Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and director of Management Moment Leadership Services. He is the author of the new book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.
The bigger we get the smaller we have to think. Customers still walk in one at a time. – Sam Walton
A story is told of how many years ago a man conned his way into the orchestra of the emperor of China although he could not play a note. Whenever the group performed, he would hold his flute against his lips, pretending to play but not making a sound. He received a modest salary and enjoyed a comfortable living.
Then one day the emperor requested a solo from each musician. The flutist got nervous. There wasn’t enough time to learn the instrument. He pretended to be sick, but the royal physician wasn’t fooled. On the day of his performance, the imposter took poison and killed himself. The explanation of his suicide led to the phrase that found its way in to the English language: “He refused to face the music.”
Facing the music with your customer is a matter of good leadership. Knowing where you stand with your consumer is paramount to your success. The findings by the 2013 Edelman Barometer of Trust (http://bit.ly/VKfWVd) indicate that there is a great deal of work to be done. Everyone wants to be a leader and we understand the need for it, but there’s a problem: many consumers don’t trust leaders. According the to report less than a fifth of the general public believes that a business leader can be trusted to tell the truth or make an ethical decision.
Making the leadership connection with your customer is a leadership issue of the highest order. Facing the music is how you begin. Are you taking an honest look and properly assessing your relationship toward your customer in a way that will build trust and credibility? Here are three ways to begin the process.
Be open to the facts. Facing the music may not be a pleasant experience as you assess your current footing but if you are going to build trust with your customers you must be willing to do it. If you are not listening to them then they will go where their voice is heard and valued.
Internally you must analyze your customer relationship in many ways. A great example of how this is being done is found with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and their ‘culture of metrics’ (http://bit.ly/RrWmd4) approach that keeps all eyes focused on the customer. Amazon tracks its performance against nearly 500 measurable goals, and nearly 80% of those have to do with customer objectives. The first step to making the leadership connection with your customers is to be open to the receiving the facts as they currently exist.
Be willing to change. When you face the music as it relates to your customers and you have an honest assessment of your positioning with them you must then be willing to act. Change works to your advantage only because of what you do with your knowledge. For example, if you have a disgruntled customer then you have a choice. Listen to them, help them, and keep them, or lose them.
Writing for Inc., (http://bit.ly/12C9apz) Maria Tabaka says, “Be thankful that your customer is willing to tell you what most won’t. It’s a gift that may offer you insight into problems that other customers aren’t willing to share… It’s a proven fact that when conflict is resolved well, a customer can become an even more devoted fan than they would have if there was never a problem in the first place.” When you empower yourself with the facts and demonstrate a willingness to change in order to meet your customers’ needs then you are on the path to greater success. Embracing this leadership challenge is essential to building the kind of relationships that will sustain you today and into the future.
Be vigilant going forward. The corrections you make today will help you today but the longevity of your success is a matter of vigilance. The needs, desires, and wants of your customers is constantly changing and evolving. Are you prepared to meet the challenges they bring?
A working formula for your vigilance looks like this:
Simply put, making the leadership connection with your customers begins by building relationships and knowing their wants and needs. When these two things become your priority you will not have to worry about your success. It will take care of itself. And it shows good leadership.
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. – Mark Twain
A story is told of Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded letter to the president.
“What are you going to do with it?” Lincoln inquired. Surprised, Stanton replied, “Send it.” Lincoln shook his head. “Put it on the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
Anger is one of those emotions that if not dealt with can cause many problems for leaders. What’s more important is for your team to know how to deal with the anger of your customers. This was the topic of a recent Open Forum column by Rieva Lesonsky. In the column Lesonsky cited a Futures Company survey that was conducted last year that revealed more consumers are in a state of generalized rage – not necessarily about customer service, but about most things in general.
The general state of mind of most consumers’ worldwide highlights a growing challenge for business leaders, and having an intuitive staff that can handle the growing tensions is imperative. The survey highlighted three primary sources for this heightened consumer anger: stress, suspicion, and anti-business attitudes. Any one of these ingredients is cause for concern but when combined as part of a growing consumer trend it is important not to ignore it.
Stemming the sentiments of consumer anger will require a proactive approach. While space restricts me from presenting an exhaustive approach for dealing with the consumer anger issue I will offer starting points that can position you to address it. Here are three steps to begin with that can help you tame the savage beast of anger.
Create awareness. Internal awareness is the first step toward addressing consumer anger. Is your company or organization paying attention to the warning signs of consumer anger? How consumer anger is manifested towards your business should be on your radar. If you are not aware of how it affects you, your competitors, or your suppliers it can have potentially negative consequences.
Creating awareness within your organization is crucial to its health and vitality. Make sure your frontline staff is sensitive and proactive in how they represent your company and the image they are putting forth. Being aware of potential conflicts can prepare you to surprise your customer with a greater than expected experience. You win your customer over tomorrow by preparing your staff today.
Build relationships. Externally, the success of your business is grounded in relationships. Mark Sanborn nailed it when said, “Customers don’t have relationships with organizations; they form relationships with individuals.” How do you see your customers? If you merely look upon them as transactions you are missing the point and always will. The key to dispelling the consumer anger sentiment is to make it personal which begins by building relationships.
Value is created where value is given priority. The reason consumers feel suspicious is due to their belief that businesses are ready to cheat customers whenever they can get away with it. Dispelling the anger is found in building trust. That can only happen in relationship. Loyalty to the business is not always an economic decision it is one of relationship.
Deliver service with excellence. Taming the savage beast of anger is an internal work (creating awareness) and it’s an external work (building relationships), which can now be solidified with how you deliver your product. When excellence is the standard by which your company or organization operates then it will be reflected at every level of the consumer experience.
The blueprint of your success in taming the savage beast of anger begins with leadership. Your capacity as a leader to recognize the need is the beginning of solving it. Creating a culture of awareness is essential to your teams’ ability to recognize consumer anger and defuse it. And everyone delivers with excellence at every phase of the consumer experience it will keep them coming back for more.
Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. – Steve Jobs
While you may be familiar with the many inventions of Thomas Edison which include the incandescent light bulb and the microphone, but there is a back story to one invention that is of great significance.
It was December 1914 and Edison had been working ten years on a storage battery. One night fire tore through his lab. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns arrived in an attempt to douse the flames, but the heat was too intense and the water pressure was too low. Everything was lost.
In the midst of the rubbles the next day Edison is reported to have said, “There is great value in disaster. All of our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Amazingly enough, three weeks after that devastating fire, Edison delivered the first phonograph. His attitude and determination coupled with his commitment to excellence is why we hold him such high regard today.
We hear a lot of about excellence and the need for it. Theoretically we understand its importance and the need to set a high standard of quality in our work and in our expectations. While this is admirable we will never achieve excellence until we denounce the toxic attitudes and beliefs that prevent us from achieving it. Here are four of the most common excuses that stand between you and excellence. Conquer these and you can fast track yourself to a path of excellence.
Past failures. The road to success will be paved with failures and mistakes. But they don’t have to be fatal. Consider President Abraham Lincoln. He first went into politics at the age of 23 when he ran for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. He lost. Afterwards he opened a general store. It failed. But we all know how he has taken his place in history and he is considered by many to be one of our greatest presidents.
Dale Carnegie said, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Do not allow your past failures to define you or your future. It’s when you shake off past failures, learn from your mistakes, and commit to excellence you can achieve it. Let go of the past and move on.
Past rejections. Achieving excellence will require a certain level of fortitude as you learn from the past. But rejections sting because it’s personal. Consider Walt Disney. He was fired by the editor of a newspaper for lacking ideas. He could have sulked in self-pity and given up on achieving anything of significance. But Disney persevered and millions of people the world over have been enjoying the magic ever since.
Albert Einstein said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Don’t be discouraged when you face opposition or when you experience rejection. It is all a part of the growing process on your journey to excellence. Don’t give up!
Lack of education. Your lack of education is not a disqualifier for achieving excellence. Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school and applied to attend film school three times but was unsuccessful due to his C grade average. He could have taken that rejection along with his C grade average and given up. Because he didn’t give up we have enjoyed many great films such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, Lincoln, E.T. and Indiana Jones to name just a few.
John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” You may not have been the brightest student, your grades may not be a reflection of your potential or passion, but with the right attitude and determination there is nothing you can’t achieve if you choose an attitude of excellence.
Physical limitations. Harry S. Truman was rejected by the U.S. Military and Naval Academies due to his poor eyesight. At one point he was a clerk in a newspaper mailroom, and worked as an usher in a movie theatre. Yet, he did not allow his poor eyesight to keep him from achieving excellence as he later became President. His inspiring story is but one of countless others who have also experienced some type of physical limitation on the way to success.
Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” It’s as you embrace this attitude that you will know, live, and enjoy a life of excellence. There is no limitation, physical or otherwise, that can keep you down but by your own choice. Shed the negative, embrace the positive, live with excellence.
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore, so do our minutes, hasten to the end. – William Shakespeare
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was 9, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no- nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow's flight, and then young Frank's tracks meandering all over the field. "Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again," his uncle said. "And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that."
Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy in life. "I determined right then," he'd say with a twinkle in his eye, "not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had."
So much is made over the responsibility and demands of leadership that we fail to learn the lesson that Frank Lloyd Wright points out. It is part of the delicate big picture of leadership that if not addressed can have lasting negative consequences.
This is evidenced by a recent report by ExecuNet that revealed more than half (57%) of the executive recruiters they surveyed rated workloads as very high, and an additional 25 percent saying they are the highest they have ever seen. The survey also found that 53 percent believe executives’ current workloads are unsustainable and that employers will feel significant repercussions because they have stretched management leaders far too thin. So what are some of the warning signs of burnout in leaders? Here are three for your consideration.
Placing your policies above your people. When leaders place a higher value on policy than they do on people it will eventually lead to burnout. A disconnect between policy and people puts the leader in isolation with demands that only the leader wants or cares about. This approach reinforces busyness over productivity, conformity over creativity, and rules over relationships.
While policy is necessary it must not interfere with the leader’ first priority and that is the relationship he has to his people. Don’t allow policy burn you out; allow your people to be your source of inspiration and energy.
Placing your position above your principles. If all a leader cares about is his position then all he is going to be concerned about is protecting it. This attitude reveals both the weakness of the leader and his motives. It most certainly will lead to burnout.
Being a leader of principle is where the joy of leadership is found. If you are driven by your principles then you will not have to worry about your position. Fighting for a position will drain you of your energy, your effectiveness, and your longevity. Discover the joy of serving others and living by your principles. It will give greater satisfaction and reward than a title ever could.
Placing your popularity before your perspective. When the energy of the leader is bent towards popularity over perspective it is a sure pathway to burnout. It is the age old pitfall and trap that leaders must be on guard against. The temptation to embrace popularity over substance has been many a leaders’ downfall.
Being popular is not what makes you a strong leader. Perspective is what allows you to learn from the past, see into the future, make the hard decisions, and to lead with courage. The burden of choosing popularity over perspective is that the direction you travel is not of your choosing. Perspective causes you to lead with a steady hand.
Burnout has claimed many a leader. But you don’t have to be a casualty. Care about your people, lead with your principles, and keep your perspective. Save your energy for what truly matters and never forget to enjoy the journey.
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision – Helen Keller
Max Lucado shares a story about Bob Edens. For 51 years he was blind and could not see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and for the first time, he had sight. He found it overwhelming.
“I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow,” he exclaimed. “I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon- and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is.”
Sight is a beautiful thing. Blind spots, especially for leaders, can be problematic. A story in QSR magazine cited a study by Development Dimensions International that said 91 percent of managers have at least one blind spot, and the average manager has three. Brad Thomas, a manager at DDI said, “Those blind spots don’t just hurt the individual who has them, they can hurt the entire company.” Leaders today must be aware of their blind spots and be willing to correct them. What are yours? Here are four common blind spots you need to see and why they matter.
The effect of a bad attitude. Zig Ziglar said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude.” This is a powerful truth to know. It is even more powerful when you can practice it. The attitude you have is one of the most contagious and visible characteristics of your leadership. It is important to understand the effect that your attitude has on the culture of your company.
Your attitude is the thermostat by which others around you will conform. On average, the attitude of your team will not rise any higher than yours. If your attitude is poor it will be reflected in the company’s morale, performance, and is an indicator of its future. Simply put, you cannot allow a bad attitude to be a drag on your company because it is a blind spot for you. Pay attention to it and check it daily. After all, it is a choice.
The consequence of prejudices. This blind spot goes far beyond the scope of any racial implications. It is the result preconceived notions you make about colleagues, clients, or customers. It is making and embracing assumptions that may not be accurate based upon your limited understanding.
When you allow your prejudices to influence you as a leader you are allowing them to define you as a leader. Instead, why not abandon your prejudices and look upon everyone with an open mind, give clients the respect they deserve and your customers the benefit of the doubt. Prejudices have no place in your business and they certainly have no place in your heart. It is a blind spot you need to see and remove.
The price of poor people skills. This blind spot is the source of many of your leadership headaches. Your business savvy and skill will be undermined if you lack courtesy and respect. It is one thing to possess the ability to cast vision and manage the company’s bottom line, but if you can’t have a 30-minute lunch with a client without checking your phone messages five times it screams of poor etiquette.
Frederick L. Collins said, “There are two types of people in the world: those who come into a room and say, “Here I am!” and those who come in and say, “Ah, there you are!” People skills will make you or break you in leadership. Take care of people and they will take care of you. It is a blind spot you simply cannot ignore.
The trappings of an over-inflated ego. This blind spot will destroy your effectiveness if left unchecked. Colin Powell said, “Don’t let your ego get too close to your position, so that if your position gets shot down you ego doesn’t go with it.” Unfortunately, many leaders are trapped in the surroundings of their own creation that skewers reality. As a result they see the world they work in through the lens of “yes” people which can hinder more than help.
Blind spots can cause problems regardless of who you are but for leaders it has a far-reaching effect. The blind spot of ego is overcome by humility and serving others. Keep a healthy perspective of who you are and keep it grounded in reality. By paying attention and keeping yourself accountable you can steer clear of these pitfalls and lead with clarity.