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Year: 2009

Remembering to Learn

The 2009 economy was not a favorable one. Some experts say the events of this past year changed most every life and/or career for the worst. Well maybe or maybe not. We will not know the answer to that for a while, but we can answer this important question today: What did I learn in 2009 that will make me a better person in 2010?

Here are nine random things I learned (or remembered again) in 2009:

  1. Letting go of the good ole’ past way of doing business was harder than I thought it would be.
  2. My business and personal growth strategy is to do more public speaking, write daily/publish often and enlist a group of friends who will advise and challenge me to stretch in both areas.
  3. Lasting success requires acquiring two things: wisdom and discipline.
  4. Under pressure, the most effective executives become more collaborative, consistent and concise.
  5. Leaders invest in improving themselves even while conditions seem unfavorable. They know that favorable conditions never come.
  6. Giving anonymously to someone in need is the best remedy for feeling depressed, discouraged or worried.
  7. Money comes. Money goes. They’ll still be printing it after I’m gone.
  8. It is an unnerving honor to begin to become your parent’s parent.
  9. I counted blessings. I named them one by one. I was surprised what the Lord had done in 2009

Journal Entry: What did you learn (or remembered again) about your leadership and life? Take a few minutes now and write some things you came to realize in 2009. I’d like to see what you have to say. So just REPLY with your thoughts. I’ll respond back to you real soon – next year.

Remember E Sabbath

Staff meetings happen each week in most organizations. This is the time we stop, report activity, recognize achievements and discuss next steps. This business practice may have deeper roots than people realize.

The Sabbath (or Sabbat) is a weekly day of rest and worship that is observed in the Judeo-Christian faiths. The Biblical seventh day of the week is observed as a day of rest in Judaism starting at sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday. Sunday is observed in Christianity as a day of rest. Friday is observed in Islam. The term derives from the Hebrew shavat, “(to) cease.”

In the Biblical account, the term was first used in Genesis for the last day of the week of creation, when God ceased from creating and evaluated His work. To stop and reflect on what you created in the past week, appraise your efforts and be thankful may be a habit worth making in your leadership and life in 2010.

Action: Ceasing, stopping or disconnecting is difficult these days. A first step might be to initiate a personal E-Sabbath. Set a regular time each week to electronically detach. Turn off your email, twitter and text and use this time as a personal Sabbath to reflect on the week, record your insights and remember your many blessings.

Win in 2010, Part 5 of 5

Businesses use a balance scorecard in strategic planning to insure their long term goals contain four key areas: finance, customer service, operations, and talent development. People who desire more balance in 2010 might consider looking at life as if it had four rooms: a mental, emotional, physical and spiritual room. Then define a goal for each room such as: having healthier lifestyle strength by- growing as professional by-, creating deeper relationships by- putting my faith in action by- etc-

With goal statements clarified, it is important to set in place a system and structure to support your good intentions. Successful organizations always have solid systems and structures that help teams stay aligned. Force-of-will alone, seldom results in something great happening. A strategy, system and structure are all needed to create positive change and keep the devils of distraction chained safely in their dark dens of demise.

One strategy is planning to spend time in each of your four room’s everyday. Most of us tend to be focused in one or two rooms. The physical and mental rooms are the most politically correct areas. This is evidenced by the never ending promotion of reading “right books” and having “right looks”. If we bow to the opinions of sharper image makers and read only the books-of-the-month, the front door to a whole life is locked tight. This is called the comparing-yourselves-to-others deadbolt and it barricades us from entry into emotional or spiritual rooms. The way to unlock the doors to living a full life is to pull out the reclaim-what-you-treasure key, which opens all the rooms. Finding the key is hard. Using it every day can be even harder.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting”.
E.E. Cummins

Journal Entry: So here are two simple suggestions to finding your key and stepping into a fuller life as a leader: 1) Put down the best seller list and pick up the type of book you have always loved and then tell people about it. 2) Avoid the advice of the be-ye-always-in- fashion doc’s and dress your best – your way, pick up an uncool hobby that doesn’t require custom stuff, visit a place of your childhood dreams instead of taking the paradise cruise of a life time. Continue fighting the good fight for the kind of balance you want in you leadership and life.

Preparing for 2010, 1-3

By now most organizations have finalized their 2010 business strategy and action plans. Have you decided on your personal strategy for next year? Over the next three months I will recommend a total of ten actionable ideas to help you get your leadership and life plan on the books before 2010. Here are my three suggestions for this month of October.

1. Start with your Stakeholders – Make a list of the people or groups that are vital for your happiness in life, productivity at work, and ongoing career success in 2010. Most people have eight to ten key relationships with whom they hope to build bridges in life and work. Action: When you finish your list, rate the quality of each relationship on a scale of one to five. A five indicates this relationship is great – “couldn’t be better” A one represents it “needs some work”. Now write a goal for each stakeholder to either: continue what you’re doing, if you rated the relationship a four or five – or state what you will stop or start doing, if you rate the relationship a three or less.

2. Balance your Roles – You wear three hats at work: leader, manager, and mentor. When wearing the leader hat energy is placed on declaring an organization/team vision and inspiring others to go there with you. In the manager role you pay attention to improving performance through making systems, processes, and procedures better. The mentoring hat is worn while helping an individual achieve and become more than he/she thought was possible. Based on your goals, which hat do you need you to wear more or less next year? Action: Using a scale of 100% note what percentage of time do you currently wear each of the three hats? Show your percentages to your key stakeholders and ask for their suggestion on any hat shifting you need to do in 2010.

3. Run to Success – Stewart Emery, author of the international bestseller, Success Built to Last says it best, “The first step to having what you really want is the removal of everything in your environment that represents mediocrity, removing those things that are limiting. One way is to surround yourself with friends who ask more of you than you do.” My very successful eternal optimist brother-in-law puts it another way, “Don’t walk away from negative people – Run!” Action: Create two lists: “people I will run away from” and “people I will walk with” next year.

Profits Swell

“When things go wrong in your command, start searching for the reason in increasingly larger circles around your own two feet.” General Bruce Clarke

Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago had been losing money for several years, when Quint Studer was recruited to fill their vacant COO position. He came in ready to turn things around with cost saving strategy fixes like: cutting expenses, restructuring staff or re-inventing something. Instead the CEO said Studer’s first priority was to improve their low patient satisfaction numbers.

He had no experience in fixing patient satisfaction. So he started just walking around telling the nurses to smile more. Of course that strategy sunk like a river rock. After a few more management misfires, Studer decided to get some advice from a company known for customer satisfaction, Southwest Airlines. He told them his story. Their eyes rolled at his “smile more” strategy. Then Southwest folks suggested that he try something different. When you speak to your nurses, replace your smile directive with this, “We want to make this a better place for you to work. What do I need to do?”

He took their advice and things started to improve dramatically. The approach worked not only in nursing, but in all other departments as well. As he articulated an authentic attitude of service to his employees they in-turn began to serve their team and the patients with more care and concern. Within 6 months the patient satisfaction score surpassed the hospital’s 12 month goal. By year end Holy Cross scored in the top quartile of the nation’s best hospitals. Plus turnover decreased and financials improved. The hospital made over one million dollars that year, which was not bad considering the hospital lost over $9 million two years before.

Of course Studer did more than ask one question to achieve this turnaround, but the question was the tipping point. Study after study shows that employees will treat customers or patients the same way they are treated. Given enough time, the interactions with a customer will mirror the words and attitude the leader displays with her/his direct reports. Every year millions of dollars are inadvertently wasted on customer service training, when the investment would have paid back ten fold had the leader first served well the persons sitting around their table.

Working Journal Entry: Is this a good time for you to try this approach at work? You might consider practicing it with some other stakeholders in your leadership and life. For example: “We want to make this: an exceptional community organization, a healthier home for our family, a marriage that lasts forever, a life that works for you. What do I need to do?”

* Quint Studer is author of Hardwiring Excellence and president of the Studer Group, a hospital management consulting firm.

Mighty Success & Failure

Geese are hard wired to align their flight pattern to a flock leader. When a lead goose honks the signal to fly down to feed in a new field, all geese follow. Let’s say there is a set of geese decoys positioned in a field with hunters hiding close by. This natural looking set up catches the attention of the head goose. She decides to fly down. With momentum built on a collective sway of wings in pursuit of a morning meal, the flock follows the leader. Confident that their leader’s strategy is correct again, the flock descends into potential disaster. A bad day for the geese – a good day for hunters.

Jim Collins says in his new book, How the Mighty Fall, that the future of a successful organization can be predicted by two distinctive conversations in a leadership team. First there is verbiage that indicates a strong chance for future success. It seeks deep understanding and insight, and sounds like this: “We’re successful because we understand why we do specific things and under what conditions they would no longer work.” On the other hand, when you often hear the rhetoric, “We’re successful because we do these specific things,” Collins warns to watch out. His research shows that when a leadership team holds this mindset, it will experience a swift decline. The organization will likely follow.

The problem is arrogance fails to recognize the role that luck and chance may have played in success. This attitude of unquestioned self importance negates the desire for objective examination and search for the hard truth. If a team doesn’t acknowledge the fallacy of this first stage of decline and undo it, then four phases will naturally follow. These phases are: undisciplined pursuit of more, followed by denial of risk and peril, then grasping for salvation and finally death. A bad time for the organization- a good time for competitors.

“Before a fall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor” writes the author of The Book of Proverbs in the Bible. Collins validates Solomon’s ancient wisdom that destruction is almost always self inflicted. He supports this shared premise with empirical data and memorable stories. Fortunately, each of these books offers practical ideas and proven actions which will reverse this decline. Both books are worth reading this summer and maybe once again when the flocks fly south this fall.

Working Journal Entry: What language of success do you experience in your team meetings, career conversations or at home chats? What good things could happen if, you discussed the concepts in this article with the people who are vital in your leadership and life?

PS – If you would like to see Collin’s full spectrum of the rhetoric of teams on the way up and on the way down, email me your request and I will send you a one page summary.

Until Retirement

My uncle passed away a few weeks ago- he was almost 80. He was a man who worked almost everyday, fished often enough and grinned a lot. At his country funeral service there were no musical instruments; no piano, no guitar, no pre-record music, but there was lots of singing. The music leader, a solemn farmer with perfect pitch and a rhythmic hand, led family and friends in a few of my uncle’s favorite hymns. The final refrain was, “We’ll work ’till Jesus Comes”.

“At age 28, I am fully prepared to work until my dying day,” says Tim Eavenson a Chicago labor attorney with too many student loans and too small an income. “I’m not bitter,” Eavenson says. “Honestly, the concept of retirement seems a little selfish to me. I mean, expecting to retire is a luxury just a few generations old–it’s not exactly the entitlement people like to call it.”

Entitlement seldom lives up to its grand expectations. You may know some people who retired early thinking they had won what they always wanted and realizing they had lost what they always needed. A 2005 study that followed 3,500 well- pensioned Shell Oil employees found that those who retired at 55 were twice as likely to die during the next ten years as people the same age who continued to work.

Although there is no absolute predictor of longevity, a 15 year study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the strongest predictor of longevity was work satisfaction. The second predictor was overall happiness. “These two socio-physiological measures predicted longevity better than a person’s physical functioning, use of tobacco or genetic inheritance. Controlling all these other variables statistically did not alter the dominant role of work satisfaction.”

If your 401K is now a 4.01K you know all too well how the Wall Street tumble has extended or erased many personal retirement dates. If you really enjoy your career, this new work reality, although initially disappointing, may actually give you a longer and happier life. If you don’t have much work satisfaction, this reality could be really depressing or then again you might see it as a clear trumpet call to take account and design a meaningful career. Finding a good career fit may be more important than ever before, since it looks like we may all be working until Jesus comes.

Working Journal Entry: List what you consider to be your gifts, values and passions. From this list choose the top 3 or 4 qualities which make you feel most alive. Do you need to redesign your career to improve your future chances for a more cheerful and healthful leadership and life?

When Careers Click

A woman was called in front of a Texas grand jury after she shot a mugger 6 times in the back as he was running away with her purse. When asked why she shot the man 6 times, she replied under oath: “Because when I pulled the trigger the 7th time it only went click.”

Over the past few months, four mentally healthy top level professionals quit their job, without another job. Each had felt unsatisfied in their career for a few years: “I hung on hoping things would work out. I began dreading coming to the office. I felt more and more discouraged. Then I was just empty.” Click.

No they didn’t shoot their boss in the back, though a couple of them had considered it. When we allow ourselves get burned out at work, it is easy to talk ourselves into a melodramatic escape. Like many achievement driven people, these folks decided to seek advice after the relationship ended, which makes for an uphill battle. If you know someone who may be on the verge of a career click, he or she might find some preventive help by talking for a while about the following research and story.

“Autonomy, complexity and connection between effort and reward are the three qualities that work has to have, for most people, if it is to be satisfying.” writes Malcolm Gladwell in his new career book, Outliers – A Story of Success. His study shows that these three work factors are common at all socioeconomic levels: from the lucrative career of Bill Gates, to the profession of airline pilots, to the highly technical occupation of the near poverty level rice farmers in China. Gladwell’s three characteristic are foundational, but there is a fourth trait equally as important.

Fifteen years ago I uncovered this trait while working with a group of credit collectors. Like many of you, I expected burnout and turnover to be rampant in this type workplace, but retention and morale was high. Soon I saw why. Each collector was empowered to solve complex cases either by tracking down delinquent deadbeats to pay up or by counseling good people in-a-fix who needed a new payment plan. An incentive bonus check rewarded their results. This group experienced Gladwell’s three qualities in spades, but they didn’t stop there. One day they noticed the names of the same elderly customers on the call list every month. It was discovered that these seniors had money, but intentionally paid late. Why? They were lonely, so lonely that they risked ruining their credit just to have a person, who was not trying to sell something, call and talk for a while. The collectors proposed a solution “you pay your bill on time and we will call you.” Each collector now has a non-collection call list. Their calls are never late.

This fourth quality could have many names: small acts of kindness, going the second mile, paying it forward, but my choice term is coined by my friend George. He calls this a “good turn”.

Working Journal Entry: Autonomy – Complexity – Connection between effort and reward – Good turn. The more of these four qualities you design into your career today, the better primed you will be to handle any potential clicks in leadership and life in the future. It’s worth a shot.

More & Less Ahead

Despite the present economic situation some people have decided to come out ahead when this downturn turns up.

The president of a business to business food service company explained her simple strategy. She called it her One More and One Less plan for 2009. She explained One More to her sales force, “In 2008 we averaged 3-4 item orders on each call to each customer. In 2009 we will most likely get only 2 orders from that same customer. So when you get your next two orders I want you to immediately ask the customer for one more introduction to one more person who might enjoy our product. Then get one small sale from that new customer.” She emphasized small so to remind the eager sales folks that the goal is one more customer for the future, not a one big sale today. She expects company profits to be flat this year, but has a vision to come out ahead by owning a larger portion when the market rebounds. But that’s not all.

Sales never turn into present profits or future business without strong operations support to make sure the product or service is delivered on time, on budget and on quality to the customer. The president requested a revamp to improve processes- a one less strategy to simplifying systems and speed up service. “One less step, one less report, one less procedure, one less hand written form, one less redundancy that will directly improve customer satisfaction.” This lady knows that a business strategy needs to be balanced to be successful. But that’s not all.

Since extra time is required at work these days, it is vital for us to be more intentional about how we spend the limited time we have with the people who matter most. A balanced life strategy might be worth considering: one less TV show, one more story shared, one less couch potato evening, one more stroll in the twilight, one less cell phone call/text message at the dinner table, one more minute really listening about your day, one less long email, one more note with a stamp, one less rush out the door, one more long goodbye hug, one less minute complaining about what we don’t have, one more hour helping someone who is worse off than we are.

Working Journal Entry: Anyone can find success in good times, but to be successful in down times takes a better strategy and intentional execution. But that’s not all. What will you do more and less to come out ahead in leadership and life in 2009 ?

Leading the People that are Left

It’s been a few weeks since the big layoff. You are hoping things will get back to normal soon. Then as you walk past a half vacant row of cubicles, you overhear another “Who will be next?” conversation cut short by the sound of your footsteps. In silence you ask, “How can I help my people get fully engaged again?” There is no a right answer to this question, but here are a few suggestions I have gathered over the years from managers who have asked themselves this question and found a few things that work.

Create a Clear Agenda – Put a simple plan in place today. Point your team toward real goals. Don’t assume people are on the same page with you, no matter how smart and experienced they are. Give them a short-term vision to strive for and fill in details as things get clearer for you.

Tell Two Sides of the Truth – First, speak candidly about the intended benefits of the decision to downsize. Remind them that it may not be over, but you hope it is. Then listen to their concerns. Second, talk about how you feel about all the changes. If things are unnerving to you, tell them. People follow confident and humble leaders.

Clarify Roles and Provide Training – During rapid change, role clarity is critical. Make sure everyone knows where they stand and who they report to. Start cross-training immediately. Set-up ways they can learn cutting edge technology and provide assessment tools to help people understand other careers that could fit them. People feel more secure when they have options and marketable skills, plus they will be prepared to perform at a higher level when the market turns up.

Fill the Communication Pipeline – You made an official announcement and you even sent a follow- up email the next week. That should be enough. Wrong. The problem is people don’t retain information well when under stress. Make it a habit to update people even about small changes. If you don’t give out small bits of information consistently, someone with no information and a big imagination will.

Take Care of You – Do you have a documented career plan? Is your business network strong? Are your family relationships what they need to be? How are you keeping physically healthy and spiritually strong? Pre-flight airline instructions are always to put on the oxygen mask first and then assist others. To lead others through uncertainty tomorrows, take a deep breath and start getting in shape today. Most of us can’t do this alone. Find someone you trust to listen and hold you on focus.

Use Humor – “Laughter doeth good like a medicine,” said King Solomon in the book of Proverbs. Studies continue to support the healing power of laughter. Getting results at work is serious business, but living life is funny business. Use self- effacing opportunities to show the lighter side of you and never make others the brunt of a joke. When people laugh together as a group, they pull together as a team.

Working Journal Entry: Do any of these ideas suit you? If so, try them for a week or so and let me know what happens. Remember to lead with your head and your heart when leading the people who are left.

Request – If you have learned a valuable lesson about leading after a layoff, I would like to hear you story and pass it along to others. Please email me or give me a call.

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