A Lesson From a Master

Just read this little gem from Lao Tzu, the great Chinese master from the 4th century BC.  It speaks loudly to all of you looking for the “secrets” of great management and leadership.

“The Master is willing to help everyone…

What is a good person but a bad person’s teacher?

What is a bad person but raw material for their teacher?”



Picture this; your toddler takes their first steps. Imagine your reaction, your fascination, your excitement. You automatically burst into cheering. There is no criticism; each momentary misstep, wobble, or even tumble is not even noticed. Imagine how this would be if you were not there to tell them that they are amazing and talented. How successful would they be the next time?

This scene seems so natural to parents. We cheer and celebrate every new thing. First words, first steps, first foods, the list goes on. Why does this change with those we lead? We think, “they’re adults, they don’t need cheerleaders.” Not true, great leadership requires great cheerleading. If you want your people to be better, cheer them on.

“We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the human spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer

No Title Required


So many people think that leaders have to have titles.  Well, truth is, leadership has nothing to do with a title on a business card.  A title may give you a little bit of an advantage as it gives you a pre-built stage, but from there, leadership is earned or lost depending on you.

Let me give you an example of a leader without a title.  I was recently at a conference and there was a young man helping out with internet challenges, uploading and downloading items from the conference site, and generally providing IT support.  He was extremely helpful, went above and beyond to do whatever he could to respond to peoples’ requests and even did proactive things to preempt the next question or problem.

Now, where was the leadership you might ask?  It was in his example.  He demonstrated a commitment to service and a positive attitude throughout.  He showed everyone at this conference what it means to serve and go beyond expectations.  It was inspiring.

This young man was the definition of leadership.  He built trust through his integrity and ability.  He enabled us all to do our jobs better and took action to ensure success.  No title, just simple leadership. This is what leading is, serving those around you to move toward a successful completion of a mission, even if the mission is seemingly mundane.

I tip my hat to this young man for showing us real leadership, I hope he gets a title someday so he can have even more influence in our world that is so in need of principled leaders.

Begin At the End

“Begin with the end in mind.”  This is one of the most memorable quotes from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I know it has influenced many individuals and how they approach life and business.

What if, however, we used it to prime not only our personal lives but how we approach our customers?

What if, before you start any customer interaction, you thought for a moment about how you want the interaction to end?

Of course, a lot of people would probably respond that they want it to end with the customer having purchased something, but what about the rest of the interaction, what do you want the customer to feel?  Whether they buy or not, what do you want them walking away thinking?  How do you want to be remembered?

I know I would want a customer to walk away feeling good about possibly coming back and thinking about how great it was to talk to someone who seemed to care about them and their success.

Wouldn’t having this positive end in mind, one that is concerned with how customers feel, change how you or your team approach the interaction from the start?  Wouldn’t you be sure to smile?  Wouldn’t you make eye contact?  Wouldn’t you sincerely welcome customers and try to get to know them and their needs?  I can’t see how it wouldn’t change, in some way, how you or your employees fundamentally approach every customer encounter.

So, how can you use this in your business?  Well, I believe that employees getting “on the floor” and interacting with customers is much like going on stage, and that preparing for going on stage is critical to a good performance.  You see, a big part of my life has been involved with being a performing musician and I know first-hand how great an influence your frame of mind has on the quality of your performance. Ask any musician, dancer, actor, or player in a sport and they will confirm the importance of your frame of mind when you take the stage or field of play.

But what can you do?  I mean, practically speaking, you can’t stand at the door all day and ask every employee about their frame of mind. Well, at Disney World, at all cast member (employee) entrances, there is a mirror with a sign that asks whether you look good, are in character, and are ready to go on stage. Why not use this example and do something similar?  How about a reminder like a sign over the door that asks, “How do you want your customer to feel when they leave?  How do you want to be remembered?”

Beginning with the end in mind has proven to make a big difference in the personal lives of innumerable people as it has given them a goal, a targeted direction, and a mission to pursue, and I think it can have implications for customer service delivery as well by giving employees a similar goal, target, and mission.  If employees are thinking about how they want customers to feel at the end of the interaction and how they want to be remembered, a great experience becomes the goal of every interaction, and a great experience can lead to more loyal customers and more consistent revenue.

Start today and give it a try.  Begin asking your team to think about what end they have in mind.  How do they want customers to feel?  How do they want to be remembered?

Making Service a Habit Makes Customer Centricity Possible

A big buzz in the business world these days is customer-centricity.  This means knowing your customers, focusing on them as top priority and putting them at the center of everything you do in your business.  It means making their voice and their needs part of every decision you make. Some companies take this to an extreme by actually placing an empty chair in their executive meetings that is marked as the customer’s chair.  This is a reminder to discuss things and make decisions as if the customer is sitting in the room.

While this is good thinking and, I believe, necessary if you want to really be a company that maximizes its potential, I think there is something else that is overlooked that must come first if you really want to reap the benefits of true customer-centricity. Simply put, you must make a decision to commit and align your entire company to being service focused not just customer focused. This means the difficult divorce from being consumed with a focus on profits and instead focusing on what it takes to serve.  If not, you will get mired in competing priorities which will make it virtually impossible to make customer-centricity real.

So what needs to be done?  How do you make your business service focused?

The answer begins with first defining service and by defining I mean stripping service down to its bare bones and getting to its root.  I know you’ve heard many definitions that include words like exceeding expectations, hospitality, and satisfaction, but I believe service, in its simplest form, is nothing more than helping people and it is this definition that gives us our clear starting point.

From here, the next step is getting everyone from top to bottom to agree on aligning to a singular mission to help people and that doesn’t matter whether it’s a fellow teammate or an end-user customer.  This commitment cannot simply be something on paper that starts in the C-suite or that only pertains to frontline customer-facing employees; it has to be something to which everyone in the entire organization commits.  It means everyone in the company continually asking themselves, “Is what I am doing right now helping the person next to me? Am I demonstrating a service focus?”

Once everyone is committed to service as the fundamental driver of the organization, it becomes easy to get customer-centric and put customer needs in the middle of decision-making, standards and expectations.  When everyone is serving the person next to them, it becomes easy to ask whether what the company is doing has customers in mind.  There is no more siloed “me, me, me” thinking to muddy the waters.  Everything will start with service and have customer needs at the center.  In other words, the CEO will be serving the Executive team and they will be serving the Management team and they will be serving the Customer-facing team, and since customer needs are why you are doing it, everyone will be rowing the boat toward the same harbor.

So, to sum up, to get customer-centric requires first aligning the entire organization to the idea and practice of serving from top to bottom and inside to outside, speaking the same language and driving to the same goal.  With service focus, the entire organization makes helping people everyone’s habit, and with customer-centricity, the customer’s success becomes the ultimate goal.