Authenticity is the easy to understand


"Millennial's want “authenticity” is what everyone says right? Of course they want that, so does everyone else. It simply means to be real and be yourself; don't try being someone you're not. So millennial's don’t want you to lie to them and are very good at determining who is dishonest and who isn’t. I guess those who raised these folks taught them something useful (shameless plug on my parenting skills). My millennial's BS meter is in incredibly accurate. He can spot a phony from a mile away.

People and companies that tell the truth – GOOD. People and companies that lie – BAD.

Simon Sinek (who is awesome, by the way) was speaking about being authentic and asked the audience to imagine one of your friends asking you how they could be more authentic so you would like them more. What would be your response? It’s a ridiculous question, right? All you could say "We're friends because you are you and that’s what I like – you". You can’t ask someone how to be authentic. You either are or you’re not. However, companies ask customers that question all the time. Now I know some may argue with this logic, saying that companies are merely trying to understand what their customers want from them (which is a good idea). But, there is a very big difference between trying to get feedback and trying to find authenticity by asking customers what would make them like you better. It occurs to me that the reason some companies do this is because they really don’t know who they are and what they are hoping to find out is how to seem more authentic. This is a ridiculous thought process. Authentic people know when they are being lied to, so simply "playing" authentic won't work. At least it won’t work in any meaningful way. 

As Popeye once wisely said, "I am who I am”. If being honest and standing for something is who you are, then you have an excellent chance of attracting others that believe what you do.  Say and do what you actually believe, and others will trust you because you deserve it.

Everybody leaves a wake

I was just listening to Kip Tindell, who is the CEO of the Container Store talking about how everyone leaves a wake. I like thinking about a person's and a company's impact on others and the world-at-large in terms of the wake they leave because a wake is a physical thing you can see and feel. The things people and companies do, and do not do, cause physical results.

I think people and companies leave way more of a wake then they realize or plan for. We all have a much greater affect on those around us and the world-at-large that we realize. It's very easy to think of examples of people that have made a bad wake. Thankfully, it's also easy to think of those that leave a wake so positive that they inspire even long after they are gone. One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Don’t tell me it doesn't bring a tear to your eye in the end when half the town shows up to help out George Bailey because of the positive impact he had on so many. Imagine if you could go forward even a few years and see the result of your wake. Would you do something different today if you could see the results later?

A good argument could be made that companies have the opportunity to leave a far greater wake than individuals. After all, we spend the majority of our time working. It stands to reason that if a company chose to plot its wake carefully, it could have a substantial effect on everyone it touches. Companies have a huge advantage over individuals in that they have the potential power of a group.  A group of people (which is all a company is) can decide together what they want their wake to look like. They can plan how they are going to do it and and act together to make it happen. A group of people can decide it's important enough to them to hold each other accountable to their vision and make sure they stay on track. If they really have courage, they put their the values that form the wake they choose in writing, make them public and invite those they impact to hold them accountable to them. It’s very easy to say you believe in this or that and many companies do put some nice sounding words on the wall. (Enron had “integrity” plastered on its walls). It takes a completely different level of leadership to not only create the words, but actually act on them and be held accountable to them.

The best part is that your wake is completely up to you. You can get up every day and decide what you leave behind. It's a choice you make each and every day and even moment by moment. It doesn't really matter what happened yesterday, you wake up with the same choice every day. How do you see the wake you leave? If you went ahead in time a dozen years or more, are the actions you are taking today casing the wake you envision? Guess what? You still have time.


Hiring, firing and creating a culture of accountability

My mother knew instantly what kind of character a person had. One time we were opening a restaurant and she came to help plant the front area.  I don’t think 30 minutes had gone by before she told me the GM we had hired was “completely worthless” my bosses at the time, who owned most of the business, chose to keep the person and later my mothers wisdom proved to be correct. My mother also told me that my boss’s ego “filled the entire room” and would be trouble for the company.  While she was right about that as well, my boss was also a very patient person who taught me many valuable lessons.

Unfortunately my mom passed away a few years ago and I no longer have her around to be a character judge for me.  If I did, I would now sit her with any potential new hires (more importantly, would be clients) and have her give me her famously brutal yet insightful opinions.  But what has often occurred to me often since then is how important it is to surround yourself with the right people.  I am a “glass half full” person and often find myself wanting to give a person a chance, work harder to motivate them and assume it may be my leadership that is keeping them from growing.  Now, however, my assumption is that person probably doesn't have the drive if it isn't readily visible from the start.  I wish there was a test that could give a rock solid indication that a person has the drive that makes up “the right stuff”.  It isn't always apparent, but for me I look for a sense of excitement and passion. 

A few years ago I met a guy who I like a great deal personally, as well as professionally, when interviewing him to take over the facilities department at a challenged company.   The way his eyes lit up when he talked about the details of how refrigeration systems work and how he loved explaining it, was a sign he loved what he did.  He also brought a picture from the front cover of a facilities industry magazine showing him waist deep inside a pizza oven doing God knows what to it 3 am.  He loved telling how he had figured out some big problem with the oven systems and I had a pretty good indication I was talking to the right person.  Now he is all about coming up with a solution for raised rail refrigeration units using glycol as the cooling mechanism. He calls this “Project Neptune” and I love listening to how excited he gets talking about it.  His attitude was what impressed me at first and his leadership skills and experience sealed the deal. 

I have always heard that Walt Disney hired by personality as opposed to experience.   Having a great attitude can get you far in life. I can think of several examples of great people I have worked with that had little experience, but had a good attitude that was unexpected and set them apart.   Not long ago when setting up a restaurant, I was in charge of remodeling, several of the staff that worked for the company in different departments were present.  I was doing what I typically do, opening boxes getting things set up and doing the décor direction while waiting for the questions that everyone always has.  It’s always interesting to me who steps up and starts chipping in, moving things around to get things out of the way and making themselves useful. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t explain to people how to do.  One person who (worked in the purchasing department) was all over the place helping out. Didn't once ask me what to do, she just started doing it. Later, when I was asked if that person could join the development department I said yes right way. With no experience, she is now doing a great job at the company and fills a role that it generally takes a higher level person to fulfill. 

A mistake many make is hanging on to people who aren't cutting it. I have done it more than once.  It’s tough for a lot of reasons. For me, I feel that it’s my responsibility to assist everyone person that works with me to advance their career in whatever ways I can.  So if a person doesn’t try for more and want to achieve greater things I feel I need to try a different approach. Everyone has the ability to do great things if they want to. In some cases, no one has ever asked a person to step and participate at a higher level so they simply don’t know how.  Tell them how and show them by example.  Set clear expectations and revisit them often on an individual basis.     

 It’s tough to have that conversation with the people who aren't achieving their potential. But not having the conversation isn't helping them either.  One time many years ago, my two bosses sat me down told me they were struggling with putting up with me having a less than stellar attitude and they were thinking of letting me go.  It was a huge turning point for me and I recall wanting to prove them wrong and immediately changed my habits.  I assume that as we age we are less likely to change, but you have nothing to lose by not being honest and setting the bar where it needs to be.  Think of the best person you have ever hired or worked with.  Compare them to everyone on your team.  Imagine if everyone was up to that standard.  

Creating a great team means having very high standards and holding everyone, including yourself, accountable.  No one can grow if there isn't a culture that, by design, has accountability built in to the fiber.  

Listening is not the same thing as hearing

Have you ever had a conversation and you could see the other person wasn't listening to you? What they were really doing was waiting for you stop so they could tell whatever it was they feel is more important-  which was them. They heard what you said but that isn't listening.

Listening isn't just hearing what is being said, its trying to understand the meaning behind why something is said. Often what someone says is not really what they mean or there are undying reasons that aren't being spoken.  One time a counselor told my wife and I that when we talk we should relate back to the other person what we thought they meant. So I did and boy was I surprised. What I heard really wasn't what she meant.   So when my wife tells me I am not paying attention, I now understand that what she really means is that I am making her fell like I don't value her because I am not hearing her.  For me that was a turning point. I decided to actively try to understand rather than just hear. Not long after this I saw a video of a speech by the former president Bill Clinton. Politics aside , I noticed the guy had a habit of pausing after someone asked him a question before answering. Now I don't know if he was really trying to hear them or not, but the effect was that he appeared to be trying to listen closely. Not that Bill's a person I aspire to emulate but I thought it was a good impression and thought I would see the effect.  When I am having an important conversation, I will often force myself to pause before I reply to give myself a moment to consider what is begin said. I found it helps me think about what they are saying really means.  In my work I have found this very helpful and I think its why I can sometime figure out how to get to the bottom of an issue, figure out a solution or help cause an agreement to be reached. When I am listening to a group talk about why a particular thing at a restaurant doesn't work for them you have to get below to surface to understand why it doesn't work for them to get a solution. it often isn't so obvious. 

Really listening isn't easy and takes some practice. Really understanding someone takes not just hearing but actively trying to get to the meaning of what is said.