Pick Fewer Battles

Pick your battles. Pick fewer battles. No, fewer than that.

While it is difficult to quantify, managerial talent is a limited resource. As a manager, you cannot observe, counter, and address all behaviors. You have to choose.

Further, the people you lead cannot make changes on multiple fronts at once. Most of the time, all of us, however ambitious, can only make small and incremental change.

The task of a manager is to identify which changes lead to the most positive outcomes and iterate through the process as rapidly as the recipient can manage.

Contact center work provides easy illustrations of this. A common case is an employee who takes too long to process calls compared to the norm and at the same time fails to provide the customer experience your organization expects. Coach to both and fail at both.

The better path lies in identifying behaviors that are likely to improve both the employee’s efficiency and customer experience delivery while having a conversation that’s focused on a single goal. For example, “John” needs to take additional time understanding the needs of the customer by listening more. You know this will likely lead to more efficient answers delivered correctly the first time as well as improved customer experience. But if you tell John they need to give better customer experience and speed their calls up by 2 minutes, John is likely to become more curt rather than more engaging.

But let’s be clear: John needs to fix both. As a manager, you must iterate quickly to reach the goals. A coaching plan is going to look aggressive with nearly daily contact.

Monday AM Coaching conversation – 30 mins. Identify behaviors, secure commitment to attempt modified behavior
Monday PM Evaluate effectiveness – 30 mins. Did John try? Did it work?
Monday PM Deliver feedback – 10 mins. Reset expectations if needed, praise for accomplishments in effort and outcome
Tuesday AM Reset intention with John – 10 mins.
Tuesday PM Evaluate effectiveness – 30 mins. Did John try? Did it work?
Tuesday PM Deliver feedback – 10 minutes. Reset expectations if needed, praise for accomplishments in effort and outcome

Keep it up. By Wednesday or Thursday John should be getting this down so much it’s a habit. It would be harder for them to go back to their old ways than to keep doing the new behavior. As soon as the first behavior is secured, start on the next one.

And you have to do this with multiple employees simultaneously. So you need to think carefully about who gets your managerial bandwidth and what you can accomplish with it.

Think about all the opportunities to coach and develop your employees. Write them all down in order of most impactful to least, then tear off the bottom two-thirds of your paper and put it in the shredder. What you’ve got left, plan it out and follow through.

The value you have as a leader is often determined not by what you do but by what you choose to leave undone.

"It will be Okay" Photo Credit: Scott Ackerman // https://preview.tinyurl.com/ybfqm845

Why Customer Experience?

On a cold December morning when I was 22 years old, I made a stupid mistake and lost my debit card. I had $520 to my name–just enough for rent and food for myself and my expecting wife. By the time I realized my mistake and called my bank, I was scared, furious, and sure that the little bit of foothold I had made in life was about to crumble.

After two fraudulent charges equal to the majority of the money in my account were confirmed, I was transferred to a fraud specialist. Long moments passed…

“Miss Emmons, I’ve reviewed your account and I understand the situation. I want you to know you aren’t liable for unauthorized charges, and we’ll get your funds back to you within 24 hours. It’s great that you called us so soon.  I’m going to need your help to verify a few things. I’m going to ask you about a few transactions, okay?”

By the time the representative was done talking, I was calm. I felt like I was a hero. This type of thing happens to a lot of people. I was smart and responsible. I took care of it right away. I had made a good choice of a banking institution. In a few quick sentences, less than a hundred words, the trajectory of my life changed. The representative didn’t do me any special favors. They simply enacted policy but in the context of providing a great customer experience in a difficult situation.

I wasn’t a high-value customer. I wasn’t on anyone’s preferred customer list. I had negative net worth. But I was given a transformative experience instead of a transactional one.

It’s been nearly twenty years since that event. I have obtained home mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, money market accounts several times over. And I call that same bank first every time.

Customer Experience allows us to channel the power of business to make meaningful impacts at key moments in our customers’ lives. Today, maybe they are just paying a bill or setting up a reservation. But we are always on the very edge of intercepting a customer at just the right moment when a simple act of service and a little precise framing can make all the difference.

I live and breathe Customer Experience because it is where we impact lives.


Let’s go to the Whiteboard: It’s okay to be afraid.

You’ve probably seen this before:


The idea here is that if you are always comfortable you aren’t really learning. But there is a line out there that you shouldn’t step over, or you’ll be panic and stressed.

But here’s the thing, that line between learning and panic? It doesn’t exist. You aren’t going to know if you’re just uncomfortable and okay, or if things are really bad.Untitled

The moment you step outside of what you’ve currently got a handle on (Comfort Zone), your fear and anxiety are going to increase, but you are going to start learning.

And the more you are learning, the less you’ll know what you are doing, and the more fear you will experience.

So, if you want to learn rapidly and advance quickly, get used to feelings of uncertainty. Get okay with the inevitable failure of some of your endeavors because you’ve strayed too far from what you know. That’s where you learn.

You’ll see your peers less stressed, and they’ll seem to have an easy go of it. That’s okay. You didn’t sign up for this because it was easy. All the fun stuff is happening outside of what you’ve already mastered. It won’t be long before you’ve got a few failures and many successes under your belt and you will have outpaced them.

The better you can manage your fear, the farther you can go.

Tips for Managing Fear:2018-09-20_10h36_46

1 – Realize you are going to be afraid. It’s not going to go away.

2- Know the purpose of your fear. Your fear is trying to protect you from harm. Your fear is like an overprotective parent. It has your best interest in mind but doesn’t know what you are capable of.

3 – Self-talk: Tell your fear, “I know you are trying to help me, but its okay, I got this.”

4 – Tell yourself often, “If I’m afraid of it, I should probably do it.”

5 – Whatever you are afraid of, do it anyway.

That last one is so important. The first time you deliver a presentation, you will be terrified. The 100th time, it will just be a random Tuesday. Humans have a great capacity for habituation. Habituation is the reduction of emotional response to something that happens frequently. Remember the first time you drove a car? Sheer terror. Did you even think about your drive into work today?

Leaders manage their fear and operate well outside their comfort zone.

Chalk Street Artist // Photo Credit: Tomasz Baranowski https://www.flickr.com/photos/155376904@N07/

The First Principle of Leadership: It’s About You.

The first principle of leadership: it’s about you.

Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Artists create art because they are compelled to. Scientists discover new things because they are compelled to. Leaders lead because they are compelled to. The general good that the world receives from Artists, Scientists, and Leaders is not the cause of these identities but the result. If you lead, you lead because you must. And it’s about you. Getting that confused will lead to well-intentioned, but ultimately destructive ends for you and those whom you catch in your wake.

Many leadership fads obscure this truth, and you’ve probably encountered them.


Well, yes. When I was in first grade I made a tree out of glue and torn construction paper. For my first grade self, it was pretty good. My check from the National Endowment for the Arts has yet to arrive. All of us make art, and some of us are artists. I wouldn’t sully the name of Rembrandt and Monet by including me in their company. It was a really good tree though. Hardly any extra glue.


Servant Leadership is the idea that our primary responsibility as a leader is to serve the people who work for us. Servant Leadership has obtained a nearly cult-like following. The waiter who brings you your food serves you your food. They do not choose your food for you. They do not play an integral role in helping you consume it. They do not pay for it. There is nothing wrong with service–we should all be willing to serve others. But service is drawn from a different well than leadership.

If you are compelled to make people’s lives better by looking after their well being and providing for their wants and needs, you are putting yourself in a weak position to make the tough calls that leaders need to make.

For example, it’s difficult to justify taking someone’s livelihood from them through termination as an “act of service”. Leaders call shots. Servants deliver the target.

But one more very important point.

It’s not about you.

I know what I just said, hang on. Leadership for personal vanity, gain, kingdom building, exploiting others? That’s abuse and selfishness masquerading as leadership. Leadership is an art as well as a science. We pull the strength to do it from the same place. We push toward ends that would not otherwise be organized and achieved because we must. And the most valuable part of what we do is care for the people in our trust. We reverence them like the scientist reverences the concepts that make their work possible. We treasure and care for them as an artist cares for the ideas and questions that make their work possible.

We direct who we are and what we must do to ends that could not be completed without us. In our pursuits, we care for the people in our charge to help them achieve their goals along with ours.

We are leaders because we are compelled to be. We lead because we must.

This Is How We Lead

Getting over Conflict Avoidance – Part 1

We don’t want to be seen as a person who backs down from a fight. Yet, we often avoid saying the hard things because we don’t want to make waves. Suit up. This is business. Conflict is what leaders do.

Notice when you are avoiding conflict

It’s hard to change a behavior in yourself without being aware of the behavior at a conscious level. This means the first step is going to be gaining personal awareness. To accomplish this set aside some time daily for self-reflection.

Take a few minutes on your commute home. Thinking back to your day, are you aware of any time you avoided engaging where you should have? Would an outside observer have a different opinion of your interactions? If you find that you’ve avoided conflict, it’s important not to scold yourself over it. You are giving yourself feedback here. It’s not about the past, it’s about the future. Note the occurrence, and commit to a plan to do it differently next time.