Spelling Matters

At its core, a leader’s job is to convince people to willingly do stuff. (By contrast, prison guards are paid to convince people to do stuff against their will–which do you have at your company?)

To be successful at his or her job, a leader only has one legitimate tool: Communication. Everything else is gimmicks or props to help with that single tool.

Martin Luther King, Jr. never carried a gun or used a hammer. He moved the world with the power of his words and nothing more. Same with John F. Kennedy. Same with Gandhi. Same with Carl Sagan, Hedy Lamarr, Mother Theresa, and nearly every other leader you can think of.

Yet… so many leaders neglect the only tool they have. I see countless emails with spelling errors from people expecting to, hoping to, or actually charged with leading others.

Spelling matters. Grammar matters. The power of a leader is not in their title. Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King, Jr. were appointed “Manager of Peaceful Relations”. The only title most people knew Hedy Lamarr by was “actress” though she was one of the most brilliant inventors of her time. A leader’s power and influence comes not from a title but from what they speak and write.

You could argue a leader’s power and influence also comes from what they do (their actions) but I assert if a leader’s speaking and writing is in alignment, his actions will automatically align with those values. Show me a sloppy speaker who leads by action alone and I will show you a comic book hero, like Batman. A real-world true leader has one core tool–communication. Everything else stems from that. Her actions are only as good as how well she professes to use them (both to herself and others).

Of course, no one is perfect but if you are hoping to lead others using the one tool you have and you do not know the difference between “there”, “they’re”, and “their”, or “to”, “two”, and “too”, and  you are too lazy to learn, then you are openly displaying your incompetence at leading… and other people see it.

You may not think spelling names correctly is a big deal or a few typos in an email is acceptable because you are busy. Consider instead that every typo, misspelling, grammar faux pas, and run-on sentence is a signal to the person who caught it that you do not know what you are doing. Spelling matters. Grammar matters.

If you are leading, or want to lead effectively, take the time to proof-read your messages. Use spell-check. Look up words you are unsure of. Learn the nuance of language (or at least the basic construction of sentences). Practice being precise in your writing and speaking, which will lead to precision in thinking, and thus to precision in action.

Precision with spelling and grammar leads to precision everywhere. Sloppiness in your writing and speaking leads to sloppiness everywhere.

Alternatively, if you prefer your career path to ultimately end at the tip of a fast-food chain’s spatula, than dont worry about you’re speling and grammer and you could end up their! 



Want To Be Promoted?

Regardless of the position or company I am working in, at least a few times a year, I am approached by team members who believe it is time for their hard work to be recognized in the form of a promotion and monetary increase. “You know, I feel I deserve a raise,” they tell me, “I have been putting in extra hours and working really hard.”

There are a few problems with this from my perspective. If you have had, or want to have, this conversation with your boss, please let me help you.

Let’s start with the rationale itself… “I feel I deserve a raise…”

Okay, and…? So do I. So does everyone else, in every job, every where. I am not sure why YOU specifically feeling you deserve something should prompt ME (or the company) to comply. “I feel I deserve” is not a compelling reason to grant a promotion.

“I put in extra hours and work really hard…” This used to matter. Gen X’ers struggle with the concept that “keeping quiet and working hard” is no longer a strategy for success. With so many technological tools and best practices at our disposal, I put little to no stock in working extra hours. If there is anyone else on your team having success and working fewer hours than you, then you have only told me you are inefficient. I appreciate your commitment but that is still not a compelling reason to promote you. In fact, it is a pretty good reason not to. If you are struggling in your current role (and, frankly, advertising it), then why would I expect you to magically perform better in a higher level, higher pressure role? If you are struggling with work/life balance now, how will piling on more difficult work increase your morale, well-being, or commitment to our mission?

As far as “working really hard”, I am not sure what the distinction between working hard and working really hard is, but my assumption is all of my team members work hard. That is the baseline for being on my team, not a reason to promote a team member.

Okay, so now you know what not to do if you want to make a compelling argument for a raise or promotion. Let’s look at what you can do to lock in your success.

The first thing is, get it out of your head that you need the promotion before you can earn the role. That is not how it works.

When I was promoted from a sales manager to a district manager at a company I used to work for, the position was mine to lose. In other words, the promotion was locked in before I applied for it. Here is how I did it… I asked my boss (the former district manager) how I could help her. At first, she gave me small tasks. Could I visit another store and help coach some team members there? That was a district manager responsibility but I took it on. I didn’t ask for a raise for doing it. I just did it, and did it to the best of my ability. Then, I was helping with hiring, helping pre-screen applicants. Soon, I was a partner to my boss, helping develop strategies for success and taking on more and more of her duties, while she worked on bigger, more important tasks.

When the opportunity for a promotion came up, there was barely a question if I was going to get it. I was already fulfilling most of the role!

THAT is the fastest, best way I know to secure a promotion. As a general rule, I believe you should be able to competently do your job, plus at least one half of the next job up. That is a lot. It requires you to be more efficient, delegate effectively, and stretch your boundaries. In my mind, the person who does that does not deserve a promotion. They earned it, and it is obvious they earned it.

The other approach (and it is best if you can combine both) is to show your work. I don’t care who feels like they should be handed more money and a bigger title. I care who is achieving results. Nobody in the company should be keeping better data on your results than you. Don’t tell me you have been working really hard. Prove it. Show me the data that demonstrates how much efficiency your team has gained as a result of your efforts. Let me know what team members have improved thanks to your coaching, and by how much, and in what ways they have improved. Have your statistics ready, with a catalog of your wins.

The fact is, your boss is probably moving too fast to focus on, let alone remember, all the little (or even huge) ways you have contributed to the team’s success. Keep your own scorecard and have it ready when you are going for a promotion.

When I went for that district manager position, not only did I have my statistics and record of wins ready to go, but also I had a 34-page training manual to help the other store managers become more effective. I had already garnered a reputation for being willing to share all my “top-secret” formulas for success with my peers. After reviewing the manual and talking about my successes, I will never forget what the hiring manager said to me. He looked up from the training manual, put his pen down, and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but… why are you even here?!? Clearly, you could be making more money and probably working a bigger position somewhere else. Why here?”

The answer was simple. Money is nice, but I will never have enough money so I can’t let money decide where I work. I can always do bigger things in the world, no matter what big things I am up to, so I can’t let ambition dictate my career path. What I wanted was the opportunity to take on new challenges, learn, grow, spread my ideas, do innovative things, and most of all, feel good about going to work every day.

Oh… I guess there is a short cut to being promoted, too. It turns out if you focus on the things I did (and didn’t), you will almost certainly be guaranteed a promotion anyway.

How hard you have worked and whether you deserve it won’t even cross your mind because you won’t have to justify it to yourself or anyone else.

Good luck.

Don’t You Secretly Hate Having Customers?

Thanks to several flight delays, I spent 10 hours in an airport waiting for a 2-hour flight. Trying to reach Baltimore from Atlanta, I was delayed by a plane in Kansas City, that was delayed by weather. Obviously, airlines do not control weather, or delays caused by weather, but they DO control our experience of those delays.

Airports have essentially become homogenized strip malls selling low quality food and services at theme park prices. Worse, it seems no one in charge of customer experience at an airline or airport has ever visited a busy theme park.

Why is the airport experience so bad?

Airlines have been around longer than Disney Land, yet they seem to have learned nothing about lines, customer happiness, or engagement. There appears to be little to no incentive for airports to desire happy customers.

Imagine if Disney ran our airports. Waiting in long TSA lines would at least be entertaining. Prices would fluctuate based on demand. There might be better line management, with quick pass options. No doubt planes would fill faster and run more efficiently–perhaps even more safely.

After reaching my destination, I settled into my hotel room and logged onto their Wi-Fi, which was, itself, an effort in frustration. A few hours later, when I woke up, I had to log on again because the internet access expired.

Why do hotels reset their wi-fi every 24 hours? Are they afraid their transient guests will fly back from their homes to steal the hotel’s internet? On top of that, I could have paid for “upgraded” (meaning “faster than dial-up”) service. Why would you create a caste system for your guests?

The hotel internet and the airport line experience are both indicative of the same problem–businesses that have no connection to the people who consume their services.

The joke is, everybody knows how bad the airport experience is… except the airports and airlines! Everyone I know that has ever stayed at a hotel has complained about hotel internet. The only people who do not seem to know what a frustrating morass it is for their customers… is the hotels!

How many ways does your business undermine its success by being oblivious to the experience being had by your customers? How many pain points do you have between you and the people who want to buy (and enjoy buying) your products or services?

Where are you creating friction instead of smoothing the path for your clients to keep coming back for more?

Is it your return process? Is it the attitude of your front line employees (which means you might want to look at your hiring process)? Is it the jenky credit card reader that holds up your lines? Is it the long lines themselves, inviting clients to complain about your store to each other while waiting to give you their money?

Find the “invisible” pain points and shed light on them. If you can’t resolve them immediately, educate your customers on what you are doing to try.

If you are not working to create a better customer experience, you can rest assured your competition is.

When Are You A Leader?

I casually refer to our company’s most talented employees–the ones with passion for moving the company forward–as the company’s “leaders”. This includes some people on the executive team, of course, and it also includes some front line team members. By contrast, it also excludes some team members who have authority or are in traditional management positions.

You do not have to be in a “leadership” position to be a “leader”. I have known a few key decision-makers I would not call leaders. The question, then, is when does somebody become a leader?

I write about leadership and I am passionate about leadership, but I have never formally considered myself a leader, even if others have. “Leader” is not on my business card.

I have been in leadership roles for the last 20 years so at what point is it safe to say, “Yes, I’m a leader!” The short answer is, “probably never.”

“Leader” is not a goal any more than “great” is a goal. When is someone great? There are great people, sure, but did Jesus ever say, “I’m great, now. I’m a leader!” How about Martin Luther King, Jr? Gandhi?

There is a saying in martial arts that Black Belt is not the goal of training. It is the beginning. When you achieve your Black Belt, you have finally reached the level of “student”. Though there are people who hold the title of “Master” in martial arts, I have yet to meet a 6th degree Black Belt or above who believes he has “mastered” martial arts.

When are you a leader? Whenever you decide you are. But once you do, you are probably no longer a leader.


A Simple Way to Get More Done

If you want to be more productive, the key is simple. Simple is the key.

People are often surprised at how much I am able to accomplish and yet how responsive I am when something new needs to be completed. Here is my secret to being a top performer: I don’t multi-task.

The idea of multi-tasking has become so ubiquitous and abused it is practically the butt of its own joke. People who accomplish a lot do not do so by spinning from task to task, with imaginary octopus arms, inching each project forward a little at a time until everything is complete.

Top producers simplify their work. They edit ruthlessly the work that is unnecessary and they politely say “no” to work that does not move them toward their goals. Top producers instead work on a single task until it is done and then they move to the next task and work on that one until it is done, and then they move on to the next task and… you get it.

I watch so many leaders burn themselves out at the altar of, “I have to get it all done and it all has to get done by me”, rather than taking the approach of, “What is the goal and what is the most efficient way to reach it?” Smart leaders look for ways to move on to the most important stuff. “What can I let go of so I can focus on what is really important? Am I the only person that can do this? If so, why? Can somebody else do it, and get it done, even if it is not to my perfect standards?”

For me, I saw my productivity transform when I embraced minimalism as a lifestyle. Being a minimalist forces you to think about the smallest number of things that bring the greatest return on value. As a result, I began working to simplify every area of my life (and I am still working at it) and the results have made it clear to me that doing less is one of the best ways to get more done.

I think corporations, teams, and even personal relationships suffer from complexity when a dose of simplicity can change everything.

It makes sense. We stretch ourselves too thin.

We take on 12 assignments at a time, which means our mental resources, our attention, and our efforts are divided by 12. I try to never have more than 2 or 3 focal points at one time on my docket. More than that and I find myself slowing down the thing I am doing because I am thinking about all the things I need to do next.

How many half-finished projects are on your desk? How many projects have you contributed your labor to, only to watch them disappear into the ether because other “more important” projects came up? (Well, why weren’t you working on the most important project from the beginning?)

That is the easiest measure of time being wasted for the sake of wasting time. Or put another way, workers work to fill the time required to be in the office, rather than working to do important work. The reason for this is simple, by the way. Workers fill time because they know the reward for work done well is to be piled up with more (busy) work. If your people can accomplish a task in 4 hours but still have to fill an 8-hour work day rather than be set free to go home or do what they want, you better believe that 4-hour task will take 8 and a half hours.

The reward for good work should not be more (less interesting) work, but rather more time and freedom. Google figured this out years ago with their famous “20% rule“.

From a minimalist perspective, the world over-complicates productivity. Ironically, productivity is over-complicated in the name of efficiency! “I’m a great multi-tasker,” potential hires will tell me during an interview. That is a sure sign to me they are not good at being productive.

Nobody needs great multi-taskers. We need great simplifiers.

I Quit

“I can’t quit smoking. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” I have heard this excuse more than once. You can quit.

I am in my forties and I quit things all the time. I would even say I am a professional quitter, and maybe you should be, too.

Quitters get a bad rap but knowing when to say no is a value. Over the last two decades, I have quit eating meat and dairy, I quit believing I need 10 hours of sleep every night, I quit living in Michigan, I quit owning a TV, I quit playing video games, I quit a bad job, I quit believing what I could not prove or deduce logically, I quit some friends, I quit swearing (I keep quitting swearing–it’s tougher than I thought), and I quit living in debt, among many other things.

In fact, I actively look for things to quit. The older I grow, the more I realize how precious my time is and how important it is to say “No” to some things. For me, quitting something that is no longer contributing to my life, health, or prosperity opens doors to let me start new adventures, learn new things, and to create space for more of the actually important things.

It is a simple equation: the more things I give up, the more freedom I gain.

My next mission is to quit being overweight. After I went vegan, I dropped 50 pounds in a year but have hovered between 20-30 pounds over my ideal weight ever since. Like most people, I live a VERY sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a computer or in front of a screen the majority of almost every day. That is what I have to quit. I am not sure how I am going to do it but I have already taken some steps… literally. About 10,000 of them, actually, on most days. That means I quit waking up at 7 and now wake up at 5:30 each morning, which also means I had to quit griping to myself about waking up at 5:30 and begin embracing it. So I did. Now I wake up at 5:15 most days, fifteen minutes before the alarm clock, and I step (figuratively and literally) into my day!

Anyway, you can quit almost anything. Don’t tell me you can’t. Or better yet, tell me you can’t. Tell me you can’t keep smoking, can’t keep being unhealthy, can’t keep staying up too late or going to bed so early, tell me you can’t keep working a job you don’t like, or you can’t keep losing time with your loved ones. Tell me you can’t do the things that are holding you back anymore.

It turns out saying no is sometimes more powerful than saying yes. After all, that’s quitter talk… and we need more of it.


I’ll Just Make Up The Rest…

The biggest movie of 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left open a few mysteries. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? How did Poe survive the tie-fighter crash? Why is C-3PO’s arm red? Is Captain Phasma still in the trash compactor?

The internet is abuzz with speculation about a familiar galaxy far, far away.

What does internet speculation about a space fantasy have to do with leadership? It’s simple. When people do not have information about something they care about, they fill in the blanks with their own story.

Companies who are, either by circumstance or design, secretive or slow to share information invite rumors and speculation among team members. There is no quicker poison to a company’s culture than gossip over rumors.

Companies and leaders sometimes plead the Fifth, choosing silence over explanation. For example, when a high-profile person within the company is let go, many companies make the mistake of pretending it never happened. They trudge along without addressing the missing elephant in the room. Their reasons might be sound (for example, they may not want to smear somebody’s reputation who was a long-time and popular employee but was caught stealing and justly fired). Nonetheless, by not addressing the obvious they leave the story on a cliffhanger… and people chime in with their interpretation of the rest of the story.

Transparency is clearly important (ha–see what I did there?). The message does not have to be, “Attention Everyone: we just fired John because he’s a scumbag thief!” The message only has to address what happened honestly and tactfully, “Team, we’re sorry to tell you John is no longer with the company. Out of respect for everyone, we can’t really share details around why we parted ways, but we wish John well and hope to lean on many team members to help fill the gaps in the interim. Please direct any questions to Michael in HR. Thanks.”

Rumors might still crop up, but with a polite and timely message, the nature of the information being filled in will put the company in better light. In other words, team members will assume the best (Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter) instead of the worst (Poe is secretly a double agent) .

His Name Was Prince


Prince, Rave

Prince was more than a musician, a rare gem in the world of celebrity who truly earned the right to become a “legend”.

Aside from being arguably one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time, he leveraged his talents to do more than sing. As he matured, he used his voice to advocate for veganism, animal rights, monogamy, feminism, peace, independent artistry, and more. I certainly did not agree with everything he stood for but I respected that he had values, particularly while living in a world that would offer him access to any and everything he desired.

Prince was not the reason I became vegan but I first learned the word through his speaking out on the subject, which, in turn, nudged me to dig further and eventually become vegan myself.

In short, Prince took advantage of his skills to do more than make money and have fun. He used his platform to make a difference in as many ways as he could. There are few celebrities who die with such an outpouring of respect from their counterparts, and story after story shared describing what an authentic human being they were.

Prince could easily have gone the route of so many famous people who died and were mourned for nothing more than being famous. After all, he came to his fame in the hey day of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, yet he changed the lives of nearly every musician, and every person, he touched. He made, for the better, the lives of many humans and non-humans who were never able to shake his hand or thank him.

The point is this… you have a voice. You have your social media accounts, or your blog, or your relationships with the people around you. Whether you know it, who you are–and who you present to the world–affects more people than you will ever meet, know, or even hear about.

A word of caution: be sure you know what you are talking about when you do speak. Your voice is also your reputation. It is the last thing anyone will hear from you.

Use your voice, like Prince did, to do more than sing.

rave lamb prince


The Final Word on Leadership

The last word on leading others hasn’t been written. The absolute best book on leadership out there… isn’t out there.

It turns out there are as many ways to lead as there are leaders and if any leader had all the answers, then people like John Maxwell would have only one book published on the subject, instead of more than 40.

Take your leadership advice with a grain of salt, whether it comes from me or someone rich and famous for writing a lot of ineffective advice. (How do I know it’s ineffective? Because if it was effective, you would not need 40 different books to prove it works.)

All advice on leadership is not bad (in 40 books of trial and error–or 40 blog posts–there has to be at least a few gems, right?). The point is there are many styles and methods to lead. Find one that works for you, and try others now and then.

Baskin-Robbins used to be famous for having 31 flavors of ice cream. They had the right idea and it works the same for leadership. There are many flavors to choose from and you can sample as many as you want. You will find your favorite and least favorite, for sure, but you will not know which is which, until you try each. You might find mixing and matching works best or you might be a die-hard vanilla sort of leader.

Regardless of the additives, though, the core ingredients of leadership–just like the core ingredients of ice cream (milk, ice, sugar)–remain the same. For leaders, the core ingredients are: Listen, think, act… in the right measure. 3 parts listening to the data and people around you, 2 parts thinking about the appropriate action and predictable consequences, and finally 1 part action… because after listening (gathering data) and thinking (planning), taking action is the easy part. It will become obvious and seem instinctive if the rest of the recipe is right.

Listen, think, act… because the opposite never works.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.