Choose to Be #1

A couple weeks ago, my company had our annual Year Beginning Meeting.

For those of you unfamiliar with these types of events, picture a concert venue with 2,000-3,000 of your closest friends from across the nation gathered together to listen to the leadership team share the vision and direction for the new year and get fired up with some good ol’ fashion rah-rah-rah!

I love these meetings!  You can feel the energy and excitement crackle in the air!  But no meeting is complete without some catch phrase or mantra that whips the crowd into a frenzy.

And this year did not disappoint!  

As our senior leaders stood on the stage, they would shout, “WE CHOOSE TO BE…”

And the crowd would shout back, “NUMBER ONE!

Particularly dynamic was our EVP of Operations, Todd Harbaugh.  Todd is a fantastic public speaker and always seems to bring it all home.  His carefully crafted, yet genuine delivery makes you want to break through walls, swim oceans, and run through fire to be your best.

This particular message from Todd drove home the point that we have a choice every day to do our best….or not do our best.

If you think about this logically –‘doing your best’ more often than not has a fairly positive outcome.  NOT doing your best usually has a less than desired result.  So, why would we not want to do our best?  Have you ever woke up at the start of your day and thought, “Man, today I think I am just going to be #2.”  Or “I really don’t want to do my best today.”  No.  If this is who you are, you usually don’t think anything.  You slide by in your day only to wonder later where the day went and why you didn’t get anything accomplished or why you’re not progressing in your career.

Choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  It’s a purposeful choice.  You have to be intentional about delivering your best….and then have the moxie and will to follow through on it.

But what does “doing your best” really mean?

Todd further drove this home for the crowd.  Todd shouted, “We Choose to Be…” and the crowd would roar back “NUMBER ONE!”  Then he would continue, “…in Talent Development…” “…in Innovation” and so on .  There were five areas in all.  But with each topic, he explained exactly what he meant and what he expected.

Todd’s message focused on the things that were right for our company.  But what is right for you or your organization?  What should you be #1 in?  After all it’s a choice.

Is it sales?  Creative/artistic design?  Talent development?  Project management?  Innovation?  Customer experience?  Leveraging Influence?  Philanthropy?  Volunteerism?  A special pursuit? A specific skill?

It’s really up to you.  So, here’s the exercise.

Sit down with your favorite writing utensil and a post-it note.

At the top, write, “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN:”

Try to come up with 3 areas that you should (or want to) give your best in.  More is okay – but you don’t want too many as you lose focus.  Try not to exceed 5.

Once you’re done, read aloud – “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN …..”

Now, don’t be timid.  Say it like you mean it!

Repeat it until you believe it.  After all, the only person you have to convince is yourself.

Now take that note and post it somewhere you’ll see it at the start of your day (e.g., your bathroom mirror, on your coffee machine, on your treadmill, in your office, on your rear view mirror of your car, etc.).  They key is to remind yourself early in your day that you are choosing to be #1 at these things.  And when you see that note, read it out loud – with conviction!

As I said earlier, choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  You can’t be flippant about it.  Be intentional.  It will make a difference in your life.

Personally, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 in developing people, serving my customer, and innovating well-thought out solutions.

This works equally well in your personal life.  For me, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 as a husband and father.

WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

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Inspire With Why

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.

In my down time, I really enjoy listening to people that inspire me with intriguing ideas.  TED.com is one of those places where I can always seem to find great inspiring content.

The other night, I came across a presentation by Simon Sinek (author, educator) titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  I found his comments to not only be logical and profound, but applicable to inspiring any audience (e.g., direct reports, team members, customers, etc.).

Sinek believes that if you explain and share why you do something, there is greater loyalty, buy-in, and inspiration as compared to simply communicating what you do.

My favorite statement in the presentation was, “There are leaders and there are those that lead.  Leaders hold a position of power and authority, but those that lead inspire us……we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to.”

The video is 18 minutes long.  I encourage you to listen to the entire presentation as he does a great job communicating his message.  I believe it will change the way that you think about communicating as a leader.

It did for me.

Learning the Power of Language

Do you want to be a good leader? Then learn to be an effective communicator.

We could fill up many blogs full of posts about how important good communication skills are to being a good leader. And while we may explore some of the other areas of communication in later posts, I’d like to focus our attention on learning the power of language.

So what does this all mean? Why is language important? How does this apply to leadership?

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter

Language is a systemic means of communication by the use of sounds and symbols. It’s the primary vessel of engaging, leading, and interacting with others.

So how do you become a more effective communicator? Here are three tips:

  • Master your primary language.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Learn to say ‘hello’ in multiple languages.

Master Your Primary Language

You may be thinking to yourself, “What are you talking about? I speak English just fine. What do I need to learn?”

There is plenty to learn. Rare are those that are true masters of their language. To master your own primary language means to have a command and understanding of the language well beyond the basics. You need not only understand the meaning of the words, but how and when to use and apply them appropriately.

This is especially true in the work place. In more casual settings (with friends and family), people tend to overlook and forgive poor grammar, spelling, word use, and lack of formality. In the work place, people tend to be less forgiving. Especially in today’s society where documents (including email, texts, and IMs) are legally discoverable, every word used means something, and people tend to be less forgiving if you speak or write incorrectly.

In the last few years, my personal observation has been that devolution of my primary language (English) in the work place has occurred. What is causing this? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Too much reliance on spell check, which leads to misspellings or improper word use.
  • Bleeding over of casual language (e.g., text/IM language) in to formal business communication.
  • Improper word usage, because people are just trying to sound smart.

Now, it may be appropriate at times to use more casual language at work (e.g., on the company IM system or in a more trendy work environment). However, the key is knowing when to use the proper level of formality in a given situation (e.g., contracts – more formal; IM – less formal).

Why is this important to us as leaders? Using the right words properly (written or oral) conveys confidence, poise and intelligence. This doesn’t mean that you need to spout off 5 and 6 syllable words in every sentence. Good leaders know their audience and speak so that their audience can understand them and relate to them. Good communication skills allow leaders to communicate their thoughts effectively, efficiently, and in a way that inspires confidence and trust.

How can you improve your mastery of your primary language? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Identify those areas that you may be challenged (e.g., written communication, verbal communication) and work to refine and improve those areas.
  • Have people proof your communications (e.g., documents, emails, etc.). Learn from what they say.
  • Expand your vocabulary. This doesn’t mean you have to use all the big words you know, just know more words and how to use them.
  • Try not to rely on spell/grammar check. Try to spell correctly the first time. But use spell check before you send written communications.
  • When you speak in front of others (whether one on one or in front of a group) seek feedback afterwards to ensure you were clear.
  • Practice extemporaneous or impromptu speaking. This helps your brain and mouth work better together and faster.
  • Practice being succinct in your speech. Ask someone to ask you questions and have them tell you if you provided enough or not enough information.
  • Learn to speak without verbal pauses (um, uh, like, ah)
  • Read. A lot. The more you consume, the more you know, the easier it is to speak.

You can find many more methods online if you search. The key is to work to improve the way in which you master your primary language to become a more effective communicator.

Learn a Foreign Language

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” -Nelson Mandela

I am a firm believer that speaking in another’s native tongue opens many doors that may otherwise be shut.

Recently, a friend and colleague of mine accepted a senior job in a state government agency. The first piece of advice that I gave him (and the one I hope he follows the most) was to learn Spanish. He serves a population that is highly Hispanic. While I am sure he will be successful, he will be even more successful if he can speak to his constituents in their native tongue. It will endear him to them. It will open many doors.

When I talk to people about other languages, I hear a variety of reasons as to why they don’t know another language ranging from “I’ve forgotten what I learned in high school” to “I just don’t have time to learn.” The fact is, in our multi-cultural, rapidly shrinking world the likelihood of you encountering others that primarily speak another language is very high. And your ability to communicate with them may be critical to your success. You are never too old, too young or too busy to learn another language.

The beauty of learning another language is that you are often not just learning the technical language itself, but you are learning about the cultures that utilize that language, which broadens your perspective and understanding of others.

As a businessperson, speaking, reading, and writing another language (or two, or three) may open many doors of opportunity. Perhaps more trips abroad, an expat assignment, a promotional opportunity or a new job altogether. Often times it is the extras (like language skill) that make the difference between the person that gets the job and the one who doesn’t. I’ve never been in an interview setting or personnel review where language was considered a negative quality.

Working for a multi-national company, I know that I have personally had many opportunities to use my language skills in the work place, both locally and in other countries.

As a leader, the ability to communicate in another language only broadens the dimensions of your leadership skill.

There are many sources to learn from. As an example:

  • Find a friend at work and ask them to teach you
  • Take a college class or local community class
  • Check to see if your workplace offers courses
  • Self-paced courses like Rosetta Stone
  • Podcasts (typically free on iTunes or similar providers)

Then once you learn, practice. Find someone to talk to at work or in the community. Stay brushed up and continue to deepen your knowledge of the language.

Learn to Say ‘Hello’ in Multiple Languages

Hello. Such a simple word, but spoken differently around the globe. This is one of my favorite tips because I find it personally useful and gratifying.

In my travels, I have found that people often appreciate it when you make an attempt to speak in their native language; even if it’s only ‘hello’.

When I used to travel more globally with my company, I made it a point to memorize the words for hello, goodbye, yes, no, and thank you. This was enough to get me by whether in the Czech Republic, Brazil, Germany or China. Similar to ‘learning a foreign language’, it often endeared me to people rather quickly because I was making an attempt.

So why is this important? If you are able to endear yourself to people, you’ll find that barriers are lowered and people are more likely to communicate with you. From a leadership (and business) perspective, this allows you to lead more effectively.

There are tons of great translation resources and applications today (even on your smart phone) that can help you learn these words. However, I usually keep a website saved in my favorites like Freelang.net that give me the full list of ‘hellos’.

One suggestion that I will make is to really try to learn the proper intonation of the word. This really helps with credibility. If you do it right, you may get back a “Ohhh…that sounds really good” from the person you are talking to, which then leads to a much more friendly conversation afterwards.

One of my favorite uses of the ‘multi-language hello’ is at our annual shareholders meeting. Associates from all over the globe come to this event and you can recognize them easily because they are usually all dressed in team shirts and have their country flags with them. I am quick to yell out a “Hola! Bienvenidos!” or “Ohayho Gozaimasu!” or “Bom Dia!” or “Nǐ Hăo!” as they walk by and immediately I get the same in return along with a big smile, hand shake, high five, or sometimes even a hug.

It takes relatively no time at all to learn a few ‘hellos’ and you’ll have them in your locker for when they are needed (and make many friends along the way).

As you can see, there is power in language. So, what can you do to become a more effective communicator?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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