A Thought on Empathy

Life is about perspective. It’s how we experience situations and the lens through which we view things…good, bad, or indifferent. Empathy is a powerful attribute for us all. Being able to relate to each other is what makes human beings…human.

I just watched the movie The Forgiven starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana. This movie is based on real events that took place in S. Africa. It is incredibly moving and serves as proof that it is possible – even under the worst circumstances – that we can all find common ground, forgive when needed, and find a positive path forward. Rarely have I seen something so powerful in a film.

#Empathy

#Coaching

#Selfimprovement

#SelfAwareness

The Most Important Sales Question You Need To Ask

important

Selling is a combination of both art and science.  It requires intelligence, curiosity, study, and practice.  Unfortunately too many books have been written by self-proclaimed gurus who are running around promoting persuasion, influence and manipulation.  As a life-long sales professional I cringe when I hear these tactics being promoted as the Holy Grail of selling.  Learn how to persuade a buyer and you’ll be golden.  Wrong.  Persuasion is only temporary if it’s not grounded in something more significant or substantive to the buyer.  While beating the buyer into submission is one way to approach sales I’d suggest a much different path.  Something that requires a fair amount of mental horsepower, patience and agility.  This approach can be summed up in one question…So What?

Sales people have been trained…brainwashed…into force feeding a prospect through a rigid selling process.  The problem is that most sales processes are inward focused and aligned to what their organization does and is capable of delivering.  They rarely take the customers viewpoint into consideration.  This results in the sales person trying to find a way to wiggle into the prospective buyers wallet, often times not knowing or caring whether there is a real or tangible need for their product.

So how can you avoid falling into the stereotypical sales rep persona?  Ask this one questions before and after your customer interactions – So what?  This product has  a 98% satisfaction rating!  So what?  My company has been around for 100 years.  So what?  We pay the highest commission rates in the industry.  So what?  I’ve helped many business owners like you improve their profits.  So what?

I’m sure many of those statements sound familiar.  You may have even used one or two of them before.  But so what?  What does your satisfaction rating mean to me the buyer?  Why should I care?  Too many times sales reps lob a one-liner out there and let it hang.  They believe that it’s such a powerful statement that the buyer must believe it too, yet we know this isn’t the case.

Once you begin to challenge yourself with the “So What?” question you’ll find yourself having different conversations with your customer and asking different questions.  You’ll begin to interact with your customer on a different level.  Your genuine new-found interest in what’s important to your customer will be seen and felt.  And while this may not guarantee a sale it will guarantee that you’ll be better prepared to separate the true prospects versus those who simply clog our pipelines who are not fits, matches, or beneficiaries of the value we provide.  Having this power will help you close more business that is a true fit while quickly sorting through the business that isn’t, saving you time, money, and energy that you can then direct toward those prospects who can truly benefit from the value you offer.

Happy selling!

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.

How Your Sales Team Really Feels About Social Media

socialmedia

Sales people are some of the brightest, most adaptive, and persistent personalities on the planet.  They thrive on ego and strive to be recognized from the highest levels of their organizations.  The best sales people focus on establishing strong relationships and broad networks of contacts.  But what most sales people dislike more than anything else is change, and social media represents one of the most sweeping changes to sales people since the invention of the fax machine.

To get your sales team on board and using social media to improve their results requires you to have a thorough understanding of what’s preventing them from getting involved to begin with.  Here are 3 things your sales team believes about social media but isn’t telling you.

  1. Social media isn’t up to me, it’s the company’s responsibility.   Reps believe that social media is an extension of advertising and thus is the sole responsibility of the company.  Communication, narratives, or messaging whether via social or traditional media outlets are the responsibility of the corporate marketing team.
  2. I don’t have time.  Reps see things as either-ors.  If I must do Thing A, than Thing B must be sidelined.  Something must come off the plate before something new is added.  Given most sales people feel they already work to their fullest capability and capacity, few see a way to add more to their daily routine.
  3. I’m afraid.  Ever hear the story of the sales rep over-promising what their product or service can do?  What about the rep who exaggerates, manipulates or misleads a prospect?  Reps fear putting things in writing which provides them little to no wiggle room if they need to dial-back a previously issued statement or comment.  Putting something on LinkedIn or Twitter creates a feeling of unease and discomfort for a sales rep.

How to overcome these 3 false-beliefs?

  1. Here’s just one reason social media is a joint endeavor between a company and its sales people:  branding.  There are 2 parts to every sale – the company’s brand reputation and the sales person’s brand reputation.  A buyer will not buy if they don’t believe in the company’s brand.  If its product is perceived to be irrelevant, or low quality the buyer will know and look for an alternative.  Likewise if the sales person’s reputation is in question no matter how good the company’s product is the sale will not be made…at least by that sales person.  Social media is a great way for sales people to build and expand their personal brand reputation and thought leadership.
  2. Social media can help a sales person become more productive by improving their efficiency.  Utilizing free apps like Zite, Hootsuite, USAToday, and Google Alerts can help keep a sales pro up-to-date and add value to their sales conversations with prospects and current customers.
  3. Show them.  As their leader you must be able and willing to demonstrate your involvement with social media.  How do you embrace social media?  How does it play into your day?  Is it a passing thing, or do you participate daily with social media?  How do you use it?  Can you provide examples?  Being able to walk the talk is critical to implementing any new initiative or change.  The sales team must see you doing it before they even consider it for themselves.

Try these approaches and let me know how it works.

 

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective

Improve

Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.

Lessons From the Lone Survivor

Seals

Many leadership lessons  can be learned by observing and studying the United States Armed Forces.  Companies big and small turn to the military to learn how to better lead their teams, accomplish their goals, and execute their plans.  I was reminded of just how much can be learned from our solider’s this weekend when I saw Lone Survivor at the theater.  Of course Hollywood has a way of turning a story into a blockbuster film by adding dramatic elements that may or may not have actually happened but at its core Lone Survivor offers several lessons we can all learn from regardless of profession.

No matter what you do for a living you can be a leader.  The SEAL creed says,  “We expect to lead and be led.  In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission.  I lead by example in all situations.”  Whether a Petty Officer, Captain, or Lieutenant every solider is expected to lead and be led.  In business this can be seen in the execution of plans handed down from the executive team, up to and including the initiative someone takes beyond the scope of their job because something they saw needed to be done and they did it…for no other reason that it was the right thing to do.

I’ve blogged previously about accountability.  No where is accountability more visible, and demonstrated with authenticity, than by our Navy SEAL teams.  “We demand discipline.  We expect innovation.  The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail.  My training is never complete.”  How many in the business world live this philosophy?  Do you believe your technical proficiency is critical to your success or the success of your team?  Which do you place first?  Are you willing to improve your skills even if it requires you to take action after hours, in the evenings, on the weekends?  All for the sake of your team’s success?

Finally, how many in business give up when things become difficult?  You stop making sales calls because you’ve already made 20 in a row and need a break.  Or you put off a customer until tomorrow because you don’t feel like getting into a problem at 4:45 pm knowing it will take you beyond the closing bell? “I will never quit.  I persevere and thrive on adversity.  My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies.  If knocked down, I will get back up, every time.  I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission.  I am never out of the fight.”  Do you quit too easily?  What are you doing to ensure you’re in the best shape you can be, mentally and physically, to meet the demands of your job?  Do you get up every time you hit an obstacle or do you take some time off?

Recently I had the privilege of having some 1:1 time with General Stanley McChrystal.  Now retired and running his own consulting and leadership development firm, I asked him what the biggest difference is he sees between the military and business.  His reply?  “In business no one dies from a bad decision or mistake.”  Talk about putting things in perspective.

Check out the SEAL creed.  Read it.  Think about it.  Challenge yourself to push your limits, your boundaries, your abilities.  Take accountability for who you are, what you do, and the results you produce.  And above all, thank your lucky stars that there are those that do possess the mental and physical toughness to protect our freedom…no matter what the cost.

Your Leadership Style + Your Company Culture – Is There a Disconnect?

perception

Carrot and stick.  And so goes the age-old debate of how to achieve great business results.  Do you shower your employees with accolades and pats on the back?  Or do you focus on the consequences for under performance?  Is your tone one of optimism and assumed-success?  Or is your temperament such that you lead with a, “if we fail” mentality?

There are as many different leadership styles as there are leaders.  Our styles are born from our life experiences from childhood, up to and including, the role we currently occupy.  How you were raised is as important as how you were managed in the first several years of your career.  Most experts agree that the “formative years” for a child occur in their first 12 years of life.  Likewise, the formative years of someones career is their first 5 years in the workforce.

Human beings are natural-born observers.  We watch.  We absorb.  We learn.  We take what we learn and begin to construct potential outcomes for the scenarios we encounter later in life.  Like, cause-and-effect, we begin to build a mental inventory of outcomes based upon actions and reactions.  We learn how to alter outcomes by changing our actions or behaviors.  Yet we all learn in different ways.  Two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different views or perceptions of that event.  And herein lies the formula for how our leadership styles evolve.

Are you a positive motivator or negative?  How do you know?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you work in your office all day with the door closed?
  2. When was the last time you sent a communication to recognize a team member?
  3. How often do you walk around the office making eye contact, saying hello, and simply engaging people?
  4. How many people on your team do you rate as a top performer, and if so, when was the last time you told them how much you appreciated them?
  5. Are you losing more than 20% of your employees each year?
  6. Do you hold regular team meetings or even informal get-togethers?
  7. Do you consistently meet, or miss, your numbers?

How you answered these questions may be an indication of your style of leadership.  On the other hand it may also be a reflection of the culture within your workplace.  Either way it’s worth your time to evaluate.  Why?  Because there are several reasons to have a true understanding of your personal style and that of the culture in which you work.  If you genuinely want to build lasting value – for your company or your client – the first step has to be the development of relationships.  In the absence of trusting relationships a company will not be able to experience sustained growth, and nor will you.

According to an article published earlier this year by Forbes, the number one reason people left their job was for stability reasons.  People leave when they don’t feel secure.  Insecurity is often the result of a bad manager.  In fact a subsequent article in the Huffington Post Small Business, it cites the number one reason employees quit is “Their boss sucks”.  Micromanagers and poor communicators topped the list of horrible bosses.  The negativity that flowed from these bosses infected the workplace so much so that people run for the doors.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the top 2 causes of stress in the workplace are work overload and people.  The AIS estimates that stress causes American businesses more than $300 billion each year in lost productivity with a major contributor being a negative workplace.  So how can you change it?  First change your behaviors.  Try doing these three things each day:

  1. Walk around the office at least twice a day and say hello to folks.
  2. Work with your door open (if you have an office) when you can.
  3. Look for the good things that are happening and recognize them.

These are all within your control.  If you’re working for a company that has a negative-tone culture you may need to reevaluate what’s most important to you.  Remember, jobs come and go, but your reputation stays with you no matter where you are employed.  Don’t let the dynamics of an organization define who you are and how you act.  If your belief system is in direct conflict with the office culture, you may need to make a change.  Great teams are built by great leaders, and to be a great leader you’ve got to recognize and acknowledge that your people are in fact your biggest asset.   Only by growing your workplace relationships, developing trust, and displaying respect will you be able to develop a high performing team.

No Promotion, Now What? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions.

no-self-promotion

It’s been a grind for months.  You’ve been working 12 – 13 hour days and weekends to prove you can do it and do it well.  All eyes are on you.  The project you’re in charge of is critical to your company’s future success.  It’s a big deal.  You complete the project and sit back ready to be showered with accolades and compliments by your boss and your peers.  Deep down you know this will be your defining moment…your own personal Mozart Concerto.  You wait…wait a bit longer…still longer…and nothing.

Wow!  What happened.  Your finished work was unbelievable.  You peers and other industry partners even commented on your end result.  Your boss seemed pleased along the way but hasn’t shown any real celebratory emotion.  Of course after all, aren’t you expected to deliver high-quality, near-perfect work?  This scenario is not atypical, but in actuality very common.

So what do you do when you hit this wall?  What actions should you take when the work you thought would seal a promotion turns out to do little more than generate a brief passing smile in a hallway at the office?  Do you quit?  Leave?  Complain?  Ask these 4 questions to help you determine your next course of action.

  1. Why did I expect to be promoted in the first place?  Perhaps you assumed that by delivering an amazing performance you’d somehow get that big title or bigger paycheck.  You may have even believed that your boss would just create a brand new position for you with the big title.  Maybe in a prior conversation your boss alluded to “big things” for those who step up and deliver a solid performance.  If the reason you expected your work to result in a promotion doesn’t contain a “this for that” in your explanation then you yourself have set yourself up for disappointment.  Learning:  If you take on a project, job, initiative that you expect will lead to advancement, be clear with your boss up front about this and get their reaction and their commitment before starting.
  2. What can I do to improve my performance?  This is a tough question to ask.  Most of us believe we’re already doing all the right things.  We sometimes confuse hard work with smart work.  High performers are constantly learning, constantly seeking knowledge, new ideas, perspectives, etc.  Focus always, on improving yourself first.  Personal development should never be weighed against a promotion.  Learning:  Adopt the attitude that you will be the best at your craft regardless of what happens in your work environment.  Even if you don’t get that promotion you can still have confidence in your ability to produce great results. And ultimately those results will be recognized even if by another employer.
  3. Is my boss my advocate?  Does your boss share success or does he take all the glory?  What happens when things go bad?  Are you hung out to dry or is your boss there to absorb a “team loss”?  Does she create situations that allow you to shine and be recognized?  Has he taken the time to introduce you to his boss to create an opportunity for interaction?  Learning:  A boss that lacks confidence or self-esteem will always be a barrier to your progress.  If you find yourself working for a boss that fits this profile…and progression is important to you…you may need to move on.
  4. What do my peers think of me?  This is perhaps the most overlooked area when dealing with promotions or lack of.  Many organizations have implemented performance programs that gather feedback from your peers to include in your annual performance review.  The ever-popular “360” became all the rage in the early 2000’s and still exists today with some variations.  A poor relationship, rapport, or perception of you with your co-workers can kill your career aspirations as quickly as those of a bad boss.  Learning:  Put yourself out there.  Build relationships with your peers as well as those above and below in the organization.  Most companies today place great value on workers who are proficient in influencing, bridge building and negotiating.

Especially in times when the outcome did not match your expectations, self-reflection is critical.  Taking an honest look inside will always help bring perspective to each and every experience you encounter.  Thomas Paine said, “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”  Basically know…it’s okay to talk to yourself.