How valuable are you?

My family and I had sushi at a local place recently and it was a great experience.  Now this place is no fine dining establishment, no, this place fits the description of a joint, a sushi joint.  It is like a corner bar as opposed to a lounge.  The thing is none of this low-end material stuff matters.  What this place lacks in décor and ambiance it more than makes up for in being easy going and friendly.

We went in to order take-out and were having trouble with the huge variety of options.  I like sushi but I am no aficionado, I am an amateur at best.  Anyway, the owner was standing nearby and made some suggestions.  He was very clear about the ingredients and why we might like one thing more than another.  He was friendly, he was patient, he was a teacher.  In fact, speaking of teaching, this guy should be teaching other businesses how it’s done.

We made our order and started chatting with the owner and the staff who were around.  While we were talking, the owner motioned to one of the guys making the sushi rolls and presented us with a sampling of another type of roll we hadn’t considered.  I asked him why he did it and he said he wanted us to get a taste of something else for our next visit.  Wow, this is the way to do it.  He made the wait worthwhile and he set the stage for us to come back.  It was service and marketing in one act.

So what’s the big lesson here?  By being aware of his customers, being patient and sharing information, and demonstrating hospitality, this restaurant owner created return customers and all it cost him was a little time and three pieces of sushi.  Small gifts yielded what will be big returns as I am sure this will become our regular sushi place, in fact, I want him to succeed because he and his place are valuable to me now.

What is your business doing to be valuable to your customers?  Do they want you to succeed so you’ll be around when they need whatever it is you provide?


A Lesson in the Lights

I was watching the TV program CBS Sunday Morning this past Sunday and they presented a segment about the Northern Lights (a.k.a. the Aurora Borealis).  As I watched, I realized that this is definitely a bucket list item.  “Honey, get out your heavy coat!”

Anyway, in the segment, they spoke with a couple (Ronn and Marketa Murray) who not only photograph the Lights themselves but provide tours for others to view and photograph the Lights.

As I watched, I found a lesson.  The Murrays spoke of how awe inspiring the Lights are and how they are, to so many, a spiritual experience.  They talked about how so many people come to realize dreams or to take something off their bucket lists.  One compelling example they described was a man who came and braved the subzero temperatures even though he had terminal cancer.  His dream was to see the Lights before he died.  They showed a picture of this man and his wife standing in front of a beautiful halo of light and told of how meaningful and special this event was to the man and how he was able to experience something so remarkable and uplifting in his final days.

Now that really made me think about what we should be doing in our businesses.  I always say the business of business, every business, is to serve, to help people win (my code-speak for helping people reach success or accomplish a goal).  This example of helping a dying man fulfill a dream before it was too late is just what the business of business is all about – helping others win, reach a goal, find success, or realize a dream, this is why we’re in business, heck this is why we’re all here on this planet at all I think.

My point here is to take a lesson from the Murrays.  What can you do to make helping people win the purpose of what you do?  How can you help the person next to you at work win? How can you help that next customer win?  How can you help your boss win?  How about your spouse or your kids?  How about yourself, do you want to win?  Get to work helping others.

Serving to Lead

I was travelling recently and saw one of those simple acts of leadership that so often goes unnoticed.

The plane was getting crowded and a young lady boarded with her foot in one of those big, bulky boots due to a bad sprain or broken ankle.  She had crutches and was struggling with her small bag, crutches and narrow aisle.  As she made her way slowly, a young man stood up and motioned for a flight attendant.  He stopped the girl and talked to the flight attendant.  He was asking if the seat next to him were free.  The flight attendant looked at her seating chart and said yes.  The young man then took her bag and crutches and moved things around in the overhead bin to accommodate her stuff.  Finally, he moved over to the middle seat and gave the aisle seat to her.

Now this really struck me.  Here is a young man comfortably sitting in an aisle seat who gave up his comfort (for a 3 and ½ hour journey mind you) to help this young lady.  He took the bull by the horns.

That’s leadership, people helping others without regard for themselves.  Imagine that – servant leadership on a billboard!

Chess Not Checkers

I recently read Mark Miller’s new book Chess Not Checkers and found it a rewarding read.

This book tells the story of Blake Brown and his trials and tribulations with being a new CEO of a company going through trouble.  In the story, Blake enlists the help of Jack Deluca, a former CEO with a record of success who also happens to be a chess grandmaster.  Blake visits Jack several times throughout the story to learn the secrets to developing a successful organization.

Essentially, Jack instructs Blake, through the metaphor of chess, on four key points:

  1. Great organizations require and encourage leadership at all levels.
  2. The entire team must align to a unified mission and a core set of values.
  3. Great leaders take time to learn about people’s strengths and put them in places where they can use those strengths to succeed.
  4. To grow and move forward, organizations must execute plans consistently and doing that requires everyone knowing expectations and roles as well as being continually aware of the progress being made.

Nothing earth shattering here, but it always begs the question as to why more business leaders don’t seem to get it.  These are basic principles that are proven over and over to lead to success yet I am flummoxed as to why they are seen as new-age psycho-babble or too touchy feely.

Anyway, I found Miller’s tale a good one and it kept me interested.  It was a quick read too.  I read it in a couple of sittings.  It is well worth the time reading and then a little time reflecting on how to apply things.  I can only hope more business leaders will take these lessons to heart.

The only quip I have, and this is one I have with many of these short business stories, is the way the main characters all become so cheery and bubbly.  By the end, they are cracking corny jokes and sounding like an episode from a fifty’s era family show like Leave It to Beaver.

Outside of that, I found the book enjoyable and affirming of things I truly believe in.  I have only read one other Mark Miller book, The Secret, and found this one an equal.  If you’re struggling as a new leader or looking for ways to improve the performance of your team or organization, read them both and take action.


Getting to Engagement

One of the biggest problems in workplaces today is the lack of engagement.   So many people slog through their day and all they are thinking about is going home or “I can’t wait until Friday.”

What can we do about it?

One thing I think we can start doing is to get our team members to “think” their work rather than just “do” their work.  What I mean is, getting them to make decisions and really have some autonomy.  This is what gets people engaged; owning their work and the results is what gets people out of bed, not just “doing” the work.  Owning it and being allowed to make decisions is human, “doing” is mechanical.

So what can you do?

At first, start by sharing all of the things you consider when making a decision about something.  For example, “I would like you to do this.  Make sure you consider these details.”

Next, when you ask them to do the task again, don’t share anything, ask, “What things are you considering in making your decisions?”  If they are totally off base, step back and share your considerations again.  If they are right on, praise them for their insight and let them go make it happen.

Finally, when you ask them to do the task a third time, simply ask them what they intend to do and see if they are considering the decision-making criteria you have been teaching them.

If you want more engagement, extend trust and help team members get to the point where they can do things on their own.