Change The Tune

Today’s Lesson: If you can’t stick to your schedule, change your schedule.

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Every day this week, I have an appointment at 8:00am. Both yesterday and today I have been 10 minutes late, which is a problem for me because I am known for being on time as a matter of integrity. Keeping my word is something I pride myself on and it means I can be relied on to start meetings on time, to show up when I say I will show up, and to do what I say I will do by the time I say I will do it (hat tip to Landmark Education for the definition).

I am still becoming used to Tampa roads and traffic and leave with what I think is ample time but, of course, that is an excuse. An excuse for not having integrity is not the same thing as having integrity.

Realizing my dilemma today, I did what any reasonable person of great integrity would (with the knowledge that setting my alarm clock even earlier has no effect on my timeliness). I moved the rest of the week’s meetings to 8:10.

If you can’t beat ’em… just find another way to beat ’em.

 

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How to Be the Real Deal

Today’s Lesson: Get real. And stay there.

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If you want to be known as someone who commands respect and admiration from your peers and friends, here are three incredibly difficult things you can do to prove you are worthy of it:

1. Make your word as predictable as gravity. There is no faster way to lose reputation or credibility than to not do what you said you would do when you said you would do it. Gravity always keeps its word. If you throw a stick in the air, it will come back down. If you throw it in the air again, it will come back down again. It would be quite remarkable if Gravity decided to show up late sometimes, and the stick hit you on the head 40 minutes later than you expected it to. Keep your word the way Gravity keeps its word.

2. Deliver the goods. When you say you will do something, do it with excellence. Do not just get it done and move on to the next thing. When you are known as someone who does excellent work and keeps his word, then the world suddenly becomes your oyster. Well, probably not suddenly… but slowly, over time, as your reputation increases and people realize you are the real deal.

3. Repeat. Keep your word and deliver the goods. The more times you repeat those two, the more your reputation and credibility edge up.  It sounds easy but sometimes it will feel like the whole world is conspiring to keep you from keeping your word and delivering the goods. It does not matter, though, because you face the world like gravity. Gravity does not care if it is sick or if traffic is bad or if its dog died, etc. Gravity keeps its word and delivers the goods. The stick is coming down whether you like it or not because Gravity said it would and you can count on Gravity (thank goodness!).

 

If you want to be the real deal, don’t just say the words. Keep your word, deliver what you say you will (by the time you say you will), and repeat that every chance you get.

That’s keeping it real.

 

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Sit. Stay. Learn. Good Boy.

Today’s Lesson: Learning is not genetic.

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An otherwise talented leader today said something I think was profoundly incorrect. She said, “You just can’t teach integrity, you know? You’re born with some things. People can’t learn it. You either have it or you don’t.”

The problem with that, of course, is that *I* learned integrity, first from comic book heroes as a child, then from excellent role models as a teenager, and then formally from Landmark Education as an adult.

She learned integrity, too. No one is born with a sense of right and wrong. Babies do not innately know how to keep their word (since they can not speak).

Moreover, I have taught integrity and watched leaders grow from understanding and dedicating themselves to holding their word as law, and now they teach it, too.

Learning and teaching the value of integrity is one of my proudest ongoing accomplishments as a leader.

I did not learn a new lesson in integrity today, but I may have been reminded there is sometimes truth to a long-lived adage… You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

 

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1 Way To Live Better: Have Great Integrity

There is a theme this week: I will share my 5 favorite tips for living better that have worked for me. Maybe they will contribute to you, too…

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1. Be known for having integrity. The fastest and most powerful way I can think of to improve your life is to keep your word… even to yourself. This is what I call having integrity. I am fond of sharing the Landmark Education definition of integrity–Saying what you will do, then doing what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it (but it is easier to say, “keep your word”.

If you say you are going to be somewhere at 8:00, then consider 8:01 a failure to keep your word. You have lost a bit of integrity. If you tell yourself you are going to work on losing weight, for example, consider it a matter of personal integrity to keep your word.

Each time we lose integrity, the structure that holds our character together is compromised, the same way a structure of a boat loses integrity if it springs a leak or a building loses structural integrity if a support beam is missing a rivet.

One big loss of integrity can bring the whole structure down. However, many little nicks in the integrity may not seem so damaging individually but, taken as a whole, they can weaken a structure enough to topple or sink it.

I am passionate about personal integrity because in a world that has it, everything works. Imagine a world where every meeting starts on time and the people who have integrity (you know the ones who always show up on time) are never punished for keeping their word, having to wait for the slackers with no integrity. How many conference calls start like this, already five minutes after their scheduled start time… “Okay, we’ll just give everyone a few more minutes to join and then we’ll get started…”? What is that like for the people who made kept their word and made it a priority to be where they said they would be when they said they would be there?

Imagine every person on your team being dependable. Imagine each of your friends always doing what they say they will do by the time they say something will be done. Imagine never planning ahead of time to be “fashionably” late to a social function. What if parties just started and ended on time and everyone smoothly moved on to the next thing they had planned?

How about never having to stay open for that one aloof customer that wanders in two minutes before closing, keeps you forty minutes past your shift time, and never buys a thing? In a world operating on integrity, that does not happen because everyone knows stores keep their word, opening and closing on time. All employees are home for dinner at dinner time. Customers are not disappointed when they are not let in 10, 15, or 20 minutes after closing time because it is not expected to happen in a society that honors integrity and does not reward slackerism.

Some people slip into an integrity pitfall, though. They think a good story (“I was stuck in traffic, the weather was bad, my alarm didn’t go off, my dog ate my homework…”, etc.) is a suitable replacement for integrity (“…and that’s why I was late…”). Having an excuse or a story is not the same as having integrity, and it does not work any more than a boat with a leak works.

My favorite example of integrity failing in the world is with movie theaters. When I was growing up, a movie that was listed to start at 7:00 actually used to start promptly at 7:00. However, movie theaters realized their patrons had little integrity and kept showing up late, complaining about missing the first few minutes of the shows. The theaters came up with a clever way to outsmart their interminably late customers. They added fifteen minutes of previews. This way, when they listed the movie start time as 7:00, they knew some people would still show up at 7:15 but those people would now be just in time for the movie to start (and the people with integrity would not feel so bad waiting, having something to do in the meantime).

The only problem was, customers realized there were fifteen minutes of previews added but they still did not have integrity. The actual problem was never addressed. Now, we have fifteen minutes of previews preceded by another several minutes of commercials and even more commercials or promotions after the previews. Some movies do not start for a full half hour past their scheduled start time. Ironically, people with strong integrity still will not be late to the previews and commercials and the slackers will still somehow manage to miss the first few minutes of the movies!

I should point out there are two important caveats to having integrity and ensuring you remain aligned with your values.

The first is understanding where matters do not involve a choice to have integrity, there can be no integrity. A common example is when a leader demands a goal is met or assumes agreement on a policy or practice. If your subordinate is expected to sell 1,000 widgets by tomorrow (with an implied, “or else…” from you), then the employee has no failure of integrity if they do not meet the goal. Sorry, but good leaders do not get to hide behind our demands as a proxy for leadership. Integrity is a character measure and so can only exist as a personal commitment to one’s self, not as an agreement to an ultimatum.

The same is true, for example, if a father demands his son cleans his bedroom before going out with his friends. If the son does not clean the bedroom and still goes out with his friends, the son has not lost any integrity (clearly, there is another issue here but that is not what I am addressing). The son has no choice but to acquiesce or agree to the father’s demands if the boy wishes to go out.

The second caveat is understanding “keeping your word” is distinct from “making a promise”. I never promise things. I do not believe promises are aligned with integrity because promises are tied to an external action rather than internal character structure. In other words, when you make a promise, you are usually promising to do something (“I promise we’ll go to the zoo tomorrow…”) but when you show integrity you are committing to be something (“I will take you to the zoo tomorrow”–this is not a flimsy good intention… it is stated as an undeniable fact). A promise is not powerful. Any sentence that starts, “I promise” has an implied, “as long as…”. Facts, by contrast, are stated as absolutes. There is nothing to imply on the back end.

Because promises exist in reality as external actions, I say they are subject to Newton’s Laws of Motion, one of which is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Promises inevitably lead to broken promises.

Integrity, on the other hand, is an internal dialogue–there is no equal and opposite motion to being something. An apple sitting on a table is pushing down on the table as the table pushes back with equal force to maintain equilibrium (or else the apple would fall through the table or the table would push through the apple). However, the apple being red has no equal and opposite reaction. It simply is.

We hear the same distinction in conversation. We say, “Joe is a man of great integrity. If Joe says it, you can count on it. He always keeps his word”. No one ever says, “Dave is a man of great promising. He sure knows how to promise stuff!”

Think about that.

 

Today’s Lesson: Be known for your integrity. Cut the words, “I promise…” from your vocabulary (say any sentence without them and see how much more powerful it sounds). Do not let other people assume your integrity from you based on their wishes. Finally, if you say something, do it (and do it the way you said you would do it by the time you said you would do it). Or, in short… always keep your word.

 

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Today’s Lesson: When Is It Okay To Talk Trash About Your Competition? [141018]

I sometimes hear of my competitors saying something negative about my stores, company, or team. They will tell a customer, “You can’t trust those guys. They will rip you off! They lied to you about that price.” Some of my competitors will say whatever it takes to steal a sale from my team; they think it is a competition because we call each other “competitors”. The only problem is, I am not competing against them.

New people on my team (and sometimes veteran team members) are counseled that we never say anything bad about our competitors, internal (meaning other teams in our own company) or external (meaning stores from other companies offering similar products).

In fact, I will even help my competitors if they call for advice or tips, or if I can not meet my customers’ needs. I will send my customer to another store if they have a product or service better suited to my customer. That may sound crazy, but it has always raised my team to a top performing level.

Why are we so kind to the “competition”? We aren’t, actually.

It is probably my arrogance that drives me to hold a better standard with my team. You see, I want my “competitors” to know that not only did I beat them, but I played by the rules, gave them every chance along the way, and sometimes even helped them! I want them to know they were defeated so badly by such a high-caliber of team that they never even think about trying to take me on again.

I do not mind sharing my knowledge with others because knowledge in and of itself is useless without proper application. It is not about who knows what to do; it is about who does it better, and my aim is to outclass anyone in my arena (admittedly, I do not always reach that goal but it will never stop me from trying).

If a customer tells one of my employees, “I’m so glad I found your store; those guys up the road are a bunch of crooks!”, my employees are taught to have no opinion on the matter. It is not up to us what the customer thinks of the store up the road and it does not matter anyway. We respond with empathy and a willingness to help, “Wow, it sounds like you had a bad experience there. Let’s see what we can do for you.”

When customers go to a different store and their employees have nothing but negative things to say about our employees, I take it as a good sign. For one, they must feel desperate to resort to smear-campaign tactics. Also, what kind of impression does it leave on the customer if every time they visit that store they hear something negative about someone else? Yet, when they come to my stores, they only hear positive things. What kind of experience will the customer want to keep coming back for?

I assert it is almost never okay to say something negative about your competition. If your goal is to win, then win like a hero, not like a cheat. The team with the most integrity will always be the one built to stand… and last.

As always, this advice applies to all areas of life, not just business and leadership. Integrity and never speaking ill of others is never out of style and will always help you win friends and influence people.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Consistency and Disorder [140914]

Being consistent is important to success. If you want more upper arm strength, doing 10 push-ups will not make much difference. Doing 10 push-ups every day for a year will have greater impact and you will definitely be stronger.

 

Consistency is obviously a building block to success. One overlooked building block, though, is the importance of Disorder. Having a little chaos to shake things up can drive the power of consistency even further.

 

Doing that 10 push-ups a day for a year would work… if you really did it, but of course, we know what happens. It becomes monotonous. After a month, you let it slip one day, then another, then a week, and then you are not following your habit at all. Many of us fail because we forget the law of opposing forces. Order needs Chaos to define it. They must work together. So, after a few weeks of doing push-ups, you are much more likely to succeed if you then switch to pull-ups for a few weeks, then to weights, or hand-stands, or a mix of each.

 

The same is true in other areas. If you do the same work the same way, day in and day out, you will quickly lose the challenge of novelty and become bored. Your work will suffer. Embracing change, though, will help drive you forward, increase your mental aptitude and ability, and give you more energy.

 

The irony is we tend to fear change (which makes sense because change used to be bad early in our history–venturing outside the cave or tribe meant increased risk of death).

 

Instead of abandoning something that is helping you (exercise, a valuable work habit, daily meditation, etc.), try changing it up. What can you do differently to keep you engaged and moving forward?

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: The Zen of Success [140829]


I am proud to have a team that regularly outperforms teams double its size in arguably better markets with more tenured staff. My team performs at a high level regardless of moving targets, staffing adjustments, market changes, or customer traffic patterns. I attribute much of our success to two things, and I was reminded of these today while speaking to a peer: Patience and Persistence. Here is how it works:

Patience: I distill information. It is rare for me to make a decision without analyzing available data and asking for input from my team leaders. Even when I am not directing a team, this is true. For example, I read lots of books on leadership but I throw most of the information out. It is not all relevant to my style of leadership and some of it is plain bad (one popular example is the idea of “servant leadership“–an oxymoron that makes great copy but is meritless as an actual principle). When a directive is delivered to me, I do not necessarily pass it on to my team untarnished. I examine the core value of the message, decide if it is right for us and how the team can best ingest it, and then act in alignment with our team values.

An easy way to kill team effectiveness is by delivering conflicting messages. That is why it is important to be a filter for the information coming in. I once worked for a company that had, as one of its core values, “Empower employees” yet required employees to complete a requisition form for the most basic office supplies, even Paper Mate cheap ball point pens–if you wanted one, you were “empowered” to fill out a form. Of course, the irony of that was lost on no one… except the head of HR.

Persistence: I take the long view. I have learned that everybody wants something and they want it now but that is almost never a path to sustainable success. In personal affairs or in business, we deal with agendas. Family, friends, coworkers, bosses, vendors, television news anchors, brands, even our pets have an agenda and they all want you to follow theirs.

Instead, I stick to my team’s agenda, deliver the results we are focused on despite distractions and requests coming at us (distill the information), and ensure we are operating within our team values and principles. If we understand the overall mission we have been charged with (which is usually closer to “grow the business” than it is to “we need to sell more widgets now, now, now!”), then it is easier to quiet the noise, take the long view, and follow our agenda.

In a more than 20-year old company, my team has quietly become the fifth most consistent performing team in only 3 years and we continue a quiet but steady rise. Sometimes we are recognized but usually we don’t make big splashes; we just continue to do well and try to improve day by day. We never seek magic bullets and we do not compromise our team values of Integrity, Honesty, and Trust.

If there is a secret Leadership club where all the popular leadership skills are passed out to every author basically re-writing the same book, I was not invited. I have figured out a few things, though, by simply being persistent and patient. It takes persistence to seek information, edit what does not fit and find those little nuggets that change everything. It takes patience to walk, not run, when others are screaming “fire!” and you know that keeping your team on task sometimes is the task.

Whether in business or personal success, I can tell you patience and persistence always pay off.

 

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Today The Lesson I Learned Is: Too Many Broken Promises Can Make You Turn Purple (140728)

If you follow pop culture and were a teenager in the 80’s, then you probably know this week is the 30th anniversary of a seminal moment in music: the release of the movie Purple Rain.


Prince (and, yes, that’s his real name) crossed the divide between rock and funk, uniting audiences, reshaping “cool”, and starting a domination over more than a decade of pop music. He released a hit album every year for the next 20 years and was responsible for writing many of the biggest hits of the 80’s, whether or not you heard his voice on them.

I was a big fan but we had a falling out somewhere along the way…

Prince is nearly as famous for his music as he is for not releasing it. He has littered his career with empty promises of things to come and this week is another in a long line of disappointments. As part of bringing attention to Purple Rain’s 30th, he has been blasting and promoting the release of an expanded soundtrack that was supposed to be released last week. It wasn’t. I’m sure it will be released at some point, but why commit if you do not have the authority or integrity to honor the date promised (especially in such a public way)?

Today’s lesson is: Don’t tally the promises you keep. They don’t count as wins for you. The basic expectation is we will do what we say will do, by the time we say we will do it. If you are late but still did what you said you would do, that is not a win. You failed on your commitment even though you eventually got it right. Better to have not made a commitment than to have it count against you.

Try tallying the promises you fail to keep (or fail to keep on time). Promises you keep do not count for you but promises you do not keep count twice against you (once for making a commitment you couldn’t keep and again for not keeping it).

In other words, you are not respected (as a person or a brand) for the promises you keep but you are judged for the promises you fail to keep.


(Hat Tip to Mike D. for thinking of me and sending a reminder of the 30th anniversary–good looking out, with or without the album to show for it!)

 

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How to Live Heroically

 

I have been thinking a lot about heroes and heroism. Many of us look up to heroes (whether real-life heroes or comic-book superheroes) but forget we have the capacity to live heroic lives ourselves. Some people, though, seem like they can not help but live heroically. You probably have a friend who always seems to know the right direction to take in a  morally ambiguous situation, or someone you know will hold you accountable for keeping your word or is a person who simply will not lie. Heroes are the people we know we can count on, the ones who will risk something like looking bad to everyone else to stand up for something like truth or having integrity.

Heroes are willing to risk something to stand for something.

I think most people have some heroic traits but do not put a lot of thought into developing moral fortitude or a personal philosophy. Most of us are not intentionally villainous; we just fall somewhere in the middle. The problem with falling somewhere in the middle, though, is the default becomes a compromise. Ayn Rand, my favorite thinker and author, wrote in Atlas Shrugged, “In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit”.

We sometimes try to justify bad choices by claiming moderation–“Well, just one little _____ won’t kill me or get me in trouble” (put whatever you want in the blank: piece of cake, cigarette, kiss, etc.). The problem, as my heroic friend, Phillip, points out, is that it’s like saying “Well, just eating a little bit of rat poison won’t kill you. It’s just a little rat poison…” I think heroes tend to see things that way–putting choices in stark terms rather than trying to find the shady gray areas that allow us to get away with whatever our impulsive side fancies.

You must have a personal philosophy to think and act heroically and it can not be just the one handed to you, for example, by your family’s religion. Heroes innately consider questions of right and wrong, weigh the value and outcome of their choices against the impact the choices will have on others or the world, and then take action within the boundaries of their own moral standards. They may have initially been guided by an outside philosophy or religious tradition (“Thou shalt not steal”), but at some point they learn to internalize a moral code of their own (Thou shalt not steal because… it is unfair to take something of value without earning it).

To begin thinking heroically, you must ask whose moral code you are following and what drives your actions when faced with a question of doing the right thing? Hint: if your answer is, “I do what feels good,” then you are not making a moral judgment or following a path of heroism. This does not mean your decision is necessarily wrong, just that you have no ethical base to decide from. You are not the one in control; your feelings are.

There is so much more to living a heroic life but this seemed like a good jumping off point. If you want to be more like your heroes (hopefully, you have good heroes; I’ll talk about how to choose them in an upcoming post), then a good first step is to think about how you think about your decisions and consider what consequences your actions have on others before you take those actions.

 

What do you think? This is my first stab at trying to explain this, so tell me if you think I am spot on or way off or if I need to expand a part of it. Don’t forget, you can leave a comment, send an email, or respond via social media.

Or just go out and do something heroic today and tell us about it.

 

 

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