Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let's say thanks

It's hard to be away from home on Thanksgiving, particularly when you're in harm's way. I received an email about an opportunity to say thank you to a soldier who is serving this Thanksgiving. It's so easy to do.

Xerox is sponsoring this effort. If you go to you can pick out a thank you card created with awesome children's artwork. You can choose one of the already-created messages or write one of your own. Xerox will print the card and send it to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq . You can't choose the person who will receive it, but it will go to a member of the armed services. Imagine the impact it would have if we could get everyone we know to send one!
So often we think our thanks but don't express it. Take advantage of this opportunity and make a soldier's day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sustaining an attitude of gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving
Originally uploaded by Terry_Lea

Wow - these squirrels sure have it great! The abundance of pumpkins will keep them going all winter long. No wonder that they appear to be downright carousing. The volume of their gifts is almost obscene. It's a shame that we're not gifted in the same abundance.

Now wait a minute. Yes we are. No matter what our financial circumstances, no matter what our personal or business turmoil, we have an equally abundant share of gifts. We simply have to be open to notice them:

  • A beautiful sunrise or sunset
  • The sound of your favorite song on the radio
  • A gift of a picture from your child or grandchild, niece or nephew
  • A neighbor who keeps your trash cans from blowing down the street
  • A particularly delicious slice of pie
  • The coziness of your comfy sweater
  • A good hair day
  • A friend who calls you just when you need to talk to somebody

These aren't all earth-shattering events. That's why we miss them. They're right in front of us but they don't always dance a jig to grab out attention. We have to look for them. And although we set aside Thanksgiving Day to make sure we take some time out to notice our blessings we still sometimes miss them in the bustle of cleaning, cooking, hosting, and watching football on the big day.

I'd like to challenge you with this: make a list of 5 blessings you have received that aren't the obvious ones(like a house, family, etc.) Stretch yourself to notice something new. And give thanks for them. Our lives are abundant beyond measure - we sustain an attitude of gratitude by training ourselves to see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cutting costs won't grow your business

I've received some phone calls and emails from business owners who are frustrated that their attempts to cut costs aren't doing much to help their businesses prosper. Remember the toilet paper shortage? That's the story about how mindset creates reality - the grandma tells all of her friends that there's going to be a toilet paper shortage and all of her friends stock up on toilet paper, creating in her local grocery stores - a shortage of toilet paper.

What I'm seeing right now is some companies that are doing across-the-board cuts and/or freezes without analyzing which are warranted and which are not. Expenses and investments are two different animals. An expense is gone when it's gone. An investment generates a return. Both temporarily reduce the dollars in the wallet, but an investment replenishes itself, and when it's really good it'll be in a significantly higher amount than the original investment.

I agree that we want to be sure that we're not wasting valuable financial and other resources right now. We want to be assured that we're creating value for customers at the lowest possible cost. But there are some business owners out there who are cutting some of the meat along with the fat, in businesses where there is more productivity to be gained and/or better process efficiency. Of course we want to prioritize creativity over capital in searching for solutions, but sometimes an investment in capital is exactly what our situation needs.

Look for these things when you're faced with an opportunity to part with your hard-earned cash:

  • Does this directly impact my ability to attract topline revenues at an acceptable margin?
  • Will it return value to my company? What are the rewards (in specific terms of customer impact, ability to manage, financial impact, and growth and innovation?)
  • What are the risks if I don't do it? (Look at the same criteria as the rewards, in as specific terms as you can muster.)
  • Does this enable me to be more competitive and thereby gather a higher percentage of market share in a time when the overall market has shrunk?
  • How quickly can I expect a return? You might want to set specific criteria for the payback period.
  • Does this help me be first in line when the inevitable uptick happens? Is this building my production capacity?

These are times of tough choices. At the same time you don't want to create that toilet paper mindset. Otherwise you'll do the behavior that aligns with your scarcity mentality and thereby contribute to your own problem.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Teleclass - Are You Coachable?

Coach Hess
Originally uploaded by mdt1960

One of the posts garnering the most response over the past few months was about whether you are coachable. In some markets business and personal coaching has been around for a while, but in others the idea of having a professional in your corner is just emerging.

We're holding a FREE teleclass on Thursday, December 11 at 1:00 EST. Join us to find out:

  • What does a coach do, anyway?
  • What are the goals of a coaching relationship?
  • What are the situations that might warrant engaging a business coach?
  • What you should look for in a coach.
  • What happens in a company-sponsored coaching relationship vs. a self-sponsored coaching engagement?
  • What are some payoffs that coaching clients can expect (and some case information on what clients actually did!)

Register via email at we'll be back to you with the details on how to join us. Space is limited and the deadline for registration is Tuesday, December 9.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Technology still needs the personal touch

I was talking with a software developer the other day who was based in Colorado but responsible for a team of approximately 100 in India.  She was concerned that the group would be able to work together well despite cultural differences.
Her strategy was to get to know the team members personally.  When they were at her home site she photographed each of them (even though a few of them were a bit reluctant to have their pictures taken) and she documented the name that went with each face.  She studied the pictures in preparation for a trip she would be taking to their home office in India.
When it was time for the trip another colleague went to meet with his team as well.  (He hadn't used the same technique to get to know his own team.)  When  he walked into her team session he was flabbergasted at the level of interaction and input she was receiving from her team.  His team had just sat politely waiting for him to present information and/or give instructions.  She asked her team what they (meaning she and the company) could do to make things better and the conversation was productive and positive.
The pictures themselves weren't the point.  The point was that she was demonstrating a desire to know her team members as individuals and not just as a lump of cost-effective production capacity.
We may contend that the world is flat, with technology creating a playing field accessible to people all over the world.  But we can't lose the idea that in the end people are people, no matter whether we're communicating in person or halfway around the globe via webconference.  The relationship still matters.  And it's not just a "nice-to-do."  It has a direct impact on the productivity of a team, perhaps even more when the team doesn't have daily face-to-face contact.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What behavior are you rewarding?

See this innocent-looking face?  This is Boomerang, our one-year-old AussieDoodle (that's an Australian Shepherd and Poodle mix.)  Don't be deceived by those fuzzy good looks and "who me?" marble eyes.  He's quick on the trigger.  Just now as I'm trying to post some words of wisdom on how to lead effectively he's been parading past me with a series of contraband items.

"Parading" is certainly the operative word.  His tail high in the air, his step sprightly - he's ready for a game of chase, or rather keep-away.  He'll keep passing by until I notice him, and I swear that he uses his extra-noisy feet when he's doing it.  When he sees me spring from my seat saying "No!" he knows the game is on.  

His puppy trainer told our class all those months ago that we need to trade a higher value item for the item we want the dog to release.  Enter the piece of Pup-er-oni that he loves so much that he'll even drop my 12-year-old's dirty sock (a daily event) to earn it.

After about 3 rounds of chase this a.m. I gained a reprieve by providing a rubber bone with some peanut butter stuffed inside - that'll keep him busy for a while.  But my dilemma is this - in effect I'm reinforcing the game by trading something yummy for something of mine (or more often my daughters') that he has found and started to chew.

There is a leadership lesson in here.  How often are we inadvertently rewarding the very behavior we want to extinguish?  Sometimes negative attention (in the mind of the misbehaver) is better than no attention at all.  In upper grades in school when kids misbehave badly enough we give them - time off?  Doesn't exactly sound like punishment to me.  What are you unintentionally rewarding?  Because I'll tell you right now that if you're seeing the same behavior over and over again there's some benefit that the "behaver" is receiving from doing it.

Oh great.  Big girl left door open.  Here comes this morning's dirty sock.  Better grab a treat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sometimes we wait

Sometimes we find ourselves on what feels like a slippery slope. Perhaps we look down and see the steepness of the potential fall, or sometimes we realize that we're already partway down with little chance of stopping until we hit bottom. We don't always know how we got here - perhaps a series of events out of our control, or perhaps a series of actions that resulted in unintended consequences led us to this place. But here we are, nonethleless.

So what next? Our focus has been on the past, and right now it doesn't really help to look behind us to the top of the hill - we won't be getting back up there. The main options we have are to
  • Lean into it and let the slide take us where it will
  • Fight it and perhaps get really muddy on the way down
  • Look forward for the next best navigable path and plunge ahead
  • Find a way to stop and wait
Our lives aren't continuous slides (or continuous climbs, either.) We have waystations built in where we have the opportunity to gather information, to build strength, to identify lessons learned before we continue forward. To the impatient these pauses in the action can feel frustrating, like there's nothing happening. But it's important that we wait.

The plateaus are like the times after we plant a seed. The germination of something new is beginning, but we can't see it yet because it hasn't poked its head through the soil. Do we rip it out of the ground to see whether it's got roots? Do we stop watering it? Not if we want the seed to grow. Sometimes the new plant will show itself in a matter of a few days. Other times we wait weeks, months, or even years for it to appear.

Yes, sometimes we wait. We watch, we listen, we feel, but we do not act. And sometimes that's exactly what we need to do.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Communication creates charisma

Eye contact !
Originally uploaded by le petit danois

See how this young woman is communicating with the photographer? She's not saying a word, but she's communicating happiness, openness to the photographer, shyness... you can fill in some of your own interpretation here.

There's SO much that could be said about creating effective communication, but I'd like to talk about the framework, the environment within which effective communication happens. You create charisma by being tuned into the person or persons with which you want to communicate. You genuinely seek to understand first, then to be understood. You look at them attentively, listen to what they have to say, notice their reactions to what you say and adapt your message to relate to them in the best way possible.

When you listen to another person with full eye contact and attention you're validating them and their importance. Anyone who has children has seen evidence of this. It's so important to get a parent or significant adult's attention that a child will resort to misbehavior to get full attention if good behavior doesn't do the trick. In addition charisma is created when it's evident to the person that you have their interests in mind and that you have the best of intentions toward them. Generosity of spirit creates attractiveness.

You can't develop charisma in a corner by yourself. It's dependent upon interaction with other people, and the more opportunities you have to interact the more opportunities you'll have to practice your communication skills. It's not necessary to be gregarious to be charismatic - it's all about the relationship, the focus on the other person, and the intention to relate well with them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Attraction through positive energy

This is part 3 in a series of posts on charisma.

At you can take a test to see whether you exude positive energy based upon the principles in Positive Energy by Judith Orloff, MD. Questions surround topics such as how comfortable people feel around you, whether you harbor resentments or let them go, and whether you laugh often. Positive energy can reduce your stress and contribute to good health. It also attracts other people to want to be with you.

Positive energy is the second of three characteristics associated with charisma (the other two are authenticity and communication skills.) As humans we're built to communicate. We do some of it verbally but a lot of it comes through in nonverbal form. We can see body language and we interpret it whether we're aware of it or not, but we also can sense overall "vibes" from other people. We are attracted to the energy that makes us feel happy, safe, confident in ourselves, etc.

You don't have to look farther than the recent Presidential election to compare the energy being sent by candidates, and the part that positive energy played in the election results. Senator Obama smiled, used open gestures, and talked about subjects that inspired hope. Senator McCain frowned, pointed his finger a lot, talked about suspicions and whipped up rumors of threats. I don't think that John McCain's natural state is one of negative energy - as a matter of fact his concession speech contained attractive language and reasonableness. I believe that if he had used this mode instead of the negative energy that fueled his campaign he might have changed the outcome of the election in his favor.

We as humans are designed to affiliate with one another, like attracting like, and so we tend to reflect the energy with which we surround ourselves. In reflecting that energy we magnify it, much like a mirror backing a small light bulb can turn it into a brighter flashlight. An angry leader exuding negative energy can multiply a couple of disgruntled individuals into a violent mob. But ultimately we want to feel safe and secure - it's one of our basic human needs. So we'll only allow ourselves to be pulled so far along by negative energy before we seek to right ourselves and create internally a more hospitable environment.

Positive energy is developed partly by choosing your input - crime news isn't going to uplift your spirit - duh! It's also built on the people with whom you choose to associate (remember that reflection concept?) And you can build your positive energy by intentionally choosing to interpret events according to positive criteria like "what was right here?" or "what did I learn?" Your self-talk is the strongest influence you have on your own positive energy, which means that it's largely yours to choose.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In search of authenticity

This is part two of a series of posts on developing charisma.

Is the world seeing the person you really are - the authentic you? Part of the process of becoming more charismatic, more attractive to other people is to become more authentic. But this isn't easy to do for some people, for a few reasons:
  • Sometimes we're so busy doing that we haven't stopped to notice who we really are, what we really want, etc.
  • It's very tempting to fit in by conforming to somebody else's view of what we should be, because it can reduce conflict and doesn't require us to think.
  • It's can be scary to show our authentic self, because if some rejects us on account of our real self we've really been rejected.

If you feel uncomfortable in your own skin your inner self might be telling you that there's a contradiction right now between how you're being and how you naturally are. For instance - if you're all duded up in a tie to impress people but would rather be wearing jeans, you'll be uncomfortable until you show yourself in your "real" clothing. In the same way we put on clothing we put on behavior. Other people can sense our discomfort in our words, our body language, etc. And while we are out of alignment with ourselves we're interfering with our charisma.

When was the last time you stopped and considered (in written form) what your goals are, or what your purpose is? If you want to have a better idea of who you really are this will give you a point from which to work. Our daily lives keep us operating two inches away from the paper where we can't see the big picture, and in order to develop goals we need to stand back and take a longer view. We can do almost anything for a day or a week, but over time without intervention in that two-inch view we can form habits that are both inconsistent with our goals and unsuited to our authentic selves.

As for conformity - what would be the consequences if you chose NOT to conform in the areas that are important to you, the ones that feel really inauthentic right now? Would you be risking your job, your income? Would you be risking your key relationships? If not, then prioritize your relationship with yourself and start bringing yourself into alignment - after all, you're going to be living with yourself 24/7 as long as you're living. And if you DO have to take some big risks, think about the payoff. You might determine that some risks are worth it and some not. But every step you take toward making a conscious decision to fulfill your real self is a step you take toward becoming more authentic, and therefore more attractive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Do you have charisma?

Originally uploaded by Corey and Laura

It's been said that our president-elect has charisma. The photographer that took this photo said that when Barack Obama cracks a joke you laugh with him, because his smile is so engaging. So what is charisma, and can we all get it if we want it?

Wikipedia says that the word "charisma" comes from Greek, meaning gift or divine favor. People who are identified as having charisma have an extraordinary ability to attract other people. Sometimes the source of the charisma is physical attractiveness, but more often it stems from outstanding communication skills and authenticity. With a charismatic person you see is what you get, and most times the pull of charisma is linked to a positive energy that they exude.

You know as well as I do that in some respects our appearance is our appearance. Yes, there are things we can do to look better (wardrobe and grooming,) but some things like facial symmetry are indeed genetic gifts that we can't acquire without some major intervention. And although having a handsome face helps, it's not the biggest factor in our ability to attract and influence. There are several factors in charisma that we can nurture in ourselves:

  • Authenticity
  • Positive energy
  • Communication skills

Stay tuned over the next couple of days for some specifics on how you can become more charismatic and attract people to you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nobody wants to feel stupid

Originally uploaded by ookami_dou

I've talked before in this blog about the old-school philosophy that "you have it or you don't" that's used in hiring, promoting, etc. Just yesterday when discussing a problem with a work team leader a colleague said, "Well if it's not her core competency she shouldn't be doing that job." I don't necessarily agree with him. At least not until we take a few more steps.

I think in this case the person hasn't received the training to do the job effectively and she's doing the best she can. She doesn't have all of the team leadership tools she needs right now and she doesn't want to feel stupid, so she's toughing it out and pushing through. It's a training issue, and if she learns the techniques and tools she needs to be effective I have full confidence that she can meet expectations.

There certainly is a point at which, after training, if a person isn't cutting it you could choose to identify it as a core competency issue. But even that does not account for possible underlying attitudinal issues - a team leader, for example, may be operating under assumptions that it's their job to be the idea person rather than to seek input from the people doing the work. Or the leader might think that a lack of compliance from team members stems from them being slackers, not from a lack of understanding of the process and why it's done that way.

Nobody wants to feel stupid - not leaders and not team members. I just was part of a group yesterday where participants were resisting the activity they were being asked to do. What I realized partway through was that a number of the participants didn't have the technical knowledge they needed to do the activity successfully. Their reaction was to stand around, make jokes, or get frustrated. One or two of the participants who did have the information the team needed were running the show. And even though the "untrained" team members needed that information they were a little put out at seeing the knowledgeable team member take over.

Sometimes (maybe more often than not) we assume that people know more than they do. We ask, "Do you have any questions?" and get no response because they don't want to look stupid. If, on the other hand we ask, "What questions do you have?" we have told the group that questions are the rule, not the exception. We open the door to them asking a question without feeling like the only one who doesn't know.

I'm a big proponent of reinforcement training, refreshers, booster shots - whatever you want to call them. People retain information most reliably when they receive it via spaced repetition. Adapt your pacing on the refreshers to suit the level of competence of the group, going more slowly with more repetitions if they're not up to speed yet and going faster and with less intervention if they demonstrate that they know their stuff. Don't be satisfied with nodding heads - they might be nodding to save face. Have them actually do it. And create the setting that says it's OK not to know. The point is that you can create the expecation that when you don't know you find out.

Stupidity and ignorance are two different concepts. Ignorance is when you are uninformed - stupidity is when you can't get it even after you've been informed. If you embrace the idea it's OK to be ignorant and that the next step is find out the information you need - you'll succeed. Hiding your ignorance and trying to fake your way through - now that's stupid.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We did it!

I am so happy this morning I could just cry. I actually did, listening to President-elect Obama's acceptance speech on CNN first thing this morning.

What a thrilling day to be an American, with the record-breaking voter turnout across the country! People in line with me were photographing each other (outside where it's OK, of course) and many of them came to vote as a family, with young adults casting votes for the first time. This is what the process is all about.

As for the outcome, I am so hopeful that we can turn away from our cynicism of the past few years, the partisan infighting and the personal agendas to the pursuit of goodness, vision, and unity that benefits all Americans.

If you have not yet seen John McCain's gracious concession speech or Barack Obama's acceptance speech you can see them at
I dare you to come away uninspired.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote today!

American flag
Originally uploaded by yerffej9

Today is the opportunity that separates you from many people in the world - the opportunity to vote and choose the leader of our country. Exercise your right and cast your ballot.

This is not the day to beg off because it's not convenient. This is not the day to say that you don't know enough about the candidates to make an intelligent choice. This is not the day to say you can't because it's raining, or it's snowing, or it's windy, or you've got the sniffles, or the line is too long.

The events of the past few years have brought home the message only too clearly that your choice matters. The world can indeed be changed based upon the leadership of the United States. So choose carefully. Don't be swayed by superficial issues like the color of their skin or how much you like their hairdo. Think about their character, their intelligence, the quality of their team, their judgement and allow those criteria to help you decide.

And as for tomorrow - no matter who wins let's put the partisanship behind us. Let's get beyond the sniping and strategic sabotage and delay that prevents beneficial change from happening. We've got serious work to do and we need to get on with it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Are you using the spousal discount?

I was talking to someone the other day who said, "Yes, well you'd better repeat that to my wife. I've been telling her that same thing for years, but she won't believe it unless she hears it from somebody else."

Yikes! I thought that when we said "I do" it meant that we were joining with someone who would listen raptly to us for the rest of our lives. Even if the subject were boring to them, or our perspective ignorant in some way they would want to hear it because it was coming from US.

But after some completely unscientific research I've collected an enormous body of evidence that tells me I was completely wrong in that assumption. Even in my own experience - I've viewed a few of my husband's opinions with a jaundiced eye and I'm admitting it right here. (He already knows, trust me.) So how does the communication between husbands and wives erode from "whatever you say, dear," to "uh huh." (Translation: blah, blah blah, blah blah.)

I suppose that when you see someone 24/7 for a few years and you see all of their warts it taints your interpretation of their insights. Your mind morphs the most profound of their observations into, "Yes, I hear you, but you don't pick up your wet towels so you probably don't know what you're talking about." Is it really true that familiarity breeds contempt?

In a business application there's a corollary to the spousal discount concept called the 25-mile rule. Supposedly if you carry your briefcase more than 25 miles you're automatically considered more of an authority than the local folks are. Not exactly great ecologically, but perhaps we should all trade prospects and our close rates would go up. Ears would be more open, or perhaps purchases would be more likely because of the guilt factor associated with dismissing someone when they've made such an effort to get there!

Whether it's at work or at home we do ourselves an injustice when we automatically discount somebody's input. If we automatically tune someone out because they're less educated than us, or less experienced, or poorer, or younger, or lower on the food chain, or (heaven forbid) because we love them we're losing some potentially valuable input.

We can only control our half of the transaction, but when we automatically discount the other person's input we're discounting them. And we wouldn't want the same thing to happen to us. So maybe for the sake of not being discounted we should go first. Maybe we should be the first ones to give full value, to really attend to what is being said. We might find that it opens new doors on our relationships.