Taking to Twitter

Have you noticed that people who are upset with a company or a product often take to Twitter? That’s what I did recently at the suggestion of friend Joy Meredith. My new Lenovo tablet has been “in the shop” for more than 40 days. The impact on my business, like the length of time it’s been missing, is of Biblical proportions. After repeated attempts to get answers via the customer service hotline (and I use that term loosely), I was out of ideas.

Instead of waving the white flag, I took Joy up on her recommendation. Indeed, I got a response. The first few DMs (direct messages) were inadequate volleys of how they would “try” to get the issue resolved. The folks at Lenovo apparently never saw Yoda in Star Wars (“Do or do not. There is no try.”) As I dragged Lenovo’s DMs back into my Twitter feed, their tone became more and more responsive. Now I finally have a RLP (real live person), Marlan, with whom I can talk. Nice chap. He said I can expect a replacement within two to four days. If not, look for me back on Twitter.

Not Originally a Fan

When Twitter first came out with its original 140-character limit, I was derisive. How could I, a former reporter and free-lance writer who used to get paid by the word, ever adapt to a social media platform known for its brevity? But once introduced to Twitter, I became a fan. Much like writing a haiku, it forces the writer to condense his or her thoughts into a concentrated jolt. I also enjoy the links to other stories that widen my views and often make me laugh.

How it came to be my favorite, besting Facebook and even LinkedIn, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it’s because FB triggers FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) and LinkedIn requires more decorum. Twitter, even in its new 280-character incarnation, requires a clarity and conciseness that challenges the imagination (that is, unless we’re talking about #45). Some people use Twitter as a pipeline as well as a platform for thought leadership. My Twitter feed serves as a news source, a great resource for story ideas and links to memes and videos that help me keep my finger on the pulse of contemporary life.

Caution: Use Twitter Respectfully

Like all media, though, it’s important to use Twitter respectfully. [Listen up, #45.] I thought long and hard before taking on a behemoth computer company in a “Twitter war.” For those who know me, it takes a lot to push me to this point. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Too bad it came to this. But it’s nice to know there’s a place for customers to vent, fume and make a complaint public in order to receive an actual response. Once my new tablet is in hand, I’ll make the proper acknowledgements. Until then, I’m reminded that the pen—or, in this case, the tweets—are mightier than the sword.

P.S.

Just when I thought Lenovo was rock bottom for customer service, I called IKEA to order a gift certificate. Their “customer service line” was busy so they invited me to call again. Click. No optional extension. No “Please leave your number and we’ll call you back.” Just “click.” Needless to say, I went somewhere else.

What’s your best (worst) customer service horror story and how did you solve it?

 

 

 

Equal Time for the Arts

My family wasn’t a “sports family,” so when I joined the business world I was perplexed by the volume of sports metaphors embedded in meetings and conversations. Over the years I’ve heard them all: “Batting a home run,” “teeing it up” and being a “team player” are sprinkled throughout sales meetings and boardrooms all over the country.

I’d like to expand our business metaphor repertoire to include a world beyond sports: the world of music. Around fourth grade, when I was ducking any ball that came my way in the outfield, I began to the play the cello. My love of the instrument, my family’s interest in the arts and a strong strings program at my school resulted in a life-long interest in music.

For nine years I played in orchestras—school orchestras, regional orchestras and ultimately, I sat first chair in the cello section of the Johnstown Youth Symphony in Pennsylvania. Through those years of playing music I learned the importance of following the leader, our conductor—in sports terms, the coach. I understood that everyone plays a part and only by following the conductor and the musical score–the “playbook”–did the music come out the way the composer intended. We even had contests so there was a level of competition and sportsmanship in there, too.

Maybe I never played first base, but I had been, in fact, part of a team. In a symphony orchestra, the first violins sway in unison, playing the melody as if with one voice. The oboe’s solo depends on everyone else knowing it’s their time to be quiet, or pianissimo. The woodwinds, the brass and the percussion surround the strings with trills, glissandos and the boom of the timpani. Then the instruments come crashing together in the final movement and as the last notes hang in the air, the word “team” is redefined.

Sports metaphors will, no doubt, continue to dominate the business world (sigh). But allow me to share, if I may, the same thrill of victory that comes from practicing, working and then performing music for an audience, communicating a complex message that may have been written centuries ago. My frame of reference may not include the physical sweat that comes from being out on the field, but for musicians, like athletes, there are drills and long hours, discipline and hard work. We get coached, we have a “batting order” and sometimes we even get benched.

Whether you’re kicking a goal on the soccer field or hitting that high note in the third movement, you learn a mastery of skills that will help you later in the business world. Athletes and artists build resilience and the ability to respond to their teammates, working toward that common goal—excellence. Whatever your experience, those are great skills to have. And with any luck, you’ll always remember the cheers from your fans, whether they were in stadium seats or in orchestra hall.

Photo credit: Manuel Nageli, Unsplash

Be Kind, Be Kind

My former pastor, the Rev. Chris Winkler, used to lead our Wednesday night contemporary service at church. One night he closed with a benediction, a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenized Jewish philosopher: “Be kind, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” [Wikipedia cites only one “be kind” in the phrase but I like Chris’s version better.) The benediction struck me at my core: at the time I was struggling with my own battles that I hadn’t yet made public, and it seemed Chris–and Philo–were speaking directly to me.

I couldn’t help but think of this quotation when I learned a few weeks ago that a friend of mine died of an apparent suicide. Like many people confronted with the death of a friend or loved one by suicide, at first I was in shock. How could that be? He was such a happy guy! Next came guilt: When was the last time I spoke to him? His name was on a list of people I planned to reach out to during the holidays, but I hadn’t yet done so. Why hadn’t I known he was in such pain? Then came anger–how can someone do this to himself, causing such anguish and irreparable damage to the family who loves him? Illogically, and knowing how crazy it sounds, I felt hurt and abandoned in spite of knowing that his choice had nothing to do with me.

There’s a whole world of mental health issues out there that we are ill-equipped to deal with, and suicide is just one of them. My daughter’s friend turned me on to a podcast called “The Hilarious World of Depression,” interviews with [mostly] comedians who also suffer from depression. The host, John Moe, told his own story of his brother’s suicide and his reactions, including the typical but fruitless “What could I have done differently?”, as if we somehow have the power to prevent someone’s decision to end his or her own life. As if. That’s “hubris” with a capital “H,” I know. But it’s normal and natural and we shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling guilty.

My friend Joy Meredith posted recently on her blog about the need to face mental illness and the cost of denial, as well as the need to ask for help. In “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Joy reminds us that “there is no prize for toughing it out.” We need to seek help, even if it means getting second and third opinions. No one needs to suffer alone.

So back to that great benediction… how many times do I have to learn that same lesson? The lesson is that YOU JUST NEVER KNOW. You never know what kind of baggage people are dragging around with them, what demons haunt them, what battles they are fighting. Jealous of a friend’s house? Later you learn it’s in foreclosure. Wistful about that lovey-dovey relationship of a neighbor and her husband? She later confides in you that she was being abused. Envious of the trappings of what looks like “the perfect life” of a family member? Scratch the surface and you’ll find stories of some kind of dysfunction. No one has a “perfect” life. That doesn’t make me feel better. It just reminds me that we share this great messy experience of slogging through our struggles to get through the day, as well as the responsibility of taking good care of each other along the way.

Today on this first day of 2018, a day of New Year’s resolutions, I resolve to be kind–in word, thought and deed. My mom once signed an autograph book that I had received for my 10th birthday: she wrote, “Beauty is as beauty does. Always think beautiful thoughts and do beautiful deeds.” I was puzzled by it then but now I understand. Beauty is fleeting but our kind words will always be remembered. I resolve to be kind in 2018 and beyond because, after all, you never know what people are carrying around with them. Remember that everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Assume they need your kindness. And, when you need it, don’t be afraid to ask.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

 

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

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?

 

 

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.

 

Love and Work

 

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that reminds us of love. We mostly interpret that to mean “romantic love” or eros, which leaves the day fraught with peril for those who are between love interests. If you’re without a sweetheart, the day may be a stinging reminder that everywhere you look, someone else is getting a dozen roses.

I celebrate Valentine’s Day in a broader sense, focusing instead on a higher form of love, agape, a transcendent love, universal and unconditional. This is the love that I’m speaking of when I share the mission of my coaching practice: “To create a world where people love what they do and do what they love.” When we are in service to others through our work, that is a transcendent love. We are driven to make a difference and in spite of circumstances, in spite of the evidence (failure, disappointment, no results), we keep on working. We do it for love.

My coaching practice rose from the ashes of losing the job that brought us here to the Chicago area. After the shock and shame of getting fired, I lifted my head and asked myself, “What did I learn? Where was I responsible for this mess?” Truth was, I was not fit for that job. I ignored the signs, to my peril. Once I accepted that I was 100% responsible for what had happened, I made a powerful choice: I would never again stay in a job that didn’t fit. I committed myself from that time on to loving my work and helping others love theirs.

Sigmund Freud said “Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness.” I would venture to say “Love of work is the cornerstone to our humanness.” Look at how much time we spend at work…most of our waking hours. I had a colleague once who complained daily about her job. When I gently offered to provide some career coaching to her, she sighed and said, “No, that’s all right. I only have eleven more years until retirement.”

ELEVEN MORE YEARS! I think of my friend Sheryl, who died at 56 of a brain aneurysm, unable to see her daughter graduate high school. I think of men who have heart attacks within months of retirement, having tolerated their work with the vision of golf courses in their heads, now too weak to walk. Plan for the future, yes, but don’t live for the future. The future is now. We have the right–and the responsibility–to love what we do so that we can make a difference in the world. There is urgency in this message! We must love what we do because as far as I know, this is our one shot. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I hope on this Valentine’s Day you’re surrounded by all types of love–love of friends and family, your pets, your home and your work. Most of all I hope you love the choices you’ve made. If not, you can make new choices. There’s still time but time, like your life, is precious. Act now. Let me know if I can help.

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

 

What Would Dolly Do?

In a hotel room at the Sheraton-Nashville, I was surrounded by beautiful photos of musical instruments–Gibson guitars, mandolins, close-ups of frets, strings and Fender guitar picks–all reminders that Nashville is the home of country music. I’ve been in love with country music since I was a girl and I saw Dolly Parton on the “Porter Wagoner Show.” I’ll never forget being in the basement of our home in Bangor, Maine, watching our black-and-white TV and seeing the image of Dolly in rhinestone cowgirl attire, fringe swinging, her hair out to here, her bust not quite as prounounced as it would become later but still, she was a sight to behold. And that voice. So although I was brought up in a household filled with classical music and Broadway hits, I became a C&W fan thanks to Dolly.

What Would Dolly DoNow, decades later, I looked up above my bed in that hotel room in Nashville to a framed print that said, “What Would Dolly Do?” This was, of course, a parody of the popular “WWJD?” bracelets and paraphernalia popular in Christian circles, “What Would Jesus Do?” With no disrespect intended and without any hint of blasphemy, I nodded solemnly to myself. What would Dolly do, indeed? Continue reading “What Would Dolly Do?”

Let’s Go Window Shopping

On a recent trip to New York City I walked by Cartier, Louis Vuitton and other high-end shops with gorgeous window displays. I loved seeing the edgy fashions, the elegant accessories and the artful way in which they were featured. Even if the bling featured in the window was out of my price range, there was no harm in looking.

That’s exactly what I tell my coaching clients who are contemplating new careers. “Window shopping” is the first and perhaps one of the most important steps of a career transition. What is it that you want? What speaks to you? What makes your heart go pitter patter?

Continue reading “Let’s Go Window Shopping”