Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Sat, 30 Apr 2016 14:42:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.11 Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Bill Zipp no Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://billzipponbusiness.com Focus and Flow: Secrets to Spending the Time of Your Life http://billzipponbusiness.com/focus-and-flow/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/focus-and-flow/#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2016 07:00:55 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=5020 Walk into any mall in any city in America and you’ll be confronted with a dizzying array of things to buy. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, furniture, watches, computers, televisions, and enough food to feed an army (or two or three or four). Try to buy everything that catches your eye, and you’ll soon end up broke […]

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Walk into any mall in any city in America and you’ll be confronted with a dizzying array of things to buy. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, furniture, watches, computers, televisions, and enough food to feed an army (or two or three or four).

Try to buy everything that catches your eye, and you’ll soon end up broke and bankrupt.

ThailandMall

The current climate in which we live and work has a similar dynamic. A dizzying array of things to do—meetings, tasks, texts, email, dates, and deadlines—confront us every minute of every day. Try to fit them all in, and you’ll end up emotionally broke and physically bankrupt.

There are two secrets to surviving, and even thriving, in this 24/7 tsunami: focus and flow. Here’s how each works:

The First Secret: Focus

This first secret asks a simple question, “What are the most important things of the most important things in your life?” Asking this question in a repeated, rigorous way applies focus to the myriad of options available to you and how you spend your time.

It’s like setting a budget before you go to the mall. A budget, not because you’re cheap (Okay, you may be cheap, but that’s a different story), but because you have important financial priorities you want to be true to no matter what.

This is a question with two parts. The first part asks what the most important things are in your life. But that’s not enough. The second part of the question sharpens your focus even more.

Being in good physical shape may be an important priority to you. But there are dozens of ways in which to do that. Which one will you choose? Likewise, giving back to the community in service to others may be something that rises to the top of your list, but how exactly will you do that?

That’s why this question doubles down on the most important things of the most important things. The point is to uncover the absolute highest priorities of your life and leadership, not just passing interests.

No one can answer this question for you. And don’t let them. That’s where much of our busyness comes from, fulfilling the expectations of others and not following our own voice, blazing our own trail.

Having answered this question, the next question to answer is: What are you going to do about it? That is, if these are your highest priorities, what goals will you set to get them done? It’s one thing to have a dream, quite another to give that dream a deadline.

The first part of the focus question is aspirational, even idealistic. But the second part is real, measurable, and practical. Vision is the ongoing mission for the key areas of your life, goals are the plan that emerges from your mission each and every year.

The Second Secret: Flow

Armed now with your vision and your goals—dreams with deadlines—secret two, flow, now comes to the party.

Flow is very different than focus but just as important to the process. Focus selects from a myriad of options what is to be done, flow now takes those selections and makes them work in real time.

focus and flow

Focus is cool and calculating, almost ruthless in pruning unimportant activities from our life. Flow, however, is emotional, even is artistic, allowing those activities to flourish.

Flow is a term pioneered by the legendary Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his groundbreaking book by the same name. It refers to a state of optimal experience where we’re doing something that captures our attention and consumes our imagination, seemingly without exerting any effort whatsoever.

Flow challenges us without breaking us, keeping us from boredom without burning us out. In a state of flow, time stands still and work feels like play.

The great misconception about flow, however, is that it’s a random occurrence, a mystical event that comes and goes like a mirage. This isn’t the case. We create the conditions for flow to exist by spending protected time on the things that give us energy.

Experiencing flow on a consistent basis is the result of wise planning, not dumb luck.

In this way focus leads to flow. In other words, focus culls from all the things we could do, the things we must do because they are our highest priorities: the things we believe in deeply, the things that give us joy. Flow then makes time for these things so we actually do them.

The process looks like this: vision becomes goals, and goals become steps of action we place in our calendar, protected from the demands of others that would derail them. This practice is known by a decidedly un-flowlike term, time blocking, but it’s a central discipline that allows optimal experience to take place.

I time block sales calls and writing sessions, exercise workouts and date nights by scheduling them in my calendar each week as uninterruptable events. I do this because they are the most important things of the most important things in my personal and professional life.

MORE: How to Make the Most of Every Week in 60 Minutes or Less

When a week doesn’t flow, we must discover why and make the necessary corrections. If we don’t, more weeks will be wasted, and along with them, ultimately, our very lives. If the unexamined life is not worth living, neither is the unexamined week.

The Real Power of Personal Productivity

Which brings us to the real power of personal productivity. The real power of personal productivity is not to see how much crap we can cram into a day. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s real power is to uncover the things we feel most deeply about, our passions and priorities, and give them the protected time they need to grow and flourish.

This is the secret to surviving, and even thriving, in the crazy-busy world in which we live and how to spend this precious thing called time: find your focus and give it flow, every day of every week.

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The Angry Leader: Critical Lessons from C-Suite Meltdowns http://billzipponbusiness.com/angry-leader/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/angry-leader/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2016 08:00:36 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=5001 It started with an earthquake. Then came the tsunami. A giant 50-foot wave overwhelmed the seawall at the Fukushima Power Plant and flooded generators cooling the cores. In rapid succession, three nuclear reactors melted down. That tragic event happened five years ago this month. Thousands lost their lives and the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl […]

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It started with an earthquake.

Then came the tsunami.

A giant 50-foot wave overwhelmed the seawall at the Fukushima Power Plant and flooded generators cooling the cores. In rapid succession, three nuclear reactors melted down.

That tragic event happened five years ago this month. Thousands lost their lives and the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred as a result.

The word “meltdown” could be used for some of the behavior I’ve witnessed in C-suite boardrooms. An earthquake, of sorts, occurs, perhaps a sales forecast missed or a financial detail dropped. Troubling, yes, but not tragic. Yet.

But then there’s the response to the earthquake, a tsunami of emotion and accusation, which, in turns, results in more reaction and more accusation. Soon everyone is flooded with emotion and the fallout affects the entire organization.

angry_leader

Here are three critical lessons from the C-suite meltdowns I’ve seen as an executive coach and consultant:

Lesson One: Anger Feels Good but Fails Badly

For most of us, it feels good to get angry. In the moment, at least (some of us feel guilty afterwards). We feel powerful, strong, and even righteous in expressing our point of view vociferously.

As cathartic as it might feel to vent our anger in a meeting, the results are always destructive. There are a dozen different reasons for this, but here’s the main one: it injects fear into the organization.

And fear doesn’t deliver world class performance.

Fear forces people to think only of short term results (alleviating the source of fear). It keeps them from taking risks, for fear of failure and punishment, and closes their mind to creative alternatives. Anxiety and creativity do not coexist.

Think of it this way. People run really, really fast for two reasons. To get away from a snarling German shepherd and to win a gold medal. With the former, people stop running the minute the German Shepherd is gone. With the latter, they’ll run year after year after year to get better and beat the competition.

Which of those two options do you want in your company?

Lesson Two: You Get What You Ask For but Not What You Want

Of course, the natural consequence of fear is compliance. That is, the sheer force of fear makes people do what you say. Immediately, without thinking.

But is that what you really want? People acting without thinking? Is this the kind of business you want to build, a collection of people who look to you to tell them what to do, fearful of taking independent action?

I didn’t think so.

But that’s what the phrase “you get what you ask for but not what you want” means. You want strong, strategic thinkers who bring all their energy and creativity to the table to meet the challenges of the marketplace. Anger short-circuits all that.

Again, anxiety and creativity do not coexist. Neither do enforcement and empowerment. Nor personal accusation and open discussion.

Lesson Three: Anger Poisons Its Possessor

Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Anger has a similar effect. The more we give in to anger, the more we get angry. And the more we get angry, the more we become an angry leader, managing people through fear, intimidation, and exploitation.

Like most things in life, anger is something that happens. It’s part of the human experience. The goal is not to eliminate it—that really can’t be done—but to control it. To manage it. To keep it from hijacking the airplane of our leadership and crashing it into the ground.

Here’s the alternative, then, to the emotional hijacking anger can cause.

Anger’s Alternative: Stop. Be Safe. Be Sound.

Anger is part of the emergency response system that’s been built into our brain. It’s the fight side of the fight or flight reaction we feel in a threatening situation. It’s a primal emotion and not our best foot forward in most circumstances.

The adrenaline that surges through our veins when we’re angry (much like a tsunami) can overwhelm us and cause us to say things and do things we regret later. Really stupid things.

When that overwhelming impulse to act flows through you, stop. Do nothing. Get control of your emotions before you say anything, before you do anything.

Then be safe. That is, attend to the dynamics of the relationship before addressing the issue at hand. Set a context where your words can be heard.

Listen before you speak. Understand before you try being understood. If you’ve contributed to the problem at hand, own it. Say you’re sorry.

Then, when it’s time for you to speak: be sound. State your point of view clearly, plainly, factually. And be brief.

The tendency we have when operating under the influence of adrenaline is to exaggerate, to press our position too hard and go on and on and on. This is not sound and will cause people to reject in its entirely what we have to say.

Safe_Sound

Here’s some advice I was once given about my tendency to go on and on and on in a tense situation, “Stand up, speak up, and shut up.” Not bad advice.

Are you an an angry leader? Here’s my warning: it will ruin the very business you’re trying to build. And it will ruin your life. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the wisdom of Solomon, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds in back.”

In other words, stop. Be safe. Be sound.

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How to Win the Morning: The CEO Solution http://billzipponbusiness.com/morning-practice/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/morning-practice/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 08:00:48 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4971 There she sat across the table from me. Frazzled, frustrated, and utterly exhausted. This gifted, passionate leader had been the CEO of her company for only a few months, but she was already running on empty. And wondering … Wondering if the role was right for her. Wondering if she had what it takes to […]

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There she sat across the table from me. Frazzled, frustrated, and utterly exhausted.

This gifted, passionate leader had been the CEO of her company for only a few months, but she was already running on empty.

And wondering …

Wondering if the role was right for her. Wondering if she had what it takes to lead at this level. Wondering if all her hard work really mattered anyway.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But no. No to how she was going about it: waking up, smartphone in hand, texting, emailing, and getting the latest news before her first cup of coffee. And continuing her mad dash through the day, collapsing in bed just before midnight, smartphone in hand again. Busy business

This is a recipe for disaster, physically and emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So I shared with her what I’ve come to call The CEO Solution.

The CEO Solution is based on a powerful principle that effective leaders for centuries have followed. Make the very first hour (or so) of your day a protected, private time of personal reflection and strategic preparation.

In short, win the morning. For when you win the morning, you win the day, and when you win the day—everyday—you win the weeks, the months, and the years of your life and leadership.

So whether you’re a busy CEO, a stressed-out salesperson, or just looking to gain greater control in your life, here’s my approach to this morning practice: four rules and four rhythms.

Win the Morning: Four Rules

1. No Snooze

The first key to winning the morning is refusing to lose to your alarm clock. Every time it goes off and you hit snooze, you’re admitting defeat at the very start of the day.

So rule number one is this: when the alarm clock goes off, get up. No exceptions. No excuses. What that means for most of us is getting ready to win the morning the night before. Turning off the television, shutting down your electronic devices, not drinking too much alcohol, and going to bed at a decent time.

If waking up is a challenge for you, Google the term “sleep hygiene” and follow the instructions you find. Or read the brilliant book The Promise of Sleep by the pioneer in sleep research,  Dr. William Dement.

2. No News

The second rule involves not injecting yourself with the drug of adrenaline at the very start of the day.

“If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead,” is an newsroom mantra for a reason. News is about the latest emergency. Breaking headlines scream crisis, crisis, crisis. And if there’s no crisis to report, one will be made up.

This is not how you want to begin your day because crisis kills creativity and short-term urgencies undermine long-term priorities. Feel free to read the news later in the day, just don’t start with it.

3. No Email

For similar reasons, the first hour of your day should not be spent answering email (or posting on social media).

“Once you start looking at email, the whole day cascades into email responses and replying back and forth,” writes Laura Vanderkam in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

Urgency, not priority. Crisis, not creativity. Don’t start any day this way. Again, after your morning practice, take the time to answer your email. But not before.

4. No Cheating

This final rule is like the eleventh commandment. What’s the eleventh commandment? Do the first ten!

In other words, don’t cheat on the above rules. And I know that’s easier said than done, adrenaline can become an addiction and checking email an obsession. As with any bad habit, though, its power must be broken or your life is not your own.

Win the Morning: Four Rhythms

1. Read and Reflect

What do you do instead of reading the news, checking email, and posting on social media first thing in the morning? Read and reflect.

Feed your mind. Feed your soul. Feed your spirit.

While you’re Googling sleep hygiene, Google the term “sinkhole” as well. What you’ll find is extraordinary video footage of the ground swallowing up roads, houses, cars, and anything else in its path.

What happens with a sinkhole is ground water below the surface of the earth dries up and things above the surface collapse into it. It’s a crisis affecting states like California and Florida that have been overrun with commercial development. Get the point?

Your outer world is entirely dependent on your inner world to survive.

Reading and reflecting is the first 30 minutes of my morning practice. I read the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs in their entirety once a year and write in my journal the thoughts and prayers that flow from them. Your spiritual tradition may be different, but the principle is the same: the perspective of eternity is where to start with time.

2. Exercise

Having fed my soul and spirit, the next 30 minutes of my morning practice involves physical exercise.

Exercise is another one of those below the surface activities in our inner world that our outer world is entirely dependent upon. A sudden heart attack or a case of chronic depression is often the collapse of a sinkhole in a life that’s not attended to the priority of physical health.

It doesn’t take much, but 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, some strength training and stretching, and I’m energized for the day. If I need a longer run or a more extensive workout, I’ll do it later in the afternoon or on the weekend.

While leaders of past centuries don’t mention health club memberships and elliptical machines as part of their morning practice, they didn’t live the sedentary sitting life we do today. That’s why exercise is one of the four rhythms and the morning the best time of day for most of us to succeed in it.

3. Review Your Vision

Now it’s time to think about work. But not its pressing problems. Reviewing vision is about looking at your strategic priorities. The demands of the day should always be filtered through a larger lens, the view from 30,000 feet.

“Concentration—that is, the courage to impose what really matters most and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of mastering time and events instead of being their whipping boy,” Peter Drucker wrote four decades ago in The Effective Executive. His words are even more true today.

Impose what matters most and comes first by writing out your vision and reviewing it every day. Keep it simple and powerful. Vision is what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you’re going to get it done. That’s it.

I have statements like these for each area of my life and make them an integral part of my morning practice (instead of being the whipping boy of time and events).

4. Focus on Execution

You’re now ready to plan the day, but in a different way than perhaps you’re used to. Instead of having a long list of things to do and whacking at that list like a slab of meat, take a different approach.

Ask yourself, “What’s the most important things I can do today to fulfill my highest priorities?”

Pick five or fewer, three might even be best, and write them down. You can use a 3×5 card, an app on your smartphone, or a dry erasable board on the wall. Whatever method you use, these five (or fewer) are your focus for the day.

I call these items VIT’s: Very Important Tasks. They’re not the only things you’ll do in the day for sure. But they’re the first things. The most important things. The things that are aligned with your strategic vision for all the areas of your life.

The cumulative effect of five VIT’s getting done everyday without fail has a profound effect on personal and professional productivity. You’ll be amazed at the difference focusing on the execution of a vital few priorities will have on being more successful as a leader, instead doing a dozen things half-way.

MORE: Three Powerful Steps to Make the Most of Every Day

Here’s another piece of wisdom from Peter Drucker, this from an interview with Forbes magazine, “The pressure on leaders to do 984 different things is unbearable, so the effective ones learn how to say no and stick with it. They don’t suffocate themselves as a result. Too many leaders try to do a little bit of 25 things and get nothing done. They are very popular because they always say yes. But they get nothing done.”

Don’t be that kind of leader.

Strengthen your “no” muscle first thing every morning. That’s how you’ll get stuff done. The important stuff, the high priority stuff, the stuff that really needs doing.

Are you in?

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Culture: The One Thing That Changes Everything http://billzipponbusiness.com/culture-the-one-thing-that-changes-everything/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/culture-the-one-thing-that-changes-everything/#comments Tue, 15 Dec 2015 08:00:02 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4896 It’s not enough to just be in business. There may have been a time when that was enough (maybe), but not anymore. To just be in business means that you just provide a job to your employees, just provide a product to your customers, and just provide shelf space to your vendors. The problem is, […]

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One thingIt’s not enough to just be in business.

There may have been a time when that was enough (maybe), but not anymore.

To just be in business means that you just provide a job to your employees, just provide a product to your customers, and just provide shelf space to your vendors.

The problem is, employees today are looking for more than a job, they’re looking for a cause they can commit to with all their heart and soul.

Customers today are looking for more than a product, they’re looking for a company they can believe in and recommend freely to family and friends.

And vendors today are looking for more than just another retail channel, they’re looking for strategic partners with whom they can build a long term business relationship.

Businesses that are just in business don’t last long in this new reality. Try telling today’s customer that you can’t respond to their request because, “It’s not our policy.” Gone is what they’ll be, to someone else who will.

And that’s a good thing. A very good thing. But it means doing business differently.

Are You Ready for Different?

Different means this. It means creating a culture at the core of your company that makes your business a movement, not a half-hearted attempt at making money. Culture motivates the people who work for you to give one-hundred percent effort, one-hundred percent of the time and inspires loyalty in customers like a religious experience.

This is Southwest making travel fun. This is Nike making life an adventure. This is Apple making technology elegant and simple.

Culture also makes money. Southwest … Nike … Apple. All money making enterprises, am I right? But money didn’t come first with any of those companies. Culture came first, then money. Lots of it.

What Is Culture?

What is culture? Quite simply, it’s the internal operating system of your company.

We all love a good app, don’t we? It may be a game, a social media site, a to-do list manager, or a news aggregator. We have our favorites and use them every day, many times a day.

No app in the world, however, can make up for a bad operating system. If the operating system on your smartphone is slow, out of date, or simply broken beyond repair, an app won’t work no matter how amazing it is.

In the business world there are apps as well—marketing, sales, production, service—and there’s the operating system. Culture is that operating system. The best product at the best price brought to the marketplace with the most brilliant plan cannot overcome the destructive power of a broken culture.

Or, in the words of Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

And this is where to begin in leadership, because the impact of culture is all pervasive. Rather than having it be an occasional concern, successful executives make culture their top priority and enjoy world-class performance as a result.

Two Keys to Culture

Culture really isn’t that complicated. Your internal operating system is driven by two things: beliefs and behavior.

Keys to Culture

Beliefs come first. They’re the values your company embraces at its very core. Beliefs are what your firm says it will do no matter what, the most important things of the most important things. These are what define your company’s character.

Behavior follows beliefs. It’s what you actually do as a company about what you say you will do. Not mere words on a page or a plaque on the wall, but the actions you take based on your values. Consistency of character. Practicing what you preach.

It’s a beautiful thing when behavior and beliefs are aligned. Customers feel the difference and employees give their all. The expectations they have about your company meet their actual experience. Imagine that?

The converse is painful.

At the college I attended, the dean’s birthday was Clash Day. What we did on Clash Day was express our “love” for the dean by wearing clothes with colors that clashed terribly. We marched around as clowns on campus in repelling outfits with offensive color combinations.

For some companies, everyday is Clash Day between what they say they will do and what they actually do, between the things they espouse and the actions they take. As a result, they repel employees and customers alike.

As you come to the end of this year as a leader and consider the opportunity of the next twelve months that lie ahead, ask yourself these questions. How’s the culture at your company? How well are its beliefs and its behavior aligned? What can you do about it?

It’s the one thing that changes everything.

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Stop Using ABC and Start Using ABG http://billzipponbusiness.com/stop-using-always-be-closing/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/stop-using-always-be-closing/#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2015 08:00:12 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4884 Classic sales dogma says this: ABC. Always be closing. If you’re still following that acronym, please stop. Now. You’re ruining sales for the rest of us. Replace it with this: ABG. Always be giving. ABG Versus ABC Here are four critical differences between ABG and ABC: Always be giving starts by providing important, valuable information […]

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Classic sales dogma says this: ABC. Always be closing.

If you’re still following that acronym, please stop. Now. You’re ruining sales for the rest of us.

Replace it with this: ABG. Always be giving.

ABG Versus ABC

Here are four critical differences between ABG and ABC:

Always be giving starts by providing important, valuable information with your prospects. Information they would pay for, but you provide free to build a trusting, professional relationship. Always be closing pushes and pushes and pushes for a deal, destroying the buyer-seller relationship.

Always be giving infuses sales calls with helpful content that prospects look forward to receiving. Imagine that, a prospect welcoming your sales efforts because they’re consistently helpful and informative. Always be closing irritates and alienates buyers, eventually burning every lead on your list.

stop using always be closing

Always be giving qualifies prospects and improves the quality of your pipeline. As prospects consume the valuable information you’re providing, they start moving through the sales process without even realizing it. Always be closing teaches prospects to say “no” at the very start of the sales process, resisting any attempts to move further in it.

And finally, always be giving makes sales fun and rewarding. Your sales week involves genuinely offering help to people with their pressing business needs. Always be closing sets you up as an adversary to the buyer, someone you must conquer and kill. Not fun.

Is Closing Dead?

Given the dynamics described above, is closing dead? No, it’s just different.

Buyers are more sophisticated than ever before and won’t be hoodwinked or pressured into a sale. If you try, they’ll go down the street (or to the Internet).

But buyers are still human beings, and human beings need the occasional poke and prod to help them do what’s in their best interest. So once you’ve established a trusting relationship using ABG, leverage that relationship to close a deal through legitimate methods like multiple pricing options, impending deadlines, usage scenarios, and limited trials periods.

Use these closing techniques not as manipulation, but, again, as ways to help prospects do what’s in their best interest. And, because you’ve built the platform of a trusting relationship by giving and giving, that platform can hold the weight of your request.

Giving first, then receiving. What a concept! It’s a revolutionary approach to sales that the best sales professionals are using to hit their number every week, every month, every quarter, every year.

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Make Your Point in Print: Five Powerful Writing Tricks http://billzipponbusiness.com/five-writing-tricks/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/five-writing-tricks/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 07:00:00 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4825 There it is: the blank screen. Staring at you. Mocking you. Daring you to write something that will actually be read. Daring you to write something that will be taken seriously and acted upon. It may be an email, a report, a letter, a blog post, or any one of a dozen forms of written […]

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There it is: the blank screen. Staring at you. Mocking you. Daring you to write something that will actually be read. Daring you to write something that will be taken seriously and acted upon.

computer-screen

It may be an email, a report, a letter, a blog post, or any one of a dozen forms of written communication executive leaders must master today.

And there you sit. Stuck. Afflicted, not with writer’s block (You’ve got plenty to write about. Too much to write about, in fact), but with writer’s doubt. “Will anybody ever read this?” you wonder. “Will it make a difference if they do?”

You’re in good company. Legions of leaders like yourself have stared at the blank screen, desperately needing to communicate through the written word, doubting if any of it will break through the clutter. It’s like what you have to say is a tiny drop of water in a massive ocean of meaningless communication.

So here’s help for your blank screen moments. The top five tricks expert writers use to make their point in print. Use them yourself, with utter and complete abandon, to have your words pop on the page.

Writing Trick One: Tell a Story

Since the dawn of time, stories have been used as a means of communication in every culture. Aesop has his fables, Shakespeare his plays, and Ted his talks.

As a professional speaker, I’ll meet people who heard me speak years prior, and they’ll recite—nearly word for word—a story I told in a previous address (Sadly, not my fabulous three point outline).

That’s the power of a great story.

Consider the beginning of this article. I could’ve stared with the words, “There are five tricks experts writers use to make their point.” But I didn’t. I started with a story, a story about a blank screen.

Stories draw people in. They spark human emotion and illustrate truth in a compelling way. Use them well.

MORE: Nail Your Next Presentation: Tell a Great Story

Writing Trick Two: Twist a Phrase

This is one of the niftiest tricks expert writers use to make their point in print. They take a well-worn phrase and twist it. This trick is eye-catching, attention-grabbing, and exceedingly memorable. Good writing all.

It’s “Ready, Fire, Aim” instead of “Ready, Aim, Fire.” It’s “The War of Art” instead of “The Art of War.” It’s Warren Buffet’s brilliant, “You can’t teach a young dog old tricks.”

To twist a phrase, identify the main point of your writing piece. Explore sayings that could be used to disprove the point. Now twist one to, in fact, prove your point.

I once read a statement on LinkedIn that said, “I survived a meeting that should have been an email.” So I wrote an article on the overuse of email when communicating emotional information, using the words, “I survived an email that should have been a meeting.”

That’s how you twist a phrase.

Writing Trick Three: Break the Rules

Some of the rules we learned in Composition 101 still haunt us today:

  • A complete sentence has a subject and a predicate.
  • A complete paragraph has a topic sentence, supported by complete sentences that have a subject and a predicate.
  • A complete piece of writing has an introduction with a thesis statement, the logical development of the thesis statement, and a conclusion that recapitulates the thesis statement.

Now yawn.

And forget them all (along with never start a sentence with a conjunction). Write like you speak, in short spurts and dramatic exclamations. Not in thesis statements and puritanical subjects and predicates.

Break. The. Rules.

Writing Trick Four: Keep It Short

While you’re breaking the rules of grammar, don’t break this rule: keep it short.

The most limited resource in business today is not time or money. The most limited resource in business today is attention. We fight for ever-shrinking mind-share, and to get it we must practice pith to make our point.

Here’s a quick quiz. How long is the Gettysburg address? 272 words. How long is the Lord’s Prayer? 52 words. How long is the United States Tax Code? 5.5 million words. I rest my case.

Ann Handley in her best-selling book, Everybody Writes, gives these guidelines on the ideal length of things we write as business leaders:

  • Email Subject Line: 50 characters or less
  • Email: 4 paragraphs or less
  • Paragraph: 4 lines or less
  • Blog post: 1000 words or less
  • Facebook post: 100-140 characters
  • Twitter post: 120-130 characters

Writing Trick Five: Always Call to Action

In this context ACA doesn’t stand for the Affordable Care Act, but something far more effective (and much more affordable). ACA: Always Call to Action.

Expert writers know words pop on the page when they ask readers to do something. Not a dozen somethings, but one specific, strategic something. Cut writing off from this practice, and all you have are mere theories, passive ideas that never change the world.

Business writing is persuasive writing, and all good persuasive writing focuses like a laser on the next immediate step. For every piece of written communication you produce, ask, “What do I want the reader to do?” Then state it clearly, practically, unequivocally.

What’s your next immediate step after reading this article? You’re probably reading it on your computer or smartphone when you could be reading it in your inbox. So I’m asking you sign up to receive my blog on business, leadership, and life by email. Newsletters will come every couple of weeks, and I’ll never give away your contact information to anyone else. Ever.

To reward (bribe?) you for taking this action, I’ll give you my 20-page eBook entitled, How to Build a High Performance Culture in Your Company. Immediately to the right of this column is the sign-up form. Go there. Now. Thank you.

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Why Should Anyone Trust You as a Leader? The Truth about Trust http://billzipponbusiness.com/the-truth-about-trust/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/the-truth-about-trust/#comments Tue, 13 Oct 2015 07:00:08 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4812 I’m standing atop a tall building. We walked past the “Danger” and “No Public Access” signs—written in red with big, bold letters—ignoring them like playground children. My feet feel the hard edge of the rooftop line, below me open air. “Trust me, just jump,” words whisper in my ear. “Trust me …” And then I […]

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I’m standing atop a tall building. We walked past the “Danger” and “No Public Access” signs—written in red with big, bold letters—ignoring them like playground children.

My feet feel the hard edge of the rooftop line, below me open air.

“Trust me, just jump,” words whisper in my ear. “Trust me …”

And then I wake up.

It’s a recurring dream of mine. Sometimes I’m on the top of a building, sometimes on the edge of a bridge, sometimes on the side of a cliff.

The meaning of this dream, I’m sure, lies buried in some obscure childhood experience (The flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz perhaps? They really creeped me out.). I never jump. I always wake up with “Trust me” echoing in my brain.

The Truth about Trust

Are you asking your people to do the same?

Are you asking them to take action—action that involves risk, action that involves uncertainty—with only the repeated phrase “Trust me” to cling to?

You’ll get the same results. Inaction.

Trust, of course, is the cornerstone of leadership. No one will do anything for you if you say to them, “Don’t trust me.” But trust is earned over time, not given wantonly. That’s the truth about trust. The way leaders earn it is by embodying three things in full: character, competence, and chemistry. Or what I call the Trust Triad.

Trust Truth One: Character

At the base of the Trust Triad is character. It’s at the base, foundational in force, for a reason. It’s here trust begins. If you, as a leader, can’t be trusted as a person, nothing else matters. Trust Triad Character means that you’re a person of your word: you do what you say you’ll do. It means your people can depend on you and you’d never ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself (like jumping off a building, a bridge, or a cliff). And character means that you act this way when things are going well and when things are going poorly, when you’re having a good day and when you’re having a bad one.

Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden once wrote, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one’s watching.” Wise words from the Wizard of Westwood. That’s the point, isn’t it? Character is not dependent on the public eye to perform. It acts consistent with its core values, even in private.

Trust Truth Two: Competence

But character isn’t enough. We’ve all worked with someone about whom we could say, “He’s a helluva guy, but just doesn’t get stuff done.”

Is that person you?

Don’t let it be. In addition to unquestioned character become a person of unparalleled competence, a person who gets stuff done. Done well. Done completely. Done on time.

Competence has to do with your professional responsibilities and how fully you embrace them. It’s born from a commitment to master the demands of your job, not for ego or self-glorification, but to maximize your influence with others. It’s the platform, so to speak, you stand on to be heard. Being good at what you do leads to increased fellowship. Without exception.

If you’re choosing a doctor to perform open heart surgery, you want someone whom won’t advise a drastic procedure like this unless it was absolutely necessary and won’t add expensive extras to pad profit. But you also want a doctor who won’t accidentally nick an artery and leave you dying on the operating table. In other words, you want someone you can trust, both in their personal character and their professional competence.

People want both in their leaders as well.

Trust Truth Three: Chemistry

The final side of the Trust Triad is chemistry. A squishy word, to be sure, compared to character and competence. But don’t be fooled by its squishiness, it isn’t easy to pull off.

What I mean by chemistry is the ability of a leader to connect with people and spark a relationship. This happens in an instant. A warm smile, a firm handshake, eye contact, and a quick compliment come together to make one powerful chemical compound: human.

A leader who stands aloof, a leader who laughs at others but never at himself, a leader who’s alway busy, bothered, and burdened, won’t be leading for very long. Like a doctor with bad bedside manner, people will go elsewhere.

“But I’m not a people person,” you say. That’s fine if you’re an individual contributor working in an isolated cubicle (maybe). But the minute you took on management responsibilities, you took on the mantle of leadership and the mandate to connect with people. It’s not an option now. Ignore it at your peril.

That doesn’t mean, however, you must become a backslapping extrovert. That rare breed of person who never met a stranger and never forgets a name. Most of us are not that person (Thank God). Each of us connect with people in our own unique way. The important thing is to be true to that voice, comfortable in our skin. It’s authenticity like this the causes people to trust us, again, in an instant.

And that, too, is the truth about trust.

Got Trust?

Do you want your people to trust you more as a leader? It’s one of the most important investments you can make, and, sadly, an investment that gets neglected in favor of more “sexy” pursuits, like strategy and sales. Like a house without foundation, however, these things will collapse if they’re not built on trust.

Building trust is central to my work with executive leaders. If you’re interested in exploring this essential, please travel to the pages at this web site titled Speaking or Consulting, and learn how we can work together to address this top leadership priority.

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Life and Death and the Meaning of Work http://billzipponbusiness.com/life-and-death-and-the-meaning-of-work/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/life-and-death-and-the-meaning-of-work/#comments Tue, 29 Sep 2015 07:00:19 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4797 We’re sitting in the third waiting room of the day. The first was not like a waiting room at all. Its high ceilings, ceramic tile floor, and overstuffed chairs felt more like the foyer of a fancy hotel than the entranceway of a hospital. The second waiting room, with a sign marked “Radiology” hanging above […]

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HospitalWe’re sitting in the third waiting room of the day.

The first was not like a waiting room at all. Its high ceilings, ceramic tile floor, and overstuffed chairs felt more like the foyer of a fancy hotel than the entranceway of a hospital.

The second waiting room, with a sign marked “Radiology” hanging above the door, was dramatically different. Small, wiry chairs jammed into cramped quarters, with faded floors and fluorescent lights assaulting our eyes.

But now we’re in a room that’s a compromise between the two, our home for the next 24 hours. Gone are the oppressive lights, replaced by an industrial iron chandelier. Gone, too, are the ceramic tiles, replaced by dark carpet with an odd square-in-square pattern designed to soothe frayed nerves.

It’s not working.

This was not the original plan for the week of our anniversary, but it became the plan when we heard from our dearest friends the diagnosis no one ever wants to hear: cancer. They had just moved to a new job in a new city in a new state. Too new to have built the relationships needed to walk with them on this path. She with the cancer and he with the impossible job of being able to do absolutely nothing to fix it for her.

So we wait with them in the series of waiting rooms that leads to surgery and the news—we hope and pray—that the cancer is gone and has not traveled to more dangerous destinations.

And I’m thinking. Thinking mostly about the perpetually repeated point that no one on their deathbed wishes they attended more business meetings.

I’m torn by that statement. The business meetings my friend attends provides his family a beautiful home in a beautiful community and health insurance that has taken care of their needs in this difficult time, right down to the most pesky details. The business meetings I attend paid for airplane tickets to travel halfway across the country at a moment’s notice, the rental car we are driving, and the computers I own that allow me to work any time, anywhere.

In other words, much good has come from the business we do, even in the threat of death.

That’s why I’m torn. We live in an either/or world where we seek simplistic solutions to complex problems. We rarely see a both/and alternative for the conflicts that consume us. Both/and is more thoughtful, more nuanced, less amenable to sound bites and click bait.

The both/and solution I’m committed to pursuing is this: professional excellence and personal satisfaction. I don’t accept that we must choose between one or the other. That choice is based on a false belief that professional excellence can be achieved apart from personal satisfaction (It can’t). Or that personal satisfaction is not affected by professional excellence (It is).

This is the meaning of work. It’s part of the skein of color woven into the fabric of life, making it a creative, captivating experience. For people of faith, we know this to be true. In the beginning there was work: be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

This is the responsibility of leadership: to create a culture at work that supports this experience, instead of a culture that rewards either/or destruction of the soul.

The news is good, mostly. No migration of the cancer to other parts of her body. But a year of chemotherapy is needed to be absolutely sure.

A year.

So it looks like we might be back, sitting in another hospital waiting room. We will do it, gladly and gratefully.

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Five Reasons Every Leader Should Keep a Journal http://billzipponbusiness.com/five-reasons-to-keep-a-journal/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/five-reasons-to-keep-a-journal/#comments Tue, 15 Sep 2015 07:09:02 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4778 I just unwrapped the cellophane from a brand new Moleskine journal. I get a thrill every time I break open a new notebook, move the tassel to page one, and embark on filling its 240 acid-free pages. This is Moleskine journal Volume 21, the other 20 five-inch by eight-inch volumes line my shelf like soldiers […]

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keep a journalI just unwrapped the cellophane from a brand new Moleskine journal. I get a thrill every time I break open a new notebook, move the tassel to page one, and embark on filling its 240 acid-free pages.

This is Moleskine journal Volume 21, the other 20 five-inch by eight-inch volumes line my shelf like soldiers at attention. I fill a couple of these notebooks a year, writing in them most every day, and regard this habit as a personal secret to success.

My musings are not the “Dear Diary …” kind of prattle we normally attribute to the practice. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A decade plus of journaling has captured some of my deepest thoughts and most difficult emotions and has helped me process each in the pursuit of leadership excellence. The same can be true for you.

Here are five reasons why every leader should keep a journal, with some practical tips on how to do it.

1. Keep a journal to gain greater focus

This is the first, great gift journal keeping gives to every leader: focus. The pace of business today is so intense that we spin like tops from one meeting to the next and one email to the next with no real sense of purpose or direction.

Writing in a journal 15-30 minutes, three to four times a week allows you to step back from the spinning and look at the bigger picture. It lets you reflect. It forces you to ask the question, “Is what I’m doing right now the most important thing I should be doing right now?”

That’s a focus question, and it’s focus that separates leaders who lead from leaders who drown in the rising tide of demands, details, and deadlines.

And this is why I recommend physical writing in an actual physical notebook using an actual physical pen when you journal, and not digital data entry using an electronic device. The act of writing slows you down. The deliberate motion of pen on paper forces you to reflect in a way that keyboarding at 50 words a minute doesn’t (Okay … 20 words a minute, but you get the idea).

You don’t need to go all Moleskine Hard Cover Ruled Notebook like I do. Any pad of paper and any pen will work. But write, don’t type, and you’ll find greater clarity and gain greater focus as you do.

2. Keep a journal to unravel thorny problems

What do you write about in your journal? Not junior high obsessions about who likes whom (or not) and who’s dissing whom (or will). The first thing to write about are the problems you’re facing as a leader right now.

Why write about problems?

Because when we try to keep problems bottled up inside our head, they have an odd way of getting bigger and bigger. But when we get them down on paper, they become much more manageable, more reasonable, more solve-able, which is, more often than not, the brilliant by-product of jounraling.

Productivity guru David Allen observes, “The mind is for having thoughts not for holding them.” And while he was referring to capturing the natty details of life in a master things-to-do list, the principle applies to life’s bigger issues as well.

3. Keep a journal to process negative emotions

While you’re processing thorny problems in your journal, use the same practice to process negative emotions. This is critical for leaders to do because of the phenomenon known as emotional contagion. I wrote about emotional contagion in a recent blog article, and you can read that article here: How to Sneeze: 10 Keys to Positive Emotional Contagion.

The upshot is that human beings are affected by their external environment, both physically and emotionally. An airborne virus infects people with the cold or flu, and negative emotion infects people with even worse maladies. As leaders we have control over the environment we create, transferring positive or negative emotion to the people we come in contact with.

Which brings us back to journaling.

Instead of sneezing on people—and those people include your family and friends—get the snot out of your system in the pages of your journal. If the same emotions keep creeping up again and again, do some deeper work and find out why. The bottom line, though, is this: you’ll increase the effectiveness of your leadership when you don’t make everyone you work with sick from your bad mood.

4. Keep a journal to make a decision before making a decision

This is perhaps the most practical use of my journal over the years: making decisions before making decisions. Let me explain.

Once an important decision has been made, there’s usually no turning back. The bullet’s been shot and unintended consequences begin to mount. Things you didn’t even think about in the consideration process.

What if there were a way to avoid all that?

Whenever you need to make a critical decision, think it through thoroughly in your journal. Consult others about that decision and record their advice in your journal. Then make that decision in your journal only, not in real life, and live with that decision for a week or two (or even more). Take note during this time of all the repercussions of that decision—feel them in your gut. And if they’re overwhelmingly negative, guess what? You can easily un-decide that decision, because all you did was make it in your journal. No harm, no foul.

More than once this process has spared me from a foolish choice I would have lived to regret.

5. Keep a journal to track progress over time

Four years ago I started long distance running. As I did, I wrote down my workouts and my races in—you guessed it—my journal. What’s great about this written record is that I can go back and see the progress I’ve made over the years, from barely being able to finish my first 5K to completing a half marathon (and the 50 pounds of fat lost in-between).

Daily workouts, as with any daily activity, rarely have this kind of dramatic progress. Progress comes slowly over time, so we easily miss it. And miss the joy it brings to celebrate success.

This is one of the weaknesses in my leadership. With my head down in driver mode, I tend to plow from one project to the next without taking the time to truly enjoy what I’ve completed. The net on this is a giant sucking sound in my soul: debilitating emotional depletion, both within myself and within the people who help me get these projects done.

So this fifth, and certainly not final, reason to keep a journal is to experience more joy in life. To remember to reward yourself. To celebrate more.

So, are you ready? Here’s how to get started keeping a journal:

  • Get a notebook that’s the style and size you like.
  • Get a pen you enjoy writing with.
  • Set aside 15-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week to write in your journal. Put that appointment in your calendar, if you must, to keep it protected from other demands.
  • Write about your leadership challenges (also known as problems), emotions, decisions, and anything else that comes to mind.
  • Write about your reflections on faith and family, time and eternity, and anything else that comes to mind.
  • Record your goals and keep track of their progress, both professionally and personally.
  • Review what you’ve written and write some more.
  • Take your journal with you everywhere you go until it becomes an indispensable part of your leadership.

Even with the practice of regular journal keeping, leading today can be a challenge. Sometimes it helps to have someone outside yourself to process these challenges and hold you accountable for finding solutions, a human, interactive journal (of sorts). That’s what executive coaching is all about, and it’s one of the things I provide leaders like yourself. If this interests you, check out work on executive leadership development and contact me today about getting started.

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How to Sneeze: 10 Keys to Positive Emotional Contagion http://billzipponbusiness.com/positive-emotional-contagion/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/positive-emotional-contagion/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 07:00:13 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4760 I know it’s a disgusting image, but it’s an apt metaphor for effective leadership. Sneezing. If you’ve ever been sneezed on with the full force of spittle in your face, you may not be able to keep reading this post. But please–trust me–the point is powerful. This sudden expulsion of air, traveling at a rate […]

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sneezeI know it’s a disgusting image, but it’s an apt metaphor for effective leadership.

Sneezing.

If you’ve ever been sneezed on with the full force of spittle in your face, you may not be able to keep reading this post. But please–trust me–the point is powerful.

This sudden expulsion of air, traveling at a rate of 35 miles per hour, splatters people with enough mucus to infect an entire city. Leadership interactions have the same viral effect on people, giving rise to the term emotional contagion.

The idea of emotional contagion is based on the propensity of human beings to be affected by their external environment, as an airborne virus infects us with the cold or flu. Unlike a virus, however, as leaders we have a choice about what kind of environment we create, transferring positive or negative emotions when we sneeze (Oops, sorry, I mean lead). That choice, then, brings out the best in others, or the worst.

“Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us,” Daniel Goleman writes in his best-selling book Primal Leadership. “When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions.”

So here’s how to sneeze on your people and bring out the best in in them, ten keys to positive emotional contagion. Do them well and do them repeatedly.

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Smile. Smile. Smile.
  3. Say, “Please.”
  4. Say, “Thank you.”
  5. Remember and use people’s first name.
  6. Ask curious questions.
  7. Listen intently without being distracted.
  8. Compliment freely and praise publicly.
  9. Shake hands and give high-five’s. Hug when appropriate.
  10. Laugh. A lot.

“Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest,” Daniel Goleman continues. “Not just in tangibles such as better business results and the retention of talent, but also the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.”

Positive emotional contagion is central to building a high performance culture in your company. Rather than having it be the occasional concern, effective executives make it their top priority. Learn how you can do this with my keynote address, The One Thing That Changes Everything: How to Build a High Performance Culture in Your Company. Consider scheduling this keynote address to kick off your next event or kick start your year.

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