Going Through the Motions

I think one of the hardest things any working professional faces is “the day to day grind.”  Day after day you wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, and come home; day in, day out.  And, unless you hit it big, odd are that you’ll be doing this for five days a week for about 30 years (am I depressing anyone yet?).  It’s only natural that after a while you might start to feel like a rat in wheel, doing the same repetitive things over and over.  In my view, one of the worst things that can happen to a working professional is to get caught in the rut of just “going through the motion.”

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably experienced these emotions at some point or another during your career.  So what do you do when you start to see yourself getting in to this rut?  What are some things you can do to break free and move beyond the mundane and make your life’s work more invigorating?

For me I’ve found it very helpful to take a step back and try and look at the big picture.  “Why am I doing this in the first place?”  “What’s my purpose?”  “What is the mission of my organization, and what are we working to achieve?”  I think that the very first step is to try and consciously take a bigger picture view.

Second, I’ve found it very helpful to try and get into the office a little bit early to knock out some of the pesky/mindless tasks that seem to linger throughout the day, and which can make you feel like that “rat in a wheel,” so that during peak hours you can be focusing on more important matters.  Freeing yourself of the little things on your to-do list can enable you to focus more on your real purpose and mission.  Spending your time focusing on your purpose/mission has a way of breaking you out of “going through the motions,” and helps you feel more invigorated and excited about what you’re doing.

So the next time you’re feeling yourself get in to the rut of going through the motions, try applying these two techniques.  Hopefully you will find that it will help you break that cycle.

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Leadership and Trust

I recently came across this short YouTube video of General Colin Powell.  In the video he’s asked what makes a great leader, and without any hesitation he answers: “trust.”  In his view, in order to be able to effectively lead others, you must first gain their trust.  Once a leader has gained trust from his/her followers, the followers will have confidence enough to go where they are being asked to go, and to do what they are being asked to do, because they trust that they are not being led astray.

So how does one go about building trust?  I’m currently taking an international business class where this very question has been raised.  There has been a lot of research on this topic, and the research has come back with three keys for successfully building trust:

  1. Competence – by this I mean demonstrating a certain level of knowledge/competence in the area where you are trying to lead.
  2. Benevolence – this is the desire to do good to others, to be charitable and demonstrate goodwill.
  3. Integrity – this comes down to having a high level of honesty, and abiding by a strong moral code.

If Colin Powell is right (and I believe he is), you must gain the trust of your followers in order to be a good leader.  And in order to gain the trust of your followers, you must demonstrate a high level of competence, and act with benevolence and integrity.  I challenge you to do some self-introspection and ask yourself how you’re doing on these three critical components, and to resolve to do better where you find weaknesses.

The Relationship Between Vision and Goals

I recently watched a YouTube video by Ken Blanchard where he discusses one of the critical components of “servant leadership,” which is having a clear vision.  In his view, a clear vision needs to consistent of the four following components:

  1. What business are you in; why are you doing what you’re doing?
  2. If you do a good job in your business, what will happen; where are you going?
  3. What’s going to guide your journey; what are your values?
  4. What are your goals; what should you focus on right now?

What I found most interesting about this video was how he connected the dots between goals and the previous three components of a good vision.  Without clearly answering the first three questions, goals begin to feel more like a threat.  “If we don’t hit these goals then…”  But once we have clearly defined our why/mission, our direction, and our values, then our goals begin to make sense.  We don’t just have goals for the sake of having goals; we have goals that are purposefully tied in to our mission, direction, and values.

So the next time you’re sitting down with your team to formulate goals, first start by clearly defining questions one through three.  Doing this will put in to perspective why you’re setting goals in the first place, and will hopefully guide you towards goals that are worth pursuing, and assist you in carrying out your mission.  For regular info on business, leadership, or management, follow me on Twitter at @RyanFriden.

Leadership and Fun

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Photo via: www.dribble.com

Warning: the video you are about to watch contains dance moves that should only be performed within the confines of one’s own home, without any recording device present…and preferably without another human being within a 500 foot radius.

Okay, now that you’ve had a chance to see the video, you’re probably asking yourself, “Can I get the last four minutes of my life back?”  There are certain things that you just can’t un-watch, and Frank Beamer’s dance moves certainly fall into that category.

The reason I posted that video (aside from the fact that you just can’t look away, even though you desperately want to) is to show that it’s important as a leader to kick back and have some fun every once in a while.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind, and the never ending to-do list, that it’s easy to forget to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing.

Some of the best memories I’ve had as a leader/team member is when we’ve collectively had some fun.  Aside from the enjoyment that you can have by creating a fun experience, it’s a great way to build comradery and unity as a team; and it’s also a good way to celebrate your successes. Sometimes I think that we don’t pursue fun things as often as we should because it can seem like a lot of extra work to plan and make arrangements for a big activity or event.  But sometimes the most fun can be had spontaneously, with little to no planning or preparation.  So, my challenge to you is to think of something fun to do with your team within the next week or two and do it!  And if it involves any form of dancing, just be sure that no one is recording…

Leading Without the Title

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Picture via www.quotesaga.com

Often times when we think of leaders we think of the CEO, the President, the VP’s, etc.  We view the people holding those positions as leaders, and for obvious reasons.  People in those positions are typically the ones making the decisions, creating a vision and mission for organizations, and they have often risen to those ranks through hard work and demonstrated leadership qualities.

And while the people in those positions are often very good leaders, and are in what I call “natural positions of leadership,” you don’t have to have the title to be a leader.  When I think of some of the great leaders of the world some people in “high up” positions come to mind: Winston Churchill, George Washington, Steve Jobs and Jack Welsh are a few of many that I think of.  All of them were great leaders in their own right, and had they had the “title” to go along with it.  But I also think of other influential leaders, who have led without the title: Rosa Park and Mahatma Gandhi among others.

So how do you go about leading when you are not in a “natural position of leadership;” when you don’t have the title to go along with it?  I think you go about it the same way a successful CEO or President goes about it.  We’ve all seen people be successful in natural leadership positions, and we’ve seen people be unsuccessful in those very same roles.  In the end, the title only matters to an extent.  The true measure of someone’s ability to lead lies with their personal characteristics and leadership qualities that they possess, regardless of their position or title.

There are many qualities that are important for a good leader to have, but to me some of the most important ones include: integrity, kindness, courage, compassion, hard work, and a vision beyond just the task at hand.  I think that if anyone, regardless of title, possesses these qualities or is working to develop them, then they are a leader, and they have the ability to lead and influence those around them for good.  My challenge to you is to look to be a leader and an influencer for good, regardless of your title, by focusing on developing these leadership qualities.

Becoming Better at Customer Service

If you ask my wife she will tell you that I have an unhealthy relationship with Buffalo Wild Wings.  What is it about that restaurant that keeps drawing me back?  There are several reasons why I love eating there (aside from my working theory that they’ve put an addictive chemical in their chicken).

First, the food is amazing…I mean like REALLY REALLY GOOD.  I can’t seem to get enough of their variety of wing sauces and delicious appetizers.  Second, it’s got a great ambiance.  For a huge sports fan like me, the idea of dozens of flats screens on every wall playing all of the sports channels is about as perfect of an atmosphere as a restaurant could create.  Aside from all of the TV’s and sports memorabilia, Buffalo Wild Wings is also always clean and well maintained.

The third and final reason why I love Buffalo Wild Wings is because of their customer service.  Every time I go there I get treated great.  I’m always warmly greeted, and then waited on throughout my meal in a friendly and professional manner.  So, what is customer service, and what makes a person or a company really great at it?

I recently watched a YouTube video by Horst Schulze, the former President of Ritz Carlton.  In the video he’s speaking to a group of Ford dealers and he explains to them, from his perspective, what makes great customer service.  He talks of the idea of “contact service,” which is service that starts the moment you make contact with a customer; the moment you greet them.  Phrases like, “Welcome, can I help you?”  Or “Hello, nice to see you,” can go a long way towards making a great first impression. This is the first step to providing great customer service (and perhaps the most intuitive).

The next step is complying with what that customer wants, and doing it happily: “I’m happy to help you,” “It’s my pleasure,” or “Of course I can do that for you.”  Those phrases help the customer know that you’re serving them, that you’re going to do whatever it takes to meet their needs.

Finally, good customer service ends with a warm farewell: “Thank you for letting me serve you,” “Thank you for coming by,” or “Have a nice day.”  Customer service can be summed up in those three simple steps.  To have a successful business you want to create a positive experience/interaction with everyone who comes in contact with you and your business.  You can have the best product on the market, but if don’t treat people well, if you don’t provide your customers with excellent service, you will not be successful and someone else will beat you out.  So my challenge to you is to apply these three simple steps with everyone who comes in contact with you and your business.  Doing so will add value to your company, and help your customers to know how much you really care for and appreciate them.

Below I’ve included the full video from Horst Schulze.  He begins talking about customer service at about the seven minute mark.  Enjoy!

What it Takes to be a Great Leader, Part 3

The last couple of days I’ve blogged about what it takes to be a great leader, and I’d like to finish my thoughts on the topic with today’s post.  My first post in this series was a summary of the opinions of a well-respected expert in the field.  My second post dealt with why people choose to follow a leader; what attracts and draws people to a leader.  In this post I want to spend some time discussing what I believe a leader should do once he/she has a following.

I believe that leaders need to be intentional in their leadership.  What I mean by this is that leaders need to spend a significant amount of time planning and thinking ahead about the course they want to take.  I compare it to hiking a mountain.  If you decided that you want to take some friends and hike a mountain but did nothing more than drive to the base of the mountain one day, simply knowing that you wanted to reach the summit, but really had no idea where to start or how to get there, well…you’re in for a long day.  And those following you are going to become frustrated and lose faith in your ability to lead them.

You’re going to end up spending half your time looking for a trail to take, and once you find one, you won’t know if that’s the one that will actually take you to top.  And what if the trail isn’t what you expect?  What if there’s a portion that requires you to stop hiking and start face climbing?  Did you pack ropes and other necessary equipment, or did you just assume that it was all hiking and nothing more?

Contrast that to someone who takes the time to research the mountain and its trails before they head out there with a group of friends.  Maybe that person decided to scout out the area a couple of weeks before the hike, or perhaps they looked up different trails online, or read what others had to say about the best way to navigate the mountain.  That person, who spent the time intentionally planning, preparing, and looking ahead, is going to have a much more pleasant experience.  And those who chose to follow that person are going to enjoy their experience, and become more trusting of their leader.

Leadership doesn’t just happen; it’s intentional, it’s planned.  If you’re in a position where other people are looking to you for leadership, take some time to consider where you want to go, and the path you will need to take.  Spend some time developing a vision, and create a game plan to help make that vision become a reality.