A true leader

A true leader is not someone who tries to be a leader, it is someone to whom leadership just comes naturally. You can improve leadership skills and provide tools to make people better leaders, but you cannot teach the inherent characteristic that makes people true leaders. Those people just come out and shine when the time is right.

When we think of leadership, we think of CEOs of large companies and heads of government. Those people are certainly leaders because of their position and obviously have the power to influence people. Would they be the people who would naturally take over when there is a crisis, not because of their position but because of their nature? Everyday situations make different people leaders and leadership is about the ability to inspire and organize people to reach a common objective. There are leaders out in every community that do not make millions of dollars and we will never hear about.

I saw General Rick Hillier (aka the General) speak last night. He is the former head of the Canadian Armed Forces. A leader by nature and by position. He never talked about his own leadership, but always praised the leadership abilities of those underneath him, telling specific stories of soldiers who were forced to lead under brutal circumstances. His stories were inspirational. He is a true leader without trying to be, he exerts all of the qualities of a great leader yet only wants to talk about his people. Very inspiring and something to emulate.

What kind of leader are you, the kind that takes charge of a situation or the kind that waits for someone else to do it? Do you inspire others to do better or are you looking to be inspired by someone else? There is no shame in either case, but there is a lot of value in being able to answer those questions about yourself.

The Rock & Stroll Parade

Pre-registration is now available for the Rock & Stroll Parade. The event is raising money for Mt Sinai Hospital and the Women's and Infant's Health Program, helping to deliver more healthy babies and ensure healthier moms. If you register before March 1 you will be entered into a draw for some great prizes.

www.rockandstroll.ca

Keep it simple

When you go to a restaurant, it is difficult to keep everyone happy, but it is not difficult to make them dissatisfied. Taking too long to take on order, constantly forgetting customer requests, bringing the wrong food or not showing up for a few minutes. All these things will make the customer experience a bad one, and they will remember it. People remember how they felt and not how good the food was.

Keep it simple. Give customers the attention they deserve. Confirm that you have the right order. Check in regularly to see if everything is OK. A few simple rules that will keep customers happy most of the time. Now that you have the simple rules, find people that can execute them easily so they can save their effort to go the extra mile.

Employee turnover

Do you feel your business has a high turnover rate? Do you know what turnover is costing you each year? Most companies will answer yes to the first question and no to the second question. Why is that? To me, turnover would be one of the more frustrating things to have to deal with. If you don't know how much it is costing your business or why people are leaving, then you can never fix the problem. There are a few things you can do to get a handle on employee turnover and develop a strategy for tackling it:

Understand why people are leaving–perform exit interviews with departing staff and interview current staff to determine the main reasons for turnover. It could be pay (although not likely) or poor management or poor employee engagement. Whatever it is, knowing some facts will help put you on the right path for resolution.
Understand the cost–it is important to understand how much you are spending on turnover. A simple way to think of it is to combine your costs for hiring and training new employees, as well as the opportunity cost and lost productivity of having other employees fill in temporarily once someone leaves. The numbers will help raise the profile of the issue.

Being armed with reasons for leaving as well as the actual cost of turnover is much more powerful than just a percentage. It is fine to say "we have had an average of 12% turnover in the last three years" but it is much more powerful to say "we have had an average of 12% turnover in the three years and the main reason for that turnover was lack of employee engagement and that turnover has cost us over $3m per year." Which is the more actionable statement?

Public failure

Most of us have the luxury of making our mistakes very intimately and quietly. NBC on the other hand, has made their mistakes very publicly. In a move that surprised many, they want to move Jay Leno back to late night TV while at the same time trying to compromise with their current late night TV star, Conan O'brien. This whole episode is like a bad soap opera–spend 5 years courting and promising the crown to one guy (O'brien) so that he will stick around, then taking the leader in late night TV (Leno) and moving him into primetime while giving the other guy the show that had been promised to him for 5 years, then the primetime show bombs so they now want to split the old timeslot to allow these guys to share, while in fact trying to move the Tonight Show into the next morning. Sounds like a brilliant move.

Remember this lesson: except for the rare (and lucky!) occasions, you can't have it both ways. You need to pick your horse and run with it. This applies to life and to business. NBC will end up keeping one or both of these late night starts, but they are both coming out of this ordeal angry at the company they work for. This would not make me too comfortable if I was an executive at NBC–I have just angered two of my stars. These employees are prime candidates for jumping ship to one of my competitors. If Conan and Leno really wanted to make a splash, they would both leave. That would really get the message across!

The speed of response

The earthquake in Haiti is yet another disaster that has opened our eyes to how quickly life can change. The pictures and stories are devastating.

One positive aspect is the speed with which many countries have donated money, food, supplies and search and rescue teams. This speaks to the importance of having plans in place for these kinds of events. Within 24 hours of the earthquake, countries from around the world already had specialized search and rescue teams deployed and on their way to Haiti. These teams are models of efficiency. They need to be ready to move at anytime, not dissimilar to firemen, because they provide an on-demand service. They do not know when or what will happen next. Therefore they need to be prepared to leave at any moment. That means bags are always packed, supplies are always ready and communication is always quick and effective.

There is a lot that businesses can learn from this–have contingency plans in place and the more prepared you are, the faster you can get results. It is not only important how quickly you respond, but also the quality of that response.

The art of listening

You may not believe this, but listening is a skill. Some people do it really well, while others, not so much. It is important to develop strong listening skills because you may pick up on things that others don't. When talking with prospective clients, you may hear things that others don't, thus creating an advantage for yourself. Most people are so busy worrying about what they are going to say next, that they lose a lot of what is being said to them.

On Friday, a prospective client told me that I had really captured what they they wanted to accomplish in the proposal I had sent them. I took this as a compliment because they were saying that I heard their concerns, I listened to their priorities and I captured them well in my document. Now all that is left is for them to agree to the proposal. We all want to be heard so it is nice to know when someone actually listens.

A simple, but not often effectively executed aspect of listening, is following through. I believe that we should only need to ask someone once for a request–removal from a distribution list, sending a prospectus, calling back at a better time, sending an invoice–these are all things that happen daily. It is very frustrating when you need to remind someone multiple times to do one of these activities. It takes energy away from you in doing other, potentially more valuable, things.

The art if listening is about giving others the opportunity to talk and be heard. The more they talk, the more you will learn. The more you learn, the more advantageous the situation becomes for you. Do you hear me?