Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Four Fabulous Business Books

I shot this video around Thanksgiving, before I had left for London and Kraków, and forgot to post it! However, better late than never. Here are four book recommendations that would be excellent holiday gifts. Bear in mind that the book by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick on great teams will not be available until February, but you can preorder it now (and you should). I really loved all four of these books and I hope you will too.

And if you have not read it, this is a pretty good business book too;-)

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart

How to Get the Best Talent for Your Company

The last video I posted was on the importance of having top talent in your organization (here is a link). I got a great follow-up question from my friend Brandon West the owner of PHOS Creative (the company that does our digital marketing) asking: “Do you have any resources that would be helpful to us in starting a stronger recruitment initiative? Sites, books, tools, contacts, etc.” Instead of writing him a long email, I decided to just shoot this video with my best ideas on how to find, hire and retain top talent.

Please send me any business or leadership questions you have and I’ll be happy to shoot a video with my best ideas and suggestions.

I hope you will share this video with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

Here is the book I talked about from Geoff Smart and Randy Street – I very highly recommend it.

A very important question…

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

A few weeks ago I posted a guest video from my good friend Joe Calloway, so that I could introduce him to all of you that did not know about his fantastic work. He sent a great video on leadership and disruption. (Click here to watch that video). The video was so well received that I decided to reach out to several of my very favorite authors and ask them to contribute. Today I am extremely pleased to introduce you to Dr. Joseph Michelli, who I would consider the world’s leading expert on customer service/customer experience. Joseph has written several amazing books including “The Starbucks Experience” and “The New Gold Standard” (about the Ritz Carlton). His newest book is called “Driven to Delight” and it looks at how Mercedes Benz catapulted the company to first place rankings in national customer satisfaction studies while at the same time growing sales and profits. ALL of his book have valuable insights that can help any business improve their customer service, satisfaction and loyalty. In this blog Joseph answers a question I get a lot too; Is it customer first or employee first? I will give you my opinion at the end of the blog, but first, here is what Joseph has to say…

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

from Joseph Michelli

Ok, I admit the issue of employee versus customer primacy falls into the category of   unanswerable debates such as which came first the chicken or the egg. That said, many leaders continue to articulate a mantra that either the customer or the employee “comes first.”

While I personally like to side-step this looping debate by suggesting that “all business is personal,” and that personal connections must be formed with the people we call employees in order for those people to profit and serve other people we call customers or shareholders, I am convinced greater leaders have a penchant for forming meaningful personal connections at all levels of an organization.

The experiences on which I’ve come to concluded the importance of “interpersonal engagement” stems from my work with and the books I have written about companies like the Pike Place Fish Market, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Starbucks, and UCLA Health Systems. Here are a few lessons and tools I’ve picked up along the way by watching the consistent care afforded by leaders in these organizations:

1) Employee Engagement Drives Customer Engagement.

While a causal relationship would be difficult to prove, strong correlations exist between employee engagement and customer engagement. As such, leaders in “world class” service organizations measure and actively seek to drive employee and customer connections. Ultimately these leaders seek to have employees who feel their opinions matter, are recognized for work that is well done, are provided opportunities to work and grow and to function in a community environment where employees experience autonomy, mastery, and purposefulness.

2) Customer Engagement Drives Loyalty and Advocacy.

Customer satisfaction does not ensure customer loyalty. In fact, satisfaction alone leaves your customers a coupon away from trying a competitor. As such, great leaders and business owners seek to instill a culture of service excellence through a clear delineation of the optimal customer experience (operationally and emotionally), and by constant discussions of core service values, as well as an emphasis on the overarching purpose of the business. These leaders collect stories of service excellence and link them back to the desired optimal customer experience and to their companies mission, vision, and values

3) Business must be transacted for high efficiency but filtered through the lens of humanity. In my book Leading the Starbucks Way, I share a conversation I had with the company’s CEO Howard Schultz in which he demonstrates this point best, “Take love, humanity, and humility and then place it against a performance driven organization; these are in conflict to the naked eye but …we have become more performance driven than at any other time in our history and the values of the company are at a high level. If we can infuse love, humanity, and humility on a global basis and build it into a performance-driven organization, we are unbeatable.”

So rather than trying to craft a catchy slogan like the customer is king or queen, or the employee is number one, how about redoubling efforts to drive the engagement of both customers and employees while fueling a high-performance organization in which leaders makes decisions through the lens of humanity? That seems like an unbeatable combination to me, how about to you?

 

From John: I agree with Joseph in large part, but I will sum-up my thoughts with one Awesomely Simple phrase…

The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.

I hope you found this helpful, if so, please share it with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

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What is Your Philosophy of Business?

Here is a powerful idea that is fundamental to creating a culture of accountability…

 

 

**** The Australia events have passed ***

 

 

Several people have asked to see the pyramid I mentioned in the video — here are two of the slides I developed for this program – hope these help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irrationally Passionate

I was driving into the office this morning (Saturday – and you notice I didn’t call it work) listening to a podcast about how to increase sales. The person being interviewed said that the best way to grow your business was to focus on “irrationally passionate” customers. People, who are fanatical about the type of products or services you sell. Good examples would be Star Wars fans who will buy just about anything that has to do with Star Wars, or a sports fan who is crazy about their team, someone into golf, knitting, gardening, dogs, cats… a target customer who is so irrationally passionate that they become a raving fan for your business because you offer something that they “have to have.”

I love this idea. It makes perfect sense for how to identify your key target market. If you start your focus on this potential group of customers, you will also appeal greatly to the folks that are not quite as passionate but still very interested. It also makes it so much easier to sell when you are offering your products and services to people that are enthusiastic about buying them. I see a lot of businesses waste time and money trying to sell to people that either don’t want or can’t afford their product. Here is a quote I use a lot when I’m delivering sales training, “Don’t try to sell to broke people.”

However, I also saw another application for the idea of “irrationally passionate.” This is the exact same thing that YOU need to be about your business/career if you want to achieve a high level of success. It’s very hard to become superb at something you are not deeply excited about. If you want to be one of the best of the best you must be fully committed… irrationally passionate… and willingly do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. So here are a few questions for you.

Are YOU irrationally passionate about…
  • Being better prepared than any of your competition?
  • Being insanely customer focused?
  • Delivering the highest quality products and services?
  • Delivering world-class customer service?
  • Operating with 100% honesty and integrity?
Is your company irrationally passionate about…
  • Hiring only top talent?
  • Building a winning culture of highly engaged employees?
  • Being fair and generous with your customers and employees?
  • Creating high levels of accountability across your entire organization?
  • Fostering lots of open, honest and transparent communication within your company?
  • Focusing intently on disciplined execution?
  • Demanding excellence and refusing to tolerate mediocrity?

These are just a few questions; I could easily add another twenty. The point is, you will never become truly great at something if you are not irrationally passionate about achieving greatness in that area. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people today that think that they can attain great success without great effort. That has never happened and it never will. All success comes from work, usually very hard work, and excellence comes from being irrationally passionate about the pursuit of excellence.

What are you irrationally passionate about?

The Single Most Important Leadership Characteristic

For more than 20 years I have taught leadership at startup companies to the Fortune 50 and the single most important trait for highly effective leaders has always been the exact same thing. I can show you dozens of major research studies from around the world, representing millions of respondents, and they all say the exact same thing. When I teach classes on leadership and ask the attendees what they look for in a leader they would willingly follow, it’s always the exact same thing…

HONESTY

However, it is getting harder and harder for people to believe this.  In nearly every arena; business, politics, religion, science, education…there are “leaders” who have no problem lying. I’m not talking about small mistruths, or perhaps twisting the facts a little bit, I’m talking about boldface, in-your-face, complete and utter lies. So-called “leaders” who can look you straight in the eye and tell you something that they know is absolutely false.

I am NOT taking any sides here. Every side of everything now has people who seem to have no regard for the truth and are willing to say anything, no matter how outlandish, to advance their position. When I open the floor for questions at my events, inevitably someone will ask, “If telling the truth is so important, then why do we have so many leaders who don’t?” My response: “I don’t know. It does not make any sense to me. I would not consider those people leaders; however, they are in leadership positions. I don’t understand how people like that rise to the top positions in organizations. It drives me crazy.”

The Death of Honesty?

I refuse to believe that we have come to a place in society where lying is an acceptable, even expected, behavior. I’m at the point where I question the validity everything I hear and read and that is painful and frustrating. It makes me physically tired to listen to the news and hear the constant stream of stories about “leaders” who have been lying, cheating, stealing, killing… and mostly getting away with it. I cannot fathom the damage this has done to our society and the example it is setting for our youth. It terrifies me to think about a generation of young people who have been raised watching authority figures lie, and then lie about their lies.

But I believe there is a solution and it starts with you and me.

Now more than ever I feel that it is essential to be a living example of honesty and integrity. It is only through modeling these behaviors, in even the most challenging situations, that we can demonstrate that character, authenticity and truth telling are truly the most essential characteristics of leadership. We need to make more of an effort to highlight and showcase successful leaders who build great companies on a foundation of honesty, fairness respect and generosity. We also need to call out “leaders” when they are dishonest, when they mislead us, and hold them accountable for their destructive actions and behaviors.

This will not be easy. There is a tsunami of misinformation, lies, fake news and manipulation coming from all directions. Again, I am not taking any sides here, I am simply saying that it is up to you and me to hold ourselves to the highest standard of honesty and integrity in our personal and business lives. I will end with one of my favorite value statements, from one of the greatest leadership institutions in the world, West Point.

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Sounds like a good plan to me.

 

For more of John’s ideas on leadership here is a link to his book