Extra! Extra! Newspaper Routes Create Leaders

This week I taped some segments for my new talk show, “Talk About Choices.” Once again, I asked successful, entrepreneurial leaders, “What was your very first job?” And once again, I heard the response: “I had a paper route.”

One of my first guests, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, told me how having a paper route shaped his business acumen. Bob had a route that few kids in the neighborhood wanted–all his customers were in a retirement community. Previously there had been a lot of turnover because kids his age didn’t want to deal with older people. Bob took it on and built his route from 30 customers to 100. What were the secrets he learned as a paperboy?

“Provide great service,” he said. “Show up. Do what people want and good things happen.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in there for anyone running a business, leading a team and/or serving clients and customers. Let’s break it down:

  • Provide great service. This seems obvious, but anyone who is in business knows it’s easier said than done. How do you define great service? More importantly, how do your clients or customers define it? Do they expect you to return your calls within the hour? Within the day? 24 hours? When is the last time you asked them how they define great service? There’s sometimes a gap between what we think is great service and what the client thinks is great service. We need to be crystal clear about their expectations if we want to have any chance of meeting them.
  • Show up. There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen (no longer my favorite director for reasons that should be obvious, but have to give credit where credit is due): “85% of life is just showing up.” Ain’t it the truth? Or, to quote the old tagline from the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Showing up on time, showing up ready to do business, showing up all ears, committed to listening–those are variations on the theme. But first, you gotta show up.
  • Do what people want and good things happen. Let’s assume that what people want (the market) is what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you are burning with desire to deliver (your service). And let’s assume it’s legal, moral and ethical. Do that–just that–and good things happen. Deliver the paper on time, every day, on the stoop where they like it, collect on time and have a smile on your face when that customer opens the door, and good things happen. For Bob, those good things include a role as chief market strategist for a highly respected investment management company, a role that allows him not only to make a difference in the world of finance but also subsidizes his penchant for fabulous guitars.

What was your first job? I’d love to hear about it. (Comment below, please.) Did you have a paper route? Did you babysit? That was my foray into entrepreneurship. I’ll save those stories for another blogpost. First, I want to hear yours.

P.S. Millennials, since paper routes for kids may have gone the way of the rotary phone, please tell us: what was your first job?

 

 

Add a Pinch of Imperfection

There’s a fine line between passion and obsession, and I’m on the borderline when it comes to quilts. I am crazy about quilts… the colors, the texture, the names of the blocks, the loving care put into each stitch. I learned to quilt at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson–my husband was a curator there many years ago and he gave me the gift of quilting classes as a Valentine’s Day present. In the process of learning to quilt, collecting quilts and becoming a “Quilt-Whisperer” (that’s someone who rescues old quilts from swap meets and flea markets for ridiculously low sums of money), I’ve learned one thing: The value is in the imperfection.

I’ve heard it said that some quilters, like Native American weavers, purposely include flaws in their designs. The deliberate placement of a “mistake” is said to be an homage to God, acknowledging that only God can create something that is perfect. This tradition seems like a useful reminder to anyone in who is working on a business or a career–it’s the flaws along the way that remind us we are human, and the mistakes that help us learn. Flaws keep us humble.

In Brené Brown‘s book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, the author makes the connection between loving ourselves and living our authentic lives by letting go of the need to be perfect.  “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life,” she writes. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

Our fears around being imperfect can stop us in our tracks. We quit before we begin, fearing that our work, our product (our quilt, our rug) won’t be enough. Fearing that we won’t be enough. That’s one of the reasons I love Anne Lamott‘s discipline of creating what she calls “Shitty First Drafts.” In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Lamott offers the idea that every first draft is imperfect–it’s supposed to be that way. Knowing that, and giving ourselves the grace to create something that falls short of our standards on the first pass, gives us the freedom to create. No grace, no action. No actions, no quilts. Or books. Or sculptures. Or amazing businesses, products, services, careers… need I go on? The key is to stay engaged with the creation, in spite of or maybe because of its flaws.

So at least for today, give yourself the gift of grace. Add a pinch of imperfection to your work, bowing to the Great Spirit who created us all. Just get going.

Network as if You’re a Talk Show Host

This past June I became the host of a new talk show, “Talk About Choices,” where I have the privilege of interviewing people who “love what they do and do what they love.” My purpose for the show is to provide powerful models for others to see, giving people permission to love their work.

What if we approached networking as if we were talk show hosts? Granted, networking is best when it’s give and take, a volleying back and forth between one person and another during a (live-and-hopefully-in-person) conversation. But when you’re out to build your network, your “Circles of Gold®,” the best way to build those relationships is to listen, really listen, to what someone else has to say. I recommend that you think of a networking meeting as if it’s a pie chart: 25% of the time is yours, the other 75% of the time is for your “guest.” That means that 75% of the time, you’re the host.

Here are some other things I’ve learned as a talk show host that might help you with your next “Circles of Gold” conversation:

  • Be prepared. Review the person’s biography and how you met them–was it a Chamber connection, an introduction via social media, an alumni buddy? If you have notes on them in your database, review those notes. You may see something that will not only add zing to your conversation but will let your “guest” know that you heard, and remembered, what they said. This can be both surprising and flattering to them, and it isn’t “cheating,” by the way–just good use of technology. Be sure to do a Google search and if they’ve written something, or they were profiled in a professional journal, have that reference available. Study their LinkedIn profile and scroll all the way to the bottom. That’s where people list their hobbies & volunteer activities, the groups or leaders they follow and the associations to which they may belong. This information is pure gold when building relationships, giving you insights into what’s important to them.
  • Have a great list of questions. Following the format of a podcast I love listening to, “The 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop,” I ask all my guests the same questions, including: “What was your first job? How did you get into the field you’re now in? What was a challenge or disappointment you overcame? What do you most love about your job?” These questions get wildly different responses because each person brings his or her unique history and experience to the interview. I’ve learned many things about my guests that I never would have learned had I not a) asked the question and b) kept my mouth shut long enough to hear the answer.
  • We can never be too appreciative. Whenever someone gives you the privilege of sharing with you in a conversation, whether they’re a guest on a talk show or sitting across from you at Starbuck’s, they are parting with something they will never get back: their precious time. I am humbled that the people I’ve invited to be on my show have agreed to take time out of their busy days to share about their career journeys with me and my viewers. I will never forget their kindness and consider that a debt of gratitude that will never be repaid.

Oprah would agree with me that the real job of a talk show host is not to talk, but rather to listen. While listening to my guests, each with fascinating stories about their own career trajectories, I am learning to discipline myself to calm that chatterbox inside my head, the one that wants interrupt and chime in, “Oh, yeah! I’ve had that experience too…”  Being a talk show host is teaching me a whole new level of connecting with others.

Next time you have the pleasure of meeting someone for coffee, lunch or a quick drink after work, put yourself into the role of a talk show host. Do your research. Write down a list of questions. Begin and end by expressing your appreciation for their time, that non-renewable resource, and see if you don’t come away with new perspectives on networking, your “guest” and yourself.

 

[“Talk About Choices” is produced by Wheaton Cable TV (WCTV) and can be viewed on the city’s website as well as via Vimeo. My guests so far have included Kerry O’Brien,  executive director of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, Jerry Evans, founder of Jerry Evans School of Music, and the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton, judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit Court of DuPage County. Upcoming shows will feature Betsy Adamowski, executive director of the Wheaton Public Library, Tammy Pressley, director of government and community affairs from Northwestern Medicine and Pam Sharar-Stoppel, president & CEO of Wheaton Bank & Trust. Many thanks to Arin Thrower, Wheaton’s new public information officer, Rich Sagen and the production team at the City of Wheaton, for their support and assistance.]

Photo by Jan Gonzo, courtesy of Unsplash

Staying Relevant

Technology has me in its clutches. My smartphone, my laptop, the incessant braying of these devices for updates and the cost of doing business by investing in technology have me in a tizz.

At this moment I’m awaiting a transition from laptop to tablet, a thin sheet of amazing processing power that stands to make my work life, and my travel bag, lighter. This leap into the future was precipitated by an increasingly tired and sluggish processor in my current, beloved laptop which I’ve hung onto as long as I possibly could. I’m what they call a “late adopter.”

Hog-tied and ham-strung by the wait time between opening a program and having it actually kick into gear, I faced the brutal truth: it was time for an upgrade. The cost of the hardware and software is nothing compared to the cost of having to adapt to a whole new way of relating to my machine. No digital native, I. The re-wiring of my neural networks takes some doing. So why bother?

Because I–like you, I suspect–want to remain relevant. I don’t need to be on the cutting edge but I can’t afford to lag behind, either. Many of the books I read for my monthly program, Biz Books Review, refer to neuroplasticity, the capability of our brains to change, and I know that staying abreast of technology helps with that process of keeping mentally fit. I also can’t afford to be perceived as a dinosaur or, worse, a Luddite. That would hurt my brand.

Back Woman Computer KeysThis Baby Boomer appreciates all that technology has to offer, from reading the news on my phone to using a new app called “Marco Polo” to record short videos to share with my family across the miles. The miracle of talking to our daughter while she was in Africa this summer in real time via FaceTime still blows my mind. I feel fortunate to live in an age where there are so many ways to connect.

I do, however, object to what I call “technology snobbery,” that race to see who has the most state-of-the-art gadgets and then flaunting them with implicit disdain for the have-nots. I’m grateful for the brilliant people who have the knowledge and gifts to envision, to create, to code. But let’s never forget who is servant and who is master here. Technology is a means to an ends: let’s be civil and generous as we use it to better ourselves and the world.

Photos: Sculpture by Peter Austin, Burning Bush Gallery

What I Learned as an Obit Writer

Back in the early 1980s I began my writing career as a journalist, and I use that word loosely. I had just graduated with a degree in English literature so didn’t have the “J-school” chops, but with luck landed a job at the Lawton Constitution & Morning Press as a “swamper.” No one ever defined the term “swamper” but I think we can discern what it implies. The job included taking information from area morticians by telephone to create the obituaries. I typed up the facts of the deceased’s life on a clackety old typewriter, using a big roll of yellow newsprint that stayed tucked behind the typewriter, tore the hard copy off from the typewriter platten and swirled around to the brand-new computer just installed in the newsroom, reformatting the facts into a life story.

This week I flashed back on this obit experience while watching a TED Talk by Lakshmanan “Lux” Narayan, a self-described perpetual learner and founder of Unmetric, a social media intelligence firm. Mr. Narayan begins every day, he says, with scrambled eggs and a through review of the obituaries in the New York Times. His TED Talk, entitled “What I Learned from 2,000 Obituaries,” is an analysis of what makes a life well-lived, gleaned from 2,000 obits run in the Times over 20 months. Using the mojo of analytics, Mr. Narayan breaks down the famous and unfamous, sharing that in addition to a natural advantage from having the name “John,” the people whose deaths are worthy of the New York Times are more often artists, thinkers, scholars and those who make a lasting contribution to the world through their work. The highlighted word that jumped out of both word clouds, famous and unfamous alike: “Help.” The noteworthy among us did something to help others.

This TED Talk and the recent funeral of my friend, mentor and former publisher Chuck Lauer, made me think about my own experience as an obit writer. In Lawton, Oklahoma, the obit page was rarely filled with Pulitzer Prize-winning economists or gone-too-soon rock stars. The people whose lives I recorded and dutifully wrote up in a defined, obit-style formula were often farmers, housewives and just plain folks. Sometimes the deceased were babies which had me weep while typing up their obits; other times the person’s achievements included producing prize-winning pickles for the county fair. At the tender age of 24, I was moved by the dramas, big and small.

What I learned as an obit writer is that all of us, at some point, will have our lives distilled to a few column inches or, if we’re lucky, a big story in the New York Times. Wherever your obit shows up you can be sure it will include the facts–birth, death, next of kin–as well as any highlights you’ve achieved along the way or, as one poet has alluded to, what happened “between the dash.” Whether we win an Academy Award or the blue ribbon at the county fair, the sum of our achievements most likely will be defined by how we helped others. Whatever our contributions, we can be sure it really had nothing to do with us, but rather, with whom we chose to make a difference. Who do you want to make a difference with today? How do you want to be remembered?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Serving Ladies and Gentleman

 

Back when my kids were small, they loved watching the movie “Goonies,” circa 1985. I’ll never forget the sound of Sloth, the monster-looking character, calling out to the gang of young boys, “Hey, you GUY-UYYYYYYS!” I think of this whenever I hear a leader, trainer or professional speaker call an audience “you guys…”

First of all, I’m not a guy. When I’m in the audience and I hear someone in authority, a leader speaking from the front of the room or from the stage or at the head of a boardroom table, call us “you guys” it makes me think of a gang of little boys (much like the one in “Goonies”) huddled out back in a homemade fort, the one that says “Girls Keep Out!” There’s a familiarity about the expression that seems at odds with the message.

While I know the phrase is meant to represent the collective audience, “you” or “you all” in the plural, there’s something about addressing a group of professionals as “you guys” that seems off. Call me old-fashioned (go ahead, I dare you) but language matters. When we are speaking to an audience, unless they are under the age of 13 I think it’s important to address them as “ladies and gentlemen.”

My former boss Chuck Lauer, taught me that. He was publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine for more than 30 years and he was vigilant about the importance of etiquette in business. He used to refer to the tagline of the Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels and resorts: “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” That’s also how he referred to his audiences whenever he gave a speech and I learned to do the same. He was the consummate speaker, a leader and a powerful connector of people. Chuck, affectionately referred to as “Chuckles” by those of us on his sales and marketing team, died April 30 at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of wisdom in his famous Modern Healthcare columns, his books and the many friendships that will live on.

So the next time you’re in front of a group, think about who they are and choose your words carefully. How you address people impacts how they see themselves and how they behave as well as how they perceive and respond to you. Chuck was fond of saying that good manners never go out of style.

Photo: Chuck Lauer addressing the sales teams of all of Crain’s publications based in the Los Angeles office in 2007 during a sales boot camp he and I designed with Teri Louden and delivered in LA, New York, Akron, Detroit and Chicago.

 

Help! I’ve Been Hijacked!

Have you ever had that feeling that you’ve been hijacked? No, not literally hijacked on an airplane bound for Boston, then suddenly headed to Havana. But maybe you’ve been hijacked by someone else’s agenda. Perhaps you know the feeling of moving forward resolutely toward your own goals and objectives when suddenly, you find yourself writing copy for someone else’s campaign or you’re volunteering for a cause just because you couldn’t say “no” to that persuasive friend. Everywhere we turn we’re faced with opportunities, decisions and invitations, most of them well-meaning but with the potential to distract us from our own powerful missions.

Recently I wrote, in dry-erase marker on my bathroom mirror, “Don’t get hijacked by someone else’s agenda.” This reminds me, daily, to consider the invitations that come my way. Do they support the mission I’m on, to create a world where people love what they do and do what they love? Are they part of my strategic marketing plan? Is the opportunity one that aligns with my commitments, passions and brand? Or am I just caught up in the moment, swept away by someone else’s (well-meaning) enthusiasm for their own project? The writing on my bathroom mirror cautions me to take the time to stop, think, and reflect before saying “yes.”

A while ago I read this quotation by Warren Buffett, the famous business magnate, investor and philanthropist:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

 

This quotation initially shocked me. For many years, I had lived by the credo, “Just say yes!” For someone who “smells” opportunity everywhere, I was convinced that staying open to the world, and saying “yes,” would move me closer to my goals. The wisdom of Warren Buffett turned my thinking upside down and made me very uncomfortable–it seemed so ungenerous! But after much reflection, I think I understand. Successful people stay committed to what they say they are committed to. Reluctantly, we can’t do everything. The “really successful people” maintain a laser-beam focus, resist being distracted and refuse to get hijacked by other people’s agendas. We can wish them well, and stay open to possibility. But in order to make a really big “dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs famously said, we must maintain our own mission, purpose and direction. We have to practice discernment. When in doubt, refer to your strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, let’s talk.

Author, author!

 

Last month we launched Circles of Gold: Honoring Your Network for Business and Career Success, a book I’ve been working on for, oh, about 10 years in one form or another. I wrote this version of the manuscript nearly two-and-a-half years ago while a guest at a fabulous brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. I tied myself to a chair with a daily word count quota for a week while my hosts, Colleen & Dwight, were in California. I admit I took some strolls down those beautiful Brooklyn streets to clear my head and enjoy the energy of that chic New York borough. I felt like I was in an episode of “Sex and the City” (sans the sex), working at my laptop and peering out the window just like Carrie Bradshaw, enjoying the comings and goings of the neighborhood. That idyllic week was followed by months of editing (thank you, Jennifer Grant), design (thank you, Becky Lemna of Lloyd Lemna Design) and proofreading until my eyes fell out. There are many more people to acknowledge–you’ll have to read the book!

Circles of Gold is a culmination of my nearly twenty years of coaching, laying out a blueprint I designed for networking with joy and ease. The bottom line: start with the network you already have. That was probably the most surprising thing I’ve learned as a career coach: most people hate networking because they misunderstand the process. They ignore their real network and go straight to the Internet. Ugh. Keith Ferrazzi said it best in his best-seller, Never Eat Alone: “Cold calls are for suckers.”

Start with who you know, I urge my clients. Create a database of all the people you know, without making assumptions about whether or not they are “worthy” or qualified to help you with your campaign (and yes, it is a campaign). We often stay within the silo of our professional networks, the people we’ve worked with or who share our industry interests. What about all those other people you know, the people at your gym, the folks you worship with, your nail tech or barber? Those people have their own networks, and can make introductions once you’ve honored them with your interest and appreciation. They have their own “Circles of Gold(R).” And so do you.

So what are you up to, and how can we help? Start with your mission to make a difference in the world and I promise you, doors will fly open. Share about your interests and passions and your vision for how you could contribute, and then ask people for their IOR: Ideas, Opinions and Recommendations. You’d be surprised at how eager people are to be of service to you, if only they knew how to help. Let them know and then… ask questions, shut up and listen. Don’t forget to take notes.

For those of you who would like to order the book, I offer you this website link. And please, use my “Friends and Family Discount” (7746JSGG) which will be available through Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. That’s my way of saying thank you to all of you who have supported me through the years as I worked on this book. For those of you who already bought the book at full price, I can only say, “Thank you!” I owe you a lot–and a latte.

 

Photo credit: Joy Meredith

Pictured, my “Church Ladies,” L to R: Cathy Mousseau, Cindi Copeland, the author, Pam Keller, Shelley Kenyon and Renee Cogdell-Lewis

 

A Seat at the Table

Years ago I was a cub reporter for a daily newspaper in Oklahoma, covering the health care beat. As part of my responsibilities I attended the board meetings of the local United Way, a group comprised of business leaders from around town. These experienced and mature business folks would meet monthly in a large board room around a big, shiny table. As the reporter covering the meeting I would sit in a chair against the wall, taking notes.

One day during a meeting a question came up about another local business leader who had changed jobs. Where had he gone? someone asked, and there was some speculation about where he now worked. I knew the gentleman they were referring to so I blurted out the answer from my chair against the wall. The conversation stopped and heads swiveled toward me as if I suddenly appeared from the ether or uttered an expletive into the air. I blushed deeply and understood for the first time that as a reporter, I was there only to observe and not to participate.

Something in me shifted–you could even say, crackled. I knew in that moment that this job as a reporter was a bad fit for me. I needed to be in a job where I had an active, vital role, where my voice could be heard, valued and acknowledged. In short, I needed a seat at the table.

I just finished reading a book called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know by New York Times bestselling authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. [Full disclosure: I “read” the book while driving, listening to the audio version on CD.] This book contains startling details about our gender’s collective lack of confidence, some genetic, some learned, along with amazing insights from high-level business women as impressive as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as basketball stars from the WNBA. Propped up by the results of studies from social scientists, deep research and a broad range of interviews, the book provides guidelines for women to actively exercise their confidence skills. Somewhere in the book they admonish us as women to take our seats at the table, to participate and be heard.

While The Confidence Code is written for women, it’s a good reminder to all of us–women and men–that in order to make a difference we have to communicate our point-of-view. I learned that lesson long ago in that boardroom in Lawton, OK. Before long I quit my job as a reporter and jumped into the business world as a communications professional, moving from spectator to an on-the-court participant. Now I’m thrilled to be in a role where I can express myself and influence others through the written and spoken word. I’ve not only found my seat at the table but in my role as a board member I’ve even found myself at the head of the table!

Where are you? Are you seated against the wall, observing, or have you taken your rightful place at the table?

[Photo: Boardroom table at OfficeLinks, my Chicago office in the Willis (Formerly-Known-as-Sears) Tower]

What Shapes Us

Recently I attended a Wheaton Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured my good friend and client Rob O’Dell from Wheaton Wealth Partners. Rob shared his presentation, “Bridging the Generational Gap,” emphasizing the nuances of communicating with–and selling to–people of different generations. Using his firm’s innovative Mind-Mapping visuals, Rob shared the profile and values of the four generations: “Matures,” “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Millennials.” As a card-carrying Boomer (that’s an AARP card), I listened with keen interest, not only for hints on how I can be more effective in my own communications but because Rob’s descriptions really hit me as a guide for what shapes us.

For Baby Boomers, one of the most sentinel events of our lives was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a milestone that shaped our generation in a way that still resonates today. Until I heard Rob’s presentation, I hadn’t thought about how as a generation, we are “optimistic and driven.” One would think that the losses we experienced, including the loss of our heroes and an unpopular war, would have soured our outlook. But instead, Rob described this generation as idealistic, hard-working and driven. We thrive on story, including credentials, performance, history and tenure in the marketplace.

The GenX folks, in contrast, are described as cynical, skeptical and distrusting. The resignation of Richard Nixon, the space shuttle disaster and the effects of divorce taught this generation that things don’t go according to plan. Many of them were brought up as latch-key kids who now, in the workplace, savor and require independence. They don’t want to be wined and dined: they want to do their work and go home. Also, this is the first generation to have access to the Internet, allowing them to research online. A GenX customer looking for a car may show up at the car lot having logged 16 hours on the Internet and knowing more about the inventory than the sales person. They crave information and transparency.

Millennials are known as the “Whatever” generation with “huge goals and no specific plans,” according to Rob. They aren’t dependent on superiors in the workplace for knowledge. And, like Boomers, they are idealistic and cause-driven. Texting is their preferred method of communication and reaching them requires a presence on social media. Millennials are being followed by the “iGeneration,” which says it all (Steve Jobs would be proud).

Rob’s presentation, which you can see in full by clicking here, gave me new insights about what shapes us. His descriptions remind me that everyone comes to the work world–and life–with his or her own perceptions of how things are and how they “should” be. The profiles of each generation give me new guidelines for connecting with the people around me. And they remind me never to assume that what shaped me, shaped them.

 

Masthead photo: “Jackie Frieze, 1964” silk screen on linen, by Andy Warhol, Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago