Emotional Maturity - The Attitude Experience

My speaking company trains thousands of students and professionals every year.  Every December we have over 1,200 Oklahoma FFA members for two weekends for the Made For Excellence conferences.  This year is The Attitude Experience. As you are winding down your year and preparing your 2012 leadership goals, keep in mind these four key lessons from our training:

1. The Rubber Band Principle - When you stretch a rubber band, you physically change its composition and it can never go back to its old size.  We are the same way - once we are stretched in life, we can never totally go back to who we once were. If you want to change your attitude, stretch yourself. Experience new things, travel to new places, read new books, meet new people, think about situations in a new way, etc. 

2. The Stages of Self-Confidence - There are three stages: be you, be okay with you, believe in you.  Our attitude about life grows from our own self-confidence. It starts with understanding who you are - your strengths, weaknesses, personality, values and beliefs. Then you must decide you are who you are for a reason and be okay with it.  Stop trying to be someone you are not and start owning yourself. If you are able to do these two things, you can get to the final stage - owning a sense of self-confidence and carrying a clean, powerful and positive attitude through life.

3. You Find What You Focus On - If you look for the bad in life, you will find it.  If you expect poor performance from others, they will be more likely to deliver it. Once you decide something or someone is boring or a waste of time, you have negatively changed the reality of your interaction with it.  People who carry a positive spirit do not have perfect lives, they have simply learned to look for, encourage, highlight, emphasize and thus grow the good. Our attitude is a garden.  If you let the weeds grow, they will choke out the vegetables.  And the opposite is true as well.

4. Challenges Fill the Gap - Most people are perfectly fine with living an average life, having average relationships and carrying an average attitude because excellence in life requires too much hard work.  Actually the gap between average and excellence in life is filled with challenges.  Failure, stress, difficult conversations and falling down (when handled correctly) are all building blocks to reaching an excellent life and an excellent attitude.

Good luck and happy holidays.


Fostering Relationships: The Biggest Team Mistake Leaders Make

The biggest team mistake leaders make is not delegating work properly.  This poor leadership tactic is also known as micro-managing or helicoptering.  It ranks as the largest team mistake for these seven reasons:

  1. It has a large negative impact on quality of work, team culture and individual motivation. 
  2. It is very common. Letting go and letting the team is not easy for many leaders. It requires a complex series of personal, strategic, team and repetitive efforts.
  3. The reason we have teams is because there is too much work for one person to do or because the work requires specialized talents. A leader trying to do all the work on their own goes directly against the reason the team exists in the first place.
  4. Team members need to feel valuable and needed. When their leader doesn't delegate work properly it robs them of this basic desire.
  5. Since a young age we have wanted autonomy; to feel like we can "do it on our own." This is a driving force of leaders being dictators.  This is also why leaders must let go and not micro-manage the team. Your team needs you to train well, correct when needed, but let them do the work on their own.
  6. The best ideas and highest quality work never materialize because the dictator leader is holding everyone and everything back due to their need for control.
The old parenting quote (that is applicable to the work place also) goes, "If you don't let me help when I'm not needed, then I won't want to help when I am needed." This quote sums up nicely the internal workings of team members regarding their need to engage with the team.  So, why do so many leaders fall prey to this poor leadership approach?  Here a few of the most common:
  • Not trusting team members.
  • Not understanding that the enemy of excellence is perfection.  
  • Not letting team members try/fail/learn/re-try.
  • Hold an inflated sense of self-esteem.
  • Think that just because you can do something means you should do it (instead of letting your team do it.)
  • Have been burned in the past and are super-imposing past mistakes of others on current team members.
  • Haven't invested the time or resources to fully train the team.
  • Are blind to the negative impact of their behaviors (because many of them are unseen, at least initially.)
If you recognize any of these patterns in your behavior or thoughts, it is time to change. Teams work best when five things happen - two of the most important are that the team leader is trusted and the team members are engaging their core strengths to do meaningful work.  Running your team like a dictator defeats both of these.  Make the change and you will see tremendous positive results.


Vision: Steve Jobs' Legacy

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

His vision for how technology can help you change the world will live on.


Fostering Relationships: What Harley Riders can Teach us About Motivation

There are over one million loyal Harley Davidson motorcycle riders stretching from coast to coast.  These people are not just customers, they are fanatics.  I have a friend who waited 8 months for her special order "Hog". This product is the genesis for a family of people who ultimately only have one thing in common - they absolutely love cruising the open highway on their Softail, Dyna, Sportster, Touring or VRSC Harley Davidson motorcycle.

So, what is it about this bike that makes it such a communal product?  More importantly, what lessons can leaders glean from this commercial phenom to help their product, company, team, etc. produce such rabid loyalty?  The following seven qualities of the Harley experience not only give insight to why Hog lovers act like they do, but it also digs deeper into core human needs that just might transfer over to your world and help you understand how to inspire a stronger and more authentic bond with your people.

Why riders love their Harleys:
  • Easily recognizable. We all have a need to belong; to connect with other humans. A motorcycle is a visual product. When one rider sees another rider on a Harley, they instantly cut through the chatter and know they can connect.
  • Not everyone can or wants to do it.  A Harley Davidson can cost anywhere from $9,000 to $35,000.  They aren't cheap.  And motorcycles obviously are not for everyone.  This taps into our desire to be involved with something rather elite, private, VIPish. When you ride a Harley, you are a member of a club.
  • There's a rebel feel to it.  Ever since rules were invented, humans were breaking them.  This rebel banner flies on Harleys every day.  The mild-mannered CPA by weekday suits up in black leather and a red bandana and speeds through the weekend.  This sense of collective rule-breaking or rule-bending unites riders in a very unspoken way. Movies have even immoralized this act.  The Wild Ones with Marlon Brando.  Hells Angels on Wheels with Jack Nicholson.  And Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator.  
  • Different types of people come together. We have a need to belong.  We also have a need to bring people together.  Even though Harley riders enjoy their "superiority" over other bikes, they also relish their inclusiveness.  A pack of Hogs cruising down the road is probably an eclectic group of doctors, lawyers, mechanics, bankers, etc.  It does help grease the wheels of your growth when literally the only qualification needed for acceptance is the machine you are riding.
  • Involves travel. We are nomads at heart. We love to travel.  When you are on the back of a Harley speeding down the highway, you have a feeling of freedom and movement that you can't get any other way. It's more intimate and exhilarating than any other form of transportation.  
  • Involves masks. Especially those riders who really only have their Harleys for weekend rides or special trips, you can become someone else on a Harley.  Its all suits and ties during the week and then its leather and boots on the weekends.  Humans have a desire for anonymity. This desire is fulfilled to a certain extent on the back of a Hog. 
  • Recognized as a cool group.  Harley riders think Harleys are cool and so do a ton of other people.  When you own a Harley, you are in the cool kids club.  Everyone wanted to picked first in dodgeball in grade school.  Everyone wanted to have a great date to the prom.  Everyone wants to be involved in some type of cool group even as adults. It helps shape, define and express our identity.

If your staff, team members, customers and/or volunteers are under-motivated, try cross pollinating this list with your set-up. If you aren't providing opportunities for travel, risk-taking, anonymity, elite status, inclusiveness, etc. then you shouldn't be surprised that you aren't creating loyal fans.


Emotional Maturity: 16 Ways to Preserve Your Battery Life

There are many tips on how to preserve your smart phone's battery - turn down the screen brightness, turn off the WiFi, stop playing Angry Birds all day, etc. But what about your battery? Leaders are called to do more, be more and produce more. Yet, your battery may be the same size as everyone else's. Therefore, your strategies for having the energy (i.e. battery life) to do life as a leader must be well-planned and they must work. Here are 16 time-tested physical, emotional, relational and mental tips for helping your battery stay charged.

Preserve Your Battery Life List

1. Get adequate sleep.
2. Consume nutritionally sound food and drink.
3. Maintain positive relationships.
4. Do meaningful work that aligns with your core values.
5. Have a hobby and do it often.
6. Keep harmful chemicals out of your body.
7. Remove the clutter from your vehicle, home, office space and life.
8. Stop the gossip.
9. Help others in need.
10. Stop making tiny issues into big deals.
11. Forgive others.
12. Create a cool memory often. (I.e. - new restaurant, road trip, date night, catch some live music, etc.)
13. Take vitamins daily, naps weekly and vacations yearly.
14. Clear your email inbox regularly.
15. Forgive yourself.
16. Listen to positive, uplifting music and human interactions.

Give your Twitter followers some positive messages this week:

Take vitamins daily, naps weekly and vacations yearly. @pli_leadership

Remove the clutter from your vehicle, home, office space and life. @pli_leadership

Do meaningful work that aligns with your core values. @pli_leadership


Skill Assessment: Components of Reaching Excellence

I enjoy the light travel load August brings for many reasons: family time, dedicated office time, space to work on writing songs and, most importantly, time to sharpen my iPad/iPhone game skills. One of the games filling my rec. time this season is called Aqueduct. It is a complexing puzzle challenge that takes time to move through and requires certain skills to master.

Isn't personal and professional success the same? The following list contains eight components necessary for reaching excellence in activities ranging from guilty pleasures like Aqueduct to meaningful pursuits like being great at your job.

The 8 P's of Reaching Excellence
  1. Prior experience - Excellence today is a fruit growing on the tree of yesterday's hard work.
  2. Passion - This hard work is fueled by a love for your craft. All actions have self-motivation at their core. All great actions have passion at their core.
  3. Practice - The skills you need to rock to reach excellence in your area are muscles that need to be exercised. Greatness in the public is born from hours of practice in private.
  4. Perfection - I actually believe perfection is the enemy of excellence. However, a game like Aqueduct is a reminder that in many pursuits there is a gold standard; a goal to be reached; a method for knowing whether you've hit success or not. Excellence can only be reached if you have identified what it looks like and go after it with perfection driving your journey.
  5. Pliable - This skill is essential when you have firm performance metrics in place. Goals change, people get in the way, life happens, etc. Flexibility to adjust on the fly is critical for remaining on top of your game (and staying sane).
  6. Produce - Although relatively assumptive, it is important to highlight that excellence isn't just something you are, it is what you do. You have to produce. You have to go to market. You have to get the deal done.
  7. Patience - Success doesn't happen overnight and excellence doesn't happen "overyear". It takes (sometimes) many years of continual work to be exceptionally great at something. Also, this is an active patience. You aren't waiting on it to happen. You are just doing your job and doing growth right and excellence happens over time.
  8. Pursuit - Focused, laser-focused pursuit. Steve Jobs, the Apple (now former) CEO, is a shining example of the power of focused pursuit. He led Apple with a dedicated pursuit of making products that spoke to our creative, functional, inspired, human and beautiful needs. Your excellence may not lead a $330 billion company, but that doesn't diminish it's importance - to you or the people and projects you influence.
If you have room to grow (i.e. - you are breathing), examine your life and see which of these eight components needs more of your attention.


Fostering Relationships: Motivate the V.I.P. in Others

To truly motivate someone, you need to learn about the V.I.P. in them...

Values + Interests + Personality

Then you design a motivation plan for them based on who they are. Essentially you are figuring out which "carrot" will work for them. This puts the individual at the center of your approach instead of the desired outcome or your perception of the individual. It is challenging and time-consuming if you have a large team, but it is time well spent.

Here are a few other posts with more motivation techniques:







Good luck!


Teaching PLI: 10 Essential Leadership Questions

The PLI curriculum is built on the 10 Essentials of Leadership. If you are teaching the curriculum this year or if you are just wanting a guide for developing your own leadership abilities, the following 10 questions serve as a primer for gaining insight into the importance of each Essential.

Vision - What am I doing today to be where I need to be in 5 years?

Integrity - How am I helping my team trust me?

Innovativeness - What are the challenges I am facing today that require more "solution thinking"?

Wise Judgment - Who do I consult with before making major decisions?

Service Mindedness - Do I have enough volunteerism in my life?

Goal Processing - Do I have challenging goals that stretch and grow my abilities?

Skill Assessment - What is my core strength and have I put myself in the position to do that everyday?

Emotional Maturity - Do I handle struggles and "failures" with grace and a growth attitude?

Fostering Relationships - What is the condition of my most important relationship?

Masterful Communication - Do I listen to others with focus?

Now, print this post and invest time thinking about, writing down and working on your answers. Good luck!


General: Four Attributes of Great Leaders

There are four attributes of great leaders I challenge you to develop or grow for the purpose of being a solid model of leadership for others.
  1. Great leaders believe in others more than they do.
  2. Great leaders create positive interactions with others.
  3. Great leaders carry a spirit of tested optimism.
  4. Great leaders see different things by seeing things differently.
Great leadership is making a positive difference in people and situations to create value and growth. These four traits move leaders for this purpose.


Teaching PLI: Great and Awful Teacher Traits

Last year we set out on a mission to answer this critical question...

What are the commonalities of great teachers and awful teachers?

We heard from students, teachers, administrators, vendors, etc. The following lists contain the most frequent answers we found among the hundreds of responses.

Best/Most Effective Teacher Traits
  • Organized
  • Passionate about seeing students succeed
  • Passionate about their subject
  • Holds high expectations for students; challenges them to succeed
  • Seeks out professional development
  • Avoids using negative weapons - embarrassment, guilt, fear
  • Invests in students beyond teaching the subject

Worst/Least Effective Teacher Traits
  • Doesn't teach for understanding; only teaches for testing
  • Does not understand subject
  • Does not have effective teaching techniques
  • Reads straight from textbook
  • Doesn't make an effort to get to know students
  • Talks down about other students not in the classroom
  • Is vocal about not liking their job, the school, the staff and/or the students

This project was both inspiring and discouraging.  Many of the traits from the bottom list came directly from students.  They don't like teachers who take it easy on them or who only make the classroom fun.  They want to enjoy school, but also learn what they need to learn.  The study was also discouraging because of all the clearly awful teachers these students have to be around and these administrators/teachers have to put up with.  It is so difficult to remove a teacher from a school, the awful ones stay in the system even though they are clearly not fit for the task of inspiring, motivating and educating.

If you are a teacher and/or have influence over one, please share this list.  At the 2009 TED conference, Bill Gates said there are two major global issues he believes are not getting enough attention and, if fixed, would significantly improve our quality of life.  Figuring out how to make teachers great was one of those.  I am excited to be playing a part in this inspiring task at school faculty/staff in-services this year.   Teaching educators how to be great is a challenging, yet rewarding mission.


Skill Assessment: What Is Your Hole #3?

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It is a defining part of the human experience. However, certain weaknesses impact our ability to positively lead others more than others. These weaknesses can become our "Hole #3".

I used to play golf all the time. Ten years ago it wouldn't be uncommon for me to play 50-60 rounds per season. The last few years I was lucky to get 5-6 rounds played per year. 2010 was one of those years.
In October I dusted off the clubs for a round with my great friend and speaking partner, Kelly Barnes. It was a magical round... except for hole #3. It was a great day on the links. All pars and bogeys (great for me), except for one double-bogey and a disaster on hole #3. I scored a 13 on that one hole! It was a train wreck. It was so bad Kelly and I were not even going to score it - hence the scratches. If I had even bogeyed that hole, I would have scored a 79 and achieved something I have only done twice in my golfing career - breaking 80. Needless to say, I ended an otherwise great day of golf very, very frustrated.
As leaders, we are expected to deliver results - i.e. birdies and pars. However, if we have even one glaring weakness or shortcoming (one Hole #3), it can diminish our effectiveness and make many of our strengths irrelevant.

Fortunately, leadership (unlike golf) is a team sport. The best leaders are surrounded with people who are strong where he or she is weak. Yet, a Hole #3 type weakness can still hold us back and block our leadership's full power, scope and range. The following grid shows how you can have 9 of the 10 vital components of great leadership and still fall short of your potential.

Click to view larger version

The abbreviations are the PLI Leadership Essentials.

Examine your skills. Be honest with yourself. What is a weakness you possess that has a Hole #3 type meaningfulness? Find it and begin today working on growing, changing and improving. At the end of the day, a 79 might only be 7 strokes from an 86, but those 7 strokes might mean the difference between being a leader who is an "also played" and a leader who is a game-changer. One that is leaving a legacy of excellence, remarkable results and a life-changing score for those you serve.


Teaching PLI: The New Blog Label - Teaching PLI

When you have over 300 posts (which are essentially 300 additions to the PLI leadership curriculum), keeping everything organized is very important.  We have added another layer of organization for our PLI teachers and anyone else who reads our blog for the purpose of adding to their leadership teaching or learning!

We have a new label for our posts called Teaching PLI.  This label is applied to any post where the purpose is to give ideas, instruction, clarity of mission or tips/tricks on teaching leadership and specifically teaching the PLI leadership curriculum.  You can quickly access all of these posts by clicking on the Teaching PLI Posts link in the right-hand column. 



Fostering Relationships: Watering Dirt

Anyone who has ever tried to motivate someone has experienced this struggle...

"Are we just watering dirt?"

I.e. - can we really do anything, say anything, offer any incentive that will nurture growth in this person or are we just wasting valuable resources?

It is a difficult and frustrating situation to be in. One that causes you to second guess your abilities, your strategies and ultimately your decision to have that person on the team.

When you find yourself in this position, talk through the following points:

1. Everyone has a price. You probably need to change the currency you are using with that person. Is she motivated by money, position, prestige, responsibility, autonomy, appreciation, social status, etc.? Find what works for her that also aligns with what you can give and give it.

2. Everyone needs their best inspired out of them. Even the most cynical person responds to words and acts of encouragement, appreciation and thanks. Some will never tell you, but this doesn't change the fact that it works.

3. Everyone is self-motivated. At the end of the day, people must move on their own. They will also do it on their own timeline. You can mandate her actions, but you can not mandate her BEST actions. (BEST - Better Every Single Time - Source: Kelly Barnes)

4. Everyone needs someone to believe in them more than they do. Sometimes it's a race to see who will give up first. If you throw in the towel before she does, you might miss something special. Give her your best and see what happens.

5. Everyone needs honesty from their leaders. Once you do all you can, if she is still not showing progress or living up to clear expectations, it is time to let her go. This could be just what she needs to make a change. Wake-up calls happen in life and serve as opportunities to see how our actions are pulling us down instead of lifting us up. If you care about her, be honest. Don't pass the buck or let her ignore what everyone can see except for her.

When done correctly and with class and spirit, these concepts will show you it was more than dirt you were watering - an unseen seed was waiting for you to help it grow.


Goal Processing: Nine Daily Habits of Leaders

Following are nine daily habits leaders use to put action to the Student Impact Model...

1. Quiet time
2. Eat healthy food
3. Physical activity
4. Connect with friends
5. Read positive material
6. Create something
7. Encourage someone
8. Move one step closer to a goal or fixing a problem
9. Help family

Self-audit your life and check to see how many of these habits are evident in your daily routine. Increase your ability to impact others in a big way through these small acts of awesomeness.


General: 4 Critical Leadership Skills for College Students

1. Build a powerful Failure Factory.

Life isn't fair. We all fall down. If you are a machine built for performance and excellence, your extreme approach to life will create intense highs and intense lows. Thus you need a Failure Factory built to process failure to ensure future success. People are inspired by, careers are built upon and dreams flourish by handling failure and disappointment with grace, patience, a growth perspective, boldness and a willingness to learn and change.

During a period of self-discovery and life changes like the college years, you must attack life with a well-established Failure Factory and put yourself out there regardless of how high or low the chances are for success. Ask for that job, call that recruiter one more time, run for that campus office, send twice as many resumes, etc. Approach the start of your career with zeal and no fear of failure. Life will have plenty of opportunities to try to steal those two things from you later.

2. Work to see things differently.

An approach to life that aids in the creation of a powerful leadership ability is always seeking out the new, the fresh, the unique, and the uncommon in everyday life. Your value in the workplace will seed from many sources. This is one that is hard to relate on a resume, will cause many "workplace veterans" to beat you down and is an extreme career builder. Practice sharpening this skill now. Approach your classes, college-life, job searching, networking, etc. in your own unique way. It is amazing how you see different things when you make an effort to see things differently.

A good example is your relationship with your professors, advisors, and other university personnel. If you wanted a job from me, the first people I would call aren't your references list (everyone white washes those). I would call the campus people who I know have worked with you. I would ask these people questions to learn about your key leadership indicators - work-ethic, social skills, like-ability, problem-solving skills, etc. Many of your peers don't give a second thought to the impression their actions leave on these important people. They skip class, listen to music in class, never seek sage counsel, don't mind their appearance, etc. You should see things differently and understand how many chances you have over the course of your college career to build a network of fans. You may never directly need them, but if you ever do they are huge allies to have.

3. Diligently repeat the Three C's every day.

Aristotle said we are what we do repeatedly. College is such a crazy, busy, fast-moving time that many college students forget to leverage the span of years it covers to slowly build more value than just a diploma. The job market beats down the status quo, but rewards the diligent souls who invest in their abilities. The Productive Flourishing blog did a post in 2009 illuminating three key "daily habits" college students should get into their routine.

Beyond these, there are industry specific items (based on your major) you should be working on. This is where a mentor, job shadowing and/or internships come in handy. You can pick-up clues about certain knowledge-points, competencies, etc. that will come in extra-handy not only on the job, but in the ever-daunting process of landing said job.

4. Be a servant of others.

Leadership at it's best is many things. Leadership at it's core is serving others. Invest time in college helping others (being a friend worth having), serving others (volunteering and/or running for office) and developing the muscles that enables you to lift others higher than yourself. College can be a very self-serving time. Its supposed to be - you are getting yourself built right so you can go out and get hired, start your career and change the world. Thus, it is impressive on many levels when you can travel through this selfish time with a focus on building others. Hopefully, it will be a mission that lasts a lifetime. The benefits of it certainly does.

Good luck and enjoy these days. They will prove to be some of the most spirited of your life.

iPhone users - Grab our free leadership app by searching for pliblog in the app store.


Service Minded: The Thunder Principle

This is the final post of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Thunder Principle
Have one face for the organization.

Our final principle comes straight from the chief customer service conductor of Oklahoma City's NBA team - the Thunder. I called my friend Pete Winemiller and asked him one important question, "What is the primary tool you and your team use to help create the fabulous customer experience at Thunder basketball games?" He said, "We carry one face for the organization."  He went on to explain that no matter who you work for (the Thunder, Coke, Pizza Hut, the NBA, etc.), it is vital for everyone to operate as one team in the arena when interacting with customers.

This principle is especially important for any organization with multiple vendors, project groups, buildings, stores, sites, etc. There is nothing more disheartening for a customer than to hear a team member talk down about or blame a member of their own staff.  It leaves a bad taste in the mouth and does nothing to enhance the organization's image or to improve the customer's experience.

Here are a few ideas on how to put the Thunder Principle into action to create a culture of team-oriented customer service excellence:

  1. Always talk up team members, departments, etc. that aren't present
  2. Move information, people, actions down the line in the most complete fashion possible
  3. Take care of a problem if you can without just passing the buck
  4. Be on time
  5. Do your work
  6. Think about how your actions impact a team member not present
  7. Leave your area/project/etc. clean and prepared for the next crew
The Thunder Principle is the perfect manifestation of excellent customer service because it is based on the thinking that everyone is ultimately on the same team - me, my team mates and my customers. We are all wanting the same thing, we just have different approaches to get there and those differences can cause seemingly unsolvable problems. The "one face" mindset allows us to start on the same team and is the best way to end on the same team, as well!


Service Minded: The YourSpace Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

YourSpace Principle
Your way + My way = Our Way.

The hallmark principle of excellent customer service is being others-focused. This manifests in many ways. One of the most powerful is the mindset of always seeking to understand where the customer is coming from, finding out their point of view, really listening to their opinions and concerns, etc. Then taking that data, combining it with the information you are armed with and acting out the YourSpace Principle - Your way + My way = Our way.

This isn't just pretending to listen for the purpose of making the customer feel heard. The YourSpace Principle is a methodology designed for four purposes:
  1. Leaving the customer feeling appreciated
  2. Gathering useful information from his or her side of the situation
  3. Providing the customer a clear explanation of your side
  4. Moving forward with a plan aimed at satisfying both sides' needs
Better information, empowered customers, collaborative decisions - all winning outcomes for excellent customer service interactions.

Next up, the Thunder Principle - Have one face for the organization...


Service Minded: Walking Billboard Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Walking Billboard Principle
You are the brand.

This is one of the simplest customer service principles to understand and one of the most difficult to pull off successfully and completely. The Walking Billboard Principle states, "You are the brand." This means that when the customer interacts with you, the are essentially interacting with your entire organization. If they like you, they like your company. If they are upset with you, they are upset with the institution. And vice-versa. They might be frustrated with you, even it is your company they are frustrated with.

This principle illuminates the fact that you must always be mindful of your words and actions. They don't live in a silo - isolated from making an impact beyond that one situation. They have a long tail. This is another reason why great customer service organizations are surgical when it comes to hiring people whose values and beliefs align with the organization's values and beliefs. It is easier to "be the brand" when you don't have to fake it.

Up next: The YourSpace Principle - Your way + my way = our way...


Service Minded: Toyota Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Toyota Principle
Enable and encourage problem solving right now.

Toyota adopted a new set of management principles (under the direction of management guru Peter Drucker) that set out to move away from their old controlling and rigid top-down structure and move closer to a true teamwork system. These changes created a culture of responsibility across all levels and gave each employee the autonomy to decide how to best reach a clear set of objectives. An example is a change on the production line that allowed anyone to stop the line immediately when they caught a mistake. The old way involved paperwork up and down the chain before any action could be taken. 

Are your people empowered to and enabled with the tools to serve your customers to the best of their ability? Do they feel like they can question processes and practices without retribution? Can they solve problems on their own or do they always have to "get permission"? When you enable and encourage problem solving in the moment not only do customers get served better, but your staff takes more ownership.

Up next: The Walking Billboard Principle - You are the brand...


Service Minded: Toddler Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Toddler Principle
Friendly first.

Our newborn loves to smile. Most babies do. However, our newest little one's frequency, consistency and intensity of her smiles are higher than most. It certainly makes for a fun parenting experience. When she smiles it is nearly impossible to not smile back. This raw, pure interaction serves as a reminder that we were born to smile and the best customer-oriented people live to smile.

Its not always on their face - that's not genuine or natural. However, it is their home base and they start there with customers. The Toddler Principle is about starting with a positive emotion and then moving forward from there. No matter what is going on in your world, when a customer enters into it - stop, make eye contact, smile and give a friendly greeting. It is amazing how many good things show up when you start with friendly first.

Up next: Toyota Principle - Enable and encourage problem solving right now...


Service Minded: The Fresh Air Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

The Fresh Air Principle
Ask great questions.

When I am traveling my primary source of entertainment is my music and podcast library. One of my favorite podcasts is the daily radio interview show Fresh Air. Terry Gross is the host. Rarely does an episode go by without a guest making the comment, "That is a great question, Terry." She (and her team) script out excellent questions that get right to the heart of the matter.

Great customer service professionals love questions. They enjoy it when customers ask questions (because it is a sign of interest and because it provides an opportunity to solve a problem or serve a need for the customer) and they thrive on asking customers questions.  Here is a short list of questions you should be asking regularly:

  • How can we help you today?
  • How are you today?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • How can we make this better for you?
  • What else can we do for you?
  • What questions do you have?
  • How did you hear about us?
Up next, the Toddler Principle - Friendly First...


Service Minded: The Irving Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

The Irving Principle
Get clear on why you are successful.

The Vienna Beef Co. had a problem after they moved into their brand new production center in the Chicago area. Even with 40 years of experience, something was wrong - their hot dogs didn't taste the same. Same spices, same process, different taste. They spent 18 months researching the problem and discovered it was Irving's fault. Their previous plant was a cobbled together chain of old manufacturing buildings in Chicago. Irving was the man who pushed the cart of cold, newly formed hot dogs 30-minutes across the plant to the next step in the process. This trip was unnecessary in the new plant because the two steps were right next to each other for efficiency purposes. The only problem was that Irving's 30-minute walk allowed the dogs to warm up. This proved to be a critical step in creating their signature taste.

The Vienna Beef Co. had enjoyed success for years, but wasn't totally clear on why. Great customer service organizations are infatuated with learning why customers keep coming back. This, obviously, is a major reason why they do.  They understand it, embrace it, train against it and continually adjust for it.

Up next, the Fresh Air Principle - Ask Great Questions...


Service Minded: The Tony Bennett Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

The Tony Bennett Principle
Have a veteran's expertise and a novice's energy.

A common affliction in the world of dealing with customers is atrophy of the attitude. We used to be excited to see customers, but with age/time/experience/challenges/etc. comes a dampened enthusiasm for work and customer interaction. The great standards singer, Tony Bennett, was once asked how he continually gives great performances after years of singing the same songs. He says that even though he has sung I Left My Heart in San Francisco thousands of times live, he imagines (and knows for a fact) that many of his audience members have never seen him sing it live. This allows him to have the energy and presence of a novice even though he has the years and expertise of a veteran. Apply Tony's lesson to your world and treat the 4,056th customer with the same spark and freshness you gave to the first.

Up Next, the Irving Principle - Gain Clarity on What Makes You Successful...


Service Minded: The Platinum Rule Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Platinum Rule Principle
Do unto others like they'd like done unto them.

Fellow speaker and leadership consultant, Tony Alessandra, took the golden rule and added some leadership value to it.  He created the Platinum Rule - Do unto others as they'd like done unto them.  Although very important, the golden rule is rooted in " me first - you second thinking".  It states that I will treat you like I want to be treated.  The platinum rule takes the me out of the equation.  It says that I will treat you like you want to be treated because I have taken the time to learn about you and find out how you want to be treated. It is the ultimate act of leadership (being service-minded) and great customer service.

A few ways customer service professionals operate from the Platinum Rule are:  being more aware of others, mirroring body language to put the other person at ease, asking questions to learn about each customer's unique situation, etc.

Personalize.  Customize.  Humanize.

Up next, the Tony Bennett Principle - Have a Veteran's Expertise and a Novice's Energy...


Service Minded: The Open Space Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Open Space Principle
Build on what works.

A marriage counselor was working with an overly negative woman. She had a laundry list of her husband's faults and would focus on them every session. The counselor eventually mandated that the woman only say positive things about her spouse during the sessions. This continued for weeks until the counselor knew the lady was ready to be taught a very important lesson.

The counselor asked the lady to draw a circle on a paper and place a dot in it for every one of her husband's faults (she still remembered them). After a few moments she was asked to look into the circle and write down the first word that came to mind. She said dots. The counselor then pulled out the two lists of her husband's traits - positives and negatives. The positives list was longer and the lady was floored. She looked in the circle and only saw dots (the negatives) even though there were more positives (open space).  She has been looking at her husband and only seeing negatives even though he has many more positives. She didn't need to fix what was wrong with her husband as much as she needed to fix her own habit of only focusing on the negatives.

Great customer service has a foundation of building on what works, internally and externally, and spreading those strategies, tactics, concepts, policies and behaviors across the system. You can't fix every problem, foresee every challenge or make the customer experience perfect.  You can create a culture where your team actively chooses to take what is working and maximize it to the point where the negatives almost become irrelevant.  (Almost...)

Up next, the Platinum Rule Principle - Do unto others like they'd like done unto them...


Service Minded: The Chicken Little Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

Chicken Little Principle
Emphasize the positive.

Chicken Little's famous phrase is "the sky is falling." Chicken Littles in the real world are those people who brighten the room when they leave the room. There is no place in great customer service for intentionally negative people. Service to others many times begins with taking a negative situation, a challenging conversation or a seemingly unsolvable problem and approaching it with a sense of optimism and a positive attitude. Get better at helping others by starting with and emphasizing the positive before you deal with or in lieu of focusing on the negative.

Up next, The Open Space Principle - Build on what works...


Service Minded: The 7-Iron Principle

This is part of a series highlighting the 12 Excellent Service Principles.

7-iron Principle
Excellent service is elemental.

A few years ago a neighbor of mine was having trouble learning to play golf. He was trying to learn how to hit every club on the driving range. I told him to take two weeks and only practice with two clubs:

  • The putter - because half of your score comes from putting.
  • The 7-iron - because it is relatively easy to hit and the basic golf swing is a 7-iron swing with either a longer or shorter club in your hand.
He came back a week later and was ecstatic with his immediate success. Teaching the muscles to hit a 7-iron 150 yards and straight is an effective method for any beginning golfer to get a fast start to mastering other clubs and, at some point, the game of golf. 

Great customer service is the 7-iron of success in any organization that deals heavily with people. Once those lessons are learned and mastered, many other keys to greatness (teamwork, creativity, problem solving, etc.) have a fighting chance to grow and flourish.

Up next, The Chicken Little Principle - Emphasize the Positive...


Service Minded: The 12 Excellent Service Principles

Today marks the beginning of a 12-part series on great customer service. These posts apply specifically to any leader who interacts with customers (clients, shoppers, students, audience members, etc.), but is also relevant to anyone who would like to improve his or her people skills and build stronger relationships. The best leaders are those who operate from a base of service mindedness. How can I help you? How can I make your day better? What do you need from me so you can do your job more effectively? These are the questions guiding the service minded leader through the day. These 12 principles will illuminate what lives on the other side of those questions.

We begin tomorrow...


Fostering Relationships: Share Vs. Spend

Language has a power we sometimes forget. Particularly when it comes to how we label things. A perfect example is saying that you are "spending time" with someone. This label puts the focus on the time instead of the person. Additionally, it almost has a negative connotation - kind of an "I am losing something" feel.

Instead of saying that you are "spending time", try using the words "I am sharing time with someone." This sharing word brings with it a sense of community, friendship, giving and receiving, etc. It also puts the focus of the activity more on the exchange of words, thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. and less on the minutes spent.

Words make a difference. Not only those you choose to say/type/text to others, but also those you choose to say to yourself. Choose wisely.

Now go share some time with someone.


Skill Assessment: The Downsides of Experience

I recently sat through a high-level meeting where I was consulting a company on their corporate communication techniques. The key leaders in the room were discussing some of their main value statements. A major point for most of their future clients was their experienced staff. I.e. the more years their staff had, the more trusted, credible and valuable the organization became.

This is a well-used and, in most cases, valid characteristic for companies and organizations. However, it is also one that carries with it problems. Here are a few of the top issues:

1. Experience does not always equal expertness. A simple example is my golf game. I have been actively playing golf for 17 years. However, my skill level is that of a five-year golfer. I.e. the value of the number 17 is not reflected in my golfing ability. How many people do we know like this? They have been in the industry for 20 years, but they aren't any more knowledgeable, skilled or valuable than they were 10 years ago.

2. The cost of experience (in some cases) is higher than the received value. Experienced staff are expensive. They demand a higher salary. They aren't always willing to adopt new practices, more efficient technologies or industry changes. Experienced staff can tightly align their job behavior with their job description. They aren't as willing to go above and beyond for the company as they did when they were younger.

A great example is a friend of mine who recently started teaching at a small school. She contacted me after a few months there and asked for some advice on how to respond to a difficult situation. More than one veteran teacher approached her privately and suggested she stop being so excited, creative and hard-working. These experienced, higher-paid educators were actually costing the school more than they were worth not only because they were complacent with their job, but because they were also strong arming the newbies to basically stop making them look bad by working so hard.

Two takeaways from this lesson:

a.  If you are an experienced staff member, think back to the "rookie you."  Were you more energetic?  Thirsty to learn?  Open to new ideas?  If so, recapture that spirit.  Combine it with your current knowledge level, advanced industry understanding and deep network.  You will see marked improvement in efficiency, new ideas, output and value.

b. If you are a manager, supervisor, boss, etc., make sure you equally evaluate, coach and serve your experienced staff and your recent hires. Experience has its upsides, but the downsides demand your attention, as well.


Masterful Communication: New Delicious Tag - Slides!

We are excited to announce a new tag in our huge (over 1,300 links) Delicious database.  Delicious is the most prolific website in a genre called social bookmarking.  Our Delicious account is designed to be a master's degree in leadership.  Most of the tags are based on our PLI curriculum's Essentials of Leadership

The largest tag (the one with the most links) is Masterful Communication - over 350 links.  The topics contained within this tag range from public speaking to team communication to listening skills. I combed through them all and tagged the ones with PowerPoint, Keynote or presentation design tips and added a tag to each called Slides.  There are around 40 links contained within the tag now, but it will grow quickly as I am spending more of my time working with clients (banks, speakers, corporate leaders, student leaders, etc.) on helping them design remarkable slide banks.  Enjoy!


Goal Processing: To Do to Tah Dah!

How you choose to spend your time provides the framework for your life. The content of your activity is obviously important. Ie - are you investing the majority of yourself in meaningful work or mindless chatter? However, the structure of this content is vital as well. An organization system well suited for your personality, lifestyle and work/home demands actually creates time. Let's look at a few well-practiced strategies that can turn your To Do lists into Tah Dah lists!

1. Use to do lists. If your work/home life is important and meaningful, it requires an appropriate level of management. If you aren't using to do lists, a calendar system, etc. you are potentially wasting one of your most important resources - your time. And more than likely depleting another highly important resource - the trust and admiration of others.

2. Prepare to do lists and organize tomorrow's business today. You want to hit the ground running when the new day comes. Don't waste this valuable productivity window by organizing your day. Do it the night before.

3. Put only "actionable items" on your lists. Ie - instead of a line item being an entire project or a collection of tasks, write down only the next step needed to move a project forward.

4. Unless you have absolutely must-do items on your list, the first things you should do are tasks that will add wood to your day's fire. These could be unpleasant tasks, a very difficult task, communicating with a negative or disrespectful person, a set of short/simple tasks, etc.

5. Study Stephen Covey's time management quadrants and perform the necessary self-audit of how you spend your time. The big lesson here is to organize your time so you are working mainly on items that are both urgent AND important. Poor time managers spend too much time on items that are only urgent, but not important. They also don't make time for the category that leads to deep, meaningful success - the important and not urgent (ie - thank you notes, working out, professional development, etc.)

I have a program (in both keynote and workshop format) called It's a Breeze. The big ah-ha is that great time managers are like the wind - in control of the ships in their life. Future great time managers are currently like the sails - at the mercy of the forces around them.

Your choice. Choose wisely. It makes all the difference in the world.

- Posted from the road using my iPhone.


Service Mindedness: Manage the Person Publicly and the Process Privately

I landed at the Kansas City airport at 9 am after a full night of two flights and one very uncomfortable hour of sleep. I am scheduled to speak in Junction City, Kansas that night at 7 pm. Needless to say, sleep is a very high priority. I called the hotel where the conference was being held and where I had a room booked for that night and requested an early (as possible) check in. The front desk lady says no way, so I asked to be transferred to the person in charge of handling the conference attendees' rooms - the event coordinator. After some discussion back and forth she ended our conversation saying, "Come on. I am sure we can get you a room early."

What made this statement even more important was I actually had another option. A friend of mine, Bill Cordes, lives between the airport and the hotel and I could have caught almost seven hours of sleep at his place. But, I believed the event coordinator that I could get in early and away I went.

I arrived at 11 am. No rooms.

I checked back at Noon. No rooms.

I checked back at 1:30. No rooms.

It was 2:20 when I was able to get a room.

At this point, I obviously had two choices. Get upset (which is not healthy in any case, but certainly not when jet lag, a headache and a looming performance that night are mixed with it.) Or I could write a blog post about how sometimes businesses fall down when their front line team default to a strict rule-based interaction with customers instead of relationship-based interaction. Most of the interaction with the customer needs to revolve around their experience in the situation, not on the rules dictating the situation.

Action Lessons for the Courtyard by Marriott:

- When delivering bad news, give reason and context. All I was told by the front desk was, no rooms are available. As a frequent traveler who has checked in early at hotels many, many times, I understand the process. People check out. Cleaning staff starts cleaning. Rooms begin to become available. The "available" status is a one-at-a-time process, not "all of a sudden every room is available." Even with this understanding, no comments were given beyond the absolute basic information - rooms are available at 3.

- When making a promise (which is what the event coordinator essentially did), work your tail off to deliver as promised and/or communicate the process of trying to deliver on it. I was at the hotel for hours and never heard from the event coordinator who told me to come on because a room would surely be available. Radio silence the entire time. She never tracked me down (I told her what time I would be arriving.)

- Make exceptions for hardships. I clearly communicated my unique situation. Red eye flight. No sleep. Have to speak to the group that night. I was treated like any other person (and certainly others wanted to check in early) who simply wanted to put their bags in their room before the meeting started. Even if you don't want to leave it up to the front desk to make those decisions, create a process that makes certain rooms available for people in those situations. I.e. - everyone knows 3 pm is the check in time. However, we know we have people who want to check in early all the time. Let's implement a process that is proactive to prepare for smiles from our customers, instead of frowns.

- Be vocal about your desire to solve the problem - even if you don't see it as a problem. I actually overheard the front desk staff say to each other, "it says clearly in all the contracts that check in is after three."

A few weeks ago I attended a conference in southern California where the keynote speaker's main theme was "Go Human." Keith Hawkins' point, and my point to not just this hotel, but any business/organization who stays afloat primarily by convincing people to buy their products or services, is to take care of the person publicly and manage the process privately.

- Posted from the road using my iPad


Innovativeness: Leadership Threats Blog Series Post Three

This PLI Blog series is inspired by PLI’s support of the California Association of Directors of Activities annual convention and their theme “Licensed to Lead.”

Each day leaders face a myriad of threats that can delay or derail their best efforts. In this series we will concentrate on the top 10 threats to “National Leadership Security” and the specific leadership tool that is most effective at combating it.

Threat #3:  Problem-Focused/Inefficient/Bland
Leadership Tool of Choice: Innovativeness

Here are few statements that are creativity (and enthusiasm) killers for leaders:

  • What if it rains?
  • We’ve just got so much to do, I don’t see how we’ll find the time.
  • What if nobody shows up?
  • It’s been tried before. I’m not sure it’s going to work.
  • What if we don’t get approval?
  • Our budget’s been cut. So, we’re going to have to cut back on this.
  • Great idea. Let’s get a committee together to study it.
  • Here, let me show you how to do it.
  • That’s not how we usually do things.
  • I’m not sure that’s going to fly. Let me run it up the chain of command.

If you’re a leader who ever had a creative idea, wanted to try something new or just desired things to be fresh, different, fun, or more powerful, chances are you’ve also heard a statement like these before.

We’re sure the people who say these kinds of things have good reason to say them. And, we’re sure people who say these things aren’t trying to be negative. There is indeed practicality for dreaming with your head in the clouds and your feet firmly planted on the ground. But, it’s also statements like these that can squash the creative spirit, better approaches, and the bigger success that could be just an idea away.

Whenever you find people concentrating on problems rather than solutions, doing things the old way rather than finding new efficient approaches or going the safe bland way rather than a bold new way, you’re facing a threat to the leadership essential of innovativeness.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Woody Allen

The third PLI Essential is Innovativeness. We define innovativeness as creatively adding value. If you’re not expected to create positive value and growth, then you are not being asked to lead. You are actually being asked to manage. But, if those you serve want new levels of awesomeness in their world, then it’s time to get some innovativeness flowing.

Here are some insightful questions to help leaders get the PLI Essential of Innovativeness flowing:
  • How long has it been since you gave or heard an innovative idea? If it’s been longer than a month, get your solution antenna up higher, change your environment or alter your inputs.
  • Where do you collect, store, stash, and keep creative insights and ideas? Can you easily access them? There is indeed a time and place to share innovative ideas... make sure you can access yours when the time is right.
  • Do you take notes as you go? Life is full of amazing and creative lessons all around you. Take notes, debrief while an experience is fresh, replay how you would do it over again, etc.
  • Do you have a routine? Routines are great for consistency, but, they can lock us into being “set in our ways.” Try altering one small part of your schedule, route, or daily process for one week just to see what new things you discover.
  • Are you the most creative person you know? If you are, then you need to get busy networking to surround yourself with people with even bolder and crazier ideas to inspire yours!
  • Do you fear failure? Realize that we all have fear of falling flat. Know that fear of failure is the single biggest threat to being innovative. When you overcome fear you unleash creative output.


Integrity: Leadership Threats Blog Series Post Two

This PLI Blog series is inspired by PLI’s support of the California Association of Directors of Activities annual convention and their theme “Licensed to Lead.”

Each day leaders face a myriad of threats that can delay or derail their best efforts. In this series we will concentrate on the top 10 threats to “National Leadership Security” and the specific leadership tool that is most effective at combating it.

Threat #2: Discredited/Fake/Self-Doubt
Leadership Tool of Choice: Integrity

You may have the gift to speak, but, if followers don’t believe the messenger they will not accept the message. You may have the gift of vision, but if followers do not trust that your interests are aligned with theirs they will be reluctant to give you full commitment. If you have not acted honorably, you will carry the added burden of self-doubt and worry that your dark deed will be discovered.

“Credibility is the foundation of leadership,” finds leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. All you have to do is look in the news to find a daily dose of folks whose credibility has been discredited. You see it in your world too. People who act one way in public yet in their Facebook page and pictures reveal a different person in private. People can tell when you are acting. And, while leadership requires action, it is a state of being and not an act.

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And, if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” Warren Buffett

The second PLI Essential is Integrity. We define integrity as being guided by character and to lead by example. Character and credibility are the model and mold that your followers pour themselves into. You cannot possibly hope to create trustworthy followers strong in character and credibility if their example is flawed and fake.

Here are some insightful questions to help followers get connected to the PLI Essential of Integrity:

  • What is the condition of your credibility?
  • What do you need to say “no” to in order to keep the “yes’s” you’ve already made?
  • Do you under-promise and over-deliver or do you over-promise and under-deliver?
  • Who in your world is the most credible, honest, and integrity-filled person you know? How do you know this? What example of theirs can you model and add to your life?
  • Who is the least trustworthy and honorable person in your life? Why aren’t they believable? Why do you still associate with them? 


Vision: New Blog Post Series

This PLI Blog series is inspired by PLI’s support of the California Association of Directors of Activities annual convention and their theme “Licensed to Lead.”

Each day leaders face a myriad of threats that can delay or derail their best efforts. In this series we will concentrate on the top 10 threats to “National Leadership Security” and the specific leadership tool that is most effective at combating it.

Threat #1:  Confusion / Lost / Misdirected Followers
Leadership Tool of Choice:  Vision

Assembling talent and skill around you to make a difference is not enough. More than ever, your team wants to know why they are doing what they are doing. They need to understand how their efforts are contributing to the larger purpose. When you sense others are confused, lost, or misdirected it’s likely that vision is missing or not clearly defined.

The first PLI Essential is Vision. We define vision as passionately pursuing valuable opportunities. All teams need meaning and it’s the primary responsibility of the leader to identify vision.

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Japanese Proverb
Here are some insightful questions to help you and your team get connected to Vision : 
  • What is your organization passionate about?
  • What are your followers individually passionate about?
  • How do you define value?
  • What are the opportunities that exist internally/externally that you can pursue that will bring the greatest value?
  • What does success look like if you could see it, take a picture of it, paint it, video it, post it to YouTube, etc.?


What are the Common Traits of Highly Effective Teams?

Effective teamwork occurs when each individual clearly understands how their core strength plays a valuable role in the team accomplishing its shared goals.

Therefore, to identify the traits of highly effective teams, you need to identify commonalities of highly effective team members. There are four...

1. High performing team members are intensely focused on their work, trusts others, are trustworthy and therefore creates an environment where there is low drama and high trust.

2. High performing team members are optimistic and create the impossible by focusing on solutions and the positive.

3. High performing team members identify, put into action and develop habits that create an environment of encouragement, excellence and high expectations.

4. High performing team members are skilled at maximizing change and solving problems by seeing things differently and getting to the true core of challenges.