Time to be a Leader

I don’t know when we’ll get back to “business as normal,” when shopping, going to work, hanging out, traveling and more will be done without more than the usual smart safety precautions (don’t have money hanging out of your pocket, make sure to wear clothes, don’t forget kids and pets in the car, and have snacks in case of emergency), but there’s a big part of me as an active part of society that feels that we have to keep sharing our stories, keep supporting each other, keep the money flowing and keep making progress in our world. As much as great ideas can be created while sitting on the couch, and maybe a website or app or two, we’re not meant to live on couches for our whole lives.

Over the past few months as I’ve said before, we’ve seen some stellar examples of leadership, and we’ve also seen the true colors of some “leaders.” So I’ve postponed the blog post I was going to share today and instead I’m feeling led to share on the topic of leadership and 3 indications of what makes a good leader.

First, a leader is someone who listens. This is something that’s being done a lot right now, that more people than ever are truly listening to the brothers and sisters of all backgrounds that they share the world with. I wish people took time to truly listen to each other more often, because it would avoid a lot of confusion and would help all of us come up with solutions that are actually helpful instead of just what we think other people want. Of course, it has to be true listening, where you are trying to understand and not where you’re smiling and nodding just to pacify someone.

Second, a leader is someone who learns. We can learn from books, from TV shows, from the little children in our lives and that we see while out and about, from animals, from our significant others, from the people we work with and sell to, and from many other sources. Of course, it’s always better to learn true things, for example learning about how the earth is flat isn’t going to be too helpful unless you’re studying it to learn about the people who thought that, but we don’t always know what’s true or not until we’ve done more research. But as the saying goes, a day in which you learned something is a good day. I subscribe to lots of newsletters, read books regularly, listen to what others have to say, and make time to watch more educational programming on TV to try to learn something every day.

Third, a leader is someone who leads. Sometimes this means empowering your team to do work for you (and not micro-managing them while they’re trying to get stuff done), other times this means letting people go or stopping things from continuing, some times this means getting down and dirty with your people and physically getting in front and guiding the way, sometimes it means making extra efforts to communicate and/or encourage, and other times it means taking a stand against injustice or hurt/hate. Leading isn’t always about being in the front, doing all the work or being the loudest voice, but it does mean you step up and forward in whatever ways are necessary.

As we move into whatever the next stage of our lives and world may be, I encourage you to be a true leader in your business, your community and our world. Which leaders do you admire and learn from?

Ready for a Fresh Start

We’ve finished 5 months of 2020, although they felt more like at least a year in and of themselves. Of course with finishing another month means we’ve entered into a new one. I love fresh starts and new months because we sometimes do get stuck in ruts and need a little help, psychological or physical or otherwise, to get out and moving again. It’s particularly interesting because we’re really beginning to emerge from months of being stuck at home to fight or avoid the virus, and now restrictions are being lifted and slowly we’re able to get back to a level of business as usual over the next few months.

Fresh starts don’t mean that the past can be erased or forgotten. On my other blog today I referenced the phrase “you can forgive someone but not forget their actions.” The past couple of months have been painful on many levels, pain that most of us alive today haven’t experienced before. With the events of George’s mistreatment and death, plus the unacceptable deaths of other African Americans over the past few weeks, months and years related to racism or inaccurate racial profiling, the pain has reached a new point as we enter this new month. We clearly haven’t won the war on racism yet, and regardless of how some people are acting today, we haven’t beaten the virus yet either (just take a look at the news and the many thousand new cases that have appeared in our country and other countries around the world today alone).

So where do we go from here with our brand shiny new month? I think we start by remembering that we don’t have to do life alone. That means that we support each other with our ears and hearts as we listen, with our bank accounts as we buy the products and services others sell, and physically supporting each other in whatever ways and whenever it’s safe to do so. There’s no rule that says we have to go big or go home with life right now, it’s going to be the small but steady steps we take in truly learning to work together as a community, hearing the issues we each have, truly caring about the issues we each have, and being willing to work a little harder so we all have win-win-win experiences whenever possible.

Life wasn’t perfect 4 months ago, and it won’t be perfect 4 months from now. But we can choose with each new day to make that day as good as or better than the day before. Choose to do one kind act for someone, choose to do one thing that will help the economy start moving again, choose to do one thing that will make your future better each and every day. We may have our own individual dreams and goals in life, but no one should ever think or feel that they’re alone, because they’re not.  We’re all part of this world together.

The Future of Education

Many schools around the US are either trying to finish the term in school or calling it a year and having the kids finish it up at home. Either way, I think the way this year has gone will cause many school districts to reconsider what’s essential and how to educate over the summer break should we face this situation again in the autumn or further in the future. It’s a conversation many schools and educators have been putting off, and it is an important one to have because most parents aren’t equipped to replace teachers, and school has played an essential role in helping kids reach adulthood with a grasp on community, communication and a whole host of educational topics that might or will be helpful in whatever pursuits they follow in their future. 

As part of that conversation, I think it’s important to teach all that’s taught in schools right now, but I don’t know that we need to spend as much time as we do on history or classic books or some of the things that are taught practically every year repeatedly. I think we should reevaluate and include or have a bigger focus some of the things that are essential in today’s world like health, finances, economics, technology, mental health, and home economic skills (sewing, cooking, basic home care etc.).

Maybe you were fortunate growing up to learn some of these skills and can or have been helping your kids learn them throughout this change in life situation we’ve been going through with the virus and staying at home. Or maybe as restrictions lift you’ve got a friend or family member who can help you and your kids learn some of those skills so you’ll be better prepared in the future.  Like many other conversations, I believe the education one is long past due, and I think this whole situation has really encouraged all of us to reconsider our skill sets and what it really takes to survive in this world. What are you seeing as necessary going forward?

Conversations on Culture and Community

This month I read another older book, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. It was written when social media was quite new and he was on the forefront of believing in the possibilities it held for companies. It amazes me that we still have the same arguments many years later about whether it works or not, but we’ve got some companies and campaigns that have been incredibly successful. We won’t be getting into that messy topic today, instead we’ll be looking at a couple of other things that Gary brings up in the book regarding leadership, business, customers, employees and marketing.

A big focus in the book is about people. Gary talks about the importance of treating customers the same whether they’re in person or online, that happy customers are worth a lot more than any other kind, and that customers would rather do business with people they like. As I’ve always said, behind every business is at least one other person. Even when you think you’re in the B2B market, you’re always dealing with people.

But customers aren’t the only people that businesses are connected to, there are employees (and/or partners or affiliates) as well. In the book Gary said “the first thing that makes an employee happy is to be treated as an adult.” It always amazes me how poorly some businesses treat their employees, whether the markets are in good condition or there are challenges like we’re currently experiencing. Employees make or break a company, can cost it untold amounts of revenue and branding, and companies/leaders consistently tie the hands of employees who could help not only fix customer issues, they could help turn them into customers for life. We’re finally getting better at recognizing the importance of and how to care for customers, hopefully employees will be next.

Another core topic in this book is marketing. While much of the conversation is about social media, many of the principles that Gary talks about apply to all types of marketing. One of my favorite lines is “the person who post a negative comment is a customer you can talk to.” No company wants negative reviews, but when they get posted online businesses at least have a chance to make things right, as opposed to the word-of-mouth reviews that used to be the only way people shared about company experiences. Other advice Gary gives about marketing is that in this day and age there is no such thing as a time that you “end” your marketing. You may change what you’re talking about or the topic of a campaign, but the goal is to keep the conversation going.

In line with that, the final thought I want to share is about community. It’s understood that there’s only so low you can go with a price and only so excellent you can make a product or service, so what’s left is the people. Choose to be creative, choose to impress your customers, choose to give customers and employees the chance to talk with leadership, choose to be polite, choose to give customers reasons to care about your brand, choose to care about your customers more than the bottom line, and choose to build a community that supports each other and cares about each other.

What are you building with your business?

Dreams: Failed, Finished and Fulfilled

This weekend one of the more recent Disney princess movies was on (the only one I like), Tangled. One of the themes throughout the movie is about dreams, not the kind you have while you’re sleeping, but the kind you have about your life: the things you hope you can achieve, are trying to achieve, you imagine what it might be like, or motivate you to take action. Towards the end of the movie (small spoiler alert!) when the two main characters are seeing the floating lights, a couple of lines caught my attention:

“Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well, that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.”

Sometimes you have a dream and as you go on the journey of trying to realize it, you discover it’s not the right dream for you (I dreamed about being a medical professional as a child, and it’s definitely not a dream I have today). Sometimes when you finally achieve a dream like getting into a profession, being a parent or owning a home, you get to live your dream for a while, you don’t have to go find a new one right away. And sometimes like Rapunzel, it’s bittersweet to move on or think about finding a new dream, because the dream you’ve just fulfilled has been part of you for so long and now you’ve achieved it and there’s no more next steps to follow.

In the movie Flynn suggests that getting to dream a new dream is a good thing, and often it is. But for some of us we never get to achieve or get over the dreams we have, because we’ve lost someone who was integral to those dreams, for example a loved one who was in the military and died while serving our country or were an innocent who was murdered. Those dreams die with them and there’s nothing good about that. They’ll forever live in an honored place in our lives and hearts, and while we will never get them back or see all of our or their dreams fulfilled, as painful as it might be, maybe the best thing we can do when it feels right, is dream a new dream that’s inspired by them.

Maybe you’re in that place today on Memorial Day, that you’re mourning a family member you’ve lost. Or maybe you’re just feeling overwhelmed by this pandemic and you’ve seen your dreams go up in smoke over the past few months, or maybe it’s inspired you to dream a new dream. You can’t change the past, but you can be thankful for all of the people who have had an influence on your life that has helped you become the person you are today. You can choose to dream a new dream because life shouldn’t be just something you check off day by day as something you’ve done. It shouldn’t be something you normally do on a survival-level only like many of us are doing with this pandemic. Life should be fulfilling and inspiring and full of color and laughter and dreams. We may not be dreaming big dreams yet, but I have hope that we’ll get there again one day soon.

A Somber Memorial Day

As you’ve probably heard about a thousand things in recent days, life looks a little different right now, and one of those things that’s going to look very different from past years is Memorial Day on Monday. It’s the day that we in the US have set aside to honor and mourn the men and women of the military who died while serving. It’s something we’ve done ever since 1868. Typically we celebrate it with big picnics, fireworks and parades, not to mention all the American flags that are hung or placed everywhere. This year it looks different because we’re not doing big gatherings of any kind, like the people of Australia and New Zealand did for their remembrance day (Anzac Day) back in late April, we’ll be staying home. Some towns have already said there’s a specific moment that sirens will go off, or suggested other ways that from the safety of our homes we can honor those who died.

I agree that it’s important to visibly show our appreciation and support for the men and women of the military, both past and present, dead and alive. But I think this year’s different celebrations will be an important opportunity to recognize that this is really a very serious and somber event, not something we really should be celebrating. No, we’re not celebrating that people are dead, but celebrating them for the life they lived, the life they gave up for all of us. But as much as we’re celebrating their life, it is a holiday recognizing their death and great sacrifice.

Parts of life are serious and sad, it’s something that we’re seeing as a world right now as we fight this virus. It’s never easy to process that, or explain it to kids. There aren’t boundaries or limits or rules on grieving and sadness, it’s not something you can put away in a closet and pretend isn’t there. It pops up at random times and without warning, it may be a short time that’s needed for processing or it may be a strong presence with you for the rest of your life. Sometimes the right thing is to laugh and other times the right thing is to be quiet and cry.

While I do normally encourage you to celebrate by gathering with many others to show your pride and support for our men and women of the military, this weekend I encourage you to reflect on the tragedy that this day really speaks to. Talk with your kids about how some families don’t get to reunite with their soldier and why their lives matter so much. Talk about processing grief and why it’s OK to cry and struggle with some of the incomprehensible aspects of life. Show them that even when it’s tough we can support each other so that no one has to cry or struggle alone. How will you be honoring our men and women of the military who gave their lives this weekend?

PPP: Business for the Future

Whether we were hoping for something like this pandemic to make changes to the world or not our lives and businesses have changed. Governments around the world have really no choice but to step in and support their people. Finances are just one part of what’s needed, they’re just the most obvious part because we use money for everything these days, and don’t do things like bartering or trading like we used to. Whether you and your business are eligible or not, you’ve probably heard about the PPP program, it’s hard to miss in the news these days. But in talking with some people recently and seeing how things are developing, I want to offer a different PPP road map for businesses in this time.

I know, no one really wants to panic, but quite frankly it’s very human to panic when things like this happen. However, the first thing you should do is panic. You should have panicked somewhere around late March when everything was shutting down, or at the latest in April. I don’t have a problem with people taking time to panic and being overwhelmed by the situation. That said, you should not be panicking now and putting that pressure on any employees that are (back to) working with you. Panicking now, or still panicking, two plus months into this situation in full view of your employees and possibly your customers isn’t going to do any good.

Once you’ve worked through the large majority of your panic, then it’s time to plan. Of course it would be helpful if you have some type of disaster strategy already discussed and planned out, but if that’s not the case, before you ever talk about a reopening date, you should be talking and working and coming up with a plan for what comes next. It’s time to take a serious look at your business, your finances and your offerings; to look at what was working, what wasn’t working, what you’ve thrown around as possibilities before, what might be available to tap into for resources, and take a serious look at how much time you have to work with based on your offerings and finances. It’s also important to consider if you can’t feasibly go forward with your business, based on what you know and what leaders are saying. It’s not too late to plan at this point, as long as you aren’t open yet or aren’t more than a short time into being open, but of course it’s better to have more time to plan before you take action.

Produce and Perform:
When you get to this stage you should feel ready and be ready to take action and be taking action. Maybe you got to this stage back in March one week after you panicked and planned because you’re an essential business, or maybe you’ve got your plan ready and are doing small actions right now waiting for the ability to get to take big or more regular actions. You should not be panicking or have no clear plans at this point, every business (open or not) should be communicating clearly, honestly and as openly as possible with their teams and customers (relatively frequently too if possible), and ever business that is planning to stay in business should be consistently supporting and encouraging their customers and greater community.

We’re all eager to get back to living and working with a measure of confidence and certainty in our future, one of the biggest ways we can fail is if we fail to plan. What plan do you have for your business going forward and how are you doing at implementing it?

First or Last, and What’s Fair?

As I was dealing with another frustration in a line of frustrations from the past few months the phrase “first come, first serve” came to mind. There are some advantages to being first. When you choose to be first in things you get what could be cool toys before others, are often seen as trendy, get to be on the forefront of discovery and innovation, and don’t miss out on things because you’re getting it before there’s any chance of it running out.

But being first also means there’s a (good) chance of getting a dud or there being a lot of bugs to work out or it being far inferior to the product that will eventually get to market. There also aren’t any reviews or other people’s opinions you can seek, because no one else has it and can tell you if it’s worth the time and effort.

I know that life isn’t truly “fair,” that we shouldn’t expect something or be mad at others for having something, and right now there’s a whole lot of “it’s not fair!” going around. But it would be nice if for once someone stood up for the little guy and for the masses, and went outside of the big box stores (physical and virtual of all kinds from restaurants to grocers to airlines to clothing distributors etc.), and worked on something other than corporate greed and the almighty dollar (Pound, Yen, Euro, etc.). I’m not suggesting that we should all be first or billionaires or own big companies or have no limits on things. Just thinking on some level that it’s wrong that more of us don’t have stability of finances, health, or access to resources.

Maybe this pandemic can be good for something and we can do better about working together to give everyone who wants access to it: a job they can work hard at and enjoy and make a good living at, health care to the level they want and need it on, and a level of security of the other physical and emotional needs that make this world go round like love, kindness and a place to call home. Where would you start to make this world a better place for everyone?

Kids and Questions

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be a young kid in all of this craziness that is 2020 so far. There’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to being a parent or caretaker of children, including the responsibility to explain some of the more difficult things in life to them. We get to (try to) explain things like Heaven and hell and faith, getting old, dying young, cancer, grades, money, and where the whole chicken-and-egg debate came from (and what the answer is).

And we get asked big questions about all we see/hear in the news like guns killing people or why it is wrong to call people by certain terms or why there are refugees. Using the gun/killing question, while the mechanics of how guns kill people or even some of the hard and cold facts of why people kill people (money, anger, accidents etc.), are things you can more or less explain to kids, it’s a lot harder to explain the heart or mind behind it, especially if we don’t understand (or it isn’t able to be explained).

And now we’re faced with a new challenge of trying to explain why we can’t touch each other, can’t go out and do our usual activities like go to school and get our hair cut and play on the playground, after doing exactly that for many generations. Maybe kids who have very ill family members can understand better, but thankfully most people aren’t in that situation, so most can’t understand or explain why a touch or activity that used to be OK is now not.

There have been some exercises videoed to show how easy it is to pass this virus along, using an old pre-pandemic example, think about that commercial with the dad with the light that reveals the “invisible” orange dust from fellow family members including the cat that he didn’t know they had who have eaten all of his snacks. So yes, on one level we can explain how it works, but there’s a whole lot about it that no one really knows yet, and we may never have all the answers. It’s hard to say that in this day and age with the internet and so many things being explainable or able to be captured on camera/audio that you just don’t know and no one really does.

In some ways, being faced with this virus and all the lack of knowledge is a good exercise in humility and keeping us humble. In this world where it seems like it’s possible to be good at just about anything with a little effort, research and/or money, it’s important to remember from time to time that we’re all still very human. Personally I look forward to getting back to trying to explain unicorns and how the color of the sky got the name it has. How are you helping kids navigate this time?

What Might and Might Not Change in Future Business

There’s a lot of talk about how we are going to “return to normal” or “recover” or “what’s next” when it comes to life and business. It’s important to have these conversations as connected to the virus, and with an opportunity to reevaluate how we’ve been doing things. While I wish we weren’t dealing with the virus, it has really forced the conversations that many businesses have avoided about what might be better for them or their employees and customers. Today I thought I’d touch on a few of the conversations I’ve been hearing around the internet.

Let’s start with the internet. If you’ve been here for a while you know that I don’t believe you should be in business today without some type of virtual presence. Maybe that’s just a website with some information and a newsletter signup space, maybe that’s also a blog, social accounts, an app, or an online shop, but I don’t believe you should be in business in 2020 without an online presence. It costs very little if you go very basic and for the most part if you’ve got some basic technology experience, it’s easy to create an online presence. So, when we do get through this pandemic and return to a version of normal I don’t think we should step back from the steps we’ve taken to have more virtual businesses and better support for our customers virtually. So this means retaining the online church services, pick-up from restaurants, and overall increased web-presence.

Second, everyone is going to be taking a much closer look at offices. I don’t think they’re going to immediately disappear because there are a lot of bosses and managers who feel the need to micromanage and don’t trust that people will be able to keep things as secure at home as they may think they are at the offices. And to an extent there is a level of security that comes with offices that isn’t as assured at home. Security and not-great bosses aside, there aren’t too many other reasons why businesses should have offices. Meetings by and large can be held virtually, and those that can’t can certainly happen in an event or meeting space (that’s professionally cleaned between meetings of course). I have worked in a couple of offices, and there certainly is something to be said for being able to walk down the hall and talk with someone in person about a situation or throw an idea around, but you can do that on the phone or through a video call or get out and meet for coffee or in a park. For the businesses that haven’t gone completely virtual and still have a ton of paperwork around, I don’t think it’s necessary to be in-office every day, and you can have a much smaller office space at that point.

Third, customers are showing willingness to try new brands in this season of inconsistent availability. This doesn’t reflect necessarily on the brands they’ve historically chosen, although there’s always a chance of them finding something they like better, chances are good that customers will go back to the brands they’ve always loved when products are available consistently again. Regardless, it’s an excellent time to build up loyalty with your customers, offering them support and consistently communicating with them so that as things progress they know that you’ll be there to support and grow with them.

Finally, I don’t think there’s anything that can or should completely sever our desire to go out and do our own shopping in stores and boutiques, attend sporting and entertainment events together, tour in person places for sale and for rent, and other in-person activities. The reliance on virtual life over the past few weeks will likely negatively impact all industries that historically relied on in-person attendance (entertainment, sports, travel, restaurants etc.), but some of them can recapture those people who have found they prefer to be virtual through virtual offerings as incomes return to normal. Watching a ball game from home is no where close to what it is to attend one in person, it’s not the same to eat a take-out meal from a fancy restaurant, and no amount of video can really capture distant lands. So for now businesses in these industries have to adapt, but people will be returning at some point in the future.

What are you seeing in your business as this pandemic progresses?