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YOU Go First

Monday, November 25th, 2019

As a leader, you should never let a focus and commitment to improve yourself get old or become forgotten. In fact, little will improve measurably or sustainably in your organization until you do. While leaders who complain about their boss, team, culture and more abound, those who admit that, “I’m the problem,” “I need to improve,” or “I need to be more prepared” are sadly rare.

A key to building a better culture, growing people better, and bettering your organization is for you as a leader to get better first. Without question, organizational excellence begins with the personal growth, sacrifice, and integrity of the leaders. And while the potential strategies for building a better you cover a wide range of topics I could relate in this space, I’ll present four key areas that, once you work to improve them personally, will dramatically and positively impact culture, people, and results. If you’re struggling with these keep in mind that this perspective isn’t about beating yourself up but picking yourself up and seizing these opportunities to improve.

  1. Control your emotions. It’s embarrassing to see and hear people who’ve been entrusted with leadership positions spend their days reacting, stressed out, and losing it with people because they lack emotional control. Lack of emotional control disconnects you from followers, distracts people, lowers their morale, and breaks momentum. It also isolates you as people are afraid to tell you what’s really going on because they know you’ll handle it poorly. Certainly, there are instances when showing more emotion, rather than pretending all is well when it’s not, can be helpful. However, demonstrating the wisdom to know when to delay, suspend, or display variances in their emotion is a skill many leaders don’t bother to work on.

One tip for controlling your emotions is to practice the discipline to stop doing what comes naturally and behave more intentionally. “Intentionally” means on purpose, and by consciously working to increase the time between a provocation and your response—if even by a few seconds—you can elevate the quality and maturity of your verbal and email responses, tone on voicemails, and more. By paying more attention to timing, what you say, and how you say it (tone), you’ll go a long way in demonstrating emotional control that makes you more approachable, engaging, mature, trustworthy and in control.

2. Control your language. Words matter – a lot; and, coming from a leader their impact is multiplied exponentially. Profanity, insults, sarcasm, gossip, complaining, badmouthing co-workers, other departments, or the competition, and more are – just as lack of emotional control is – a distraction. It also makes you look ignorant, weak, classless, immature, and bereft of common respect, intelligence, and courtesies. If you can’t control your language in areas I’ve mentioned and others like them, you have no business preaching to your people to be more productive. Everything on the list of examples in this point is incredibly unproductive and your engaging in them is leading by example – a terrible one! And if realizing the impact your words have on others, not to mention your own focus and attitude, and resolving to clean it up is too much to ask, then you should get out of leadership and go find something you can do with integrity.

3. Swallow your pride. My guess is that some readers won’t address the first two issues I’ve listed to improve thus far, because they’re incapable of executing this third opportunity for leadership growth: swallowing one’s own pride. Frankly, pride comes naturally to us flawed human beings, which is why an intentional effort to cultivate humility is necessary as a lifelong journey. Often, management failures which are misattributed to other causes have pride at the core. For example, consider how the following four leadership actions all have pride as their root cause:

A. You don’t build a solid and growing team.

Because of your pride/ego/arrogance, you don’t see the need for a team as long as you’re there! You don’t delegate or let anyone else make decisions. You are reluctant to give up any type of power as you feel it will diminish your importance.

B. You don’t listen to others.

Arrogance causes us to overvalue ourselves and devalue others. It manifests in instances like rarely implementing anyone else’s ideas and treating any disagreement with you like mutiny, without even considering the validity of points raised. Failing to listen also causes you to routinely cut people off and finish their sentences for them. In addition, your pride causes you to barely tolerate feedback on your performance and most probably to resent it.

C. You are a know-it-all.

Similar to not listening to others, but egregious enough to have earned its own category, having a “been there and done that” attitude where you believe that you pretty much have it all figured out is pride of Biblical proportions. If this is you, you probably don’t read books in your field, attend seminars or peer group meetings, and treat training like it is punishment.

D. You fail to give away credit or to deflect praise for your performance to your team.

You may rarely ever tell anyone else they do a good job, and are far more prone to let them know how much better they could have done so their success doesn’t “go to their head.” At the same time, you never feel like your own efforts are appropriately appreciated. Thus, when things go well you hog the credit because you’re more committed to building your image than to building your team

4. Shift your focus from success to significance. The primary difference between success and significance is two feet. Here’s what I mean: Being successful is all about you (what you get, how far you go, and the like). To become significant, you must positively impact someone else. Thus, the two feet I refer to are a left and right foot that belong to someone else…someone whom you bring across the finish line with you by empowering, mentoring, stretching, and impacting in a way that changes the course of their career and life. Incidentally, failing to improve the three previous opportunities listed, makes it not only tougher, but highly unlikely, you’ll be able to positively impact others in a manner that will help you become significant as their leader.

Drop the Leadership Lunacy

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019


As I continue with the third in a series of articles on the topic of generational leadership it’s important to prioritize focusing less on what makes each generation different, or what makes different generations “difficult,” and instead get back to leadership basics that impact all generations for better and worse. Thus far I’ve outlined important workplace aspects ALL generations want, respond well to, and are more productive as a result of, and will now cover a handful of universal dislikes shared by all. Keep in mind that it doesn’t require a volume of these missteps to adversely affect morale, retention, growth, cultural strength, and results. They all matter and their persistence within your culture can easily offset the positive things you do. Now, look in the mirror and invest your energies into the areas you can control and change.

  • Oppressive work schedules. This is the old school tendency to measure and celebrate people more for the hours they put in than by the quality of work they put in the hours.

It’s both unproductive and misguided to mistake hours worked for effectiveness while working. There’s nothing wrong with people wanting their time off so they can enjoy their families, hobbies, and have a life away from work. Help people from all generations become productive enough so they can get more done in less time and leave the dealership, and they’ll be less-stressed, more fulfilled, and increasingly productive when they are there.

  • Rewarding or celebrating longevity over results.

Tenure is not defined as “loyal,” but instead refers to seniority and longevity. Loyalty is defined as “faithfulness to one’s duties and obligations.” In other words, loyalty is doing your job well. Tenured people can be, and often are, your most valuable and productive people if their leaders create a culture where they can thrive, and don’t take them for granted because they’ve been there so long.

The other side of the coin is that tenure can become a license for laziness, as when someone takes something in life for granted—a job included—they often become lazy there. If you have long-term people who when they officially retire it will be for the second time, you need to address that. Hard working, productive people with less seniority are distracted and disgusted by senior people who are held to a lower standard of values, work ethic, and results.

  • Too many or unproductive meetings.

In a faster-paced society and leaner workplace, people at all levels are spread thinner and more readily resent wasted or unproductive time in many regards, but especially in meetings – particularly high performers. Too many or unproductive meetings are one reason people must work longer to get done at work what they could have achieved in less time, with fewer meetings.

  • Public chastisement or humiliation.

This is a foolish practice perpetuated by leaders who: possess little or unstable emotional control; are plagued by immaturity; or are insecure and/or angry at themselves, and therefore prone to take it out on others. Public chastisement or humiliation beats people down and causes them to mentally check out on you. And it doesn’t matter whether someone is eighteen or eighty; people don’t like this lunacy.

Also note, that while this is an imprudent practice to inflict on anyone, it normally has an even greater detrimental impact on those younger or less experienced, who may feel more vulnerable and be particularly sensitive to being talked down to or disrespected.

  • Inconsistency in practices, processes, and leadership temperament.

Inconsistency in the areas outlined creates tentative and skeptical followers, and tentative and skeptical followers are more prone to play not to lose than to win. The Lombardi adage is true: “It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re confused.”

Inconsistency can result from a lack of commitment, trying to do too much at once, unclear higher-ups, confusion over objectives, the pursuit of instant gratification, and more. Inconsistency in the areas mentioned, and others like them, can result in team members being indifferent, unenthusiastic, and unconcerned about what is new since they don’t expect it to last long anyhow.

  • Leading by a lousy example.

Everyone leads by example. The question is, “What’s the example?” Leading by a poor example covers a lot of ground: being late to work, bad-mouthing other departments, making excuses, not keeping commitments, failing to live values, lack of consistency, and more. Demonstrating this lunacy breaks trust, destroys your credibility and pretty much makes you a running joke among team members of all generations.

  • The endless pursuit of silver bullets and “flavors of the month.”

Failure to commit to, and stick with, processes, programs, or other initiatives because it’s difficult or unpopular, or because an alternative looks easier—even if it doesn’t work as well—is a sure and common way to confuse, frustrate, and create skepticism from the team. At the end of the day, a lack of follow through from management is a momentum-breaker and creates a perception that managers are either clueless, indecisive, or apathetic; maybe even all three.

  • Valuing likability over performance.

Managers lose credibility and hurt morale when people are favored or retained because they “like” a person despite the fact they don’t meet performance and/or behavioral standards. When “who you know” or “who you are friends with” creates more job security than performance, you create a culture of compromise, double-talk, and hypocrisy that presents a persistent distraction for those doing their job well.

  • Valuing performance over integrity.

Tolerating team members who violate values, cut corners, and don’t take care of customers or care about teammates simply because they perform well numbers-wise can destroy your culture and credibility. These toxic achievers hold others down through distractions, drama, and egregious example. Leaders who fail to address the situation look like incompetent, gutless, sell-outs; not the kind of person anyone wants to follow for long, if at all.

There are no perfect leaders so let me take some pressure off you: you’re not the exception. But to lead effectively across all generations you’ve got to clean up lunacy like this in your own culture and within your leadership style or you and your team will continue to miss what could be and should be. Face it, fix it, and get better.

Build on Common Ground

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019


As I continue with a series of articles on the topic of generational leadership it’s important to shift our thinking away from what makes each generation different, or what makes different generations “difficult,” and instead get back to leadership basics and outline important aspects of a workplace that ALL generations want, respond well to, and are more productive as a result of. While there are, and will always be, specific tweaks in style, approach, verbiage, etc., that more successfully resonates and connects with a single generation over another, it’s foolish to exert disproportionate effort to get more from a single group when key leadership responsibilities that would elevate all generations are neglected. Thus, evaluate your dealership’s strength and health on this checklist and build on – and rally around – the desires of all workers regardless of their generation, ethnicity, gender, experience level, or socio-economic background.

  1. Working with high-quality people
    Frankly, no one wants to work with idiots, incompetents, or the corrupt. Having dependable, respectful, competent, and caring teammates improves one’s work life and quality of life overall. This all starts of course with how well you hire and develop your human capital.
    Here’s a check-up question: Who have you hired that you wouldn’t rehire if given a second chance? Second question: Why are they still there?
  2. Being part of a strong and exclusive culture.
    This includes understanding and seeing value in three primary things:
    • What a team member has a chance to become personally as part of that culture, through development and advancement.
    • Based on your values and purpose, the people you surround them with, and community involvement, will they feel a part of something special by belonging to that culture?
    • Are they trained, equipped, and empowered to make a difference as a member of that culture—both for teammates, and customers?
    Check-up question: If you were recruiting someone, list one specific and compelling benefit you would give for each of these three cultural aspects:
    • What you have a chance to become.
    • Why this place is exclusive (not everyone can be one of us) and what you will be a part of.
    • How they will have a chance to make a difference working here.
  3. Having managers who “get” them, recognize their unique abilities, and know what motivates them as individuals.
    No one from any generation will have much interest in, or be willing to, try to understand you as a leader and where you’re coming from, until they first feel understood by you.
    Check-up question: Who on your team, or that you work with often, do you not “get” (understand how to motivate)? What can you do to change that? Hint: perhaps spend more time with them asking questions than giving answers.
  4. Knowing what is expected and what success looks like.
    This refers especially to performance expectations and behavioral standards (core values).
    Check-up question: Which performance expectations or core values do you believe aren’t clear or emphasized enough? How will you change that?
  5. Receiving fast, clear, conversational, candid, honest, and respectful feedback on performance.
    This includes affirmation for good performances and coaching for correction and improvement.
    Check-up question: Which aspect of feedback listed above do you need the most work to improve? Circle it. What will you do to change that?
  6. Being part of something bigger than themselves.
    This relates to a meaningful vision for their department and/or the dealership overall, and includes understanding their role, and what’s in it for themselves and the team when they’re successful.
    Check-up question: How alive and compelling is your department/organization’s vision at this time, and how clearly do they see their own potential to contribute? How can you improve either aspect?
  7. Accountability conversations, not verbal “beat-downs.”
    Effective accountability discussions are: conversational in nature, respectful in tone and words, private, specific, fair, and firm.
    Check-up question: Which aspect about the nature of an effective accountability conversation, as listed above, do you need the most work on and what will you do to change that?
  8. A compelling career path.
    This includes not only where someone can “go,” but how you can help get them there, as well as clarifying their part, and yours, in the process. A compelling career path isn’t always about “moving up,” but about improving one’s abilities and broadening his or her responsibilities within the position they’re already in as well.
    Check-up question: Which of the listed aspects of laying out a compelling career path do you need to improve most? How can you improve that, and with whom does this need to be done?
  9. Empowerment to make decisions, make changes, and contribute to and implement ideas and strategies.
    Empowerment requires trust, and trust is reciprocal; so is distrust. Micromanagement communicates the latter. No generation appreciates distrust or covets being micromanaged.
    Check-up question: Are there trivial decisions you’re making now that you could train and empower your team members to make? If so, list them and determine how you can best hand this off to others and thereby empower them.
  10. Being let in on things.
    No news isn’t good news when people feel left on the outside looking-in, and they will begin to believe it’s “us against them so watch your own back because no one else will.”
    Check-up question: Is there an area where you can improve communication with your team concerning what is going on as far as: marketing; process/schedule changes; training schedules; results updates; their own performance; your various meetings/agendas; or other instances that would let them feel more tuned-in to what’s going on in their department and organization overall? Circle which of the aspects listed leaves you the most room for improvement, or add your own that isn’t listed.
  11. Effective and consistent training, and an efficient structure to help them work smarter and harder (more productive during the day) so they don’t have to always work longer to make a living.
    People from all generations want a quality of life that includes enough time to spend with family, pursue hobbies, friendships, exercise, community involvement, and the like — in other words, to have a life. However, until they get better at work, or are adequately staffed at work, they normally must spend more time there to get done what they could have achieved in less time if they were better at work and properly staffed. Being “better” at work not only includes being competent enough and having enough help, but working within structures and processes that are modern, effective, and efficient.
    Check-up question: Which aspects of your training or one-on-ones are inconsistent or ineffective? Are there any components of your process that make it more difficult for people to get the job done; or, that make it take longer to get it done than is necessary (red tape, too many steps, archaic technology, and the like)? What are they, and what will you do improve this?
  12. An authentic leader.
    An authentic leader: is real, sincere, and trustworthy; admits mistakes; is unwavering under pressure; is without pretense, duplicity, and hidden agendas; and is not two-faced or a people-pleaser. This is someone who, even when you don’t like where he or she stands on a matter, you at least know where they stand and what they stand for.
    Check-up question: Which of the traits of authenticity, if any, would your team rate you lowest in? What will you do to improve this?

There are many other cultural commonalities that all generations want and benefit from, but these twelve are a good place to start addressing. In my next column on generational leadership I’ll present a second list: foolish and unproductive things managers do that must be corrected because of their adverse effect on all generations.

Leading Across Generations

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Leading Across Generations

Much has been written and spoken over the decades on adjustments leaders must make to connect with and get the most out of a specific generation. And while mindsets and behaviors from each generation have specific nuances, traits, and tendencies – influenced by culture, current trends, upbringing, the arts, religion, politics, and social movements – there are needs and desires that run common through all people, and essential leadership tenets you can’t afford to ignore with any generation.
In fact, it can be foolish to put so much focus on a particular generation that you overlook leadership basics that would positively impact all people on your team. Getting back to basics in leadership is about reviewing, retooling, and recommitting to these commonsense aspects of relationships and development, to strengthen the foundation of one’s personal leadership and the organization overall. My next several columns will address aspects of generational leadership excerpted from a training program I’ve developed on the topic, starting with a series of foundational thoughts on the topic and extending to: positive workplace aspects you must have in place to affect all generations; foolish practices you must eliminate that are detrimental to all team members; and a series of keys to connecting with, influencing, and getting the most out of every person on your team: regardless their age or background.

Four Foundational Thoughts on Generational Leadership:

1. It is common to believe it’s always “them” that is peculiar or needs to change, when the fact is, it is all of us that is peculiar or needs to change from the eyes of someone different than ourselves. In leadership, influencing others for the better always starts with changing our own mindset and behaviors. It is incumbent on leaders to adapt to connect with their followers, and not wait for followers to connect with them.

Frankly, not much changes for any of us until something changes within us. And very often that means realizing the changes you must make personally in priorities, energy, and investment to better connect with, develop, inspire, and retain all team members.

2. The fact is that even within the same generation, a leader must adapt his or her approach to fit the person, and won’t find it effective to attempt to influence, motivate, or impact all in the same way. One of my favorite quotes of Coach Vince Lombardi says it well: “You’ve got to know them to move them. My job is to learn forty different ways to move forty different men.”

As a leader, you’ll more likely get to “know” people at a deeper level with meaningful conversations, than with memos, emails, or daily “drive-bys,” where you bustle through the workplace and have mostly incidental conversations with people about the weather or favorite ball team as you hurry off to review numbers in your office. While it’s not possible to effectively know everyone in an organization, as a leader your priority must be those in your direct charge or with whom you interact with most often.

3. When we spend too much time trying to understand or connect with a specific generation, we normally do it at the expense of ignoring or taking other generations for granted. This is why revisiting aspects and strategies that work with ALL generations is an essential place to reboot our leadership growth and impact. From that foundation, one can tweak verbiage, styles, and approaches accordingly.

Becoming brilliant in the basics of sound leadership and people principles, and never veering from those aspects too often or for too long, is essential to your continued growth and fulfillment as a leader.

By the very definition of human nature (the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by ALL humans) we’re reminded of the commonalities between all people, and that should prompt us to always focus there as these common aspects of influence, connection, and people development are foundational.

4. While you can’t change those from different generations, you can influence the way others think, which in turn will change behaviors and results for that person. This is because one’s mindset influences their behaviors, and behaviors create results. Too many managers want to change someone’s results without first influencing the person how to think differently about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re doing it. But without a meaningful relationship with that person (normally because you don’t spend enough quality time with them), your ability to influence them is impaired—and this applies to anyone from any generation.

Building productive workplace relationships takes time, work, and consistency; but, there’s little you can invest your time in that brings a greater return. It actually requires far more work in the long run to try to get more from someone with whom you have a poor relationship and never really connected with – or when you to have to replace that person because they either failed or left due to your leadership neglect.

In a follow up column, I’ll go into greater detail concerning The Relationship Factor, but I’ll introduce it here as it demonstrates how foundational it is to influencing and impacting all people on your team at a higher level.
Relationship Factor: The strength of workplace relationships one has with another determines the depth of influence one has with that person, and the depth of that influence determines the extent of positive impact one may have on a person.

Bearing the Relationship Factor in mind, how much time did you spend last week intentionally endeavoring to build a productive workplace relationship with your direct reports from all generations so you can more greatly influence and impact them in their job? What’s scheduled in that regard for this week? If you’re spending too much time with stuff and not enough time with people, nothing is going to change much for you relationally with your people, until you re-prioritize your people to their proper place.

Be the Coach Your People Deserve

Friday, May 17th, 2019


Ken Blanchard called feedback the “breakfast of champions,” and rightfully so, because we all need feedback in order to grow and develop to our fullest potential. When done properly, coaching those on your team and giving them quality feedback is one of the highest return uses of your time; however, when it comes to giving feedback, many leaders today are more of a critic than they are a coach. They point out what’s wrong without offering the individual any coaching that would allow them to adjust and bring better performance day in and day out.
Criticism without coaching doesn’t elevate people – it frustrates people. What follows are some key principles of coaching, and some steps to make sure you’re the coach your people deserve, and not just a critic of them. But first, let’s first define and recognize what it means to be a critic, and what it means to be a coach, so you can better assess your style of giving feedback.
A critic is defined as “one who expresses displeasure or an unfavorable opinion about someone or something.” Simply put, criticism without coaching is merely expressing displeasure and leaving it at that – not exactly the balanced feedback “breakfast” necessary to grow, develop, and invest in the people on our team.
A coach on the other hand is defined as “someone who gives private teaching, a trainer or coach.” Make no mistake, a coach will also express displeasure concerning poor behaviors or performance, but the difference is that he or she will also provide instruction on how to improve.
With a better understanding of what it means to be a critic, and a coach, let’s look further at the differences between them.

  1. To improve performance, a coach will provide feedback concerning poor performance, and immediately follow it up by redefining a performance expectation.

The coach will do this both conversationally and sincerely, without getting personal, profane, loud, or reminding the offender of their past flaws and faults as the critic does.

2. To improve performance a good coach will show the person what good performance looks like if necessary.

By redefining the performance expectation with the individual, you’re setting the standard. By modeling and demonstrating the good performance that you’re looking for, you’re setting the example.

3. To further reinforce his or her point, the coach will explain why it’s important to perform the task or duty in the manner prescribed.

A great demonstration of what you’re looking for, by itself, is not enough to help coach the individual to greater levels of performance. This is why the best leaders in any field explain the “why” behind it. They understand that people are more likely to apply the “how,” and live with the “what,” if they first understand the “why.”

4. To test the individual’s comprehension of the feedback and the example demonstrated, a coach will ask the person to perform the task again to demonstrate their understanding of the proper technique.
The only way you can know for sure that people get it is to test them, and let them show you that they’ve got it.

5. If the person requires further training to be able to perform the task or create the desired outcome, the coach will provide the resources necessary to support the person.

Strong cultures understand that talent doesn’t arrive fully developed, and that a ferocious dedication must be made to training, coaching, and mentoring employees. Identifying and resourcing a team member’s growth by providing tools, experience, mentors, training or additional practice are key ways the coach supports and helps build the skillset necessary for the person to perform well.

6. Once the performance improves a coach will reinforce the change or improved behavior.

This is because behaviors that are reinforced and rewarded are more likely to be repeated. But remember, the longer you wait to reinforce the behavior, the less impact it has. Reinforce often and quickly when you’re trying to influence behavioral and performance changes.

7. If necessary, the coach will establish consequences for the performer if the poor behavior or performance continues.

If you want to change a behavior, you must change the consequence for that behavior. As the saying goes, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

8. Even when establishing consequences, a good coach will affirm belief in the performer and his or her ability.

This is because the coach understands the consequence being established is something they’re doing FOR the person, not TO the person, as the sole objective of a consequence is to improve performance.

In summary, a critic is good at finding and pointing out faults or flaws; and, while a coach does likewise, his or her primary objective is to create the structure and tools necessary to eliminate the flaws. The coach is not just a “finder” but a “fixer.”


With these points in mind, are you more of a critic or a coach? If you were to randomly survey team members on your coaching and feedback abilities would they agree? If not, or if you’re unsure, the good news is that you can fix that by bringing more focus to applying the principles shared here, and adding value to your people, so they in turn can add more value to the organization.


As a parting thought, if you have good people who are being hamstrung by criticism without coaching, don’t expect them to endure or stay in your ranks for long. They won’t put up with the abuse, nor should they, making it all the more important that you step up and be the coach they deserve – and that you not wait until it’s too late to do so.


Leading with Level One Accountability

Friday, April 19th, 2019

There are four levels of accountability in any organization, and within the departments of that organization. And while each department, and the organization itself, is normally a blend of all four levels depending on the time of the month, the leader of that department, and other factors, there is one level that will dominate. As I share the four levels, evaluate which most dominates the area you spend most of your time, and what steps can be taken to improve accountability there. Whichever level dominates will tell a lot about the leader, culture, and team members in each department; and, if you want to improve performance, you’ll need to improve the level of accountability therein.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. In high-performing cultures, accountability is everyone’s job. This is because lack of accountability from one person may affect performance, the employee experience, and the customer experience throughout the organization.
  2. Accountability isn’t about punishment; although, it may eventually require consequences. The real and true objective of accountability is to improve performance. Because of this, holding others accountable means you care enough about people and the team overall to swiftly and firmly address issues that affect the team’s performance, and the individual’s future.

The Four Levels of Accountability

  1. Level Four: No accountability.

At this level there is no accountability — no meaningful consequence for poor behaviors or performance. The more often Level Four persists, the weaker the culture, morale, momentum, the brand, and results overall become.

Example: someone comes to work late, violates a core value, fails to follow a process, misses a deadline, fails to keep a commitment and the like, and nothing happens.

Without question, the more present Level Four accountability is within a department: the weaker the culture will be; the more morale will suffer; the greater results will be more erratic, and the more the leader’s credibility will be seriously impaired.

  1. Level Three: Top-Down accountability.

Top-down accountability is when a supervisor addresses poor performance or behavior. It is necessary, it’s a positive thing, and it is the leader’s job, but it is Level Three because there are two levels better than this. While it’s a significant step up from Level Four, it is not what you find dominating the highest performing cultures in business or athletics.

With Level Three accountability it is always the manager who addresses performance issues. For instance, a technician comes in late, and his or her manager will address it. Again, while this certainly is necessary, it’s not optimal as the boss can’t be everywhere and see everything. Thus, many poor performances may be un-checked as a result of reliance on Level Three accountability.

  1. Level Two: Peer-to-Peer accountability.

Peer-to-peer accountability is when equals within the same team hold one another accountable. It’s far more effective in improving performance and is a key indicator of high performing cultures. For instance, when a technician comes in late, the boss doesn’t have to address it because the other technicians will handle it in their own manner: “Come on man, you’ve got to get here on time. We’ve got a goal to hit and we all need to step up to do it.” A conversation like that from a peer, or peers, will have a far greater impact on influencing performance than Level Three accountability. While no one wants to let the boss down, there’s a lot more positive peer pressure not to let teammates down.

Note that in the example I gave, a peer confronting another can be done good-naturedly, respectfully, and conversationally. It doesn’t have to be done, and shouldn’t be done, with disrespect as that creates a distraction that actually hurts performance.

  1. Level One: Self-Accountability.

Self-accountability means no one has to hold an individual accountable because that person does their job, follows the process, lives the values, and does so consistently. And he or she doesn’t do these things because they’re bribed, begged, or threatened; rather, they do so because that is who they are as human beings, and they have a higher standard for themselves than anyone else could ever have for them. We all have had people on our teams over the years that required very little or no accountability at all. Level One is where the best teams live. While Level Two is really strong, Level One is the summit. Some team members are Level One simply because that is how they are wired, and it reflects the high standards they have for their own life. Other teammates are at Level One because the positive pressure created at Levels Three and Two incentivized them to “up” their performance.

As odd as it may seem, whichever level is currently dominating your department or organization, has a ton to do with how you’re hiring. It really does start there. If you’re hiring people without high personal standards who don’t care about others, and are content to just have a “job” and do just enough to get by, you’re going to spend a lot of time at the lower levels. But even after you do hire well it’s no guarantee that you’ll have the optimal levels of accountability. The leader of that department still must: create clear expectations; train others to hit those expectations; give others consistent feedback on their success or failure concerning said expectations; consistently hold people accountable for executing those expectations; and model the personal excellence that frees him or her to hold others accountable without being seen as a hypocrite. As always, the culture rests heavily on the leader, and the ensuing results become his or her report card.

Here are a couple parting thoughts to move forward with this information:

  1. Which level best describes where you stand in your organization from day to day, not just at the end of the month or when your back is against the wall? Which level dominates in times of prosperity?
  2. Do you have people on your team who care enough to confront peers concerning their performance? If not, why; and, how can you change that.

The “Wow” is Worth It!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Author Joe Calloway described a “brand” well in his book Never by Chance: “A brand is defined as a trademark or distinctive name, reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates a product or service from the competition, for better or for worse.”

Every company has a brand, that’s not the question. The questions are: Does your brand positively differentiate you or render you to commodity status; and, does it elevate or diminish the value people see in doing business with you?

To delve deeper, a brand isn’t primarily about your logo, jingle, or creative graphics; these things may explain or reinforce your brand, but they aren’t your brand. Nor is building a powerful brand for your dealership accomplished through big ad budgets and slick promotional campaigns. Building a powerful brand happens when you create a culture that supports consistently creating “wow” customer experiences, and by hiring and training the right people at all levels within your organization who are capable of consistently delivering said experiences.  In other words, by focusing more on the “reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates you from the competition” aspect of the brand definition mentioned previously, than on a logo, trademark, or distinctive name to communicate it. And as a leader it’s your job to make sure this gets done daily, and that chasing greater excellence in this regard is a priority for every team member.

Following are supporting thoughts and strategies to help refine your focus on intentionally building and leveraging the power of your brand.

1.    The bottom line is that your brand is defined by customer experiences. You may declare what your brand is, but a customer defines it based on his or her experience with your company or product. In short, whatever a customer thinks about when they hear your dealership mentioned—and that something will be based on either a personal experience or one they’ve heard about from others—is your brand. You can say what you want about who you are, but your customers believe what they experience…and THAT is your brand.

2.    In case the prior point wasn’t clear enough, let me rephrase it slightly: Nothing is more important than customer experience when it comes to brand management. Thus, if you want to improve the strength of your brand, you must elevate the quality of the experiences you’re creating for both team members and customers. That starts with hiring the right people at the outset, setting clear expectations for the experiences you want created (experiential standards), and training team members to deliver that experience while holding them accountable for doing so.

3.    A key to customer experience is consistency of performance. The more consistently great the experience is between departments, the stronger the brand. The greater variation you have between departments concerning the customer experience, or between your various locations, the weaker the brand. One bad apple in this regard, will afflict the whole batch.

4.    The best answer to the question, “Who on our team would create the most outstanding customer experience? is “Any of them!” If you can’t give that answer, you have work to do. Lots of it.

5.    The best way to influence a great customer experience is to create a great employee experience! You can rest assured that if your team members aren’t having a “wow” experience working for you, they’re not as likely to create similar experiences for your customers. Incidentally, micromanagers, oppressive work schedules, lack of training, hiring recklessly, inconsistent management, hypocritical leaders, tenured non-performers and more all drain the “wow” out of the workplace for team members.

6.    Keep in mind that even team members who are far removed from direct customer contact have a “ripple effect” impact on the customer experience. This is because of the effect they have on other employees. Naturally, if a co-worker is negative, incompetent, corrupt, indifferent, and doesn’t keep commitments, he or she will diminish the experience of teammates, causing frustration and lower morale – all of which has the potential to trickle down and affect the experience a teammate is trying to create for a customer.

7.    There’s much more to say about building your brand but since the focus of this piece is on perfecting the customer experience, take some time with key team members to honestly evaluate these questions and address the answers you’re unhappy with.

•    Are the processes and protocols we have in place designed to just meet a customer’s expectations, or are they intentionally designed to get the “wow?” In either case, how can we do better?

•    Do we have variation in the customer experience between departments or locations? If so, why is that? How do we fix it?

•    How often do we talk about getting the “wow” in meetings, during one-on-one coaching sessions, beginning with the interview process, and during onboarding periods? Since you can help change a culture by changing the conversation, what more can we do to shine a brighter light on this key responsibility for each team member?

•    Do we realize that our frontline team members (porters, sales associates, service advisors, receptionists and the like) have more daily opportunities to create a customer experience than the management team? This is by virtue of the fact they come into contact with more customers than management. This being said, how much training have they had on creating “wow” experiences? What training could we implement to improve the customer experience, starting with the onboarding of new associates?

•    Do we have experiential standards for our organization that clearly define guidelines for the things we will always do, and never do, with a customer or when speaking with a customer? Are all departments and locations on the same page with these standards? If not, how and when do we fix it? (If you’ve attended my one-day How to Become a League of Your Own seminar you know the answer to that question).

•    Do you know how your experience is significantly different and better from those your competitor delivers: from meet and greet, to customer touch points, to your various processes, to the language you use, to follow up, to communication protocols for service, to what they do while waiting to get into F&I, and the like? If your answers aren’t many and compelling, you’ve got more work to do.

If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is a lot of work. Incidentally, I never said building a great brand through “wow” customer experiences is easy; but, I can assure you it is worth it. And if your people and dealership are continually in price battles to be the cheapest so you can get the deal, there’s a better way: create improved experiences and the price becomes less relevant. People pay more for better experiences, and they return for more, and tell others to do likewise. Believe me, whatever it costs you in time, training, or dollars to build a “wow” brand…when all is said and done, the “wow” is worth it.

Bring Out the Best of Your Talent

Monday, February 25th, 2019

In his book, Talent is Never Enough, author John Maxwell says, “Too many talented people who start with advantages over others lose that advantage because they rest on their talent instead of raising it. They assume that talent alone will keep them out front. They don’t realize the truth that if they merely wing it, others will fly past them. Talent is more common than they think. Mega-best-selling author Stephen King asserts that, ‘Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.’”

Without question, our business, like any other, abounds with talented people who never come close to reaching their potential. This is because while talent is a great head start, it is no guarantee of performance. One must make right choices consistently in order to get the most out of the gifts one has. You can use these points to develop your own talent, as well as to coach those on your team to make daily choices that bring out the best of their own talent.

1.    Belief lifts your talent.

The first and greatest obstacle to success for most people is their belief in themselves. Once people figure out where their “sweet spot” is (the area where they’re most gifted) what often hinders them isn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of trust in themselves that becomes a self-imposed ceiling. To lift your talent, you’ve got to stop seeing yourself only as you currently are and begin to see yourself as you potentially could be; then, do all you can daily to close that gap.

2.    Initiative activates your talent.

Talent-plus people don’t wait for everything to be perfect to move forward. They don’t wait for all the problems or obstacles to disappear, or for fear to subside. They take initiative, because initiative creates momentum. And momentum is a leader’s best friend. Increase your inclination to initiate by realizing that desire, good intentions, and talent aren’t enough. Success requires initiative, and the greatest time wasted is the time getting started.

3.    Focus directs your talent.

Focus does not come naturally to us, yet it is essential for anyone wanting to make the most of their talent. Having talent without focus is like being an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you don’t know in what direction it will be. Increase your focus by giving up spending too much time with the things—and people—in your life that distract you and take your eyes off your dreams. If you know that you have talent, and you are energetic and active but still don’t see meaningful results, then lack of focus is likely your problem.

4.    Preparation positions your talent.

What happens when you don’t prepare? Things you hoped won’t happen do happen—and they occur with greater frequency than the things you hoped would happen. The reason is simple: being unprepared puts you out of position. Increase your preparation ethic by deciding to pay the price to prepare daily and accepting that preparation is not glamorous; and, that it’s often long and slow, but you cannot wait for the opportunity to appear before you start preparing. Prepare in anticipation of the opportunity, and when it comes you will be ready. You don’t get a second-chance to seize upon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

5.    Perseverance sustains your talent.

While talent provides hope for accomplishment, perseverance helps ensure it. Playwright Noel Coward commented, “Thousands of people have talent. I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head. The one and only thing that counts is: Do you have staying power?” Improve perseverance by having a vision that inspires you to keep moving, and grasp that the number one characteristic of a leader is the ability to make positive things happen – and that takes perseverance. Without perseverance, a talented person is little more than a one hit wonder.

6.    Teachability expands your talent.

If you are a highly talented person, you may have a tough time with teachability because talented people often think they know it all – which makes it difficult for them to expand their talent. Improve your teachability by changing your attitude toward learning. Learning is energizing and gives you an edge. It changes your thoughts, which improves your actions, which edifies your results. When you see learning in this light, you won’t be able to get enough of it!

7.    Character protects your talent.

Many talented people make it to the limelight, but the ones who have neglected to develop strong character rarely stay there long. Absence of strong character eventually topples talent because people are often tempted to take shortcuts. Hone your character by accepting that while many of your circumstances are beyond your control, your character is not. Character is the sum total of your everyday choices. Thus, great character is built by making right choices, one choice at a time, and it is destroyed one poor choice at a time. Talented, but low-character people aren’t done in by outside forces, they self-destruct through bad decisions.

Run a “Red Belt” Business

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Within our LearnToLead Elite Training Center adjacent to our Agoura Hills, California offices, I have a “Wall of Influencers”. On the wall are three separate photo displays where I’m posing with a substantial mentor in my life: John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar and Johnny Gyro. Maxwell and Ziglar are renowned writers, speakers, teachers and motivators. Johnny Gyro is not known in business circles, but as a ninth dan seven-time world champion karate master, represented in three separate karate halls of fame, he is well known in martial arts circles. As my instructor for the past decade, Master Gyro has taught me plenty about self-defense, but I’ve also found his insights into the martial arts keenly applicable in the business arena. Following are four tenets taught by this martial arts genius that can improve your leadership and elevate your organization:

1.    Speed is a disguise for technique.

Martial arts application: This is a caution to crisply and precisely finish each move before rushing on to the next; that moving quickly in an attempt to disguise flaws may fool the amateur, but never an expert. By moving fast and without good form you reinforce bad habits, and build a faulty foundation that will slow further development.

Business application: Beware of the tendency to immerse yourself in a swirl of activity each day to try and hide your limitations. Don’t mistake motion for progress, speed for direction or activity for accomplishment by understanding it’s not how fast or often you move, but the direction you’re heading that’s most predictive of progress.

Examples of how speed can disguise technique include failing to plan your day around the discipline of priorities and simply reacting and putting out fires instead; rushing through the interview and hiring process just so you can claim to have “hired three new ones” in spite of them being the wrong ones; making snap decisions in an attempt to appear decisive without hearing all sides; listening efficiently rather than effectively and giving quick, snappy answers before moving on to the next emergency of the moment; a situation mostly created by your inability to focus on performing the basics of your job with daily precision in the first place.

2.    End it quickly.

Martial arts application: When attacked by an assailant, end the struggle quickly; the longer it lasts the more likely it is something really bad will happen. To accomplish this you must hit vital targets in quick succession. Repeatedly punch an arm and the fight goes on forever. Deliver a scoop kick to the groin, a knee to the head, and palm strike to the jaw and the battle is over in four seconds.

Business application: When executing a strategy, don’t contemplate everything you can do to move towards a goal; you don’t have the time, energy or resources for that. Instead determine the fewest battles necessary to win the war and execute them violently, diligently, and with excellence.

3.    Stay hungry with a red belt mindset.

Despite the fact that there are ten degrees of black belt in the Tang Soo Do style, when one passes his first degree test he often becomes complacent, cocky, or can turn into a know-it-all. The rank prior to black, red, on the other hand is known for training hard, being coachable, humble and aggressive. A key to sustained martial arts excellence is continuing to think like a red belt, even after you’ve “arrived” at the black belt level; to act as a challenger even though you may be the champ.

Business application: Having a record month, being “number one” in the region, or completing your best year ever can cause you to lose the red belt hunger and start thinking like the prideful “been there done that”, black belt. Three keys to overcoming complacency are having forecasts that stretch you, continuing to work hard on your own skill development, and holding yourself and others accountable for the daily execution of key activities responsible for driving the numbers. When I present these principles in my “How to Master the Art of Execution” seminar I’m always told by attendees that the daily focus, and daily accountability, is what’s most missing in their daily routine, and within their business culture.

4.    What gets you “here” won’t get you “there”.

During the ceremony when I was promoted from first red to a first degree black belt Mr. Gyro told me: “You’ve worked hard and deserve this, but what this really means is that now you’re an advanced beginner; there’s still a lot to learn.” Two- and-one-half years later after passing my second degree black belt test he told me: “Only ten percent of first degree black belts become second degrees. Always remember that the focus, discipline, skill level and desire that gets you ‘here’, won’t get you ‘there.”

Business application: The responsibilities and operations of many leaders have grown significantly in the past few years; the problem is they’re running them the same way. They haven’t upgraded their skills, narrowed their focus or improved their levels of discipline, and eventually they’ll plateau or decline because you can’t drive a “Mack Truck” the same way you drive a “Chevy Volt”. Along these same lines, who gets you here isn’t necessarily who will get you there. Some leaders, especially those like I’ve just described, get outgrown because they foolishly think they can create greater production without improving their personal capacity to produce.

I originally had nine lessons to share in this piece, but have run out of space, so I may discuss the other applicable martial arts maxims in the future. For now, reevaluate these four and determine if there is application that can improve your leadership, the team, and dealership overall.

The Foundation of Accountability

Friday, January 18th, 2019

I’ve written and spoken extensively about accountability in the twenty years since we started our company, Learn To Lead: how to do it, why it’s important, the consequences for not doing so, and more. In my recent How to Master the Art of Accountability seminar attendees found it helpful when I identified and outlined the two non-negotiable pillars of accountability, and how to develop both.

Essentially, holding people accountable requires both the right skill set and the right mindset. Knowing how to hold people accountable, but not doing it reflects the wrong mindset. Wanting to hold people accountable, but not knowing how to do it indicates a deficient skill set. In this piece I’ll go over the fine points of each of the two non-negotiable pillars for holding people accountable.

Three Quick Openers on the Importance of Accountability

  1. Accountability protects the culture, morale, momentum, the brand, the employee experience, the customer experience and the credibility of leadership.
  2. While the cost of holding someone accountable may seem high or uncomfortable, the cost for not holding someone accountable is staggering and creates more cultural discomfort. The cost is also enduring, rather than a one-time penalty. In essence, the consequences for failing to hold others accountable create a form misery on the installment plan.
  3. Accountability isn’t an option for someone in a leadership position; it’s a duty. If you can’t do it or won’t do it, you’re unfit for leadership. It’s THAT big of a deal.

The First Pillar of Accountability

  • Holding people accountable requires you have the right skill set.

This includes setting clear expectations for outcomes, essential daily activities and core values. Without clarity there can be no accountability because the question becomes, “Accountable for what?” It also takes skill to effectively give feedback on performance, establish and enforce appropriate consequences, and know what to say when you confront a poor performer. These are not tools that come to you in a dream one night after you’re promoted from advisor to service manager, or from salesperson to sales manager. They must be taught, learned, and applied to perform one’s duty as an effective leader. Because of this need for accountability “how to’s”, the accountability categories of our virtual training library are always the most used by managers from all departments in an organization.

I should emphasize that part of the skill set for holding others accountable mandates that you develop a skillful style as well: it should be conversational more than confrontational. Holding people accountable isn’t a license to be a jerk, to become profane, to shout, or get personal. In fact, those tactics make you look like a leadership amateur.  Your approach should be direct, respectful, firm, and attack the performance rather than the performer.

The Second Pillar of Accountability

  • Holding people accountable requires the right mindset.

Mindset is defined as “the established attitudes held by someone.” If you don’t have the right attitude concerning holding people accountable you’re unlikely to do it with urgency or consistency. The right accountability mindset is established when you realize and believe that holding someone accountable isn’t something you do to them, but for them. Frankly, if you believe you’re doing something “to” someone you’ll be reluctant to do it, and will likely apologize for doing your job – making you the “bad guy” and the non-performer “the victim.” However, when you believe you’re holding someone accountable to help them, to correct their course, to facilitate their growth, and to make them more successful, you’ll execute this vital duty without hesitation or apology.

 

In an age dedicated to political correctness and committed to not doing something that would offend someone else, holding people accountable has increasingly become seen as harsh or unfair. But is it really harsh to let someone know what is expected, how to improve, where they stand, where they need to be and by when, or what the consequence is for failing to do their job will be? If you think about it, it doesn’t really get any fairer than that. In reality, what’s truly harsh is letting people live in a gray area, allowing them to fail, fall further off track, and permit things to get so bad for so long that you have no choice but to remove them; and, they never see it coming or have a chance to correct their course because you failed to tell them. While it’s true that holding an accountability conversation can make both you and the person uncomfortable, that very discomfort is what’s necessary for you both to grow and get better at what you do. What’s more uncomfortable is failing to do your job and having non-producers, or toxic achievers remain on your team, which is unfair to the rest of the team and jeopardizes your own job.

 

The bottom line is that the best time to start holding people accountable would have been several years ago. The next best time is now. Where holding people accountable is concerned, if you know what to do, why it’s important, and what’s at stake if you don’t do it, and yet still fail to do it, YOU are the one that should be held more accountable for subordinating what’s best for the person and team to your own comfort level. When you think about it, holding others accountable is a cornerstone of any leader’s job description, so expecting you to do you job and hold others accountable seems like a reasonable expectation. Developing the right skill set and mindset—the two non-negotiable pillars of accountability—offers you a road map to get the job done.