Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

What I Learned at the Global Institute for Leadership Development

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I have just returned from spending a week in Palm Springs, where I attended the Global Institute for Leadership Development as a student. It was an amazing event, with some of the leading business thinkers in the world delivering thoughtful and timely presentations. For five days straight, from eight in the morning until 6 PM at night, we went nonstop from session to session, speech to speech, and also got personal coaching on our leadership and management styles. I took well over 80 pages of notes, to the point where I thought my fingers might never recover. Rather than give you an exhaustive recap, I’d like to summarize here a few of the key take-aways I got at this wonderful event…

One of my main reasons for attending was to see my old friend Tom Peters, and find out what he’s up to and thinking about right now. At 66 he’s as big a rabble-rouser as ever, still stuck on some of the same topics, but did a really nice job of clarifying what young people today are focused on in their careers. To take Tom’s thoughts and put them in my words, he and I both agree that today’s businesspeople are much more focused on: opportunity, appreciation, and meaning — then they are on salary or status. Sure, you have to pay folks fairly, but money is not the main motivator. If you give people an absolutely awesome work atmosphere, and a great corporate culture, and pay them a wage that they would make working at any other similar company — you can truly attract top talent. If you give them a crappy organizational culture but lots and lots of money, only the greedy ones will stay — if you give them a crappy organizational culture and low pay… only the ones that can’t find a job anyplace else stay!

I also got to listen to Patrick Lencioni give an absolutely superb talk about the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Not only are Patrick’s ideas sound, but he is definitely one of the best presenters I have seen in a long time. As a take away from his session, he really focused in on building trust on teams through being vulnerable. You see, if you don’t truly trust the people on your team you will be unwilling to admit that that you don’t know something, that you made a mistake, that you don’t understand something, or that you don’t agree with something someone else has said — and if you don’t feel comfortable enough to be  vulnerable then you can never achieve the level of candor that is critical to building a high-performance team. I am not a huge fan of fable-based books, however Patrick’s are the best I’ve ever read and deliver real solid business solutions. I give his books a solid “two-thumbs up!”

Also got to spend some quality time with Marshall Goldsmith. Even though Marshall is a master, a real guru, he was very clear in pointing out that he was just there to “remind people of what they already knew” and then try to help them take action on it. More than anyone, Marshall works hard to close the “knowing/doing gap” and help people take simple, clear, straightforward ideas for business and life success and then actually implement them day in and day out. If you have not read his latest book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” it is fabulous.

My buddy Tim Sanders, author of one of my favorite books, “Love is the Killer App” was also one of the presenters. I was extremely impressed with his presentation style… lots of energy, lots of passion. His main message was that to be successful in business you have to score high on your “likability factor.” His top business advice: smile more! I know that’s not particularly revolutionary, but he is right; all of us could use a few more smiles in our lives.

I was delighted to get to listen to Michael Abrashoff, author of “It’s Your Ship,” talk about how he took one of the worst performing ships in the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and turned it around into the number one performing ship in the entire Pacific Fleet. He has a calm but commanding presence, the air of someone with incredible confidence yet true humility. His story of engaging his crew, and helping them understand that making the ship awesome was in there own best interest, and empowering them to do whatever it took to run the best ship possible, was completely applicable to any business.

Rather than drag you through everything I attended, let me just give you a brief list of my big takeaways:

1. Attitude is everything. Both your attitude and the attitude of the people you hire. Let’s face it, you cannot train people to be passionate, so it is critical that you hire and reward people with positive, service-oriented attitudes, for that is only this kind of employee that can deliver high quality products and services and consistently superior customer service.

2. The “knowing/doing gap” is the very bane of my existence, and the reason I still have a job! There were 400 people in attendance, and I don’t have to go far out on a limb in saying that the vast majority probably knew about 90% of the information that the speakers delivered… and (myself sometimes included) only “do” about 10% of it. Disciplined execution is fundamental to sustained success.

3. Process rules! I have said in this blog many times before, I am not a huge process weenie… yet I know, with all my heart, that systems — procedures — processes… are critical in creating reliable and repeatable success. Whether it’s six Sigma, TQM, Kaizen or any other sort of formalized quality process – it does not really matter (okay, it sort of does) the main point is you must have a way to make sure that things are done correctly over and over and over again.

4. The people that know the most about how to make your company great are the ones who are the closest to the customer. Understanding your customer, owning the Voice Of the Customer (VOC), and then using that information to deliver truly superior customer service and quality (as defined by the customer) is the cornerstone of building successful business — and your front line people are likely the ones who truly know the most about your customers — go talk to them (and of course your customers too).

** By the way, this also touches on another critical idea around customer service, which is: in order to deliver truly superior customer service we all know that you have to put the customer first… however, as my mentor Tom Peters says, you actually have to put your employees “more first.” I just finished reading a good book called “Firms of Endearment” about how the leading customer loyal businesses in the world achieve success by taking care of their employees first… which creates employees who are happy, satisfied and feeling so good… that they are genuinely excited about taking great care of the customers. It is very much a “Maslow Hierarchy of Needs” type of equation: employees who feel like they are well taken care of — in turn want to do all they can to serve and help others. For years I’ve been teaching this idea and have a massive amount of research and data to back it up, so it is nice to see this strategy coming to the forefront in business thinking. As a matter of fact here is a great video of Seth Godin and Tom Peters discussing this topic. Click here to link to the video.

Even though I am still reading like a madman, it was very refreshing to take some time off to attend a conference like this and sit in the audience like a sponge soaking up every bit of information I possibly could from these very talented and thoughtful people.

I sure hope you found something of value in what I’ve just shared with you, hard to squeeze nearly 60 hours of training into a few hundred word blog, but suffice it to say that any time you can get a chance to go see any of these speakers I strongly encourage it, they really know their stuff and are a blast to listen to.

PS — if you are looking for a high level training session to attend, I thought the folks at Linkage did a great job with the GILD Institute (Global Institute for Leadership Development) and recommend it heartily. It is a little pricey, but I felt it was well worth the investment of time and money. I would put it up there as one of the top programs I have ever attended!

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Comments

  1. Great information. Patrick Lencioni’s survey of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team is amazing isn’t it! It has been very helpful in pointing out the greatest dysfunction’s in the team environment I work in (trust was our biggest dysfunction), and is helping us try to find ways to better come together as a team. Building a great team is important to me and so I constantly find myself looking for great ideas. I wish that I could have attended the Global Institute for Leadership Development conference. I do have to say though, I have run across a lot of great books that have helped me better understand great team building/leadership skills….for instance, Darwin Gillett’s newest book “”Noble Enterprise,” has been a life-saver!

  2. Wow John!

    As always you return from these conferences renewed and invigorated and ready to share thoughtful insights and knowledge with others. Thanks for saving us time and money by delivering extraordinary feedback that you express so powerfully.

    I get it?

    Isabell

  3. Thanks, John, for “sharing the wealth” of information from the conference. As a Consulting Partner for the Table Group, I appreciate the positive review of Patrick Lencioni’s presentation. He truly is a fine speaker and good person.
    Your energetic quest for learning is an inspiration for all of us. You have built the foundation for my Fall library with your recommendations

    Best wishes,
    Skip

  4. You convey well the energy and passion that was obviously a huge component of having that many visionaries in one place. There’s alot of nuggets in this post so I will come back again to be sure I got it all. I just added Firms of Endearment to my “must read” list. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Lisa McAbee says:

    Great stuff. I just emailed your post to several colleagues. I think Michael Abrashoff is coming to speak at our company soon so it was good to get your feedback on him. Thanks for sharing. You truly make the very complex awesomely simple for us – thanks!

  6. John,

    GREAT stuff as always. As a guy who constantly talks process to people – from business leaders to college students – I couldn’t agree with your four points above more. I firmly believe that the Knowing-Doing Gap is so large because process does NOT rule in most organizations. Without process, all the good ideas in the world won’t matter.

    If we are going to help teams close their Knowing-Doing Gap, we must help them become process experts – the golden eggs come from taking care of the goose (and that goose is starving in many organizations)!

    Once again, great stuff, John – thank you.

  7. John-

    Thank you for sharing these powerful insights. They affirm the approach you have taken in working with the Leadership Team at Austin Outdoor to first understand our clients and then excel at serving them. You are so right that it all begins with great people who have “positive, service-oriented attitudes”.

    Best regards,
    Bill

  8. To Becky above — I just ordered the “Noble Enterprise” book (love that Amazon one click order system!) — also spent some time on the noble enterprise blog — wow — some really, really great ideas. I will be reading the blog tonight, adding it to my favorite links, and sending a link on to several of my clients. I really look forward to reading the book.

    Skip, good to get your note on this blog sure hope you’re feeling better. I absolutely loved listening to Patrick talk about the five dysfunctions of a team. I have read all of his books, but I had never had the pleasure of seeing him present live. He is fantastic — extremely talented — a real joy to sit and listen to. I had a blast sitting through two hours of his presentation, he has got a be in the top 10 speakers I’ve ever seen.

    Beverly — you will love “firms of endearment” — I actually got a really nice note from one of the authors today, David Wolfe. I have never had the pleasure of meeting David personally but told him that I was deeply impressed by his work and a strong supporter of the ideas he and his co-authors put forward in FoE – as they like to call it. I think it is a super book for anyone that believes taking good care of your employees is the number one way to take good care of your customers.

    Lisa, you and your team will love Mike — he’s a really great speaker… even though it’s clear after you listen to him he is not a speaker. He is a fine and remarkable leader that now spends his time sharing his insights and ideas from a career of putting his people first, creating an amazing culture, and achieving things that no one else thought was possible. He is a first-class guy, high integrity, humble, and pretty darn funny too!

    Brian, thank you for your continued enthusiasm for this blog and your consistent contributions of excellent ideas and salient points. I know that you have dedicated your life and career to studying what it takes to create organizational cultures that support mutual accountability and effective execution — I am honored that you offer your suggestions and advice to my readers.

    Bill, as always, thanks for the kind words –has been so refreshing to have the opportunity to work with you and your team at Austin Outdoor and watch with great excitement as your folks strongly embrace an entire new level of customer focus and superior customer service. It is a tribute to your entire team that an already great company, like yours, is striving so hard to be even better — to set the bar higher — to overpromise… and over deliver!

    I truly appreciate all of you that take the time to leave comments here on my blog. It gives me so much joy to know that my ideas are of value to you and that you are willing to take the time to read and respond the information I have brought to you.

    Take good care — I look forward to reading more of your comments — John Spence

  9. Awesome as usuall John.
    freddie wehbe

  10. Dear John,

    It is great to know you learn darn a lot of stuffs from GILD. I wished I was there too. Nevertheless, I shall plan it for next round.

    Although I would love to have your 80 pages of “valuable” notes. I truly appreciate you summary over here. Perhaps you consolidate the 80 pages information as one your manuscript (to be part of your library).

    I enjoyed your points here….

    Till then

    Cheers,
    Desmond

  11. Craig Morrison says:

    John,

    Thank you for exemplifying the adage, “If you are not growing, you are dying”.

    No matter what tier of accomplishment we experience, there is always room for growth and improvement (for us individually or those we influence).

    Thank you also for giving us a thumb-nail recap of your experience at GILD. Now we can run down the path that shows most interest to our personal development and that of the organizations we lead.

    Another great growth opportunity that I would like share with you and your readers is a conference held in NE Atlanta annually in early-to-mid October. Catalyst!(www.catalystconference.com or http://www.catalystspace.com), is the brain child of leadership gurus John Maxwell and Andy Stanley. Over the past few years, my wife and I have been influenced by speakers such as Patrick Lencioni, Marcus Buckingham, Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Tim Sanders, Franklin Graham, Rick Warren and Dave Ramsey.

    It’s relatively inexpensive and worth every dollar!

    Thank you, again, for taking the time to share.

    Craig

  12. Becky says:

    Glad to hear it John. I think you are really going to love “Noble Enterprise.”

  13. Russell Donda says:

    In response to Craig M’s comment “If you are not growing, you are dying.” I would not argue against growth. But I also would not argue against deepening one’s experience of life in the absence of growth. I’d like to think that growth for the sake of growth is a way of being which could use a re-thinking. If we are growing to unfold the seed in our heart–perfect. But if the seed in our heart is blossoming, perhaps there is room for the deepest life experience right where we are. I can find value in growth and in just “presence.”

  14. Derek Lewis says:

    John: as always, thanks for the tips & lessons.

    If I may expound on the idea of customers first vs. employees “more first”:

    I go back to “The 7 Habits” – the most important thing is what you *are*; what you *do* follows.

    Regardless of whether you put customers first or employees first, if your motivating purpose is simply a better bottom line, you’re going to fail in the long-run. People aren’t stupid & will eventually see why you do what you do. If all you’re really concerned about is yourself & your station – well, you reap what you sow.

    However, if you truly want to see others succeed & collaborate with them to bring awesome value to the market at the same time – *that* is a formula for success. People can sense you have a deeper purpose & will respond to that.

    I know this is probably just semantics, but I think sincerely putting *people* first is the key. With that attitude, I believe you’ll make sure the people closest to you – on your team, in your family, etc. – are fulfilled, and will in turn help you in your vision of delivering fulfillment to people outside of that circle – your customers, suppliers, vendors, & greater community.

    Thank you for being one of those people who truly put other people first, John. Keep up the inspiration.

  15. John: We are so glad to hear about your great experience at Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development — best of all that you felt it was a great investment. Coming from you, that is valuable praise, indeed!

    Regards,
    Cinny Little
    VP/Marketing
    Linkage

  16. Becky, in case you check back I wanted to let you know that I got a copy of the book “Noble Enterprise” and absolutely loved it! I’m sending anote to the author to order several more copies to send to my clients – really, really a fantastic book. I cannot thank you enough for recommending it to me, it will be valued addition to my library.