The Empathy Void: Politics, Business, No Difference!

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Presidential election season is filled with interesting leadership lessons, voids and learning opportunities. One word comes to mind when I think about Leadership

em·pa·thy

According to our good friend Google….

ˈempəTHē

noun

1.  the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Pretty basic.  And arguably such a lacking trait among leadership, politics, and society in general.
Election season brings out a host of topics where our leading candidates, in one form or another seem to be devoid of this thing called EMPATHY.  Pick a topic….
  • Economy

  • Minimum Wage

  • Immigration

  • National Defense

  • Budgets/deficits/planning

Ask yourself:

Does the leader have any REAL, dirt under the nails experience with the topic at hand?  Or are they just trying to figure it out “on the fly?”

Who has more credibility on a given topic, the leader that has lived through it and therefore can articulate a vivid story of experience, or the one that simply pontificates to the audience affected by it?
I wouldn’t consider myself a political junkie by any means, but it is hard not to be tuned into national politics.  At the very least, you can certainly learn how NOT to behave in a leadership situation by observing the daily discourse.
At it’s core, EMPATHY is about “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes.”  Too many leaders have not done this, and they are at a severe disadvantage when leading their troops.

There’s something to be said for the Old School Leader, those that have started at the bottom and worked their way up.  This does not need to be a CEO, it could be a supervisor that manages 10 people in an organization of 150…..if they started at the bottom and worked their way up, I’ll put my money on them.  As long as they have a memory so they don’t forget where they came from!  

A leader with a healthy dose of Empathy is not guaranteed to succeed.  But it sure does tilt the deck in their favor.  How do you know if they have it?  

  • They demonstrate it.  They talk about what matters, the people surrounding them.  
  • They talk with admiration, passion and great detail about what it means to win, how they did it, the critical role of people and their “coaching” role in the process.  
  • You start to view them as someone that can do the job of the people they are being asked to lead.  Because they have done that in the past, and haven’t forgotten where they came from.  

When searching for the Empathy Trait, a close cousin of Empathy should emerge at some point:  

Humility  

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Why Labor Day is My Favorite Holiday

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A 2011 Harris Poll Caught my eye, ranking America’s favorite Holidays, and then segmenting that info by generation and gender.

I’ll admit it:  Labor Day is MY favorite Holiday.

In the past I’ve called it Under-rated.  Misunderstood.  Now I’ll just call it my favorite.

Religious convictions aside, I have to wonder why it doesn’t crack the top 5, at least in 2011 it did not (it ranked #8).

  • Economic pressure?

  • No religious affiliation?

  • End of something great (summer)?

  • The stigma associated with “WORK?”  It’s a four letter word not just literally, but metaphorically.

Who knows.  And really, who cares!  People have the right to call whatever holiday is their favorite.

Here are my reasons, kind of off the top of my head.

  1. It has been said that the greatest social program known to man and government is a job.  AGREE.

  2. All jobs, regardless of pay matter.  If you think hard enough, many of your values and life lessons can trace back to your early years working.

  3. When you receive compensation for anything (products, hours, etc) you are exchanging one thing of value for another.  This exchange system is as old as the dawn of civilization.  There’s something special about anything that goes back centuries.

  4. There’s something democratic about capitalism.  The free enterprise system, with all its flaws tends to find a price/value for all jobs in demand.  The greater the demand, lower the supply, the higher the price.  These laws almost always ring true.

  5. The USA is a country of immigrants.  Not a debate.  Immigrants come to the USA in search of a better life.  What was tops on their mind to do that?  A JOB.

  6. Our economy moves at light speed.  A profession today could be wiped out in 2 years for a number of reasons.  That creates risk.  It also creates opportunity.  Either way, it should keep you on your toes.

  7. Maybe I just think of “Labor” or work, as the back-bone of our country and it’s free enterprise system.  FREEDOM.  CHOICE.  Land of OPPORTUNITY.

The nightly news has always puzzled me.  The sentiment always seems to be so negative.

Personally, when I think of America I ALWAYS have a smile on my face.
  • I see so many people work, struggle, succeed, help each other, grind away, figure it out, and generally move forward.  I see people with seemingly average ability go on to be wild successful.  I see people that (on the surface) get lucky, but when you hear their story, they usually found a way to create that luck by choices they made.
  • I see people struggle to figure out how to pick up their kids at school when their employer asks them to hang in an extra hour or 2.
  • I see the overwhelming majority of people get up in the morning and WANT to put a good, honest days effort and provide for their families.  And many of these same people have a fire in their belly to improve on their current lot in life and grow, from wherever they are today.

“Work” to me is something you DO.  It’s a choice.  It’s a skill.  It’s the path to whatever life you hope to live.  Sure, Turkeys and Goblins are fun.  But if I’m going to give you my number one holiday, Labor Day gets my vote.  

 

Base: All adults (Source:  Harris Interactive, Link Below).

Generation

Gender

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X

(35-46)

Baby Boomers

(47-65)

Matures

(66+)

Male

Female

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Halloween

Halloween

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Halloween

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Halloween

Easter

Halloween

Easter

Easter

Easter

New Years

Halloween

New Years

Fourth of July

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/mid/1508/ArticleId/878/Default.aspx

 

 

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Hustle Case Study: Pitbull

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Education is not only about IF and where you have a degree from, it’s about lifelong learning, and more learning happens OUTSIDE the classroom than inside of it.   

You also don’t need a semester to gain great inspiration and new knowledge, 10 minutes can do the trick. 

Here are 2 Great Talents:  Ryan Seacrest and Pitbull.  A 7 minute interview, and great lessons.

Para-phrasing (Of Course)

  • “Where does the energy come from?”  It’s all about motivation!
  • My mom raised me off Anthony Robins.  I would sit in the car and listen to his lessons.
  • There’s no success without failure.  No success without losing.
  • Does your Hustle and your ability to outwork help?  ABSOLUTELY.  It’s 90% business, 10% talent.
  • On Jennifer Lopez:  She’s a pro.  She show’s up on time, gets the job done and moves on to the next thing.
  • Who makes your suits?  It doesn’t matter what you wear, it’s how you wear it!
  • The only real thing in my life, is real people, so I’m very protective of them.
  • Ryan:  I like to meet friends, greet friends and KEEP friends!
  • What are your other priorities?  Vodka, schools, slam (sports, leadership, management), branding the city with Pit Bull, finding a way to grow and put the puzzle together!
  • I love the Hustle.  Fall.  Get right back up.   

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In a Rut? Go on a Field Trip!

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“Get out in the field!”

It’s an expression in business that could mean a few things:

  • Visiting customers
  • Looking at the competitive marketplace
  • Working in the factory/front lines
  • In the Stores

The field is really anything that gets closer to the core of where the action is.  Anyplace but the desk. And usually around people.

A recent market visit brought us to the Bronx Fish Market.  A place few know exists and it’s not for the feint of heart!

bronx fish market

After the fish market we hit a couple of local businesses in our space.  And then my Italian roots took over.  The calling of Arthur Avenue in Bronx NY.  Some call it, “NY’s REAL Little Italy.”  No argument here.

arthur ave bronx ny

 

We found a gem of a small business, Tino’s Deli.

Hustle comes in many shapes and sizes.  

Why was it a gem?

  • Food was fresher than fresh.  Rare finds, no common name brands.  But all the staples you’d expect in an Italian Deli.
  • It was spotless.  Stainless steel garbage cans.
  • All the staff was happy we were there.  How did we know?  They smiled early, often and looked us in the eye.
  • The food met my expectations, and in this kind of store they are always sky high.

The owner Giancarlo Paciullo was a throw-back to an era where personal service was the norm.  He brings a tear to the eye of a blog writer where the subtitle is “Where Old School Meets New School.”

I asked to take a picture with him after we were done with breakfast.  Little did I know our server called him at home (he lives a couple blocks away) and he walked back to his place just to take a picture.  I felt bad for inconveniencing him.  But I really wanted to remember him.  And he gave us a nice little bag for the road.

tino's deli bronx ny

After looking at his website, I almost gasped at the little < 2 minute video, set to the awesome Guns & Roses “Patience.”  There’s that Old School Meeting New School thing again…..

Small little businesses like Tino’s Deli do not spend millions on advertising.  They earn loyalty one customer interaction at a time.  They dazzle people with service from the heart.

Then their loyal customers take over and tell everyone that will listen about their experience.

Go Arthur Avenue.  Go Tino’s Deli!  Bravo.

We all get in ruts in while running our businesses. Simple solution. Get to the Field.  

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Little Tests of Integrity: The Choice to do the RIGHT Thing

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Integrity, nobody's watching

A minor event happened recently that I didn’t give much thought at the time.

A supplier billed us for goods received.  But there was an honest mistake in that they billed us for an amount that was a few thousand SHORT of what it should have been.  We brought it to their attention right away and had them re-bill for the higher/correct amount.  It was second nature, as it should have been.

But I do wonder:  Would this have been “automatic” for all businesses?  Or would they have paid the lower amount and looked the other way?

I have no idea what % would fall into each side of the issue.  But here’s  what I DO know:

  • If MY business made the same mistake, I would hope that my customer would alert me and allow me to fix it.  This certainly beats the awkward situation of catching our own mistake than bringing it to THEIR attention and asking to re-bill.  And that assumes we would actually catch it.

Doesn’t this sound like the “golden rule” principle for dealing with partners?  

The golden rule extends beyond how you “treat” people, it goes to the level of candor and honesty you have in your actual business practices.  The day to day grind of paying bills, receiving money, and communicating openly and honestly vs. playing your cards very close to the vest.

This can be considered a slant on “Old School vs. New School.”  I can certainly make the case that customer and supplier relationships in the ’90’s were more combative than today.

Businesses are starting to realize that joint success, collaboration and integrity are not “choices” if you intend to have long-term strategic relationships.  The key word of course is LONG-term.  

Back to my original question:  What % would NOT “do the right thing?.”  Lets suppose that this # approaches double digits and it likely does.

If that’s the case, than wouldn’t operating the RIGHT way be a competititve advantage?  I think so….

The business case for doing things the right way is simple.  Many do not.  If you DO, you create an intangible difference.  Positive differences tilt the deck in your favor.

For me however, I would just rather sleep well at night.

I would also like to know who I’m dealing with that wouldn’t do the right thing.  Life is short and business is too competitive to worry about these little things, that end up being big things.

There are lots of things to worry about in business.

Getting beat for integrity lapses (or pouncing on someone else’s mistakes) should never be one of them.

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Thoughts on an 8 Year Opening Day Missive Ritual

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One of the most exciting parts of business is building a culture with a team.  Taking part in events, and some of those turn into traditions.

Before I acquired LM Foods, I was lucky to be part of a great little Memphis based company, Monogram Foods for over 8 years.  When I started there were no more than 12 people in the company (today they have over 1,300!).

Every year I decided to write an annual Baseball Opening Day “Missive.”  I will admit they were obnoxious and probably annoyed more than a handful of people.  I would try to convert southerners to not only become a baseball fan (try that in the South!), but also to become a YANKEE fan.

For the appropriate context, Yankees are not a baseball team to southerners, they are a Species, and many would prefer that they were the endangered type!  Bless their heart…..

I felt bad for my fellow Memphians.  You see, they did not have their own baseball team.  And this didn’t bother them.  But it should have.    

Sure, they can get in the car and drive 3+ hours to claim the St. Louis Cards as their home team, but what a pain, and built in factor not to fall in love with baseball.

PS:  If you ever want to REALLY experience life, I recommend signing a 1 year lease no more than 10 blocks away from 2 stadiums:  Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.  Life will be forever changed, to the good.

Enter the solution to a modern day sports/city/complex crisis……the Yankee is in the house!

I needed to at least TRY to enlighten them to the greatness of the game AND the greatness of the worlds best sport franchises despite their geographical challenges and built in sports biases.  I cared too much for my brothers and sisters in Memphis and in the plant locations to let these things continue.  So I tried.  For 8 years I put my best case forward.

For the record, if the goal was to convert one person from a passive fan to more active, AND to adopt the Yankees, I was an outright failure!   Can’t win them all, especially in baseball.

The Opening Day Missive gave a platform to unsuspecting talent in far away places outside of our headquarters.  One that comes to mind is my dear friend in Accounting in one of our plants, affectionately known as “brother Dave.”  Dave is a pro.  He’s also a character.  A technical whiz in a lumberjacks body. He’s also a sniper behind the bushes waiting for my annual Opening Day Missive so he could destroy me and leave his buddy bleeding in the streets.  He did it well.

As it turns out, and much to the risk of my fragile ego, more people looked forward to Brother Dave’s counter argument and dismantling of everything Yankees than they did to the missive itself.  The rant became the avenue for bloodshed in the airwaves.  His replies were painful to read, but hysterical.  Hysterical to everyone.  Except me.

Small things define cultures in business.  Many times they don’t cost a ton of money.  It could be a cook-out celebrating great results, or even a simple recognition publicly for a small victory.  As long as they are authentic and not overly scripted, traditions matter.

Old School? Maybe.  But it matters.  Just like Baseball.

On a slow Sunday morning, I was curious to see how many times I wrote about America’s past time on Hustle or Bust.  Out of the 173 posts as of this date, 11 of them sprinkle in Baseball (below are the links).  Hustle is not confined too business, it cuts through all of life.  In fact, it probably originated in sports.

Yankees & A-Rod:  I Didn’t Charge The Yanks for this Advice

And perhaps the deepest, most important one?

An email I sent to my former team (with their heartfelt thoughts attached as well) on one of the country’s defining days.  What does that have to do with baseball?  Simple.  Baseball is what brought the country back together, when it needed it the most.

What is important about opening day is revealed in the Remembrances post.  Any opportunity to bring people together on a human level is one worth capturing.  

Happy Opening Day.  Where everyone starts in first place and anything can happen on the long road ahead.

Best of luck to your team!

baseball opening day

image credit: baseballism.com

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The Growth Challenged Player: Warning Signs

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Most leaders like to talk about growth.  Few will do what’s necessary to make it more than a concept.

There are plenty of reasons for why businesses don’t grow:

  • Industry is flat to declining
  • Too many financial constraints (tight margins, leverage, lack of capital for investment)
  • Lack of talent
  • Competition is dominant

The list can be endless.  But at it’s core it is more basic than business constraints.

Growth begins and ends with INDIVIDUALS and their ability to grow themselves.  

This is ESPECIALLY the case if you happen to work in one of those “non-sexy” businesses that are tied to industries that measure growth in single digits vs double or triple digits.

For leaders wired for growth, there may be no MORE frustrating profile than people that are simply unable or unwilling to grow THEMSELVES.  If those people are in a key role, this can not persist for long or something will need to “give.”

Many people are not ready for dynamic growth.  Why?  It isn’t easy.  It creates CHANGE.  Some people flat out struggle with change.

There are clear warning signs for people that will struggle with a growth orientation.  One or two aren’t a problem, but if the person starts checking off multiple warning signs, leaders better be prepared to have a difficult conversation.

The “Growth Challenged” Warning Signs

If they are Growth Challenged…….they very well MAY:

  • LOVE their routine.  Same route to work.  Same activities.  Same check-list.  Same closing time.  Same starting time.  They value ROUTINE and the certainty it creates OVER the uncertainty of change.  Challenging routine is a no no.

  • Invest VERY LITTLE in themselves.  No books, newsletters, You Tube videos, courses, etc have been consumed and assimilated in MONTHS trying to take their game up a few notches.  Because that is a break from routine, or countless other excuses not to grow (no time, too busy, etc).

  • Never make noise.  Never involved in conflict that results from trying to push the envelope, get better, break things, bring people together and build a team.  Sometimes rumbles are good.

  • Always involved  in the same conversations, vs developing new ways to conquer new paths.

  • Stuck to old processes that worked in a stable world but add little value in a dynamic world.

  • Defensive when receiving feedback.  As if their purpose is to protect their own image vs. figuring out how to grow.

  • Never SEEK feedback.  Too risky, or why bother?

  • Don’t ask for help when they hit road-blocks.

  • New challenges always need to be handled by someone else…..

  • Cling to the past and may even question the fundamental premise of growth: “Is this even better?”

There are natural skeptics in the world, or people that like to play devil’s advocate with every new idea.  That doesn’t mean they are anti-growth.  These could be some of the greatest assets in building a growth mindset in companies.  That’s not what the growth challenged player is about…

Leaders need to understand if their players are capable and WILLING to grow.  

If there are multiple warning signs, they need to have a difficult conversation that makes the concern clearly known.  These are not conversations where you sugar coat.  If Growth is important and a key player exhibits anti growth tendencies (and multiple warning signs), they need to clearly understand this.

The leader has a choice if they do not want to confront the warning signs with the Anti-Growth Players:  Don’t confront it.  Continue to be frustrated.  Give yourself a nice little barrier on your marathon.  ANKLE WEIGHTS.

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Dreams & Hustle

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It is flattering when people say “they thought of you” when they see anything with my favorite word in it!  I LOVE this image a friend shared with me:

The Dream is Free, but the Hustle is sold seperately

Image Credit: http://befittacoma.com/

Seems like common sense right?  Not really.

In the Dream/Hustle camp there are really 2 types of people:  Those that “Get it” and those that don’t:

Those that Don’t Get it:

  • Have an opinion on EVERYTHING, but won’t change nothing in the mirror to make their world a better place.

  • Have a great new idea everyday but won’t put the blood/sweat and tears in to take action on it……making it someone else’s job to do the hard work.

  • Talk about how things SHOULD be more than investing in themselves to “be the change they want to see.”

  • Don’t have a dream period!  But they are excellent at pointing out what is wrong or broken with no solutions or initiative to fix the very things they are complaining about!

If more than a few people come to mind on the above scenarios, The Dream & HUSTLE image isn’t common sense, is it?  They tend to deplete energy vs add to it.

Those that UNDERSTAND Dream & Hustle mentality:

  • The countless number of immigrants that saw something special in the USA, and were willing to risk everything to make a better life for themselves…..

  • The single mom/dad raising their children, earning a paycheck and somehow figuring it all out as they go to be dead tired.

  • Our greatest heroes:  Our nation’s veterans.  And Military families.

  • Our teachers, many of whom dip into their own pocket, organize fundraisers and find a way to connect with different challenges, and for reasons far beyond financial….

  • The kid working their way through college to try and make it all work, taking on multiple part time jobs and network for their future.

  • Community volunteers – People who donate their time to causes, all in the hopes of making a difference.

What’s the point?

Dreams are made possible by HUSTLE.

Surround yourself with people that get it.  They will ADD energy to your quest, not deplete it.  Energy fuels Hustle.  

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The Dangerous Games People Play: Price Negotiations

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Price is one of the most deadly weapons in the marketing mix.

One of  the “4 P’s” of marketing, and one that creates some of  the most pressure packed situations in business.

  • It determines 50% of a company’s profit margin.

  • Depending on your market share and/or industry, it is also the most controllable decision someone can make to influence their outcome of profit/loss.

  • It is the most easily compared element of the marketing mix against a competitor.  Evaluating $499 vs. $549 is easier than comparing product reviews, technical features or “quality” (perceived or real)

  • Could be the most “emotional” element in business.

Why?

Let’s say you are quoting on a business, and it’s somewhat of a “bid” process, meaning you are quoting against different competitors selling products that have SOME differentiation, but generally viewed as a commodity.  So Price is a MAJOR factor, but like all competitive situations, everything influences the outcome:

  • Quality and service track record

  • Terms, flexibility

  • Relationship:  How will your bid affect the relationship?  Does that matter?

  • Risk of loss:  If you lose, how does your business look?  Better or worse?

All situations have a different ranking.  If I were bidding, here’s what I’d be looking at:

*  How many different factors influence a buying decision?
*  Rank them from high to low.
*  Know where you score at all times with your customer.  How?  ASK THEM!

Also?[Continue Reading…]

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Too Blunt? REALLY? Campaign Season & Style

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Talking Politics is always a potential hornets nest, but there’s a ton to learn from campaign season.  Candidates try and differentiate themselves from the pack, and the pundits critique their every move.  I wouldn’t wish that scrutiny on anyone!

This weekend I caught a glimpse of the Iowa Freedom Summit where republicans made their speeches.  I was particular stumped by NJ Governor Chris Christie, in particular his opening…

“I have heard and read the conventional wisdom that somehow a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed or understood at the Iowa Freedom Summit,” he said. “That somehow I’m too loud, that I’m too blunt and I’m too direct.”

Perhaps I pay closer attention to Christie being a NJ guy, and my style that I would consider more Direct vs. “Polished.”  But when a candidate needs to overcome “directness” to play on a national level, it is worth reflecting on what works and does not in the Leadership game.

I’m clearly biased and have written plenty on the topic of Leadership Style

Old School Leader:  Dirt Under the Nails Required, Polish Optional
Charisma:  A Dangerous Word in Leadership

In short, I value the straight shooter over the slick, even if the straight shooter makes me pause and hits a “sensitive” nerve.  Business moves at light speed…..breaking through layers of polish to know where you stand takes energy.

I suspect however that my bias is in the minority if a candidate like Chris Christie needs to spend a fair amount of time explaining his leadership style.

In business, I view Leadership “style” like I view a product’s Packaging:  A critical component, but it’s not the PRODUCT itself.  The product in the leadership game is the person, the results they can produce for business and for developing people.     

The “Blunt” topic of Leadership style should force us to ask ourselves some basic questions:

  • How important is style?  Critical?
  • How is trust formed?
  • How do you connect with strangers?
  • What role does style play in the final analysis?  Getting Results

One other interesting tidbit I picked up from the Iowa Summit?  An idea that came from the entertaining (to some) Donald Trump:  Let’s get rid of the following:

Teleprompter

I couldn’t agree more.  I respect and admire the great speech.  But it is refreshing to see the few go off the cuff and speak from the heart.

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