Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lead to Please?

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody – Bill Cosby

@sk any Green Bay Packers fan and they will tell you without any hesitation that the infamous call at the end of the game against Seattle was blown and it cost them the game. Before the lockout with the regular NFL officiating crew was ended, the replacement referees were in an unenviable situation of trying to please the players, coaches, and fans. It was a daunting task.

It reminds me of the story of the boy who rode on a donkey as the old man walked. As they went along, they passed some people who remarked, "It’s a shame the old man is walking and the boy is riding." The man and the boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people who remarked, "What a shame, he makes that little boy walk." They decided they both would walk. Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying, "How awful to put such a load on a poor donkey." The boy and man said they were probably right so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed a bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned. The moral of the story: If you try to please everyone, you will eventually lose your a_ _.

Jules Ormont said, “A great leader never sets himself above his followers except in carrying out responsibilities.” And while he makes an excellent point it is worth bearing out that a leader’s greatest challenge is in trying to please everyone. Not only is it not possible, but it will stress you out in the process. So what is a leader to do? Here are three things to remember when it would appear you are about to lose you a _ _.

Be a leader of principle not of politics. One of the hardest things for new leaders to learn is how to stand on principle and not be swayed by the expediency of office politics. It is much harder to stand alone when making decisions that run counter to popular opinion. After all, who doesn’t want to be liked?

In their book, Winning: The Answers, Jack and Suzy Welch state, “Your number one priority is to win in the marketplace so that you can continue to grow and provide opportunities for your people. Of course, you want your employees to be happy. But their happiness needs to come from the company’s success, not from their every need being met.” That is excellent advice every leader must learn. Lead from your convictions and principles; not politics.

Be a leader of purpose not of power. This is where most in leadership slip up. Some make the mistake that it is the quest for power that matters most. But when the quest for power is your chief motivation then your purpose (mission and vision) tends to take a back seat.

“There seems to be two main paths for people to get ahead in organizations,” writes John Maxwell. “One way is to try to get ahead by doing the work. The other is to try to get ahead by working an angle. It’s the difference between production and politics.” He’s right. When your purpose is clear and everyone is committed to the vision, you will not have to worry about power. Be a leader of purpose, on purpose, and you will go far.

Be a leader for your people not your position.Whenever a leader thinks it is about his position and not about people he will not be a leader for long.  In the process these na├»ve leaders fail to remember this simple rule of leadership: your position does not give you the advantage; leadership does. Positions come and go, but the leader who endures is the one who is committed to serving his people.

Leadership is tough enough without trying to please everyone. When you make it your practice to lead by your principles, lead on purpose, and lead your people then you will the leader who has earned the respect of the people.

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shaping the Future of Leadership

Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change – Thomas Hardy

In a recent USA Today feature ( leaders from various walks of life shared their insights as to what they believe world will look like in 30 years. It was a fascinating read. Here are a few highlights.

Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor sees exciting developments in the future of ground transportation over the next three decades: a world in which cars will run on electricity, hydrogen or other energy alternatives and will be interconnected with smart phones in ways that make getting from one place to another more efficient and safer than ever. They have even begun tinkering with systems that monitor pollen counts for asthma suffers and heartbeats for heart patients.

British entrepreneur Richard Branson predicts space flight will be nearly as common for travelers as taking a plane trip. “In the past 30 years, only 500 people have been to space. I suspect in the next 30 years there may be like 5 million people who will have had the opportunity to become astronauts,” he said.

Sebastian Thrun, a Google vice president and Stanford research professor best known for his role in building Google’s driverless cars has some amazing predictions about the future of education. He believes that learning will be free and available to everyone who wants it while operating like a whimsical playground: No one is late for class, failure is not an option, and a lesson looks something like Angry Birds, the physics-based puzzle game.

While it is hard to imagine what life will be like in 30 years these predictions made for compelling reading and speculation. It also caused me to give consideration as to the future of leadership and what it too will look like. We can get a glimpse of what leadership will look like in 30 years by looking to the top companies for leadership development today.

Earlier this year, the Hay Group, the global management consulting firm, released its seventh annual Best Companies for Leadership Study and Top 20 list ( The study ranks the best companies for leadership around the world and examples of how those companies nurture talent and foster innovation. This year, General Electric topped the list, followed by Proctor & Gamble, IBM, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.

Key findings from the Hay Group include: 100% of the Best Companies let all employees behave like leaders. Only 54% of peers do likewise; leadership boosts the bottom line. Best companies outperform the S&P 500 almost 2x over 10 years; 90% of Best Companies let employees bypass the chain of command with an excellent idea; in Best Companies, 95% of senior leaders take time to actively develop others. Only 45% of leaders at peer companies do this.

Shaping the future of leadership is not as complicated as space travel nor does it require futuristic technology. Leadership in 2042 is being determined by our actions and beliefs today. Here are three reminders worth review as you consider the future of leadership.

Build a strong foundation. Your core values and principles are what define you, sustain you, and cause you to endure. The foundations of leadership are built on time-tested principles that include trust, loyalty, relationships, and servanthood to name a few. Re-package and market it any way you choose, but these will always be the underlying principles of whatever “new” leadership trend that emerges.

Invest in others. The succession of leadership and what it will look like in 2042 is being determined by the relationships and investments you make in others today. When you build the leadership potential in others (family, colleagues, students, etc.) you are securing the leadership of the next generation. As the Hay Group points out, those who are committed to building strong leadership in others are the leaders in their industry now and in the future.

Commitment to a personal growth plan. The shape and future of leadership depends on your personal growth plan.  Charlie “Tremendous” Jones summed it up best when he said, “You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” Personal growth does not happen by accident. It happens when you have a plan and execute it.

Shaping the future of leadership begins one leader at a time and it begins with you. Are you ready?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

* What are your thoughts on shaping the future of leadership? Share them in the comment box below!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dodging Bricks

A successful man is the one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him?  - David Brinkley

The nation watched in horror when the video tape emerged showing the bullying of 68-year old school bus monitor Karen Klein. According to ABC News more than 32,000 people went online and donated more than $700,000 to her after they saw the inexcusable way in which she was bullied by middle school students in a suburban Rochester, N.Y. suburb.

In the months since that incident Klein has moved forward with the next chapter of her life in a most surprising way. Actually, what she has done is quite admirable. Klein took $100,000 of the money and has started The Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation. (

If I have learned one thing about leadership over the years it is this: adversity brings out the best in leaders. It was Henry Ford who said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy,” and that is what Klein is doing – finding a remedy. Klein’s actions compel me to look within my own heart and consider the way I would react if I were in her shoes. Could I have been so gracious as to do the same? How about you? What will you do with the bricks others have thrown at you? Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

Let it go. Leaders often find themselves in unique and unenviable situations. Leaders are easy targets not because they are like the brick throwers but because they are bigger.  And when people throw bricks it can be a challenge. Leaders set themselves apart not when they pick up the brick with revenge in mind but a purpose. Klein’s purpose was clear. What was meant to harm is now being used to heal. The choice and the possibilities are powerful. When you learn to let it go you can go to a higher level of leadership.

Be an example. When generous people from across the country reached out through their donations she easily could have taken the money and fled. Klein’s actions are characteristic of leaders who have, through the school of hard-knocks, learned that the best revenge is to take the bricks others have thrown and do something useful. Anger and resentment toward those who wronged her would have accomplished nothing. 

Now, through the work of her foundation, Klein can educate others and make a difference. Klein, like all smart leaders, are empowered by adversity and use it to demonstrate what makes them so special.  With your bricks you can build or bash, what will you do with yours?

Live your values. By choice and for little pay, Karen Klein worked as a school bus monitor because she cared. The way in which she responded to the bullying is testament to her character. Adversity did not shape her values it merely revealed them. The fact that she would take $100,000 and start an anti-bullying foundation should come as no surprise.

Here is a leadership truth worth remembering: values do not change with your circumstances but give you clarity when they do. In good times and in adversity your values shape you as a leader and as an organization.

Let’s be clear—bricks hurt. We don’t like being attacked. But when you learn to let it go, lead by example, and live your values there is a satisfaction and peace that gives you the courage to lead.

© Doug Dickerson    

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** This column originally appeared in the International Business Times

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Is Your Customer Service Performance Sustainable?

If the world is cold make it your business to build fires – Horace Traubel

In a recent Gallup Business Journal feature, Scott Simmons and Christie Fraser reported on the state of customer service in the hospital industry. Notable in their findings: hospitals try to deliver the best healthcare outcomes and good customer service, but many are falling short. They say that the key to turning things around is by improving service demands that truly has a focus on the patient.

Be it the hospital industry or any other business where customer service is essential to survival it is important to look at how customer service is delivered. But it is imperative to look at that service through the eyes of leadership to determine if your performance is sustainable. Leadership expert John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. He’s right. So does customer service.

The findings in a recent Bellingham Biz Review article revealed that “Companies can lose business because of dissatisfied clients. Did you know that only two to four percent of dissatisfied customers ever complain to a business regarding a poor experience? Conversely, they tell upwards of 20 people about the bad experience.” Ouch! If the customer is the life blood of your business doesn’t it stand to reason that intentional service-based leadership skill is a priority? Simply put, you need to EQUIP your team. Here are my five principles that can help you chart the course going forward.

Educate everyone. An essential component of any successful service-based business is team members who are knowledgeable. To that end, your customer service team should undergo product training for the benefit of the customer; leadership training for theirs.

Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Essential to good customer service is good management. Essential to outstanding customer service is good leadership. When you combine the two through intentional leadership education you have the making of a powerful team.

Question everything. The purpose here is not to foster skepticism but to constantly evaluate processes and outcomes and to be sure that every advantage you need is in play. Malcolm Forbes said, “The smart ones ask when they don’t know. And, sometimes, when they do.” To fully understand whether your service performance is sustainable and going in the right direction you have to ask.

Understand expectations. At the heart of the customer service experience is a set of expectations that are in play. The only way to know the expectations of your customers is to know the customer. Knowing that is the easy part. Staying informed and ahead of the curve is another creature. It is important that your team knows that your customers are not transactions; they are people. In his highly acclaimed book, The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn says, “Customers don’t have relationships with organizations; they form relationships with individuals.” He’s right.  When you take care of customer expectations you will not have to worry about profits.

Insist on excellence. Great customer service is the by-product of a culture of excellence that flows out of leadership. If you want to know whether or not your customer service performance is sustainable then this is there you will make the discovery. Make it your practice to strive for excellence in all areas of service and your performance will soar.

Prioritize execution. In the end it is what you deliver that counts. Smart leaders know how to prioritize the daily demands that service-based performance requires. Consistency is a key component to your overall operation. When everyone knows how to prioritize and deliver with excellence then your potential is unlimited.

When you put these EQUIP principles into play within your organization you can position your team for great returns. One of the most meaningful long term benefits is that of customer loyalty. The Bellingham Biz Review article concluded with this insight: 20 percent of customers generate more than 80 percent of revenues and profits.  Wouldn’t it be great to know what makes loyal customers return again and again?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

* Your thoughts and input is welcomed! Please share in the comment box below.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Are You a Difference Maker?

Make a difference about something other than yourselves. – Toni Morrison

In an interview with Open Forum (, Johnny Rocket’s CEO John Fuller offered some fascinating business insights. Fuller says that one of their guiding principles is to be a difference maker verses a care taker. He explained that he wants people to feel that they can influence the department they are running in a proactive way.  By this he means that if they are just a care taker and doing what someone else did before, or just doing the same thing, then they are not thinking and are not passionate about making it better.

Now in 32 states and 16 countries, this key concept among others is part of the formula for the success of Johnny Rockets. But make no mistake; the principles Fuller shares are not exclusive to the restaurant industry. Johnny Rockets is successful because the principles Fuller lays out are grounded squarely in smart leadership.

The strength of your organization or business will be determined by how well your team members carry out the same philosophy. Do you want your team members to be difference makers or care takers? When you embrace the difference maker philosophy it will change the culture of your organization.  Here are three reasons why it matters.

Difference makers go the extra-mile. Difference makers are not content to settle for mediocre service or performance. Difference makers have one goal in mind and that is to consistently deliver exceptional service without excuses.

The leadership characteristic that drives the difference maker here is passion. When your team members are passionate about delivering value, and when they care about the company’s reputation, then they will go the extra mile and see to it personally that excellence is never sacrificed.

Difference makers turn problems into possibilities. Be it the restaurant industry or any other service-based business, good customer service is the life blood of your operation.  How many potential possibilities are wasted every day because someone could not see past the problem or act to correct it?

The leadership skill in play here is empowerment. Think for a moment of the positive impact that can be made when team members are empowered to resolve problems and act in good faith on behalf of the organization.  Face it; we are human and we all make mistakes. Do not make matters worse by not empowering your team to do the right thing, the right way, and right now. When you empower your difference makers you are unleashing the power of leadership.

Difference makers are the future of your organization. When difference makers are trained and understand the vision and expectations of your organization it is the best long term investment you can make. People are the most appreciable asset you have in the operation of your business. When you invest in them they will deliver for you.

The leadership model here is legacy. Difference makers build your brand not just for the benefit of today but secure it for the future. When you commit to the expectation of team members being difference makers you send the message loud and clear – we are not here to be care takers.

Are you a difference maker?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson   

* Your comments are appreciated! Please share your thoughts in the box below.