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Posted October 28, 2008 by johnspence

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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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