Your Worst Customer

Every day I think about a lesson learned over the past 48 hours–a real life-lesson I can apply to my life and share with you. Here is what I thought about today…

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I am still unhappy with my experience flying Delta recently. I paid an up-charge for a seat that was double-booked (and it was not refunded to me). I was stuck behind a crying, stinky baby (not Delta’s fault, except I should not have been in that seat but rather in the seat I paid for). The air conditioning unit on the plane went out and we were stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour as the temperature rose until the mechanics could arrive and turn the unit off and then back on, which worked. The worst part, though, was that once we were in the air, they made us listen to a 2-minute promotion for some airline credit card. Forcing a captive audience to hear your scammy sales pitch has to be a new low in Marketing. What a shame.

I have been debating trying to contact Delta about my experience (I did tweet about it as it was happening) but the thing is, I am rather busy. I am writing this blog, I work full-time, and I have hobbies and social obligations. In the end, sending a letter potentially into limbo is not worth my time, and that got me thinking…

Your worst customer is not the one who keeps coming back and complaining. Your worst customer is not the one your employees dread as soon as they see them walk through the door. It is not the customer you avoid. It is not even the customer who is trying to scam you.

Your worst customer is the one that never comes back.

How many sales have you (or your team or your company) let slip through the cracks? How many people have had a bad experience but never tell you about it? They tell everyone else when it comes up in conversation, but they never take the time to tell you because they are too busy, tired, or ambivalent about it? After all, there are a lot of other airlines and choices out there.

Get to know your worst customers before they get to forget about you.

 

 

 

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If You Want To Change, You Have To Change

Each day I come up with a lesson learned in life and I share it. Here is today’s lesson.

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We fear change. I know I certainly do anyway. When something seems to be working (an old family tradition, a standardized training program, a ritual for good luck, a habit, etc.) we tend to cling to it, even when it has lost its effectiveness.

Smokers, for example, want to quit smoking, but do not want to change their habits. I would like to lose weight but I don’t want to change what or how or when I eat. Companies want better results but don’t want to change the way they train or communicate with people. It is natural to fear what is different. “Different” means “unpredictable”.

The problem is, if you do not change anything, then nothing will change.

We can not expect better results from old habits. It is true, sometimes we might falter, or even fail, but the difference between accepting “different” is that change brings knowledge, and knowledge brings enlightenment. When you embrace doing things differently, even your failures become foundations for learning how to succeed.

In other words, if you want to change, then you have to change.

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“Houston, We Have a Solution.”

I learn a lesson in life every day and share it with you. It has to be a real lesson learned, not a fun fact or lesson someone else learned that I am sharing. It can be a tough to figure out one thing you learned every day. Try it. Here is today’s lesson…

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“Houston, we have a solution.”

The person who said that was never heard from (because no one ever says that). The reason is the problem was probably solved before it was shared. We do not think about the problems we solve.

Winners in everyday life do not tally their victories. They do not collect rewards to show. They usually do not even share their stories of success because they would sound like this: “There was almost a disaster with the company’s financials but then I remembered to carry the zero and, whew, nothing happened! THANK GOODNESS, right?”

“I almost hired a guy with a mixed work history who was not the best fit for our company, but instead I interviewed someone after him and she is the new team addition we have been waiting for! I had a problem and I came up with a simple, effective solution. Great job, huh?”

Of course, we do not hear from the people who would report solutions because they simply move on to conquer the next challenge. It might pain some leaders and sports coaches to hear this, but it turns out winners do not keep score. That’s the job of the scorekeepers.

Winners are busy winning.

The next time someone tells you, “We have a problem…”, I suggest pointing to the person sitting quietly next to them and asking what should be done. That person is probably already half-way done solving it.

 

 

 

 

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A Goal Versus A Wish

Every day I learn a lesson in life. Sometimes I learn the same lessons again and again, until they (hopefully) stick. And I share those lessons with you. Here is today’s.

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“My goal is to eventually write a book,” I told Nicole.

“Eventually,” she repeated and mused. “So, you have given yourself no deadline and you have no plan. That’s not a goal. That’s a wish, dear.”

A sugar-rimmed but sharp reminder of the same advice I have given countless others.

If a goal does not exist in Time and you have no way of calculating a path from Here to There, then you have no goal. You have a wish (and wishes rarely come true–which is why we tell stories about wishes coming true).

Also, I am reminded no one is above taking their own advice, even those who are known to lead by example.

Also also, practice what you preach.
Also also also, behind every great man…

 

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Can I See You In My Office?

Every day I share a life lesson I have learned. Here’s today’s…

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Leaders often forget their words have more weight than they realize. One of my pet peeves is delivering a vague request (this is one of Nicole’s pet peeves, too, it turns out). I am talking about the email from your boss that says, “Can we talk? I’ll send a meeting request.” Or the dreaded, “Can I see you in my office?” which seems to happen only on Friday afternoons, the scariest time of all.

If you are in a leadership position, be sensitive about the power you have. When people know they can not say “no” to you, then it is up to you to put them at ease. If the team member you are talking to is not in trouble, do not be vague about it. “Hi. Can we talk–about the Prometheus project schedule so far? I’ll send a meeting request later.” Or, “Can I see you in my office? Nothing bad; I just a have an idea I want to run by you.

Vague commands presented as requests are disrespectful to the person you are speaking with and it makes you look like a wimp. “Can I see you in my office?” sounds like you are afraid to approach a situation in public. Instead try, “Can I see you in my office, please? I want to talk about the Prometheus project.

If you must be vague, give a reason. “Can I see you in my office, please? Sorry to be vague but it is a sensitive matter.

Most of all, do not leave your team-mate hanging. “I need to talk to you this week.” Or, “I’ll call you today.” When? When do you need to see him or what time will you call her?

Some leaders enjoy the power of vagueness. They like to watch people squirm. That is not leading, though. It is bullying and many good leaders do not realize they are doing it.

Hopefully, acknowledging the problem will help you take the first step in rectifying it, or at least serve as a friendly reminder not to leave your people hanging.

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Don’t Hire Me!

The secret to hiring well is, well, not hiring.

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I would not say I am a “recruitment whisperer” but I have a good track record of hiring great teams. In a group training session, a new hire asked, “How did you know everyone in this room would work so well together? We all have such different personalities, yet we all seem to gel. What’s your secret?”

I said, “The truth is, as I interviewed each of you, I was never looking for a reason to bring you on board. I was trying to find any reason not to hire you.”

He looked stunned. I continued, “I think many hiring managers miss that point. I talked to each of you several times but every one of my questions was designed to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Everyone in this room is truly the best of the best I interviewed. You are here because I could not think of a single reason for you not to be here. So, pat yourselves on the back and thanks for making my job easy!”

Leaders (in whatever field) are leaders, I think, because they often move forward by going the opposite direction of everyone else.

 

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What Is Your Super Power?

Know why others should pick you (to lead, to help, to be on their team, etc.).

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“Why do people really hire you?”, a friend asked, wondering what quality sets me apart from everyone else when I am looking for work (or when work is looking for me).

I thought about it, then said, “You know, I think people hire me for one reason but end up finding my real value is in areas they did not expect. They hire me because my resume looks pretty and I have experience managing people. I think what they find after I have been on board a while is that my real super-power, as it were, is to help people think differently. It is not a quality you look for on a resume or in an interview but when it shows up, I think it is powerful and has served me well throughout most of my career.”

“Yes,” he said, “I can totally see that. Now I have to figure out what my super-power is!”

I didn’t say anything, but I smiled and thought, See? I just used my super power.

I love both questions, though, and I invite you to spend a few minutes thinking about them now…

Why do people really hire you?

What is really your secret super-power?

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Why Do You Take Notes?

Instead of taking notes, try focused listening.

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“I’m a note taker,” a new hire informed me. “Do you take a lot of notes?”

I said, “No. I almost never take notes.”

“How do you remember so much?” she asked. “You seem like you retain almost everything.”

(My friends and family would probably fall off their chairs laughing at that last statement, but I think it is fair to say I retain most things that are truly important.)

The problem with taking notes, as I see it, is that you concentrate on the notes instead of on what is being said now. It is like always living in the past. Note takers tend to catch half the conversation because they are busy writing down and trying to remember what was said last.

When I gave up taking notes, I found I was actually able to retain more information and do better on tests. It sounds crazy, but what I found works instead is paying deliberate, focused attention to what is being said.

That means I am not thinking about chores I need to do when I get home, or what question I can ask to sound like I am listening, or what I think the person will say next, etc. I just focus on the person speaking and shut out everything else.

I am prone to distraction, personally, so sometimes I have to take it a step further and cover part of my vision by lifting my hand and making a sort of “curved salute” around my eyes. That way, nothing captures my attention in my peripheral vision.

Taking notes is still best for some people but if you have never tried deliberately listening with focused intent instead, give it a go.

It works wonders, and besides, you just pile away notes, thinking you will go back and read them some day but never really do, right?

 

 

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How To Find Out If You Are A Bully

Before you get mad about bullies, you might want to take a look in the mirror.

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Rainee (my cat) has a habit–no, a ritual–of annoying me every night between 3:00 and 4:30am. She paws my face, walks across my body, and licks my ear lobes and eyelids until I give her attention. When she uses the litter box at night, she likes to announce it to the apartment by yowling and jumping on the bed. To top it off, she consistently wakes me up a half hour before my alarm so I can feed her.

Sometimes, I just ask her to leave me alone because I am trying to sleep (and, surprisingly, sometimes she does). Sometimes, though, I react instinctively. Something furry suddenly falls on my face–I swat at it! Often, she gets pushed or kicked off the bed for pestering.

Last night was no exception. I swatted her away out of half-sleep frustration but I heard a bad landing and instantly jolted awake, worried I had hurt her. She was fine, but I was not. I realized I could have hurt her (she is an older cat) for nothing more than annoying me and wanting to play.

I grabbed her and apologized (as if she could understand me) and invited her to lay back down next to me, which she did. After thinking about it today, though, it occurred to me that animals can give us particular insight into our selves. I bullied my cat. That is a fairly petty jerk-move, even if I was half-asleep.

The way we treat others–especially those with less power in a situation–is a clear reflection of our own self-actualization or folly. In other words, the best person you are is not who you are when you are at your best. The best person you are is the best person you can be when you are at your worst.

This might be a work in progress and take some patience but I will be sure to work on how I express or (suppress) power when I have more of it than someone who can do nothing about it, human or otherwise.

I hope you will, too.

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How To Be A Leader In 3 Easy Steps

There are probably as many ways of being a leader as there are types of leaders. Here are three tips that work for me.

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I have not always been known as a “Gets it done with excellence” person. I used to be mostly referred to as a “He seems like a good kid” person. Over my career, I have built a reputation as a strategic thinker and considerate leader who is fair, earns respect by maintaining a high level of integrity, and delivers results. (Of course, some people think I am an arrogant jerk with a bloated ego but I will never win everyone over… and that’s okay). Here are three things I know have helped me build character and become both a better person and a better leader over the course of my career:

1. Knowledge. Expanding my knowledge by studying the works of great thinkers, philosophers, and artists has easily had the most profound impact on me. The best way I know to do that is through reading. Reading forces me to slow down and think at a pace where I can pause, reflect, and process information in real-time.

The power of books might sound lofty to trashy horror and romance aficionados but I will say it does not really matter what you read as long as what you read challenges what you think about and how you think about it.

If you do not enjoy combing through boring books about entrepreneurship and self-help stories written by great leaders (who are not necessarily great writers), then comic books are great reading material! Learn about leadership by reading about heroes and villains, and thinking through their moral quandaries. Or read books by famous sports coaches if you enjoy sports. Just read something that offers more than a brainless story (those are fine, too, just not for self-development unless you are a very intuitive reader).

2. Humility. It took me a long time to realize I do not have to have all the answers and, in fact, if I think I am the smartest person in the room, then I need to find a different room.

If I am not surrounded by people who are smarter than me and see things I can not see, I have a problem. I am not being challenged, my thinking muscles are not being exercised, and my perceptions are going unquestioned. It feels good to be the top dog but it does not help me stay on top.

To be fair, I never hope to be the dumbest person in the room either because that means I am not contributing value or understanding the people around me.  I also do not have to necessarily surround myself with people who disagree with me. Just because there is disagreement does not mean there is a contribution to intellect.

I want to be around people who see clearer, further, or from different angles and know how to communicate respectfully, with patience, warmth, and by drawing logical conclusions. That way, we all learn to think better, and hopefully be better.

3. Trust. Before I could trust myself to lead others, I had to learn to trust myself. In other words, if I could not rely on myself to do what I said I would do by the time I said I would do it, then how could I expect others to keep their commitments to me?

I developed my “integrity” muscle, as it were, by making and keeping promises to myself. Over and over, if I told myself I would do something (like, say, wake up when my alarm went off without hitting the “snooze” button even once–just get up and go), then I would practice keeping that commitment until I consistently had it right. Over time, I could trust myself to do whatever I agreed to do with myself (like wake up before my alarm clock goes off–I can trust myself to do that now, just by reminding myself to wake up before X time).

The trick, after that, is to keep expanding the trust I have earned with myself, and then eventually, with my commitments to others (until they realize when I say I will do something it is as good as done), and finally by expecting their commitments to me to have equal integrity. No one wants to be less than their best, but until they see and believe they can transform (by watching you go first) they may not realize there is a higher standard to hold themselves to. In other words, lead by example, and expect those you are leading to do the same.

 

Knowledge, Humility, and Trust help me continue to develop myself and, I assert, are key elements among the most trusted and respected leaders. If you want to grow as a person or as a leader, I recommend starting there. Grab a book, read one page a week if that is all you can commit to now. But make that commitment to yourself and keep it. Then agree to do a little more with yourself. Then expand keeping your commitments with others until they trust your word the way they trust the law of gravity. It never fails them. Then, and only then, ask for that commitment back. Actually, you will probably never have to ask. Everybody tries to be like their hero.

Go. Lead.

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