A Social Media Experience Gone Bad

disappointment

My job requires a great deal of domestic travel.  I’m typically on the road 75% of the time covering the entire country.  Living in Philadelphia there’s one airline that dominates this market.  I’ve traveled this airline since 1995 and have flown their top-tier status for years.  With more than a million miles under my belt I’d consider myself a pretty savvy traveler.  I’d also consider myself to be a loyal customer to any company that provides me with the right value equation – what I get for what I spend.  So what does all this have to do with social media?  Here’s the story.

Recently I was scheduled to fly out of Philly to Denver.  Shortly after midnight, the day of travel, I received an email alerting me that my flight had been canceled.  I called the airline and after I got the customer service agent out of bed he proceeded to tell me that the flight had been indeed been canceled but that he would help me out by getting me on the next available flight to Denver.  Imagine my surprise when he informed me that the next available flight was scheduled for the exact same time as the original departure.  Hmm.  In his ever groggy voice the representative informed me that he could not assign me a seat as this flight was “under airport control”.  Sounds reassuring.

Got to the airport only to be told that the only seat available on this new flight…which remember was scheduled for the exact same time as my original flight…was a center seat.  Needing to get to Denver I had no choice.  So, last row, center seat, sold out flight.  I proceeded to tweet this airways regarding my situation.  Moments later I received a response to my tweet that said “We’re sorry for the cancellation. Check in with a gate agent for a seat assignment.”  Wow, now that was helpful.  So I proceed to reply suggesting they offer me something as a consolation…a free drink, WiFi, something.  Response? “We’re unable to offer free WiFi or drinks we’re sorry for your disappointment.”

Needless to say this airways attempt at using social media to delight and wow a customer fell WAY short.  Their responses were cold, impersonal, and above all else…useless.

Fast forward a week later.  Same exact situation happens only this time in route to Dallas.  So I tweet again.  This time the response I receive is “We’re sorry we aren’t able to help you here however our agents are happy to assist.”  This airways just doesn’t get it.  What they’ve done is made a bad situation even worse.  No one has owned the problem, no one owned fixing it.  It’s an incredible game of shift the blame and move the shells around.  Simply awful.

So what could this airways have done differently to make this a better experience for the traveler using social media:

  1. Have a policy already in place that provides guidance to whoever is monitoring social channels as to what goodwill offers can be made to satisfy the customer
  2. Make the reply personal.  “I’m so sorry Mr. DeRosa.  That’s terrible.  Here’s what we can do to help…”
  3. Follow up.  Two weeks have now passed and I’ve heard nothing from anyone at airways.  They have my contact number, my frequent flier number, my home and cell phones, and nothing.  Clearly they believe they don’t need to be the Nordstrom’s of the skies.  In fact I’ve gotten better service at a Dollar Store than at airways.

So keep in mind that if your company is using social media to engage its customers it requires a true commitment.  It’s not something to dabble in.  Canned replies, form letters, and traditional customer communication does not work with social media.  Spend the time to understand this before getting involved.  If your company doesn’t have the time, resources, or patience to learn and understand social media then do all you can to ensure they never launch it lest it will lead to an airways like experience.

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What It Means To Lean In

Trapeze

Life happens.  We have ups and downs, good times and bad, successes and failures.  It’s easy to be positive and happy when all’s going well but the reality is that nothing goes perfect forever.  Eventually even the best of us, the hardest working among us, and the most optimistic will be tested.  That’s life.  How we deal with those tests determine our success, state of mind, and fulfillment.  Notice I said fulfillment and not happiness.  Fulfillment in life comes from experiencing all life has to offer including the good and bad.  We learn and grow far more from our failures and the bad stuff than the good.  It’s during the times we are tested the hardest that our character comes to light and we grow as human beings. So how do you handle the bad times?  How do you deal with some of the tests life throws your way?  You lean in.

Years ago I was working through a rather difficult period in my career.  I was running Sales for a company that was in turnaround mode.  The company had experienced some success but was on the ropes with just about everything seeming to go wrong.  Sales and service were both failing and cash was tight.  Our employee morale was withering away to nothing.  With each stumble there were layoffs and cutbacks which led to a growing distrust across the employee population.  I had never seen anything like it before, and what had worked for me in the past wasn’t working now.  Frustration was running high and doubt was setting in.  That’s when I talked to Jeff.

I shared my thoughts and concerns with Jeff, a Board member and mentor.  I walked him through my plans, my thought process, and my confidence level relative to making the turnaround.  As a hugely successful entrepreneur, businessman, and corporate CEO, Jeff listened, sat back and said, “You’ve got all the right pieces. You’ve thought everything through.  Now you’ve got to lean in.”  This was the first time I had heard this phrase.  It certainly sounded good coming from Jeff but I needed to understand exactly what he meant by it, so I asked.

Leaning in, is about positive momentum.  If you’re on your heels self-doubt and second guessing quickly set in and you’ll surely fail.  You could have developed the best plans possible but failure will still visit you because you lacked conviction. Fear of failure causes us to lean back.  Failure makes us second guess ourselves and those around us.  It makes us focus on the wrong things.  When we lean back we’re looking for a way out, an excuse, someone to blame. We often get caught up in worrying about how others will perceive us should our plans not work out.  Fear that our personal reputation will be tarnished. And by leaning back we don’t fully commit.  We have one foot in and one out.  We’re the trapeze performer with a safety net under us.

In listening to me Jeff sensed I was leaning back.  He knew I had put a great deal of thought into the plan I developed.  He knew I identified the most probable risks and put plans in place to mitigate them.  But I was still leaning back.  He stressed the importance of leaning in.  He said, “Imagine you have no safety net under you.  What would you do?” And then he said the one thing that all great leaders don’t just say but demonstrate…he said, “Joe, I support everything you’re doing.”  Those words, backed-up by my faith and trust in him as a leader, gave me the added strength I needed to lean in.  To commit and not look back.

So when tough times arrive, or when everything seem to be going wrong, lean in.  Way in.  Imagine not having the safety net and that’s when you’ll realize that failure is not an option and you’ll make a bad situation into a good one. And most importantly find your “Jeff”.  A mentor is an absolute necessity to help you navigate the stormy waves of life.

10 Things a Leader is NOT

Badleader

Remember that bad boss you had a couple of years ago?  Every interaction caused stress, disappointment, and sometimes regret.  Here are some characteristics NOT found in great leaders.

  1. Selfish.  Great leaders make it all about their teams.  There’s no “I” in team and the leader knows that and embraces it.
  2. Mean-spirited.  Strong leaders lead with dignity.  They understand that even when corrective action is required every employee deserves to be treated with dignity.
  3. Know-it-all.  The best leaders are continuous learners.  They do not claim to have all the answers nor do they believe they themselves are the only ones capable of generating great ideas.
  4. Placating.  Successful leaders understand the need for honest and direct communication.  They do not shy away from conflict or pander in order to win popular opinion.
  5. Narcissistic. Effective leaders have an inner confidence that allows them to operate without ego.  Not so say they don’t have an ego but they are able to keep it in check.  They don’t have a need for others to know who they are, what they have, or how important they believe themselves to be.
  6. Micro-manager.  Accomplished leaders know that they must have the details but cannot micro manage.  They give trust to their teams and provide opportunities to people to take risks and practice their decision-making skills.
  7. Disingenuous.  Thoughtful leaders know the importance of service to others.  They have a strong moral compass knowing that others can see clearly who they are and likewise can feel their authenticity.
  8. Thankless.  Purpose-driven leaders understand the importance of gratitude.  Being gracious for a job well done separates a good leader from a bad leader.  There’s nothing wrong with expressing your gratitude or thanks to an employee who did a good job even though a good job is what’s expected.  It’s often the smallest acts of kindness that embolden a team to its leader.
  9. Ignorant.  Learning leaders recognize all things change including their products, their markets and their customers.  They can’t afford to be caught with the short end of the intellectual stick and are constantly working to educate themselves and their teams.
  10. Indecisive.  Enduring leaders know that making decisions are required for leadership longevity.  Those that shy away from making decisions, difficult or easy, don’t last long as leaders.  Indecisive leaders are some of the most difficult leaders to work for.

And one bonus characteristic that ALL leaders DO possess…ownership.  All great leaders embrace ownership.  Ownership of their teams, their decisions – good or bad – their plans, strategies, ideas, and opinions.  These great leaders never look to place blame, often times to a fault.  They are able to shoulder great weight and responsibilities with a sense of ease and grace.

Are you a good leader?

What it Means to be Authentic

Authentic

You’re nervous, scared.  You’re breathing is shallow and you’re beginning to sweat.  Your mind is racing but you can’t seem to find an answer to your problem that makes you feel good.  In fact all you see in front of you are choices that are not so good and plain bad.  You start weighing the outcomes of each choice in terms of personal perception.  How will I be viewed if I make this decision or that decision?  How popular or unpopular will I be for making such a decision?  Will my boss support me?  How about my wife/husband, my friends, my parents, my kids?  Your emotions reach a crescendo and you feel you’re about to collapse.  What now?

Try this interesting test.  It’s a simple and fast test that requires answering just one question no matter how difficult the decision is you are facing.  It can serve as your decision starter.

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about any one persons reaction or perception of me based upon the decision I make?  Sure this sounds unfair but if you begin every decision thinking first about what others will think of you then you’re likely to arrive at the wrong place.  Like politicians that look at polls before deciding on their personal stance on an issue, people who worry more about what others think rather than doing the right thing will ultimately experience a short life cycle as a leader.

Authentic leaders don’t worry about what others think.  Not that they set out to offend, hurt, or alienate themselves from others but they instead focus on being true to themselves first.  After all, that’s what makes an authentic leader so appealing to follow.  You always know where they stand on an issue today and tomorrow.  They don’t waiver or pander.  They simply establish their position, communicate it effectively and stick to it.  If they do change their position it is backed up by facts and tangible learnings that justify their change.  Not at all based upon opinion polls, or pressure from stakeholders or markets.

They have a sense of intelligent fearlessness.  They are smart enough to understand where the pitfalls are but effective enough to lead through, around, or over them.  They are mindful of cause and effect and focus on communicating both the why and the implications of their decisions.  They are often times seen as bold, courageous, and confidence.  They use their intelligence to assess the situation and select the best approach.  Their intelligence coupled with their confidence in conviction allow them to lead others fearlessly toward the goal.  This does not mean carelessly.  The difference here is that an authentic leader through their personal intellect and confidence are able to make tough decisions without fear, while leaders whose only strength is to pander to public opinion live in constant fear of being judged.  As such the leader who lives in fear is always looking to make the decision that allows them to place or shift blame elsewhere.  To have cover when the sky begins to fall.  Authentic leaders understand the risks and have no problems being held accountable to their decisions.

Recently Kathleen Sebelius was replaced as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In the interviews that have followed since her removal from office she stated that they had got it (the website http://www.healthcare.gov) readiness wrong.  It should have never been promised to roll out in October 2013.  Yet video clip after clip shows Sebelius saying with conviction it will be ready.  It is ready.  It’s working.  It’s right.  So where was her authenticity as a leader?  Where was her courage?  Unfortunately like so many others in leadership positions she sacrificed her authenticity for popularity.  If only people would realize that popularity is fickle.  Eventually inauthentic decisions and the leaders who made them always show themselves but by that time both have been cast as failures.  If only we could stay true, stay firm, stay authentic from the start.

Taking The Lead Vs. Being a Leader

leader

I’ve built many sales and marketing teams over the years.  I’ve led many to success and some to failure.  Throughout my career I have learned a great deal about leadership and leading people to achieve a desired goal.  One of the important facts I’ve learned over the years is that there is a clear difference between taking the lead and being a leader.  Having a true understanding of this difference helps to effect the best possible outcomes.

The difference between taking the lead and being a leader is quite simple.  When you take the lead you exert control.  You see examples of people taking the lead everyday throughout the world.  Kids take the lead to be the captain of the kickball team at lunch.   Executives maneuver to take the top spot in a company that may be floundering.  Yet these examples and others like them do not demonstrate leadership.  They simply showcase situations that arise where there is a vacuum at the top and any opportunistic person has the chance to step in and take control.  But that’s not leading.

Taking the lead involves control.  It often times results in a new regime rising to the top that is less focused on the team and much more  focused on an individual or small group of individuals.  This is not to say that in times of need that someone with noble intentions can’t rise to the top and become a leader.  Those situations do happen but are less likely when there is a leadership vacuum at the top.

The most significant difference between taking the lead and being a leader boils down to one ability.  The ability to inspire.  Great leaders inspire.  They get people to dream big, to not accept the status quo, to challenge conventional thinking without fear of embarrassment or disappointment.   The best leaders inspire people to own their own destiny.  To not settle for mediocrity.  To live the change we want to become, as Gandhi said long ago.  Leaders who are able to inspire possess a quiet confidence.  A sense of conviction that is both strong but flexible.  Strong leaders are learners and adapters.  They are able to see things as they are while formulating a plan to shape the future they intend to create.  They are driven by the need to be of value, and of service, to others and they inspire the very best from each of us while doing so.

These highly favored leaders are those  individuals that we all like to follow, to watch, to cheer on.  These are the people who make us feel confident in the value of our personal contributions, and are able to rally a diverse group of folks to charge off in a common direction.  They inspire each of us to reach for, and obtain greatness.  They are the real leaders.

Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions

Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions.

Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions

decision

If you need to make a difficult decision make sure you understand your surroundings as much as you understand the facts and details of what it is you’re trying to decide upon.

I recently had lunch with a colleague to discuss some key decisions that I need to make in our business surrounding strategy.  I presented my facts, beliefs, and experience with great passion.  My plan was both logical and well thought through.  I knew however that some of my decisions, while believed by the team the correct ones to make, would create some discomfort.  Why?  Because while we can all understand logic, and positive correlations, we are after all human beings, and human beings dislike change no matter how sound, logical, positive, or necessary that change is.

My colleague, who has years of experience and incredible wisdom said to me, “be aware of the issues that are not part of the issues.”  This statement perplexed me.  I didn’t understand.  When I asked her to explain she provided this wonderful story that provided the clarity to what she was saying.

For years she had her hair cut by the same stylist.  Through life’s many trials and tribulations, ups and downs, good times and bad, this stylist cut her hair and listened to her stories.  As times changed she wanted a new hair style but the stylist was unable to provide the cut she wanted.  She knew she had to make a change but her feelings and emotions of abandoning this stylist were strong.  She is an intensely loyal person and the thought of ending this long-standing relationship was quite troubling.  Her head told her it was the right thing to do but her heart was most certainly conflicted.  So while the issue at hand was achieving a new hair style, the emotional issue tied to her sense of loyalty came to the forefront of her making the decision to go elsewhere…hence the issue (emotional), not part of the issue (new hair style).

Bottom line:  It’s critical to understand emotions when making a decision. Your emotions as well as those of the key stakeholders involved in that decision are paramount to effective decision-making.  Emotional history, sometimes referred to as baggage, can play a major role in decision-making.  Being aware of these issues, that are not part of the actual issue being decided upon, can help you frame your approach.  Your decision is your decision.  It’s the “how” (the approach) you present your decision that can often times become the difference between effective decision-making and holding the status-quo.