Category Archives: Leadership

Blind Bart


 A Story of the Kind of Courage That Can Change the World

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. [Mark 10:46-52]

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing my good friend Mark preach a sermon on this passage.  Some of the points that he made during that sermon struck me in a new way.  I want to take a few minutes to parse them out and maybe give you a new way of reading this passage as well.

First a question – How do you see Jesus?

Bart was blind.  He couldn’t “see” Jesus at all.  As a result of time and distance neither can we.  But Bart knew that Jesus was near and that he had a reputation as being a merciful healer, so he cried out “have mercy on me.”

When he was rebuked and told to stay quiet he called out even louder.  Why?  Not only why did Bart persist but more importantly why did the disciples try and silence him in the first place?  He clearly needed healing, why put him down?

It’s disruptive when someone in need interrupts us from our agenda.  I get it, do we put people down because we are afraid of doing something wrong, being inconvenienced, or getting dirty?

Jean Vanier said –

“Fear is at the root of all forms of exclusion”

But Bart overcame that fear.  He was courageous in the face of ridicule.  He refused to be excluded based on his disability.

When he finally got the chance to speak to Jesus his request was simple and obvious.  “I want to see..”

In this context the request would have carried the double meaning.  Not only did Bart want to see, but he also desired to be seen by others. Those with disabilities in Jesus’ day where on the outside of everything.  The overriding cultural attitude was that their disability was the consequence of sin.  They were therefore excluded from all forms of community.  The fact the Jesus was willing to stop, see Bart for who he was, listen and act upon his request is all you need to know about how we are to view those around us who are on the outside.

We live a hurried existence.

Twice in the last few days I have had people comment about this hurried world by using the same expression.  They have said that it’s as if everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.  That is quite the mental image and I think it says a lot about the way too many of us our living our lives.  You can’t see anyone, understand their needs and serve them if you are preoccupied with a fire on your own head.

We need to stop.  Not just slow down but completely stop what we are doing.  Stop like Jesus stopped.  Stop and see the people around us, I mean really see them.  Stop and hear them and stop and know them.

Only when stop in this way will we be able to impact people’s lives and change the world.

What’s causing the fire on your head?  What do you wish people would see about you?

Advertisements

Four Types of Clients


I can’t be sure who it was who first came up with this list of personality types, it might have been Aristotle describing the way certain students approach learning, it might have been Socrates, and it might just have been the guy who sells me my  gas every week.  It doesn’t matter whoever it was.  In reflecting on the way certain clients have been interacting with me this week I thought it might be fun to talk about each of these character types and how I approach dealing with them in my financial practice.

#1 – He who knows not, and knows not, that he knows not.

Otherwise known as the arrogant fool.

Another way to say it is that we don’t know what we don’t know and going through life convinced that we know everything about everything is a recipe for disaster.  The great musician Louis Armstrong once said;

“There are some people that if they don’t know, and don’t know that they don’t know, you can’t tell them..”

This is the definition of arrogant ignorance.  These people will never be your client because they believe they are smarter than you.  Indeed they believe they are smarter than everyone they meet.  The only thing to do when you encounter someone like that is smile politely and move on.

#2 – He who knows not and knows that he knows not.

Otherwise known as the simpleton.

These are some of my favorite kinds of people to have as clients.  People who know that they don’t know things are teachable.  They of course must be willing to learn but the real danger here is that they may become paralyzed if you give them too much new information all at once.

The key with these kinds of clients is to take it slow, give them only as much information as they can digest.  If you go too fast you run the risk of causing “paralysis by analysis” or you end up with a client who feels like they were bullied into making a purchase that they didn’t fully understand.  Both are undesirable outcomes that are to be avoided at all costs.

#3 – He who knows and knows not that he knows.

Otherwise known as the unconscious drifter.

These are the people that, if they become interested in something realize that they had the necessary information all along and make decisions quickly.  The problem is they tend to be asleep to both their own needs and their own knowledge.

Waking up an unconscious drifter is a delicate business.  At first glance they may appear to be simpletons but if you treat them as such they may feel insulted.  The key to dealing with these people is to ask lots of questions designed to probe their knowledge.  Once you’ve determined that they do know more than they seem to be letting on you can switch tracks and begin asking a different sort of question.  Questions designed to get them to see that they already know what they need and how to get it.  Once they see their need they tend to buy quickly and confidently.

#4 – He who knows and knows that he knows.

Otherwise known as the wise one.  Unless you’re selling commodities, these people won’t likely be your clients either.  They already know their needs and they bought a long time ago.  It’s still important to get to know these people.  They tend to be leaders, and can be a great source of knowledge, guidance and influence.  They are also a great source of referrals and if their circumstances ever change, they are the first to know when they do need you.

Watch out for these four types of people.  Don’t waste your time with the arrogant fools but carefully cultivate unique relationships with everyone else.  Relationships with these types of people eventually pay off.

The Buck Stops…  Nowhere


Whatever happened to accountability?

It used to be that workers and managers alike took pride in their work and not only accepted but craved accountability.  “The Buck Stops Here” was a statement made with some pride and finality.  When we heard it we knew that we had reached the end of the line and whatever happened next would be the best possible outcome and resolution to our issue.

Now it seems that no one wants to make a decision or take responsibility for an outcome.  “That’s not my department, I can’t help you, I’m just following the procedure” are the only things people can say about anything.

The larger the organization, the worse it is.  Everyone is so afraid of getting fired or sued that no one is willing do anything.  No one has any real power.  We’ve become slaves to procedure and no one, not even the so-called boss has the discretion to make a judgement call.

The result is the complete absence of accountability.  One person can tell you one thing, another can tell you something else and neither one of them needs to be right.  The only right answer is the one approved by the procedure.   If someone makes a mistake or gives you wrong information they are never forced (or even allowed) to honour their promises because that’s not the procedure.

Customer service is all about empowering people to make decisions, giving customers what they want and honouring your promises.  When you make a promise, you see it through.  When you make a mistake, you own it and do everything possible to make it right.

I am committed to what I call “next level” customer service with all of my clients.  And to me a big part of customer service is about accountability.

If you’re a manger or a business owner, ask yourself – where does the buck stop?  Have you empowered your people to make decisions?  Do you honour your promises, no matter the cost?

That’s Next Level Customer Service.  That’s accountability.

 

Book Review – Break Through:  From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility


In 2007, at the end of the second term of President George W. Bush, America and the world stood at a crossroads.  The sovereign debt crisis and subsequent economic collapse of 2008 and the election of Barak Obama had not yet happened, but the seeds of their impact had already been planted and the cracks in the status quo were already starting to show.  The Kyoto protocol, the U.N.’s sweeping resolution to combat global warming was all but dead, America was mired in a seemingly endless war in Iraq and Osama bin Laden was still on the loose believed to be hiding somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan.

It was against this backdrop that two social scientists the directors of the economic research firm American Environics, Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger published “Break Through:  From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility”.

The politics of limits took hold in the 1970s and has dominated political debate for over 40 years now.  As the unprecedented economic expansion that marked the post-war era began to wane and the national embarrassment of Vietnam, Watergate, and the middle eastern oil embargo began to sink in politicians stopped talking about expansion and possibilities and started to couch their rhetoric in terms of protectionism and limits. President Jimmy Carter referred to America in the late 1970s as a nation suffering through a collective “malaise”.  On the campaign trail in 1980, then candidate Ronald Reagan seized on Carter’s comments and called for “Morning in America”.  The slogan promoted a sense of hope and possibility underpinned with a conservative “America First”, isolationist, us versus them agenda.

Nearly 40 years later little has changed.  Indeed, in the intervening decade since the publication of “Break Through”, American politics has become even more polarized.  Eight years under President Barak Obama, while strongly progressive in its approach to social issues like LGTBQ rights and health care reform, left many Americans feeling disenfranchised as they perceived a loss of economic opportunity and a deminishing “Christian” identity as a nation.  Economic concerns mounted while globalization continued to send more and more jobs to places like China and Mexico.  And anxiety over immigration and an increasingly post-Christian social landscape continued to take hold.  The time was right for another “Morning in America”, this time in the form of a bright red baseball cap emblazoned with the slogan “Make America Great Again”.  What exactly that meant and what mythical time it sought to return was unclear and left to the imagination of perspective voters.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger where writing at a time before both Obama and Trump but in reading their work today their analysis of the state of American politics and economics seems eerily prophetic.  With the exception of a few bumps on the road, most notably at the end of the 1970s, and between 2008 and 2011, economic expansion since the end of World War Two has continued pretty much unabated.  But as the authors assert, to keep people voting for the same old solutions you need to convince them that things are getting worse, not better.  When you are the party out of power you need to promote insecurity not contentment to get people to think about change.  According to Nordhaus and Shellenberger:

The rise of insecure affluence has caused social values to evolve in two directions simultaneously.  Rising insecurity has fueled the move away from fulfillment values and back toward lower-order, postmaterialist “survival” values, which tend to manifest as status competition, thrill-seeking, and hedonism, all of which have triggered a cultural backlash that conservatives more than liberals, Republicans more than Democrats, have harnessed.  At the same time, rising affluence has fueled a shift, over the past century and a half, away from traditional forms of religious, familial, and political authority and toward greater individuality.

But rising insecurity in the face of affluence is the construct of spin masters, it has little basis in reality.  If you have more money you should also have more security, but the political strategists have mastered the manipulation of fear based on the threat of loss.  Limiting beliefs that your affluence could be taken from you are what have kept people in survival mode and stunted progress even as affluence has continued to increase.

The authors go on and later remind the reader that:

Just as prosperity tends to bring out the best of human nature, poverty and collapse tend to bring out the worst.  Not only are authoritarian values strongest in situations where our basic material and security needs aren’t being met, they also become stronger in societies experiencing economic downturns…  This shift away from fulfillment and toward survival values appears to be occurring in the United States…  Survival values, including fatalism, ecological fatalism, sexism, everyday rage, and the acceptance of violence, are on the rise in the United States.

It’s that line about “authoritarian values” that caught my eye first.  At some point during the 1992 election cycle, the one that saw Bill Clinton gain the presidency I recall seeing a republican commentator refer to the two parties as the “Mommy Party” and the “Daddy Party”.  His point was that Americans tend to vote republican when they feel threatened and need a strong father figure to tell them what to do, they vote democrat after daddy has save them and they feel secure enough to go out and do their own thing.   The underlying point of his argument was that even when America votes democrat, it’s because the republicans are better at giving people the security they ultimately want.

What Nordhaus and Shellenberger propose is a move away from limiting beliefs and toward a more open and progressive society like the one that predominated in the years immediately following the Second World War.  Forget for a minute about the overtly racists, sexists and religiously conservative society of the era and consider more the fact that this was the era that gave rise to the reconstruction of Europe, the construction of the Inter-State Highway System, the expansion of world wide economic markets in places like Japan and the far east, the civil rights movement, and ended by putting a man on the moon.  These were great, progressive achievements that came about through expansionist politics and a belief in possibilities beyond limits.

It beings with an expressing of gratitude for how far we’ve come and an acknowledgment of how much we have yet to do.  As Nordhaus and Shellenberger put it toward the conclusion of their book:

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have met our basic material and postmaterial needs should feel neither guilt nor shame at our wealth, freedom, and privilege, but rather gratitude.  Whereas guilt drives us to deny our wealth, gratitude inspires us to share it.  It is gratitude, not guilt, that will motivate Americans to embrace the aspirations of others to become as wealthy, free, and fortunate as we are.

The politics of possibility begins by embracing human ingenuity and rejecting limiting beliefs.  Progress will come when we all recognized that nostalgia cannot be allowed to limit our longing for greatness.  “Make America Great Again” assumes that our best days are behind us and seeks to return to a mythical time when things were better than the are today.  It seeks to limit immigration because things were better before “those” people lived here.  It seeks to limit personal human rights for minorities, women and homosexuals because things were better before I had to compete for my job or think about what those two guys are doing in the privacy of their own home.  It seeks to limit imports of goods from other countries, block the development of green technology and prevent competition of any kind.

You don’t win by enforcing unfair “rules”, you win by getting better at the game or embracing a completely different set of circumstances.  And you win by changing the game completely.

That’s progress and the politics of possibility.

 

A Guide to Better Conversations


Once upon a time people could disagree with each other and remain on civil, even friendly terms.

Ahh the good old days!

It was a time before social media and biased media outlets set up echo chambers online and prevented anyone with a dissenting opinion from saying anything.  The year was 2004, just 14 years ago, when facebook launched, changing the world and the way we communicate with one another forever.

But the death of civility was already well underway by then.

In 1949 the FCC implemented the Fairness Doctrine.  This was the rule that required holders of federal broadcasting licenses to present controversial issues in a manner that was “honest, equitable and balanced”.  The rule required that stations present these contrasting views to ensure that citizens were exposed to a variety of viewpoints and given the opportunity to make informed decisions.  The FCC removed the rule in 1987 and this decision has been widely considered as the main contributing factor to the increased polarization of political views over the last 30 years.

The removal of the Fairness Doctrine made it possible for cable news and other broadcasters to become echo chambers and the private mouth piece of special interest groups.  The internet and social media has only served to make it even easier for these groups to amplify there voice and silence their critics.

It’s with that in mind that I want to give you two tactics for engaging in better conversations with people of opposing viewpoints.  It is my hope that by having better conversations we can return to a time when a disagreement, even one over which political party we plan to vote for, won’t end in name calling and broken relationships.

Tactic One –  Begin your questions with “How”. 

How is less threatening than why.  How did you learn this?  How did you come to this conclusion?  How do you feel about this?

By starting with how you show genuine interest in the other person’s point of view and give them an opportunity to explain their position without judgement.  It also gives them a chance to think about their answers a bit more and maybe start to see the flaws in their arguments without you saying anything.

Tactic Two – Go deeper with follow up questions. 

Once you have people explaining the position with a non-threatening how question you can go deeper and get more pointed with follow ups like based on where and what.  Where did you get that idea? What makes you think that?  Can you explain that?

Try to stay away from why if you can.  Why can be a conversation killer because it puts people on the defensive, the most common response to a why question is something along the line of “because and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise”.

By asking open ended questions and avoiding direct conversation killers that start with why both parties to a conversation tend to feel herd and sometimes even begin to reconsider their opinions.  The government can’t regulate the kinds of things we see on-line and they can’t force private companies to offer balanced view points, that ship sailed a long time ago. It’s up to us to be as well informed as possible and the best way to do that is to start asking better questions.

So how did you find that?

 

Branding 101


5 Steps to Cultivating and Promoting Your Personal Brand

“We are all CEOs of our own companies:  Me Inc.  To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” – Tom Peters

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal branding.  In today’s business world, with so much happening on-line, effective communication of our brand is the only thing we take with us into every meeting and send out into the world ahead of us through our advertising and on-line presence.

When I transitioned from the music business into the world of personal finance I started to hear a lot about personal branding.  Having cut my teeth in the early 90s and developed a brand and processes in the old world of rolodexes and face to face networking, I didn’t quite get it at first.  I thought branding was just another word for marketing, I thought it was all logo design and catchy slogans.  That is until I heard Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos give his definition of branding:

“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It’s the impression you leave on people.  The first thing they think about when they hear your name.  It’s the trail of bread crumbs you leave behind in every interaction that either resonates with people, or it doesn’t.  Most importantly, it’s the reputation that both follows and proceeds you everywhere you go.

In today’s business world, so profoundly driven by social media, your brand is your life.  Cultivate a good one and your success is all but assured before you even enter the room.  Neglect your brand or let it get tarnished and you’ll be fighting an up-hill battle against unseen forces and opinions that you can’t control.

So here are the five steps I’ve discovered to cultivating and promoting your personal brand.

Step One –  Pick a compelling word or short phrase that you want people to remember about you after you leave the room.

Like Jeff Bezos says, what people say about you when you aren’t there is your brand. While you can’t control what people think you can plant seeds through your words and actions that will help people come to the desired conclusions about you that will form your brand.

For me, that phrase is Next Level Customer Service.  Everything I do and say is carefully considered in terms of how it will reflect my commitment to serve my customers.  I know that there are people in my business who are smarter than me, have better pricing that I do and have better systems that are easier to use than mine.  My goal therefore, in every interaction is to convince you that no one will service your needs better than I will.

Step Two – Develop a brand statement.

When I first started in business everyone talked about the need to have a “30 second commercial” or “Elevator Pitch”.  This is a description of who you are and how you service customers that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less, or in the time it takes to ride up a couple of floors in an elevator.  In the old world of face to face networking that’s what worked.  But in today’s world, you don’t have 30 seconds.

Now-a-days your brand statement needs to be tweetable, even hashtagable.  Something that you can drop into a conversation, a text message or facebook comment in 140 characters or less.  And it needs to be fluid, so that you can adapt it to each unique situation.

My current brand statement goes something like this: I am committed to providing “Next Level” Customer Service to help my clients achieve their financial goals and dreams.  If I have room I might add a hashtag or two, #nextlevel, #customerservice, #levelup.

The brand statement needs to say three things; who you are, what you do, and who you serve.  Who am I?  I am committed, and a person who is defined by this commitment.  What do I do?  I provide extreme customer service beyond anything you’ve ever experienced from a financial advisor before.  Who do I serve?  I serve my clients who are probably just like you, trying to achieve some financial goal.

Step Three – Super charge your brand with a great story (or several).

Think of a few stories that tell who you are, where you came from and how you came to be this way.

Depending on the context I tell stories that describe how much I hate bad service, like the time I walked out of a jewellery store after being ignored by two clerks that seemed more interested in catching up on each other’s weekend plans than helping me buy a watch battery.  Or I’ll tell stories about how hard I work to serve my clients, like the time I drove clear across town, in rush hour, to meet an injured client who couldn’t make it to our meeting.

To really drive the point home though I will then ask people to tell me stories of their customer service frustrations and relate stories back to them of how I have handled similar situations differently.  By doing this I make it real and help them see what Next Level Customer Service could look like for them.

Step Four –  Distribute your brand.

Repeat your statement and tell your stories every chance you get.  Make it part of your LinkedIn headline, your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram bios.  Comment on other people’s social media feeds in the context of your brand.  Blog about it like I’m doing now.

Be constantly talking about the things that matter to your brand to the people who need hear it (your target audience).  As my friend Tim Day once said, you need to become a one note song.  If you aren’t talking about your brand people will talk about something else and that something else will become your brand.

Step Five – Reinforce your brand.

You’ve got to live it.  Imagine yourself as a walking billboard for your brand.  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you are your brand.  If you let people form a different opinion about you that will become your brand in their minds so even when you aren’t “working” you are still branding.

I think constantly about how Next Level Customer Service projects itself in every situation.  How I dress, how I walk into a room, how I speak to people, even how I walk through the grocery store on a Saturday morning.  Next Level Customer Service dresses neatly, but not flashy, holds the door open for others, speaks with respect and helps little old ladies get things off the top shelf, because that’s my brand – twenty-four hours a day.

 

So, there you have it, five steps to cultivating and promoting your personal brand.  Robert Kiyosaki, the author and founder of The Rich Dad Company, says it this way:

If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity.

Nobody wants to be a commodity.  Commodities are bottom feeders that can only compete on price.  Being a commodity is a race to the bottom.  Next Level Customer Service is not the cheapest option, but if you care about customer service, it’s the only option.

Do you have a personal brand?  (Trick question, you already know that you do.)  The real question is, did you cultivate it, or did you just let it happen?  Tell me about it in the comments below and if you feel comfortable doing so, send me your personal branding statement, I’d love to read it.

Confession and Forgiveness


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 6 – Confession and Forgiveness

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. [Matthew 6:12]

Depending on your translation this verse could read either, debts, sins or trespasses.  I originally learned it as trespasses and still say it that way today, but the sentiment is the same no matter how you say it.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin separates us from God’s glory. It’s been that way since the very beginning.  Ever since the original sin God and mankind have been separated.  At times God has broken down the barriers and come to his people but mankind has had to create elaborate rituals designed to cleanse sinfulness from himself before he can approach God.  The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was designed to provide this cleansing and remind mankind of his sin and unworthiness to approach God.

Jesus, as the final sacrifice blows that whole system up but not before giving us a hint of how we can maintain our intimacy with God long after he is gone here in his prayer.  Forgiveness of our sins is available to all of us, all we have to do is be willing to give forgiveness as freely as we have receive it.

But you can’t receive forgiveness if you don’t first confess.  And you can’t offer forgiveness if you don’t first examine the motives behind the wrong act.

This is very hard.

As we go through the list of wrongs that we have both committed and endured we must think about the people we have hurt and those who have hurt us.  While we don’t have to forgive their actions, we must be willing to look beyond the act itself and see the person behind it.  In the case of our own forgiveness we must examine our motives and resolve to find better ways to express our needs and desires without causing harm to anyone else.  And in the case of the wrongs committed against us we need to look deeper at the motivations of the perpetrator before we can forgive the person.

We can still hold people accountable for their choices, as we will likely be held accountable for our own.  We can expect to be asked to pay some form of restitution before we can fully restore a relationship so asking for restitution in return is generally acceptable but that cannot prevent us from freely forgiving the person who committed the act.

Forgiveness is not tied to restitution.  Even between us and God, when we ask for forgiveness God may still require us to do something before we are fully welcomed back into community and that’s okay.  We are still freely forgiven simply by confessing our sin and offering the same kind of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

At this point in the prayer we break it down into it’s two component phrases and pause while we list off both our sins for which we need forgiveness and the wrongs which have been perpetrated against us.  If you find it too difficult to forgive the act that was done to you, focus instead on the person who committed it.  We may never be able to excuse some of the wrongs we have endured but we also can’t carry a grudge against a fellow image bearer of the divine.  God’s loving nature demands that we see the humanity in everyone, even those who commit unspeakable crimes.

It’s been said “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  When we start by examining the person forgiveness gets a little easier.  It’s also been said “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  When we start by examining the person, we sometimes start to see ourselves in a different light.

This is perhaps the hardest part of the entire prayer.  Confession and forgiveness requires a level of self-examination beyond anything we’ve done so far.  Don’t skimp on this aspect of prayer.  We are all sinners in need of a relationship with the savior.  The more honest we are with ourselves at this stage, the deeper that relationship will be.