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Cookies and data

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Companies, entrepreneurs, and employees are spending a lot of time, money, and energy on trying to figure out what makes them different. It’s an honorable pursuit. What makes anyone or anything stand out more than the next? Most marketers will answer that question by referring (in one way or another) to the 4 ‘P’s’: Price. Product. Placement. Promotion. But what about the 1 ‘R?’: Relationships.

In a world that is becoming more and more detached, virtual, and hands-off, what if the thing that makes you the best is merely your ability to build authentic relationships? Simple concept, not easy to do.

That’s what makes where I work so successful, is its focus on developing genuine relationships. Again, not an easy thing to do in a competitive landscape like recruiting. But it’s something that is ingrained in every employee.

No matter what your job is, you’re going to deal with difficult people. People won’t respond, they’ll be impatient, demanding, and have unrealistic expectations. The thing that will make your relationship with them successful won’t come down to how good your product is, how much it costs, or how many times you can expose them to what you’re selling, it will largely depend on how well you have been able to win their attention and earn their trust.

This, of course, begs the question: “how does one win someone’s attention and earn someone’s trust?” Answer: cookies and data!

Now, this may be an oversimplification of a larger lesson, but, at the very least, it’s a memorable one. Here’s what I mean when I say that “cookies and data” are the keys to building genuine relationships:

1) Clients have lives, too. They have families, friends, bosses, responsibilities, fears, doubts, and insecurities. Go into every interaction with this in mind and you’ll already be well on your way to understanding them.
2) Most people really like themselves. So let them talk about themselves. What are they passionate about? What do they talk about?
3) This is where the cookies come in. Show them that you were listening. Treat them to something. Add in a ‘nice touch’ that makes you memorable.
4) Then bring the data. Show them how you are adding value. Provide evidence and insight into how you have been able to help and why it matters.

Building lasting relationships that pay off time and time again doesn’t have to be difficult. It takes time and it requires caring. But most importantly, it takes putting aside your own agenda for the sake of building something genuine.

Which comes first?

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The decision to commit? Or figuring out what you’re good it?

So many of us want to prove to ourselves (and others) that we can be good at something before we commit.

But what if we’ve got it backwards? What if we are spending too much time teaching tactics and not enough time teaching commitment? Here’s the thing, most of the time, for most people, if we want to learn something, we can learn it. It takes a decision, then a commitment. Because when we commit to something, we are then more likely to keep up the effort and push through the failures and frustrations that inevitably come.

It’s a defense mechanism. A defense against failure. We don’t want to fail so we sit back and gossip until something sticks. And when it does, then we commit.

And, as a society, we feed that reluctancy to commitment because we prefer disapproval to dedication.

Teaching techniques is important. But if you want to be a great teacher, leader, or mentor—teach commitment.

Chopping down the last tree

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Did the folks on the once-great Easter Island know what they were doing to their lush, beautiful island when they started taking down all the trees? Or were they too concerned with short-term results? At which point did they realize what they had done? What were they thinking as they chopped down the last tree?

Our society loves short-term successes. We are impressed with those who 'burst onto the scene' or 'become great overnight.' So we fall for it. We focus on how quickly we can get there rather than on how well we are doing it. But in doing so, are we (metaphorically, of course) chopping down our own forest?

Any way you slice it, it's going to take effort. Whether it's doing it fast or doing it right, the amount of energy spent will be the same. In fact, I think most would agree (especially those who have gone through the painful experience of chopping down their last tree) that it will take less time and less effort to do things the difficult way—the 'long' way—than it will to cut corners, take shortcuts, 'chop down trees at an unsustainable rate,' all in the name of looking good today, instead of building for tomorrow. 

Fighting the cycle

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In the words of the famous Vince Lombardi:

You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Ever wonder why that is? Why losing is a 'curse?' Why is it, when you tell a 'B' student to try harder, work smarter and faster, they, more often, become C students rather than A students? The same goes in the workplace. Getting better rather than getting worse is something you can learn. In other words, responding to failure is a skill that can be taught. But, too often the coaching is: 'double down, stay longer, work harder, or else.' The stakes get higher and things only get tougher. And, in response, people spend more and more of their energy fighting the cycle (playing to not lose) rather than building momentum and gaining confidence to win when it counts. 

Turns out, the best way to fight the cycle of losing is to change your mindset on what that cycle is. Fear is going to ask a lot of you. When it does, that's not your cue to pull back but push forward. Meaning, embrace it! Do the opposite of what it asks. Otherwise, you'll always be fighting against the inevitable. 

It's like if someone tells you over and over to stop being angry, what is your typical response to that? You get angrier! The same goes for winning and losing: 'don't lose, don't miss quota, don't underachieve, don't make a mistake, don't fail.' what happens? You end up doing exactly what you didn't want to. 

The solution is simple (not easy); embrace the cycle, the failure, and keep playing loose. Play to win and only focus your attention on winning. You will fail. But learn to love failure because, without it, you won't ever know how sweet success really tastes. Pretty soon, you'll stop thinking about what it would be like to lose, those thoughts won't even cross your mind. You'll live in a world where things always work out. Afterall, they do! 

A case for micromanagement

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I like micromanagement. I think it gets a bad rap. To me, it shows my boss cares. Because, here's the thing, when it comes down to it, everyone micromanages to a certain extent. 

Here it goes: what does it even mean to 'micromanage?' Getting involved in too many projects? Not delegating things because you think you can do it better? Worrying too much about the tiny details instead of seeing the big picture? Wanting every decision and every action ran by you first? Yes, I would agree that this is what micromanagement looks like. But I would also argue that even the managers you love, the ones who let you be autonomous, the bosses who aren't jerks about things, still micromanage—they just do it more tastefully. 

It's the inadequate managers out there—who like hearing the sound of their own voices and just like to say stuff for the sake of sounding right—who give micromanagement a bad name. Because when they micromanage, it's noticeable. It becomes the scapegoat. 

"But my manager doesn't micromanage." Of course, it doesn't seem like it. That's what good leaders do. They know how to not only make you be successful but also feel successful. They don't take credit for your successes even though they deserve way more than they receive! Make no mistake about it, they are still tracking your progress. They, no doubt, know your numbers, understand your goals, are involved in the day-to-day activities of your work, take over when there is something you don't know how to do yet, and help you with the major decisions that need to be made. In other words, they are caring...and managing...at the micro level.

Every manager I've had has micromanaged me. Some, I've appreciated it, and others, I've thought it was annoying and condescending—but the difference had nothing to do with how much or how little they were involved in my work—it all had to do with how they approached it (which usually stemmed from their motivations). 

Don't confuse engagement for micromanagement. Maybe you do know everything. Maybe your way of doing things is better. Maybe if people would leave you alone you could make it happen. And, maybe, there's a job out there for you...maybe.

Never buy groceries when you're hungry

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Don't buy bottled water at Disneyland (or at any other time). 

Don't set your alarm clock the night before, when you're tired.

Put money into your savings account first, then spend what you have left. 

Don't set goals after a disappointing day. Set them when you're on fire. When you're crushing your number. When you're feeling good about things. Then review your goals when something falls through. 

When it comes to planning and setting goals, time and context matter. It takes self-control and follow-through to do what you committed to doing. But if you allow a poor circumstance or an unfortunate situation to dictate your future goals and plans, then you'll consistently set a bar that is too low and follow a plan that you're not really serious about. 

 

The difference of a day

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Sometimes, that's all it takes.

Having a bad attitude about things? Give it a day. 

Not seeing the kind of success you'd like to see? Recalibrate. Set some goals. See how you feel about it tomorrow. 

Unsure on a particular decision you have to make? Do some writing. Call a mentor. Read or listen to something that moves you. You'll know what to do tomorrow. 

What a difference a day makes. 

Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt

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Think about it. What makes one qualified? 

- Time?
- Money?
- Effort?
- Willingness to fail?

It's all of these, but it's also more than that. If you can get people to talk about your idea, think differently about something, change a habit, try something new, buy something, do something outside of their comfort zone, chances are you're more qualified than you think. 

It's ironic, it's usually the people who think that they are the least qualified who are probably the most qualified out there. The opposite also seems to be true. Being humble makes you qualified. 

Don't think that just because you are learning about something that doesn't make you qualified. Some of the best teachers are those who are in the beginning stages of their learning and development. They are passionate about what they do and that passion is contagious. 

The opposite also seems to be true. Sometimes masters are awful teachers. Their arrogance can be blinding. What worked for them might not work for you. 

So stop thinking you aren't qualified. If you want to teach something, teach it; write a book about something, write it; coach someone, coach them. As long as you are all in and dedicated to becoming an expert (and a master), and you put in the work, you are qualified. 

What it takes

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In any hero's journey, the hero—be it you, me, Luke Skywalker, Moana, Dorothy, or Rocky—first receives a call. A call to be someone better or do something bigger. Although the journey will surely include more challenges along the way, the most difficult obstacle any hero or heroine will face is making the decision to answer the call. 

Deciding that you have what it takes. 

Because after that, nothing remains the same. You leave the world you have grown accustomed to and enter a new reality. One in which you have eliminated distractions.

But you can only embark on your hero's journey one you have stopped welcoming the bright shiny objects into your life. The things that distract you from doing work that matters.

Priorities: the hardest decision is the first one. Choosing the useful things over the things that demand more attention than necessary. 

 

The caring culture

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People may or may not hear what you say, but they always remember what you do. 

You're not the exception, you're the reason. If you care, others will follow. 

Leaders may eat last, but they are the first to apply the rules to themselves. They are the first to show transparency. They are the first to be accountable. They are the first to sacrifice. 

How valuable are you?

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When someone hires you to do a job, are you getting paid more or less than the value you provide?

It ultimately comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Is your value to your organization equal or greater than your cost, and does the organization believe your value will increase or decrease over time?

What is the organization’s return on investing in you? What about the people that hire you?

For sales representatives, the first part of calculating how much value they bring is to evaluate booking numbers. Are they meeting or exceeding quota? In many organizations, this is the only yardstick. But there may be other things to consider: skill-set for other roles, leadership capabilities, and work ethic (to name a few).

But when organizations evaluate other roles like software engineers, graphic designers, marketing managers, HR specialists, and customer support representatives, calculating their value becomes a little trickier.

Here are some key points to consider when beginning to figure out how much value you actually bring to the table:

  1. Have a clear understanding of what you company’s goals are, as well as what your managers consider important.
  2. Be an expert on what job you are hired to do.
  3. Are your efforts focused on the right thing? If your organization is looking for more bottom-up innovation, ideas and solutions, but you spend your time working on ways to increase company morale, you might be missing the mark.
  4. Think in terms of metrics. How much revenue are you bringing in? How much money did you save the company by implementing some lean approaches? Did your campaign produce better results than expected?
  5. Speak up. Clearly communicating your value is more than half the battle. Yes, this means you’ll have to show some salesmanship. “To sell is human” - Daniel Pink. The fact is, the higher-ups or whomever hired you won’t know unless you tell them. Not to be a brown-noser, but in appropriate settings, it’s important to make a case for why your efforts mattered. You’ll then need to tie back your efforts into how they are in sync with the organization’s values. You are more than the sum of your job description. And your work can only speak for itself if people notice.

Bill Gates once said that “a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.” Constantly and continually improving your skills will certainly help separate you from the average. But you’ll also need to bear in mind what the market says. It’s important to know what people in your field, with your experience, and skill level are being paid.

When all is said and done, calculating your value begins with you. Take an in-depth look at your skills. Evaluate your abilities. Then improve them. Make a list of reasons why someone should hire you. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How are your endeavors bringing in more revenue or saving the organization money? What are the key objectives for the company? Does the work you do line up?

Now tell them. Then continue to show them.

What will you measure?

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Because measuring stuff (following a recipe) is easy. All you have to do is follow the instructions of someone else who's done it before. 

But what if you are making something no one has made? 

What if you are creating something that's never been created? 

Then does what you measure matter? Maybe, but it's exponentially more important to figure out what you want to measure. That's what matters. 

So maybe the better question is, how will you measure? 

Making your presentation better

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1. If you can't finish the sentence "the reason for my presentation is..." then don't bother doing the presentation.

2. Make it shorter. It's like packing for a trip. Pack like you normally would, then reduce it by half. Likewise, prepare your presentation like you normally would, then cut out half of it. 

3. Don't read your slides. Instead, tell a story. Your slides will help us follow along. If there is something REALLY important for us to know. Slack us the details afterward. 

4. If you find yourself singing (or doing an equivalent behavior), you've done something wrong.  

5. Be present. Don't use someone else's presentation template. Make something yourself and make it your own. You are presenting for a reason. We want to hear from you. So let that alone boost your confidence. We are here to see your energy and get a feel for what you have to offer. Show us. 

Another tip: unless you are swamped in presentations, never refuse a chance to present. You have something to share with us—teach us. We need what you have to give. Plus, if you're into learning stuff, there's no better way to learn something and become an expert on it than to prepare a well-thought-out presentation and teach a group of people about it. 

The Coaching Habit: Michael Bungay Stanier

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The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier is one of those gems that isn't just full of platitudes, but rather teaches practical and concise lessons you can apply today. The book is really about a few well-researched questions and the power of silence. 

Q1: What’s on your mind?
Q2: And what else?
Q3: And what else?
Q4: So what’s the real challenge here for you?

Bonus "Learning" question: What was most useful for you?

People occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
— Winston Churchill

That’s equally true about the conversations you’re having with those around you. There’s wisdom to be found, but only if you hang around for a moment to take a look.

And what else?...

"Start with 'what.' When it comes to focused organizational conversations, asking why can put people on the defense. When you ask why you may be solving the wrong problem before just trying to understand the problem. Reframe the question so it starts with “What.” So, as some examples, instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?” Instead of “Why did you think this was a good idea?” ask “What made you choose this course of action?” Instead of “Why are you bothering with this?” ask “What’s important for you here?”

You’ll be surprised and delighted at just how often these are exactly the right questions to ask. Open with: What’s on your mind? The perfect way to start; the question is open but focused. Check-in: Is there anything else on your mind? Give the person an option to share additional concerns. Then begin to focus: So what’s the real challenge here for you? Already the conversation will deepen. Your job now is to find what’s most useful to look at. Ask: And what else (is the real challenge here for you)? Trust me, the person will have something. And there may be more. Probe again: Is there anything else? You’ll have most of what matters in front of you now. So get to the heart of it and ask: So...what’s the real challenge here for you?"

My final takeaway: bite your tongue. Don’t fill the silence. This may seem incredibly uncomfortable, but it creates space for learning and insight.

Read the Coaching Habit. Say less, ask more, and change the way you lead forever.

Solving the problem before knowing the problem

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We love solving things. 

Our best friend comes to us with a situation, we offer solutions. There is friction in the sales process, we know how to fix it. We feel sick, we take medicine.  

But here's the thing, solving the problem isn't the problem. The problem is knowing the real problem.

Diagnosing before prescribing is hard. It takes silence (something most of us aren't very good at). It takes asking more questions (when most of us would rather give answers). It takes overcoming the fear of uncertainty (aka the fear of saying 'I don't know').

Most of all, it takes practice. We have all been conditioned to immediately try to solve stuff. We are too often judged, ranked, and measured based on the number of solutions we offer rather than the number of real problems we identify. Probably because it's a lot easier to talk about features, hours worked, and time spent reviewing things and a lot more difficult to dive into the real problem.

What's the real problem? 
What's the real challenge here for you? 
What else?
What made you choose this course of action? 
What's important here for you? 
What else? 

A culture of caring

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People may or may not hear what you say, but they always remember what you do. 

You're not the exception, you're the reason. If you care, others will follow. 

Leaders may eat last, but they are the first to apply the rules to themselves. They are the first to show transparency. They are the first to be accountable. They are the first to sacrifice. 

I changed my mind

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I watched this video today on a social experiment some people were conducting. They waited near a booth where you can buy lottery tickets. Then, after people bought their ticket, they would walk up to them and offer to pay them twice as much as they paid for that same lottery ticket. About 9/10 people declined! Most of them were convinced that they had purchased the lucky ticket. When asked why they wouldn't take the deal, many of the 'future lottery winners' included in their response something along the lines of "well, imagine how devastating that would be if I sold YOU the winning ticket!"

How often do we as human beings fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that we are right? That we know what we're doing? Even more, how many times have we seduced ourselves into thinking that our mental efforts can impact external events? We fall in love with an idea. We walk into a meeting with a closed mind. We tell ourselves that no offer is good enough to change our minds.

I have found that the people who are most open to changing their minds are those who are experiencing something new/different. They have either started school, moved to a new town, started a new job, they continually read about new ideas, they recently made a big purchase, or experienced a life-changing event—something that did enough to shake up their world—at least before they start to experience a diminishing return on their current situation. 

I have also found that if you are the first to be vulnerable and either admit that you were wrong or that you changed your mind, others will feel more comfortable doing the same. Start with little things. You read something, believed something was some way, then you experienced something different and decided to change your mind. 

The key here is to not keep going back and forth. Be confident in your decision but humble enough to say that you were wrong. That you learned something that made you rethink the solution. 

You're either right or you're wrong. If you're like most people, you're probably right more than you're wrong. But something incredible starts to happen when leaders admit that they made a mistake—when they tell others that they changed their minds—things start getting accomplished, goals are achieved, and the culture in which this is all happening improves. 

As with most things, if you still think you're right, give it some time. If you can look back after 6 months, or a year and can still confidently state that you were right, kudos to you, learn something from it and understand what it was about that thing that made you choose correctly. But please, take a closer look. If you were wrong, then you were wrong. Don't beat yourself up about it, learn from it.

The person who is wrong, but from it gains important knowledge, has a significant advantage over the person who is 'always right.' Use being wrong to your advantage. It's not a bad thing to change your mind. It's noble. It shows that you love to learn, even if it means from your own mistakes. It means you want to win. It means you're going to be right when it counts. 

 

Managing expectations

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Summers are for barbecuing. Tonight was the perfect kind of night for some roof-top grilling. We brought the vegetables, and our friends provided the tilapia and drinks. 

There were two flavor options for drinks: lemon and cranberry. Without really looking, I cracked open the lemon expecting a sweet, tangy rush of lemon goodness, only to experience the dull, diluted, flavorless wannabe lemonade—lemon-flavored sparkling water! 

It's not that I never had sparkling water before, it's that I was expecting something else than what was delivered. 

And that's the thing about expectations, isn't it? Expectations are usually graded on the curve. You expect water, I give you lemon seltzer, your expectations change, they reset. You eat ramen your whole life, then I introduce you to real ramen, your standard for what good ramen tastes like changes. You then move to Japan—what once blew you away becomes the new standard. 

Low expectations are no good. They make it seem like something is happening when, in reality, nothing has changed. Expectations that are too high also present a challenge. You will always be expected to exceed them. Nothing, therefore, will ever be good enough. You may never be content with anything.

Here's the best way I know how to properly manage expectations: first, understand what expectations are. They need to be internally driven. They need to come from you. It's better to go into something with no expectations than someone else's. Second, good expectations are well-thought-out. They align with our hopes and our dreams. They aren't merely wishes conjured up on the whimsical thought. They represent who we are, where we intend to go, and who we anticipate becoming (given we follow the principles we establish for ourselves). Third, having great expectations is the last thing that is stopping you from turning pro. I can almost promise you that your expectations are too low, not the other way around. Great expectations allow you to explore what you never thought was possible, discover something inside yourself that has been hiding for far too long, and become the person your best-self would expect you to become. 

But those great expectations don't just come. You'll need some help. Help from people who not only understand the purpose of properly managing your expectations but also realize the importance and the value of setting your own expectations. These rare mentors won't set your expectations but will ask the right questions, lead by example, and know how to inspire you so that the expectations you set are truly great. And if you feel like those people who are closest to you now aren't meeting your expectations, maybe it's time you surround yourself with other people who care enough to help you dig deeper. Because there is nothing more valuable than having someone in your life who shares your vision, who helps you open your eyes to the possible, who expects a lot from you because they believe in you. 

Two more ways to look at fear

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1) Fear limits our ability to create something remarkable. And instead seduces us into thinking that it's okay to be average. That being noticed is for the privileged. So we carry on—sloppily. We carelessly go about doing subpar work that we know will be just 'good enough.' We hide behind our typos, our lack of activity, our bad attitude, our emotions, and our justifications:
- "We need more time to prepare."
- "It's the first of the month."
- "It's the end of the month."
- "They're in a meeting."
- "They just got back from a meeting."
- "I'm out of resources."
- "I didn't think to ask."

2) Fear stops us from allowing others to create something remarkable. And instead seduces us into thinking that success is a commodity. A limited resource. That there isn't enough to go around for all of us. So instead of directing our focus toward expanding, we ignorantly belittle, criticize, and diminish. We hide behind obsessively picking apart others' work instead of making ours better.

Fear isn't scary, but it can be damning. 

Fortunately, we have a choice. We can either: 
1) give in to that feeling of fear and let it stop our progress or the progress or others,
or
2) we can eat our fear. We can "use fear against itself." When we feel anxiety before we do something that is hard, let that feeling trigger action. Stop thinking. Stop doing whatever it is you are doing, and just act. In so doing, you will start earning the reputation of being fearless because you take action so quickly. When, in reality, you are acting based on fear just like everyone else. The difference is, now you know how to use it to your advantage.

Letting yourself off the hook

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You are doing yourself a disservice when you say you need more time to prepare. 

You don't need any more ideas, you just need to execute one. 

Stop being jealous of others' 'talents' when they are actually skills. 

Make the call, do the thing you've been talking about, learn the skills. It's more possible and achievable than you think, and it certainly doesn't require MORE experience and MORE time. After all “experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” — Steven Wright. 

For the moment you might feel better, now that you've let yourself off the hook, but you're also slowly making yourself more and more miserable.