The One Thing That Could Change Absolutely Everything

This morning I received a bit of an unexpected blessing. Some good news, if you will. I took a few all-too-brief minutes to appreciate it and then immediately moved on to get ready for my day. As I was enjoying my morning coffee I was struck with a huge realization – the good news I just spent a whole five minutes appreciating is the same news that would be the ‘one thing’ that could change absolutely everything for someone else.

The reality is that most of my days are a series of back-to-back blessings. I wake up with a roof over my head every single day of the year, I always start my day with a hot shower and a coffee, I have a job that I absolutely love to go to that challenges and stretches me, I learn something new every day, I have a husband who supports me and enables me to do what I do… and this list goes on… and on. Perhaps it’s that constant series of blessings that caused me to gloss over yet another one. What a tragedy.

I think about the millions of people around the world who would say that just receiving one of my every-day blessings would change absolutely everything. Think about it…

Millions upon millions of people would say – If I just had…

• A roof over my head, it would change absolutely everything.
• A job that could pay the bills,
• Running water,
• A feeling of safety and security,
• The opportunity to learn something new,
• A spouse who loved me unconditionally.

You get the idea. The point that just hit me over the head like a ton of bricks is that just one of the very simple, every-day blessings that we (or more specifically I) gloss over or accept as the norm would be for millions the ‘one thing that would change absolutely everything’.

As we move through this season of bounty surrounded by family, friends, freedom and a life many would call ‘living the dream’, let us all take a moment to say thank you for all we have and appreciate every last little thing that alone would truly be life changing for someone else.

The Art of Truly Listening

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It’s a crazy busy, multi-tasking, information overloaded, multiple-device kind of world out there. You likely have very little time to just ‘be’ – to step away from the hectic pace, turn off your incoming texts, emails, tweets and Facebook messages and just relax. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there are side effects of this information rich, 24/7 world we’ve created, and one of those side effects is the decline of an individual’s ability to truly listen.

Read my full post on the Virgin.com Entrepreneur website.

Having an Attitude of Gratitude Year-Round

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays – it’s a great time to reflect on how fortunate we all are and how much we have to be grateful for. Whether you’re Canadian and celebrate Thanksgiving in October or American and celebrate Thanksgiving in November, we definitely have more than enough abundance on both sides of the border to be thankful long after the official holiday is over.

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate both American and Canadian Thanksgiving and over the last few months of Thanksgiving festivities and celebrations, there are some lessons learned that I consider worth remembering year round.

  • We have more than enough. Enough what, you may ask? Everything! We live in a culture where the more we have, the more we want and the more we think we need. Although not everyone is in the same boat, there are many people who feel they go without, when in fact, there is very little that most of us go without. Andy Stanley reminded me last week that we (as North Americans) live in a world where we have a perfectly good car that does exactly what we need it to, yet will go and trade it in on a newer, better model. Or, we have a kitchen with a fridge, stove and counter space that meets all our cooking needs but yet will rip it out and start over so it can all be new. The truth is, we often have exactly what we need and shouldn’t take for granted how many ‘extras’ we really do have.
  • Opportunity is everywhere. What a great place we live where we have the opportunity to change our circumstances. When we’re in school we’re encouraged to explore all the things we could be when we ‘grow up’ and once we’re in the career phase of our life, the world really is our oyster and we can shape and mold our own destiny. There are an abundance of opportunities all around us – all we need to do is look for them and then take action and make them happen.
  • Freedom is a privilege. When I watch the news I am frequently reminded there are countries where all people hope to get out of a day is a safe place to hide from the gunfire surrounding them, or maybe they dream of a day when they can openly profess their religious beliefs. We often take freedom for granted, but because every day you get to decide what you do and where you’ll go, we should be eternally thankful.
  • We need to complain less. It’s easy to get caught up in what I’ve heard referred to as ‘first world problems’. I saw a Saturday Night Live skit that had a number of technology experts complaining about all the issues with the iPhone 5 and then they brought on a panel of people representing the factory workers who make the iPhone 5 to respond to the complaints. When you look at the life circumstances of many of those overseas factory workers, the technies felt ridiculous complaining about how the iPhone wasn’t fast enough or how the maps didn’t work properly. I also recently heard someone talking about how they felt over-taxed when they withdrew money from their retirement savings. Think of all the people who dream of having any retirement savings at all! Next time you catch yourself complaining, think of how you may sound because it may come across as ungrateful.

If you need some reminders about why you should be grateful, especially on days when you feel you don’t have a lot to be grateful for, click here for a list of 19 reasons that was recently posted on one of my favorite websites, Practical Tips for Productive Living.

I think at the end of the day, if you had a heart-to-heart conversation with anyone you’d be able to get them to a place where their gratitude came to the surface. However, we should all strive to live our lives in a way where our gratitude for the amazing abundance we have is evident to all those we connect with on a daily basis.

Five Tips for Maintaining Perspective in Challenging Times

Although the idea of going through life smoothly with very few hurdles to overcome may seem appealing, that usually isn’t reality – and it actually wouldn’t provide the insights you ultimately need to get to your next level. Individuals and businesses often learn the most when they are faced with adversity, tough economic times or even health challenges. Next time you’re going down a challenging road, remember these five key points:

  • Situations are temporary. Danielle LaPorte has a “Manifesto of Encouragement” on her website and one of the quotes is “Someone is in profound pain, and a few months from now, they’ll be thriving like never before. They just can’t see it from where they’re at.” – very wise words!
  • Accept help. You likely have people that say “if I can help with anything, just let me know” and believe it or not, they aren’t just saying that. Take them up on their offer for support – whether that means them taking your kids off your hands for the afternoon, bringing dinner,  putting in some extra hours at work or just listening, let them take some of the pressure off you.
  • Look for the lessons. There are usually a few valuable lessons to be learned in every challenging situation. If you can manage to, try to take a step back and look for those lessons – how did you end up in this situation, what did you contribute to arriving here and what will you do differently in the future so you can avoid (if possible) ending up here again. Simply “surviving” the ordeal isn’t nearly as valuable as what you can learn in the process.
  • Keep a positive attitude. This is likely the toughest of all. When things are going sideways, it’s much easier to get caught up in how bad things look and think of the worst case scenario. True leaders will try to rise above the situation and be positive, partially to try to avoid insanity and partially to keep the troops (aka – your team, family, etc.) from needless worry. Having everyone worried that the worst case scenario may become reality doesn’t benefit anyone so stay positive (even if you’re faking it) and everyone in your life, including you, will be further ahead.
  • Take care of you. Sometimes it feels like the best solution is working around the clock and burning the candle at both ends to get it solved, but that likely isn’t the case. In fact, exhaustion will leave you without enough brainpower to figure out how to solve the problem. Get rest, eat well and get some exercise – even if that means a short walk around your neighborhood. Without looking after you, you won’t have the right frame of mind to get anything accomplished.

Remember, in times of challenge, perspective is sometimes what it takes to make it through and these five points will help provide that perspective when you’re having a hard time doing so yourself.

Five Tips for Intentional Networking

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There are never-ending opportunities to network online through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – and the list goes on. However, we all know some of the best networking comes when you meet someone face-to-face, shake hands and just talk! When you go to a conference or trade show, how much time do you put in to advance preparation for what I call ‘intentional networking’. This isn’t the same as randomly meeting people while you’re wandering the trade show floor (although that can have value too), it’s about creating a plan in advance, clearly defining your networking objectives and then working the plan.

Here are five ‘intentional networking’ tips for your next conference, trade show or networking event:

  • Master your pitch. I work a lot with accountants and many times when I meet an accountant, they will introduce themselves in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown, and I have an accounting firm”. Exciting, hey? Does that type of introduction make you want to do business with Joe? What if Joe introduced himself in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown and I help small businesses increase profitability and grow their revenue, while at the same time developing a long term strategic plan for success”. All of a sudden, you become interested. In fact, on the rare occasion when I’ve heard someone introduce themselves in this way, the response from the business owner they are introducing themselves to is “Wow – that sounds exactly like what I need”. Before you tackle your next networking event, make sure you have your elevator pitch mastered so when you introduce yourself, you clearly articulate how you’re different from your competitors, which will cause people to take notice and say “Now that’s someone I want to do business with!”.
  • Plan who you want to meet. Attendee lists are often available in advance of conferences or networking events – take time to study it and identify who you are going to be looking for when you arrive. Nowadays it’s easy to find people’s photos on LinkedIn so you recognize them when you see them, which also helps. Once you identify who you want to connect with, do your research. Take notes on their career history, read through their company website and become familiar with their      objectives. I’m always impressed when I meet someone and it is clear based on the comments they make that they have done their homework, so make sure you do yours.
  • Schedule in advance. Now that you’ve determined who you want to meet, you will likely see there are some senior level individuals or company executives on your list. Odds are these folks have a fairly packed schedule at most events they attend. Because of this, for the key individuals you want to connect with it’s recommended that you reach out in advance, let them know what you’d like to meet about and suggest two or three potential meeting dates and times, as well as a location. This will kick off the conversation and get you on their calendar which guarantees you’ll get some of their time at the conference. ‘Playing it by ear’ may cause you to miss a big opportunity to connect with someone who could change your business!
  • Maximize your time… and pace yourself! Leading up to the event, it’s ideal if you can plan well in advance so you’re not rushing around at the last minute finishing work projects or organizing things at home, which can leave you feeling burned out before the event even starts. Plan to pack early and leave some breathing room in your schedule for the days leading up to the event so when you arrive, you’re feeling refreshed and energized, ready to make the most of your time (and the investment you’ve made in attending!).  When you arrive, pace yourself. If your event is three or four days, don’t get caught burning the candle at both ends on day one and then find yourself feeling too tired to maximize the rest of the conference or event.
  • Break out of your comfort zone. When you attend conferences or events, especially when they only happen once a year, you likely have a list of colleagues or friends you haven’t seen in a while that you want to catch up with. Make you balance the “catching up” with breaking out of your comfort zone and meeting new people, which often leads to new insights and perspectives you can take back to your business. Also remember, there are many new attendees at every event regardless of size, so take a few moments to introduce yourself to someone you see standing alone. When I attend conferences I intentionally look for individuals who are standing alone and most of the time, those introductions and conversations turn out to be extremely valuable.

At your next conference or event, make a plan for intentional networking and you’ll be amazed at the doors that open and the value you’ll receive!

You Decide if Your Glass is Half Empty, Half Full or Just Plain Overflowing

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Every day, every hour and every minute serves up an opportunity for you to decide how to respond to a particular situation. The situation may be the hunt for misplaced car-keys when you’re already running late for your first meeting of the day, it may be a cranky person who takes your order at Starbucks in the morning, it may be big changes at work or in your career or it may even be personal health challenges. Regardless, the fact remains that each day presents you with literally hundreds of situations at you that give you an opportunity to respond positively or negatively – it’s simply up to you.

When things come flying at you throughout the day (as they always will) here are five points to ponder before you decide how to react:

  • Is the sky in fact falling? Sometimes your initial reaction to a situation is “it doesn’t get any worse than this!” but really, is that the case? Often if you give a situation a chance to settle in, you find that not only is it not negative, it more than likely has many positive outcomes as well. If you are caught off guard by something that was thrown your way, give it some time (or even sleep on it) before you react. Don’t be the person to jump to negative conclusions and overreact – instead always try to be the optimist!
  • You’re in control. Although you may not have the opportunity to shape or control the situation itself, you are completely in control of how you react to the situation. You can take something that truly may be negative, look for the positives in it, and turn it around. You ultimately control how the situation plays out by the way you respond to it, so keep it positive!
  • Your character will often be judged on your reaction to the situation. Anyone can be a ‘hero’ during the good times, leading people to celebrations and victory dances. However, a true leader will be able to shine during the tough situations by being authentic and gaining trust by showing their true character. Make sure when people get a glimpse in to your true character, it’s a side of you that you want to be seen.
  • Leaders set the tone. In times of challenge, people look around to see how the leaders are reacting. If you’ve ever been on a flight with extreme turbulence, I don’t know about you but I always look at the flight attendants. If they are calm, cool and collected I take a deep breath and relax. However, if they look frazzled and panicked, I get anxious and wonder if I should be in panic mode as well. Keep in mind whether it’s your team, your family, friends or even your spouse, you often have the ability to set the tone for how others react to a particular situation so make sure you’re setting the right tone!
  • You always have a choice. One of the great leaders I have the privilege of working with has a saying that comes to mind regularly for me, and that is “you always have a choice”. The more I ponder it, the more interesting that phrase becomes. If you think about what kinds of situations people all around the world are faced with every day, there are actually millions of people who find themselves in situations they have no control over. They don’t get to choose whether or not they work, what they will eat or where their next vacation is – their decisions are much more life and death than we face in North America. How fortunate are we that we live in an area of the world where we have so many choices in our lives. If a situation really is one you want to change, you have the freedom to do that.  If you can’t find a way to feel good or find the positive in a situation, count your blessings that you live in a country where you have a choice and can change the situation.

Next time you’re wondering if the glass is half empty or half full, remember that you are in fact the one that is filling the glass and can decide if it’s full, empty or just plain overflowing.

Leaving Job Titles at the Door Promotes Better Team Culture

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Good leaders recognize it can be hard to build a team culture that says we’re all here to work together and win if there is an air of hierarchy in their organization. To truly build a team, often leaving job titles behind can be very important. Here are some ideas to remove the feelings of hierarchy from your organization:

  • Stop introducing yourself with your title. Many people pay careful attention to how someone introduces themselves and it’s likely your team does too. Next time you introduce yourself refer to the team you’re part of rather than using your job title (for example, I’m Bill Smith with the marketing team, rather than Bill Smith, Vice President of Marketing). I think it sets the tone for what’s really important, and it’s often not your job title.
  • Be mindful of ways hierarchy is demonstrated at your organization. Do you have special parking for “the boss” at your company? What about a special area or break room that only VPs and above can use? Although there are times when this is warranted, it often just tells people who the company believes is most important and in all reality, everyone is important in making a company run effectively. If everyone plays an important role, then look at ways your company says that someone is more important than another and determine if any of those could be removed.
  • Maintain an open door policy. Organizations that strive to build a true team culture have front line employees that wouldn’t hesitate to email or walk into the office of the top ranks or leaders in the business. Does everyone in your organization feel comfortable coming in your office?
  • Take time for casual conversations. In a world where everyone is busy and the pace seems to be getting faster every day, it’s important for leaders to take time to have “corner of the desk” type conversations. This means that leaders simply stop by someone’s desk (without a meeting invitation!) and see how things are going. No agenda, no formal conversation – just making sure people know they care and are genuinely interested in how they are doing. These casual conversations go a long way to removing the barriers hierarchy can create.
  • Dress the part. At my organization, Fridays are casual dress days. I think it had to do with how I was brought up, but I just didn’t feel comfortable wearing jeans to work (the old “you never know who you may run into” kept popping in to my mind). I was actually one of the few people that came to the office on Friday that wasn’t wearing jeans. One day, someone on my team asked me why I didn’t ‘dress down’ on Friday like everyone else. Although they didn’t say as much, I felt as though their assumption was that I either didn’t want my team to see a casual side of me or I was ‘above’ dressing down. I was mortified! This was obviously not the message I wanted to send and it never occurred to me that people would interpret it that way. Needless to say, on Fridays I now fit right in and wear jeans to prove it!

I am fortunate to work at a company where titles are rarely mentioned in introductions and employees feel extremely comfortable reaching out to anyone in the organization, regardless of their role. If your business or organization is like most, people just want to come to work at a company where they feel valued and that they are making an important contribution. Removing the sense of hierarchy helps people realize their role is just as important as anyone else’s… because it really is!

Drive Innovation & Change by ‘Removing the Filters’

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When was the last time you really listened to one of your customers? What about your front line employees? Many business leaders find themselves so busy with meetings, phone calls and planning that they end up somewhat removed from the most important thing that goes on in their business – engagement with their customers! After all, customers are who determine whether or not a business is successful.

Although as a leader you likely have great meetings and conversations with your direct reports or your immediate team, sometimes they don’t tell you the small details, and not because they don’t want to or because they are hiding something, but rather because they don’t necessarily think you will find it important. In other words, they may not want to bother you with the small details. However, what you will learn by spending time with your front line employees (the ones who directly interact with your customers) or your customers themselves will undoubtedly drive change and innovation in your business.

A great example is a CEO I work with that said some of the most valuable time they spend in their business is listening to support or sales calls. They learn what the customer painpoints are, what their front line employees are saying on the phone, what their customers are asking for, etc. In your business, a customer may ask “Do you provide X (fill in the blank) service?” and the employee they are speaking to may answer “no” which is correct. However, that call may spark an idea for a new service opportunity for your business which you wouldn’t have thought of if you weren’t listening in.

Alternatively, having a team meeting with front line employees can provide similar information regardless of what leadership position you’re in – right up to the CEO. Try a townhall type format, where you write three headings on your whiteboard: what’s working, what’s not working and areas of opportunity and then just let them talk while you write and ask questions. Some of the things they tell you that aren’t working will cause you to scratch your head and say “we need to fix that!” and you can just get it done! The changes that result from your learnings can drive revenue, innovation, profitability and also motivate your organization because they know their voices are heard all the way to the top.

At the end of the day, it’s rare that someone purposefully leaves out details or information in an effort to hide something from you, but they do filter information (often without intending to do so) based on what they think you need (or want) to know. Do yourself, and your business, a favor and occasionally remove the filter because what you learn will lead to great improvement!

Becoming Intentionally Extraordinary

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I’ve found myself hearing a theme lately at conferences, workshops, meetings and even in conversations with my colleagues, and that theme is focused on becoming extraordinary. Whether you use the term extraordinary, excellent, amazing or whatever suits you, it is about the desire to go beyond the ordinary and do something (or many things) great. At one conference I recently attended, they keynote speaker shared a phrase that stuck with me… “Average is over” and I think he hit the nail on the head. Extraordinary also doesn’t have to apply to just one area of your life – it can be extraordinary at home, as a parent, as a spouse, in your career, through your volunteer work or in another area of your life. Extraordinary is about raising the bar and delivering your “best work” in every area of your life.

I am passionate about the subject because I believe everyone has the ability to become extraordinary. However, I was trying to summarize the underlying message in all the books I’ve read, speakers I’ve listened to and conversations I’ve had and there is no doubt about it – it is tough to do. There are literally thousands of ways to become extraordinary, but when you get to the heart of it, there are two things that are consistent – it has to be intentional and it will likely take hard work. It won’t fall on your lap, knock at your door or hit you over the head. It’s about a plan… a plan to take your life to the next level and do something great. Life is short and none of us know just how short ours is, so the longer you spend pondering what path to take or opportunities to pursue, the clock is ticking. Every day requires you to make a conscious decision (and action!) to move one step closer to extraordinary.

How are you living today with intention to further your journey to become extraordinary?

Doing What You’ve Always Done Won’t Get You What You’ve Always Got

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Everyone knows what it’s like when someone new joins an organization or company. They come in with all these fresh, new ideas and full of energy. Some of the “long timers” may even laugh under their breath at the fact that this individual thinks they can change the way things are. Maybe you’ve heard phrases like “I tried to change that many times – good luck!” or “Wait until they’ve been here for a month – they’ll understand why we don’t do that” or “That idea will never fly around here!”. However, in many cases, these new individuals really do come in and make a significant difference because they don’t have all the ‘baggage’ some of the long-time employees have and have the ability see things in a different light.

Have you ever wondered what the other people in your organization think of you when they look at how you operate? Do they see you as someone who brings fresh, new ideas to the table and challenges the status-quo or are you a naysayer with lots of baggage and history that is weighing you down instead of being used as a building block? The length of time served at any company can be a very valuable asset as long as you continue to replenish your knowledge and acquire new perspectives and insights.

I believe an important part of anyone’s career is learning. Learning new skills, perspectives, best practices, ways of doing things, ways of thinking… and the list goes on! I had a call yesterday about the coaching process and during the conversation, the leader I was speaking with shared a quote with me that really hit home, which was “do something every quarter that could add a line to your resume”. In other words, learn something new that adds to your portfolio of skills, education and experience.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got”. I actually don’t think that’s the case with your career. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll be passed by everyone around you and be left behind. Doing what you’ve always done won’t get you to the next level in your career so what are you going to do to add to your resume every quarter?

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