Calling for a Ceasefire

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the US this month, and while it’s always an opportunity to celebrate love and the relationships we have with our significant others and be reminded of how blessed we are to have them in our lives, it’s also an opportunity for us to step aside from any issues we’ve got in our relationship and remember the best memories and reasons why we’re with that person, why we’ve given them such a place of prominence in our life.

Every relationship has problems, complications, disagreements and differences, even the best and healthiest relationships aren’t all hearts and flowers, but you should have more good days than bad days. You should look forward to and enjoy seeing your partner at the end and/or beginning of a day. You should want to spend time with them and share with them about what’s going on in your day, your life and the world that we share. You should want them to participate in your life and want them to support you. And the opposite is also true: they should want to spend time with you. They should look forward to sharing with you what’s going on in their life when you’re not together. They should want to participate in the things going on in your life and want you to support them.

You’ve probably heard the old saying that advises you to not go to bed angry, and to that suggestion I’d add that you should work hard to have at least one good moment every day with your partner, whether it’s a text, bed/couch snuggle time, walk with the dog, doing the dishes together or surprising the other with a treat that says ‘I’m thinking about you’ because this too helps to keep you moving away from being constantly immersed in the issues and doesn’t let you forget that there’s good in your relationship.

So if you’ve been in a low point with your relationship lately, maybe this is the best time for Valentine’s Day to come around, because it will actively remind you to take a break from the bad and focus on the good. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your relationship is to call a break or time out or breather or ceasefire, a time for you both to stop talking about the issue (or issues), deal with the other important things in your life and relationship and come back to the discussion/issue when you’re calmer and have had time to think through things. Have you called for a time out like this in your relationships? If so, what was your experience with it?

A Little More Love for Business Relationships

Yes, the month of love has arrived and we’ll be talking a lot about loving our businesses, loving each other and loving our world. I thought today we might start with an aspect of the most essential parts of being in business: customers, and specifically the relationship we have with them and them with us and our team. Some businesses choose not to approach customers in any way like a relationship, they see it as a get-in-and-out transaction and aren’t really interested in or willing to make the effort to turn those customers into repeat customers again and again or building a relationship with their repeat customers at all. But I think (and many studies have shown) it actually makes things better and easier for businesses to thrive if they build relationships with their customers. As you probably know, a relationship is a two way street, so let’s talk about some important ways we can give each other a little more love in that relationship.

Let’s start with the challenge and opportunity of giving the gift of patience. Whether you’re a new customer to the business, you’ve had a crazy day, you just got bad news, the offerings are many, or any other number of things, sometimes the customers are a little slower than employees might want or think they should be. Just because you and your employees know the business inside and out and maybe have been involved in it for years doesn’t mean that everyone else is just as familiar and efficient as you are, and a great way to quickly lose future business is to be pushy and rude and in a rush. But the opposite is true as well. I can respect the fact that people have busy lives and places to be, but not all employees or bosses stand around doing nothing just to delay providing services. They’re often very busy with lots of responsibilities and plates to juggle. So if you can be just a little patient, you’ll get service that’s a much higher quality and provided with a much friendlier attitude than if you push and rush them.

Second, let’s give the gift of communication. Ask just about any therapist or marriage counselor and they’ll tell you that communication is in the top 5 reasons relationships struggle or fail. That means for both customers and employees/team members that it’s important to be asking questions, checking in (politely), using words rather than stewing over something, providing necessary and possibly (hopefully) helpful details, and being willing to not pretend you know everything but rather be a good listener. There’s often no price you can place on the value of good communication on either side of the relationship.

Finally, let’s give the gift of the future. What does this look like? That the customer is appreciated for repeated purchases with your business, and they help businesses get more customers. A customer may not want to be in a relationship with a business forever, but let’s assume that at least for a season of their life they will, and that would include repeated visits/services/products, and while every customer appreciates loyalty offers and discounts, that’s not the limit of showing your appreciation for their continued business. You can also have a customer wall of fame, share insider information with them about what goes on behind the scenes, offer special products or services only to customers who have been around for a certain period of time, share special discounts from other companies with them, or at the very least be friendly with them and know their name and the things they often order and maybe even a little about their life that you can check in with them on as a way of showing them you care and appreciate them being part of your business. For businesses, aside from continued purchases of their products and services, every business appreciates reviews and recommendations. It often feels like pulling teeth, so the more we customers can help them with at the very least posting a review or two, the easier it makes for them to get more (satisfied) customers.

What would you appreciate as a customer or business owner for Valentine’s Day?

The Who, When, Where, How and Why’s of Success

This year to start the year off I’ve been sharing some suggestions on how you can incorporate more success into your life. The first week I shared about doing just one thing each day. Week two we talked about doing something for you and something for someone else each day. Week three was about doing something in three steps or giving something three tries before you decide it’s good enough to be done or isn’t going to get done. And last week we talked about doing something in each of the four main categories of our lives: home, personal, work, and spiritual/mental health. For our fifth and last week of the first month of the new year we’re going to return to a structure you may remember from your school years: who, when, where, how and why.

The first success category here is something that has to do with someone else. This could be an activity that someone asked you to do or suggested you should do for yourself (i.e. your regular job responsibilities, reading an article they sent you, exercising), or something for them (which could be an activity for your boss or coworker, or a gift for a friend, or something your partner asked you to do around the home), or even something with someone else (like meeting for coffee or going for a hike together). Yes, you are doing an activity and you’ll be able to check something off your list when you’re done, but the reason it’s on your plate to begin with is because of someone else.

Second is to do something that matters when you do it, i.e. it’s time sensitive. This is pretty self explanatory, the goal being that you recognize things that are priority and time sensitive and do one of those each day. It could be emptying the garbage cans around your home into one because it’s garbage day, it could be paying a bill, it could be getting a hair cut or other appearance related activity because you’ve got an event to attend that night or the next day, it could be lining up your notes for a meeting at work that day or the next, you get the idea. It’s important to note that this is only a fifth of the things on our success list for the day and it should be the only extremely time sensitive/time focused one. Yes, there may be an element of time to the others, but this should be the only one that’s time sensitive or you may be running behind on or be delayed on.

The third success category here is something that has to do with a place. For this topic you’re going to a store to pick up the ingredients for dinner, going to a shipping store to send back a return, meeting someone to check out a place local to you, attending a lecture, watching a local performance, attending a sports event, or going to the local recycling center for example. The way to know if something fits in this category is if it’s location specific, in other words could you do the same thing from the comfort of your couch or are you going somewhere for a specific reason?

The fourth category is about how much of something you’re going to accomplish. Some tasks are just too big to get done all in one day. This category gives you the opportunity to work through a section of that extensive task. Maybe it will be that you set a timer and work for a set time on it and stop when the time is up. Maybe it’s something that is in parts or sections and you’ll work on a section. Maybe it’s something that’s done in multiples and you’ll complete one or several depending on how long each takes you to complete. This is a great way to work those bigger tasks into your regular life without feeling like they have to take over or all be done at once.

The last category may be your favorite: why. For this category you’re doing something because you want to do it. Maybe it does have to get done and it is on your to-do list, but you’re doing it not because it’s time sensitive/expiring/late, you’re not doing it because someone else put it on your list, you’re picking something that needs to be done and doing that specific thing because you want to. It’s totally possible this one may correlate or connect with a ‘where’ activity or even a ‘who’ one, but it’s the one each day on your list of 5 must-do’s because you want to do it.

What other ways of planning or structuring your success do you have that help you accomplish consistently or accomplish more?

Seeing the Truth through the Storm

When you’ve been with someone for a long enough time you really get to know who they are as a person at their core. In decades past this would be exclusive to family and closest friends, but now it may include coworkers or bosses because of how much time (intentionally or not) we spend with them since we don’t just work with family or friends like many people used to. Who they are at their core doesn’t usually change, unless they have some big event happen in their life that is influential in causing them to change either for the positive or the negative. This could be something like a health issue or something like PTSD to change them in not-so-good ways, or it could be the birth of their child or again a health issue to force them to see life in a different way and change them in positive ways.

Of course each of us go through times that who we really are gets overtaken by hormones, fear, a dramatic change in life circumstances, tiredness or something else and we’re not who we usually are. A good example is if you’ve ever seen an overtired child acting like a crazy person when they’re usually very sweet and well behaved. It’s just not who they really are and you know that it will pass after a good night’s sleep or some extra love. But when we’re talking about adults it’s a lot harder to see the cuteness or goodness and look past the current events that are raising your blood pressure or inciting you to argue back.

As I sat down to write tonight I glanced out the window and could see the moon peeking through some fast moving clouds. It brought me back to a concept that I’ve shared about before, most often in a spiritual context. The moon (and sun) are always there even if we can’t see them because they’re hiding behind clouds. We can trust that as soon as the clouds move out we’ll be able to see the sun/moon again. And more often than not it’s hours or a day before the clouds move, not an eternity.

So the next time you’re feeling a little out of sorts because someone isn’t acting like themselves, don’t let it discourage or frustrate you to the extent that you might let it otherwise because you’ll be able to look out the nearest window and see the sun or the sky where the moon lives and be reminded that this too shall pass and they shall be back to their normal self soon. It also applies to ourselves when we’re the ones not acting normal, that this situation is momentary and we’ll be able to work through it. Choosing to love and support that person or yourself (and maybe be a little quieter than usual) will help you and them get through this passing situation with as little impact on the future as possible.

The Secret to (Business) Success: Connection

This month I read a book by someone many in the business world have heard of, Joe Polish: “What’s In It for Them? 9 Genius Networking Principles to Get What You Want by Helping Others Get What They Want.” The book is centered on what Joe did that made him so successful, especially with the Genius Network, which is learning how to connect and form relationships with people. Throughout the book Joe shows what an art form this can be, and that as much work as it is, it’s totally worth it in the end if you want to grow the type of businesses that Joe has (or even be really successful in general). As I often say connecting with people is a choice, and more often than not it’s worth the effort to go from a one way conversation to whatever you can do to make it into a two way conversation. That’s where the book starts, and that connecting and relationships principle is woven through many of the other lessons in the book.

I know ‘selling’ can be considered a dirty word, it can be confusing, and it can be hard, but I really like the explanation that Joe shares from Dan Sullivan as to what selling is: “Selling is getting someone intellectually engaged in a future result that’s good for them and getting them to emotionally commit to taking action to achieve that result.” Yes, that sounds like just as much work as many of us consider selling to be, but there are a couple of points there that really stood out to me. First is the fact that clearly Dan (and Joe) emphasize the fact that you’re always dealing with other humans and not computers and therefore they have brains and feelings and lives outside of a cut-and-dry transaction. Second, it highlights the whole reason why you want to get the buyer more involved in the sales process rather than going for a super quick, no-layers-to-it sales process: because the more invested they are, the more likely they are to stick through to the end result. Finally, this explanation includes a reminder to the seller that we need to have something good at the end of the sales process if we really want people to stick it through. Sell a quality product or service with great marketing, a great experience, great packaging and great customer service because, as we started: buyers are human and humans care.

One of the things I really enjoyed learning in this book is how similar Joe and I are about several aspects of doing business. First, as I shared above that we’re dealing with other humans who have lives and interests and cares. Second, that it’s far better to be in it for the long haul and build a relationship than to try to make the sale(s) on product/service alone. And finally, even good products/services need good marketing. You can’t skip the marketing just because your product/service is so good and you can’t expect one to make up for a poor job on the other.

Joe closed the book with an important reminder which brought the book full circle and really summed up the intricacies of being a business leader and running a business: “People want to connect. People want to feel special and cared about. People want to feel appreciated. People want to have their problems solved.” Joe has been in the business world for many years, and the core of much of what he does is about networking which is incredibly labor intensive, so he gets exactly how complicated and challenging it can be when you run your business that way. But when you know what people want, why would you do your best to avoid that? I’m not saying we all have to become extroverts and people persons, but we do need to be more aware of the power of relationships and communication and connection and do our best to integrate that into our business as much and as consistently as possible.

What ways are you most comfortable and successful in connecting with people?

Four Key Categories for Life Success

This month we’ve been exploring some different ways to approach success in the new year, and this week we’re talking about picking four categories each day and working on success in each of them. The four are pretty standard, but part of the goal is to really work on all four of them every day, and not letting one have such a huge reign over your life that you don’t work on the others. Yes, it’s in some ways back to the discussion of balance, but I’m not suggesting that you spend equal amounts of time on making steps towards successes in each category, but that you spend time each day on each category.

The first category is home. Maybe for you that means dividing the home chores into 7 sections and doing one each day. Or if you do most of your regular cleaning on one specific day and it doesn’t really make sense to divide it into 7, maybe it means that each day you pick something extra that isn’t part of your regular cleaning and do it when it catches your attention like cleaning out the fridge or donating some clothes to a local nonprofit or taking the couch cushions out and vacuuming under them or cleaning the windows inside and out or checking over the products in your kitchen or bath and throwing out the expired ones.

Second, we’ve got work. It’s not as hard these days to work 7 days a week, whether you own your own business or not, with emails and digital courses that are available 24/7. As I said at the beginning, I’m not suggesting you put in 8 hour days every day, unless you want to, and even then I’d suggest taking off mostly a day every week or month depending on your work commitments and stages. But when you take a little time each day to work on something you don’t always make time for, you check in so that you’re not constantly trying to catch up or put out fires that didn’t have to start, or planning ahead for the things you need to tackle the next day, or at the very least reading though your emails and categorizing them so that you can move through them quicker when you do get back to work the next day, it makes it a lot easier to get through what usually holds you back or you feel you never get to or be prepared and able to tackle issues before they get out of hand.

Third, is to do something for you! Maybe this fits into one of the other categories, for example you want to start your own business so outside of work hours and commitments each day you’re making a little progress on that. Or maybe you like to craft and create so you’re always working on a project for the home like quilt or new piece of art. But usually this is where you can schedule in some time to read, or watch your favorite movie, or volunteer at one of the many awesome local non profits who are always looking for volunteers, or garden, or do more involved fitness activities (i.e. training for a marathon) than just what one would do for basic health. Including a step for success for you is one of the things that helps me stay sane during the days when it feels like it’s all about everyone else and there’s no time for me.

Finally, something that’s been big in discussions over the past few years and is more integral to success than most of us want to admit: mental/spiritual health. I put these two together not because they’re the same thing, but because working on either (or both) often helps us make progress in the same areas of our lives. So make time every day to meditate, or read a devotional, or read a book that will help you in some self-help/personal growth category, join a group that meets weekly or biweekly, add some spiritual/self help programming to your DVR, work with a coach/pastor/psychologist/therapist, have coffee or other beverages with friends, or whatever other big and little activities help you find your center, learn about yourself, grow your spiritual relationship, and/or manage the incredible amount of input that we get from the world and people around us on a daily basis.

As is true with so many other things, when you consistently put effort into these four pillars that most people would consider pivotal or essential or central to their lives, you’ll be less likely to feel behind in something or blindsided by something and be able to see consistent progress which is always so encouraging. How do you incorporate success steps in these four categories into your daily life?

A Year of Calm, Kindness and Resilience

Tomorrow is the start of the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year follows the same timeline as the calendar one does, that it happens each year. I like how the Lunar New Year celebrations really focus on wishing others good health, peace and good fortune, which aren’t things that we focus on when we celebrate the New Year, or certainly never to the degree that people who celebrate the Lunar New Year do. Also part of the Lunar new year, is its connection with the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac (although some follow a different zodiac than the Chinese one), which run in a 12 year cycle. This is unique because it goes beyond just being an icon, the animal has certain characteristics that is supposed to speak to the year ahead. Like most of our New Years resolutions don’t happen, neither does that animal’s characteristics always follow through the whole year nor are we able to live that way through the whole year usually, but I still think it’s a helpful exercise to at least consider how those characteristics can help or influence your (Lunar) year ahead.

As you may have heard, this year’s Chinese zodiac animal is the rabbit and it signifies calm, peace, kindness, resilience, and positive energy. We could all use more of that in our lives, couldn’t we?! I appreciate that the things the zodiac rabbit are representing are things that I often associate with actual rabbits as well, which means that any time we see a rabbit we can be reminded about their calmness, resilience and positive energy as they sit quietly and eat, run fast from those who scare them (usually escaping), and bounce around with lots of joy. That easy connection between the symbolism and the actual rabbit makes me wonder if we often complicate things too much in our lives when we could make them just as simple and straightforward, and save ourselves a lot of work and hassle.

Of course celebrating the Lunar New Year in any fashion is also a great opportunity to keep the kids busy with another set of crafts, coloring, projects, food and learning, which is especially helpful if you’ve got less-than-ideal weather outside during this time of year and are always looking for stuff for them to do and ways to introduce them to new things (and foods!). And the more you can get them involved with learning about and involved in doing things with the Lunar New Year, the more opportunities you’ll have to build the connection in all your minds between the rabbit and this year’s practice of living with more calm, peace, kindness, resilience and positive energy.

Lessons in Leadership: Jacinda Ardern

There are so many challenges, and opportunities, that come with being a leader, and especially with a leader who works on a world stage whether they’re a political leader or a business leader. In a surprise move a relatively young leader has decided she needs a change: Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister. She’s someone I’ve followed through her leadership journey over the last few years and will miss her presence in the leadership world. Of course there’s no reason to say that she may not pick up the leadership mantle in the future, but for now she’s done. Today I thought we’d talk about a few lessons we can learn from her as well as from her decision.

From the start we’ve known that Jacinda is all about family. She’s one of only two women who have given birth in office, and even as present as she’s been in office regularly you saw and heard about the presence of her family in her life. I’m sure that being a new mother influenced some of her decisions, and by and large most people will tell you they think she’s been a good leader, and many will also agree that being invested in your family makes you a better leader. Another important takeaway on this topic is that she’s certainly shown that you can be a family person and a quality leader at the same time.

One of the questions that every leader has to ask is if or when they’ll be done. We saw this question raised with Pope Francis when he was selected because he has said that he will retire like his predecessor (Pope Benedict XVI), rather than die in office like Popes have done historically. While I don’t know that it was the right decision to leave office so soon (i.e. why she doesn’t wait until the election has been completed), I do support her decision especially because of the reason that’s going viral: she doesn’t think she can really do the job justice anymore. Any business owner, any leader, can tell you exactly how much work is involved, especially if you’re truly invested and working as the leader. Yet so often we’re criticized for saying we’re tired or can’t do it anymore and it just seems expected that we keep leading and working and that there’s no other option regardless of our performance. But when it’s a question of doing what’s expected or choosing to do the right thing for the people you’re leading, there really isn’t a debate.

So what now? Well, that’s a fantastic question, and especially relevant because of how young Jacinda is comparatively speaking with the other political and business leaders of the world. I’m sure she’ll spend some time with family and on her personal health for a season, but after that she has so many opportunities that would be available to her because of how well she led and the choice she made to stop before she couldn’t do a good job. She succeeded in the very difficult political (male dominated) world, she successfully navigated a world crisis, she connected successfully with her constituents of all ages, and she showed time and again wisdom and balance in both work and family. I’m sure many would jump at the chance to work with her or have her work with them both in the for-and non-profit sectors. As we’ve seen frequently in the past decade, more people than ever are working multiple jobs throughout their lifetime, not just one, and I hope her next steps and reinventions are as successful as this one was.

What lessons have you learned from her years as New Zealand Prime Minister or her decision to make this big life and career change?

One, Two, Three and Done

This month we’re working our way through 5 strategies for being more successful in the new year (or any time). Today’s success strategy has to do with accepting that sometimes things just aren’t one-and-done, and that we’re not as good at everything as we may think (or hope) we are. It’s a version of ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ but with a much better attitude and more positive ending. Basically you’re giving yourself 3 opportunities to work up the courage, work up the skill, polish, improve, tweak, fine tune and finish your project. You can think of it as a really rough draft, an edited draft and a final version, or a really quick run through, a more detailed overview and a final review, or a really bad failure, less of a failure and a fairly decent result.

So for example let’s say your clothes closet needs to be cleaned out and organized. You’ll do round one on it by taking out the stuff you hate, doesn’t fit (and won’t ever again in your wildest or scariest dreams), is too tired, or will never come back into fashion. In many ways this might be the easy round because it’s the stuff that you kind of know shouldn’t be in there anyway. The next round is where you sort everything into definitely keep piles and into might keep piles and then work to narrow down the might keep pile. The final round is where you put everything back into the closet organized, maybe even still pulling out a couple of things that you decide just isn’t going to work or you somehow missed in the earlier two rounds.

Of course there are lots of other situations we can use this strategy with too, including with some variation on what the three stages are depending on your situation. You can write three versions of an email or presentation and the final version would be the best one or a combination of all of them. When you clean you can do a pickup round, followed by a cleaning round, followed by a replenishing round. When baking a new recipe you can make the first version for your family and have them be the taste testers and suggestion makers, followed by another round shared with close friends or coworkers who are OK with getting the not-final version, and the final version for the gathering or other event that you were planning to make the recipe for in the first place. You could even try using the 3 stages in tough conversations, that you know the first round will be difficult and emotional, the second much more rational and thoughtful, and the third where you talk about what’s next or how to do better next time or what was hard for you about this conversation or where you say what has to be said to put the issue to bed hopefully for the last time.

While it’s not the goal of the strategy (because we don’t need excuses to not get things done) if you do need to go with the three-strikes-and-you’re-out version, it could help you decide when to give up on something permanently or temporarily until you’re in a better headspace or have more time or have the support you need to work through it. I like the idea of doing rounds of 3 because it’s a large enough yet small enough number that it can’t go on forever but it gives you space to be honest about imperfections and lack of knowledge and admit the fact that most of us need more than one try on things to get it right or get it done or really process everything. What have you or will you try to do in three steps or stages to be more successful?

Unfulfilled Dreams

Tomorrow in the US we honor the birth and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was admired for so many reasons, including that he became well known because of his faith and his words and his heart, not the wars he fought or obscure scientific breakthroughs he helped with or any sports he excelled at, which are so often the fields of work that people we remember are part of. We’ll talk about the big topic (dreams), but I think it’s important to remember that he was part of two families: one he was born into and one that he helped create with his wife. He did normal people things like food shopping, caring for his home and working a job (he was a pastor). He also had normal people problems because his health wasn’t great and he didn’t have unlimited resources do whatever he wanted (although I suspect he would have done what he did anyway even if he had unlimited resources). All of this is a reminder that anyone and everyone can and should dream.

The hard question here that I tend to think about each time this day comes around is would Dr. King be pleased with the progress we’ve made since his big speech in Washington DC? I think we can all agree that progress has been made since then, but it’s unavoidable to admit that we aren’t where he dreamed we would be. One of the funny things about dreams is that they don’t always follow the “rules” as far as timeliness as we might like them to, happening at a speed that makes it really appealing to have them and share about them, and dreams don’t always take into account some of the logistics which might make it really challenging to fulfill them. For example when I was a kid I dreamed about raising horses, but as it turns out I’m allergic to them so that was off the table. Then I dreamed about being a nurse or some other medical professional, until I learned about the amount of schooling and financial requirements, and that was off the table too.

I don’t think that we should be discouraged by my two failed dreams or the fact that not only did Dr. King not live long enough to see his dream realized, but it’s still a work in progress. I think even the failed dreams are important because they are part of the creativity centers of our brain and get us thinking beyond and outside of our normal “average” lives into the possibility of doing something extraordinary or even just exciting to us. But as an adult I know that my failed dreams don’t have to be failed, and in part I’m living at least one of them because I support a nonprofit that does medical work in various places around the world. It’s just a little different take on the dream I had and a little different way of accomplishing it. But I also know that as we change, grow, meet new people and the world changes too, our dreams can change, and that’s OK too. Maybe more than anything dreaming is an indication that we really want something to change in our lives, whether it has to do with our dream or something related to it (for example you could dream about working with horses, but what the dream is really about at the heart is working a different career than the one you’re currently in).

So if you’re given the hard questions about dreams and Dr. King tomorrow by your kids, I encourage you to not shy away from them, but rather let it be an opportunity to talk about the challenges of life, the conflicts that happen between heart and logistics, being open to opportunities that come our way even if they’re a little different than we imagined, and especially being courageous enough to share your dream with the world.