Community

Community is important. It unites people and allows them to be part of something greater than themselves. It’s possible to be part of more than one community. Examples of communities you may be a part of include your family, people you work with, people you work out with, people you worship with, and people who share other similar interests with you.

Note that not all communities contain similar people. Just because you are related to someone, work with someone, etc. doesn’t mean there isn’t diversity in some or all of your communities. This is a positive because diversity allows you to experience difference and still come together.

Other communities may include similar people. This isn’t necessarily a positive or a negative. In a work community, it may mean someone who has your same role, but has more experience and can be a mentor to you. If a community only serves as an echo chamber where everyone agrees, you should look to add diversity and different perspectives.

I recently read that those amazing Redwoods in northern California have created thick forests because they are a community relying on and supporting each other. Redwoods often have shallow roots a few feet deep, but those roots spread out up to 100 feet. By spreading out, the roots fuse with those from other Redwoods, which provides strength for many trees against the sometimes harsh forces of nature. This results in the thick groves of Redwoods that stand so tall and strong despite the shallow roots.

A strong community is like those Redwoods. Within such a group, people support one another. In a community of people support is provided by the transfer of knowledge, providing beneficial connections or inspiration, providing resources, or just being there for others. Through these actions, the group is stronger than a single individual and the journey is much more enjoyable.

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Show gratitude always

In a few days it will Thanksgiving in one of the oddest years most of us will have ever experienced. In thinking about writing about being thankful or gratitude, I thought back to posts from the last few Novembers. I can’t say it better, so here is my annual blog for the week of Thanksgiving.

This is a good time of year to think of gratitude generally and what you’re thankful for specifically. At the same time, it’s a great time of year to spread good feelings, which you can do by letting others know when you appreciate something they have done for you. In the time of the pandemic it may mean a phone call, email or text, but it’s import to take the time to reach out, thereby investing in your relationships.

Those of you who have younger children (or older ones…) know you end up reminding them to say “thank you” all of the time. That is because thanking someone or showing gratitude is a learned behavior. If it came naturally or from observing others we wouldn’t have to teach children to do so.

Hopefully you remember to thank people as appropriate in your daily life. In a usual year, this may be thanking someone holding the door for me when I get to my office, for holding the elevator for me, or for making a pot of hot water so I can have tea and get that needed caffeine injection upon arriving for work. In this year, it includes thanking people on my team for coordinating between those working in the office and at home to complete tasks needed to serve my clients’ interests. Many of these situations are universal to all of us, but I am sure we all remember holding a door for someone and they walk through without saying anything.

Of course, if you go through your day looking for when people should be thanking you, you likely will be disappointed. Instead, I think about how I want to come across to others, as well as ways I don’t want to come across to others.

We all have bad days, but most days we should recognize when thanking someone is proper and appropriate. This time of year is a reminder to says things you may usually only think to yourself. Positive feedback is energizing, and hopefully the person you provide it to pays it forward. Plus, it has the added bonus of making you or the other person feel good, making it a great way to go through life.

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Hard work matters

Success doesn’t just happen. Show me an “overnight success” and I’ll show you someone who worked hard for a long time to enjoy what seems like overnight success. True success usually only is possible where someone has put in the proverbial 10,000 hours to master their craft or business.

Hard work and investing in yourself pays off, in the long run. If you aren’t willing to put in the time, your chances of success are minimal to none. You also have to know that working hard doesn’t guaranty success, but it provides a better chance. It breeds luck and opportunity.

Ask any successful sales person how many doors they knocked on or calls they made before becoming successful. The answer will be “a lot!” Then you will hear stories about how doing so turned into success. The common theme will be about the knock or call that became a big sale, or a connection to a number of other sales. Sometimes it was the knock or call they almost didn’t make when they felt like calling it a day. When you are willing to put in the time, there’s a better chance “luck” will be on your side.

This type of investment in and commitment to whatever you are doing gives you the best chance to succeed. I have heard story after story from people in different industries or businesses who tell similar tales where people think their success was immediate when it wasn’t. What those asking don’t realize is the time and energy these people invested in themselves leading to that success, and the failures they experienced along the way.

That’s right, most successful people have endured failure during some point in their career. You know the saying, “you learn more from failure than success.” This is true. Sometimes you work hard and fail. When this happens you need to pick yourself up, take time for self reflection to learn from the experience, and move forward.

That is the usual route most of us take, working through small successes and small to large failures on the road towards success. Again, hard work doesn’t guaranty reaching your idea of success, but it provides the foundation to give you a better chance.

Ask most successful people you know and you will hear a good story about what it took to reach where they are. What may surprise you is these same successful people continue to try to improve. They know that gaining success is only part of the journey. You also have to continue to work hard to maintain success.

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Follow your inspiration

Where does inspiration come from? There isn’t a single answer. Something that inspires you may not inspire me and vice versa. What inspires me today may be different than what will inspire me tomorrow. The source of inspiration is ever changing, which is why it is different day to day and can hit you at times that seem unlikely, such as the middle of the night or when you are in the shower.

Inspiration may be conscious or may sneak up on you . This reminds me of a lyric from the Pearl Jam song Release: “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me.” You have to be open to inspiration and embrace it when it comes. If you don’t, it will be gone in an instant, like a wave. The challenge is your best thoughts or ideas can come to you at any time.

I encourage you to embrace inspiration whenever it is there. This may mean having paper and a pen on your night stand or walking out of a shower dripping wet to write down an idea. You need to be open to and accept inspiration whenever it appears. That is the only way you will have the chance to follow the muse and see where it can take you.

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Be passionate about the client experience

Delivering a great experience to every client every time you interact with them is important. You want to treat them so they feel like they’re your priority even though they know you have many other clients and matters you’re working on. To do this you need to be conscious of the experience you’re providing no matter the type of communication.

It’s easier to do this in person than on the phone or through email or text because of the immediate feedback you receive from observing what your client is saying and their body language. When communication is in writing, it’s flat and more difficult to understand any emotion or tone.

Clients want to know we care. Luckily, there are many ways to show you care. You can demonstrate empathy for the client’s situation, listen fully to what they are communicating to you, and by honoring the commitments you make on getting back to them or completing a project or task. Sometimes you’ll miss, but hopefully it doesn’t happen often. If it does, you need to reset your client’s expectations in a manner that lets them know they and their matter remain a priority to you.

Delivering a great client experience also means paying attention to the simple mechanics of customer service. For example, it is better to over communicate with your client than the alternative. If you are communicating too much for their liking, they will let you know, hopefully in a constructive manner.

It also is of the utmost importance to return calls and emails promptly. Nothing says “you and your issues are not my priority” than responding to people in an untimely manner. If you have problems with this, you need to come up with a way to ensure you timely respond, whether through a to do list or setting tasks or appointments in your calendar.

All of us are in the customer service business. If I don’t provide great service to my clients, there are a lot of other attorneys and firms who will. The same is true in your line of work, which makes it important to try to set a goal to exceed your clients’ expectations in relation to the customer experience you provide.

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Burn bridges at your own risk

Recently, a client told me about an employee who not only quit, but burned bridges with the company, its management and many co-workers on his way out the door. This accomplished nothing. Worse, before the bridge was burned (to the ground), the company would have considered rehiring this person in the future.

People get mad, disagree and are frustrated at times. This certainly can happen when someone is leaving a company. This is short-sighted. These type of actions can seriously affect your future opportunities.  In business, acting on emotions can have a long lasting effect.

You may never even know you lost a fantastic opportunity.  It just won’t be there among your options because memories are long.  It feels good to get things off of your chest, but what does it really accomplish?  In business most cities are like a small town. People remember being told off longer than someone providing constructive criticism on their way out the door.

So what do you do when you dislike the actions of your employer, co-workers, or even clients or vendors?  You have to chart the smoothest course you can. Sometimes it means not saying what’s on your mind in way you would like to, i.e. take the high road. I am not advocating that you ignore serious issues, but it’s better to act on thought than emotion in these situations.

Reputation takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy. When you have opportunities to say something or take actions that will feel good in the moment, but will come back at you in the future, choose what you say and do wisely.

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Make timely hard decisions

Making hard decisions isn’t easy. But as my wife says, “hard decisions, easy life or easy decisions, hard life.” This is true in your personal life and your business.

In business, employees and peers are watching. If you fail to act, or delay acting, people will notice. This will negatively affect you effectiveness as a leader. This is about credibility. When you deal with issues, others on your team learn how their actions or inactions will affect their responsibilities and roles, and, ultimately, their employment.

Many leaders leave negative situations to chance positing the situation will work itself out. Most times this allows a negative situation to fester, which makes it harder to deal with in the future. The negative effects can include having good employees leave to escape a toxic situation. Making timely hard decisions is so important to avoid these types of negative results.

Timely dealing with hard decisions will make your life easier. You need to make hard decisions when they need to be made, not later. Try it and go for the easier life.

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Embrace people and respect differences

The divisiveness in our country because of partisan politics is disappointing on many levels. People demean others they know and don’t know on social media and anywhere else they can leave comments. People physically attack others at protests and even drive cars into crowds. This really is unbelievable if you think about it. In many ways, our country is coming apart at the seams.

I know people’s positions on political issues are shaped by their core beliefs. No one is going to change another’s core beliefs through an online comment, an in person confrontation, or even a courteous conversation. What happened to hearing someone out in a respectful manner, agreeing to disagree, and moving on? What happened to respecting other’s opinions even when you don’t agree with them?

People cheer for political parties and issues as if they are sports teams. They aren’t. I don’t know anyone who has stopped speaking with a friend or family member who cheers for a different sports team. I am a lifelong Eagles fan. I can and have watched football games with friends or family members who are rooting for the Eagles’ opponent. Sure, it’s more fun when the Eagles win, but, win or lose, we move on and have enjoyed each other’s company.

Notice that nothing I am saying has anything to do with people identifying as supporters of a specific political party because it doesn’t matter who you support or what you believe. It’s about how people need to get back to speaking with and getting along with their friends and family who have different beliefs. So many people have let extremists from both sides drive their narrative. But most people are not far left or right. Sure, they lean one direction or the other, but most people are not as far apart as it may seem, nd likely agree on many issues.

Many people were raised to generally not speak about politics or religion. If you choose to speak with a friend or relative with different political views, it’s up to you whether you discuss politics or not. If you do, hopefully you both can do so in a respectful manner. Don’t you want to try to understand why someone you care about thinks differently than you? This isn’t so they can change your beliefs or you theirs, but to understand people have reasons they believe how they do. Knowing why may help you better understand them. It really isn’t different than you not being able to get anyone to change the sports teams they root for by asking how they became a fan of a given team.

Relationships are everything. They enrich the quality of your life. If someone is truly toxic, that is different, and a reason to not maintain a relationship. Otherwise, remember why you like the person and their good qualities. Yes, politics dominate the news cycle, but there always are many other things to talk about.

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Listening is a skill

It’s a skill to fully listen to one or more people in a conversation. If you want to test how people are listening, ask them to repeat back to you the message or direction you were trying to convey. You will be surprised at how often the other person wasn’t fully listening or took something different from your words than you meant. That’s right, someone can be listening, but take something different from what you said than you meant.

I struggle with active listening because my mind goes into overdrive on what I want to say or how I want to respond. In my role as an attorney I have to be able to think on my feet, immediately respond to questions from judges or clients, and all the while respond in a meaningful way that answers a question or drives home a position. This doesn’t help me be a better listener, but only a better advocate for my client. Turning this off in other conversations is difficult.

The struggle to fully listen is evident in conversations with clients, friends, and family. I may be thinking about a response to a question or position, or a story I want to share, but if I focus on what I want to say, I am not focusing on what you are saying. This is human nature, but I constantly am working to be a better listener.

At a base level I try to remember what I tell my children, which is that if your mouth is open, your ears are closed. I am trying to teach them you have to listen to know what to say.

You should ask others about what you have said to see whether they were fully listening to you and whether they understood what you were trying to convey. You will be surprised by the results. Likewise, in important conversations, repeat back what you believe you heard to see when you are correct, or not.

I notice when I focus on what the other person says my responses are more thoughtful and directed at what I understand the speaker is interested in discussing. I challenge you to listen better in your conversations this week and see how you do.

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Never stop learning

A few years ago I read a quote that resonated with me. I happened upon the quote this week and had the same reaction. The quote is “Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.”  This insightful statement is by Buckminster Fuller, and he is correct on many levels. 

We all have potential, but realizing that potential takes work.  Think about the intelligent people you have known who are disinterested in learning or otherwise do not apply themselves. No matter your definition of success, in most settings, hard work beats intelligence.

Learning goes hand in hand with hard work. It is part of improving yourself and makes for a better work place. It also makes for a more interesting work place.

Learning may take the form of business and self-help books, staying current on the news, or books on your chosen profession or vocation. It could involve attending seminars or taking classes. With the Internet at our fingertips, the options for learning are seemingly endless.

If you aren’t interested in learning more about what you do or how to do it better, you should ask yourself why. Is it because you think there is nothing left for you to learn? There is. Is it because you aren’t really interested in what you do? If so, that is a deeper question you should spend time considering.

This learning doesn’t really happen by chance. You may randomly pick things up from reading required in your job or from working with others in the course of doing your job, but that is haphazard learning. It is better to come up with a plan, which may include asking others for opportunities to learn from them or receiving direction on other actions you may take to do so.

What you learn depends on what you do and what will help you do what you do. The first step you should take is to figure out what your options are. They may include reading a book about networking, to taking a course online or at a local community college. The amount of options may surprise you.

Despite the plentiful options, it’s up to you to take action to stop the de-genius process. Challenge yourself and see where you can get by the end of the year.

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