Category Archives: Leadership

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?

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

Why I’m Seeing a Shrink


It’s true but technically she’s called a psycho-therapist.

I decided to make an appointment with her because I sensed my life was starting to go off the rails a few weeks back.  I was sleeping in longer, having trouble concentrating and feeling a general sense of dread and malaise.  I woke up one morning and rather than go to the gym as I had planned, sat nearly catatonic in my kitchen for 45 minutes, unable to move.

I honestly think that everyone, at one time or another should see a shrink, or at least some type of counselor to help gain some perspective and keep their life on track.  Your friends are too close, and mentors tend to be too distant and focused on just one niche of your life.  When things start to go off the rails, you need to take a holistic approach under the guidance of a professional.  It helps too if they share at least some of your personal values.  In my case I sought out a counselor who also shares my faith so that there wouldn’t be any spiritual conflict.

High octane entrepreneur types like me tend to ignore the signs and end up crashing with spectacular speed and maximum destruction.  I didn’t want that to be me!  So how did I know it was time to see a shrink?  After I broke out of my catatonic state that morning I did a survey of my life and found at least seven signs that I was headed for a crash.

 1 – My Gym Bag was dusty

I had gotten up that morning fully planning to go to the gym but I hadn’t made it there in 5 days and the longer I waited the worse it got.  Physical health is paramount to mental health and when your commitment to exercise starts to slip that should be the first sign that you are about to go off the rails.

2 – I was self medicating

Junk food is my Achilles heel.  It’s not the worst vice there is, I’ve never self medicated with drugs or alcohol but mindlessly eating potato chips and cookies still only provides temporary relief and is not a cure for anything.

3- I had a squirrel brain

I was struggling to stay present even when there was nothing pressing going on, constantly checking social media, and email trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

4 – While at the same time I was ignoring important things

Leaving people hanging, not responding to questions or requests for information that were going to take more than a few minutes to answer.  Completely avoiding tasks that were going to be hard and possibly stressful.  Screening calls from colleagues and clients and ignoring emails.

5 – I hadn’t taken any time off in over a year

Not even a long weekend.  I was working 6 days a week and thinking about work 18+ hours a day.  It was exhausting.

6 – I had a short fuse

The gap between action and reaction was almost non-existent.  I wasn’t taking time to thoughtfully respond to anyone.  I was just snapping back as quickly as I could.

7 – I was snarky

I mean, I was resentful of other people’s joy.  Seeing pictures of vacations, family fun times and other relaxing moments on Facebook and Instagram was making me angry and I couldn’t look away.

 

So that’s when I sought out a shrink.

I now have professional help to give me perspective and get me back on track.  If you see yourself in any of the things I described above, please do the world a favor and seek help too.  There is no shame in admitting that you can’t do it on your own.  Your mental health is too important to leave unattended and your friends and mentors, while an important part of maintaining balance, aren’t qualified to fix you when you are broken.

 

 

 

 

Daily Bread


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 5: Sustenance

Give us today, our daily bread [Matthew 6:11]

In the beginning mankind had access to everything we needed in abundance.  No one went hungry or needed to work for anything.  It was all there in the garden for the taking whenever and whatever our hearts desired.

That all changed at the so-called fall of man.  Theologians have debated the meaning and cause of the fall for centuries, but I believe that at it’s core it was about doubt, pride and arrogance.

Adam and Eve doubted God.  They doubted his love for them and his desire for their well-being. They took maters into their own hands and as a result they were forced to leave the garden and begin to work for their survival.

When God turned Adam and Eve out of the garden he told them what awaited them out in the world.

Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food [Genesis 3:17-19]

But because this toil for survival was not part of God’s original design and because God’s love for his people is go great, we can see time and time again how he intervenes against nature itself and provides for our needs.

The most obvious example of this comes in Exodus 16 where God provides literal bread from heaven to feed his people in the desert.  Elsewhere, the prophet Elijah, while on the run from the evil king Ahab, received bread and meat delivered to him by ravens (1 Kings 17).   And who can forget the feeding of the 5000, (John 6:1-15) where a young boy offers Jesus his meager lunch and it miraculously turns into enough food to feed upwards of 10,000 people.  (Remember, in Jesus day only the men would have been counted so by the time you add in women in children the crowd could have been easily double that number).

These and numerous other examples show how God cares enough about us to make sure we have what we need to survive.  Therefore; when we pray for our daily bread we are reaching back through history and reminding ourselves that God is our great provider.

The words themselves should conjure up all of theses stories from scripture as well as instances from our own lives where God stepped into the narrative and circumvented the natural order of things so that we could go on living.  If God had not stepped in and dropped bread from heaven on the Israelites they would have died, plain and simple.  While not quite as dramatic, there are instances from my own past that can only be explained as a supernatural intervention made a just the right time to insure my survival.  Contracts that got signed and money that got transferred the very day a large expense came due or just in time to prevent an eviction notice or disconnection of utility services.  These things have happened to me and similar things happen to God’s people every day.  They’ve maybe even happened to you.  These Godly interventions are the manna of our modern times.

Don’t ignore the fact also that this is daily bread.

God’s sustenance is never meant to be hoarded.  There is always, plenty to go around and there is plenty more coming tomorrow, and the next day.  The Israelites learned that lesson quickly.  They could not keep manna, it spoiled within 24 hours of being gathered.  This is because, when God steps in and transcends the natural order of things he does so firstly to provide for and show his love to each of us individually, but he also does it to glorify himself.  You cannot hoard God’s glory, it MUST be shared.  Failure to acknowledge and share God’s glory with the world will result in the spoilage of the manna and the end of the blessing.

This is what some theologians refer to as the concept of mixed up grace.  God often provides blessings that are not meant for us alone, they are meant to be shared with others.  In this way he brings the community together and spreads his love far and wide.  We are directed by him to share our resources and redistribute his blessings through our relationships with one another.

So, when we pray “Give us today, our daily bread,” we are asking God to provide for our needs yes, but we are also asking him to help us to share our blessings with those around us and spread his grace more evenly throughout the world.  At this point, pause and make specific requests for the provisioning of your needs and the needs you see around you.  Thank him for the blessings he has already provided and ask him to direct you in the redistribution of his grace to others in need.

 

 

 

Thanks in Advance


I’ll be honest.  I hate that phrase.

Most of the time when someone says to me, “Thanks in Advance” it feels as though they are making assumptions about my completion of a task or compliance with a request without waiting for me to agree in the first place.

More than once I’ve been tempted to respond with:

“Bite Me! – Thanks in Advance.”

I am happy to say that my cooler head usually prevails, and I am much more charitable with my responses.  I recognize that offering gratitude when making a request is a good idea, please just don’t use the phrase “Thanks in Advance”.

When you go to restaurant, or work with any kind of customer service agent do you give a tip?  Of course you do!  But did you know that originally the tip was given at the start of the interaction, not the end?

The origins of the word “tip” is an acronym that stands for “To Insure Performance” and it was often broken into two parts.  “Here’s $5, there’s another $10 in it for you when we’re finished if you do a good job.”

That kind of proactive gratitude can change the interaction between parties profoundly.  But it is far more than just dropping a few dollars and saying thanks in advance.  Gratitude is not something that can be done cheaply or sporadically, it needs to become part of our constant attitude.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude (I hate that phase too, not because it’s wrong it just sounds cheesy), starts with saying thank you but when it becomes a part of who we are it leads to level of graciousness, that people will remember forever.  And people want to do things for other people when they feel like they are appreciated.

So make gratitude a part of your daily life.  Be thankful for everything.

Rather than saying “thanks in advance”.  Drop little thank you bombs into the conversation every chance you get.  Start a meeting with “hey, thanks for meeting with me.”  When you make a request for something say; “thanks for considering this, or thanks for taking the time to review my proposal.”  As the relationship moves forward don’t forget to say thank you at every completed stage.

Don’t be afraid to say thank you in public either.  Giving a seminar?  Thank the organizer for inviting you right from the stage.   Sign a big contract?  Thank your client on twitter or facebook, just be careful not to reveal anything that might be considered confidential.

I thanked a client on twitter once and they retweeted it to all of their followers.   It was a great way to increase my own exposure and generate even more leads.  So I thanked them for that too!

People love to be thanked and being gracious always pays dividends.

Thanks to Darren Hardy (@darrenhardy) for giving me the idea of this post.

Thank you for reading it.

Who do you want to thank today?  Tell me in the comments below or forward this post directly to them, I will be super grateful if you do, and I’ll make sure you know it…

 

Praise – Part 1


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.
Prayer School – Part Three

hallowed be your name. [Matthew 6:9b]

Prayer is an act of worship.

The Lord’s Prayer is a praise sandwich.  It begins and ends in worship.

Here in the very first verse of the prayer, after acknowledging God’s position as head of the family we begin with praise.

When we pray we are in conversation with “Ultimate Reality”.  The personal deity that took on flesh and walked among us.  It would be disrespectful for us to begin a conversation with the creator of the universe, the most all powerful, God, Love incarnate without at least acknowledging that fact.

Praise, therefore is an essential part of prayer.

Jesus taught that when we pray we are to begin by addressing God as nothing less than our holy father.  God’s very name is holy and worthy of praise.

Dictionary.com defines holy, among other things as being “entitled to worship or veneration.”

Therefore, when we pray we must remember to praise God. After having worked through the rest of our prayer we will return to praise in chapter 8.  By that point our praise will have taken on deeper meaning and carry additional weight in the context of what we have just prayed but for now our praise is focused on the personal essence of God.

As I have already stated God is Love incarnate.  But this is a concept that I have found a lot of people have trouble articulating at first.  Therefore, to praise God we must work through what this means and how to address him.

Addressing the Person of Love

When you love someone, you want to be with them, you want to spend time with them and you want to converse with them.  Being in the presence of love should never feel awkward or forced.  Conversation among intimate partners is different.  It’s usually slower, quieter and less pointed than conversations with people who are not your partner.

While it may take time to develop this kind of a relationship with God, your prayer language should reflect this loving relationship.  Take your time with it, approach God like you would a loving life partner because in many ways that’s what He is.

Acceptance

God loves you just the way you are.  There is nothing we need to do to gain His approval.  Safe in the knowledge of our eternal acceptance we can approach God in complete security and submission.

Whenever I think of God’s acceptance of me I remember the parable of the Lost Son, [Luke 15;11-32].  God, the loving father, is so overjoyed at the presence of his lost son that he doesn’t even let him speak before showering him with full acceptance and love.

That’s what it means to be accepted by God.  All we have to do is receive it, we can’t add anything to what God has already done for us.  [Luke 12:29-34]

Thanksgiving

It’s human nature though to want to give something back.  In this case, the only thing God wants is your love and thanks in return.  The story of the bible is in many ways a story of mankind’s attempts to set up rules and rituals designed to curry favor from and give back to God.  But God wants none of it, he simply wants your love and your thanks. [Micah 6:8]

When we say, “hallowed by thy name”, we are coming to God in reverence, accepting his love and thanking him for every blessing that He is continually pouring out over us and the entire world.  The only appropriate response to all this blessing is praise and then to get down on our hands and knees and drink it up like a deer at an ever-flowing stream.  [Psalm 42:1]