Diversity: Our Building Block and Our Weakest Link

Diversity

Unless you are an American Indian or the descendant of an American Indian then you have the bloodline of an Immigrant. I am not and American Indian or descendant. I am the son of an Immigrant. I am at the same time an American. I was born here and have lived here my entire life. I have the flag of the United States hanging in my home and I have had friends die for this country in war.

I say all that because the fact is that the foundation of this country was built with the bricks of Diversity. If we truly opened the books of US history we would find contributions made by people of every race, color and creed. If you believe that God created the earth and the humans that inhabit this planet you must believe he created us all the same. If you believe in evolution, then we all evolved from the same place. The bottom line is that no matter the external visual of what is seen by the eye we are all human. Yet in that humanity we find the need to see what is only on the outside not on the inside. We judge and label people by how they look before we take one second to get to know them.

I was blessed in my youth to have lived in an upper middle class town outside of Boston. I was also fortunate enough to have had parents that gave us the opportunity to see the world outside of our town, not only through travel but by bringing the outside to us. When I was in High School in the 1970’s my parents sponsored a METCO student. He was an African-American student bused to my high school from Boston. He brought to me a view of a different way of life, a different vision of the world from his prospective and he brought me a teammate and friend. We were also fortunate enough to have sponsored ASF students from Spain and Mexico. These connections helped us see a vision from other countries with differing languages and cultures. The time spent in my youth with this diversity molded my beliefs that the world is made up of nothing more and nothing less than humans.

Yet despite, or maybe because of, the shrinking of the world and the ability to connect with people of diverse languages, religions, cultures and world visions we continue to fight the acceptance of others. In 2014 we put up fences around our boarders. We have a racially driven fight in the streets near a major US city. We continue to fight a never-ending religious battle throughout the Middle East. And we can’t stop fighting long enough to respect the dead from airline crash.

The hands, blood, sweat and tears of all kinds of humans built not only this country but this world. When we decide to open the doors to the opportunities diversity can give us we will have the power to do or fix anything. It will be a challenge because the walls we have put around ourselves are high. The first step, as with any struggle is to look in the mirror and accept we have a problem, only then can we find a way to fix it. With the connections I have made with people from England, Lebanon, Australia, India and many more places I know there is a want to fix this issue. We just need to realize that diversity, once the strength of what build us, is now our weakest link with the ability to tear it all down. As humans we can not let that happen.

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What’s on the Inside?

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The world is learning some lessons this week. As often is the case those lessons come with pain. On Saturday night a young man was killed in a racing accident. A part of the accident was a man who many of us have cheered to victory on various occasions and many look up to as a sporting hero. On Monday evening the world lost one of the greatest Comedians of all time, a man who has made all of us laugh, many times.

The names of these people are not important. And in all honesty what they look like has no importance either. As @BlairGlaser says in a recent post. “The connection is, after all, what has immeasurable value.”(ow.ly/AcfbH). Most of us try to connect in some way with famous people we see in our lives. We think they have it all, the fame, the money, the power, all those things we see as successful. With the young man and his family our connection is loss. Unfortunately there is something in these situations we are truly missing – real connection.

I am sure most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, yet we do it everyday. Every time we look at a person we judge the outside first. Many times upon doing so we dismiss them. Maybe we are prejudice in the worst case or simply picky. Either way we make a judgement, will I get to know this person better or will I just move on? In the cases above we made a judgement about people based on their ability to make us laugh or drive a race car. We saw the book yet have never known what’s inside.

Take a moment and ask yourself how many times have you decided to connect with a person based on looks and found that on the inside it was different. Or, you connected because they were rich or had things you wanted and found them impossible to live with. Even said to yourself two or three years later I wish I had really gotten to know them! We have all had those moments.

I am not an expert in any way about relationships. Over the last ten years or so I have however learned that unless I learn to listen with empathy, ask great questions and get to know someone from the inside there is no real connection. Do we really have any idea of the what was going through the minds of the three people mentioned above? We can all play analyst, but we don’t know. Do we know what is going on in the minds of our family, our friends, our co-workers? We certainly don’t if we don’t take the time to find out.

Connecting with other humans is a key to life. In many ways when we are younger it is much more simple than today because it is done face to face. Yet it can be done through social media. There is a person in my life that I have tweeted with, chatted with on Facebook, text with often and when possible talk with on the phone. We talk/text/chat about good times, difficult times and basic life. These moments have formed an emotional connection. We have never met in person. I think at some point we will, but if not the connection will still be there.

Connection does not happen from the outside in. It happens from the heart out. We may want to connect with famous people for who they are on the outside. We may think we are connected to family and friends based on what we see. Unfortunately neither is often the case. Life moves way too fast for most of us. Don’t let that stop you from taking the time to truly connect with those in your life. The next moment they may be gone.

Words

Sometimes the hardest thing to find
Is a way to express what is on your mind
Are words always enough to get across
Feelings ranging from love to loss?

Words come across in different ways
Depending on the type of phrase
They say things in a different way
When we laugh than when we pray.

The same word we speak or write
Can give us joy and also fright
Words can paint pictures for all to see
Or only pictures a thousands words to be?

Words whether written or spoke
Can make us rich or make us broke
They can bring us hapiness or pain
They can even control our brain.

Words of any size have so much power
Yes or no make the strongest cower
That is why as we go through each day
We must be careful in what we say.

Whether with our pen or with our voice
We are the only ones that make the choice
To use words to help and to heal
Or to express anger that we may feel.

It is in this choice we have to find
Ways in which to be respectful,  compassionate and kind
Fore as you think of the words in your head
Remember someone could say them to you instead.

Lead Through Caring!

Over the past year I have learned so much about leadership and people skills from the many connections I have made on Social Media. I have chatted with people from around the world and have developed friendships that will be long-lasting. I am often humbled by the thought that my writing or chatting may make a difference for someone.

A year ago I wrote my first post. For me that post had two important facets. First it was a kind of therapy where I was able to put in writing my thoughts on what I had learned about leadership in my career. And secondly is was a way of honoring my Father who was the person who had shown me through his words and actions what people skills meant.

My goal and my biggest fear, in some ways, was that I would write from the heart because then it would be real. At the same time it would leave me the most vulnerable. Which I have learned is ok to do. What I have also learned is that there is much work still to do in bringing leadership to corporate America.

In my chats and readings there are wonderful discussions about leadership and the difference between leadership and management. I have read many different definitions and theories but for me the difference can be summed up in one word; Caring.

Managers manage for results. They have one focus and that is get the results they want to help themselves. How getting those results affects those around them is of no concern to them as long as they get the results they want. Here is an example;

I live in the Southern United States where communities rarely receive any snow and are not ready when it happens. Recently we had a snow and ice event which caused some dangerous driving conditions. A store in my company was effected heavily by this weather. The Management team at the store asked the District Manager if they could leave early to limit the danger. They were not only told they could not leave but were told that if they couldn’t stay they needed to look for new work. Please note that the State had declared a state of emergency and other retailers in the area had closed. This DM was managing for results not leading.

Leaders understand this very important rule; if you want people to care about the things that are important to you, it’s important you care about them.

Leaders also understand that people matter. That each person is a unique being with strengths and weaknesses they can bring forward and develop.

Do all Managers act like this DM, of course not, at the same time I have seen it too often. I have seen too much Management through fear an intimidation. Too many Managers focused on themselves and not on developing their team. Too many that put results in front of people instead of understanding people create results.

The one thing I believe from my heart is that if you care for the people you work with you will lead them to success.  Caring is not the enemy of success it is the fuel that feeds the flame of engagement, inspiration and growth.  All of which will bring you great results.

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“C” is for……

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Cookie Monster has always been a family favorite. His song C is for cookie, and my willingness to try to sing it in Cookie voice, is legendary. Not sure it is a good legend or one people want to forget but legend anyways. But the letter C is t starts many other important words that seem to have been lost in the world. Maybe when they decided Cookie Monster should eat Celery we decided C was no longer viewed in the same way as before. 

Let’s look at some C words that seem to be taking a beating in the world today. Caring, Commitment, Compassion and my favorite phrase Common Sense are all ideas with which we as a world seem to be struggling. In social media these days there is a lot of conversation about the need for leadership, especially in business, to take hold of these words to create a more engaged workforce. Unfortunately that discussion seems to have been left on the table and not moved into real life. Held back by the need for more profit and investor happiness, no matter the cost to the worker. 

Let’s look at these words:

Caring: Each day when we go to work it is certainly the hope and expectation that we care about our jobs. After all for most of us our    job is how we pay the bills of life. Yet in many businesses caring is a one way street.I was once told I would never be successful because I cared about my people. I have seen demonstrated recently a “Leader” who forced a manager to come to his meeting  despite the fact the person was ill with the flu, because he didn’t want to “waste” his time repeating himself.  Another “leader” ridiculed a manager for being late on a conference call because they were helping a customer. They were told by the leader his time was more important. Employees are supposed to care about what the “leader” wants but not be cared about. A formula for disaster.

Commitment:  Many people have commitment issues in relationships. Business is relationships and for that relationship to work there needs to be a two-way commitment. Leaders certainly expect people to make a commitment to them. What they don’t see is the need to give a commitment back. Not a paycheck or even bigger paycheck commitment, a commitment to growth, learning and opportunity. A commitment to help people in their times of need, basically a commitment to caring about them as more than a number. Commit to your people as you expect them to commit to you and they will be an engaged and powerful force for your business.

Compassion:  Let’s destroy this myth immediately. Compassion is not a weakness in leadership. I had a “leader: at one time that stood proudly to tell us that when taking his Strength Finders 2.0 survey Empathy was his biggest weakness. He believed that made him a strong leader. Wrong it made him a bully. There are times in life, and business is part of life, that you must have difficult conversations. It can however be done with passion and understanding. These conversations are with a person, not a machine, Leaders by definition are working with people. Compassion is required to be a good leader.

Common Sense:  Where has common sense gone? When did we lose the concepts of common courtesy and personal accountability? Have we really created a culture in which basic human respect and caring has turned into blaming everyone else and not taking ownership of our own actions? Common sense: we control our decisions, our actions and our results.

With the power of Social Media today we have an opportunity to make a difference. We have the ability to focus on these C words. To make a difference by showing that these words are powerful positive business and life tools not weak leadership. Change is an every day business fact. We live with it everyday. Let’s start that change by bringing back one other C word, Civility

 

 

 

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Confidence and Connection!

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In the spring of 2011 a period of darkness entered my life after the passing of my Father and days later a job change. It was a period which brought both personal and professional struggles that rocked my belief in others and in myself. It made me question my core values and all that I had been taught through the years about how to interact with people. I questioned not only my leadership style at work but the things I taught to my children and shared with my friends.

Late in 2012 more questions and fewer answers continued to shake my self-confidence and brought me to wondering about my purpose in life. It was a period in which I was truly searching for meaning and wondering if it would ever be found. Thanks to my family and the love and support of my children I knew that giving up was never an option and that I needed to find avenues from which to learn, grow and find purpose.  The avenues I came to find were writing and social media.

In early 2013 I joined the social media era by opening a twitter account. Like most things I have done throughout my life it started with following people in sports. I have always been, and always will be, an avid sports fan. As I learned how twitter worked and how much you could learn in small bits of information I looked for people involved in business and leadership. What I found was life changing. I not only found people but communities of people who spoke about leadership and people skills in the way I believed. People not only from the United States but from around the world with diverse opinions and experiences that all focused on the same thing; truly leading people.

I give you that background because communities on twitter and Google+ such as #peopleskills led by Kate Nasser have been a life line for me. They have allowed me to learn that it is ok to be me. They have shown me that leading with empathy, listening and being a Servant Leader are positive. They helped me believe again in my core values and gain an understanding of my purpose in life. Most of all they have helped me build confidence through connection.

So what does that mean? As a person it is vital to continue to grow through learning. Communities on twitter and Google+ give you an amazing amount of opportunities to learn from members. Learning that you can grow from and work with in your life. Whether it is experiences that may be similar to your own or questions that may have you thinking in a new way, the information is endless. And as you learn you gain confidence. Add that to the ability to connect. Whether through Skype or Google Hangouts the door opens to interactions around the world.

For me Sunday morning at 9am Central Time in the US has become one of the most important hours of my week. I have the honor of joining people I now consider friends on the #peopleskills twitter chat. The incredible amount of interaction that takes place in that hour is both educational and inspiring. People engage with respect and civility. They support ideas they believe in and challenge those that differ from their own. They truly set an example for how win – win conversations should take place.

I want to say Thank You to Kate Nasser for the support she has given me over this year. I also want to thank each member of the People Skills Community for the wonderful interactions we have had and the friendships we are building. It is an honor to be part of this group.

Thank You !!

It has been a while since I wrote a new post. Over the last few months I have taken much of time for introspection, learning and working on a new career choice. I wanted to write this post because with the coming of the Thanksgiving season here in the States I have many people to say Thank You to this year. And one of the many things I have learned this year is to be grateful for the things I have and not to be overly influenced by what I don’t. So on in a very public way I want to say THANK YOU.

 

  • To my Family for their undying love and support. With special attention to my sister Phyllis who even through difficult times of her own has chatted with me for hours to help me through my challenges. And my Mom whose strength and support has been an example we should all live by. The most important thing I realized this year is that my family believes in me and that certainly helps me believe in myself.

 

  • To my Children Stephen, Jessica and Jayde who have shown me that their love for me is based on what I can give them of myself not what I can buy them. This year has been a difficult one in many ways but their love for me has unwaverd and they have certainly given me a purpose; to be the best I can be in their lives. I have a son who has not supported me this year. To him I can only say I am here at any point you may need me. I Love all of you.

 

  • To my friends in my immediate circle. To Alfredo, Ivan, Cindy and Carmen who have supported me by being there when I need them. By checking up on me once in a while and by understanding in some ways that I can’t help all that I would like now, but that I will be able to again. Sometimes just being there is what is needed and you have been.

 

  • To my social media circle. Yes I will admit I have become a social media junky. That is however ok. I have learned more in the past year about the world, leadership, engagement, education and myself than I learned in many, many years. I am involved in several communities in which I have met wonderful people. #Peopleskills led by Kate Nasser, #Leadfromwithin led by Lolly Daskal, #Leadwithgiants led by Dan Forbes and Hrockstars lead by Johann Gauthier and Dave Moore. These communities have helped me rebuild my belief in myself as a leader and more importantly as a person.

 

  • To people I have met and interacted with through social media you have supported me and my efforts. Hoda Maalouf, Cynthia Baxin, Alli Polin, Samantha Hall, Brian Smith, Dan Forbes, Kate Nasser and too many others to list here.

 

I am more than grateful for all you have given me this year. I hope that in some way I can repay you. Thank you so much for being in my life and may God Bless you during this Holiday season and throughout 2014.

 

 

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Our Foundation !

I was fortunate enough to have grown up in what most would call an upper middle-class environment. I was blessed with two outstanding parents that provided for me and gave me the opportunity at a higher education as well as the freedom to make my own mistakes and my own decisions. They supported me when I failed, gave me help when I needed to get back on my feet and answered questions with an amazing skill of combining parental guidance and leadership. What I did or didn’t do with that education was my decision.  I was a slow learner, my evaluation not others, because it took me time to realize that the important lesson was that life was about being there for others. Something I am trying hard to be better at doing.

Something I have learned over the past several months, and maybe this has been Gods way of opening my eyes to my failures, is that a lot of people in this country that are hurting. People that are not struggling to get the latest gadget or newest cell phone or car but people who are struggling to put food on the table and buy drinks for their family. People that are having to make decisions between buying gas to get to work and buying lunch. People that are not getting child support money because of government red tape. People that can’t pay for things they need because of medical bills from an unexpected illness and insurance was too expensive at work. Citizens of the United States of America, blue-collar hard-working people who are simply being left behind.

I have the good fortune to be able to get on my computer and write a blog. Even more importantly I have the ability to read and learn from many great leaders and people of influence.  I read and discuss every day leadership concepts and theory. We talk about people skills, how to engage people more in their jobs to help productivity, the development of leaders and mentoring others to lead us and our businesses into the future.  All of these are important things for business growth and the growth of our economy.

What we aren’t talking about are people who make up the foundation of business. The blue-collar regular man or woman who are the foundation of our country. People that purchase the products we are selling.  People that are part of lower earnings results at retail giants like Wal*Mart and Target. People that are deciding it is more important to eat than buy extra school supplies for their kids or new clothing. People that want the opportunity to do more than just survive they want to thrive.

This is not a political blog. As far as I’m concerned politics is part of the problem and not part of the solution. My blogs have always been about people as is this one. Our economy and our national heritage is based on the foundation of opportunity. It is fueled by companies growing and earning more for its investors. That shouldn’t change. But it will change if we don’t give the workers of today a real opportunity to help the economy grow by consuming. Investment and growth should include people at all economic levels.

As leaders we feel stress every day because of decisions we need to make. I can tell you from experience it is not the same stress as wondering if I have food to feed my daughter. My ask is this; as you think about your next blog on people or leadership or the economy think past the leadership level to those that do the hands on work every day. If you were them what would you want to see changed? What opportunities would you like that they don’t have? What decisions would you make if you lived in their shoes? As a business what actions can we take to strengthen our foundation?

Despite what we may be told the large majority of people are not asking for handouts they are asking  for an opportunity. People are proud and want to stand on their own. We need to strengthen our national foundation or it will collapse. We have the minds and skills to get that done if we make it a priority and take action. We can and should reward those that invest and earn their money. We should also find opportunities for those that want to be part of a strong foundation. Let’s not leave those people behind.

Visualize Your Success

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When you see Tiger Woods study a putt or you see Lebron James stare at the basket before a free throw they are visualizing success. Every great athlete uses visualization as a tool to see themselves make the winning putt, score the winning goal or hit the winning home run.  Anyone who has participated in sports has had those dreams whether they were nine or ninety.  I also have no doubt that the great artists and great photographers have a mental picture of what they want the end product to look like. And that great musicians know the sound they are looking to produce. People who are outstanding in their field all have one thing in common, they have a vision of success.

In taking that dreaded look in the mirror I would say I have not had a clear picture of success for myself. My vision for myself would have been more like those scratched up black and white photos from the 1950s that my family kept around all these years. I am now working on a new HD version supported by my writing and mission to share my experiences.

When I get to talk with people about having a vision I use my oldest son as a prime example. From early in his life, as early as eight or nine, he spoke of wanting to be a sports broadcaster. It was his vision to learn, know and speak sports not only verbally but through video. He spent hours learning everything he could about every sport. He learned to put  highlights together to music. He produced his High School football video year book. Helped teammates and his cousin with recruiting videos. And he and his friends won an internship during college to work on a national sports show. He had a vision  and today is successful in broadcasting. I couldn’t be prouder.

I tell this story because we should all have a vision of success. In business we may want to be the CEO, or open our own local sporting goods store. In life it may be about reaching a certain social level or being the best parent you can be. Having a vision for yourself and doing all you can to get there is what counts. Your vision is not about what others want for you, it is about what you want for you. When visualizing success others will be part of the picture and should be. But it is your vision and you must be focused on its success.

I know that staying on point to realize your vision will have challenges. Some will say you are selfish when you won’t change for them. Some will say you are not good enough and are wasting your time. Please remember two things; a vision is only selfish if you act selfishly and never let someone else tell you that you can’t accomplish anything.

If you don’t do any other thing over the next few days find a vision. Find something you can focus on that will help you reach the happiness you deserve. Then go make it happen. It will not always be smooth and roadblocks will appear but the only one who can stop you from seeing your vision become your life, is you.

People are an Investment!

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The news is filled almost daily with reports of unhappy workers in the fast food and retail industries. Having been in the retail industry for more than 25 years that is not surprising. For years workers have watched hours be cut, positions be cut and received pay increases at below the rate in cost of living growth. They also read and hear about profits growing in companies at record rates and they wonder about their share. The issue is not really very complex, some would say it is a matter of greed, while others would say poor leadership and many more would say it is simply good business. To some degree these arguments are correct. To me the current model being used by most service companies lacks one important ingredient; common sense.

Every retail manager is taught almost from day one that the number one controllable expense is labor. The expectation is to maximize sales with the least number of dollars spent on payroll. While mathematically this makes sense and has certainly been a factor in the growth of profits and shareholder equity, it is the weak link of the service industry. Why? Because as we see every day customer service is on a down slide, team member engagement is at an all-time low and people are shopping more on their computers, instead of in the stores.

There are two key factors as to why this model doesn’t make sense. The first is customer service. Sam Walton reminded all of us many years ago that customers pay our paycheck. Without customers we have no business. Without having enough people in the stores or behind the counter at a restaurant we cannot take care of those customers. Without the efforts of the day-to-day worker and Manager at the store level there are no profits, no increase in stock prices and no million dollar stock payoffs for high level executives. The fact is that the people most face to face every day with our customers are the lowest paid and least engaged. And they are being asked to do more with less every day. That is not a recipe for customer service or long-term sustainable growth. It may fit the short-term need for those in the stock market, but in the long-term it will fail.

The second is the high cost of turnover. In order to have great customer service there not only have to be enough people, there also need to be qualified people.  There are millions of dollars spent every year hiring people. The industry invests time and money to find the right person to fill every position. Human Resources professionals talk about finding the right person, for the right seat on the right bus going in the right direction, when discussing the best fit possible for each opening. They spend many hours not only looking for the right people but also training Managers on how to find and hire the right people. Investing in finding people who are qualified and have the customer service skills to grow the business makes perfect business sense. What doesn’t make sense is that the current business model immediately takes that investment and turns it into an expense or a cost. People are not an expense. They are an investment in the future growth of the company and we need help grow that investment. The service industry needs to realize that people are the key to growth. They need to understand that not only are external customers important in growing sales and profits, but so are those that take care of them. Instead of spending millions to hire, rehire and rehire again because leadership thinks everyone is replaceable and somehow interchangeable, spend money to develop quality people and pay them enough to create long-term engaged teams.

Before I am called a Socialist because I want to give away profits to the “little people”, let me tell you what my experience has shown. Having enough qualified and engaged people in your store or restaurant to give great customer service will grow your sales and your profits not cut them. Customers want to be served. The trend of growing internet sales has many pieces. Convenience, discounting by companies trying to show internet growth and that many people believe they get as much service on the computer as they do in the store. Why would I want to wait in a line at Wal-Mart, while 10 register lanes are not used, when I can order it on-line and pick it up? By not providing enough qualified and engaged store level team members the industry is driving customers to the internet. By not providing sufficient people to handle customers at a fast food restaurant we drive people to another fast food restaurant. The one with the best service keeps the customer.

Let me say this; if your company is not providing a wage that is sufficient for your team members to live on and take care of their family’s shame on you. Not that many years ago these jobs were taken by part-time high school and college students that were making money to help them through school or purchase that one thing they really wanted. Now because of the down turn in our economy and the move of industrial jobs overseas, these jobs are in too many cases the main source of income for a family. Or for a single parent that is trying to make it on their own. This past four months I have been truly humbled by seeing how many hard-working people are struggling daily just to pay the rent. These are not people living on a Government hand out. They are people who go to work every day and try to do the best they can to serve other people while knowing they may not be able to afford the things they need to survive. These are people we need to make an investment in by developing their talents and paying them a good wage. That investment in people will give you all the profits you need.