Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To Turn Ideas Into Action

Photo of man reading book and learningWhen I was named CEO of a Rockefeller foundation at the age of 26, Mr. Rockefeller knew that I needed a lot of help and assigned his right-hand man, Charlie Owen, to be my mentor.

Every Monday, Charlie would walk in my office and put a business book on my desk and say, “I’ll see you on Friday for lunch.”At the end of each week, we would go to Em’s Home Cooking for chili, cornbread, and iced tea, where he would grill me on everything I had learned in the book.

  • What were the major themes? 
  • Why do you think the author said this? 
  • Do you agree with the author’s ideas on…? 
  • How do you think this applies to the company you are running?

He would ask me dozens of these types of questions but in the end, he always asked the most important one:

“What are three specific action steps you are going to take in the business as a result of reading this book?” 

I would tell him what I planned to do, then he would write it down and say, “You will now be held accountable for doing those.”  Every Monday I got a book, every Friday I made a book report, and Charlie held me strictly accountable for implementing the ideas I was learning.

Ideas Into Action

Several years ago, I was doing a strategic planning retreat for a large company in Texas and was describing the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept from the famous book Good To Great by Jim Collins.  Just as I was beginning to explain the concept the CEO interrupted me and said, “John, you don’t need to cover that, we all read the book and went through a training course on it and I even hired Jim Collins to come in and teach it to us.”  I thought for a moment and then asked the CEO, “Then could you or anyone one else on your team explain the Hedgehog Concept to me, or the Stockdale Paradox, or the key characteristics of a Level 5 Leader?”  There was total silence.

It is one thing to read a book, attend a training session, watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast… and a completely different thing to understand the ideas well enough to implement them.  To me, study without application is useless because it does not improve performance or results.

The Key Questions

Because of Charlie, now when I study anything I constantly ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this mean to me?
  2. How can I apply this idea?
  3. What can I do right away?

By asking myself these questions, I have gained the invaluable ability to convert what I have learned into action. These questions have changed my life and career, I hope they do for you as well.

We create our own stories; and they’re often not true.

Over the next few months, I am going to feature guest blogs from some of my favorite authors and business thinkers. This one is from my friend Tim Ressmeyer, it is from his new book The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership and focuses on a negative habit that many of us suffer from.  I hope you find this of value.

 

We are all the creation of everything that has happened to us up until this point in time. Every relationship, hardship, joy, loss, gain, job, heartache has created us and we can’t change any of it. Regret doesn’t serve you. We can learn from it. We can’t change it. And we have control to decide how we want to show up for what’s next.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to expect what happened in the past has to happen again. Whether we expect this outcome from our self or others, we “write a story” in our own head. A script if you will of how things will turn out. It’s not always true! Too often these stories limit what we really can be. The past does not have to repeat itself. You don’t have perfect information of what might happen. You can’t control everything; you can control how you show up.

Learning to not make up stories frees us to experience what is in front of us, confidently make decisions, and take control of what’s next.

These stories we write in our own minds tend to lean more towards the things that have gone wrong rather than reinforcing what has worked. Focusing on the problems creates a downward spiral of negativity that prevents us from finding solutions and outcomes.

We will look at things that have happened in the past, and assume that because they happened before, they will occur again. I frequently encounter people looking for a new job who have written off an entire company or industry because of one job interview that didn’t go well. There might be a variety of reasons it didn’t come through at that time, and it doesn’t mean you cannot try again. Evaluate why it happened and ask the simple question, why does it have to happen that way again?

Other times we leap to conclusions we make without any real evidence. Imagine walking into a client meeting, and one of their team members looks at you and glances away without greeting you. Immediately you come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like me and the meeting will therefore go poorly. How do you know that? Maybe she’s thinking about something problematic that happened at home this morning. Maybe her phone buzzed and she was distracted. Be careful not to go down the path of negativity and making it all about you.

A good check on a tendency to leap to conclusions, is to run it through the “what’s another way to look at it” or “what would my best friend say” test. Your boss challenged you on a decision and you can’t believe what an idiot he is! Ask yourself; is there another way to look at what he said? How can I reframe his response to me so I have a more productive reaction? How would my best friend look at this?

We also carry with us beliefs about ourselves or the world that we have never experienced, but still believe to be true. “You can’t successfully have a career and a family.” “Unless you have an MBA from a top tier school you’ll never be able to be successful.” “You can never rise to the top with a Liberal Arts degree.” Believing these viewpoints without questioning them can lead to decisions that don’t play to your strengths, or allow you to control your own life.

A way to negate the impact of such unproven beliefs is to look for one instance when the belief is proven to be wrong. If others have proven it wrong, what would it take to follow that path, rather than give up without trying?

Our stories also come from our inner critic, or more popularly known as a Gremlin. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t do something so why try. It can also stop you from taking risks so that you don’t embarrass yourself. Most potently, your Gremlin brings up the thoughts of the imposter syndrome and suggests one day they will find out you really don’t know what you’re doing!

Getting rid of your Gremlin is impossible; it’s been with you forever, and it will stay with you forever. What you can do is lessen the power of your Gremlin by naming it, reminding yourself of all the proof points you have that you are successful, and continually telling the inner critic to, “shut up!” and train yourself to not listen to that voice.

Unfortunately, there are chemical factors in place that exacerbate negative situations and help create this dark cloud of fear and frustration. When we encounter a situation – real or perceived – as being a threat, the cortisol that’s released not only activates your amygdala to protect yourself from danger, but also triggers your limbic brain where all old experiences are stored. The result is a flood of memories of how you were hurt, embarrassed, or experienced failure. It’s hard to counteract this if you’re not intentionally training yourself to not focus, or take too seriously, the negative things that pop up. So many of these situations are not as problematic as we make them out to be, and we can train ourselves to be less pessimistic.

Read more about the things that prevent us from controlling our own destiny in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

To find out more about Tim and his work go to:  https://ressmeyerpartners.com/

 

Change A Life and You May End Up Changing Yours

Here is a link for the better book club, it is free for small companies and insanely affordable for other organizations. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go take a look at their website, look at all the things it can do for your business, and I hope you join, as I said above it will make a dramatic positive impact on the success of your organization.

Click HERE to learn more about the Better Book Club

 

And now, a fantastic guest blog from Frank Sonnenberg…

 Think about a person who’s had a tremendous impact on your life. It may be your Mom or Dad who believed in you, the coach who inspired you, the teacher who guided you in the right direction, the boss who gave you your first big opportunity, or the friend who’s always been by your side. I’m sure when you think of that person, it brings a huge smile to your face — as it should.

You may say that some of these folks were just doing their job. True. But even though you’ve had several good teachers, coaches, and bosses over the years, I’m sure a few of them really stand out from the crowd. You remember their passion, dedication, kindness, and, of course, their generosity. After all, they changed your life!

That obviously begs the question…are you leaving a lasting impact on others? It only takes one person to change a life — and that one person may as well be you.

Make a Difference

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re touching the lives of people every day. What can you do to step up your game?

Be an exemplary role model. Lead by example. Demonstrate that character is the DNA of success and happiness.

Be an awesome parent. Having kids is not the same as being a parent. Raise your kids to be kind, productive, and self-reliant; to make good choices and to be personally responsible for their actions; to pursue their purpose with gusto; and to live their life with honor and dignity.

Be a humble leader. Share your success. As you climb the ladder of success, reach down and pull others up with you.

Be a dedicated mentor. Take someone under your wing and show them the ropes. Give the kind of advice that they won’t hear anywhere else.

Be a compassionate boss. Show your employees that work isn’t all business. Build trusting relationships. Make yourself available and supportive in times of need.

Be a shrewd businessperson. Develop win-win rather than winner-take-all relationships. Prove that there’s more to go around when you grow a large pie, together, than when you squabble to divide a smaller one.

Be a real friend. Demonstrate loyalty when someone’s chips are down and no one else has their back.

Be an inspiration. Set high expectations and push people beyond their capabilities. Show confidence in them when they’re having a weak moment.

Be perceptive. Give someone the big break they need in life. See someone’s potential even when others are blind to their promise.

Be tough, but fair. Make people accountable for their actions. They’ll thank you one day.

Be available. Give the gift of time. Lend a shoulder to cry on when someone needs a friendly ear or support during tough times.

Be the better person. Be the first to give, the first to forgive, the first to compromise, and the first to say “I’m sorry.”

Be even-handed. Stand up for injustice, speak up for the less fortunate, and don’t give up on fairness and tolerance.

Be a loving spouse. Put your heart into your marriage. Share your hopes and your fears, your laughter and your tears, your joy and your sorrow.

Change a Life Forever

Think of your greatest accomplishments. Where would changing someone’s life rank on your list? Consider: If they hadn’t crossed paths with you, they wouldn’t be the person they are, they wouldn’t have the opportunities they have, and they wouldn’t be positioned to achieve their hopes and dreams. Bravo! You made a difference! As an added bonus, change someone’s life and you may end up changing yours.

Why complain about the ills of the world when you could be a world of difference to someone you know? You may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world around you. Change a life and create a ripple that cascades forever.

 

This post is an excerpt from Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Frank Sonnenberg

Frank Sonnenberg is an award-winning author. He has written seven books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders” and one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs”; among the “Top 100 Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs”; and one of the “Best Inspirational Blogs On the Planet.”

Frank’s newest book, Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, was released inNovember 2018 (© 2018 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

 

Four Amazing Business Books That I Highly Recommend

I have been reading a lot of business books lately, about a dozen a month, and wanted to take a minute to share with you four that I found very helpful. I am honored to call three of the authors, Tim Ressmeyer, Frank Sonnenberg, and Marty Neumeier friends. I’ve read every single book these authors have written, they’re all extremely talented and knowledgeable business people and have a lot of wisdom to share. These are all excellent books that will give you valuable ideas for personal, career and business success.

To find out more about these books just click on the cover and it will take you to a detailed description on Amazon. All of them are listed, so scroll down to find the ones you are looking for.

Here are some other great books by Frank Sonnenberg.

 

Here are Marty Neumeier’s books

This is one of my all-time favorite books…

Here is the book I told you about on hospitality by Danny Meyer.

I hope you find these books of great value, I know that I sure did!

What Are Your Leadership Values?

This past week I was asked to give a talk at my alma mater, Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.  I was speaking with a select group of their senior management team from across the entire organization and they sent me a list of questions they wanted me to answer and discuss.  One of the questions was, “What are the three values you rely on that underpin your leadership?”  I’ve never been asked a question quite like that and was pleasantly surprised after I gave it some thought.  Here are my top three…

Honesty

To me this is the absolute foundation of leadership, if you don’t tell the truth you can’t build trust and without trust, there is no loyalty, commitment or belief in the “leader.”  The rule here is simple, tell the truth all the time, period.

Love

I believe if you treat your team, your customers, even your competitors with love and respect you are following the path of a servant leader who understands that their job is to help and support others to be successful leaders.

Excellence

As one of my personal leadership values, I see the pursuit of excellence as the driver to creating an exceptional organization that has a positive impact on the lives of its employees, customers, community and the world.  Using “excellence” as a benchmark pushes each individual to be uncompromising in the quality of their work and always striving to deliver their very best.

Those are my top three, what are yours?

What Is Visioning?

visioning vision board action planWhen I work with large corporations and CEOs, I often challenge them to think about the trajectory of their company. Where do they want their organization to be in the future? Based on how things are going, where is it headed now? These are vital questions.

Here is an overview of a powerful business idea I use to help organizations create a detailed and compelling vision of the future they want to achieve for their company.

Check out the video or read through the content below.

 

What Is Visioning?

I want to share a tool with you that I sometimes use when I’m working with CEOs and helping them create a foundation for their strategic plan, and it’s called “Visioning.”

I will challenge leaders to create what I would call a “painted picture” – a vivid, compelling, highly detailed picture of where the company will be in the coming years. Let’s just use 2025 for this one.

And there are two ways I ask them to approach it:

Approach #1

One way could be to write a story as if you’re a reporter from Inc., Fortune, Forbes, something like that, and you were there to write a story about your company in 2025, about all the things that it accomplished. Maybe you just made the Inc. 500, or Inc. 100, or Fortune 400, or whatever it might be, but they’re really impressed with your company and they want to come and write an article about all the cool things your company is doing.

And I want it in detail, just like it would be in the magazine.

And I challenge them: Read a couple of business magazines with overviews of companies, and that’s what I want you to write.

Approach #2

The other way, which happens to be my favorite way, is I ask them to write a story about what it would be like to be an employee in this company in 2025:

  • What would it be like?
  • What would the culture be like?
  • Who would I be working with?
  • Would it be a casual atmosphere where people brought their dog to work?
  • Would it be a more formal culture?
  • What kind of locations would we have?
  • How much total revenue?
  • Would there be an employee profit-sharing plan?

But I want them to sit down and really give some serious thought to where do you see your company 5 to 10 years from today, and I want it to be as if I was there.

What’s the Point?

Now, what does this do?

This creates a really broad story about what the owner, the CEO, the president, whoever it might be running the company, of what they really see the future look like for their organization.

Step 2, then, is to give that out to your senior management team and get some feedback. And oftentimes, there will be some difficult conversations.

And then once you get alignment on the senior management team that, yes, this is where we want the business to go, this is what we see in the future, then you can back up and do your vision statement.

But What Is a Vision Statement?

A vision statement should be short, concise, to the point, focused, typically with some numbers in it, total revenues, position in the market, locations, number of employees, whatever numbers are important to you.

From that vision statement comes your strategy, because your strategy is built to get you to the vision you have of the future of the company.

You start it out with where we want to be in 2025, and you back up, year by year, all that way down to the current year, and say, ”All right, if this is where we want to be in seven years, where do we have to be next year, and the year after that, and the year after that?”

Then it’s pretty simple to create some major strategic objectives, 3 or 4, but no more than 5, for where we want to be this year, and then break that down into organizational action steps – tactics that go all the way down to the front line, and then it cascades all the way back up to the vision.

But for me, creating a Visioning exercise is a really good way to get people dedicated to where they want to take the company in the future.

Apply “Visioning” in Other Places

And by the way, this works exactly the same for your life.

Sit down, and some people actually create a picture. They cut stuff out from magazines or take photos and say, ”This is what I want my life to look like in 2025. Here are some images that motivate me and get me excited.”

And then back up to today and say, ”What would I have to do today – what decisions would I have to make in my life today so that 7 years from now, I’m actually living that vivid vision of the future I want to create?”

 

I hope you found this helpful.

 

How To Create A Mastermind Group

My wife, Sheila, speaking at a Mastermind meeting at our home.

Recently I’ve had several people ask me about how to set up a mastermind group. I wrote a blog about this back in 2011, but I have updated it and added some new information. I hope you find this helpful.

 

 

“You become what you focus on… and like the people you surround yourself with.”

This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned in my life so far. How did I learn it? By understanding the power of Mastermind Groups.

Thirty-nine years ago I failed out of college. After my first year at the University of Miami (Florida) I had a stellar 1.6 GPA!! Unfortunately, all the people I was hanging out with had lower GPA’s than I did so it did not seem like that big of a deal… until I was expelled. I moved to Gainesville, Florida to restart my college career and met an incredibly wise professor (Roger Strickland) who strongly recommended that I start a “study group” – a.k.a. — a mastermind group. At the beginning of each semester, I would stand up on the first day of class and invite anyone who wanted to do well in the course to join my study group… as long as they had a 3.6 GPA or higher! Forming that study group changed EVERYTHING. In the span of six years, I went from failing out of the University of Miami to graduating in the top three in the United States in my major from the University of Florida and then becoming the CEO of a Rockefeller foundation just three years after graduation.

I have continued to create mastermind groups throughout my life. In my early 30’s I created a group of young CEOs that met once a month at a local restaurant to share ideas and support each other as we tried to grow our businesses. For the last few years I’ve run a mastermind group of senior leaders, people who have been in business for 20 or 30 years, that gets together to talk about cutting edge business ideas, economics, politics, whatever important topic we all want to explore. This group has all become very close friends and I know that whenever I need help they are on my team. I’m also in a mastermind group with other people in my industry; professional speakers, consultants, and authors. We share our best ideas, contacts, client referrals and do everything we can to help each other improve our craft.

The reason I share my experiences with these two groups with you is to show you how incredibly powerful they can be in helping to guide, support, motivate and direct your life. I cannot possibly express how valuable it is to be an active member of a high-quality mastermind group. But here’s the catch; for most people, if you want to be in a mastermind group, you’re going to have to create it yourself!

Here are my recommendations on how to start and sustain a mastermind group.

Although there are many successful mastermind groups that meet via phone or online, I believe the most powerful ones meet in person, once a month or every 45 days, so I will address that sort of group in this article.

The first step is to look around your local community for one or two people who you respect and would enjoy learning from. Approach these folks with an invitation to create a mastermind group with you, let them know that it will be highly focused and a valuable use of their time.

When someone accepts your invitation, ask them to choose one or two people that they respect and would like to learn from and invite those folks to join the mastermind group too.

The goal is to have your initial meeting with six or eight members in attendance. At the first meeting is a good idea to take some time to set the framework for how the meetings will run and discuss the expectations that the members have about what they want to achieve in the mastermind group and what things would be of significant value to them. Structure is important to running an efficient mastermind group so you should set some rules around how often you will meet, where you will meet, attendance requirements, topics to be covered, length of meetings, confidentiality, and other issues you deem important. There should also be some discussion around how to invite new people to join the group what the process will be for deciding that someone should leave the group.

In our mastermind groups, we typically pose a single important question and ask everyone to come fully prepared to discuss it in the meeting. For example, in our last two meetings, the questions were: “What are the three most important lessons you have ever learned in your life?” And the next month we asked everyone, “If you were to turn your business over to your children (or someone else), what are the three most important pieces of business advice you would give to them?” Sometimes we all read a book and discuss what we felt was most important in the book and how we will apply those ideas in our lives and businesses. Other times we allow one of the members of the group to bring a specific challenge they are facing so that all of us can give them our best advice and connect them with anyone in our networks that we feel might be able to help them.

One of the biggest challenges of creating a mastermind group is keeping it to a manageable size once the word gets out that you have created something so powerful. I highly recommend that you have no more than a dozen members, which means you’ll likely have about 8 to 10 people in attendance at each meeting. If you get much larger than that, then you end up with cross conversations and a lack of focus.

Currently, my wife and I host the meetings at our home, we offer some light hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails and we all sit on the back deck for about two hours discussing the assigned topic, sharing stories, asking for help and getting advice. Not only is this incredibly beneficial session for learning new ideas and tools for improving your life and,  it is truly a blessing to be surrounded by such incredible people and to count them among your closest friends! We also invite spouses to attend which adds a lot of vibrancy and diversity to our meetings.

We do not charge any money to belong to the mastermind group, and we often rotate the meetings between different people’s houses to share costs. You could easily hold mastermind meetings at a local restaurant and let everyone handle their own bill, or gather at someone’s office and have food brought in.

Once you have a few meetings the group will begin to come together and start to open up. As trust builds, you will have some very meaningful conversations that will help the members of your group make major decisions in their business and life. Although mastermind groups will help you become more successful, the real wealth generated is from the friendships, learning, and access to each other’s networks…which is priceless.

If you are already involved in a mastermind group, please leave your comments and tell everybody what it has meant to you and how important it is in your life. I hope that we can start a small campaign here to get people around the world forming small mastermind groups to solve their personal problems, their business problems, their community’s problems and, yes, even the world’s problems.

Thanks, and take good care, John Spence

PS – Please take a moment to share this with anyone in your network that you feel would benefit from creating a mastermind group.

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?

Why Should I Worry About This?

Here is an idea that I believe can make a dramatic positive impact in your life if you apply it!

I hope you found this video helpful and that you will share it with anyone you feel would find value in the ideas I shared .

Thanks – John