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.

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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...