Powerful Leadership Through Empathy

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

― Author and Speaker, Simon Sinek,“Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”

As a leader here at MJM, I’m constantly challenged to grow my skills and knowledge around how to lead, what it means to lead, and how I can lead others in a way that motivates and inspires them.

But nothing has been more important than learning to lead through empathy.

Leading through empathy means we as leaders must not focus solely on the output of our teams (including the behaviors and actions they demonstrate), but that we listen to, try to understand and truly care about the hearts of our employees.

What is Empathy?

The concept of empathy is one that often gets thrown in with others words like “sympathy,” but it’s actually quite different.

The Oxford dictionary says:

Empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” whereas sympathy means “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

We can be sympathetic for team members when it warrants, but creating an inspiring, highly motivated work environment where team members feel valued and heard requires us to get to know each other and practice this skill of being empathetic.

Be the Example

“You share with the people who have earned the right to hear your story.”

― Author, scholar and speaker, Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly” and “The Power of Vulnerability”

Whether you’re building a new team or you’ve been working with the same staff for years, at some point you, as the leader, are going to need to recognize that earning your team’s trust is more important than anything else you do as a leader.

It’s a basic human principle, really, that we all want to be understood, heard and valued. Whether they ask for it directly, retreat when it’s not given to them, or complain to co-workers when they feel they aren’t being heard—every member of your team has the innate desire to be understood, heard and valued, and they all have different ways of asking for it.

When I find myself being too busy with my own tasks and responsibilities to notice and provide feedback, schedule time to listen intently, or ask (and truly listen) to how they’re feeling, I’m missing out on the opportunity to pour into and better understand my team members. Not only that, but I’m missing out on the benefits of building fulfilling relationships and trust with them as well. That’s all me—I’m losing out by focusing on the wrong things (tasks, not people).

How do you earn your team’s trust and the right to hear their stories?

Earning the right to hear your team’s stories and opening the door to being empathic starts by you being real. It’s hard to be vulnerable or admit faults as a leader ― there’s a lot of stigma that leaders have to know it all, that they’ve got it all figured out. But hiding behind a façade and wearing the mask of perfection is harmful and keeps leaders from connecting in more meaningful ways, as well as keeping teams from trusting their leaders and wanting to do their best. In fact, one of the number one reasons people leave a job is because of problems with their direct supervisor.

What Can You Do?

Share your stories. Allow your imperfections to show. Be honest about where you need to grow. Apologize when you’re wrong. Lead by example. Listen without waiting for your turn to speak. Show others you truly care about them, not just their work.

No matter what role you play in your company—owner, manager, team member or consultant—you have the opportunity to lead and inspire others. Approach all people with the desire to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. By being yourself and allowing others to be themselves you can inspire the hearts and minds of so many—and truly be an effective leader.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

― Simon Sinek

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Why Do Your Mission, Vision and Values Matter?

A good leader knows that in order to lead a project, people need to know why they are working, how they are working and who they need to be as part of the team. This is why we must focus on our mission, vision and core values.

Mission Statement

What is a mission statement? Look around online and you will find many definitions for mission statements. A summary definition would be this: Why do you exist? Why are you in business? Answering these questions is central to writing your mission statement. At MJM, we often speak of “commission” rather than “mission.” A commission not only identifies what you are doing, but why you are doing it. So what is your commission? What have you been commissioned to do with your life and your business?

Vision Statement

Going deeper, your vision statement should paint a picture of where your business will be when it is wildly successful. Your vision should be bold, inspiring and paint a clear image of what will make you successful. It’s okay if, in some way, your vision statement is not actually attainable. But it must be an inspiring and powerful image that helps people see where you are going.

For example, the vision at Vance Thompson Vision is “Best on Earth.” Now, measuring whether they are actually the best on earth can be tricky, and they are not able to be best on earth in everything—only in their areas of specialty. However, regardless of whether “Best on Earth” is measurable and attainable, it definitely allows staff and patients to clearly envision where they are headed as a business and what they aspire to be. That is the power and importance of a vision statement—it paints a picture of success that is motivating and inspiring.

Core Values

Of these three foundational items, your core values may be the most important. They certainly will be the most important for your daily operations as a business. In simple terms, your core values define the way you operate and exist and live as a business. They are the values you make decisions by, the values you hire and fire by and the values that set the culture of your business.

Your core values should be very memorable for all staff. Ideally, you will be able to reduce your core values down to three to five words or short phrases. These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base. Choosing the right core values will make your decision-making easier and bring much clarity to your business.

These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base.

Perhaps the hardest part of finalizing your mission, vision and values is coming to agreement with your leadership team on the final version of these items. There are so many good reasons we exist and so many great values we want to embody! Many groups have a hard time editing down their content and ideas to the most vital and actionable statements. But this editing and simplifying process is vital.

Your mission, vision and values need to be short, inspirational and actionable. Don’t give up on editing and building these vital statements until you finalize them in forms your entire team can live with and execute. Spending time as a team discussing, debating and agreeing upon a clear and powerful mission, vision and values can power your business to new clarity and new success.

8 Things a Jazz Quartet Can Teach Us About Team Culture

My wife and I recently had the privilege of attending an intimate performance by a world-renowned jazz quartet. As we enjoyed the music, the environment, and the experience, I realized how the same factors create a powerful jazz performance and a powerful team business culture. Let’s look at eight ways jazz can teach us about team culture.

1. Purpose

We entered the small jazz club—the lights were low, the tables scattered throughout the small venue, the instruments waiting expectantly on the stage. As I reviewed the program for the evening, I marveled at the clarity of purpose of each of the musicians; their education, their passion, their blood, sweat, and tears all coming together in that moment with the sole purpose of creating beautiful music together. Businesses that discuss and emphasize their team purpose and the purposes of each of their staff create a powerful identity that can power their culture.

2. Preparation

As I reviewed the program, two of the musicians walked on stage and began preparing for the show. One at the piano, the other on upright bass, they began to methodically tune the instruments to create the perfect sound. How many times had they done this simple preparation? What seems like a mundane task is actually essential preparation for their performance that night. Team culture that focuses on proper preparation enables the entire team to produce their best work.

3. Inter-Connectedness

After tuning their instruments, the rest of the musicians came on stage and the group began to play. Slowly at first, the group eventually found their rhythm and worked their way into the first song. The most important part of this first song was the inter-connectedness of the quartet—the piano player intently watching the rhythm of the drummer; the bass player watching the energy and flow of the piano; the saxophone player watching all three instruments to join the pace of the music. Without awareness, without this inter-connectedness, the music cannot reach its pinnacle. Team culture built on inter-connectedness is vital to getting projects and great work off the ground and accomplished.

4. Harmony

As the music quickly ramped up, it became apparent immediately how years of preparation and dedication helped create this harmonious, synergized sound. Each of the instruments blending together with the others created perfectly timed, perfectly matched sound. How does your team culture create harmony between the players? Does your preparation and connectedness create the best possible synergy of work?

5. Space to Shine

The beauty of jazz music is not only it’s synergy, but also it’s space for improvisation. The tenor saxophone player sits down, eyes closed, soaking in the music. The drummer brings the rhythm down to a steady, subtle backdrop. The bass player joins him, creating a repeating baseline, which allows the piano player to roam. His fingers fly over the keys, exploring new spaces, taking years of training and the support of his fellow players and finding new music. As he concludes his exploration, the bass player tries a new riff, playing faster, then slower, then with more energy. Finally, the drummer has his chance to shine as a solo player, raising the energy of the audience to new heights. There is space in jazz for individuals to shine and to grow. Does your team culture offer individuals a chance to shine and grow?

6. Communication

Suddenly, with barely a noticeable look of the eyes and nod of the head, the drummer brings the entire quartet back into the original song. Over the course of the entire performance, I was in awe of the way a look, a nod, a turn of the head, or a simple hand gesture could communicate in depth the next move of the performance. How does your team communicate? Does each member of your team understand the cues, the signals that you share to move on and produce the next great work?

7. Trust

Within these levels of inter-connectedness and communication, I was struck by yet another core value of the performance—trust. Every member of the quartet must trust their fellow players to keep the rhythm, to stay within the song, to stay on pitch. If one player loses the rhythm, the entire synergy is lost. Likewise, if your team fails to execute consistently, projects will be incomplete and deadlines missed. Your team culture must be one of trust. If your team members do not trust each other to do their jobs, you will not be successful as a business. So, do you have trust within your team?

8. Energy

Finally, my experience of this jazz performance reminded me of the importance of energy and response in our team cultures. The players feed off of the energy of each other, the audience, and the songs themselves. You can see the players getting lost in the power of the moment and In the emotion of the song. The energy we give each other on our team, along with the energy of the work itself, is vital to doing our best work. Are you responding to the energy of your team? Is the work that you do getting your team the energy it needs to create a powerful, vital culture?

When these team culture conditions exist, jazz shows us that it’s possible to create consistent performance, dynamic improvisation and new innovation. If these are your goals as a company, then take these ideas to heart and invest in your team culture.

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Patient Experience Training

The amount of time a patient spends with a doctor is a small percentage of the time they actually spend in the office. On average, patients spend about seven minutes with the doctor. If a consult appointment is two hours, what do you do with the rest of that time? Doctors and other team members are central to properly harmonizing the patient experience.

The experience is the marketing and not the advertising.

The importance of hidden systems

It is important to develop hidden systems so you can engage everyone equally. A hidden system will enable you to know who a patient is and what they do without them having to tell you every time they are in front of you.

“50-80% of the information provided by the clinician is instantly forgotten. Of the balance of information that is remembered, only 50% of it is remembered correctly.” –Greg Korneluk, Physician Success Secrets

What a patient remembers

For patients, 25% is remembered at best post-meeting. We go into the office and we throw all of this information at them like driving distance astigmatism, presbyopia, etc. A patient could potentially leave feeling completely overwhelmed. That patient goes home and says all I know is that my insurance only covers part of it. It will cost $2,000 and I have stigma.

We have to remember that our jargon dissuades people from understanding what we are talking about. Over the course of that hour or so conversation, they are burdened with information, then we dilate them and make them sign stuff.

What can we do to make it better?

In his book, Secret Service, John DiJulius III says that Americans have 1/20th the human interactions we had just 20 years ago. Rather than shopping at a store, we are online. Instead of meeting in person, we are doing webinars, video calls, etc. Rather than going to a bank, we do mobile banking.

“We are serving people that are starved for human interactions.”

When people are coming in, they are expecting more than just a great refraction. They want to talk with you. They want you to ask them about their family life, etc.  And they haven’t had a chance to tell anyone that and you may be the only they can talk to. We owe it to people to do a better job of interaction because they want meaningful interactions.

People are paying for experiences—for those interactions. You can drop this into any business model as these are the foundational elements of how businesses have changed over time.

Progression of Economic Value

  • Commodities (Agrarian Economy), which turns into…
  • Goods (Industrial Economy), which turns into…
  • Services (Service Economy), which turns into…
  • Experiences (Experience Economy)—such as Starbucks

As much as you grow, what are you going to try and do at all times? You cannot be standard. You have to be unique.

So, what does this mean for doctors?

From a patient standpoint, they are concerned with the following:

  1. Was I treated well?
  2. Were they trustworthy?
  3. Were they organized?
  4. Did they say thank you?
  5. Was the doctor nice?
  6. Was the office clean?

The patient is saying, I care more about this than technology. Obviously, I care about outcomes as well, but I want these things also.

A patient expects that you will have the best technology and a pristine outcome–these are known commodities. It is the steps above that take you above and beyond and will be the reason a patient chooses one doctor over another.

How should our teams adapt?

John DiJulius nails mass customization in his book What’s the Secret, “With the amount of intel healthcare has on its customers, it should be the best experience on earth.”

By being in healthcare, we have more information on our customers than most organizations and we rarely use it. We need to use it!  “You cannot be experientially excellent until you are operationally excellent,” DiJulius says.

You don’t get credit for having warm cookies in your waiting area if the trash can in your public restroom is overflowing because someone hasn’t been in there for awhile. It’s the overall experience that a patient will remember. The entire experience from the front door to the checkout needs to be worth every penny.

Details are everything: From the minute a patient walks in, your staff members are on stage. Be personal and warm.  You want the experience to be so wonderful that rather than a family member just dropping off the patient, they also want to join in on the experience of having good conversation, eating warm cookies and drinking a customized, Starbucks-like coffee.

A lot of people won’t take the leap if they don’t know where they’ll land. The market already believes that you are the best around at what you do. I just know if you pay attention to these kinds of things it will be even better—it will be world-class.

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Need a CLEAR Review and Plan for Your Business?

Strong, healthy businesses all focus on the same thing—how can we get better? Where are the gaps in our service, in the way people experience us, in the way we treat our loyal customers? What are our strengths, and how can we share them more boldly?

MJM can help your business CLEAR up your performance in these areas.

It’s called our CLEAR Method, and it can help your business or health care practice understand, at the core, what makes you different, strong and valuable to your customers and fix what’s stopping you from health and growth.

The CLEAR Method is made up of two parts. First, MJM conducts a CLEAR Review of your business, looking for strengths and weaknesses using our 21-point review tool. Second, MJM proposes a CLEAR Plan for focused, holistic growth and improvement in your business plan based on the results of the CLEAR Review.

But what is CLEAR? It’s our unique approach to looking at your business, top to bottom, operations to marketing. Before you spend a dime on advertisements, you need to get CLEAR.

CLEAR starts with a deep look at your Culture. Who are you, at the core? What are the values you and your team exhibit daily? Why do you exist?

Next, CLEAR looks at your Logistics. Are there gaps or weaknesses in the day-to-day logistics of your business? How are those gaps shaping the way people experience you? What items are top priorities to fix?

After Logistics, we study the Experience you provide your customers. How do people see, feel, and interact with your business from the first moment to the last moment? How can you and every member of your staff shape and design that experience?

Next, we look at the ways you generate Awareness for your business. More than just marketing, Awareness is a holistic review of all the ways people learn about your business, share information about you with friends, talk about you online, and the messages you pay to broadcast.

Finally, we conclude with a walk through your business Review metrics. How are you tracking your successes and failures? Do you have tools to measure your performance? If not, how can you tell if you’re succeeding?

The CLEAR Method involves hard work, both by you and by MJM. But the fruits of that work are powerful – they can lead to stability, health, and growth for your business. They will show you a plan to create happy staff, happy customers, and a more fulfilling CLEAR plan for your business.

If you’re ready to grow, if you’re not interested in “marketing secrets” and know that strong, stable businesses are built with long-term results in mind, the CLEAR Method may be a great fit for your business to jump-start 2017 with a new plan and a new focus.

To learn more about the CLEAR Method and to schedule your CLEAR Review, contact us.

Check It

Okay, I’ll admit it—I love old hip hop and, full disclosure, love Ice Cube. When I was younger, hip hop was a way for a kid like me, from Huron, SD, to get a better sense of the world around the insulated bubble I grew up in, where all of my friends looked the same, talked the same and had hockey hair.

Now, I work with and lead a team of diverse, world-class designers and account managers who work with clients around the world. And we do it from Sioux Falls, SD. How do we do it? By relying on an old Ice Cube-ism: “Check yourself before your wreck yourself.”

At MJM, we subscribe to the “Checklist Manifesto” philosophy. Atul Gawande coined that term five years ago when he put out the terrific book of the same name and the whole point of his book is simple: when a team creates checklists that they all agree on, we get better outcomes for the people we serve. Gawande wrote specifically in the healthcare space, arguing that checklists flatten out organizational hierarchies, enable everyone to have ownership over outcomes, and prevent problems before they become life (or business) threatening concerns.

One of the ways that we deliver excellent service at MJM is to have a series of checklists in place for our account managers and account executives. The purpose of the checklist is to give everyone a common understanding of what is expected before we bring a client on board; what to do when we are working on items for clients; and how we deliver the best possible products and services for clients. We do the same thing with internal processes: checklists govern the way that we work together, from the way that we onboard things to the ways that we ensure that our team members get reimbursed for continuing education, travel, and technology.

In fact, at MJM we even have checklists of checklists—a dictionary of what checklists govern the every day good work that we are doing on behalf of our clients and for our team members. The checklists allow us to keep one another accountable (a core value at MJM) to each other, to the client, and the Good Work that bears our name.

Checklists help us check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. There—I said it. And I’m not too proud to wear that old hip hop badge. Catch me sometime and I might be able to recite a few more of those lyrics for you before we do good work together.

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The Employee You MUST Get Rid of…

Over the past week, I’ve had two experiences that have crystallized the most dangerous employee you can find at the point of sale.

Qualified vs. Passionate

The first experience was getting my son’s hair cut. The second was at a local restaurant. In both cases, the employee serving me and my family was competent and skilled. The haircut was good, and the food was fine. But I was left with a horrible impression from both visits. Why?

In both cases, the employees serving us were apathetic, bored, entirely unexcited about us or what they were doing. They were not rude – they didn’t even care enough to be rude. Their entire presence and manner told me, “You are wasting my time by being here. I would rather be anywhere else in the world than here. You are not important. I wish you never would have come. I can’t believe you showed up and made me work. You annoy me and I wish you would leave.”

The Customer Experience Depends on the Employee

Do you have an employee like this? Someone who, knowingly or unknowingly, is poisoning the experience for your customer? Get rid of them. Now. Whether you are selling haircuts, shoes, food, or LASIK, you will never be able to recover from staff members who show patients how much they don’t care.

Skills can be taught. Frustration can be addressed. But apathy is pure poison for your brand.

Leveraging the Things We Do Well

Most of us buy our shoes based on the style, color, material and so on. And we choose to give to charities that move us or to causes with which we have some personal connection. TOMS proposes a different model for buying shoes (and now glasses) and for charitable giving. TOMS has presented its clients with another reason to buy a product: altruism. This company, started in 2006 by a humanitarian entrepreneur named Blake Mycoskie, began with the idea of “One for One,” that is, for every pair of shoes you buy, you are simultaneously giving a pair of shoes away to a child in need. Now they have extended this approach to eyeglasses.

By all accounts, their approach seems to be working. TOMS gave away 10,000 pairs of shoes in its first year, and by the end of 2010, had reached over a million donated pairs.  Some quick math on my part reveals that one million donations = one million sales. (You’re beginning to see why I’m in a creative field.) But are people really motivated by the “One for One” incentive, or is there more to the company’s success? TOMS shoes they seem to be of good quality, and the price is comparable to other shoes of that style. I would even say that people would be willing to spend the same amount of money without the bonus gift. I appreciate what TOMS is doing, and I think consumers are glad to know that their purchase will trigger a gift to someone who needs shoes, but the company’s is explained by simple market forces.

TOMS success, again, is due to the quality of their product, and not the creation of a new model. TOMS is not, I would argue, responding to market demands for more altruism in the business world—rather, they are responding to demand for a quality product. The thing that sets the TOMS model apart from other companies is not that their customers are motivated by altruism, but that the company is.

If we, as businesses or individuals, want to be able to make a difference it will most likely be through leveraging the things we do well. The lever TOMS uses is a really good shoe. What’s your lever?