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Read more from Ron Emery in his blog: Emery on the Business of Business

What is Mentoring

A mentor is a person who can be a sounding board, someone of experience who can listen and help development, while not losing sight of reality. Mentorship is actually rarer than we think but true mentorship is a beautiful thing. “Mentors should keep their protégés’ feet grounded, and support and stretch them to succeed personally and professionally,” says Debbee Dale in “How to Set up a Mentoring Scheme.” I think that is a perfect description. It is slightly more than just business in the fact it is a selfless relationship on the side of the mentor. It is a giving of one’s advice and counsel, and the mentor is not upset or hurt if the protégé chooses a different path. Mentoring does require a skill that is not necessarily in everyone’s demeanor. Jealousy often gets in the way of mentorship and probably is the biggest reason these relationships fail. “Mentoring is an intentional, developmental relationship in which a more experienced and more knowledgeable person nurtures the professional and personal life of a less experienced, less knowledgeable person,” according to Wayne Hart in “What is Mentoring?”

Hart also says:

The primary focus of a mentor is development of an individual with an eye to organizational outcomes as well as personal outcomes; the capacity of the mentor to influence rests heavily on his or her ability to relate in a nonauthoritative way while, paradoxically, guiding the mentee or the protégé from the perspective of a superior position and expertise.

Many of these relationships, which may start out in a professional way, really turn out to be close personal friendships as the relationship continues. Mentors must pull and push their protégés. Mentoring requires strength in two different but complementary behaviors. First, mentors must lead by guiding interaction with their protégés. Mentors invest themselves in their protégés and uplift them, providing not only support, but empowerment. Secondly, Mentors must support protégés. Mentors push their protégés to become their best by encouraging development in areas of expressed need in their inventory. The protégé actually responds by not wanting to disappoint the mentor, which helps the protégé mature immensely. Mentoring is a spontaneous endeavor and in most cases cannot be planned, as the activity of coaching can.

So take time to think about your influencers and just how they affected who you have become and if it has been a positive influence, tell your influencers. Make their day; show them what they have done to help you. A while back I happened to run into an old college professor I had when doing my undergraduate studies and I told him what an impact he had on my life. I told him how he got me to look at things differently and how he still influences what I do today. He looked surprised. It is not that often that someone tells us we made a difference in their lives, but it is a great feeling when they do. I have often said that 10% of the folks we have touched will tell us that we have touched them, but we have touched so many others who have not told us. Many teachers realize that. Teachers by the very nature of their jobs touch hundreds of lives per year but only a few relationships come back to them later in life and they are rewarded with knowing they truly made a difference in their student’s lives. Think about how many times we did make a difference and no one told us that we did. Tell someone you made a difference and this is how you did it. You will not regret doing that. If you wait, time may pass you by and you will regret never having that conversation. It is a powerful conversation to have. For those faint of heart, bring the tissues.


Organizational ADD


With all of the focus on issues facing children today toward Attention Deficit Disorder and the fact that the medical community considers this a real destructive syndrome I wanted to spend a few minutes and talk about organizations that suffer from the same syndrome. Yes organizations suffer from ADD as well…

According to the optometrist network “A child with AD/HD [ A.D.D. OR ADHD ] is usually described as having a short attention span and as being distractible. In actuality, distractibility and inattentiveness are not synonymous. Distractibility refers to the short attention span and the ease with which some children can be pulled off-task. Attention, on the other hand, is a process that has different parts. We focus (pick something on which to pay attention), we select (pick something that needs attention at that moment) and we sustain (pay attention for as long as is needed). We also resist (avoid things that remove our attention from where it needs to be), and we shift (move our attention to something else when needed).”

Many organizations suffer from the same symptoms. How many times have some of your subordinates said, “We suffer from the management of the month club?” Have we taken those comments to heart? I think we should and here is why.

Many organizations are faced with many objectives, grow sales, cut costs, be more efficient, improve quality, improve delivery, etc., etc. We have heard them all. With so many objectives and opportunities facing us today what we really need is laser focus. I had a recent potential client who was looking to add a Purchasing Director while what they really needed was something less in the procurement area and some true leadership at the manufacturing/operational level. They could not see that. My meeting with them allowed them to take all of the ideas I laid out in front of them (operational improvement) and go back and focus on what their needs really were. They did not have a strategy. So, to put someone in the director role was useless because they don’t have a leader who can develop and articulate the strategy. How would he or she be effective because they are so scattered? So the next posting I see is for a Vice President of Operations. Even though I am not engaged with that organization at this point, they were taking every little morsel I was feeding them around global sourcing, transportation efficiencies, potential acquisitions to effect both top line growth and bottom line results going back and digesting them and getting focused. That is where the issues really lie and that is where they need to focus. Look at systemic fixes for your business. Don’t start in the middle because you can’t affect real change in the middle. You must start at the top and get really focused on what is causing the business to not be as effective as it could be. Until you have developed an effective strategy all of the other activities will not yield the results you want.

Now in order for this organization to be successful they have to deploy the strategy. This is where most organizations fail. After they have obtained all of the various inputs the organization must sit down and sift through the opportunities and prioritize exactly what is important to the short term and long term success of that particular business. The important part is how they motivate and empower the organization to actually go out and execute the strategy. This is where the entire strategy can fall apart. This is where leaders in the organization need to make sure whatever actions they carry out support the short term and long term objectives of the strategy and the organization needs to understand what effect these decisions have on the strategy itself. It is easy to move back into the management of the month club at this time but laser focus is important to adhere to the plan. Focus to execute the strategy is paramount here. This is where I have seen most organizational strategies fall apart. The executive team can develop and set the strategies but the organization has to be positioned to execute and our jobs as leaders are now tested. This is why focus is key in execution. What good is a strategy that can’t be executed? The executive leaders have to support the organization developing and gaining focus otherwise we are back to Organizational ADD.

When organizational leaders do not have the proper focus they suffer from organizational ADD. They wonder why they are not effective and their leadership comes into question. They wonder why they don’t see results and exactly why change is slow to come. Developing a strategy is easy if you have the right inputs. Executing that strategy without a comprehensive game plan and flawless execution is where the proper time and support must be spent to avoid reverting back to the organizations old ways.

Thoughts on a Character Deficit in Today’s World

A good friend of mine, Michael Ross, who wrote “Overcoming the Character Deficit—How to Restore America’s Greatness One Decision at a Time,” said it best when he asked, “What happens when we lose sight of the impact of our choices?” Everything we do in our lives has consequences, and the earlier we understand that, the better off we are. How many times have we regretted what we said, or more importantly, what we did?

Michael says in his book “that the word character is a deviation of the Greek word charakter which literally means the “stamp of a coin.” American coins feature great men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Their characters helped shape and set a high standard for our nation. The penny says honest, perseverant, and humble. The nickel says creative, diplomatic, and competent. The dime says resolve, relationships, and patience. The quarter says courage, fortitude, and honor.” I say, isn’t this the way we all want to be described? Isn’t this the legacy with which we would all like to live? People today don’t think of their characters as being honest and humble or creative, diplomatic and competent, or full of courage, honor, and fortitude. But what if they did? Would this world not be a much better place to live if they did? I am sure the Greatest Generation (described by Tom Brokaw in his writings) would all agree that those words are very important, but somewhat lost in 2015. If they are less important today, why is that, and how powerful might they be if we embraced them? Would we not have fine moral character?

I mention in my first book (The Dysfunctional Organization), the vacuum of leadership in the world today. I mentioned a story about a time I was driving through South Africa with a good friend, who is a South African of British descent, and we were talking of statesmen. The question came up, are there any great statesmen or women in the world today? Of course, being in South Africa, my friend mentioned Nelson Mandela. Now Mandela has a checkered past, especially if you talk to the white population of South Africa. But in my humble opinion, here is what is amazing about Mandela. When F.W. DeKlerk gave up power to Mandela’s party, everyone expected the worst. Everyone expected that power in the hands of Mandela would mean the demise of the nation. Give Nelson Mandela some admiration for realizing he needed white South Africa to help transform black South Africa, and that they had to work together with the minority who had been in power for years—many times oppressively—to make South Africa a great nation. His personal greed or vindictiveness for spending the best years of his life in Robben Island Prison was seldom apparent. This wise gentleman realized that in order to set up a successful future, he had to deal with the past, he had to allow a reasonable transition and that it was better for South Africa if he did. See, statesmen do what is right for their country, not necessarily what is right for them, either socially or politically. In that case, Mandela was a true statesman.

Who might be the others over the past fifty to one hundred years? Maybe Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair? You can certainly throw in Roosevelt and Winston Churchill into that discussion. Much has been written over the past few years of Roosevelt’s slyness and his moxie, and at the same time his valued relationship with Churchill. FDR knew it would be political suicide to support the UK early on in the war, but Churchill was a friend and a staunch ally. They had a pact that when Churchill needed help the most, FDR would pull the string, and that is exactly what happened—and the world was saved from a tyrannical leader, be it Hitler, Stalin or someone else. As they say, the rest is history.

Now, we are not great men or women like these folks, but what will be our legacy? How will we contribute to the world—in albeit a smaller way—but still making this world a better place to live? It is through our character. It is doing the right thing at the right time in the best interest of the most people. It is letting go of the natural tendencies to hold spite, be vindictive, and pay back someone who has done us wrong. It is character that defines who we are.

Michael Ross argues that there is a character deficit in our nation today, and I can’t argue with that. How did we lose our way, and what do we do to fix it? He will tell you that there are serious flaws within our political structure, the way we do business today, our health, our finances, our educational structure, our religious organizations, arts and entertainment, as well as our basic family structure. Now I would find any number of people agreeing with him, but the fact of the matter remains, how do we fix what has already been damaged? Michael will tell us “that each of us is not as important as all of us,” and that we need to take a stand “to bring character back into our lives,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him. The character deficit and understanding of what makes something deficient helps us to remedy it today when you decide to take action and fix it. It is really all about the action we take when we look at character from a mature perspective. It shows us what we need to do to build a strong nations, strong families, and strong relationships, and be effective once again.

The Content of your Character

Relationships are the foundation for success in life. This is the key, no matter what level the relationship is….mentor, coach, business partner, spouse, or friend. Those with strong relationship values have a better chance of succeeding in life because they have created a bigger safety net. For example, when you destroy the relationships with your friends, you will have no friends. You will be isolated and alone. You will look for other things to occupy your time, and typically those things are no good. They could be food, cigarettes, gambling, drugs, or many other vices. We look to fill that void because we are untrusted by our friends. If a student promises not to cheat, but does anyway, he is taking unfair advantage to put himself ahead of others without deserving it. He can ruin his reputation, his academic record, and his job prospects forever. When a businessman makes a promise to customers and doesn’t deliver, he destroys his relationships with his customers. His customers go elsewhere and his business fails. His reputation is always at stake. And remember, all we really have to sell is ourselves…our character.

By breaking your relationships, you break the foundation for success in your life. What is true success? In many cases, true success isn’t measured by us. For example, who is more successful, someone who is famous and makes a great deal of money, or someone who has no fame and makes little money, but is a great parent? Today in school, too much emphasis is being placed on good grades and high test scores—so much so that these things, rather than good character, are how we are defining success. I have always said that the true measure of success is not measured by us, but by others. The more respect and trust someone gives you is one true measure of success. Ask your friends, or be open to your protégés’ telling you what they think of your mentoring ability. Ask them where you might be able to improve, and get better at giving them exactly what they want. Think about the people who you consider to be successful. What do they have that you don’t? They don’t proclaim themselves successful. It is a title that you bestow on others, and how exactly is it measured? Do we measure it by the vehicles they drive, the clothes they wear? Most likely, we make a character judgment–don’t we? That is why character is so important.

Your good character is the most important asset you have. It takes a lifetime to build, but it can be lost in an instant. Once lost, it is difficult to regain. Your true character is revealed when no one else is looking. Often, people decide to act based on short term gain, or an easy fix to a problem, and they end up doing the wrong thing. The old adage “you are what you do” is true. Failure to consider the long term consequences of your acts can be disastrous. By study and focusing on the importance of character, you will be guided to do the right thing by principles, moral strength, and integrity. Nothing is more important for true success in your life. Developing character is our lives journey, and we must work at it daily in order to successful. We will stumble and fall, but when we realize it is about our partners, not us, we will be successful.

So many times in my career I have run into folks who just don’t understand how important a person’s character is. That is really too bad, because in most of those cases, these individuals have not had a proper mentoring relationship in their lives. I know of one case where a father took his son in to run his business and the son, over a period of time, drove the business into bankruptcy through a series of unscrupulous activities, drug issues and other trust-centered issues. The son’s marriage failed, too, because he was always seeking affirmation. He did not realize that what others think of you is more important, as compared to what you think of yourself. How sad to ruin a business (that had one hundred and fifty employees at one time) over your own ego and trust issues. It makes one wonder if all of this could have been prevented had the son had a good mentor to guide him in his life and business ventures. One will never know, but the destruction left behind is really sad…a life and a family ruined.

The late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged his followers not to judge people by their appearance, but by the content of their character. A person’s character, be it good or bad, can inspire others to greatness. In business, the role of leadership-caliber character can never be understated. Authentic leaders lead from a strong, personal, moral value that can have a profound effect on their organizations and have a tremendous effect on their ability to mentor others as well. You need to understand how character affects your organization, and how it can attract top performers, and just what overall effect on performance it has on the tangible side.

Be a Farmer, of People

I’ve told this story many times, and still get laughs out of it every time I do. One time, as I was having lunch with a relatively new associate, he asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a farmer. Now after he spit his food out and laughed insatiably for a few minutes, I explained to him what I meant. You see I have always thought of myself as blessed, actually in many different ways…first of all, I have seen the entire world almost on someone else’s dime (business), and this has allowed me to gain a perspective on the world most others can’t quite see or even grasp. I was diagnosed with a couple of auto-immune deficiency diseases early in life, so, I catch a lot of colds and don’t necessarily have the ability to fight the bugs off. Because of this, I believe in one thing most importantly…I am on earth to touch people and make a difference in their lives. These unfortunate circumstances are really fortunate, because they give me a different perspective on life and living. I have often sat down and asked myself why I continue to live while others with the same affliction die. The only rational explanation I can come up with is that the Lord must be looking to get more out of me. So I try to figure out what that means on a daily basis. How can I contribute and make a lasting contribution? So what does that have to do with farming, you may ask?

Webster says a farmer is one who cultivates land or crops or raises animals. What is a person who raises or cultivates people? I can’t tell you the amount of times I have reached out to a complete stranger and struck up a conversation, whether it is on a plane, train, or just blindly on social media. I like to see the shock on peoples’ faces when I do such things. It is comical sometimes. Now sometimes the recipient of my advances is shocked by my forwardness, but in most cases, they reach back out. Why, you have to ask yourself? Are they searching for the elusive golden ring of knowledge, are they looking for friendship, or are they simply looking for some little snippet of knowledge they feel they are lacking to make their lives more complete or fulfilled? I don’t know, I guess that depends on the recipient. A farmer does the same thing. A farmer plants seeds and provide sustenance for his family and many other families. A farmer also fertilizes, cultivates, and comes back to reap the harvest. I believe in patterning myself as a farmer. When it comes to relationships, I believe you first plant a seed and make the relationship fertile enough to grow. You come back to cultivate that growth, and when the time is right, the plant benefits, as well as the farmer. When there is benefit for both parties, it is time for harvest. Harvest time is success for everyone. It benefits all parties because bellies get filled, and both parties can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Both have reached a state of fulfillment, in a sense.

When it comes to building relationships, farming is the perfect activity. Relationships grow that way. When you have cultivated the seeds and come back to water the plant, and the plant produces, there is satisfaction for the farmer. The same is true in building relationships, when you have started the conversation and figured out how to make both parties satisfied. Now, because you really understand all of the needs, you can fill the role of the farmer. The farmer’s goal is to produce the largest, best-tasting, healthiest fruit or vegetable possible. It is just like entering the county fair as proud as can be, because of the farmer’s labor.   It’s the same with the relationship farmer as well.

Now the first question would be, exactly how do you do this? I say you always make it about the other person, never about you. Find a common platform on which to engage. Find some common theme to start the conversation. It can be family, cars, careers, whatever—it just has to be a common interest between the two of you. Many times when you hit that common thread people will really open up—in fact, sometimes you find out more than you really wanted to know, so be careful and listen.

Remembering key details is an easy way of reestablishing relationships, and I have made a habit of trying to remember something about everyone. This especially works well with friends from other countries, as most people do not consider Americans too sincere. I have always tried to immerse myself in another culture whenever I am in a foreign land. Indians are a unique group. I have great friendships with my Indian friends because I have never refused to go to temple with them; I have always tried to understand their culture. One time, while I was in Delhi for a plant opening, we had a ceremony to bless the new manufacturing equipment that had been recently installed in our plant, and they had a priest come into do the blessing. They tied little red strings around my wrists, and I kept mine on until they fell off. A few months later, my friend from India was visiting and he asked me why I kept the bracelet on? I told him that it reminded me of my friends in India. He was speechless. And that is exactly why I kept it on, even though my boss cut his off on the plane home. You see, I think it is an honor to take some small bit of another’s culture and immerse it with ours, as it broadens the respect we have for one another. It certainly does make the world a smaller place. Now, isn’t that farming?

Farmers are the salt of the earth, and such an integral part to our viability and success. Farmers understand conservation and the thought behind replenishing assets. If the land is not taken care of for future generations, there will be no future. So a farmer is one to be admired and someone we need to look up to because of his stature and character; he is always doing what is right for the future, because as we say, if we don’t, we will have no future. Don’t you want to be a farmer?

I am proud to call myself a farmer, although not in the sense you might expect.

Character and Integrity….

Character is who we are. Character in life is what makes people believe in you and believe in what you can do for them as well as believe in themselves. It is the basis of establishing relationships and is essential both for individual success and for our society to function successfully. Society is based on the cooperation of a collection of individuals and each individual must do his or her part every day by living a life full of integrity. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. The more we pay attention to our character and integrity the more successful we will beat developing and sustaining relationships.

Integrity is adhering to a moral code of honesty, courage, strength and truthfulness—being true to your word and true to yourself as well. When you don’t exhibit integrity, other people get hurt. But you hurt yourself even more, because when you think about it, hurting someone else is really hurting you. When you cheat, your “success” is false, and it is not sustainable. When you break a promise, you are showing that your word is meaningless. When you lie, you deceive others and lose their respect. When you lose respect, the relationship sours and the mentoring, coaching, or business relationship starts to unravel and dissolve. All of those examples destroy your reputation and break the trust others have in you. Without your good reputation and trustworthiness, your relationships fail. And often we reflect and ask ourselves, “Why?” You need to be believable and of the utmost character, I have said this many times, and those of you who know me well will be saying, “Here we go again.” I learned early in life to be honest, but not because I was striving for honesty—you see, my memory just isn’t that good. So when I fabricate a story, I can never remember what story I fabricated and just who I might have told it to. So I quickly learned to tell the truth, figuring that that way I won’t get caught in a lie and accidentally hurt my character rating with any of my associates. Many times I have heard the expression” you only have one time to make a first impression”, I would add to that by saying it only takes one time to ruin your credibility. Job to job, relationship to relationship be worried about your character as once it is tarnished it takes a huge effort to restore it.

Take your kids to work day….a father’s view on life

fatherworkdayLooking back on being a father one of the coolest days were “take your child to work day”. I always thought here is a chance to show my kids exactly what their old man does for a living and help them understand why he is so stressed and grumpy at the end of the day. A real test for just how tough it is to earn a living…shows what I know.

My daughter in a recent text to me, says, “today is take your child to work day, reminds me of the time Dad took me to work and left me with Betty (admin) to operate the switchboard, make cappuccinos and fax pictures over to Mom while you were in meetings all day.” I had to laugh and those of you who are parents know what I mean. Even though, I thought I was a super cool Dad by bringing her to work I overlooked one thing.  It is about time, and quality time spent with your children. Yes, I suppose I did pawn her off on my admin for awhile but we did ride back and forth for two hours and we did have lunch that day. That is my explanation and I’m sticking to it.

Now, the switchboard back then was an important hub of activity and lord knows we all like cappuccinos and that fax machine was cool back in its day the most important thing is to be able to spend time with your kids and show them what this world is all about. I admire parents who spend time with their kids, the soccer games, baseball, basketball, hockey, cheerleading etc… I think it is the greatest gift you can give your children and looking at the very dysfunctional families and people I see every day it forces me to ask about their relationship with their parents. A lot can be learned by asking these questions and understanding just what environment these folks grew up in.  My daughter and I travelled together quite a bit when she was in high school and college and whatever city we were in we made a trip to the zoo.  Whether it was Dublin, Zurich, London or The Bronx I always looked for a zoo to go to.  Why the zoo you might ask? The zoo is actually a great place to visit. Yes, there are the exhibits and all the wild animals but there is also shade, plenty of seats to sit down and talk, get some exercise and maybe see something you haven’t seen before. And oh by the way, restrooms are plentiful at the zoo.  That is more important the older you get if you haven’t found that out already.   Even if you have adult children or grandchildren make it a habit of visiting the zoo. I thought it very funny, when a good friend in Zurich asked my daughter why did you want to go to the zoo?  Her reply was “My Dad loves the zoo and I don’t know why”. It was the time with my daughter away from the hustle and bustle and distractions of everyday life that I enjoyed and the zoo is a great place for that. Even today I enjoy the zoo with my son and daughter in law when we get the chance to go. Go to the zoo.

I am reminded of the story of the nurse who has to deal with the old person on their deathbed and the nurse asks them if they have any regrets before they pass on to the afterlife and she says “I have never heard anyone say I wish I’d have spent more time at work”. It is the small things you do as a parent and it’s the interest in your children that you and they will remember as the years fly by.  So make some interesting memories.

My son and I had taken many golf trips.  Many times we would go to PGA events and I am reminded of two in particular.  We were at Oakmont for the US Open.  Finishing hole number eight my son and I were watching Robert Games play through and at the end of the hole, Games yelled to my son and threw him the golf ball.  That got my son interested in the game of golf and probably a lifetime of enjoyment or frustration, depending on how you view the game of golf.  On another occasion we were down in West Palm Beach at the Senior Tour event and we watched Palmer, Player and Nicholson walk up the fairway as a threesome.  Where would you get to witness three of the greatest golfers ever walk together in a threesome? I can remember that like it was yesterday, a walking history lesson on the game of golf. Later Chi Chi Rodriguez asked my son to ride to the green with him in his golf car. Good memories influence your children and enrich them.

Make your life meaningful, enjoy your family strive for that work life balance we are always talking about.  Create memories for your children and more importantly for yourself. Enjoy your life…

Surround yourself with rock stars…or at least folks that are better than you

rockstarblogRon Emery

Saw the phrase “surround yourself with rock stars” posted on LinkedIn the other day when talking about the attributes of leadership and well, I couldn’t agree more it’s probably a lot rarer than you think and probably a lot more difficult to construct than you could ever imagine. And I don’t know if you could construct it that you would want to construct it…let me tell you more.

There is nothing wrong with the idea in general but we all realize that an organization can’t have too many leaders lest it flounder. I associate rock stars with leadership. They can quickly become malcontents and cause problems within the organization if not lead by a strong leader. Rock stars or potential leaders and in some organizations we called them hi-pots (high potential employees) need attention.  They need to feel like they are part of the solution and certainly not part of the problem.  They need insight, an empowering work environment and mentorship or sometimes coaching. They need constant communication to understand why their work is so important to the organization and find strong meaning in what they are accomplishing. They need positioning and constant challenges that allow them to use their creative ideas and experiment using them or at least applying those principles in their own laboratory (their minds).  And if the organization isn’t prepared to offer all these things to them they soon become bored and not content with the pace at which the organization moves (in their mind at a snail’s pace).  And so the disconnect.

In my book “The Dysfunctional Organization” we explore a world without politics, petty jealousy, the drive to get ahead and envision a world in which people work in harmony under one directive, “what is best for all of us at the company”. Those thoughts assume we can create selfless leaders within an organization. In my follow on book, “Growing Comes from Planting Seeds” we talk of a selfless leadership concept which is better known as mentoring. Big task, yes but why can’t we create an organization that allows us to reward this kind of behavior rather than stifle it?

I have always had a simple approach and it served me well.  You see I was a good student, not a great student.  I did not graduate with a 4.0 and I certainly wasn’t the valedictorian of my class.  But all of that doesn’t mean I am destined for failure either. In fact when we are not blessed with the greatest natural ability in school we probably learn what is important in ones success a little easier and quicker. When you want a refresher check out my blog on The Seven C’s of Leadership.

I tend to argue rather than a team of rock stars we need a symphony orchestra with the right conductor to make beautiful music together. I would rather build an organization that takes advantage of everyone’s specific skills and helps everyone attack all of their weaknesses.  The leader in this type of organization is somewhat like an alchemist looking for the right recipe to turn lead (little value) into gold (great value). It is that blend of experiences and talent that is going to enrich the team and create a dynamic environment. If we can create the optimum mix we can create the greatest music.

I have always believed that in order for “us “to be successful “we” have to build a great team.  What is a team?  A team is a collection of individuals (some stars and some average individuals who understand and perform their role to nth degree). It isn’t all rock stars. Now this year’s Detroit Tigers have one hell of a team with a lot of rock stars but not everyone can be a rock star and it’s the makeup of the team that is important not the individuals that make up that team. A lot of folks use the phrase “there is no I in TEAM) and that is true as a team is about we.  So be careful about rock stars as a sprinkling of rock stars are great for the organization but realize it takes special leadership abilities to manage such a team.  Look for people that compliment your vision and bring additional background that support it.  Look for people that are interested in the “we” rather than the ‘I” and make sure you create the right environment and give the team credit when it performs well, just as any great coach would do. It takes vision, patience, communication and most importantly all of leadership arsenal that you’ve accumulated over the years to be successful. It is a marathon not a sprint we are running….

The Seven C’s of Leadership

the7c'sofleadershipA good friend had asked me to write him a letter of recommendation for his MBA application so I thought how do I make this different and yet meaningful.  I thought of a few words that described this person very well and both began with the letter “c”.  I thought for awhile and wondered if there were more “c” words that defined leadership and specifically character, which, in my mind is a key underpinning of leadership. Surprise, I came up with a whole slew and they highlight the principles of leadership very well.  Think about it….because they are all very important in defining a leader.

Character    Let’s start with the word ‘character” itself.  My friend had told his brother “character is built in the places no one sees you”. I thought about that for awhile when the statement was made. Character defines who we are as a person, how we interact with others and make others feel at home or at ease with us.  It is what others think of us, not as much as what we think of ourselves.  Character is determined by others.  Trustworthiness is a part of character.  It is a being. So the saying above is so cool because it is about others and not you. The quicker you realize that the easier this journey of life becomes.

Commitment   I have often mentioned to my children that once you commit there is no going back.  This is an attribute that the world needs more of. In my day to day dealings with the rest of the business world I am constantly reminded of the lack of commitment in today’s world.  I like to use the phrase ‘that your word is your bond.” That assumes first that you can make a commitment.  Broken promises, missed meeting, not delivering what you said you would deliver. The world needs commitment.  Deliver on your promises, as simple as they may be.

Compassion   Compassion is so lacking in today’s business world.  What if we actually cared about one another’s well being? What if we were actually interested in the plight of another human being?  What if we tried to walk a mile in their shoes? When I was a young manager I had a employee who was a little rough around the edges. Bonnie wasn’t so much a problem to me but she certainly was to others and I received a lot of complaints about what was perceived as her “attitude.” I sat with Bonnie and got to know her.  She was a product of a very dysfunctional life.  Her mother had died early on and her father lost her to foster care.  Her father was now homeless and lived on the street and was an alcoholic. She had a tough time finishing high school after being switched from different foster homes.  Of course, she never had the opportunity to attend college. I made the commitment to work with her on taking the rough edges off and we were successful but only successful because she wanted to be.  Compassion from a leader was not something she had ever known. How many Bonnie’s have you run across in your working career?  You will never know unless you learn to ask the right questions.  Give it a try sometime and learn some compassion for another.

Creativity   Why stifle creativity?  Why not encourage it and then enhance it? What can you possibly be afraid of? You must be curious to achieve creativity. Creativity is what solves the world’s problems.  It is what gives us new frontiers to explore and new mountains to climb in the business world. Why do we want to put it down? We shy away because we are afraid of what we don’t know.  Love what you don’t know.  I guess I am a pretty lucky person because I have come to realization that at 58 years of age I realize just how much I don’t know and just how much I learn from every individual I come in contact with if I choose to listen and learn.

Conviction   In most cases we manage by gut feel.  We know what is right and what is wrong.  What is fair and just and what is wrong. If you believe it stand up for it.  Take the hits if you are convinced you are right. Too many people today back away from the tough decisions and that limits their success and fulfillment. I love people who have compassion and stick to dong the “right thing” whether it is the popular decision or not.

Credibility   Be credible in everything you do.  Be believable and be consistent. Followers love leaders that are credible. Why?…because they always know what to expect. Reason is a key component of credibility. Everyone can accept reason as a logical explanation of any problem. Having credibility and it takes time to build credibility allows the leader to move forward with his or her master plan and allows for everyone to develop understanding.

Curiosity   Always wonder “what if?” I enjoy my time alone in the car or on a plane daily.  It allows me to put on my “what if” cap.  Now this ties directly into being creative, compassionate as well as defining just who you are (your character—my, isn’t this where we started?) But being curious is a key attribute of leadership.  Imagine if Bill Gates had not been curious about the power of computing, Steve Jobs about putting the power in your hands to execute daily commerce in your smart phone, Ben Franklin hadn’t tied the key to the end of his kite string (OK, maybe a stretch) or Thomas Edison and his fascination with generating electricity and power and so much more. It’s the fact that we are curious that will let us think about the endless possibilities of solving our problems.  So be curious.

So be a difference maker but do it the right way. Utilize the skills you have developed as a leader and fine tune them into your “story.” Your story can be very different than others or it can be the same.  Use the seven C’s of leadership to define who you are. You will be happy with the transition.

“No customer is going to tell me how to run my business”

customerserviceCan you imagine these words coming out of a CEO’s mouth?  Well, yes it’s true. A while back I tried working with a global enclosure manufacturer on a partnership, yes, they are today out of business, liquidated some time back and it’s no wonder with an attitude like this headline how they could of survived. Working with them I had asked for a certain employee, which most of our team felt very comfortable with and did a great job to step into a program management role.  It was not his choice to service the account and so the standoff ensued.  When I questioned why they weren’t moving forward, the CEO told me “that no customer was going to tell him how to run his business”.

In all my years of management I have learned a number of things…

The Customer is always right.  Even when he or she is wrong they are right.

It takes much longer and more energy to find a new customer than it does to keep an old one. Your current customers are customers for one reason, they like you or they like something that you do.  Maybe you provide excellent value for the dollars they spend.  Maybe you go out of your way to make them feel important.  Whatever the reason you are obviously doing something right.  That is half the battle, cultivate that relationship and watch it grow….

Loyalty means everything to your business.  I am going to think and take care of people that treat me right before I try something new. Every time, I check in at Delta Airlines, they tell me “thank you for your loyalty”. I used to think what a strange saying but you know, talking loyalty, is like talking close personal friendships.  I want to be a friend and a trusted advisor.  Loyalty is a lot like that, it means the two parties trust each other. I like when someone appreciates me and tells me.  That is human nature to want to be appreciated. Tell your customer, just how important they are and they will keep coming back.  In fact, they will tell other potential customers and make sure they enjoy the same valued experience that the original customer did and you will grow your business.  There is nothing like a good testimonial.

The customer wants to be heard and understood.  Yes, sometime they are obnoxious and bullying but you can usually get the customer to listen to some reason.  Unless you’ve ticked them off so badly they will never recover. Recently, I missed a reservation at a hotel.  It was my fault but I do spend 200 nights a year in a hotel so that is bound to happen 2 or 3 times in my life I suppose.  When I checked into the hotel again the clerk mildly reminded I had missed but she had taken care of it.  I appreciate that.  When I happened to see the hotel manager, he reminded me that I had missed and berated me for not calling to cancel.  He should be sent to charm school.  The clerk, while much less experienced did it in a non-threating way.  The manger on the other hand did it in such a way to cause a potential confrontation. Wonder why he is the manager?

Don’t push the customer into a decision they are uncomfortable in making.  Both parties may regret it later. Hard sells never pay off.  Create the value equation so that your customer wants to buy. When your customer understands the value equation, he or she will be happy with the product or service and tell their friends.

Actually care. Sincerity is always valued. Very seldom do you get the feeling when talking to a customer service agent that they actually care about your plight.  Again, Delta Airlines agents must go through some great training because when you call the Diamond status line they actually sympathize with your plight and do whatever they can to make you as complete as they possibly can. What you as the customer wants…is someone who cares.

Understand your product and understand the value add equation from your customers perspective. The older I get the more I realize the less I know.  I want an expert opinion.  Whether it’s the latest electronic equipment or why these pants or these suits costs so much more than the other I want to understand the value in what I am buying.

Respect them. Treat your customers well and they will treat you well.  Respect then becomes a mutual thing.  If the CEO in the initial discussion would have shown a little respect to me as the customer thing may not have worked out the way they did.  Remember, the customer controls the purse strings.

Deliver the goods. Make sure you deliver what you said you will deliver as it says a lot about your character. I have always preached to my kids that a promise made is a commitment of your character.  If you are going to make a commitment you live up to it regardless of the costs. I admire companies that do the right thing rather than worry about the short term costs.  Customers see that commitment and do give you credit for doing the right thing.

Follow up is so important in building the relationship. I like to believe that the sale lasts forever. I believe in staying in touch so that the next time your customer needs you, you are first in his or hers mind. Use social media to the fullest to remain in the forefront with your customer but let’s not forget about phone calls.  A phone call just saying you are thinking of them and you would like to catch up goes a long way to keeping a relationship alive. Relationships mean everything….Don’t be the CEO of the enclosure company who alienates his customer or you will follow the same fate.