and we know it works.” Well, maybe so, but if you hop down that road copying it, sounding like you’re reading a script I guarantee failure. Besides, if you don’t take the time to understand the value behind it, you can’t own it. And if you can’t own it, then neither will your prospect.

It’s not about scripts. My admonition about store greetings was a script of sorts. How we answered the phone was, too. But it was natural. It was easy. It was straight-forward, friendly and simple. Too many times we get wrapped up in contrivances that we think will “make” people buy from us. Listen, you’re not going to make anybody do anything they don’t want to. You may as well quit trying because it’s a waste of time and energy. Besides that, it’s wrong-headed.

Instead, spend your time crafting questions that will actually help you help your prospective clients. Show them how much you care about serving them well…and getting it right. Do everything in your power to make them feel and understand how motivated you are to “get it right” for them.

The crazy bottom line to all this is stupidly simple: care more. 

Care enough to prepare. Care enough to learn. Care enough to teach. Care enough to share.

Care enough to ask.
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Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 278

278 Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob (4 Benefits)

Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 278

F. Scott Fitzgerald was quoted in a 1936 Esquire article.

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

First rate leadership certainly demands the ability to see a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. If you’re thinking, “Yes, collaboration and consensus are important” — I might agree with you, but those have nothing to do with my point in today’s show. Table both of those ideas for the moment because I’m going to focus on YOU and YOUR leadership, not on collaboration or consensus building.

Your leadership can have a dramatic geometric shift with just a slight turn of the perspective knob. Sometimes you might have to turn the knob further. Either way, it requires a willingness to make the adjustment so you can be more effective.

My podcasting studio has some professional audio gear that is easily tweaked. Some of these contraptions can be adjusted ever so slightly and it can alter the sound pretty dramatically.

turning knobs inside the yellow studio
Lots of knobs. Lots of turning that can happen. One slight adjustment can alter the sound dramatically.

That’s what tweaking is all about.

to make small adjustments

It doesn’t mean the smallness of the adjustment mirrors the size of the outcome. Look at that knob in the upper right hand corner of the picture. The one labelled, FADER.” You see how close that knob is to -10? It’s not quite all the way to -10, but it’s close. If I turn that knob to the right enough to be dead center on the -10 the sound isn’t as good. Hard to believe such a small adjustment can make a big difference. Welcome to the world of tweaking!

Your leadership is the same way. We could apply this to many facets of your leadership, but today I want to apply it to just one – your need to make the best decisions possible. More specifically, your need to solve problems based on the best evidence possible.

Turning knobs is necessary when something changes. If I use a different microphone, many of those knobs you see pictured have to be adjusted. Things rarely can be nailed down and left alone because audio is just like leadership (and decision making or problem solving). It’s not happening in a vacuum. There are variables that are constantly affecting things.

3 Ways Knob Turning Will Benefit Your Leadership (plus a bonus 4th)

a. Your willingness muscle will be more flexible and agile.

Leaders can become rigid in their thinking and their approach. It’s dangerous.

The other day I was doing some office work and the movie Pearl Harbor came on. I’d never seen it. The world in 1945 was a very different world. The inability to know where the Japanese fleet was, and how far out the attacking planes might be put the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor in a deadly vulnerable position. The strategy of the Japanese commanders succeeded in catching the Americans off guard. But that strategy wouldn’t work today because of radar and satellite technology. What once worked wouldn’t necessarily work again. The foolishness of such a notion in warfare tactics seems obvious to us, but we can be blind to our own leadership foolishness. Maybe the tactics or strategy we employed last year worked magnificently. That doesn’t mean they’ll succeed at all this year.

Leaders can fall in love with their ideas, tactics and conclusions. More so if those things have served them well in the past. And like most things that once worked – they work until they don’t. The key is to abandon them before they cause us too much harm. But I’m urging you to embrace something even more progressive and innovative — the willingness to explore alternatives to what has worked in the past.

The knobs are there. You may as well turn them and see what happens. Just like my audio gear, your leadership has lots of knobs — many options and combinations. Those knobs are there to be turned sometimes. Exploring improvement is a habit, just like failing to explore improvement. Your leadership isn’t benefited by locking and loading one path.

After I go to the gym and workout I’ll spend 15 minutes or so stretching. I focus on my hamstrings because I’ve always had really tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can cause lower back pain, but I avoid that because I take the time to stretch them. Stretching them keeps them flexible and helps me combat stiffness (or back pain). It’s a pretty small investment in time and effort, but the payoff is big! It’s a knob I’m willing, even anxious, to turn so I can improve.

What knobs are you afraid to turn? What knobs have you set and forgot about?

b. Your ability to get closer to the truth is enhanced by your ability to turn the knobs.

In a future episode (I’m planning for it to be episode 280), I’m going to talk about evidence-based leadership. Turning the knobs on your leadership is mandatory.

You’re paid to solve problems and make decisions. The better your evidence, the better your decisions. The better your evidence, the better your conclusions.

Leaders who practice knee-jerk management ignore evidence. They’re often disinterested in it. They know what they know and nobody can tell them differently. That’s poor leadership. It’s also foolish.

Instead, you want to be a leader who more often than not gets it right. None of us are right all the time, but you can improve your rightness by leaning harder on evidence before you decide, or before you draw a conclusion.

Have you ever made a decision before you even had to?

You had more time to gather evidence, but your mind was made up and you went forward. Another day, another week might have been available, but you didn’t see the need to delay. Your speed wasn’t a competitive advantage. Quickness got you nothing, but still you went for it. Maybe it was impatience. Maybe it was your closed mind. Maybe you thought you already had all the information necessary to confirm your rightness. You just couldn’t resist holding off.

It’s another bad leadership habit that can be difficult to break, especially if you don’t get your hands on the knobs. Impatience during times when you could take more time isn’t virtue. It’s a curse lending itself to foster increased knee-jerk management.

A few weeks ago a senior executive was talking to me about millennials – 30 somethings in the workplace. We were wondering what future leadership adjustments might be required for teams comprised of this generation. I observed that as a baby boomer I wasn’t sure a broad brush could properly define me, or my generation. I’m equally convinced that it’s likely impossible to do so with Generation Y or the millennials. People are individuals and we be fit various categories, but it doesn’t mean those categories accurate depict us. For example, I break many molds for my generation. I’m tech savvy. So much so that my millennial kids rely on me for technical support. I know more about web technologies, new media, social media and the rest of it than both of my kids put together. I also break the mold in the stereotypical materialistic view of life held by many baby boomers. My generation was very interested in getting ahead and making money. I’m not immune from that, but I’m far more interested – and always have been – in getting something done and in making a difference. I acknowledge the facets of being a baby boomer that have likely influenced me, but in many ways I can more easily identify with millennials and other generations bent more toward service and living with purpose.

As we talked this senior executive remarked about a millennial employee who had made a faux pas in a meeting. The millennial had said something “sucked” and this senior leader thought it was inappropriate. “When did this happen,” I asked. “A few years ago,” he said. “Did you talk with him about it?” I asked. “No, but I haven’t forgotten it,” he said.

And I thought to myself – “Man alive, turn that knob already.” But I said nothing. I just listened, taking in the information, formulating a strategy – committed to turning my own knobs knowing that I didn’t have to decide anything right in that very moment. I was in fact-finding mode. Gathering more evidence so I could help this senior leader improve his own leadership. But first, I had to make sure I was handling up on my own leadership.

At some point I’ll be able to discuss this very issue with him. I’ll remind him of our discussion and how he’s pegged this millennial employee forevermore based on a poor choice of wording in a meeting. By the way, the meeting was an internal meeting amongst teammates. There were no outside customers or external people in the meeting. The senior leader even acknowledged to me that he was fairly sure nobody else in the meeting had a problem with it. But he did. And I could sense some judgment being rendered even to the others in the meeting because he alone felt it was improper.

In that moment — and even later on — he didn’t turn any knobs. He didn’t turn the knob to ask the question, “Does this millennial employee even know what he said, and that he should choose his words more carefully?” What about the knob that has him feeling a specific way about this employee that may not properly characterize this employee?

I’m not saying what the employee said was proper. That’s not the point. The point is, I’m not sure I can draw any conclusions from it without more evidence. The willingness and openness to get more evidence is the knob turning that will better serve this senior executive. Right now, he’s not developed the habit of twisting and tweaking the knobs necessary to bring about a clearer sound. That’s where I come in. I’m there to help him learn how to better do that so he can become a more effective — and evidence-based leader.

c. Your ability to foster innovation, creativity and all the best possible solutions is enhanced when your team knows you’re willing to turn the knobs.

Employees know if the boss is open to ideas. Your employees know what they can say to you and what they’d better refrain from saying. You don’t likely think of yourself as a person who fosters “yes men” but you might be exactly that kind of a leader. Every team knows the boss well enough to know how receptive the boss is to anything. They may not all manage it well, but they know.

I sit in a large conference room filled with executives. At the head of the table is the divisional big boss. Like many leaders he’s strong-willed and opinionated. After he presents a problem to the group he quickly chimes in with his thoughts. He goes on to tell the team what he doesn’t want to hear or see. I look around the room and if air were visible, you’d have seen it all rush right out of the room. A collective switch was flipped by all the people seated at the table. They all – to a man and woman – flipped their brain into the OFF position. Well, not entirely. They flipped their brain into the OFF position on what they may have thought was the best solution. Instead the wheels appeared to be turning to find a solution that would fit with the constraints the boss had just put upon them by telling them what he wanted and what he didn’t want in a solution. He didn’t turn a knob, instead opting to make sure his team know every knob was firmly fixed without room for tweaking. The team responded in kind.

Privately, he laments how his team isn’t as creative as he’d like. “There’s not enough innovation,” he says. He hasn’t yet figured out why. By turning the knob on holding his opinions in such settings to himself, he could foster more creativity and innovation. If he’d just turn the knob that lets him speak last instead of first – when it comes to stating his initial opinion – he might find his mind being more open and he’d most certainly foster greater dialogue among his team. How big of a turn is that? Not much really, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have an easy time of it.

There are inherent benefits of being a knob turner. People know you’re willing to make adjustments. They know you’re open-minded. That alone can serve you to be a more effective leader because it will foster more ideas, better ideas and a variety of diverse opinions.


d. Your willingness and ability to turn knobs demands you learn to be a more effective communicator. 

It may be a chicken versus egg quandary. I’m not sure which comes first – the ability to properly communicate or the ability to turn the knobs. I know one can’t be had without the other. They hinge on each other. Repeatedly I’ve seen people who worked hard to turn knobs more effectively and seen them enhance their communication skills, too. But I’ve not seen it work the other way around – improved communication doesn’t necessarily make one better at turning knobs. And I think I know why.

If you’re going to embrace knob turning you must communicate. Any respectable knob turning leader has learned to ask questions. Turning knobs necessarily means you refrain from jumping to conclusions, even if they’re the right conclusions. Like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid running away from that posse in that famous movie scene. You only jump when you have to.

We all know that false assumptions are killers, but still some leaders continue to make them. We assume the young person in the meeting knows not to use the word “suck” in a meeting. But what if he thinks nothing of it? What if we corrected him with a conversation and he never did it again?

These things require communication. They require being willing to engage in candid conversations so we all improve our understanding.

How fair would it be for a parent of an elementary aged child to judge that kid based on all the stupid things he says? It’d be grossly unfair. Parents correct their children when they say and do improper things. It doesn’t mean they’re rebellious or stupid. They just don’t know what they don’t know – until we teach them. We shouldn’t tolerate their rebellion, but we do tolerate their ignorance or inexperience. We handle this by talking with them and explaining things to them. We ask them questions. We answer their questions. Those same techniques are required by every leader who would become more accomplished at turning knobs to become a great leader.


You need rigidity in one area of your leadership. Non-negotiable standards. That’s it.

You should be inflexible in your expecting good behavior and good performance. Minimum standards must be held sacred.

Flexibility should characterize the rest. Even in non-negotiable standards it’s wise to exercise caution in drawing a conclusion. For example, a leader can complain about a person lying, violation of a non-negotiable standard. Upon further investigation and conversation, turns out the person wasn’t lying at all. He merely didn’t know what he didn’t know. He made a statement based on his limited knowledge of the facts and it sounded like lying, but it wasn’t. When he was more fully informed it changed everything. He acknowledged that he “just didn’t know.” Okay, is he a liar or is he uninformed? Being uninformed wasn’t a non-negotiable standard for this company. That’s knob turning in action.

Give yourself the opportunity for a bigger, clearer sound. Turn some knobs. See if you can’t gain some insight with a slight adjustment. Make a full quarter of a turn if you want…you can always turn it back. Twist and tweak. You may find that you’ll be able to create a leadership that is monumentally better than anything you’ve ever created before.


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Leadership & The Stories You Tell - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Episode 276

276 Leadership & The Stories You Tell

Leadership & The Stories You Tell
A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse

Didn’t we all grow up hearing stories? I did.

Parents read stories to us. Teachers did, too. At church we heard preachers tell us stories, too. The Bible has lots of great stories.

Parents, teacher and preachers aren’t the only people in our lives who tell stories though. Leaders do, too. You’re a leader. You tell stories.

That doesn’t mean you’re good at it. Or that your stories are good. Or effective in helping you lead better.

Pay Attention Today

It can be challenging to be in the moment. Leaders are often challenged with pre-occupation. We’ve got a lot of things on our calendar, our mind and our plate. Those are just the things involving our agenda. Then, we’ve got the dozens of small (and large) interruptions. I hear you moaning your approval right now. But wait a minute…

Who or what is the recipient of your leadership?

Hint: it’s always a who. It’s only a what if you’re describing a team, department or organization. People comprise all of those. So, even if you answer with a what, it’s still people.

Sadly, too many leaders allow themselves to become distracted with stuff instead of people. People perform. Leaders lead. That is, leaders help people perform better. When they fail to do that, they fail in their role to lead. But we can go into more detail on that work later. Today, I want to concentrate on one aspect of leadership to helps people perform better – stories.

I started paying attention to stories in the workplace when I was still a teenager. Every boss I ever had told stories. Some didn’t tell good stories. Others didn’t tell the stories very well. But they all told stories. Some kind of stories.

In elementary school I often gauged my affection for my teacher based on her (they were all women) ability to tell or read stories well. I cared about the performance or the ability to read aloud well. I also paid attention to the kind of stories they selected. We’ve all got a preference for certain kinds of stories. My interest, even as a little kid, was mostly sparked by stories that could have been true. Fantasy and sci-fi kind of stuff wasn’t appealing to me as a little kid. It’s still not. For example, my third grade teacher read The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. That was my kind of story.

When I began to work in businesses, first as a salesperson, I paid careful attention to the stories the boss told. I knew it would give me insight into his values, his concerns, his worldview, his philosophies and anything else that might help me be a better employee. One of my earliest strengths as a salesperson was preparation. I was fanatical about studying the products I was selling. I was bent on knowing more than anybody else about the stereo gear I was selling. It wasn’t an ego-based thing. It was a practical thing designed to give me the biggest edge in selling more products and serving more customers. I knew that if I could teach a customer about a feature that meant a lot to them, then I could make the sale. The salesperson who shows us that one thing that makes all the difference — that’s the salesperson we tend to like the most, and the one most likely to get our money. It was a game for me and the name of the game was “intel.” I wanted my intel (or intelligence) to be superior to anybody else in the market. The boss would tell stories and that would give me intel I could use to be a more valuable employee. Besides, I enjoyed figuring out why certain people told certain stories, or certain kinds of stories.

Selling was – and still is – very story-driven for me. So is coaching. And consulting. I can see a client’s eyes light up with an “Oh-now-I-get-it” moment after I tell a very brief story, or use an illustration (which is really just a micro story) that resonates with them. It happens all the time and I’m constantly searching for that connection because it means I’ve done my work well.

So the boss is always talking about his stuff. His car, his house, his vacation, his family. It’s all about him. All the time. You ever had a boss like that? If you’ve got any experience at all, it’s highly likely. Some bosses are that self-centered. I hope that’s not you, but if it is — Stop It! Get your mind off yourself at work and start thinking about your people.

One of my earliest bosses was like this, but my immediate boss was just the opposite. Thankfully. My immediate boss was a pretty remarkable, attentive guy. The stories he told dealt with merchandise, shoppers and employees. He was quite focused on the merchandise so I knew product knowledge was important to him. He wanted his staff to be among the most knowledgeable salespeople around. I was already bent to increase my intel, including product knowledge, so that wasn’t hard for me. I would sometimes urge fellow employees to stop wasting their downtime in nonsense and to spend it brushing up on their product knowledge so they could perform better. If it’s important to the boss, it better be important to the employees.

Years later I learned that I could employ the same intel strategies to figure anybody out. When you sit down to negotiate with somebody and you have no idea what kind of stories they like to tell, you’re in a less desirable position than if you’ve heard them tell lots of stories. It’s why two of the fundamental things I urge all my clients to do is listen and ask questions. It’s common for me to teach people my personal selling philosophy. There are basically only two selling philosophies, but they’re very opposing in their tactics, viewpoint and implementation.

Selling Philosophy #1

As long as I’m talking, I’m selling.

Selling Philosophy #2

As long as you’re talking, you’re buying.

I’m solidly in the second camp. I don’t have any tolerance for people entrenched in that first camp. If I can’t move somebody from camp #1 to camp #2, then I’ll quit. That’s how important it is to me. That’s how much I believe in the superiority of #2. That first strategy is just too selfish, too.

Even leaders who don’t consider themselves salespeople — every leader is a salesperson (the great leaders are strong salespeople) — employ one of these strategies in their own leadership style. It goes beyond listening and talking. It’s the urge of the leader to employ one more than the other to influence and persuade.

Look at yourself closely. Are you a leader who sits down with somebody – or a group of people – and you hold forth without much interaction or open mind? You think, “The more I talk the more they’ll understand. The more I talk the more they’ll buy in.”

Yes, there are times that a leader needs to hold forth, but not all the time. For example, when a leader is trying to educate a staff on some history that might be relevant, or some decision already reached (and how that decision was reached), then holding forth is educational.

Tell Me Enough Stories, I’ll Tell You Your Story

But let’s consider your storytelling habits as a leader. If I can hear you tell enough stories I can figure out how you roll. I’ll go you one better — even if you’re not a leader, tell me enough stories and I’ll tell you your story. I may not have the details down cold, but I’ll pretty much have you figured out. There’s no magic to it. It’s what’s in our heart comes out in our speech. Our stories reveal us. They can even betray us if we’re trying to pretend to be something we’re not.

Join in a group conversation. Put as many people as you want in the conversation. There can be as few as 2 or as many as you want. Enter a person who always has a story to trump your story, or the other guy’s story. If everybody is standing around, he’s always leaning forward slightly, sometimes on his toes, anxious to speak as soon as there’s a lull in the conversation. Let me watch him and hear him for just a few minutes and I’ll likely be able to tell you quite a lot about him, especially if he’s able to insert himself with enough stories.

The same is true for you, and me and anybody else. It’s especially true of leaders because all leaders have stories to tell. And they tell them. To somebody. Sometime.

I’m not making a distinction between the more quiet leader and the more outgoing one. That’s personality and style. I don’t care about that because there’s not one personality or style most suited for leadership. Effective leaders come in all varieties. Even quiet leaders tell stories. They just may not tell as many, or to as many people. No matter, today’s show still applies.

So you’re looking inside at your own story crafting, right?

Do you have any favorite stories? What are they? What’s their theme?

What about the impromptu stories? You know, the ones that just erupt in every day life at the office?

I’ve sat down and spent hundreds of hours in conversation with a single leader. I’ve also sat down and spent just a handful of hours with a single leader. The first just gives me more opportunities to hear stories. In both cases, I’ve had enough time to hear at least a few stories. It’s like anything else, the more data you have the more valid things become. And the more clear they are.

I’m sitting with a CEO. He’s like most CEO’s, willing to carry the conversation and more than willing to make it about himself. He’s not pompous or arrogant. Just confident and doing what good CEO’s do. Trying to be impressive. He’s not working it too hard. I’m not offended or put off. He’s affable. Even a bit charming. It’s not unattractive.

He recites a business success story. It’s an opportunity he got out of the clear blue. It’s a good story and I give him appropriate feedback bragging on his good fortune. Instantly, he follows it up with another story. Just like the first one, it’s a story about serendipity. A business deal landed in his lap – one he wasn’t looking for, but one that he couldn’t ignore. Again, I compliment him. This continues for a few more stories and after half an hour I have pieced together some common denominators in these stories: a) he’s well known in his space, b) his notoriety in this space brings him unexpected opportunities, c) people offer him deals others would think are too good to be true, but they do it because they know he can bring them more business and d) he’s a smart operator who knows how to take advantage of and make the most of these opportunities.

We talk a bit longer. Not a single story about an employee. No team member’s name or position enters the conversation. Not a single story about a customer either.

Now before you think I’m judging the character of this man, tap the brakes. That’s not the objective of this. The objective is to unearth some intel on his leadership. Just like my boss who had a propensity for product knowledge. It is what it is. I don’t judge it, I just try to deal with it the best way possible.

I engage some employees and listen to their stories. Guess what? They tell stories about the boss. About the deals that come his way. About his prowess to turn a good deal into a great deal. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I go around and find story after story about the boss. And sooner than later it’s clear that the boss is the culture. The organization’s success is built on the art of the deal. And the boss is a king of deals. Again, nothing wrong with it. It is what it is. It’s a culture and leadership is is deal-based.

Why The Stories Matter

Leaders, more so than other employees, can tell the stories they most want to tell. They’ve got a built-in audience that can’t walk out on them. Employees are forced to listen — well, maybe more accurately, they’re forced to sit in silence, giving audience to the boss. But employees tell stories, too. All our stories matter because they reveal some important things.

1. Our stories reveal our values

A single story may not show much, but as leaders we tell lots of stories. The cumulative effect of our stories shows our professional and personal values.

I catch myself telling story after story about the collective failure of leaders, if only occasionally, to serve people who have no idea there’s a problem. For example, a company hires a new employee. It’s a small company that has no HR department. Onboarding isn’t some structured, formal process. It’s mostly done by forcing the new employee to acclimate themselves. It works well enough, but it could be much better.

A few weeks in the new employee unwittingly commits a faux pau in a meeting when he says something that rankles the big boss. As the team is discussing a matter, this newest employee makes a statement in mid-stream, “I don’t know why we do that.” He wasn’t mean-spirited about it. He just blurted it out probably without realizing how it may have sounded, especially as the new kid. Nobody said anything to him, but later the CEO remarked, “Who does he think he is?”

“Did you speak with him about it?” I asked. Nope. He didn’t. But he told me the story about it. It wasn’t the first story like that I had heard from him. This leader – like most leaders – valued “knowing your place.” This newest team member blew it by alerting to the CEO that he had yet to learn his place. I suspect the new employee hadn’t spent enough time hearing the stories to really understand how things roll. Rather than keep silence and take his time figuring it out, this person – with an assertive personality and a sense of proactivity that got him the job – had inadvertently stepped in it. But he didn’t know it. I led the parade for a senior executive to pull him aside and talk with him about it. Not a hard discussion, but a necessary one.

What do you value as a leader? Let me hear your stories and I’ll know what they are.

A few lessons on this point…if you’re in a new situation and you don’t yet know the lay of the land…keep quiet. Pay close attention to how others behave, how they talk, when they talk and how they posture themselves. Be aware and learn before you violate a value you know nothing about.

2. Our stories reveal what we think matters most

This CEO didn’t focus on the purpose of the meeting where the new employee stumbled. I still couldn’t tell you the business problem that was being discussed. That wasn’t shared with me. Not because it wasn’t important – it was bound to be because the staff gathered to discuss it. But it paled in comparison to what the newest team member had done. That one simple statement — “I don’t know why we do that” — trumped anything else that happened. It was a point of discussion among the senior leaders. For days they wondered exactly what the CEO wondered about this new employee, “What was HE thinking?”

Again, I don’t judge these things too much (it’s human nature to judge them a little bit). I just observe them and figure out how to make the wisest use of them. So when I sat down with this employee after the fact, we talked about it. He was completely innocent of anything malicious. He genuinely did want to know why the company did a certain thing, but rather than ask the question (something he was a bit afraid to do because he wanted to display greater confidence), he blurted out the statement, “I don’t know why we do that.” He wasn’t even aware that’s exactly how he had said it until the senior executive engaged him in conversation about it. He had since gone to the CEO to apologize and he made the rounds apologizing to the others present in the meeting. It wasn’t his intention to come across as he had. Now, he was worried and anxious. Only 6 weeks or so on the job and he feared he might should begin a new job search. Instead, I encouraged him to keep his head up, pay closer attention to how others behaved, how they talked and the stories they told (especially the CEO’s stories). I urged him to learn the priorities of the company by listening to and looking for common themes of the stories.

Every leader displays the priorities by the stories they tell. You could argue with those priorities – at your own peril – but a better strategy is to listen and learn. As for leaders, if you’re not happy with the priorities of the organization…examine the stories you’re telling. Look closely. You’ll likely find that these priorities you don’t much care for are woven throughout your own stories. Craft stories to emphasize the priorities you want.

3. Our stories reveal how we see problems (and what we see as problems)

The CEO in this illustration used a one-sentence story (once you understood the context of what happened), “Who does he think he is?” Translation: he was completely out of line. Maybe, but it wasn’t exactly as it appeared or seemed. Even so the CEO saw knowing your place as the problem and it was manifested in a single statement by a meeting participant who happened to be the newest employee.

Did I think it was a big deal? No, but it didn’t much matter what I thought. What mattered is what the CEO thought. He thought it was not just a problem, but a BIG problem. He was preoccupied by it, too. The actual business challenge was given no conversation or story time, but the new employees misspeak was given a lot of conversation. The CEO cared more about the culture of his team than he did conquering the actual problem. Now before you knee-jerk react to all this, don’t. The CEO knew his team would solve the business problem. He was more concerned about the difficulty of solving the possible culture issue with this new employee. Was his reaction the smartest? No, he’d tell you that now (yes, I had a small role to play in that). But he admits it really irked him in the moment and he admits he got very preoccupied by it. Part of my work involved helping him – as a leader – not let perceived problems become problems. It turned out to be “much a do about nothing.” He and his senior leaders lost some time and attention to it though. They waxed on and on for a few days about it until I was able to persuade them to just have a direct conversation with the new employee.

4. Our stories reveal our leadership style

This CEO had a style that everybody needed to understand, especially the new guy. He’s an emotional guy, quick to pull the trigger on an assumption. Do I really need to tell you that after telling you his story? Of course not. It shows, right? That’s what stories do.

It’s up to the leader if he or she wants to alter that style. In this case, the leader is wrestling with his style. Nothing is going to change him emotionally, but he is learning to slow down his trigger finger on jumping to conclusions. He’s doing that because he wants to and because he thinks it will make him more effective as a leader. I think he’s right, but again, that’s his call. Not mine. My job is to help him explore and find better ways to serve his organization as a more effective leader.

Tell More Intentional Stories

I want to help you improve your own leadership by helping you tell stories that will serve your purposes. Take a very good look at your stories. Sit down with your trusted lieutenants. Solicit their help to dissect your stories and what they signal to the organization. Where the stories convey something other than what you want to convey, then don’t just change the stories. Examine why you’re telling them. What is it that compels you to tell that story? What irks you? What satisfies you? Avoid the cursory glance and go deeper.

Give this the time is deserves. Don’t expect a single sit down session with your inner circle to do the job. You’ve likely been telling these stories without that much thought or strategy. They’re just the stories you’re telling. That means looking at them is going to require more diligent consideration. Ask questions. Then ask them again, and ask more of them. Collect your own answers and the ones of the people you trust most.

Now, give yourself some more time to craft the stories that will best serve the organization. Don’t mistake these as contrivances. A contrivance is something that appears to be something it’s not. Your stories are going to be genuine and serve a genuine purpose. They’re going to be honest, not acts of deceit.

For example, one senior leader I know always told stories of poor conduct. Story after story would be filled with annoyances of things employees had done. Sometimes the stories would be about inappropriate things said, or inappropriate attire. Never were the stories about the actual work of the person. In fact, when asked about the work of any particular person who was the subject of a story, he’s often say, “Oh their work is pretty good.” Truth is, their work didn’t matter as much as these missteps in behavior. After considerable time coaching this leader he realized his stories – and his outlook – weren’t beneficial to the organization or his leadership. These things still irritated him, but he learned more profitable ways to deal with it. Namely, he started being more direct in helping these employees understand what they were doing – often without even knowing it – and how they could fix it. That made him feel better because he now felt he was doing something positive to remedy the situation, whereas before he simply felt like he was venting (and he had convinced himself that’s all he could do). In time, he began to craft stories that had a different theme. He wanted his organization to be laser focused on performance so he started telling stories of success and failure that were pointed directly at the output people produced. The team saw the shift, although most couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had changed. They just started to concentrate on what the boss was talking about — the stories he was telling.

If you’re not spending enough time looking at and crafting the stories that best serve your organization, START. And don’t stop.


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

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

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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Refusing Help - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 270

270 Refusing Help

Refusing Help - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 270

It was years ago when I was first called, “Coach.” It was a group of kids playing hockey. I’ve had 6 year olds call me coach, and college guys do the same. It’s a pretty good feeling actually. Knowing that you’re helping players learn, develop and compete. But it’s really cool to help players improve and bond together as a group. Nothing beats the feeling of being part of a great team.

A few years ago when I began to morph my career away from “roll-up-your-sleeves-get-your-hands-dirty” consulting to more of a boutique coach specializing in helping executives become more effective leaders…I wasn’t too sure of the labels. I was a bit jaded with all the “life coaching” services by every Tom, Dick and Harry. The notion that anybody with a business card could coach merely based on their ability to market themselves and be paid repulsed me somewhat. It still does. But fancy certifications by outfits whose main goal is to collect more revenue repulsed me even more.

Besides, my work violated every rule of proper business model creation. I was – and still am – a one-man-band. That’s by design. For decades I’ve run larger operations with employees. I wanted to rely solely on myself. My business isn’t scaleable. I serve people in the most individualized, personalized way possible. I dive into specific issues, challenges and constraints in work, people’s performance, organizational cultures and teams. It’s just the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. It’s the only way I know how to roll. And I believe in it. Strongly.

People are unique. Their circumstances are, too. Along with their work, culture and teams. Then there’s that experience and skill element. The coaching given to a beginner in golf or any other endeavor should be very different than coaching given to an elite player. I didn’t coach 6-year-olds the same way I coached college guys. Different skill set. Different experience. Different understanding. Different coaching required.

Coaching provides one enormous opportunity for my clients – perspective. It’s never about me imposing my will on anybody. I do hope to influence people and persuade them. Mostly of what’s possible. The goal is always the same.

Higher Human Performance

I want to help people elevate their performance and the performance within their organization or their team. These are leaders. They are executives.

It’s worth noting that the people who benefit most from coaching are high achievers or those desirous of becoming high achievers. They also have one other important ingredient – willingness. A high degree of willingness!

Once in awhile I encounter an executive or leader whose the subject of my coaching. That is, my services have been employed by a superior, a sponsor. Usually it’s provided as a benefit, a professional and personal development investment the organization wants to make in this person. In spite of that motivation, I can sometimes run into the person who resists my services. They simply refuse help.

When it first happened some years ago I took it personally, but experience has taught me that such people are resistant to help from almost everybody. I won’t say they resist everybody because I like to think we’ve all got at least one person with whom we could let down our guard and accept some counsel. Maybe not though.

Knowing why I’ve been commissioned, and knowing how badly the sponsor – usually the boss – wants me to serve the reluctant executive, it’s frustrating when I press and press, only to be insincerely patronized by the client. But there’s another aspect of my business model that isn’t conducive for empire building – I’m more interested in results than I am in embedding myself as a paid coach. I’m one of those guys who think chiropractors serve a wonderful slot in health care. I’ve been to them before. However, I’m also opposed to those chiropractors who are mostly interested in keeping you coming back week after week for the rest of your life. If I were a chiropractor I’d be the guy trying to help you as quickly as possible so you could stop seeing me. I know the business stupidity of that business model, but I’m at a phase in my life where I can afford to harness the power of a stupid business model because it’s just how I prefer to roll. I wouldn’t likely coach any client to follow suit. 😉

I want to make a difference for my clients. Whenever I run into a reluctant client who behaves like the job candidate who answers every question with a patented “good answer” I grow increasingly frustrated. “Tell me about one of your biggest weaknesses,” asks the job interview. The job candidate says, “I love people too much.” Yeah, I sometimes get that from people. And 100% of the time they’re the people who refuse my help. They work hard to fool me and put on a front that I know isn’t true. Sometimes I can break through, but most of the time they maintain their guard as I walk out the door for the final time.

I’ve often thought about why people behave like that, but in every single case I report to the boss that I was unable to help the person because they refused to come clean and be honest. I’ve never had a boss be surprised. Turns out that in every case the boss commissioned me because: a) they wanted to make an investment in the person and b) they were experiencing some of the problems I encountered. They were hoping I might be able to affect some improvement. Sadly, I could have – if only the person would have been able to accept help.

Refusing help isn’t limited to professionals like me though. It’s a much deeper problem for some. They refuse help from their boss, teammates and peers. Well, it doesn’t look as overt as that. It’s more passive.

“No, I’m good. Thanks!”

“Things are great.”

“No. No problems here.”

Every refuser I’ve encounter behaves in a similar fashion. They work hard to appear friendly and easy going. Their power weapon is deception through charm. They want others to think they’re unflappable, capable of handling any difficulty that might come their way. Unlike you and me, they’ve never encountered a challenge that left them wondering, “What do I do now?” Or so they’d have you think.

I’m sure some social scientist or psychologist would have a field day trying to dissect such characters, but that’s not my job (or my qualifications). I’m just trying to help people elevate their own performance, and the performance of their organization. An impossible task when people refuse to acknowledge any room for improvement.

One of the first times I encountered this was more years ago than I can remember. I was helping a senior executive, an older gentleman, develop a younger executive. He wanted to groom this young hot shot for some added responsibility. Unfortunately, he encountered some push back from the younger executive. He was finding the younger leader disagreeable with his ideas. “It’s as though he thinks he’s got to stand toe-to-toe with me,” said the senior leader. “I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a poor choice in putting so much confidence in him.”

I was between their ages. The senior executive hoped my experience, my demeanor (including my candor) and my age would work to benefit his young protege. I dug in talking with them together, then talking with them privately. I spent as much time as possible with the younger leader trying to figure out why he might behaving this way — and trying to figure out a way to help him.

It was clear from the outset that he didn’t want me to see any weakness or challenge. He had EVERYTHING under control. He had all the best ideas. He knew better than his team, his boss and he certainly knew better than me. Big rooms. Small rooms. It didn’t matter. He was determined to appear to be the smartest man in all rooms he entered.

I listened. I asked questions. I listened some more. It wasn’t hard. He was a talker – another trait I’ve seen in common with people who refuse help. They tend to fill silence, or they tend to create as much silence as possible. I’ve not found them to be middle-of-the-road when it comes to talking or not talking. They either do lots of it, or they don’t do much of it at all.

I told him how much confidence his boss had in him, explaining that my presence proved it. “I’m here to serve you,” I told him. He gave what he thought would be all the right answers. “Great. I’ll put you to work,” he told me. He’d launch into some specific work task as though I would be his personal assistant. I’d stop him and say, “I’m not here to do your work for you, or to do it with you. I’m here to help you with much bigger issues.” That’s when the “Who’s On First?” Abbott and Costello routine would begin. Lots of circle talking would drone on and I’d leave knowing I wasn’t breaking through.

Within months of my effort – my failed effort – he was gone, ditched by the senior executive who saw so much potential, but couldn’t get past the arrogance of a brash young leader with a very hard head. I saw what he saw. The young man had extraordinary potential. It would have been easier if he’d been completely incompetent.

Through the years I’ve seen that scenario repeated more often than I’d like. Nothing frustrates me more professionally than trying to help a person who would benefit from it – a person with skills, experience and know-how. Sometimes I encounter a person who is just over their head. Those people don’t frustrate me. They’re often just doing the best they can even though their best isn’t good enough. Those situations just need to play out sooner than later. But it’s those folks who could do so much better that make me sad. Like a drowning person who refuses a life-saver…you just want to coerce them to grab on and accept your help. But you’re helpless to help. And it sucks!

When Jack Welch was leading GE I got an invitation to attend a small gathering of people at a “meet and greet.” As Welch made his way around the room I knew precisely what I wanted to ask.

“How did a guy like you get to the top of GE?”

Welch quickly replied that he had a terrific boss who protected him and fostered his best.

And there it is – Welch accepted help. Jack Welch accepted help.

Sometimes I can tell the person refusing my help that story and they surrender, letting down their guard so I can begin to serve them. Most times they don’t. Most times they’re so dug in and committed to their posture that they just can’t seem to find a way to be human. Joining the rest of us is just not easy for them. No matter what help we may have needed – or may still need. No matter that Jack Welch needed and accepted help…they just can’t be like us. Mortal. Vulnerable.

It’s a mistake. To avoid vulnerability that will enable us to accept help. It’s a mistake for us to avoid seeking help.

It’s also the tell-tale sign of a low performer. Who cares if it’s insecurity, ego, pride or anything else? I don’t much care. I used to, but I’ve learned not to fret so much about it because the people who refuse help are mostly (not always and not entirely) not the people most capable of high performance. That’s because the highest performers are the most willing to do what must be done to elevate their performance. That’s the biggest ingredient of success – willingness.

I’m not diminishing skills and talents. But without a high degree of willingness those are just potential. I don’t know how to win with potential. I don’t know how to achieve anything with potential. Potential is just hope and hope won’t win anything. Hope needs action to become reality.

Just today I was hearing about a 2nd round MLB draft pick for the Texas Rangers who signed a $2M signing bonus. He’s a high school kid from North Carolina. Then there’s a 3rd round pick they made for a college kid from Duke. He got a $2M signing bonus, too. Four million dollars paid to two players who have potential, but have yet to play a single inning of major league ball. Will they pan out? I don’t know. The Texas Rangers don’t either. Not for sure. They’ve got good intel on these guys. They’re making a calculated investment, but right now they’re just paying for the potential of these two players. Time will tell if that potential is realized.

If both players put in the work, stay healthy and perform up to their ability — the investment will pay off. But if they party like foolish frat brats and aren’t willing to do what’s required to succeed at the major league level…they’ll bust.

You’re not likely going to get a $2M bonus based on potential. Professional sports and entertainment are fantastical. The rest of us live in the real world where the value proposition is very different. You were hired based on what you could do – or what your employer was led to believe you could do. You were likely promoted based on what you had done and what was expected you would do based on historical performances. Well, okay. That doesn’t sound unlike MLB…except for the $2M signing bonus part. 😉

You. MLB players. Entertainers. That willingness is still the common denominator to high achievement. Accepting or asking for help is another ingredient necessary for high performance. There are no self-made men or women. Everybody owes somebody for helping them along the way. Parents, teachers, coaches, trainers, advisors, managers, attorneys, accountants, trusted friends.

So what does all this mean? It means if you want to commit yourself to mediocrity or failure, refuse help. Go it alone. See how far you get. Go ahead. Try it. The high achievers will benefit by you not being part of the competition. You’ll just be one less person standing in their way of reaching their dreams.

So keep that scowl on your face. Embrace your misery as the smartest man in the room who never reached the heights of higher human performance.


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

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