On words written and spoken, and the passing of a mentor

Public_speaking-v2I have been a public speaker and writer for most of my working life, but never had any formal training in either discipline. In late 2005, I came across an ad in the Delta Airline’s magazine for The Buckley School of Public Speaking in Camden, SC. I did some research and was impressed to know that its founder and author of numerous books on public speaking, Reid Buckley, was a hands-on instructor. Since I had just begun writing No-Compromise Leadership, I decided the timing was right, and in February 2006, I headed off to Reid’s school to get my butt kicked by the master.

From the moment I met Reid, I regarded him as my mentor. He pushed me to write with clarity and speak with conviction and authority. He personally reviewed and edited my short essay … and delivered the best constructive criticism of my writing. During the speaking segments, Reid identified every weakness and offered up some amazing “tortures” to cure them (like dropping a ball bearing into a metal bucket every time he heard an “um” or “you know”).

Reid Buckley passed away on April 14th at the age of 83. Reid was a consummate communicator, a prolific author and public speaker, and a championship debater. Reid was passionate about writing and speaking … and held everyone to THE highest standard. He demanded and inspired you to achieve your full potential.

Since my time with Reid, I’ve written three books … one of which, No-Compromise Leadership, won the 2010 IPPY Award for Business and Leadership. Reid was in my mind and fingertips as I wrote.

Here are some no-compromise “Reid Buckley” takeaways on public speaking and writing:

  • Don’t be a lazy writer: Have compassion for your readers. Don’t waste their time with flowery words, sentences that run into oblivion, and superfluous thoughts that prevent your point from hitting home. Get to the point. Write with directness and efficiency. In my essay I wrote the words, “…quite honestly…” In Reid’s edits, he wrote, “Are you dishonest at other times?” I never used those words again. I distill my thoughts to use as few words as possible to make my point.
  • Writing to change the world: Reid says, “You are not writing merely to pass peoples’ time; you are not writing to inflate the reputation of your company; you are not writing for the eristic thrill of seeing your ego configured in 13 point Antique Olive bold face. You are writing to make a world-shaking ideological or philosophical mark, without which your society will not survive. You are writing to change the world.” Reid also reminds you to be humble in your writing and speaking.
  • Shock the audience: Your opening statements should shock and amaze your audience with its complexity and difficulty, or with its outrageousness. From the outset, you must compel your audience to sit up in their seats and pay attention. All too often, speakers take the stage and open with dry, boring content that signals to their audience that it’s going to be long and painful speech. If you have something worth saying … make it obvious from start. Just make sure you carry that energy through to the end.
  • Command the stage: Take the stage, podium or front of the room like you own it – like you lived for this very moment to share your thoughts, wisdom, insights and point of view. Posture and demeanor should exude confidence. It doesn’t matter what the butterflies are doing … as long as the butterflies are flying in formation. Timid speakers, no matter how powerful their message, are hard to pay attention to and follow. Practice your walk, your stance and your voice volume. Reid pushed our class of twelve to exaggerate and over-emphasize our voice and gestures to get comfortable with our total range of speaking. I left knowing that I had a much broader range that I rarely, if ever, used.
  • Make eye contact: Eye contact keeps your connection with the audience through your speech. Reid had us do a speaking exercise where members of our audience (the class) raised their hands at the beginning of our speeches. Hands would remain raised until the speaker made solid eye contact with each individual. Only then could they lower their hands. Eye contact makes it personal. Eye contact adds impact and meaning to your message.
  • The tyranny of PowerPoint: According to Reid, PowerPoint is a crutch of the lazy and unimaginative person. “CEO’s who promote or tolerate PowerPoint should be summarily canned by stockholders for pernicious stupidity.” A speaker should never surrender the power and influence of the stage to a PowerPoint presentation – especially one with endless bullets that the audience could just as well read on their own. PowerPoint is good for charts and images – but only in limited quantity. PowerPoint robs the speaker of personality. Personally, I hate PowerPoint. My best speeches have been without PowerPoint. Sadly, many events expect and require a speaker to provide a PowerPoint.

R.I.P. Reid Buckley. Thank you for the lessons.

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Thirteen No-Compromise Leadership Beliefs

trustWe have all seen leaders with diverse leadership styles who are successful at inspiring and creating dynamic team cultures. Some have charisma; some do not. Some seek consensus; some do not. Some have quick tempers, while others have great patience. However, what they all have in common are similar beliefs about people and what they can achieve given the right environment and culture. They recognize that the difference between ordinary people doing ordinary work and ordinary people doing extraordinary work is contingent on their leadership. They have a genuine commitment to the success and wellbeing of those they lead. Most important of all, people trust that the behavior they see in their leader is truly authentic because everything he does is consistent with his beliefs.

So how do you go about choosing a different set of beliefs or recognizing if some of your beliefs need upgrading? To get you pointed in the right direction, I offer you a set of 13 No-Compromise beliefs. Study them one by one and benchmark them against your own current belief system. Which ones do you agree with and why? Which ones challenge your current beliefs and why? And now the most difficult question, which ones do you agree with but your current thinking and behavior indicate otherwise?

Here are my thirteen No-Compromise Leadership beliefs:

  1. Trust is given, not earned: People don’t trust those who do not trust them. If we want people to trust us, we must trust them first. If we can’t trust them, why should they trust us? Why do we expect others to earn our trust when they are supposed to trust us based solely on our position? When people truly trust each other, team dynamics flow more easily and openly.
  2. People want to do the right thing: People want to live values that are consistent with their aspirations. Values are a common ground by which dialogue flows and around which decisions are made. People have an implicit understanding of lines not to be crossed.
  3. Freedom is the essence of motivation: The freedom to choose is a fundamental human need. The more that need is restricted unnecessarily, the more frustrated a person will become. Only when we create environments based on self-direction and mutual accountability will we capture the full potential of people.
  4. People are naturally driven to make things better and seek meaning in their work: Just challenge a group to make a contribution and watch the level of energy they exert. There is a yearning for meaning, both in life and in work. People will do things for a cause that they will not do for money. Watch how people work when they are proud of their jobs and how they contribute.
  5. People have great capacity and a need to learn and grow: The need to learn and grow is as natural as the need to eat. Work must be designed so that every person, regardless of pay level, can learn, grow and make a substantial contribution. Higher expectations will lead to higher performance in the right environment, but not if the leader’s expectations of a group communicates a vision of mediocrity.
  6. People prefer responsibility to dependency: In the right conditions, work is as natural as play. We need to be engaged and responsible, and too many management practices rob people of this ability. Empowerment often means, “I have the power and if I trust you, I’ll share power with you.” It is not about getting people to change in order to conform. It’s about getting people to take responsibility for creating a different future. People want to be engaged. People want to be passionate. It is the leader’s responsibility to create that environment and that opportunity.
  7. People seek to be led, not managed: People don’t want to be managed. No one wants to be planned, organized or controlled. People want to be part of a team. They want to participate. They want to be a partner in the process of business growth.
  8. Teamwork is not a tactic: It is the way people work best. However, there is power in a leader who drives with passion and integrity while having the courage to make decisions and provide direction as needed. As much as people can be frustrated by micromanagement, they can be equally as frustrated when there does not appear to be any leadership or direction.
  9. People want to work cooperatively toward a shared goal: People have a need to be part of a group and to help others. That natural tendency is often lost when people are given incentives to compete against other members of their team. That can do more to degrade teamwork than inspire it. We need to overcome our belief that internal competition leads to better performance. The moment a company consists of two or more people, it must be a team-based organization.
  10. Clarify expectations as much as possible — to as many people as possible: Can you remember the last time you were asked to do something and had no idea why you were doing it? Can you remember how excited you were? We simply cannot commit to what we don’t understand. Widely distributed information and a shared understanding of that information should be the right of every employee. As Jack Stack told me in an interview, “The more information you give people, the better decisions and forecasts they can make.”
  11. People want to belong and feel a sense of pride in their work and the company they work for: People come to work hoping they will be allowed to make a maximum contribution to the company. Initial experiences are compelling and people need to see that the company is worthy of their commitment. At times people will turn down promotions, transfers or new jobs based on a desire to stay a part of something they are proud of or to avoid moving to a place where the opposite is true.
  12. People desire to be treated as unique individuals in the workplace: People crave to be recognized and appreciated for the individual strengths and talents that they bring to the team. Too often, companies look at people to see who most closely fits the “company mold.” Harnessing the energy that comes from individual strengths can make a formidable team more capable of delivering results at a phenomenal level.
  13. People seek fulfillment in the workplace: They want to feel important, needed, useful, confident, successful, proud and respected, rather than unimportant, useless, anonymous or expendable.

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Understanding Drivers and Outcomes

4_Outcomes&8_DriversAt Strategies, every aspect of our business training and coaching is focused on what we call The Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. Business success, and your success as a leader, is defined not only by the proficiency and mastery of each outcome, but by how equally you balance and synchronize The Four Business Outcomes. Think of each Outcome as one of the four powerful jet engines on a Boeing 747. Maximum efficiency and thrust to lift the 875,000 pound jetliner with over 500 passengers and cargo requires all four engines to be in sync. Should one engine underperform or fail, the performance and safety of the entire jetliner is compromised.

Outcomes are an end result. High productivity rates are an outcome. Impressive Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss Statements are outcomes. A unified and cohesive company culture with little employee turnover is an outcome. Fiercely loyal customers and high client retention rates are outcomes. In order to produce extraordinary outcomes, you’ve got to get the drivers right.

Drivers are catalysts – they make things happen. The right drivers produce the right outcomes. More importantly, the right combination of drivers working in unison produces the most consistent and impressive outcomes. At Strategies, we utilize what we call The BIG Eight Drivers:

  1. Culture: The collective behavior of the company that drives each outcome
  2. Sense of urgency: The energy that drives performance and growth
  3. Critical numbers: Numbers that, if changed, have a profound impact on the company
  4. Information flow: Top down, bottom up — everyone is on the same page and knows the score
  5. Teamwork: The unified energy of the company that gets the job done
  6. Innovation: Keep your thinking “outside the box”
  7. Systems: The procedures and structure to produce the right results
  8. Accountability: Delivering what is promised, when it is promised

Too many leaders and managers focus on achieving a particular outcome and completely bypass The BIG Eight Drivers. For example, if the outcome is to sell more retail, setting performance goals and simply telling your team to “sell more” sets everyone up for failure. However, if you apply each of The BIG Eight Drivers to a specific outcome, like “sell more retail,” the drivers are now in the proper sequence to deliver the highest degree of success to achieve the desired outcome.

Here are four no-compromise strategies to master drivers and outcomes:

  1. Establish clarity before hitting the launch button: Hitting the launch button on a half-baked idea or project is like flying that Boeing 747 without a flight plan or checking the fuel gauge. Achieving the desired outcome means working through each of The BIG Eight Drivers until you’ve delivered absolute clarity to everyone on your team. The extra time and attention on the details of the drivers will give you the highest probability of achieving your desired outcomes.
  2. “Same page” leadership: Getting everyone on the same page is a process at which no-compromise leaders work hard. In contrast, many leaders charge off into battle with no communication, leaving a confused, unprepared and disorganized team behind them. Getting everyone on the same page is the work of leadership. This is where communication and information flow drivers are at maximum output and remain so until the outcome is achieved.
  3. Breakthrough outcomes and the pain of change: I always emphasize that change rocks the boat. It has to. You want it to. Leaders love the term “stretch goals” … and stretching means getting uncomfortable and testing your limits. It hurts but feels good too. And all those incremental improvements ultimately deliver the outcomes you want. It’s what getting to that elusive next level is all about.
  4. No-Compromise Leadership delivers extraordinary results: I wrote extensively about The Four Business Outcomes and The BIG Eight Drivers in my award-winning book, No-Compromise Leadership. Mastering drivers and outcomes means overcoming your leadership blockages and understanding the dynamics of culture building and culture shifts. That’s the only way to align and synchronize The Four Business Outcomes and The BIG Eight Drivers. And when you achieve that … you’ll reap the rewards of achieving the extraordinary.

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Tuning up your profitability outcome

profitabilityWhen no-compromise leadership targets the profitability business outcome, it does so with a by-the-book discipline. That means that fiscal responsibility is practiced at every level of the business, from the leader and the leadership team to every salesperson, service provider, assistant, guest services representative and maintenance worker. Everyone pushes the numbers in the right direction. This becomes a culture in which everyone is responsible – everyone is accountable. Waste or cost without purpose is unacceptable.

Just as you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-performance productivity culture, so too you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-fiscally responsible culture. It doesn’t mean the company is “tight” or “penny-pinching”; it simply means that purpose and discipline are the rule with regard to how it deals with money, spending and cash-flow management.

Here are some no-compromise profitability outcome strategies to get you going:

  • Can you read and understand every line item on your financial reports? This includes your Balance Sheet, Income Statement and Statement of Cash Flows. If not, what’s your plan to learn how? This is non-negotiable.
  • How often should you receive complete financial reports? If it’s not at least monthly (that’s only 12 sets of financials a year) it is not often enough. Weekly is better, and I’ll explain why later.
  • How much time lapses from the end of the month until you receive your financial reports? If this exceeds two weeks, it’s too long. Find out where the roadblock is and address it. If you have an in-house accounting department, there’s no excuse not to have timely reports within days after the end of the month. Any good in-house accounting software and a competent bookkeeper should be able to produce timely weekly financials. This is non-negotiable.
  • Do you have a cash-flow plan that guides your revenue targets and expense budgets? If not, why not? Financial reports tell you the score during and after the game ends. Your cash-flow plan is your financial playbook. Follow the plan, be fiscally responsible and your financial reports will show a healthier company. You simply cannot grow a business without following a cash-flow plan. The plan is a “best guess”. The more you do it and work your plan, the better you predict the future. That is non-negotiable.
  • Do you have weekly cash-flow planning meetings? If not, why not? Having a cash-flow plan is pointless without comparing it to actual revenues and expenses. Are you over or behind projections? Why? What do you need to do today or over the next week, month or quarter to get back on track? This is why I prefer weekly over monthly financials. I don’t want to discover a problem at the end of the month that we could have fixed or avoided.
  • Who attends your weekly cash-flow planning meetings? (I hope you’re still not stuck on the sharing numbers thing.) All leaders need to be present. In larger companies with many departments, separate cash-flow meetings focusing on numbers key to that area need to be held weekly.
  • Do employees know the score? If your response to “Hey boss, how are we doing?” is something like, “Not good enough,” the people responsible for doing the work have no idea what’s going on.
  • Does your company require purchase orders to control spending? If not, why not?
  • Is your payroll percentage under control? What is the ideal target payroll percentage for your company? What will it take to achieve and maintain that target?
  • Are your inventory levels under control? Money tied up in excess inventory is a cash drain. What’s the plan to rein it in?
  • If you’re a retail business, are you controlling inventory levels and turning your inventory as often as you need to? Slow inventory turns in retail kills cash flow.
  • As the leader of your company, department or division, are you setting the right example to create a fiscally responsible business culture? If not, why not?

There is no debating that the profitability business outcome begins with the right culture. Creating sustainable and predictable profitability begins with the right discipline and behavior at the leadership level. It cannot be faked or given lip service. The no-compromise leader lives it, inspires it and relentlessly builds a culture to support it.

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Ten characteristics of a successful business

successful_businessThe best-of-the-best are committed to doing the “work” of business. They don’t avoid the stuff they don’t like or the tough stuff that defines a leader’s determination to win. Just like profitability, success is an outcome. Leaders and companies that master the disciplines of success stand out from their competition.

Using a simple grading system of 1 to 10 (10 being truly outstanding), each characteristic listed below establishes a benchmark that you can use to quickly assess the viability of any business … including yours. Using this approach, a score of 10 for each characteristic will yield a perfect score of 100.

Characteristic Number 1 – Leadership: First and foremost, the owner of a successful business functions as a businessperson. This means that the owner is engaged, accountable and drives performance by paying attention to the business. That being said, it’s easy to identify owners that are so engrossed in their non-leadership work that the business is essentially free-floating without direction, structure or systems. This is the equivalent of trying to run a business by remote control. It just doesn’t work.

Characteristic Number 2 – Business Culture: The culture of a business represents the collective behavior of its leaders and employees. Businesses that possess well-defined cultures stand out from the crowd because they’re a joy to interact with. Customer points of contact at the front desk, retail areas, and service departments – everything throughout the business feels natural yet orchestrated. What you don’t see are employees that are indifferent and disengaged. Great business cultures require leadership, systems, training, coaching, accountability and commitment.

Characteristic Number 3 – Financial Literacy: Financial literacy is a non-negotiable skill in business. This doesn’t mean that the owner needs to be an accountant or have the skills of a bookkeeper, but it does mean that the owner knows how to read and understand financial reports and use them to make the best possible business decisions. More importantly, the owner is capable of building a cash-flow plan to project service and retail sales goals complete with a budget to manage expenses. The result is a business that is fiscally solid and has the cash and resources to fund growth. What you don’t see are owners in a perpetual state of financial stress with difficulty paying bills and retail shelves that have more room for dust than they do products to sell. Cash is the fuel of business. Successful businesses learn and master the skills to be financially responsible in order to ensure that they will have enough fuel to achieve their goals.

Characteristic Number 4 – Structure and Systems: If your intent is to grow a dynamic, efficient, quality-driven business, structure is non-negotiable. Structure ensures efficiency, productivity, consistency and predictability. Systems produce predictable results. Lack of structure and the absence of systems all but ensure inconsistency in how work is done, conflicting agendas, dissension, stagnancy and, worst of all, uncertainty. Call it leadership, accountability, systems, standards of performance, or policies and procedures; it all refers to the structure that supports success. Anything less than a deliberate and structured approach to business infuses mediocrity into all activities. Mediocrity never wins in business.

Characteristic Number 5 – Skill development: Success is the result of acquiring knowledge and mastering the skills to use that knowledge to the best of your ability. A commitment to training and education is non-negotiable for both technical and non-technical skill development. And the ultimate measurement of a company’s commitment to training and education is found in its first-time client retention rate (the percentage of first-time clients that return for a second visit within approximately 90 days). Skill development is an investment in your brand and quality assurance. “Getting better” is a company value. Got it?

Characteristic Number 6 – Everyone sells: When it comes to the topic of “selling,” there is always a “love/hate” relationship. The “love” part is that selling is what every business is all about. Everyone recognizes this. The “hate” part is best summed up by the fact that not all people are comfortable with the concept of “selling.” Some people are natural at it while others feel their gut twisting when in close proximity to a sales situation. The process of selling is just like producing a hit Broadway show. There are writers, choreographers, set designers, lighting and sound technicians, an orchestra … and the actors. The applause and success is earned by the collective efforts of all. It doesn’t matter what an individual’s role is in a company … his or her paycheck depends on the company’s collective ability to sell.

Characteristic Number 7 – Work environment: Success has a “look.” It’s common for owners to ask me, “What’s the first and most important thing I can do to turn my business around?” More often than not, my response is, “Clean it, paint it and refurbish it.” Front door to back door, everything about the facility should communicate and support its brand identity. Every piece of equipment should work. Lighting fixtures should be functioning. Walls, décor, posters, pictures, bathrooms and dressing rooms should be spotless. Reception areas should look organized and professional. Dress for success applies to work environments too.

Characteristic Number 8 – Compensation: Compensation is perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics for owners and leaders. Commission, Team-Based Pay, fixed rate, sliding scales, product/service charges, or independent contractor – there is no one right way that will serve the needs of all. But when all the debating is done, a compensation program must achieve three goals:

1. Inspire and reward the right performance and behaviors: If you keep rewarding performance and behavior you don’t like … you continue to enable that behavior. Commission-based pay is notorious for rewarding individual sales while paying for performance and behaviors you don’t want.
2. Fit the financial reality of the business: There are only 100 pennies in a dollar. Whenever payroll exceeds a company’s financial reality, it instantly initiates a cash crisis that, if left unchecked, can be destructive and even kill the company.
3. Provide income growth for employees: The best companies provide employees with growth paths for income and achieving their full potential. It is up to both parties to make it work.

Characteristic Number 9 – Brand Identity: When it comes to brand identity, businesses fall into one of three categories: nondescript, blends in, or stands out from the competition. Nondescript businesses are just bland places. There’s nothing about the facility, signage, logo, print materials, service or personality that makes the “wow” meter show signs of movement. There’s nothing overly special. Businesses with strong brand identities send the “wow” meter flying into the success zone. It’s a complete package, from web site, print materials and phone experiences to its facility, décor, team personality, execution of work and all those special touches that radiate success. Each and every one of the previous eight success characteristics must rate high in order for a strong brand identity to emerge and endure.

Characteristic Number 10 – Community Service: The true character of a successful company is defined by how it gives back to the community. Community service comes in many forms, from fundraising to employees donating personal time to a worthy cause. Business success simply does not appear complete if it’s all about making money and generating profit. A business, no matter how profitable or magnificent, is never truly successful without a warm heart and sincere compassion for the wellbeing of others.

These are the ten characteristics of a successful business. Collectively, they establish a world-class standard that forward-thinking and business-minded leaders can strive for. How did your business score?

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Lesson of the extraordinary oil change

GrahamGraham Kenny of Edmonton, Alberta, brought his car to the local Lexus dealer for an oil change. There is nothing exciting about getting an oil change. Your car needs it; you sit and wait in a plastic chair; you get it over with. But little did Graham know his mundane oil change would turn into a truly remarkable VIP experience. The waiting room at this Lexus dealer offered complimentary wine, a selection of Keurig coffee, sodas, bottled water, and snacks, and even one of those massage chair recliners with a built-in iPad. Graham was so impressed that he posted pictures and described his VIP oil change experience on Facebook.

The last thing Graham wanted to hear was, “Mr. Kenny, your car is ready.” He wanted his VIP experience to last. But wait a minute … we’re talking about an oil change here, not a fine dining experience! Lexus of Edmonton simply transformed the process of waiting for your car to be serviced into a VIP experience by giving attention to the otherwise boring waiting room. All it took was a little wine, a beverage selection, some snacks … and that wonderful massage chair with an iPad for surfing the web (conveniently set to lexus.com). Graham now looks forward to an oil change.

The lesson of Graham’s VIP oil change is that delivering an extraordinary experience requires a little ingenuity, attention to detail, caring and some effort.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to create extraordinary VIP experiences for your customers:

  • Ordinary is easy: Ordinary is also boring, indifferent and sadly, expected. Ordinary is just enough to earn a passing grade … and nothing more. Delivering extraordinary begins with the passion and desire to excel. In business, it begins with a leader capable of inspiring others to deliver their best by banishing mediocrity. Delivering extraordinary does not emerge from timid leadership or consequences. It is the result of creative thinking, instituted systems, hands-on coaching and shared accountability. Simply put, it takes work to break through status quo thinking, behavior and performance.
  • Rethink little things: In the case of Graham’s extraordinary oil change, it was simply channeling creative thinking at ordinary things and situations. Simple enhancements transformed a service department’s waiting room into a memorable experience. Southwest Airlines employees bring “first class” caring and friendliness to all passengers in a similar manner as Graham’s Lexus dealer. Imagine how simple it would be for doctors to transform their waiting rooms, greetings and customer service from “medicinal” to friendly, caring and nurturing? Just removing that sliding glass window and wall would eliminate a customer service barrier. Look around your business and you’ll see plenty of opportunities to transform ordinary into extraordinary.
  • Give it a name: We live in a world of marketing and advertising impressions. Graham’s extraordinary oil change was called the VIP Service Experience – and that’s what he described when sharing his story. Giving your “extraordinary” a name makes it more personal and identifiable. It gives life to an experience by making it real. A name accelerates the process of recognizing and remembering an experience that was designed to be extraordinary as just that – extraordinary.
  • A little over the top: My son Eric bought a Nest learning thermostat for his home. The Nest is a high priced, “over-the-top,” thermostat that is beyond building a better mousetrap. The packaging is memorable. The fact that it includes a special screwdriver is memorable. And when looking at where to connect the different colored wires causes some confused head scratching, the instructions tell you send a photo of the wires to an email address. It was Sunday and Eric’s first thought was, “This isn’t getting installed today.” An instant email reply with a case number instructed Eric to call a customer support number. He called, gave his case number … and the rep said, “OK, connect that one here and this one there and you’re in business.” That was over-the-top extraordinary. Perhaps that’s why Google paid $3.2 billion to acquire Nest last January.
  • Fun is memorable: When extraordinary is fun, like Graham’s VIP Service Experience, it becomes memorable – and memorable is the outcome you’re looking for. A smile, a willingness to sincerely serve others, an unexpected treat or amenity – these are simple and fun ways to create extraordinary experiences. I’ll never forget the spin bike and weights in my room at the Westin Hotel in Memphis. I’ll never forget the graffiti covered side of a bus in the hallway of the Alexis Hotel (a Kimpton Hotel) in Seattle. I’ll never forget the Southwest flight attendant dressed as a clown hiding in the overhead luggage compartment (that almost killed the elderly gentleman who opened it). I’d rather coach a client through difficult and stressful challenges by making them smile and giving them hope. Ordinary is one big yawn.

doris_tanPersonal Note: Remembering Doris Tan

Graham is the director of sales for International Beauty Services (IBS) in Edmonton, Alberta. Last week, the founder and president of IBS, Doris Tan, passed away. Doris was one of the most giving and caring individuals I have ever met. When it came to helping her salon customers, there was nothing that Doris wouldn’t do to ensure their success. Doris changed lives for the better. She challenged people to be their best.

Doris believed in her team at IBS. And even though she could be one royal pain in the butt (she often referred to herself as “Attila the Hun”), Doris had a heart of gold and helped many create a secure future.

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Doris for many years. She was generous and relentless in bringing Strategies education to Edmonton … even though the tuitions rarely, if ever, covered costs. For Doris, it was never about the money. It was about doing what’s right.

Doris was tough, tenacious and had the courage to build an extraordinary company. She was an independent distributor in every sense of the word. And she did it the only way she knew how … Doris’s way.

I will miss you my friend.

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Leading today into the unknown future

into_the_unknownThe one and only accurate prediction about the future is that it will happen. Exactly how it will happen is the unknown. You can create the most detailed plan for tomorrow, next week and the next few months, and reality may or may not play out precisely as you designed it. But it’s not supposed to. That’s the beauty of the future. You can shape it and influence it, but you can never control it. The key words here are “shape” and “influence.” The best leaders shape and influence the future. They adapt to and maneuver around the twists, turns and surprises they encounter along the way.

Leading into tomorrow’s unknown is about making and acting on the best predictions. The closest any leader will ever get to having a crystal ball is in how well they understand the dynamics of the past and merge it with the three essentials of good judgment, innovative thinking and smart risk taking. There is much truth to the phrase, “Thoughts become things.” Just make sure you’re working with (and acting on) well-formulated thoughts.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to lead your company into the future:

  • To flow or not to flow: Going with the flow is like falling into a raging river. You’re going to go wherever that river is going – even if it’s going over the falls. In business, going with the flow means following a trend. It’s easier and more comfortable to be one of the many because of the collective momentum. But going with the flow limits your options. And when you realize that the flow is going somewhere you don’t like, it takes enormous amounts of energy and resources to separate from it – if that’s even possible. I’ve never been one to go with the flow. I’m much more comfortable leading my company to a destination of my choosing. Start your own flow. Be at the forefront and you’ll have more control over the future.
  • Push forward when others do not: In business, fear is like cement. It’s heavy and the only way to get out of it is to blow it up. As business leaders, we are surrounded by situations and circumstances that feed on fear. Only you can decide how to react and maintain your perspective. You can hunker down and hope for the best, or you can confront fear with action. The best question to ask yourself is, “What’s the worst that can happen if you push forward?” It’s interesting how quickly a shift in thinking can blow fear away.
  • There is no map: There is a best direction, objective, strategy and action plan – but there is no map to the ideal future. You create your future one day at a time, one step at a time, and one win at a time. The future is no different than sailing across an ocean. You know your destination, but currents, storms and winds will present challenges. Knowledge is power. Courage and tenacity is strength. Dealing with the unknown is reality. There’s nothing wrong with a few detours and setbacks because they build character by testing you. Forget the map. Never forget your vision.
  • Change means change: The one constant about the future is that “Change is relentless.” You can’t stop it or avoid it. But humans naturally seek out comfort and the establishment of their “normal.” When you’re intent on adapting to and influencing the future, comfort zones are merely rest stops and embracing change becomes your “normal.” You can argue with change. You can avoid change. But as a leader of a company, you will eventually have to change. The consequence is to become irrelevant. An irrelevant leader leads an irrelevant company. Irrelevant is the one word I fear, and so should you.
  • Believe in your vision: It gets you out of bed every day. It drives you every day. It is your quest and what gives you meaning in your life. If you don’t believe in your vision, no one else ever will. If you’re not passionate about your vision, no one else will be either. If you give up on your vision, everyone around you will know it and give up on you. Got it?
  • Believe in yourself: You may question your abilities – but you can strengthen them. You may doubt yourself – but you can break through those doubts and emerge confident and determined. You may think that you are not worthy of achieving extraordinary success – but that’s just you being humble … and that’s OK.

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Why leaders drive them crazy

Last week I did a No-Compromise Leadership talk for the Princeton Merchant’s Association. In attendance were bankers, restaurant owners, retailers, dry cleaners, non-profit associations, local media and others, all representing this prestigious university town. The response to my opening line, “Business leaders exist to drive their employees crazy,” earned the style of laughter that confirmed I was speaking to a group of worthy offenders. They laughed because in so many ways, my opening line is true.

Aboard ships there are mutinies. In countries there are protests and revolutions. In corporations there are work slowdowns and labor strikes. In hair salons there are walkouts. And everyday, in businesses all over the world, there are employees quitting leaders … not companies. Yes, leaders can be jerks, insensitive, overbearing, dictatorial, self-absorbed and egotistical. The more accurate description is that most leaders are a perpetual work in progress to get better at this job called “leader.”

And what exactly is the job of the leader? Leaders must drive sales, manage expenses, create profit, hire and retain the right people, inspire and motivate employees, build a dynamic culture, “wow” customers, create career opportunities, build and manage systems, manage debt, plan for the future, hold everyone accountable, fix problems, be positive and supportive – basically be the human equivalent of a superhero. The byproduct is that leaders can – unintentionally – drive employees crazy.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to help leaders be self-aware of the funk they create in their own companies:

  • Every new project is not a priority: Leaders are notorious for coming up with new projects faster than they can implement them. Leaders, especially entrepreneurs, love to innovate new stuff. It’s in their blood. The problem is that piling on one new project after another is guaranteed to make everyone’s blood pressure soar. Quality and world-class results require planning, execution and a reasonable degree of patience. You’ll just drive your people crazy when you say, “This is really important and absolutely must get done,” when they’re full steam ahead working on that other “absolutely must get done” project you dropped on them the other day.
  • Stop meddling and taking over: Delegation and empowerment means trust the process. It doesn’t matter how much your employees trust and respect you, if you assign a project or responsibility, and then butt in and take it over, rest assured you will be driving them crazy. Employees process such nonsense as disrespectful and demeaning. Their brains are asking; “Why did you ask me to do this and then take all my hard work and redo it? Why didn’t you take the time to clarify exactly what you wanted in the first place?” Meddling and taking over projects you empowered others to do is not “leadership” – it’s demotivating and demoralizing. No-compromise leaders delegate, empower and get out of the way.
  • Respect levels of authority: Two years ago, I promoted Bruce Hourigan to President of Strategies. My intent was to free myself of the daily operational details of my company so I could do what I’m passionate about … speaking, coaching and writing about leadership. As an entrepreneur, I had to work seriously hard at managing my natural tendency to step in and deal with issues that were in Bruce’s area of authority. And as president, that pretty much means responsibility for running the company. Yes, in that first year, I drove him crazy a number of times. Ultimately, we found our stride and the relationship – and the results – have been truly extraordinary. Leaders have leadership teams to carry out the work of the company. It takes discipline, respect and trust to honor levels of authority.
  • Finish what you start: As fearless leader, your job is to hold everyone accountable … including yourself. You may not have a boss to answer to, but you do have to answer to your company and your people. If you promise something, deliver it. If you start something, finish it. If you assign a project or task to someone, invest the time to see how it’s going, offer guidance and direction – and show appreciation.

Your career as a leader will always be a work in progress. You must relentlessly practice self-awareness to ensure that you are communicating with clarity and respect. Becoming a No-Compromise Leader is the ultimate test of self-discipline and consistency.

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A Case for Leadership Humility

humility2I have always regarded any leadership role as an honor and a testament to the trust others have in an individual to take them to a place of opportunity. They trust the leader’s judgment. They trust the leader will respect their contributions to the organization. They trust the leader will be fair, honest and open. They trust the leader will reach out his or her hand to lift them up when they trip or fall. They also know that leaders are not infallible, that inevitably mistakes will occur … and that mutual loyalty and respect is about standing alongside their leader in tough times.

What I just described is placing humility over pride – when a leader places the company’s goals and people above his or her own desires. When a leader places personal goals and self-pride before everything else, people become expendable and the company becomes one individual’s magic carpet to success, wealth and self-indulgence. No one wants to follow an egotistical, self-absorbed jerk. No one brings their best game and desire to win for a leader that devours all the glory, accolades and rewards – and lacks the decency to offer up a simple “thank you” to those that did the work.

The following is a solid dose of No-Compromise Leadership thinking about why humility is perhaps the most precious quality for a leader to nurture and covet:

  • Pride is an outcome – Humility is the driver: Be proud of your team. Be proud of your product or service. Be proud of your company’s performance, sales, community service … and its culture. Lastly, be proud of yourself for creating these amazing outcomes. Boasting, arrogance and egotism are not characteristics of a No-Compromise Leader – courage, tenacity, integrity and gratitude are.
  • To give – to serve: Leadership means putting it all out there for your company and your people. The pride of leadership comes from the outcomes you create in the lives of others. It comes from serving your company to the best of your ability. Pride has nothing to do with the title of “leader.” It’s what you do with the title that matters.
  • Everyone wins: I have no respect for leaders that place their success above everything and everyone else. Entitlement and egotism are the dark side of leadership because it uses people and the company for personal gain. It’s about dictating and taking – not empowering and rewarding. The No-Compromise Leader creates a culture of shared ownership where everyone, no matter their position, takes responsibility for the success and wellbeing of the company. They do it because the company and its leader care about their success and wellbeing too.
  • The discipline of listening: If you’re too busy giving orders, making deals and working on all that stuff you do … you are not leading. As a leadership coach, I think the most valuable insights come from interviewing those being led. I ask simple questions about their work and the company … and then listen to their responses. The most common need from employees is to be heard by their leader, and No-Compromise Leaders work hard at listening. They make time to listen. It’s amazing how a little listening can clear the air of drama and discontent. Listening is a discipline.
  • Fess up when you mess up: As I said at the beginning, leaders are not infallible. Blame and finger pointing is a modern day witch-hunt … and it gets you nowhere. Leadership humility is about being human and taking ownership of your mistakes, bad decisions and non-leadership behavior.
  • Brilliance surrounds you: Let the genie out of the bottle by tapping the ideas, innovations and solutions of your people. Being a leader is not about dispensing your brilliance – it’s about bringing out the brilliance in others. When leaders complain about having too much on their plate, it’s because they refuse to manage what they allow on their plates. Others are micromanagers that stifle creativity and productivity. Leadership humility is about seeing and encouraging brilliance and accountability in those you lead. Otherwise, your company will grow, wither and die along with you.
  • See the “you” that others see: As leaders, we have the unique ability to be jerks. We can say dumb things. We can get so busy that we forget to express appreciation. We can be obsessive/compulsive. We can allow our egos to get a little too big and we can take more credit for wins than we deserve. We can be moody, rude and insensitive. It’s important to realize that the “you” others see can be very different than your perception of yourself. The No-Compromise Leader takes time to access their own thinking and behavior.

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Why I write the way I do and why it is important

your_success_typewriterMy demeanor has always leaned toward the more serious end of the spectrum. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been intrigued by business, leadership and the multitude of elements that make it work. That being said, it makes sense that I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost my entire working career. In the mid 70s, my passion for business found three powerful vehicles that allowed me to reach and interact with other business owners – public speaking, coaching and writing. I started my first coaching company in 1978 and never looked back.

I regard my ability for public speaking, coaching and writing as gifts that allow me to have a positive impact on the lives and businesses of others. At 64 years old, the passion, thrill and fulfillment is as powerful as ever.

But because of who I am, what drives me and how I’m wired, I focus on and write about the tough stuff – the real stuff – that owners and leaders deal with on a true day-to-day basis. My “no-compromise” reputation is a reflection of who I am, and people have come to expect and depend on me to talk straight and not candy-coat the issues. Still, I find it interesting that my presentations and writing receive feedback that call it inspiring and motivating. I truly never regarded myself as a motivational speaker…and yet my work has inspired many to take action. My coaching provides the tools, systems, thinking and leadership behavior that can be described as “best practices.”

Last week’s Monday Morning Wake Up on “Is it time to hit the ‘Reset’ button,” received a comment from a long-time reader and business owner expressing his opinion that my writing is negative in tone and seems intent on discouraging people from going into business. He was therefore canceling his email subscription to seek inspiration elsewhere. (Yes, I read every comment.)

Being the no-compromise leadership guy that I am, I willingly accept constructive feedback. Yet as appreciative as I was, this owner’s observation that I come across as negative deeply troubled me because that is so not my intention. I sent his comments to my team of coaches asking for honest feedback to see if maybe I need to take a more balanced approach. What I got back surprised me … and gave me a needed no-compromise smack in the head.

Strategies Coach Melanie Loboda said it best, “I believe that those of us who are passionate about what we teach can often be labeled as ‘opinionated, condescending, negative, or know-it-all.’ In general, I believe it is when we hit a nerve by calling out something or some behavior that we see that this happens. I think there does need to be balance. For Strategies, the balance is that there is always hope when we recognize the ugly that is rearing its head. There is hope of getting off the hamster wheel if we just open our mind to new thinking and behavior – that winning the gold doesn’t mean doing everything we love … It means combining that with what we are passionate about in order to create success.”

No one goes into business or leadership because they want to deal with employee issues, cash-flow problems, budgets, debt, drama and negativity. People start companies to bring a vision to life, to create opportunities … to win.

So here’s the bottom line: I write about what matters. I write about what’s behind the curtain. I write about the stuff that keeps owners and leaders up at night. I write about building extraordinary companies, dynamic cultures, financial literacy, accountability and achieving your full potential … and providing opportunities for your employees to achieve their full potential. I write about real problems and business challenges.

What I write about most are the disciplines for success. I push leaders out of their comfort zones. I hold the mirror up in front of them so they can look directly at the origin of most of their challenges … because all change must begin with the leader. Yes, I write to make you uncomfortable. I write to push you to take action, to pay attention, to listen and to confront reality head on. I push you to achieve your full potential because that’s the only way I can achieve mine.

This is Monday Morning Wake Up #317. That’s 6+ years of MMWUs. Add 14 years of writing Strategies Magazine, my three books – Fast Forward (first and second editions), No-Compromise Leadership and Wake Up! – and you have a writing voice and style that resonates with you. That’s why you keep reading my stuff. Along the way, my writing style, my message and my strategies may turn some people off. My stuff may not be a good fit now or never … and that’s OK. But over 10,000 people read my MMWUs and as long as that number keeps growing … I’ll keep delivering my No-Compromise Leadership message. And I will always listen and work hard to get better.

Neil Ducoff

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