Measuring the Value of a Partner; Leveraging Disruptive Thinking to Enhance Your Results

I maintain a rather crazy schedule. For years I logged up to 400,000 miles as I flew across the globe as a management consultant. Today, as Chief Revenue Officer of SAFEbuilt, my business is contained to the United States, yet I find myself equally as busy, logging 150,000 miles a year even during the pandemic, as we provide essential building and professional services to local and state governments. Between meeting clients and prospects, and leading a national team that sells and manages these services across more than 1,200 client communities, life can get a bit hectic.

Leaders must understand their business at a granular level, primarily because it enables them to increase their situational awareness while gaining much-needed empathy to lead a team down smooth or bumpy roads.

To gain this deep understanding, I work to identify the business’ core competencies. Simultaneously, I am conducting a skills inventory of myself, as well as my team. The result of that assessment leads to the development of my strategic imperatives, or focus areas, as well as identifying what or where to outsource to gain speed, efficiencies, and effectiveness. My days at Paychex and Intuit, while nearly 20 years ago, still serve as a gut check when I think about how to best accelerate revenue growth.

Every business outsources some parts, or pieces, of its operation. Whether it’s payroll, office cleaning, accounting, or back-office processing, the concept of outsourcing has been around, well, forever. Highly effective leaders recognize that if they focus on their core competencies, they can accelerate revenue growth faster than if they get bogged down with having to manage all the minute details. Further, once you have an accurate assessment of your skills, and those of your team’s, you’ll be able to more quickly make determinations as to where NOT to spend your time and attention and find an outsourced solution.

The past decade has ushered in the concept of partnership versus outsourcing. It’s no longer in fashion to simply be a vendor of services…an outsourcer. Today, we must all be partners, or at least that’s what all the rage is about. Of course, you get so much more value when working with a partner. Don’t you? Hmmm.

How do you distinguish between a vendor and a partner? How can you tell exactly what you have? Is your office cleaner a partner? How about your accountant? When you have your payroll processed, is the payroll specialist providing partner services? When you buy a new sofa, is that salesperson a partner?

Chances are that many, if not most, of your business dealings are actually nothing more than vendor-based relationships. And guess what? That’s okay. Every function and every vendor doesn’t need partner status. Sometimes a simple transaction is all that’s required for efficiency. 

Avoid wasted calories by trying to make more of something than what it is. The key is to know which functions within your business would benefit if you had a real partner working with you.

My measure of a partner goes well beyond the work delivered for the dollars I’ve paid. If I get what I’ve paid for, it’s likely a vendor relationship. If I get more than what I’ve paid for, you just might be teetering on partner status. Further, if the vendor I’ve hired pushes my thinking and helps me to innovate, they achieve the coveted status of partner.

An example of a great partner relationship is with our digital marketing agency – Square2. I began my journey with Square 2 back in 2012 and have worked on and off with them across different companies and industries. The co-founders of Square 2, Mike Lieberman and Eric Keiles, are masters of innovative thinking. Sure, I hired Square 2 to outsource my digital marketing needs, but the value we’ve received from working together goes beyond the increase in MQL activity and SQL conversion.

With my crazy coast-to-coast travel schedule, I was struggling to find the time to add yet another meeting to my calendar for progress updates. Many times just minutes before meetings I end up having to reschedule due to a client or associate need, and here is where the partner status comes in.

Rather than trying to stick to a traditional meeting cadence for progress updates, Mike Lieberman, taking into consideration his buyer’s needs (mine), suggested that the Square 2 team provide me with progress updates via a short video that I could watch during flights or Uber rides to absorb and contemplate questions or reactions. This slight adjustment in working together has made a big difference, as it has improved my ability to keep informed while being able to make changes or provide input in near-real time. 

This is a perfect example of meeting your buyer where and how they want to be met, rather than continuing with a “this is how we do things” approach. 

Here’s where the value of a true partnership really begins to accelerate results.

Serving more than 1,200 communities nationwide, with each community having between two and seven personas we interact with on a regular basis, I have adopted and implemented this tactic within my own team. While it certainly isn’t a silver bullet, it does offer clients another avenue for updates. No different than payroll providers offering businesses the ability to phone in, fax in, email, and now launch an app on a smart device to produce payroll, video updates are just another option on the menu to allow clients to choose how they interact with their provider, or better yet, partner.

What’s the last thing you learned from a vendor that went beyond the scope of work you hired them to perform? How often are your vendors collaborating with you to find new or different approaches that help you personally save time, increase your personal efficiency, or resolve a pain point?

Partners go beyond the scope. They focus on the individual they are providing the services to on behalf of the company they are contracted with. Think about that. How concerned is your vendor about your time, your effectiveness, and your ability to improve the running of the business, versus just providing the service they said they would?

Vendors have the ability to improve your business. Great partners don’t just have the ability – they act and add value beyond the four corners of your contract by going deep into your business, making you and your business better.

Leaders are not born, they’re developed

I recently had dinner with one of my top sales people in San Diego this week and the conversation got around to whether people are born as natural sales people, or leaders.

I’ve never been a believer that people are born into a specific life path. What I believe is that each of us is born with a set of talents, capabilities, and competencies. We are all born with a specific attitude as well. A mindset, a glass half full, versus half empty thinking. A skeptic, an optimist, or pragmatist.

Here’s where the conversation gets fun. Believe it or not there was an interesting life lesson that has stuck with me for years from a rather unexpected movie – RAMBO III. In the movie the character of Colonel Troutman gives a pep talk to John Rambo. He tells the story of a sculpture who finds a perfect stone. He drags it back to his workshop and creates an incredible statue. When his friends compliment him on his creation, he says, he didn’t create anything. The statue was always there…he just chipped away the small pieces.

We are all born with natural talents. Some are blessed with athletic abilities, others with analytical strengths, others with caregiver strengths. The difference between those that achieve their full potential versus those who don’t, is finding a mentor(s) who helps validate and provide direction for your unique set of skills.

What if there was no Earl to Tiger Woods? What if no Joe to Michael Jackson? What if no Kurt to Michael Douglas? There are thousands more of these examples of folks who are not in the limelight but succeeded because they benefited from someone who recognized their talents and provided direction and encouragement. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have had a number of bosses throughout my career who have guided, counseled, and encouraged me to embrace my skills, take chances, and stretch. Without them, I am certain I would not have accomplished what I have thus far. And while I’m now considered “middle age”, my need for their input, guidance, and counsel still remains strong. Being a continuous learner never stops…until the heart does.

So what if you don’t feel like you have a person like this in your life? What do you do to find someone to fill this gap? The answer is easy. Look around. That person is probably closer to you than you think. It could be a spouse, partner, boss, friend, someone at the gym, someone sitting next to you on a plane. In fact, my love for American history was born on a flight I was on in 2004 when I met a gentlemen who asked me what types of books were my favorite to read. Foolishly I said none. He said, how can you spend so much time on a plane and not read. He told me I was missing all kinds of opportunities to expand my thinking. When we landed he gave me a book that became the catalyst for creating my voracious appetite for reading. That book was called His Excellency on George Washington. I can’t count the number of books I’ve given away over the years to people who I just met in similar situations. You never know who, or how you can impact the life of a stranger for the better. It’s incredibly heartwarming and fulfilling.

Life lessons are everywhere. Sometimes you just need to put down your phone, take out your ear buds, and just be…be present. Take an inventory of all the things you’re good at. Jot down what you like to do. Assess the crowd you hang with and identify a few people to approach to help you clear away those stones. Remember, the statue is always there…it’s just how badly you want to chip away at the stones to show your uniqueness and value to the world.

The Leaders List of Critical Books to Read

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Curiosity is a key competency for those looking to grow and lead. Curiosity about a business, its industry, people, customers, competitors, investors, are all necessary to excel in today’s high speed world of hyper-competition. There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity including doing, reading, researching, and interviewing.

Unfortunately for many, reading takes the very last seat in the back, with the most common excuse I hear for not reading – “who has the time?” To which my response is, “Apparently only the highest of high performers.”  What exactly are you willing to invest in improving yourself and your skills?  How much time?  How much money?  How much of your freedom?  Why freedom?  Because, when others are using their freedom to golf, ski, hit the bar, head to the gym, or sleep on that cross-country flight, you’re using your freedom to expand your knowledge base and perspective.

Whether you’ve been a leader for a year, or twenty, we all experience ups, downs, wins, losses, triumphs, and failures.  One thing I’d say is that your top reads will almost always be driven by your immediate, or anticipated circumstances. My suggestion is to have a stable of those books identified and ready to go.  In addition, practicing the habit of self-reflection will also super-charge your results when combined with building your arsenal of perspectives through reading.

If you’re wondering how much to read, I simply say, get started.  Everyone’s pace is different.  Some like turning pages, others like reading on a tablet, and still others prefer listening via audiobooks.  No matter your preference, just start.  Set a goal.  Pick a book and set a goal to complete it within 2 weeks.  Two weeks is a good timeframe to get through a book that’s between 250 – 300 pages once placed into your routine.  Make no mistake, a routine it must be.

A few thoughts before revealing the list of critical reads for all leaders…first, all leaders need financial acumen. However, most of us, unless you were classically trained, have learned while doing.  This doesn’t make for a very strong financial foundation. Public companies view the world quite differently from privately held companies, or even more specifically those owned by private equity.

Second, to be a great leader you must learn and understand what it means to follow. This means that all great leaders take the time to learn as much as they can. If you don’t have a very healthy dose of curiosity, then find one quickly.  Your leadership life span will be limited by the depth of knowledge you acquire and accumulate as it relates to your business and the industry.

Lastly, conduct regular assessments on your personal performance. Find a number of folks who will be brutally honest with you about your style, your results, your core competencies. Play to your strengths and stop dwelling on your weaknesses.

Here is a list of the top reads for all leaders:

 

How Sharing Can Accelerate Results

In today’s rapidly advancing digital age, information has never been easier to access. We shop for clothes, cars, computers, and countless other consumables and services through the internet. We research our customers, competitors, future employers and employees, and bosses. We share our experiences and opinions about banks, hairdressers, mechanics, and restaurants on sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google. In fact, by the time you finish reading this blog, more than 1 million posts will have been made on Facebook (assuming you can finish this in 2 minutes or less).

With so much information, so quickly accessible, why do businesses still operate in silos? Why do management teams, and executives, feel compelled to withhold information from their teams? Are there still people that believe in Jack Nicholson’s position in A Few Good Men? Perhaps some might not be able to handle the truth but most are far more capable than you may think. In fact, if you consider real-life General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, he talks about transforming the U.S. Military from a command-and-control operation to a “shared consciousness” where there is an organization-wide “understanding of the whole.”

So why do executives hold back? Why do they covet information at all? The answer is FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Fear of embarrassment, uncertainty of reaction, doubt in the character and tenacity of the people on their teams. Harold MacMillian said, “A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” This couldn’t be more true.

Sharing for the sake of sharing is a waste of time and effort, however, sharing for the sake of establishing trust is an accelerator of positive results. How do can you tell if sharing is real? If the information the leader is sharing is sensitive, in that it makes him vulnerable, he’s sharing. If the information is sensitive, in that it may make the company vulnerable, she’s sharing. If there is any level of personal, professional, or company risk, this qualifies for real sharing. When real sharing is being demonstrated, a culture of trust can begin to develop and teams begin to form. A leader who shares real stuff is confident, comfortable being vulnerable, and willing (and interested) in learning. Those are the leaders people seek to follow.

Still think sharing is a crock? If you need further evidence that sharing can accelerate growth, look no further than Berkshire Hathaway which currently holds the title as the highest priced stock on the NYSE at more than $320,000 for a BRK-A share as of this blog post. If you, like me, believe that sharing is a critical ingredient to building trust, consider the words of Berkshire’s Charlie Munger, “By the standards of the rest of the world, we over trust. So far it has worked very well for us.” It certainly has.

How much courage do you have to start sharing?

Thoughts on Leadership

“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.

Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.

People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.

Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.

Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker

What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?

In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?

There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.

Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.

Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?

Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.

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

Business – it’s all personal

Business exists to serve peoples needs. It doesn’t matter if you work for a B2B, or B2C company. Somewhere downstream in the process, is a consumer who is making a decision to buy a product or service you make, or contribute to making.

Business is very personal. Only people can care, a business cannot. A business may be a culmination of caring people but by itself, a business is nothing more than an idea. People bring ideas to life. People bring passion to their work and workplace. People bring thoughtfulness and caring for one another and a community. That all happens with people. A business can only serve as a conduit to deliver what the collection of these people express.

When I hear “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, I would say, it’s all personal. People give their most valuable asset they have to a business…their time. With that time they could invest it elsewhere to generate different returns. With their families, with other businesses, other ideas, other objectives. It is a trade-off. Yet once that trade-off is made, an individual is committing themselves – their person – to the business. This is how business gets done, and it becomes very personal.

Empathy is a key emotion to bridge the gap between business and personal. Why? Because time is the only thing that binds us all together. We all have a set amount of sand in our hourglass. When it’s gone it’s gone. Take some of your sand, and use it with others at work to demonstrate that you hear them, you understand their challenges, and you have ideas to share that can help them. By doing this you add value. And while no one can put more sand into anyone’s hourglass, we can all put a little value into each other’s lives…in, and outside, of business.

Type A Personalities – 3 ways to confront anxiety

Worker thinks solution of his problems

Hard charging, Type A personalities, often struggle with taming their fear of failure.  Most would agree that fear, when kept in check and under control, is an emotion that can both protect and propel us.  Understanding the cause of the fear you’re experiencing is the first step to developing a plan to calm it, contain it, control it.

Anxiety is the result, or symptom, of fear. If I fear I won’t be able to hit the ball, anxiety causes me to dread my up-at-bat.  If I fear I will fail my statistics class, then anxiety will kick in and cause me to block any learning that will ultimately help me pass the class. If I fear I will miss my monthly sales number, my anxiety will cause me to go into rapid-fire mode doing as many things as I can simply to create the appearance that I’m working hard.

Anxiety perpetuates fear, creates the stress, and force, strong enough to shut you down.  Dealing with anxiety is critical to successfully navigating change, taking risk, and managing failure.  Here are 3 ways to keep your anxiety in check:

  1. Ask the question “why not me?” When we think we will fail it is because we don’t feel competent, smart enough, savvy enough, or insightful enough to win.  Why not? Rather than thinking about the failure, replace that thought with the question why not me.  I’m smart, why not me?  I’m intelligent, why not me?  I’ve accomplished a number of great things, why not me?
  2. Turn anxiety into excitement. Replace, what if I fail, with what will I learn? Replace what if this doesn’t last, with how much better will I be no matter how long this lasts?  What will I have experienced that will make me more valuable, more fulfilled?
  3. Breath. The power of 10 minutes of just breathing is quite powerful.  Call it meditation, self-reflection, self-empowerment, or self-love, whatever you call it the purpose of this 10 minutes is to rebalance your inner self.  To bring calm to any internal bubbling that’s taking place.  There are thousands of books on this subject, apps for your smartphone, and calming music for your ears.  Get one, or some, but act now to calm the storm from building.

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.