E-couragement: 2 Traits Necessary for Super Charged Communication

August 3, 2015

TEDxGreensboro“Make sure the words are yours. Push them from the very bottom of your soul. The performance will take care of itself.” The Leaders Voice

Since 2013, I’ve had the honor to serve on the leadership team for TEDxGreensboro as presentation coach for our selected speakers. It’s one of the most rewarding roles I’ve ever experienced; working beside these presenters is meaningful and moving. At the conclusion of our full-day event, I reflected upon what made their diverse messages so powerful. It became clear that two key traits are critical for moving an audience from distracted to engaged.

All of our presenters are experts in their fields. Left alone, expertise can be boring and unappealing. By itself it rarely causes an audience to laugh, cry, gasp, and cheer. Another ingredient is needed to make expertise engaging: Passion. Passion is hard to define; yet, we know it when we see it. On Thursday May 7, 2015, at The Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC, over three hundred attendees experienced the collision of expertise and passion. See for yourself. Click on the presenter’s name to watch each inspiring presentation:

There you have it. Expertise and passion—a powerful and engaging duo. At the end of this long and inspiring day these messengers caused me to want to take action, to change, and make a difference. Ultimately, isn’t that why we speak to any audience in the first place?

Leave your comments: What message must you spread?


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E-couragement: More Difficult Than Rocket Science and Brain Surgery

July 20, 2015

Einstein“The soft skills are the hard skills.” Rich Schlentz

My clients span a variety of industries: manufacturing, retail, and health care to name a few. Despite some obvious differences, these organizations have more in common than not. As a result, there are frequent learning and developmental needs that support their journey towards more engaging workplace cultures. Improving leadership, strengthening internal relationships, effective communication, and resolving conflict are a few of our often-requested curriculum.

The reason these types of topics are necessary and important across industries is that they address a core component every business has in common: People. People are what make business work. People are what your business is about.

People skills are required to be highly successful in any industry. Skills that will allow you to ask thought provoking questions, listen intently, gain buy-in, develop loyalty, reap commitment, foster innovation, resolve conflicts, enhance productivity, and drive profits. These competencies are often referred to as “soft skills” when in fact, they are the “hard skills.”

These are hard skills for the very reason you need them: People. People don’t line up nice and neat on a spreadsheet. They don’t always respond like your professor told you they would. They rarely follow predictable patterns or theories studied in your MBA classes. Let’s be clear – this stuff is difficult, challenging and frustrating. Leading and engaging people make rocket science and brain surgery seem simple. Yet, in the end, this work is priceless because people matter. Your people matter. It’s time to master the real hard skills that will make a difference to both you and them.

Simple application: Determine what specific people skill will help you be more successful as an engaging leader. Then, make a plan to improve that skill so it will serve you more effectively.

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E-couragement: The Problem With Being Right

July 6, 2015

wrongright“Out beyond ideas of right and wrong doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Rumi, 11th century philosopher, poet, and theologian.

It’s one of the most intoxicating of human desires; we pursue it as if our self worth hangs in its balance. It is…the need to be right. We fixate on coaxing “lady right” to shine her approval upon us.

Of course there is a cost to the rightness we desperately seek.

  • Leaders: you’ll end up being right AND alienated.
  • Salespeople: be careful or you’ll be right AND broke.
  • Parents: your need to be right often leads children to rebellion.

Instead of falling into the alluring trap of rightness, why not explore Rumi’s suggestion and… meet in the field out beyond right and wrongdoing. This involves looking for ways to engage in ongoing conversation. Uncovering areas of agreement. Seeking to understand another person’s point of view.

More important than your need to be right is your willingness to preserve important relationships. The same relationships you’ll need to get things done, grow your business, make the sale, and bring meaning to your life.

Simple application: Next time you feel the habit of proving you’re right raising its ugly head, pause and ask, instead of seeking to judge who is right or wrong, how can I better understand the other person’s point of view?

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E-couragement: Are You In a Safe Place?

June 22, 2015

Power of WordsCustomer loyalty can be lost or solidified after the sale.” Rich Schlentz

I was driving along, minding my own business when it happened. My dashboard lit up like a Las Vegas slot machine after hitting triple sevens. Next, it sounded as if I was driving on a gravel country road, only I was on a paved highway. I instinctively pulled over into a deserted parking lot. With my youngest daughter asleep in the back seat and my oldest daughter expecting me to pick her up at school, I needed to figure out a solution.

Having no mechanical competencies, I reached for my AAA card and dialed the 1-800 number. Based on customer service encounters with other companies, I anticipated what the representative might want from me: Account number, check. Home address, check. Would they require some other forms of ID? Would they demand my social security number, passport, copy of my birth certificate, or finger prints? I was moments away from finding out…“Thank you for calling AAA. This is Margie. Are you in a safe place?”

Wait. Did you get that? She asked, “Are you in a safe place?” Before she demanded I identify myself, she said, “Are you in a safe place?” That changed everything. I transformed from nervous and edgy to calm and compliant. It all happened because AAA decided to carefully chose their first words—words that demonstrate they care and they understand. Words that say, this is about you, not about us.

The power of your first words is often underestimated. A couple of years ago I received a call from my youngest daughter, Carley, after school, “Dad, will you consider something when I get home?” I replied, “Certainly Carley, what is it?” She explained, “Instead of immediately telling me to straighten up my room, complete my homework, and get prepared for dinner, can we talk about how my day went?” Wow. Carley was calling me out on my first words. She was asking me to treat her more like a human being and less like a human doing. What a novel idea.

How about you? Are these first phrases out of your mouth when you show up at work: “Where’s my report?” “Why is it late again?” How about your first words when starting a staff meeting: “Let’s look at where we came up short last month.” What about your first words when you return home after a long day at the office: “Who left this lying around?” Or, your first words when you sit down with your friend at coffee: “Can you believe what Tim did?”

The first words from that AAA representative impacted me for good. I am grateful they were thoughtful and intentional with their selection. It’s also good business. I remain a loyal customer having been a member for over five-years and now pay for both my daughters to have coverage. As an engaging leader, choose your first words wisely where ever you are; they make a difference and you can’t take them back.

Leave your comments: What better choice of first words can you make both professionally and personally?

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E-couragement: Engaging Leaders and the Need to Judge

June 8, 2015

JudgeWhen you judge another, you do not define them. Rather you define yourself as someone who needs to judge.” Wayne Dyer

We were headed through security at the Liberia, Costa Rica airport when I noticed it. My seat assignment had been upgraded to first class. Typically, that causes a sense of gratitude to pulse through me. Not this time. We were headed home from our twelfth-annual “dad-daughter” adventure and I wanted to sit in coach with my girls. My plan was simple: scurry to our gate and have my seat reassigned—providing someone else with the coveted upgrade.

I arrived at our gate check-in desk and immediately noticed the woman next to me. She was abrupt and curt. My co-passenger was complaining about her seat and rudely lobbying for a better selection. While she waited on her answer, I shared my desire to downgrade. After a strange look from the agent, I explained, “I’m flying with my daughters, I choose them over first class.” A smile flashed across his face followed by, “Aaaa, ci señor. No problem.”

The employee did an honorable job of serving me and pacifying her. In the end, the woman stomped back to the seating area, securing her place next to my daughters. After completing my paper work, I also returned to the waiting area. At the first opportunity, I whispered to my daughters about her deplorable behavior. They agreed with my conclusion after hearing her complain to her husband close by. I told them how glad I was that we don’t act like her.

Upon boarding the plane, we sat across the aisle from angry woman and her worn out husband. I snuck a quick glance of disapproval to my daughters. Then it happened. Before even buckling my seat belt, she leaned toward me and said, “I heard you give up your 1st class seat in order to sit next to your daughters, that’s really nice…would you like to have my 2 free drink tickets? Here, take them.” My daughters observed the entire exchange. I replied, “Certainly. Thank you very much.” Touché, I had been schooled. The teacher had become the student.

The lesson was clear – I had exalted myself onto the throne of judgment. It takes no skill to rule from there. It does take skill, discipline, and self-awareness to avoid that trap. Just like my daughters look to me for an example of how to act and/or react to the world around us, your followers do the same. Be sure to show them how engaging leaders resist the need to judge others. Instead, show them what thoughtfulness and compassion look like. That model will serve both you and them better.

Leave your comments: As an engaging leader (or engaging person) how might letting go of judgment serve you better?

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E-couragement: A Profound Question

May 26, 2015

Powerful Questions“Ask skillful questions. Your greatest fear should be not knowing.” Rich Schlentz

A powerfully designed question is like architecture or poetry—it causes me to pause and marvel over its form and function. A well-crafted question results in reflection, insight, understanding, meaningful action, and can lead toward transformation.

Engaging leaders do the work necessary to become skillful questioners. They have the courage to stop knowing and start asking.  I’ve always been moved by one particular question asked by an ancient leader. 

In the Bible, (John 5:6) Jesus encounters a man lying by a pool in Bethesda. The man has been sick for 38 years. Jesus looks at him and asks, “Do you want to be healed?” Huh? After reading that, I’ve often thought, come on Jesus, you can do better than that!

Now I get it. As an engaging leader, Jesus understood that before something can be accomplished, you must want it for yourself. It doesn’t matter how much someone else may want it for you. Any meaningful achievement starts with a deep and burning desire of your own. With that fundamental principle in mind, perhaps you might consider a few simple and powerful questions:

  • Do you want to change?
  • Do you want to improve?
  • Do you want to be a leader?
  • Do you want to experience deep love?
  • Do you want to live with meaning and purpose?

Consider your answer before flippantly responding “yes.” No is the safe answer. Yes will cost you. Yes results in hard work, pain, tears, uncertainty, doubt, and coming face-to-face with your fears. Yes also means waking your soul, experiencing joy, walking with courage, becoming the person you’re intended to be. Well? Do you want to…

Leave your comments: What profound question do you need to ask yourself?

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E-couragement: How to Build a Culture of Trust

May 11, 2015

Trust Walk“Building trust is not about crafting the right words—it’s about the actions behind your words.” Rich Schlentz

The other dads and I listened intently in the Northern California wilderness. Our counselor, Malcolm, gathered us around to be sure we understood our roles and the rules. Our daughters were off on their own, anxious about the bandanas being secured around their eyes. We were preparing for the Trust Walk.

In their silence, our blinded daughters appeared unsure as they heard our footsteps approaching. I stopped just behind Carley, placed my hands on her shoulders, and whispered the three phases Malcolm had provided us: “Listen to my voice. You can trust me. I will never leave you.” These words trembled with emotion and conviction as they emerged from my mouth.

So began our trust walk. Thirty-minutes later, we successfully completed the treacherous trail full of rocks, tree roots, and sharp drop offs. The exercise concluded with our daughters removing their bandanas and an insightful debrief of our experience.

As powerful as those three phases are, trust is not about crafting the right words—it’s about the actions behind the words. Those expressions would ring hollow if Carley didn’t have evidence to believe she should listen to my voice, she could trust me, and indeed I would never leave her. Combining experience and words provides the foundation of trust that allows a team or group to successfully navigate the treacherous path of life.

An engaging and thriving workplace is built upon that very same foundation of trust. In organizations today there’s no shortage of impressive words and statements—yet the actions or experience behind those words have failed to make them believable. How about your followers? Why should they listen to your voice? Why should they trust you? Why should they believe that you will stick by them?

Engaging leaders demonstrate, beyond their words, that they are trustworthy. Out of the fertile soil of trust grows loyalty, innovation, productivity, and profitability. Cultivating trust makes perfect sense for important relationships, strong teams, and a successful business.

Leave your comments: What action will you take today to help your followers trust you on their walk?

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E-couragement: How to Win the Battle Between Efficient & Effective.

April 27, 2015

Effectiveness“Our greatest tool for changing the world is our capacity to change our mind about the world.” Marianne Williamson

When my daughters were toddlers I tied their shoes. This worked well because I was the obvious shoe-tying expert and the process was highly efficient. Now, at twenty-four and eighteen, Taylor and Carley tie their own shoes. Somewhere along the way, I had to forfeit short-term efficiency for the sake of long-term effectiveness. In order to accomplish this, I had to:

  • Relinquish my role as expert.
  • Become the teacher.
  • Be patient.
  • Encourage them.

What’s the benefit? Taylor and Carley have emerged as shoe-tying experts. I’m free from that role, using my time to accomplish other things, like writing blogs.

Here’s the simple connection. Many leaders are still “tying the shoes” of their followers. They want to remain the resident expert, completing tasks in the most efficient manner. Somewhere along the way, they’ll need to forfeit short-term efficiency for the sake of long-term effectiveness. In order to accomplish this, they’ll want to:

  • Relinquish their role as expert.
  • Become the teacher.
  • Be patient.
  • Encourage others.

Engaging leaders intentionally shift their focus away from time-task and onto results-people. Free yourself from the efficiency bondage by helping others develop into experts. Stop tying shoes and start leading. In the end, that’s highly effective for both you and them.

Leave your comments: How might you move from an efficient leader to an effective one?

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E-couragement: Stop Knowing. Start Asking.

April 13, 2015

A person who seems to have all the answers usually isn’t listening.” Jeffrey Gitomer

It might have been because I thought I was so smart. Perhaps I believed that asking was a sign of weakness. Maybe I didn’t trust people to give me the right answer—even when it concerned them. Whatever the reason, I spent the majority of my life pretending to know the answers. In the long run, this trait did not serve me well.

Finally, I decided to let go of the answers and replace them with questions. I released myself from the need to appear all knowing. The burden is lighter; I feel free from the illusion of having it all figured out. The Bible says that the truth will set you free and letting go of all the answers has set me free.

Here’s my new strategy: when I don’t know something, I ask. Then…I listen. At length, I learn something and gain understanding. I’ve stopped guessing and started exploring, and as a result, I am a more effective leader, friend, and dad. You can experience this, too.

Knowing can be a trap and a curse. Oh yeah, it feels good to know—at least for a while, until it has you bound so tight that you can’t see how you’ll ever escape its grasp. As kids, we never liked the neighborhood know-it-all. Somehow, along the way, a lot of us have morphed into that villain. Take a look at this common model for leadership communication:Model 1

Why is this one of the most common leadership communication models? It’s what got you here. It’s the process that made you an expert in your field. It’s what others admire about you. “If you ever need a quick answer, just ask Bill.”

Yet this model has a limited shelf life for the engaging leader. It precipitates exhaustion and codependency; in the end, it’s an unhealthy model. You need followers to ask questions (making you feel important and smart), and they need you to give them answers (justifying their false belief that they are not smart enough and that their ideas are unimportant).

When this is your model, you rarely get a break. Even at home, you’re interrupted because someone needs an answer. If you are that leader, you end up angry, wondering why your team can’t figure out the answers to their challenges. The real problem is that you haven’t given them ownership of those problems. You insist on owning them yourself. Your followers become resentful because they don’t see themselves as vital to the organization’s success. They don’t feel that their contribution is valued. One day, they cease contributing and become disengaged.

Let’s consider a new model for engaging leadership interaction:Model 2

See the difference? What a relief. You’re finally off the answer hook. This model allows you to fulfill one of your most important roles—developing others by asking skillful questions. In The Question Behind The Question, author John G. Miller writes: “Leaders are not problem solvers but problem givers. They let others tackle the problem, design their own solutions, and take action. How else can people learn?”

Allow others the opportunity to provide their answers. Break the pattern of knowing and telling. Replace it with asking and listening. Your followers want to bring their knowledge and talents to the workplace and make a difference for the organization. This is good for everyone. By applying this new model you’ll reap understanding and your followers will gladly provide better answers and solutions than you can think of on your own.

Leave your comments: In what specific area of your leadership can you stop knowing and start asking?

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The Answer: Quantity vs. Quality Time.

March 30, 2015

QualityThe gift of presence is a rare and beautiful gift.” Staci Eldredge

My oldest daughter, Taylor, was homeschooled through 5th grade. Once while attending a workshop at the North Carolina Home Educators Conference, the speaker took on the subject of quantity time vs. quality time. I was particularly interested in hearing his thoughts since none of our modern day philosophy seemed to resonate with me. He summed up his viewpoint with this; “Quality time magically appears within the midst of quantity time.” I had found my answer. Case closed.

The idea that quality time appears magically within the midst of quantity time isn’t an ideology limited to home schooling, parenting, or significant others. This is a universal human principle that is desperately needed in the workplace.

Want to know what’s important to you? Check your calendars. What do you see? Meetings, projects, tasks, and deadlines? Engaging leaders know that the traditional once-a-year mandatory performance evaluation doesn’t cut it. Those who look to you for guidance require and deserve more quantity time.

Go ahead and carve out the time required to lead, coach, listen, understand, provide advice, care, encourage, and hold people accountable. You can’t microwave effective workplace relationships, it’s best served in a slow cooker. If you do this, you’ll reap a significant harvest in terms of loyalty, productivity, innovation, and long-term success.

When Taylor was a freshman in college, I drove to Raleigh and we met for lunch. She recalled a conversation during her high-school years, saying, “Dad, remember when you told me you’d outlast all my friends and no matter how difficult our relationship got you’d stick by me?” “Yes I do,” was my response. “Thanks. I’m glad you didn’t quit on me when I really needed you.” I smiled, wrapped my arm around her and thought: There it is again, quality time magically appearing within the midst of quantity time.

Leave your comments: Who in your organization deserves more quantity time from you?

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