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What Kind Of Wake Are You Leaving?

We have certainly entered the “dog days of summer” here in northern Illinois. Last week you could cut the air with a knife it was so humid. Thankfully, this week has seen some minor relief.  
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  Water sports are definitely a good call for anyone wanting to stay cool. Water skiing and tubing are a couple of my favorites, although I don’t get to do them very often. However, some of you may remember last year when I cracked four ribs trying to barefoot water ski for the very first time. I prefer to forget.   No water skiing or tubing this year, at least not so far. Not even a boat ride. Maybe next week! But that does remind me of an important leadership concept.   What kind of a wake are you leaving?   As you move the through the waters of other people’s lives in your family, community and workplace, what kind of wake are you leaving? Here are a few questions to consider as you look behind you:
  • Are people smiling and laughing? Are people skiing and tubing? Or are there bodies strewn about or floating in the water?
  • Is there a growing string of maturing leaders gliding along, or are there medics and chaplains tending to the wounded and dying?
  Another way to look at it might be to ask, “What is your personal leadership brand?” When people hear your name, what images or emotions emerge? Whatever the answer, as with the earlier mentioned items, it has a powerful and defining impact on your ability to truly lead others.   Some people use fear and intimidation to get what they want from others. In my experience those kind of folks are only likely to get short-term results, if any. Especially as the millennial generation becomes a larger and larger part of the labor force, that kind of behavior will become increasingly ineffective.   There are four things that people want from those they choose to follow.

Four Essential Qualities

Leadership requires followership. If nobody is following, then you’re not leading. Following is not something that happens by coercion, but by others choosing.   1. People choose to follow people who know how to follow. I wish I could take credit for coming up with that, but I have to give credit to my friend, Dr. Jeff Myers. But, it rings as true to me today as it did the day I first heard it.   I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for my clients over the years, and I often ask, “What are the leadership qualities that you have come to admire?” While no one has used this specific phrase, they have described it to a tee.   The number one way people describe it is: someone who won’t ask anyone else to do something they aren’t willing to do themselves. Or, they are very willing to get in the trenches with us and get their hands dirty.   The best way I know how to describe it is by using the word “humility.” They aren’t arrogant nor do they think themselves above others. Jim Collins’ research bore this out as told in his bestselling book, “Good to Great.” This was the #1 quality of the leaders of the “great” companies.   2. People choose to follow people who care about them. John Maxwell is famous for saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Caring opens the door to following because when people sense that you genuinely care they feel safe.   When you are confident that someone has your best interest in mind, you don’t feel the need to protect yourself from them. You are much more inclined to entrust yourself to them. That’s ultimately what following is about.   That feels too mushy for some. All I have to say is, “too bad.” That’s the way it is and if you ignore it you’ll be the one who loses in the end. It’s not about being emotional, it’s about having and demonstrating a genuine concern for the needs of others.   One of my favorite books is called, “Leadership and Self-Deception.” It sums it up this way. Do you think about people as people, or objects? Before you answer too quickly, think about it again.   Other people have needs, wants, hopes, dreams just like you do. Objects are to be used for your own ends. I challenge you to be blisteringly honest about how you really view the other people in your family and at work.  
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  3. People choose to follow those who provide stability. People want a smooth ride. They know there’s turbulence ahead, somewhere, sometime. But they are looking for those who are able to ride out the storm and wind up still floating.   There are two things that I think are key here, both about which I have written previously. The first one is leading with a stable set of core values. Values drive behavior. Consistency in this area means that people know what to expect from you.   The second one is leading with transparency. In the absence of information, people tend to assume the negative. That is human nature. You need to supply the storyline or others will write it for you, and it won’t be pretty. Just think “soap opera,” and you’ll get the idea.   4. People choose to follow those who give them hope. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Whoever provides the most hope wins the heart.”   Giving people hope is about showing them the possibilities, painting a picture of a desirable future, and instilling confidence in our ability to get there together.   Read my previous blog about how Brooks, Lewis & Clark, Churchill and King Jr., all who faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, inspired people to follow them all the way to victory.  
Following is not something that happens by coercion, but by others choosing.

Joe Denner


What Will It Be?

So, what kind of wake are you leaving? When they hear your name, what images and emotions emerge?   You are ultimately in control of how others will consistently answer those questions about you. Decide right now what you want the answers to be and then live and lead like you mean it.   Question: What is one thing you can do today to begin creating the wake you want? [question]leaving-wake[/question]  
Seize the day!

How Well Are You Protecting Your Most Important Asset?

Ijust got back from one of the best vacations I can remember.     Every year we go to a family camp in North East, MD. This was our seventh year. It’s definitely one of our family’s favorite weeks of the year. However, it’s a working vacation for me since I’m the life coach on staff for the week.   What that means, simply, is that I teach a workshop each afternoon and I’m also available to meet with individuals or couples to discuss goals they’re considering or challenges they’re facing. In the end it usually means about a 15-20 hour commitment for me.   This year was distinctly different for me, in a positive sense.   There were two things that stuck out to me as I reflected on how well the week was going. First, everything seemed to be moving very slowly. Considering the breakneck pace that defines the world we now live and work in that felt really, really good.   Second, even though this was a working vacation for me, I found myself reaching the end of each day with a noticeable amount of energy. That was a stark contrast to years past. And given the energy output involved in teaching and in walking with people through some dark hours of their lives this was especially surprising.   As I tried to figure out why my experience this year was so much better, one thing came to mind. I’ve made a very diligent and intentional effort over the last 18 months to protect my most important asset – me.   In his book, “Essentialism,” Greg McKeown shares the story of a young CEO who learned the hard way that “the best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves.” McKewon goes on to say, “If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”   The benefits I’ve experienced from these four investments have gone far beyond a good vacation. They’ve made an impact on my daily productivity, my emotional well-being, and my relationships.   Let me share with you the four things I’ve been very intentional about in the last year to “protect the asset.”

Four Investments

It’s important to note that I have a long way to go in most of these areas, but the advances I’ve made in the last 18 months have produced a major return on my investment.   1. I have been exercising regularly. This seems so obvious, but for a lot of us it’s a major struggle. For years and years it has been for me too. The biggest challenge for me has always been where to fit it into my schedule. But this year things have changed dramatically.   The thing that has dramatically changed is not my schedule, but my mindset. I’ve always known exercise was important. But now I’m not waiting for a space to open up in my schedule. I’m proactively making space in my schedule for it.   This goes back to a key concept I’ve written about before. Don’t say you don’t have time for something. We make time for what we consider a priority. And that’s what I’ve done. When I exercise I feel great physically and it definitely continues to contribute to the uptick I’m experiencing in my emotional and mental energy as well.   It’s become such a regular part of my life and routine that I actually exercised five out of the first seven days of my vacation. And I loved every second of it.   2. I have made sleep a much higher priority. This one may seem counterintuitive to some of us, but sleeping more will actually help us get more done. The CEO I mentioned earlier said that this was the single most important factor in his recovery from his physical crash and in his subsequent success.   Study after study has shown that getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night has a significant, positive impact on our productivity, our effectiveness, and our happiness.   Another huge thing for me has been naps. I would say that at least 3-4 times per week I fit in a 15-20 minute nap. I did this on vacation too. A few of the days, right before I taught my workshop, I would go down to my room, get in the bed, and snooze for a few minutes.   I’m convinced this commitment to sleep has been another huge game-changer for me both before and during my vacation. McKeown states that those who choose wisely here, “are able to go about their daily lives with a reserve of energy, creativity, and problem-solving ability to call upon when needed.”  
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  3. I am eating better and smarter. This continues to be the biggest ongoing challenge for me. However, I’ve made great strides and continue to look for ways to improve.   There have been three things I’ve tried to be more intentional about in this area. First, is portion control. I’m doing much better at not overeating. I’ve concentrated on eating until I’m satisfied instead of eating until I’m full. Big difference.   Second, along with smaller portions at the three major meals of the day, I’ve introduced the routine of eating a very light energy snack at around 10am and 3pm. Again, noticeable dividends have been reaped.   Third, I have been very thoughtful about my sugar intake. Unfortunately, there have been a couple of weeks this year where I very thoughtfully took in way too much sugar. I enjoyed the moments, but paid the price for it. When I have succeeded in this area, which has been the majority of the year, the benefits in my energy levels and weight have been noticeable.   4. I have been reading more than ever before. Prior to 2015 I probably read 3-4 books per year. In 2015 I read sixteen books. I’ve already finished thirteen so far this year and I’m loving it.   This last investment is not universal. It’s much more personal. Reading is one of my favorite activities. It feeds my soul. It energizes me and helps me think more creatively. It just has a way of changing the whole dynamic of my day and week.   Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that you read more. I’m suggesting you create an appropriate amount of space to do something you love.  
The most important thing that has changed is not my schedule, but my mindset.

Joe Denner


Not Surprised

I guess when I really stop to think about it I’m not surprised by what I experienced on this vacation. It is a continuation of what I’ve experienced throughout the last two years as I’ve introduced these changes in my life.   But I’m not standing still. I’m still looking to grow and improve in these and other areas. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.   Question: What is one thing you love to do that you need to make time for more often? [question]protect-the-asset[/question]  
Seize the day!

What Kind of Customer Experience Are You Creating?

A couple weeks ago my wife, my oldest daughter and I stopped at Chipotle for lunch. We were in no particular hurry.     When we got to the front of the line my wife ordered a chicken burrito bowl. The young lady behind the counter informed us that they were currently out of chicken and that it would be about five minutes before they had any more. We all wanted chicken so we quietly stepped aside to let others behind us order.   It couldn’t have even been five minutes later when the young lady motioned to us that the chicken had been replenished and they were ready for us. We proceeded through the line as usual and came to the register to pay. It was at that point that the manager said, “It’s on me. I’m paying for your lunch since you had to wait.”   I think we may have slightly protested, but he insisted and apologized for the wait. My wife’s response had to be music to his ears. “I already loved Chipotle, now I love it even more,” she said with a big smile.   As I walked away from the counter to find a table I couldn’t help but think about what that young manager had just done. I even talked about it briefly with my wife and daughter as we ate our lunch.   I thought, “That’s a smart business person.” Yeah he just gave away $20, but I assure you that based on our experience, we’ll be back again and again.   My question for you today is, “What kind of customer experience are you creating?” Are you creating ho-hum experiences, or even worse, or are you creating “I love this place” type of experiences. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to be expensive to create the latter.   I’d like to share with you two more of the best ways I’ve seen to create positive customer experiences without giving away the farm.

Coming Back for More

1. Consistently deliver on your brand promise. This is pretty basic, but so many don’t do it. Consistency is the key to developing and maintaining a strong brand. When people know what to expect, and it meets a felt need, they’re more likely to come back for more.   Your brand doesn’t even have to be high-end to be effective. Take McDonalds for instance. When I was growing up (it seems so long ago) you always knew you could get a clean bathroom at McDonalds. It’s one of the reasons so many families who were traveling stopped at McDonalds for a meal. It certainly wasn’t for the dining experience. Or was it?   Actually, I’ve come to believe it was not only for the bathrooms but also for the dining experience itself. But not because it was so great. Rather, because it met a basic need, and we knew exactly what kind of experience we were going to get. The burgers and fries tasted the same whether we were in Arizona or Minnesota or Pennsylvania. We were rarely, if ever, disappointed.  
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  2. Be honest with them. I know that can be scary at times, but honesty really is the best policy. I had a customer many years ago, when I was the COO of another company, who told us that one of the main reasons they continued to do business with us was not that we were perfect or flawless, but that we were honest about our mistakes and addressed them swiftly.   This was a very large and profitable customer for us and it would have been very costly to lose them. One production cycle we made a huge error in scheduling. Rather than fabricating something to keep us from looking bad, I was blatantly honest with the V.P. of Operations.   She was one of the toughest customers I’ve ever had. She never minced words. She was very blunt and very demanding. But I always knew where I stood with her and she trusted me implicitly because I’d been honest and quick to act on numerous occasions.   In this instance she drilled me with questions, pressing me for information and firm commitments for where we were headed. Again, I was straightforward, and continued to keep her in the loop as the process unfolded. She remained a faithful customer for many years, even beyond when I left the company.   In Patrick Lencioni’s book, “Getting Naked” he says that the main reason we stray from honesty is fear of losing the business. But, he posits, that naked honesty is actually refreshing to customers and usually builds the relationship rather than hurting it.  
Consistency is the key to developing and maintaining a strong brand.

Joe Denner


Back to Learning for a Moment

A couple weeks ago I told you that I’d be sharing some of my favorite ways to learn. I started with my list of top recommended books to read. Today I’d like to pass on my recommendation for a few podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis that have been especially instructive, challenging and encouraging.   Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast is probably my favorite. Andy and his co-host only publish one podcast per month, and it is usually only about 20-25 minutes long, but it is top notch stuff each and every month. He shares from his own experience in building one of the premiere organizations in his industry over the last twenty years. I deeply appreciate his humility and his wisdom as he shares.   This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt is my second favorite. Michael publishes every week and the podcast is usually about 30-40 minutes. He has a delightful co-host, Michele Cushatt, who makes a strong contribution as well. They cover a variety of topics from leadership to productivity to personal development to how to grow your influence. It is always packed with very clear, practical steps to growing in these areas.   Getting Things Done is another of my top recommendations. It publishes every about every two weeks and varies widely in length. This podcast is all about productivity and focuses conversations around the GTD methodology. The thing I really like about it is that they interview a very broad audience of people from very diverse industries so you get a number of angles on how GTD can work for you.   Don’t forget to check out our podcast, “Stronger Leaders…Shaping Tomorrow” which is published the first week of each month.   Question: How have you created great customer experiences? [question]great-customer-experience[/question]  
Seize the day!

One Way to Know When Technology is NOT the Solution

I was recently in a meeting with one of my clients where their team was discussing the possibility of implementing a robust software package to improve their operations.  
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  As I listened to the conversation my discomfort grew. I asked some pointed questions and the answers I received confirmed my suspicions.   I knew that not only were none of the packages they were considering the right one, there wasn’t a package on the market that would solve their problem. So, how was I so sure?   It’s not because I’m a techno-wizard. It’s not because I have a sixth sense. It’s not even because I think I’m a genius when it comes to business.   It’s because there is one way to know for sure that technology is not the solution.

An Important Lesson

I’ve been around a lot of software implementations in my day. It’s really exciting and rewarding when things turn out the way you want them to. Even with all of the hard work and the inevitable hiccups, the payoff can be fantastic. I’ve had that experience.   However, they can be excruciatingly painful, especially when they don’t work. I’ve seen that happen also, way too many times.   Years ago I learned a critically important lesson from my boss who had just completed the Executive MBA program at Kellogg University. He passed on this bit of wisdom to me. Here it is: Technology is an accelerator.   Did you catch that? Technology is an accelerator. In other words, it makes things go faster. So, if you stink at something and decide to throw some technology at it, you’re just going to end up stinking faster. And you’re going to spend a lot of time and money to achieve that negative result.   Here’s a very simple test you can apply to decide whether or not technology is the answer to your problem. If you can’t figure out how to do something the old fashioned way, e.g. manually, don’t implement technology to try to make it work better.  
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Best Examples

Two of the areas where I have seen this most often is with CRM and Inventory packages. In the case of CRM systems, companies sometimes have a hard time accurately tracking the leads and opportunities that come their way. They think implementing a CRM system is the answer.   They dream about how it’s going to give them quick access to great info and pretty reports that will help them drive more sales. So, they go out and spend thousands of dollars and dozens and dozens of hours to get it in place only to find out that they’re still having many of the same problems.   The reason for this is really very simple. GIGO – Garbage in, garbage out. The processes and systems they had in place were insufficient or defective. Putting in a CRM package is not going to fix that. Why not?   A computer can only do what it’s programmed to do. First, if you haven’t figured out how to do it, you can’t tell the computer how to either. And it can’t figure it out on its own, at least not at the time of this writing. Second, if people won’t make the appropriate inputs into the current system, they’re not likely to do it in the new system either.  

The Rest of the Story

So, back to the story with my client. From the answers they gave to my questions it was clear that the problem was due to a lack of discipline. People weren’t doing what they had been instructed to do. That’s one of the most prevalent problems that I find in companies that are struggling with a process.   Giving people software or technological tools isn’t going to change that. Depending on the skill level of your employees, you may even be introducing new levels of complexity that will make things worse.   We give technology too much credit. We think it will solve all our problems for us. But that often isn’t the case. It’s only a tool, an accelerator.  
Technology is not a problem solver. It is an accelerator.

 Joe Denner


Quick Recap

If you are considering implementing technology, ask yourself the following questions:   1. “Are we currently able to accurately execute the process manually (or mechanically)?” 2. “If the process is working well, do we have a thorough understanding of why it works and how it works?”   Unless the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” you need to correct that situation before giving any consideration to technology.   I just saved you a lot of wasted time and money. You’re welcome.   Question: What’s been your biggest technology disappointment? [question]technology-not-solution[/question]  
Seize the day!

One Thing Every Great Leader Believes

Have you ever asked your child after a day of school, “So what did you learn today?” I think that’s a great question.  
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  I think it’s an especially great question for you and me to be asking ourselves. Why? Because being a lifelong learner is a crucial mindset for strong, successful leaders. Every great leader believes that. In my training course, 7 Days to Becoming a Great Manager, I make the following statement,   “If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a successful executive and now as a successful business owner, it’s this. You can never stop learning. You can never stop growing and investing in your future. The minute you do, the descent begins.”   There’s really no such thing as sitting still. In the global, fast-paced environment we’re operating in, you’re either progressing forward, or sliding backward. The pace of this movement may vary, but there’s always movement. Great leaders believe this. Don’t be fooled into believing otherwise.   There are many ways to intentionally invest in learning and in the coming weeks I’ll be giving my top picks for enjoyable and productive learning. You should focus on the one or two methods that are most enjoyable and productive for you. Here’s my favorite option:
  Reading great books. I would encourage you to make sure you read a variety of books. The best leaders I know read far beyond the business/leadership genre. Reading stimulates creative thinking and helps to keep us in a mode of being open to new ideas and possibilities. And with the rise of audiobooks, this is more accessible than ever, even to busy travelers.  

Best of the Best

Here are ten of my favorite (i.e. most impactful) books of all time, not in any particular order. These have all shaped me as a person and have impacted how I lead.   1. Leadership and Self Deception (The Arbinger Institute) – I’m very close to making this a requirement for every one of my coaching clients. It’s a powerful book about how we look at ourselves and others and, if you allow it, will have a radical impact on your relationships at work and home.   2. The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni) – This is the best of Patrick Lencioni. In this book he takes all of the wisdom he and his team have gained through the years and puts it in practitioner’s terms. Clear and straightforward, this book hits the mark.   3. The Power of Full Engagement (Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz) – This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s had a tremendous impact on my health and productivity and will do the same for you. These authors bring their research based approach right to the heart and mind of leaders.   4. Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose) – I read this book many years ago, but have never forgotten it. It’s a riveting account of the harrowing journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, but has some tremendous leadership lessons tucked inside.   5. Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler) – Every adult should read this book. It’s not only one of the best business books I’ve read, but has immediate and obvious application to every relationship in which you and I are involved. It’s about how to skillfully navigate difficult conversations.  
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  6. Getting Things Done (David Allen) – David Allen uncovers and passes along some crucial insights into how we think about work and other tasks. In addition, he communicates a wonderful and closed-loop process for getting the things done that matter most to us.   7. Integrity (Henry Cloud) – Integrity is more than simple honesty, it’s the key to success. A person with integrity has the ability to pull everything together, to make it all happen no matter how challenging the circumstances. This is essential reading for every aspiring leader.   8. The Bible (God) – The best-selling book in the history of mankind. It has impacted me more than any other book on the planet. I read it almost daily to ground myself in the truth.   9. Good to Great (Jim Collins) – This book has become a classic that’s referenced in leadership circles across the globe. Collins’ research and writing once again hit a home run in helping business owners and leaders everywhere understand what creates and sustains greatness.   10. The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) – This is probably the most intriguing book I’ve read recently. It gives powerful insight into how habits work, both personally and organizationally. It also shows us how we can change them, when needed, to get more positive results.    
Being a lifelong learner is a crucial mindset for strong, successful leaders.

Joe Denner


One More Perspective

There are many great ways to learn. But, there’s one more thing that’s indispensable when it comes to learning for leaders. We must never stop learning from our mistakes and failures.   While we should never seek to fail, failure is inevitable for anyone who is stepping out and taking risks. That’s what leaders do. And they learn from their mistakes. Failure, while not the objective, often provides one of the richest and most valuable laboratories for learning.   Take a quick look at my post titled, “Three Ways to Turn Failure Into Feedback.”   Question: What is your favorite book and why? [question]great-leader-believes[/question]  
Seize the day!

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