Ready Or Not…

“…8, 9, 10!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

–     Surely you don’t need me to attribute this one, right?  

When our eldest was in the hide-and-seek stage, she would routinely yell, “NO!  Not yet, Daddy!  I no ready!”  She wouldn’t say “I’m not ready,” it was a very adamant “I no ready!

What a business lesson that can be!

Too much of what we do in business these days is based on speed.  Too often, we simply insert “go” where “no” might be the more prudent approach.

Said differently, there’s value in knowing when “we no ready!” as long as it doesn’t become paralyzing.  General Patton’s admonishment (“a good plan ruthlessly executed today is better than a perfect plan two weeks from now…”) is a solid counter-balance here.

If we have a good plan, we’re ready.  Maybe not completely ready, just ready.  And unless we’re at least just ready, there’s value in saying, “NO!  We no ready!” until we are.

To paraphrase Dad, and as I quoted last week in this post, there’s no reason to use action as a default for getting ready.



Beyond Training – Permanent Improvement

“Perfection is self-defeating.  Constant, daily improvement is empowering.” 

–     A mentor, in reply to one of his team saying, “I won’t rest until it’s perfect…”

Training is great for skills.  Training is great for fundamentals.

Learning, though; learning is the key to constant, daily improvement.

Harvard Business Review wrote about this topic in an article (Reprint #R1903H) a few weeks ago.

The core of their position is that our teams are more adaptable than we often think they are, and that they really do understand, or at least sense, feel and internalize shifts in markets and the impact they have on our companies and our teams.  Ironically, the teams, HBR says, tend to be more optimistic about what lies ahead than do leaders.

Successfully maximizing the opportunities we face today involves establishing and living a learning culture, engaging the teams to help build and adapt it and collaborate, across lines, across companies and within organizations.  More ideas are better.  Remember, ideas are the currency of difference makers.

Last, and most certainly not least, if we can’t embrace uncertainty, we must at least have a plan to manage it, to make it a topic of conversation and to honor its place in our teams, broader organizations and the hearts and minds of the people we lead.

We’ll never be perfect.  But imagine the difference it will make when we get a little bit better, every day!

There’s No “I” in “TEAM,” or is there?

“Michael, I need your help.  I need you to realize that there is no “I” in team,” said Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever to live.  “Phil, that’s cool,” replied Jordan, “I just need you to understand there IS one in “WIN!”

–     An exchange between the new (at the time) coach and his superstar player shortly before they won six championships in seven years

The fact of the matter, of course, is that there are several “I’s” in “team.”  Eleven at a time in football.  Five at a time in basketball.  70 at a time with one of my clients.  Teams tend to be as strong as their weakest “I’s,” so giving each “I” an understanding of it’s place in the team is the responsibility of coaches and leaders in sport, business, family, etc.

The Toronto Raptors ended the Golden State Warriors streak of championships last night.  Kyle Lowry stepped up as a major “I” in the deciding game, yet Kawhi Leonard won the series Most Valuable Player award for being a dominant “I” across the six-game total body of work.

Yesterday, in a meeting I saw people named Tina, Courtney, Marc, Brian, Kip and Dustin all use their “I” to make the team more better.  And yes, “more better” is still a technical term.

Are there times that I’s have to set themselves back a bit to help the team win?  Of course.  Kawhi only had six points in the first 20 points of the game last night, while Lowry had nearly 20 points in the first 12 minutes.  Which is exactly what set up a reversal of impact later in the game.  So, while suppressing our “I” sometimes is called for, maximizing it in the context of the other “I’s” around us is what puts the “I’s” in team.

The leaders job is to draft and hire the right “I’s” so that 11 = more than 11.  So that 5 = more than 5.  So that 70 = more than 70.  So that outcomes = more than expectations.

In short, there are lots of “I’s” in “win.”  Each “I” has to come to work with that in mind.  Each “coach” has to build an environment where they come together for a greater good than if they went it alone.

In business.  In sport.  In life.  It’ll make a difference.


The Smell of Diesel Exhaust

“Don’t just do something!  Stand there!”

–     Dick Heston (1933 -2002), my dad, mentor, friend and the voice I miss most

Yesterday afternoon, I drove behind a diesel tractor moving from one field to another.  The smell of diesel exhaust always takes me home, usually to memories of late nights, plowing to get ready to plant, the aroma of turned soil and diesel exhaust bringing me back to my dad.  Back home.

There are sometimes lots of moving parts.  Confusion.  Static.  Distractions.

Dad was a master at just soaking it in, and not doing something just to be busy.

Activity isn’t always our friend.  Reflective thought steps in then.  Contemplative thought.  “What if?” thought.

If today, you’ve got too much to do, don’t just do something.  Stand there, until you figure out what to do — next.

The Only…

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

–     Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677), Dutch philosopher, as quoted in the 2001 Gallup / Buckingham / Clifton classic book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths”

I’m working with a company who believes in Strengths-Based Leadership as much as I do.  That’s joyful time spent, let me tell you!

It got me thinking…

Buckingham and Clifton were right, 18 years ago, and they’re right today, in both the macro and micro senses.

Honoring who we are — the wiring God put in us — and diligently becoming who we’re capable of becoming is the only.  Yes, I actually finished that sentence.  It’s the “only.”  It’s difficult for others to knock us off course, and it’s easy for us to make progress when we’re focused on those two variables.

And, more often than not, we’ll make a difference…


Entitlement Schmitlement

“Here’s the deal:  The more you think you’re entitled to, the less you will be grateful for.”

–     John Ortberg, in his book “Soul Keeping; Caring For The Most Important Part of You

This is not a political commentary or a summary view of kids these days.  (Dad always said, “Kids these days!” as if we were every bit as dopey as we were….but I digress…)

It’s about having a spirit of thankfulness.  Of gratitude.

It’s about seeing the silver lining in the darkest cloud.  It’s about realizing that this side of the grass is, for the most part, better than the other — although since Ortberg is a Presbyterian Pastor, an argument could be made that the good stuff comes….oh, never mind….  It’s about being positive, even in a Twitter™-based world of haters and “experts” who don’t know much at all…

Being grateful might be as simple as looking at the glass as half full and the water as crystal clear.  Ortberg is a great, conversational author, and his books have had an impact on millions.  This one “take,” though, most likely trumps his other perspectives.

The world owes me nothing.  The closer I stay in tune with that fact, the more grateful I will be, even in times of ickiness.

Make it a great weekend.

When It Rains…

“Momentum begets momentum, and the best way to start is to start.”

–     Gil Penchina (b. 1969), former CEO of Wikia, current business advisor and leader

In the Midwest, it has rained.  A lot.  When it rains, it pours, so the old cliche holds true.  For those affected by storms and flooding, and for the farmers who may not get a crop this year, prayers are with you.

It’s true in other areas of life and business.

When it rains…

Some people say things “come in threes.”  Good things.  Bad things.  Lucky breaks.  Unlucky breaks.

I don’t know if that’s true, but starting really is the best way to start.

If we’re on a roll, start something extra to stay on the roll.  “Shooters shoot,” as my high school basketball coach said.  “Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot!”

If we’re down on our luck, start something different, start a new habit or break an old one.

It’s easy to get paralyzed by momentum.  “I can’t catch a break,” or “I can’t miss!  I’ll just keep on keepin’ on!”

As fickle as momentum can be, the best way to get it is to start.  The best way to change it is to start something different.

We can’t control the rain.  We can control what we do…next.

Add Some Value

“Add some value!”

–     Gary Domke (1962 – 2019), my late friend, not-so-subtle philosopher and “speaker of truths”

My friend, Gary Domke, or “O” as we knew him, passed a couple months ago, as noted in this post.

Sunday night, a memorial service was held in the western Chicago suburbs, and dozens, if not hundreds of “O” stories were shared.

Gary never missed a sporting event of his kids, and he admonished them repeatedly during games to “add some value.”

He used the line with all of us, as well.

I won’t recount the man who was Gary, it’s covered in the post, linked above.

But as his daughter and her twin siblings related the “add some value” stories, it occurred to me that if our goal is to make a difference, that’s a great place to start.

Late on Sunday night, as we began to go our separate ways, there were hugs, a few tears, a lot of laughter and, over and over again, shouts to “add some value.”

It’s enough for me that Gary will appreciate us using that reminder more frequently.  It’ll be enough in our workaday lives if we make it our primary goal for each day.

Make a difference?  Add some value!

So long, O!  You added value, my friend…

After Further Review…

“Prior to the snap, false start, everybody but the center…”

–     Walt Anderson, NFL referee, in one of the funniest moments in sports officiating

Instant replay.  Like it?  Hate it?

In sports, it’s not going away.  The NFL owners spent most of yesterday figuring out how to get it closer to right without adding time to already-too-long games.

In business, we ought to use it more, and more frequently.

We don’t (and shouldn’t) have multi-camera, super-slo-motion replays of our meetings and presentations, but the exercise of re-playing is perhaps even more important in what we do than it is in what those big dudes do in helmets and pads.

Why?  Because what we do puts groceries on our tables, those of our teammates and our clients.  What we do educates our kids and their kids.  What we do makes a difference for people we see every day in our towns, churches, parks and grocery stores.

Yet often, we miss the opportunity to “watch the replay.”

“That was a great meeting!” we often hear or say.  “That was a train wreck,” we moan when the meeting went off track (pun intended).  Was it?  Was it great or awful? Was it seen, felt experienced the same way by all participants?

Yes, no or maybe, no surprise here, the key is to drive to “Why?”

Doing a review of every client interaction and every meaningful internal interaction is important if our goal is to get better every day.

It’s especially important at the end of a sales cycle.  A win review captures the reasons we get deals, and then we can socialize and document those drivers for the benefit of other teammates.  A loss review captures the reason we lose business, and might be even more important — because if we can correct it and when we do, we move the needle, perhaps dramatically.

One word of caution on loss reviews.  I’m winging it here, but in my 35 years of leading sales professionals, 87.8% of them have told me, on first review, that we lost on price.  Um, no, we probably didn’t.  It’s another reason the replay is so important — if we start changing, dropping or becoming inconsistent on pricing as a first defense when we lose, we’re eroding the very base of our business.

It’s also why the sales person probably shouldn’t conduct the loss or win review.  While this exercise may ultimately be about growing their skill set, it’s about dispassionately getting to the reason the deal happened or didn’t happen, and removing the ego and emotional engagement of the person selling the deal is important to get accurate, unbiased feedback.

Loss Review questions, a partial list:  “What question should we have asked?  What question should we have asked sooner?  What piece of information did we not know but should have known?  Did we validate “BAIT?” (Budget, Authority, Intent and Timeline).  Did we listen, learning where their pain really was, or did we just prescribe our “antibiotic,” hoping they’d feel better and give us some credit?

Win Review questions, a partial list:  “If you had to break down this decision to one reason, what was it that made you choose us?”  “You considered five different providers.  What was it that made you confident we were the correct choice for you?”  “Thank you for the business.  What concerns do you have with your choice, so that we can make sure we handle those, in addition to delivering what you bought?”  “Do you have friends, colleagues, people in your network that are facing these same challenges?  Would you feel good introducing us to them?”

Internal meeting questions, a partial list, including one to begin with:  “What is it that you want to have at the end of this meeting that you don’t have now, that will have made it a great use of your time?”  Then, after the meeting, “Did you get ________?”  “On a scale of 1-10, how productive a use of your time was this meeting?  How could we have made it better?”  “Is everyone clear with the next steps and to-do’s that we established, and committed to the timelines we agreed to?”  “What do you need to make this meeting immediately actionable in your part of the team?”

Long post.  Sue me.  And, I’d apologize if it wasn’t really important stuff.

“Looking at the replay,” whether it’s under the hood in front of 70,000 in a stadium and a few million on TV, or whether it’s just with our partner or client, face-to-face or on the phone, helps us get better, correct mistakes, and avoid repeating them.  Looking at the replay will make a difference.

After further review — we’ll get better.  Each and every time.

The Power of The Story

“There’s nothing more powerful than a good story.”

–     Tyrion Lannister, one of the lead characters in the recently-ended HBO series, “Game of Thrones”

In Westeros, in life, business-in-general and certainly in professional selling there is nothing more powerful than a good story.  There’s also nothing more important.

Our story is all we have.

Funny thing about widgets, they’re all, in the end, widgets.  It’s our story that makes our widget less-widgety.  It’s our story that connects with the reason a buyer buys.  It’s our story that helps them attach our cure to their pain.

We’ve touched on this multiple times before, too.  If we have a story, we must commit to telling it skillfully and compellingly, with purpose and with intent to do good.  It might take a few days or a couple weeks to figure out what our story is.  It’s a career-long commitment to telling it flawlessly that turns the power to super-power.