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  • Service Stars in Doctor's Office

    Dr. Howard Conn in Irvine, CA is a brilliant ophthalmologist and specialist in cosmetic laser surgery for the face. I went to see him for eyelid surgery. Sure I am thrilled with the results, but even more thrilled by his attention to service and truth. How many doctors would spend a FREE one-hour consultation and talk you OUT of an expensive procedure because it wasn't in your best interest? How many doctors would call you to check in and see how you are doing? How many doctors would give you their home number and cell number "in case of questions?" I only know one who does that: Dr. Howard Conn. This past week, I went to see him again. My appointment was for 2:30. Immediately at 2:30, he stepped into the waiting room and said that a procedure had just come up and he'd be delayed about 30-40 minutes. He could tell that I didn't have that kind of time. Instantly, he invited me back into an examining room and asked why I had come. I pulled out photos from a recent gathering and pointed-now--to my under-eyelid bags. Yes, he's helped the drooping upper lids, but what about this? He gently explained that I had no fat under my eyes and a very expressive face. "You'd not like the results in a few years," he explained. "Just keep smiling." He then wrote out a prescription for eye drops to help with the start of an inflammation I pointed out and wished me well. "No charge," he said. "See, there's always something good even if you didn't get the answer you wanted." I grinned at him, saggy bags and all. Now that's service and truth. And you, my clients, readers and friends, will just have to like me as I am :)

  • Leadership Comes From A Place That Troubles Your Heart

    Real leadership never starts with a title or a position on an organizational chart. Rather, it begins because one feels something could be made better. It might start as a resolve that comes from a tragedy (i.e., Mothers Against Drunk Drivers)  or an effort that comes from a creative concept for improvement (i.e., Apple, the Obama campaign). What is does take is courage, consistency, and commitment.  My sister, Susan Mullins, has these attributes in spades! For the past three years, Susan has spent, literally, a couple thousand hours establishing, developing, and leading a new community organization in her Los Angeles County Nichols Canyon neighborhood to improve safety, communication, and a real sense of community. More than 400 households have joined the Upper Nichols Canyon Neighborhood Association (UNC) and participated in a range of activities both in the immediate area and in the larger Hollywood community of Los Angeles. This has included: Creating the UNC Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Task Force. Creating the Public Safety Committees which together certified 40 neighbors in CPR and licensed 15 Ham radio operators. Having eight residents formally trained as Community Emergency Response Team members. Establishing a model Neighborhood Watch program that has proven very effective. Susan also took a leadership role in events such as putting together food and clothing drives for "People Assisting The Homeless" and "Food for Change." She crafted a major Los Angeles Fire Department Evacuation Drill with 500 participants in the canyon. Officials said they were astounded and gratified by the numbers who participated—all of which served as great learning exercises for both the citizens and the fire department. Part of Susan's work also included forming working partnerships with local law enforcement and various city agencies and organizations. She hosted education sessions with these agencies so that residents could learn everything from emergency procedures to how to keep neighbors safe. This week Susan was presented with the 2011 Centurion Award from the Peace Officers Association of Los Angeles County—an association made up of all the law enforcement agencies from local city Police Departments throughout LA County, Sheriffs, Highway Patrol, ATF, FBI, city, county and state attorneys. This award is for Outstanding Achievement in the Area of Community Partner.  It is the only "civilian" award this group gives in this county with a population of more than ten million people. Winners are chosen by a judging panel that reviews nominations submitted by all their law enforcement member agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department Hollywood Division nominated Susan. While my sister would say that she attributes the success of her efforts to the involvement of many other people, the truth of the matter is that it took one person to conceive, organize and guide it: Susan. What is the place that troubles your heart?  Where might you jump in and take the lead?  Or, who is your “Susan” that could use an assist in making work, family, or a community better.

  • Autopilot Leadership Leads to Disaster

    The day dawned cool and clear along the California coast when I went for my early morning run on the beach.  In the distance, a large shape became visible on the sand looking like a white box with long antennas pointed to the sky. As I approached, my white box turned into a 43-foot yacht with outriggers. Yellow caution tape stretched from rock outcroppings to its bow and stern and two men from Vessel Assist were digging around its beached hull. “Must have set it on autopilot and fell asleep,” answered the digger to my question. “Autopilot  doesn’t know about the headlands and the surge that will pull a boat to shore if you’re not watching.” What a perfect Labor Day weekend lesson: autopilot! Pick up a newspaper and you have to wonder about leaders in industries that are literally grounded. The wind didn’t just suddenly shift. Nope--asleep at the wheel. Business as usual with few course corrections.  You can name the names of companies and entire industries. Made me wonder how often we also lead our lives from autopilot? Surely the investors with Bernie Madoff put their financial ships in his hands, never once asking about how this single individual could steer a course with amazing returns while the rest of the world floundered Sometimes, it takes the getting grounded (or close to it), to jar us awake from autopilot.  Personally, dealing with my Mother’s broken hip at age 93 and handling all the legal paperwork has awakened me to more carefully scrutinize what papers, procedures and people I have lined up to help me and my husband.  From a professional standpoint, I am willing to bet I am not the only  consultant who auto-piloted her way in marketing, betting that articles and videos would continue to bring in new clients.  Not so.  Delivery mechanisms are changing and so must I. As our children start back to school, perhaps we all might think of September as OUR new year.  Get out of autopilot. What course might we steer in this new world?  I am looking at the map I am making of my life. Course correction is definitely in order. Where are you headed?

  • Motivate People With Storytelling

    In a data-driven world, facts and figures are the order of the day in sales calls, employee meetings, board rooms, and political assemblies. Traditionally, when a person is trying to convince someone else to do something they use the logic of benefits and features — long the sacred domain of anyone in sales. And they are missing the boat. What truly moves us as human beings, what prompts us into action, is emotion. Imagination is the conduit of emotion and well-crafted storytelling carries the imagination. Consider this story: You place your hand on top of your head, only to feel the sun radiate from your scalp. Sweat trickles down your back and the once ironed shirt clings to your sides. The pavement roasts your feet even through your thick-soled shoes. You’ve been walking for a 45 minutes, trying to find the office where you are scheduled to make a sales call. Suddenly, a swoosh of cold air swirls at your side as a young couple comes charging out of an ice cream parlor, licking swirls of raspberry and vanilla perched in a sugar cone… I’ll bet you’re ready for some ice cream! What engaged you was the reliving of a common experience. I didn’t need to itemize the benefits of cooling off or list the features of ice cream and this particular store. You were drawn in by your imagination. Facts tell. Emotion sells. You imagined how you would win over the odds of heat by taking a break for ice cream. We follow leaders who capture us by stories that draw us in and give us purpose for being part of the company. We buy products when we see or read of the human experience with that product. (Remember the Maytag Man?) And we accept the call to action if we hear a compelling story about triumph over odds. Think about the solicitation letters you get from non-profits. They are often stories of individuals who suffered greatly until the non-profit’s “product” allowed them to regain a semblance of their life. In short, crafting compelling, honest stories that resonant core values in action is a skill worth learning by any leader, manager, sales executive, or parent. In his best-selling book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee, the world's best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer, argues that stories "fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living—not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience." Or as USC leadership guru Dr. Warren Bennis states, “Man cannot live without story any more than he can live without bread.” What’s the point you want to make at your next meeting? Is there a story that can be crafted to that point—not a sermon to be intoned? Who has used your product and reported a wonderful story that came as a result of that product? Or did you even say, “Tell me a story…” What stories are told in the coffee room about what it is like to work where you are? What contribution could you make to this story that could improve the ending?

  • Happy Thanksgiving! Run Your Own Race-At Your Own Pace

    On Thanksgiving Day, dawn spills over Dana Point Harbor where thousands of runners gather for the annual Turkey Trot. The largest holiday race in California beckons folks of all ages, sizes, shapes, and abilities. Waiting at the starting line for the 10-K, I talk to a Dad and his 7 year-old daughter. Around me, I hear bravado talk about marathons, triathlons, hard bodies and zippo fat content. Thankfully, I spy silver haired folks with knee braces, a young couple with babies in jogging strollers and runners decked in costumes ranging from Santa Claus to Elvis Presley. Running in a gold polyester jump suit, and pompadour wig while carrying a boom box blaring Elvis tunes will be some trick.  Me-I just want to finish. The gun goes off and we all inch our way under the balloon arch. Runners jostle for position, elbowing their way to break into stride. Me-I just grin at the new day and feel righteous for having gotten up and down to the event. By mile two, my righteousness turns to dismay as the seven year-old passes me by. Elvis has already made the turn way before me and I am lagging behind a woman who must have 10 years and 20 pounds on me. The sense of competitiveness heats up and so does my pace. I forget that I already run two miles down to the Harbor and have 4.2 miles left to go.  The runners around me set my pace. Suddenly, as I make the turn, I am struck by a humbling sight. Facing me, arms pumping runs a young man with one leg glittering in the sun. The metal shank is attached to his thigh. A thin aluminum calf leads to a metal foot curved like a rocker. He is oblivious to anyone who passes him. He is running his own race at his own pace. I slow down, take his lesson, and resume my 1-2-3-4 mantra. Lesson learned, smack between the eyes. How many times do we let others set the pace, ignoring our own goals, our abilities?  How many times do we judge our success or our failure by what others have done? I finish despite the pain in my knee. Way behind the silver-haired lady. Well behind the 7 year-old.  Ahead of the sleek bodied teenager.  It doesn't matter. It is my race, at my pace. And it is a great day for the race-the human race.

  • Baton Leadership-Lessons From LA Philharmonic Conductor Dudamel

    Imagine a crusty group of seasoned professionals standing, applauding, and cheering a 28-year-old leader turned a same-old-same-old product into something fresh and exciting! This does NOT happen—particularly when the professionals are members of the Israel Philharmonic. But under the baton of Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, orchestra members did just that. Now, since 2009, Southern California music lovers continue to witness the same magic of a man who started as a tot playing in El Sistema, the publicly funded program for children in Venezuela. Talk about teamwork. Talk about taking an old product like Beethoven’s Fifth and turning it into something that has young and old talking. (In how many ways can we say “Detroit - get a clue!”), I was struck by an interview I read when Dudamel first came to my area. Dudamel’s leadership genius jumped off the page as something that leaders in all industries can practice. The secret: love the music and the musicians who play it! Dudamel makes every player a star, asking them to play their best and then—just a little more and still more. He is a persistent and disciplined communicator. This means he delivers the same message, evoking over and over again the possibility of amazing outcomes and a belief in the individual strength of each player that only become better when joined with others. He uses the power of words to express the results he seeks. It’s not the language of bottom line and shareholder return, but rather words that turn a symphony into human terms: blood, meat, happiness, magic. Every player can sense an emotional component to the end result. Imagine what would happen if leaders could translate a product or a service into something that resonates emotionally with team members. I can make a case for software technicians as surely as a team of surgical nurses. According to close observers, Dudamel’s eyes radiate joy and energy when working with the orchestra. He admits that having fun with the “product” and the players is what allows him to create a musical experience that brings the “buyers” of the product and the “makers” of the product to their feet. Fun. Energy. Joy. These aren’t words that one normally associates with work. Results without joy, fun (however one defines it) and energy create a disengaged workforce and a perfunctory leadership style. In a competitive arena, where every orchestra can select the same product, imagine the great difference a leader makes. Its why lines have formed to buy tickets for Dudamel’s first concert in October in Los Angeles. What would happen when lines formed to buy a company’s product or service because the leader’s behavior showed the world that he loved the “music” and the “musicians” who made it? Let the trumpets swell on that final note! How’s that for a lesson?

  • When Life is Out of Control – Control What You Can

    Economic meltdown. Global turmoil. Politicians using fear-laced words to rouse the lowest common denominator of voters. And the beat goes on. It’s enough to make you crazy, anxious, afraid and paralyzed. That helps nothing! I’ve stopped looking at my investment account. With deliberation, I’ve moved what I can, eliminated what expenses I can and now—it’s back to business. Hand wringing and catastrophizing do nothing. I’ve written letters to newspapers, business journals, and Congress regarding my views on bailouts, corporate malfeasance/greed, offshore tax shelters for military contractors, and my belief that adding up negative numbers will never produce a positive. (Duh—just ask a 5th grader!) Global turmoil? Nothing I can control here. Let it go. Fear-mongering? As a word merchant, I know that a simple word, given the right inflection and the right innuendo can stir up emotions. Claude Pepper, in a long-forgotten race for the Florida Senate, did just that in a rather uneducated part of the Sunshine State. He accused his opponent of practicing monogamy. He stated that his opponent’s sister was a known thespian in wicked New York City. Furthermore, his opponent was a devoted bibliophile. If you’re gasping in horror at these words - go use the dictionary. They are all positive words!!! So what can I control here? First—I need to listen carefully. I can alert my readers and my audiences to think and do the same. Insist that candidates focus on issues, real problems, and potential but-not-set-in-stone solutions. And lastly—vote! It’s the most precious way to control what we can. What can YOU control? P.S. It would also be helpful to insist that we abandon the Electoral College as an outmoded institution born early in our nation’s history.

  • Streamline Your Life By Saying "NO"

    Several years ago Oprah produced an entire show on the topic of saying "No.". Women are notoriously bad at saying no. Research done by Carol Gilligan from Harvard discovered that women make choices first for others and put themselves at the bottom of the list. We often don’t say “no” because we feel guilty, we’re afraid of offending, and sometimes, even afraid that it would reflect poorly on our work. Consider that an alternative to “no” might be “not now”. Being polite and helpful doesn't work if you're overscheduled and exhausted every day. If saying “no” or “not no” sounds too harsh, try this statement: "That sounds very interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you." This gives you some time to decide what's really important… more volunteer work or five hours of sleep at night. When you do get back to the person asking for help be firm and clear that you are saying no. Never use the word "maybe" and don't offer an excuse. Start protecting the time you need to take care of yourself. Remember, like a well, it must be filled for others to drink. When you are completely depleted by life's demands then you have nothing to give to life and loved ones.

  • Don't Neglect Training Even When Times Are Difficult

    Training is an on-going and key component to better business and happier employees.  Many companies are looking for inexpensive ways to keep their employees skills updated.  I have several ideas for meeting that objective: Bring in a professional speaker or trainer and share the expensive between several departments. Ask nearby businesses to split the cost of training in return for a number of seats for their employees or have your vendors sponsor training throughout the year as a way of keeping their services and products top of mind with your employees. Talk to your favorite training and consulting company about creating a series of recorded webinars that employees can access at any time at their convenience. Have a series of training podcasts created and have employees download them to their MP3 players. Ask vendors to supply free training on their products and services to employees. If you'd like more cost effective ways of training employees send me an e-mail at

  • Dumb is the New Smart

    What does the implosion of the subprime market, the Madoff Ponzi scheme, and the TARP bailout of the banks all have in common? ANSWER: No one asked the “dumb questions” that might have prevented disaster or—in the case of some banks—a refusal to reveal just where the money has gone. Think about it: What would have happened if borrowers asked “Exactly what happens when the rates go up and how much will I owe?” What if the investors with Madoff had asked, “Just how are you able to get such returns? Can you tell me specifically the areas you invest in?” Of course, rumor has it that Madoff threw out people who questioned him. Hey—when you sit like a god no one bothers to look at the throne made of smoke. And how about Congress? Where were their questions? Such questions might have been: “Just what guarantees will you create to hold the recipients accountable for performance with the monies? What shall we do to hold the Treasury responsible and what will we establish as immediate and daily oversight?” Here’s the point. The world has become so filled with jargon and complexity that it is very difficult to even grasp exactly what is happening. And because it is so complex, we’re often afraid to let our confusion show. We assume that other people understand and we don’t. So we nod our heads as if we understand the term “derivative”. We nod our head when we hear of a plan for building roads and schools as a solution to unemployment without realizing that much of our employment base runs on the use of intellectual capital instead of heavy machinery. Question: “What is the plan for creating jobs in this sector?” The value of seemingly “dumb” questions is that it makes everyone stop and think. It invites the deeper exploration. At the very least, it educates the questioner and at best, it can reveal fallacies in logic and action. But “dumb” questions also require courage. People get rude, defensive and even hostile when challenged. To deflect these behaviors, allow the question to be something that indicates you need assistance. “I guess I must be slow but could you please explain…” or “I hear what you are saying but I am having a hard time following. Please outline…” When we cast ourselves as being “dumb” through smart-as-fox questions, we might do everything from forestalling a bad decision to creating a far more appropriate plan of action. That means that “dumb” could very well be the new SMART.

  • Why Senior Managers Have a Hard Time Connecting with Employees

    Novations Group, a global professional services firm, recently released the results of communications survey. The information deeply supports why many organizations are buying one of my newer books, "Talk Ain't Cheap... It’s Priceless!". See if this does not ring true in your experience: They rely too much on e-mail and have little face-to-face time with employees. E-mail is a dangerous tool if overused. It runs the risk of being misunderstood, ignored, or in some cases, inflammatory. Often e-mail is without context and precious time evaporates in an electronic back-and-forth. They assume a single message is enough. Recall Advertising 101. It takes at least three times for a message to penetrate. Different people receive messages differently. Some prefer to hear a message while others lean toward the written word. They have no feedback loop in place. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. However, whether knowingly or unknowingly, senior managers might dismiss or not encourage feedback on communication. Their messages lack clarity. Mark Twain once said, “Pardon the long letter. I didn’t have time for a short one.” This great author knew that clarity and brevity take time and skill. The more one is an “expert”, the greater is the chance that what is clear to an experienced mind is simply muddy and confusing to others. Take the time. There are many of us who can help managers develop the skill.

  • Beware, Leaders! Listen to your customer service voice mail message.

    I am so furious I could spit. I need a printer that can be networked via wireless. I USED to have good luck with HP. However, after less than a year, the HP LaserJet P1505n put out lousy copies--even with a new ink cartridge. I called, bought a replacement and now-2 months later-there's a white stripe running down each page. Today-Sunday-it took FIVE times to get into HP support.  I kept getting disconnected.  One of the questions in the voice mail doom loop was: "Are you using a MAC computer?"  When I FINALLY got a human being, I was informed that MAC support is ONLY AVAILABLE MONDAY - FRIDAY.  Huh?!?  You mean I could have hung up after the first call had the doom loop even bothered to include that "small detail". I think HP is about to lose a customer. Call your customer service department. Pretend you need help. You might discover a world you didn't even know existed. Hopefully, it will be heavenly instead of hellacious.

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