One Sure Fire Way to Know You've Lost the Battle

Want one guaranteed way to lose every verbal battle you'll ever find yourself in?

Okay.

You're arguing with an employee, team member, or other "underling". They're just not getting it. You're tired of the argument, so you whip out any of these gems to put an end to it once and for all: 

"Do it because I'm the boss?" You already lost the battle.

"Do it because I'm the boss?" You already lost the battle.

"You need to do it because I said so."

"You don't need to know that because you're not a lawyer. I am."

"I'm the lieutenant and some times I just need you to do what I tell you to do."

I learned this one the hard way.  That last quote? It was mine.

I was in charge of a crew of volunteer EMTs and, as the crew chief and paramedic, they were my crew. My responsibility. I was charged with their welfare on scene, their training, their cohesion as a team, staffing, nose-wiping, and many other aspects of how we functioned as a crew. 

One call, after a particularly rough day, I found myself arguing with one of my stronger-willed but outstanding EMTs about something I had asked her to do. She didn't understand and I couldn't explain it to her, mostly because I was exhausted. Instead of asking her to give me some time to get rest and approach the conversation with the respect and consideration it deserved. Instead, I tried to explain and, when I failed to make myself understood, I resorted to position. 

"Do it because I'm the boss."

I saw it in her face. She shut down and lost all respect for me in the few seconds it took for me to speak those words. Our relationship never recovered. 

Was I in charge? Yes. Should she have listened? Yes. Was there a valid reason? I honestly don't recall. In the heat of the call and the years since it happened, I've forgotten most of the details. But the lesson stands out. 

When you have to resort to stating your superiority as a fact, when you have no other reason left for the other to listen, when you cannot persuade, when your sales skills have failed, when you give up  and announce, "I'm the boss..."

You have lost. 

Unless, maybe, you're a drill sergeant. In which case, you're right. I am a maggot. 

What My Daughter Taught Me About Sandwiches

My daughter came running up to me all smiles and big eyes, wanting to show me what she'd done to clean up her room.

You're right, sweetheart. The floor looks perfect.

You're right, sweetheart. The floor looks perfect.

This is an unusual thing in our house. My kids would rather live in chemical dumps than in pristine spaces, but we recently informed her that to earn back some privileges, she needed to show us she was mature enough to handle them. We assigned her the task of keeping her room neat, clean and tidy.

I walked in, looked around and was impressed.

I said, "You know, if you pick up these things over here in this box, and take care of those doll clothes under that chair there, and..."

She had left the room trying not to cry.

Facepalm.

I called her back and met her in the Jack & Jill bathroom she shares with her brother. I got down on my knees, looked her in the eye, and said:

"I'm so sorry, honey. I did that really poorly. May I start over, please?"

She nodded.

"I am so impressed with what you've done in there. Your room looks absolutely beautiful. Everything has been put away and you took so much care in straightening things out and lining up your dolls. It looks wonderful and I'm just blown away by it."

She smiled and gave me a big hug.

We walked back into her room and I spent another few minutes pointing out some other specific things she did that I noticed and talked up how much nicer her life would be thanks to these improvements. Only then did I try again:

"Now, what you've done is great. To make it absolutely perfect? We just need to take care of a couple things."

This time, as I pointed out a pile of rubbish near her bed and desk, she said she was planning to take that downstairs and throw it out. Then she had an idea. "Can I get a bag, put this in it and then empty the rest of the trash cans upstairs and downstairs too?"

What a difference!

See, I first focused on the areas for improvement, not on the accomplishment she had made. This left her thinking that she'd not done well enough and wounded her big heart.

Instead, remembering everything I've learned about "praise sandwiches", I realized that principle applies to my home as well as my work.

So I wedged my pointers between two big old slices of praise and she was happy beyond measure, and took all my ideas to heart. And added some of her own!

Three Keys to Make a Good Idea Great

This past weekend was the Boy Scouts' Scouting For Food weekend project. The boys spent the prior weekend distributing bags to homes in our area requesting canned good donations. This weekend, we went back and picked them up again. Boy Scouts Doodle

© Lorelyn Medina - Fotolia.com

Spending so much time studying good Entreleadership principles, must be having some effect on me, because midway through our walking tour of a nearby subdivision, I had a Eureka Moment.

What if next year, we got a batch of doorknob hangers and had them printed with a "Thank you" message? Even had some of the younger kids sign them in a barely legible scrawl to increase the "awwww" factor?

Might you be more willing to give again if your next trip to the mailbox included the discovery of a note left behind expressing gratitude?

I shared this idea with some of my colleagues. And of course, they had to put their own spin on it and add some of their own input

Which means my great idea is now a horrible mishmash of bad follow-on ideas. Right?

Wrong. My good idea has become a great one.

Here's the three critical steps to taking your initial good idea and making it great:

  1. Share it. Tell it to others who have a willingness to listen and a history of being positive about others' ideas and contributions.
  2. Listen to feedback. You have to be open to whatever feedback you're going to get. You may not like it, but it's critical that you listen. Anything you don't like that you hear more than once or twice is probably something you really need to look at.
  3. Incorporate the best contributions judiciously. Apply your judgement and figure out which contributed ideas are going to lead to improvements and which wouldn't.

In my case, we expanded my original idea to include the phrase, "Thanks for your donation" so that donors might be able to use the thank-you as a receipt for tax purposes if they wish. We're going to contact several area restaurants with a history of philanthropy to see if they're interested in contributing free sandwich coupons for us to attach or make part of the design. And we're going to try to find a vendor willing to pay for the printing & cutting in exchange for their name or logo on the hangers as a sponsor of the pack.

How have you experienced the blossoming of a good idea into something beyond your imagination through the contributions of others? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Grains of Sand or Rock Stars?

In Genesis 22, Abraham takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed. At the last moment, God stays his hand. In return for this selfless act of faith, God blesses Abraham, telling him in Genesis 22:17, "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore" (NIV). Stars Sand

Image CC BY 2.0 Mike McCune

Rabbi Daniel Lapin asks, why stars and sand? Did you ever stop to think about just how different they are? Sure, they're both incredibly numerous, but their natures are quite distinct.

Grains of sand, taken by themselves, aren't really good for much, are they? A grain of sand can't do much but annoy the heck out of you if it gets in your sandal.

But sand, lots of it, grain upon grain taken together, can build levees, dams, and other structures capable of holding back the very seas. Sand can be built into things, shaped, when utilized as en mass rather than as individual grains.

A single star gives off light. Each star is beautiful in its own way and contributes to the night sky of its own light, its own character. Individual stars can be picked out and identified quite readily by even amateur astronomers or children based on the constellations they form.

God values us all, not only as individuals (stars), each beautiful and magical and contributing to the wonder of creation in our own way, but as groups (sand) as well. We have a dual nature, as individual contributors and as members of a whole whose force is greater than the sum of its parts.

Is it possible for us as leaders to see our employees, our team members, not only as unique, individual contributors but also as members of a team where their membership is not irreplaceable? Where the force being applied by the team as a whole, by the organization as a whole will not be diminished by the loss of one or two members, who can be replaced by fresh grains of sand? Yet whose contributors nonetheless are to be valued as unique; celebrated for the rock stars they are?

Can you reconcile these two seemingly conflicting thoughts about your team members?

Detour to EntreLeadership & ChrisLoCurto.com

Today I'm honored to be the guest author at ChrisLocurto.com, where Chris hosts a lively discussion about all matters pertaining to leadership and starting and running your own business. Chris is the host of the wildly successful EntreLeadership podcast as well, and a VP in Dave Ramsey's Lampo group. To say I'm honored to be guesting in his "home" is the understatement of the year. So without further ado, please join me for Be Careful Which Way You Lean and see what The Lorax has to teach us about being intentional about your support structures.

Do You Have GAS?

I'm a sax player. And like most sax players, I love looking at new equipment when it comes out. Reeds, mouthpieces, necks, pads, microphone systems, you name it, I've probably looked at it lovingly, thinking that just buying that thing would take my playing to the next level. Man playing saxophone

© DeshaCAM - Fotolia.com

I caught myself this morning looking longingly at the new Theo Wanne Mantra tenor sax range and wondering if I should consider selling my beloved P. Mauriat in favor of a Mantra. Mind you, I've only had my current horn for about two years.

And I'm not alone. Most professional players are almost legendary in their pursuit of the ultimate sound. Legend has it that Michael Brecker, probably the greatest tenor player of our age, collected hundreds of mouthpieces in his search for excellence. He also purchased and later resold hundreds of saxophones, always returning to his original instrument.

In most circles, this is known as GAS, short for Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

See, it's much easier to believe that simply buying the right mouthpiece, crook, reed, or horn will give you the perfect sound. But the truth is that the thing that most directly influences your music and your tone is ... you. That's right, the cat behind the horn has the greatest influence. Not the horn.

A beginner will sound just as bad on a vintage Selmer Mk VI as he will on a brand new Bundy II student horn. And Jeff Coffin or Chris Potter will blow you away on either horn. Because the critical instrument, the player himself, has been well-tuned in the latter cases.

Are you on a constant search for the ultimate answer to your leadership, business, or family issues? Do you think the answers lie in reading books?

Books are great, but only insomuch as they cause you to change yourself. Simply owning stacks of books sitting impressively on your shelves doesn't improve your situation one whit.

So focus on the piece of the puzzle where you can really effect great change. Don't change instruments, change the player.

And say goodbye to GAS.

Customer Service: How Would You Have Handled It?

I want to share with you an experience I had yesterday as a conversation starter. I'd really like to know how you might have handled this. I may vent a little as we go along, so this is likely also therapy for me. I'll try to keep it PG. Angry businessman looking at his phone handset

© WavebreakmediaMicro - Fotolia.com

Act One

I had recently applied for health insurance as an individual (not as a member of a group) for my family. My company's plans are pretty pricey and I wanted to see if there was a cheaper alternative, since I pay 100% of the premium myself anyway.

So I contacted Zander Insurance like a good little Ramsey acolyte, who sent me over to ehealthinsurance.com since they don't write coverage in my state. I filled out an application for a policy with Aetna and sat back to wait.

Act Two

What followed were a string of phone calls and emails as they tried to gather more information on every single person in the family. My wife was hounded for several days while we had company in town about getting to a doctor for a blood pressure reading. We got so many phone calls and email follow-ups, it was hard to know whether we still needed to contact them again or if everything had been handled.

Finally, I received a "Welcome to Aetna" email, followed quickly by a "We've been trying to contact you but haven't been successful" email. Now, I have caller ID and a virtual PBX on every phone, so I know no one tried to call. I rang them back to find out that we had been approved, but only for 3 of the 4 of us. I had been disqualified for a pre-existing condition.

I indicated that I had another application out and would let them know when I heard back. They said thanks.

And then they charged me for a month's premium, 36 days before coverage was to begin.

Act Three

Surprise!

I rang ehealthinsurance.com to complain and ask for help. They spent most of the call saying, "Well, if you'd let me explain" and "It's perfectly legal in Virginia". I was livid at being charged for a product I hadn't actually accepted, legal or otherwise, and my agent's insistence on taking the carrier's side didn't do anything to alleviate my disappointment.

I've withdrawn my application with Aetna and now get to wait up to 10 days for a refund of that premium. Great, thanks. That doesn't impact my budget at all....

I honestly don't know who has disappointed me more -- Aetna, for charging me in full for a product I was just considering under the guise of "hey, we can legally do that" or ehealthinsurance for failing completely to understand that I, their customer, was hurting and needed to have my pain heard by someone who could understand and do something about it besides defend the ones who hurt me.

How about you? How might you have handled this, either in my shoes, Aetna's, or ehealthinsurance's? Leave a comment and let's talk about it!