Be An Inspiration

Inspire

What inspires you?  Perhaps a better question is who inspires you?  Who do you look to for a pick-me-up?  Someone you can always count on for a kind word, a gentle smile, and a reassuring affirmation.  They are the first person you turn to when things go sideways.  So what is it about that person that inspires you?  What traits do they possess and can you yourself be an inspiration to others?

When I think of the people who inspire me, they all possess similar traits.  They are all good listeners, strong observers, and offer great insights.  They’re able to assess a situation without bias and provide a recommendation for how to adjust or modify my thinking in order to accomplish my goals.

Being an inspiration to others requires the ultimate in authenticity.  Have you ever met someone who said they wanted to help you but instead caused your antenna to go up?  Their words seemed empty, their time felt rushed, and most likely they were not very empathetic.  Empathy is a necessary ingredient for inspiration. It’s not about sympathy.  Inspiring others doesn’t mean you allow that person to wallow in their sorrow.  No.  Inspiring others begins with empathy.  Being able to identify with someone’s struggles or challenges allows you to connect with people, build rapport, gain trust, and finally inspire them.

I’ve coached hundreds of people throughout my career, as well as others closer to home.  I enjoy helping people sort through their challenges by listening and providing perspective.  I make sure that when I’m coaching someone they know they are my #1 priority at that moment.  I turn my phone off, close my laptop, and focus on that person entirely.

We live in an age of sound bites.  There is an infinite number of inspirational sayings that are posted to Facebook everyday.  Yet nothing takes the place of speaking to another human being  about your challenges.  That real time interaction with someone who genuinely cares about you and your future is what inspiring others is all about.

There’s no class…no school to attend…no workshops that teach someone how to inspire others.  It takes time. It takes courage. It takes commitment to inspire others. Making a positive difference in someone else’s life is what inspires me to work hard to be an inspiration to others.  What inspires you?

 

Pay Attention. You’re Missing So Much.

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Pay attention.  Did you see that?  Did you notice her roll her eyes?  Did you see how he looked at his watch?  Did you hear the receptionist’s tone when she told you to hold?  Are you watching?  Are you paying attention?

Life’s all about nuances.  The little things that make all the difference.  The quick but genuine smile.  The empathetic reply you receive when you ask if Mr. Smith is in.  The notes your customer takes as you’re talking.  Or even something as simple as your 9 am appointment coming to get you promptly at 9 am.  Not 9:05 am.  Not 9:15 am.  But 9 am sharp.

In some ways we’ve become numb to life’s little nuances.  Maybe it’s our phones, social media, the internet, or maybe its Darwinism as our ability to compete, survive and reproduce evolves.  Regardless, we’re slowly losing our ability to spot things.  To recognize signs.  To pick up on the “subtle clues” a prospect gave, or in some cases the very visible and obvious clues a dissatisfied customer gives.

The next time you’re in the grocery store, department store, car dealership, or just about anyplace where there are things for sale take a moment and observe.  Look around you.  Did anyone acknowledge you?  If they did, what did they say?  Did you feel comfortable?  Did you feel confident they were asking because they had your best interest at heart?  Or did they say hello and roll right into a sales pitch?

Whether you’re a professional sales person or a marketer, your job more than any other in the company is to be in tune with these signs.  Your job is to notice things and to challenge or acknowledge them.  Only through observation can you effectively sell.  Only through observation can you begin to create a compelling story that people find interest in.  Only through observation can you begin to align your business with your customers interests.  Until then you’ll continue to slam the round peg in the square hole not because you want to, but because you don’t know any other way.  You haven’t been watching.  You haven’t been observing.

Pay attention.  Look around you.  Watch… really watch… your customer.  How they react to you and others in the office.  What did they say?  How did they say it?  What was they’re body language?  How are they observing you?

Engagement comes in all shapes and sizes.  But when we’re truly engaged, others know it.  While engagement for me may have a different physical appearance than your engagement, the fact is that true engagement creates a visible and tangible level of energy.  It can be seen and felt.  Pay attention.  Watch for it.  Recognize what it looks like.

“Nothing has the power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under they observation in life” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Leadership Is About Acting Now

  

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today.  In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says, “late is the first step to not finishing.” Many suffer from analysis paralysis.  Trying hard to solve for perfection.  Trying hard to not make a mistake.  Leaders however think about decision making differently.  They have the  courage to act and the confidence to own their decision no matter the outcome.

I might, turns into I can.  Leaders say I will, instead of I could.  I may, becomes I must.  I should, changes to I am.  Leaders think in the here and now.  They understand the importance of being decisive and accountable.  They look to the future with a clear understanding of their current circumstances.  Leaders are well-rounded.  They are continuous learners, who through learning, are constantly challenging their own perspectives, ideas and opinions.  Leaders are not afraid to change tact given new information.  They are more concerned about getting it right than being right.

In his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Lou Gerstner conveys a philosophy of “sooner is better than perfect.”  Doing things sooner often times requires getting comfortable with uncertainty.  The point being, once you have taken action you can always do a course correction.  Leaders are constantly acting.  They are in perpetual motion.  They’re never sedentary or static.  They’re fluid, dynamic, evolving.  

Leaders know that every journey begins with the first step.  Sometimes the step is in the wrong direction.  That’s okay.  They’re comfortable with change.  They’re confident in the midst of ambiguity.  They thrive on the thrill of what they can learn.  They’re curious.  They’re bold.

Be curious.  If being curious is too bold of a starting point then be cautiously curious.  Strive to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  But act.  Taking action provides  the leader with learnings.  Those learnings add to the leaders inventory of skills, experience and perspectives.  With those ingredients the leader is able to garner the followers they need to successfully execute on their vision.

Keep moving.  Keep making things happen.

Where Wisdom and Experience Intersect

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Great leaders possess many characteristics.  Courage, foresight, perspective, and vision are just a few thoughts that come to mind when thinking about leaders.  Leaders are not all-knowing, nor do they have to be right all the time.  In fact, knowing everything is impossible, and being right all of the time simply means you haven’t tested the boundaries.  Good leaders fail.  Great leaders fail often.

It’s been said that “wisdom is the result of experience, but experience is often the result of lack of wisdom.”  So where do the two intersect?  People ask you for advice because they admire your wisdom.  Job opportunities because of your wisdom.  Yet if it weren’t for all your failures you’d have nothing to offer, you would lack wisdom.  Great leaders possess this knowledge because they understand the importance of failure. They are able to see failures as deposits into their bank of wisdom, not withdrawals or setbacks.

Wisdom allows us to take chances.  It allows us to predict outcomes.  It enables us to maximize our chance for success but it does not guarantee our success.  Wisdom gives us the courage we need to attempt something that carries the risk of failure but doesn’t prevent us from trying.  Failure must be an option as we try new things and expand our horizons.  Wisdom helps us see that what we gain from these failures often times outweighs succeeding on the first try. 

So when confronted with a choice between a sure thing and one that presents potential failure, look first to your wisdom bank.  Do an honest assessment of what you will gain versus what’s at risk if you chose to take the chance.  Know that if you do take a chance and fail, you now have wisdom to share with others.  It is this wisdom that increases the value of your insight, perspective, and experience.   It is this wisdom that makes you unique.  This is the wisdom that enriches you personally, and the wisdom that develops you as a leader.

A New Game Show: The Blame Game

Look around you. Put your iPhone down, stop your online shopping for just a minute, and stop posting on Facebook. Take a deep breath, look up, look around, watch, and observe. Listen to what you’re hearing…or not hearing for that matter.

A new gameshow is building both momentum and popularity amongst our Country’s leaders. It’s not Family Feud, it’s not Price is Right, nor is it Let’s Make a Deal. This new gameshow is called The Blame Game. The object is to point as many fingers as possible toward other people and escape both responsibility and accountability. The winner is crowned Teflon Don…or Donna. It’s the ultimate game for losers, and one that is gaining popularity because we allow it to. And the worst part is that there’s not just one winner…there’s many, many, many, many….

Our Country has moved toward a shallow ignorance. A state of numbness where we’ve insulated ourselves from the misguided missteps of our leaders. Everyone gets an unlimited number of “free passes” in The Blame Game, because we allow it. We give a free pass to those who inherited a mess, or those who just can’t make the tough – often times unpopular – decisions. We shrug our shoulders and continue on with our lives moving further and further away from our Country’s founding principles which include very specific references to God, power emanating from the people, a Constitution, private property ownership, and a republic rather than a direct democracy. (How many people would you guess don’t know there’s a difference?)

Our leaders of today are often times winners of a popularity contest. Great orators, sharp dressers, charismatic charmers, and savvy politicians capable of weaving in and out of distressed situations so as to not get to entangled in them whereby they must roll up their sleeves, jump in, get involved, and work toward a solution. They are a group of master delegators not for the sake of efficiency but for the sake of creating political insulation for when things go sideways.

While hope is not a strategy, I do hope (and pray) for a true leader to emerge soon. One that our Country can rally around. One who wants to be held accountable. One who makes decisions based upon their beliefs and convictions, not on polling numbers. One who possesses the character and integrity that promotes family values, personal responsibility, and self-improvement. One who other countries respect and in some cases fear…or at least know they mean what they say. Does such a leader exist? Is he or she already on the path to leadership or are they awaiting a nudge from family or friends to “just do it”? While we can wait and hope for things to get better, we should all go back and re-read our Country’s founding principles. Then and only then will we know whether our hope is possible or misplaced.

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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

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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.