Lead from “Among” Not from “Above”

Stewart Emery (Success Built to Last) was over my house a few months ago.  At breakfast one morning he told me about an interview he did with a well-known billionaire in the computer industry.  The billionaire shared an intriguing story with Stewart about an experience he’d had when the senior executives of a company interested in purchasing his company visited his office to discuss the possible purchase.

Stewart Emery

 

At lunch, the billionaire told the senior executives of the company he was negotiating with that he was going to take them to the Executive Dining Room.  They followed him to the dining room which was very nice but not extravagant.  But that wasn’t the big surprise.  The surprise was that the dining room had a buffet line.  Moreover, the billionaire walked up to the buffet line, picked up a tray, and stood in line behind everyone else.  The executives looked around the room as it filled up and they realized that this room was not an “executive dining room” but was the company dining room.  The boss stood there in line with all the employees.  He spoke to everyone.   No one was afraid to talk to him.  In my opinion, he didn’t lead by being above them; he led by being among them.  Stewart told me that the billionaire said the management team was surprised by the fact that he and all the executives ate with all the employees.  One of them commented that this would have to change.  For the boss, it was a test.  This was not the kind of company that he wanted to sell his business to.  The negotiation ended that day.

Companies have a choice.  They can move toward exclusivity in their organizational culture or they can strive, commit, honor, and embrace inclusivity in their organizational culture.

Sometimes when people meet me, they say that they are surprised that I am approachable.   I find that interesting.  I think they feel this way because sometimes we, as leaders, act in a way that people perceive as unapproachable.  We act “better than” to other people.  I believe people should be surprised when a leader is unapproachable, not when they are approachable.  The problem is that we live in a world where success sometimes creates a sense of separation (with both the organizational leaders and others).  One of the key things to embrace in a successful company is the sense that the boss, the owner, the senior executive(s) are, in fact, approachable.

What are your thoughts on this matter?  Please feel free to share any relevant stories and experiences you may have.

Dumbest Online Comments

I recently read an article in FORTUNE magazine entitled “OMG!!! The End of Online Stupidity?”

The article was written a few years ago but it stated that “internet veterans have long complained about the steady erosion of civility — and worse, intelligence — in online discourse.”  I couldn’t help but think that things haven’t gotten much better in the last few years.

It never ceases to amaze me how some people behave online (especially if it is anonymous)!  For example, as I was reviewing survey responses to an online survey at BNIBusinessIndex.com, I read two comments that were almost hysterical in their stupidity.

The first response was in relation to the question “Where Do You Reside?”–a question which was accompanied by a list of answer options (including all the populated continents) from which the respondent was asked to select the continent they live in.  In an optional “additional comments” section attached to this question, one respondent felt the need to empatically state, “I’m located in AMERICA not North America!!!”  OK genius.  For the record, America is in North America!

My other . . . ahem . . . “favorite” response was from a person who went on a passionate rant about how “the survey is clearly just a form of ‘pull marketing.'”  He proceeded to ‘scream’ these instructions in all capital letters: “DO NOT USE MY E-MAIL FOR MARKETING PURPOSES!” 

Fair enough, that’s a reasonable ‘request’ . . . the only thing that puts a hitch in the logic of including these instructions is this: not once in any area of the survey are respondents asked to include their e-mail address (the survey is completely anonymous unless a respondent voluntarily offers their name or other info in one of the optional “additional comments” sections).  This respondent’s e-mail address was never once requested, nor was it recorded!  How exactly could we, the survey sponsors, possibly spam people effectively without ever actually trying to collect an e-mail addresses from anyone???

Suffice it to say that people are funny (euphemism for something else I’m thinking . . . I’ll leave it up to your imagination what that may be). 😉

I know I’m not the only one who has seen some whoppers as far as senseless online comments go and I’d love to add some more examples to my list (What?–They make GREAT stories! ) . . . what are some of the dumbest online comments you’ve seen on the internet lately?  Keep it clean though, please–my Mom reads my blog too and, trust me, according to her I’ll never be too old to get in trouble. 😉

 

 

 

Perception is Everything

I saw a presentation at a BNI Conference a couple years ago by Chick Gallagher, my Executive Director in Delaware and part of Pennsylvania.

In his presentation he talked about “perception” being relative and how small things can substantially alter one’s perception.  On one of his Power Point slides he had the words:

A woman without her man is nothing.

As you might suspect, it got loud boos from the audience.  Then, he added two commas to the wording.  It still fell in disfavor with the audience (especially the women):

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

Finally, without changing any words he simply changed the first comma to a colon and moved the second comma to a different place in order to make this sentence:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

As you might suspect – this sentence got loud applause from the audience (especially the women).  His point was that small changes in communication can completely alter the meaning of what is being communicated.

Punctuation is like people’s perception. A minor change can make a big difference in how the message is received and understood.

Have you run into this during your lifetime?  If so, share it here. 

ps. Before I posted this blog, I showed it to my wife.  She told me about a FaceBook page called: Let’s Eat Grandma OR Let’s Eat, Grandma.  The site says – see, punctuation saves lives!

 

What Richard Branson Can Teach You about Networking

I recently had a phone conversation with someone who was asking me about the importance of eye contact when networking.  I answered his question with an interesting story about Richard Branson and I’d like to share that story with you here because I think it demonstrates a point that’s definitely worth remembering.

One of the many intriguing things about Richard Branson is that he has this laser-focus eye contact.  When he is talking to you, he’s not looking to his left, looking to his right, or anywhere else other than directly at you–he gives you his full attention.

I remember talking with Richard, one time in particular, about kids and raising kids.  I was telling him about my son, Trey, who was fifteen at the time and very sharp but not as committed to school as he could be.

Six months later, I saw Richard at a party and introduced him to my son.  Branson remembered who Trey was from our previous conversation, and I have this photograph of him, where he has this laser eye contact with my son (see picture at right), and he kept that laser eye contact with Trey for three or four minutes straight while he was talking to him. All these people were around, vying for Branson’s attention, but he was completely focused on my son during their conversation. Branson wasn’t intense in terms of his speaking—he was actually very relaxed—but he was impressively intense in his focus. The only person in that room, during that three or four-minute time span, was my son. Here’s a guy who never went to college, and he was telling my son. “Go to college. I spoke to your dad! You can do better. I have faith in you!”

Now, keep in mind, Trey doesn’t get impressed by anybody (or at least, like a typical teenager, he certainly doesn’t make a habit of showing that he’s impressed–if you have teenagers, I’m sure you’re more than used to being responded to with a shrug, a bored expression, and the words “it was okay,” or “yeah, (so and so) was cool, I guess . . .”   ;-)) .  Actually, I don’t think my son even understood who Branson was at the time of their conversation but I asked him afterward, “What did you think of that conversation?”  His very uncharacteristic response was, “That was amazing!”  I’m more than confident that what really did it for Trey, what really impressed him, was how, for those few minutes, he had Branson’s undivided attention.

I’ve had a chance to see Branson several times now, and he’s just a master at giving people his undivided attention. After his conversation with Trey, when he moved to the next person, the next conversation, he gave that person his undivided attention.

The thing is, giving people your undivided attention is one of the most important things you can do in order to become a master networker, and making a concentrated effort to maintain eye contact when engaging a conversation is imperative in order to demonstrate to somebody that they are receiving your undivided attention.

So, the next time you’re networking with someone and distractions surrounding you are tempting your eyes to stray from the person you’re speaking with, think of Richard Branson and remember to keep a laser focus on the person and conversation at hand–it’s one of the things that will make you a true master.

Do you have an interesting experience about networking and eye contact?  If so, share it here.

Being Right But Doing It All Wrong!

The business I’m in involves a lot of coaching and guiding of franchisees to teach them how to coach and guide entrepreneurs, salespeople, and professionals to generate referrals for themselves and others.  Sometimes this feels a little like ‘herding cats’; entrepreneurs hate being told what to do and it takes a real skill set to move them in a direction that involves a lot of hard work but will help them achieve the results they want.

One of the biggest challenges I have in this process is not with the actual entrepreneur or salesperson but with the individual I’m coaching to be able to guide the entrepreneur or salesperson. These people have gone through many hours of training, tend to have a fair amount of field experience, and have support manuals that exceed a thousand pages of documentation to assist in the process.   They are true expertsI’ve discovered, however, that sometimes expertise can actually be a problem. Just because your expertise may arm you with the knowledge to recognize the solution to a problem or challenge, it doesn’t mean other people are going to automatically ‘believe’ you know the solution and/or want you to actually tell them the solution.  I know that sounds counter intuitive; however, if you’ve ever raised a child, you know that this is often times absolutely true!

So, let’s say you’re an expert.  You know you’re an expert.  You know that you can help someone else.  You also know that this “someone else” is a grownup who runs their own business or is an independent sales rep who chose their particular career for good reason . . . they like the freedom of being independent.  How do you move these people in the right direction?

I had a person who worked for my company who once went into one of my locations and was appalled by how badly things were being run by the members of the group.  She let them know in no uncertain terms what they were doing wrong and how they needed to turn it around. Her assessment of the situation and the solutions she proposed were spot on but her presentation of them was all wrong. She was so blunt with the group’s members that she received a very negative reaction from them and ended up leaving the place an even bigger mess than it was when she first walked in.  When I met with her to talk about how she might have done things differently, she grew furious with me for not supporting her since she was right and the members of the group were wrong.  I wasn’t arguing that she was right–she was.  The problem I had was how she handled the situation–in that area, she was completely wrong. I tried to explain this to her by sharing one of my favorite sayings relating to the dilemma:  “Don’t burn down the barn to roast the pig.” In other words, don’t make things worse than you found them when you were trying to fix them in the first place.

She could never really wrap her head around the concept that people may not welcome her advice with enthusiasm and agree with her stance on an issue when she was clearly right.  She didn’t work for me for much longer (make of that what you will) and, eventually, we got an expert to work with that group who ‘listened’ to their issues,  Built relationships with the group members, and then coached them into achieving the greatness they had within them.  It’s important to note that this process took time and patience.

There are two things I try to teach people in this situation.

First, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you want people to listen to you when you are coaching them or re-directing them, they have to know that you care about them and want them to succeed.  If they don’t know this down to their core – they will not listen to your advice.  Ever.

Second, is a saying given to me by mother on a paper weight when I was about 16 years old and I was running an uphill battle for a student council race.  My mother gave me this paper weight (which is still on my desk in my home to this date).  The paper weight says: Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” When she gave me that, she explained that I had to learn how to work “with” people – not “through” people.  She said that even if I did know the answer to a problem – it did no good if no one else believed me.  That advice helped me win the election and it has helped me many times throughout my life.  I have to admit that I don’t always use it as well as I can – however, when I do use it, things almost always go more smoothly.

The bottom line is this: being right doesn’t help much if no one is willing to follow you.

What are your thoughts on this issue?  Maybe you can share a story . . . but, remember to keep it positive.  Let’s focus on positive outcomes more than just horror stories.

"New Year’s Resolutions and Networking"

A friend of mine, TR Garland (pictured with me in the photo at right), just wrote a great blog entry which contains some very timely information for many people across the globe and I’d like to take the opportunity to share it with you today as a guest blog.  Enjoy . . .

“New Year’s Resolutions and Networking” by TR Garland

In about 30 days, the majority of people around the world are going to be faced with the same thing we’re all faced with once at a certain point every single year.

No, I’m not talking about keeping a smile on your face while spending the holidays with your in-laws (wink-wink).  I’m talking about setting New Year’s Resolutions.

Every year, one of the top resolutions is to “get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of us already know how to get in shape:

1.  Design a nutritional plan and stick to it

2.  Design a workout schedule and stick to it

3.  Track your actions and results daily and recalibrate if needed

The problem is, a large percentage of people don’t reach their goals because:

1.  They don’t write out a formal nutrition plan or workout schedule

2.  They don’t hold themselves accountable

In other words, life gets in their way.

So what can be done about this?  Well, there’s something about human psychology that pushes us to not let someone else down. Because of this, people who invest in a personal trainer to help keep them accountable tend to achieve desired results much more consistently than they ever would by attempting to get in shape on their own.

It’s important to note that this same concept holds true for business networking and referral marketing.

Many people are spending a lot of time networking by just chatting away with others and maybe grabbing others’ business cards.  By doing this, they then expect results; they expect that the people whom they’ve met and exchanged business cards with will eventually pass a referral to them.  This mindset is called being reactive ( . . . and hoping for the best!).  Being reactive is an employee  mindset or mentality that, in my opinion, gets placed into the same category as punch cards, guaranteed smoke breaks, assembly lines, benefits entitlement, and cubicles.  In other words, this mindset is something that isn’t really that viable anymore in today’s economic environment.

If you don’t believe me, look around and note which businesses are thriving and hiring.  I’m confident you’ll discover that the businesses which are doing well are those that do not have a reactive mindset and, instead, maintain an entrepreneurial mindset.

An entrepreneurial mindset is one that takes ownership and focuses on being proactive versus reactive.  Just like the “getting in shape” example above, being proactive and accountable in your business networking and referral marketing efforts is a sure-fire way to get results–plain and simple.

So, especially if you’ll be out attending holiday parties in the coming 30 days with your spouse, significant other, family, or friends, remember to be proactive with your networking efforts.  Go to each event with a purpose (in addition to your goal of having fun).  Don’t simply gather business cards, that’s not what I’m talking about.  Instead, set relevant and realistic networking goals and ask the person you went with to hold you accountable to your goals.

And, of course, there’s a time and a place for everything.  You need to respect the event you’re attending and if the environment doesn’t warrant you achieving certain networking goals . . . grab a celebratory beverage and some festive treats and remember, there’s always next year!

* TR Garland is a Referral Marketing Strategist for the Referral Institute® in Orange County, California where he is a consultant to top performers and entrepreneurs on maximizing their ROI/ROT from business contacts and networking.  Starting in 2011, you can follow TR for his tips, tactics, and techniques on effective networking at his newly launched blog located at www.BeABetterNetworker.com.

 

A Networking Trick for the 21st Century

Years ago I wrote about a great technique to get people to come to me for their referral needs.  However, I recently saw a modern twist to this great idea that I’d like to share with you today.

Here’s a little background information on the original concept:

Since the late ’80s I’ve been training people to use a little networking trick that will enable them to give referrals to more people (which of course leads to getting more referrals for themselves).  I talk about this trick in one of my early columns for Entrepreneur.com as well as a blog I wrote last year entitled: Use This Networking Trick to Increase Business.

In a nutshell, the technique is to compose a letter that you give to your clients and contacts which states that an important part of your business is to give referrals to people looking for services that you recommend (you can find a more detailed explanation, along with a sample letter, by clicking on the link given above).

Here’s the interesting, modern twist:

Terry Burkot has created a 21st century version of this same networking technique by adding video to the equation.  She still sends a personal message to all the people in her network; however, she doesn’t write a letter, she instead sends a video message which really utilizes the tools we have available to us in this world full of constantly-evolving technology.

Terry used my idea (which was so last century :)) and really improved on it.  Well done, Terry!

I’d love to hear your comments on what you think of this modern twist to networking.

What Is Your Company’s Competitive Position?

To find out how you stack up against your competition, take a little time to analyze your competitive status. This exercise will help you understand and emphasize your unique selling position.  How do you differ, and how can you position yourself for the best competitive advantage?

There’s no single formula for conducting a competitive analysis; it’s mostly just good business sense.  Try to stay aware of what your competition is doing and how your business stacks up against it.  For example:

  • Are your prices and costs competitive? — Do customers who compare costs come back to you?
  • Do you compete effectively in terms of product or service quality?
  • Are you seen as the vendor of choice? — Why do people seek you out?
  • Are you growing, losing ground or just holding onto your market share? — Are you waiting to see what will happen and hoping to react in time?

Staying competitive also implies being aware of trends and reacting to changes faster than your competitors. How will changes in technology and society affect the competition? Are your products or services more advanced than those of your competition? Do your competitors have the jump on you with online marketing/social media?

Understanding the driving forces in your industry — growth rates, shifts in buyer demographics, product and marketing innovations, the entry or exit of other competitors, changes in cost or efficiency and so forth — will make you a top competitor.

I highly encourage you to take some time this week to sit down and ask yourself the questions listed above. Once you’ve done this, come back and leave a comment explaining what you learned about your company’s competitive position.

What’s the Payoff for Developing an Effective Word-of-Mouth Strategy?

Developing an effective word-of-mouth strategy that results in a strong referral-based business takes endless time, energy, effort and, above all, commitment. The actions and steps necessary to create a successful referral-networking campaign are simple, yet far from easy; they take tremendous dedication and drive, and results can be a long time in coming.

So why should you put forth the time and effort to develop a word-of-mouth strategy for your business?  Because, if you commit to doing it right and don’t give up, the payoff can be unbelievably high.

In fact, many businesses have become so adept at referral marketing that they get most of their sales through referrals and spend little or no money on advertising — and they never have to place cold calls. Some of these businesses hire most of their employees through referrals, manage complex financing arrangements and even procure necessary products through referral contacts they have cultivated for many years.

But a referral-based business can reward you in ways beyond those measured in dollars. Dealing with people you like and trust is a better way to live and work than sparring with strangers all day long. You may even find the relationships you form with your referral sources more important than the dollars your new customers bring you. Such relationships are central to both the referral-generation process and the satisfaction you derive from your work.

So, the next time you find yourself doubting whether your networking efforts are really worth it, remember: If you don’t give up, and you continually devote yourself to working on making your word-of-mouth strategy better and better, the payoff can be enormous both financially and in terms of happiness in business and life.

Expanding Your Overall Sphere of Influence

The foundation of any word-of-mouth marketing effort is people.  Your sphere of influence represents the overall number of people with whom you network. These are people you know either very well or as casual acquaintances.  To evaluate your sphere of influence, take inventory of the people you already know.

Surprisingly, many people have never established effective networking relationships with others they’ve known for a long time.  Preparing your inventory is as simple as asking yourself, “Whom do I know?” or, “Who knows me?” This includes everyone with whom you interact or might interact with, personally or professionally:

  • Clients
  • Business associates
  • Vendors
  • Creditors
  • Employees
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Others

Go through your software database, e-mail contacts, Rolodex, mobile phone contacts and business card collection. Discard the names of all people who have moved on or with whom you’ve lost touch. Analyze your relationships with the ones you feel are still current. Ask yourself, “How well do I know them?” Then determine whether each individual is a Strong Contact (a close associate with whom you will network actively) or a Casual Contact (an acquaintance with whom you will network passively).

Remember, the more people you network with actively, the greater your sphere of influence will be.

Think You Don’t Need a Network?–Think Again . . .

As a small-business professional or entrepreneur, how do you:

  • Get advice and help when problems arise
  • Gather the information you need for making important business decisions
  • Identify your markets and locate potential clients?

Unfortunately, most people get help in times of need from individuals or businesses they don’t know well. Instead of anticipating and planning for needs and emergencies, they are forced to react to every situation. They search the internet or ask friends and associates to help solve problems or recommend solutions, even though these people may not have the necessary expertise, and the sources they recommend may have little relevance to or experience with the business operation that is in need.

As a small-business owner, you don’t have the built-in resources to employ a management team to plan ahead, proactively problem solve, obtain and maintain ready access to vital resources–information, personnel, funding–and make informed decisions quickly in an emergency.  What you need is the functional equivalent of a management team and that is exactly what a network is for!

Your network is a systematically and strategically selected group of people on whom you can call as the need arises. It is a diverse, balanced and powerful system of sources–people from all facets of the business world–that will provide referrals, information and support in key areas of your business or profession, over both the short and the long term.

So, if you know someone who doesn’t want to put in the time and effort to establish a network because he thinks his business is just fine without one, do him a huge favor and explain why he needs to think again.

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