My Personal Brand Part III (From a Brand You Are Given to a Brand You Will Name)

My Personal Brand Part III (Veterans transitioning; from a brand you are given to a Brand you will name)

To conclude my three-part series of “My Personal Brand”, let’s discuss how the dynamics of personal branding changes for U.S. Military Veterans – or at least from my experience.  In the “civilian world”, when it comes to Branding, differentiation is critical.  Without differentiation, your brand is weak and you are not much more than a commodity in your industry – just another number.  In the military, differentiation is largely frowned upon.  Members of the military are the epitome of conformity and uniformity. The only approved and sought after differentiation supported and condoned is that which is based on merit and performance.  It is okay to stand out because your performance is above that of your peers.  Beyond that – don’t try to be different.

To the public eye, a Marine, in or out of uniform is first and foremost a Marine.  Your attributes, both good and bad are first accredited to the Marine Corps and THEN you are considered as a person.  In the Corporate World, an employee’s attributes are accredited FIRST to his personal brand and THEN to his organization.  This is a vital shift in perspective and dynamics that must be understood by Transitioning Veterans.  A Veteran can no longer assume that being part of a successful organization will result in the assumption that he or she is successful as a person.  Rather, an organization will look at your personal brand, and if your brand will contribute to the organization’s success.  From that point forward, your actions will define a brand that is associated with you.  Do you care about money? Do you care about philanthropy?  Can you be trusted? Are you good at your job? Are you dependable?  Anything you do will shape, mold and detail your brand both personally and professionally and you are the SOLE PROPRIETOR responsible for all operations, execution and public relations regarding “I Incorporated” branding.

Professionally, there are two major areas to develop in your brand: Skills and Traits.  This is an idea I came up with while building the Veteran’s Recruiting Division (an architecture I will be using to help Veterans transition).  Skills are those abilities that we can learn in class, through practice, and are taught – often in an academic environment.  One can be taught out to add, type, send emails, develop databases, etc.  There are MS Office skills, athletic skills, software development, writing code, completing a SWOT analysis, folding a t-shirt, etc.  Traits cannot be taught in a classroom.  Traits are embedded abilities, developed over time and speak to a person’s character.  These are abilities that have to be ingrained  trained over time and reinforced through habit and ultimately retained through confidence in their importance to the quality of one’s personal brand.  To give a specific example, the Marine Corps has what they call “14 Leadership Traits”:

–          Judgment

–          Justice

–          Dependability

–          Integrity

–          Decisiveness

–          Tact

–          Initiative

–          Endurance

–          Bearing

–          Unselfishness

–          Courage

–          Knowledge

–          Loyalty

–          Enthusiasm

Having favorable strength in these areas is not something one can build in a classroom.  Traits are force multipliers that vastly improve the efficacy of skill.  The fiscal investment needed to build or develop traits like those listed is far more extensive than any certificate course.  Traits are what Veterans bring to the table. Traits are what Veterans, and most Employers alike, don’t know how to translate in a resume.  It is these traits that will be the guide for Veterans to build their personal brands upon.  Understanding the traits and applying them accordingly is what will build the individual brands of Veterans.  These traits are differentiators.  These traits make skills much easier to acquire and to sharpen.

Skills may provide immediate benefit, and the first 90-days of a job opportunity, but TRAITS are what employers and organizations are truly betting on and will determine success beyond the short-term.  Skills are also the medium in which traits are demonstrated. So it is also important for anyone who is trying to display or build their brand to understand, you may have to invest in your own ability to translate your value through appropriate skills.

Veterans – please remember:  You went from being in a scenario where everything you did gave credit to a brand you were PART OF.  Now you are in a scenario where everything you do DEFINES the brand which YOU are.  Also, trust that the contributions you made to your Service Brand have developed the traits that now define YOUR brand.

“I Incorporated” – What’s Your Brand?

My personal Brand Part I (Part I – of a three part series)

I was introduced to a concept called “I Incorporated” during my final year of college by one of my business professors, David Bennett.  It was mentioned often in our Career Development class.  Now, I had a concept of what it was before he mentioned it, but I didn’t have a title or a real grasp of it until then.  Since, I have found myself to be a very conscious purveyor of personal branding, or what “I Inc.” is referring to.

Branding is largely what differentiates products that would be commodities based on the consumers experience with that brand.  Or is it that unique experiences received by consumers through actively differentiating products that would be otherwise be commodities is “Branding”?  Maybe it works both ways.  For the sake of this article, the most important concept of branding in the larger sense is that Companies…ahem… successful companies, actively seek to provide their consumers with unique experiences through the companies’ products as an act of branding, in order to garner product and further, brand loyalty. The difficult thing about Personal Branding is regardless of what you say, your actions will constantly provide your audience data/information that will be used to make a conclusion about YOUR brand.

Jim Joseph, a Finalist for the 2013 PR News Social Media Icon of the Year Award, has a great series of books known as, “The Experience Effect” (you can see them listed here under Recommended Reading).  I believe a 3rd part to the series will be out soon enough.  Joseph starts the series with The Experience Effect with large scale branding.  The Experience Effect for Small Businesses is, well, self-explanatory.  The third – as I anticipate will follow the trend – and is sure to give great input on “I Incorporated”.

With this I ask: What do YOU want to be remembered for?  That is part of a brand isn’t it?  When you think of a brand, you don’t think of what they DO; you recall what you REMEMBER them for!

Let’s try it:

BP?…

Xyience?…

Exxon-Valdez?…

Coca-Cola?…

FEMA? …

Johnny Knoxville? …

Alright, the first things I recall: BP – Gulf Oil Spill, gas & snacks; Xyience – UFC, working out; Exxon-Valdez – Oil Spill in Alaska, Questionable drilling practices in South America; Coca-Cola – Caravan of lit-up Coca-Cola trucks, Polar bears, Christmas and great with Rum; FEMA – Have they ever figured out how to do their job? & Katrina; Johnny Knoxville – Jackass.

You might have had different experiences, so the brand associated with each figure or name may be different.  I venture to say that the more successful companies are both better at translating the same brand experience consistently AND better at making each individual experience unique – but still consistent with the branding they desire.

A Brand can have a positive or negative effect.  Clearly, when thinking of personal branding, we cannot afford a negative effect.  This is something I think about in my daily activities, my projects, my efforts, and my goals.  What am I doing that I can influence that is will build my brand?  Well, a good solid base is something I and my peers like to call, “being a good dude”.  Now, what do I want to be known for? Well – reliability, determination, drive…

I know that my brand will be incorporated in anything I do, and it drives me to do even better.  Every person I meet, every interaction I have, and most importantly every action or inaction I take and whether it coincides with what I say, is a reflection of my brand.  What will people remember of me? What do they recall when they think of LifebyDamien.com?  What feelings does my name provoke in others?  How am I, and how WILL I be remembered?  Needless to say, I have a lot of personal branding to do – and it is never over.

I look forward to building the Veteran Recruitment Division at Creative Solutions Services, and I know its brand, as a tool for Veterans and Corporations alike will be based largely, on the my personal brand – until it takes on a brand of its own.  I am leveraging my own brand, to gain initial support for this new product, this new brand.  My leverage will only go so far.  Even more so, if the VRD brand does not prove successful, my personal brand will take a hit.  If the VRD brand does grow to be successful, as will my personal brand grow in reliability.

Stay tuned for “My Personal Brand Part II” as we discuss “intent vs. result” and examine choices some have made to protect their brand and how the efforts turned out.   Then to conclude, “My Personal Brand Part III” as we discuss the conflict and what Veterans Need to be aware of as the dynamics of “I Inc.” change upon leaving the Military.

Because Today Counts

What is the one thing you have given up on changing within yourself?  Really identify the one thing that just hasn’t seemed to be “changeable”….  And make a commitment to change it.  It may be one of the biggest struggles you endure, and it may result in some of the most pitiful failures mounted within yourself.  But once you find the way to change what you, yourself, though couldn’t be changed, about yourself…  then you have proven that change CAN happen, if you really want it to.

Some of us, I included, have come upon things in our own lives that we have neglected to tend to.  Some things that need change are easier left to be, than they are to shake things up.  I bring this up because ignoring small things, can easily lead down a slippery slope to the point of inability to affect things that absolutely need change… such as “bad” habits, learned behaviors – and addictions.

This all came to mind when I was on the train today, 25 June 2012, and I saw the same man, for a second time, pitching the same plea for food and money.  He pleads to the mercy and good nature of those on the subway to believe that he is in a place that is of no fault of his own, and that he only needs help for the moment.  I was annoyed the first time I saw him a few weeks ago.  But today, I was angered.

I am not an expert, but I have seen my fair share of life… this man is not just homeless by random acts of economy.  He is homeless because his drug addiction, I’m near certain is meth, has become his priority in life.  His own health, life, or the lives of those who love him, care about him, do know him now or have loved him, mean nothing in comparison to his next high.  He has lost the ability to change the “unchangeable”.  Yet, he still pleads to the mercy and good nature of random strangers to help him… even though he isn’t capable of taking the most important steps to help himself.

I’ll be honest, at this point… I have complete disregard for someone like him to find help for the sake of his own self.  But I do have sympathy for those that care about him.  I care to see him find help, not as much to stop his own pain, but to stop the pain of those that have lost him.  Because let’s be honest, to his family, and friends… he is all but gone.

This strikes a personal cord with me.  And mentioning it may not excite members of my family.  My own father has been diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia.  But I have good reason to believe, his rapid and sharp decline in health, starting about 16 years ago was a product of drug use.  I am old enough to remember how amazing he was, how much he meant to me, and how I will always compare my abilities as a father to his… or at least what I remember from the age of 6 (which was the last time I ever lived with him).  I saw him again when I was 9, for a weekend visit.  Then didn’t see him again until I was 14 for Thanksgiving… by then he wasn’t the same person, and was on medication for the schizophrenia.

I have not seen him in the 14 years since, during which time I’ve only had a handful of phone calls.  He doesn’t believe I am actually alive.  He has never met his grand-children.  He doesn’t know that the sacrifices he made, have made such a life-long impact on me, for the better… all instilled by the time I was 6. He doesn’t know how many times I have needed him or how many times I will hope to be as good of a father as I remember him to be.   And now I have no way of ensuring he knows it.

The lifestyle lived and choices my father made 20-25 years ago, were never lived or made with the intent of today’s outcome.  My father never knew  he was on nor intended on traveling  a slippery slope to land himself in the place he is now… nor did the man on the train that needs help from others that he can’t get for himself.

In 25 years, how do you want your impact remembered?  …because – Today counts.

Military Leadership…wait, no… Followership.

Military LeadershipFollowership

Training Leaders

In the 9 years I have spent in the Marine Corps, if there was anything I’ve learned that the military, and Marine Corps specifically, produces aside from a healthy installment of arrogance…err – confidence, are leaders.  We boast about making boys and girls into men and women and men and women into leaders of Marines.  The Basic School’s “Basic Officer’s Course” that all Marine Officers attend to start their military careers as leaders is touted as “The World’s Best Leadership Course”.  Recently I’ve come to question if we have really been teaching “leadership”…or is it something else?

I recently read an article that was published over 6 years ago by the incredibly insightful, and near genius author, Malcolm Gladwell.  I came across the article while reading his book, “What the Dog Saw” (Know that once I am finished, it is headed straight for the Recommended Reading List).  The story of “Million-Dollar Murray” told of one Murray Barr, a former Marine that was a homeless alcoholic to say the least and to make an incredible understatement.  This article inspired the article of mine that you are now reading.  The article is available for full reading, at no charge HERE.  There were a couple of specific mentions in the article that made me feel like, while there were additional influencing circumstances… Murray’s outstanding qualities were credited to the Marine Corps.  But the Marine Corps’ influence on him may have also been his demise.

Murray’s story is tragic, and while I can’t come close to doing Mr. Gladwell’s article justice by making a summary, I would like to call attention to one of the closing paragraph’s that struck home with me, and I will never forget:

“You know, when he was monitored by the system, he did fabulously.  He would be on house arrest and he would get a job and he would save money and he would go to work every day, and he wouldn’t drink.  He would do all the things he was supposed to do.  There are some people who can be very successful members of society if someone monitors them.  Murray needed someone to be in charge of him.”

What really struck me, is when I read this out-loud to my wife, herself a veteran Marine-reservist of six years, her immediate reply as if she were finishing the missing sentence from Gladwell’s article was, “…He was a Marine.”  It troubled me that her immediate response was so terribly correct… and I’ve spent the last week going over it in my head.

I’d like to borrow some insight from someone much smarter than me, Mr. John C. Maxwell.  He seems to know a little bit about Leadership (Yes, that is sarcasm).  I often compare the abilities of a “leader” to his “5 Levels of Leadership” model (for which he has composed one of my recommended reading books about).  You can see the five-levels in graphical form there for visual reference as I mention them.

I don’t believe we, as in the Marine Corps, build leaders that are truly “Pinnacle” Leaders… Leaders that can develop other leaders that then can also replicate the development of more, leader-producing-leaders.  I believe we train to Positional and Performance leadership, and fewer military leaders than we’d like to admit actually see the levels of Reproduction and even fewer to the level of a Pinnacle-Leader.  We just rarely develop leader-producing-leaders.  However, we do exceptionally well at developing leaders who can replicate accountability.  Military leadership is much better at establishing strict followers of, well, followership than developers of leadership.

The missing link is that being a “leader” is easy when in middle management, which every “leader” in the military is at, to some varying degree.  You have subordinates that you have to lead towards a common goal, consistently trying to achieve and set higher standards.  But in the military, as in many large businesses and structures, a leader with subordinates is also subordinate to somebody.  And that “leader” is kept on track, constantly reminded of their responsibilities and to whom they are accounted to.  Under this structure, it makes it a bit easier to give the illusion that an organization is producing leaders.  But I believe it is more accurate to say the organization is producing followers, exceptional followers, that can perform when given someone or something to be held accountable to or for.

The problem with Murray Barr, as is the case with many Marines, and veterans of other services, is that they are not only taught, but rigidly enforced and have engrained the willingness to perform to exceptional standards when they have someone to hold them ACCOUNTABLE to those standards.  But what happens to those that were never taught how to hold THEMSELVES accountable to their own standards?  What happens when a team, squad, or platoon leader isn’t there to remind them that certain behavior is expected of them?  One may argue that any job will provide a manager or boss that will tell you what you are accountable for.  This is correct and any good boss or manager should be clearly communicating to their employees what is expected of them.  The difference is, in the military, you aren’t just told what you will be held accountable for from 9-5, but every aspect of your life is the responsibility of your senior leaders.  They hold you accountable for everything from the smell of your breath to the cleanliness of your rifle.

Junior Military members that never make it into a seasoned, experienced, and truly Leadership-bearing, leadership role never learn leadership beyond BEING accountable to someone and actually understand the how, why, and need for HOLDING oneself and others accountable.  Junior leaders and junior members of the military never really learn to wholly understand the need for accountability and development for the sake of being able to make the right decision… or if I may quote myself, in order to, “Do what you’re supposed to do”.  This argument could be extrapolated into the problem with over regulating laws that take away the populations learning ability to decide what is right or wrong morally and ethically, versus “knowing” something is right or wrong because it is legal or illegal.  That is a debate for another place, and another blog.

A Brief Case on Synergy… It IS About ‘Practice’

A new song by artist, Don Trip, has been gaining popularity on Youtube and SiriusXM satellite radio [CLICK HERE to watch/listen].  I can’t speak for broadcast radio being as I don’t really listen to it often.  The song, “Allen Iverson” includes sound bites from a interview with Mr. Iverson in regards to his tribulations with the NBA, and general growth as a man just like any of us.  I can relate to much of the song and the intent and message both the artist, and Iverson convey.  However, I do feel that perhaps, Iverson doesn’t really understand why “practice” is important, and contrary to his statement, he view does “shut it to the side”.

First, let me make a ‘seat-of-the-pants claim’ and say that there is a big issue I see with the NBA today, version the NBA in the days of the Dream Team:  There are too many skilled individuals, and not enough team-members.  I admit that the individual skills of players have created high tempos and high demands on the requirements to make it into the NBA.  However, in sort of a capitalistic way, and exemplified by the constant desire for more “compensation” the boycott displayed, too many players are more worried about how they can market themselves, than how they can build a team.  It seems in a rush to be a “star player”, individual players lose sight of their team in search of “me”.  This is what Stephen R. Covey would describe as the opposite of synergy.

There will never be another Dream Team, another Michael Jordan, another Magic era Lakers, not another TEAM until players realize that their individual skills will never add up to the value created when individuals drop their personal marketing campaign, pick up their TEAM campaign, and create more from synergistic interaction amongst players.  Why were the Giants able to beat the higher-ranked Patriots (Not once but TWICE in the Super Bowl?)  It wasn’t individual talent.  And inversely… why did the New York Knicks win 10 straight w/ Jeremy Lin starting, in C. Anthony’s absence and then lose the first two games upon their star players return? I’ll give a hint, look at the other players’ stats when Lim was on the court, vs. the other players’ stats when Anthony was on the court…  A team will play better as a WHOLE than any collection of individuals.

So, on to my point about Iverson’s argument about “practice”…  The “star” player MUST be at practice!  ALL players must be at practice. Not just for himself, but for the TEAM!  In the military, a squad is not going to prepare for a war, or deployment, or an operation, and then have their squad leader show up only for the day of execution b/c their squad leader is already so great he doesn’t need practice.  The team needs all parts, to come together, to train together, to be a TEAM together. Forgive me for not being able to quote correctly, but I saw the following mounted in the gym, on a poster:

“Everyone has the will to survive in battle; it is the will to prepare for that battle that few possess.”

Being a leader and being a part of something greater than yourself is not about being the best at what you do; it’s about making those around you the best at what they do.  They too can reproduce the same, and together any team or organization will produce results FAR beyond those imaginable by any, single, person.

I look forward to feedback and welcome constructive dialogue at all times.  Please feel free to share with your friends and subscribe to be informed of the latest contributions to LifebyDamien.com!

Active listening… No really, actually listening.

It’s been too long since my last article, so I’ve decided to squeeze one in from my WP app for Android.  I’ve already mentioned my reading of, The Third Alternative, by Stephen Covey.  A big part in the 7 Habits, as well as the 3rd Alternative is “seeking you”.  There are always, at least, two involved in any conversation and it is imperative to truly understand what the concerns of the other person are.  Active listening is essential to obtain a true understanding of these concerns.  I’ve remembered a time where I didn’t realize I was using any particular method, but active listening produced relationship changing results.

In 2006, while deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, I noticed that one of my Marines and best friends, was acting out of sorts.  Something was bothering him and it was visible in his mannerisms, quality of work, and the look in his eyes that he couldn’t hide.  I knew I had to talk to him, but didn’t know what to use to get him to talk about what was going on.  I soon found, he didn’t need me to talk to him. He needed to talk to me…. I just needed to listen.

We sat down, and I tried to open the small talk. Dead end.  I asked questions trying to get something I could then ask follow on questions… Dead end.  Then I looked at him and said, “Charlie, what’s going on?”  He just looked at me, then looked away.  I insisted, “C’mon, what’s going on…here, home, outer space?  I know you have something going on inside and it’s killing me to see you deal with it on your own.  It’s just me and you here, What’s going on?”

He started talking. At first about random things that were frustrating, “why are we even here (Iraq)? I mean, c’mon Bert (my nick name), what are we really doing here?”  I responded, “Well, I don’t think that is what you really want the answer to…but it is clear what we are doing here seems insignificant compared to what you feel you should be dealing with.  Where do you feel like you need to be?”  He looked at me, his eyes welled up… I could tell he felt vulnerable, but he trusted me.  The tears came, and it all came out.  He was truly concerned about some concern-worthy issues back home.  My throat gets tight and my eyes still water remembering the occasion.

I could have “gone after him” and talked at him, telling him how he needed to fix his attitude and step up his performance (typical Marine counseling session).  But I never was a fan of that approach, and I knew he didn’t need to hear anything from me… He needed to know someone wanted to hear from him.  When it comes to active listening and being an effective communicator and leader, I had a whole new door to communication opened for me.  Not to mention a deeper connection with one of my best friends.

Posted from my Droid RAZR

Empowerment and Reivew

Hours before departing to Iraq.

“Empowerment” is another one of those key terms that business leaders like to refer to.  It is also used freely in military instruction when referring to influencing an organized group towards a common goal (leadership).  It is also one of those words that has a million caveats, what-ifs, how-tos, and no real black and white instruction to be read and understood.  As is every other article I’ve composed, I’m going to give my views and experiences on empowerment, and add what I feel is an important, and reinforcing supplement: Review and personal reflection.

Telling someone that you have the genuine confidence in them that they can achieve something is almost always a sure way to get results.  We learned that when we were told, “you can do it, I know it” the first time we balanced ourselves out on our bicycles without our training wheels.  I know I personally am more likely to achieve something I don’t think I could if someone else told me they thought I could, and then set me on course to do so.  Even more convincing is when I know I am being counted on to accomplish that task, or reach that goal.  Therein lies the difference between encouragement and empowerment.  You can encourage someone with confidence to achieve previously doubtful goals.  In order to empower someone, you must not only encourage, but place them in control of something that is being relied on by more than just that person’s desire for accomplishment.   They have to be given something that they know will be looked at as a product of their efforts, and then encouraged to “show us what you’ve got”.

There are two specific examples of my professional career where I felt the effects of empowerment as the subject who was empowered.  First, was when as a junior Corporal in the Marine Corps, I was placed in a billet well above my pay grade and assigned to those with 5+ more years of experience than I had at the time.  I was firing on all cylinders just to tread water at first.  A month into it, my Master Gunnery Sergeant, the highest ranking enlisted Marine in my trade had a talk with me.  He asked if I felt I need to have a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer assigned to my section (which rated 2 of them).  If I did, he would get one assigned.  But he then told me that he would be interested to see how I did in the role… and if I was up for the challenge, the “shop” was mine.  He said he didn’t expect me to be an expert to start, but expected me to do my best and he had confidence in me either way.  I asked for the chance.  The personal drive I had to be the absolute best at anything that pertained to the job I had or Marines I was leading was palpable.

The second example was while I was deployed to Iraq.  I was acting as a chief instructor for enhanced marksmanship.  My company Executive Officer (XO) and my  section Gunnery Sergeant (direct boss) said I was responsible for running a 2 day range, and that I would be instructing to subordinates, peers and senior ranked Marines that had not been introduced to the Enhanced Marksmanship Program.  I felt their confidence in me, and there was nothing I was afraid of more than making the XO or Gunnery Sergeant look bad by giving me the chance.  I had to prove they made the right decision.

I later was told by the XO that some of the senior Marines from the range I instructed approached him directly to mention their appreciation for the range and quality of instruction.  I was floored!  Then I was surprised… The XO sat me down with a video recording of the range and all the informal lectures I gave as a part of the shooting package.  He told me I received a lot of compliments, but, he wanted me to see what they thought was good.  He also wanted me to see myself, and see what I thought I could do better.  He provided his insight, but he gave me the chance to review myself.  I didn’t comprehend what he was doing at the time beyond face value… but I was able to reflect, and what he did was HUGE!  I was motivated with empowerment, and then held accountable for my choices, good or bad, and encouraged to do it all over again!  They told me they had confidence in me, that I was allowed and EXPECTED to learn at full speed, and that no matter how well I thought I ever did at anything, it could always be improved.

I never got to thank any of them for those lessons… but if they read this, they know who they are.

Master Guns, XO, Gunny,

Thank You.

Not Just a Number

WTC Memorial Pond

I have talked about being genuine and sincere, and I have been pondering on something that I feel is an important part of demonstrating genuine and sincere concern for yourself, and others.  Also, instead of describing something you are supposed to do, this time let’s talk about something you just aren’t supposed to do – Look at and manipulate numbers.

This has nothing to do with “cooking books” or white collar crime.  Have you ever felt like just another patient at the doctor’s office, or even ER?  Have you felt like just another cubicle space at work?  Have you ever felt like just another seat on the bench or just didn’t have a seat at the table at all?  If you have, then you know what I mean when I refer to being treating like a number; just another one of many to be dealt with.  Let me say this, while scarcity can promote great levels of drive, nobody should have to feel like a number.  Let me add, we all need to ensure we, ourselves, are not making anybody else feel like just another number.

Being a number is sort of inversely related to having a purpose.  People who feel a sense of purpose don’t feel like numbers.  People with a sense of purpose try harder because they know their impact matters.  People who feel like numbers find excuses to perform at lesser levels because they feel their impact is negligible.  I’ve been in both positions, and felt those feelings, in magnificent ways.

In a business sense, I can’t think of too many things that a business can do worse than treating their customers like numbers.  It just tells customers, “We don’t really need you”.  All over the globe, business mission statements have adapted, showing a sense of “care” or interest in each individual customer.  Of course this has to be done within reason, but friendly customer service and simple human interaction with a genuine customer service associate is free.   Customers will always have a choice, and with that, just a price and features list will not grab loyalty.  When trying to gain and retain customers, especially in hard to differentiate product or service industries, no business can afford to tell a genuine customer, “We don’t really need you”.

In a personal sense, I’ve decided that I can make an impact in this arena and I encourage others to do the same.  Whether at work with a co-worker or customer/client, or off-hours with family or friends – don’t make anyone feel like a number.  I am going to be consciously working on my active listening skills, and ensuring whoever has my attention truly has my attention.  I can tell when my kids try to tell me a story, and they fade off knowing I haven’t really listened… I intend on changing that.  To me it might have come across as just another story.  To my kids, maybe it was one of few precious times they got to have my attention and explain to me a little bit about their world for the day.

With that, I say be aware.  Be aware that your interaction with someone may be “routine” for you, but to them the quality/content/frequency of the interaction may carry weight unseen to you.  Every experience is a new one.  If you feel yourself blowing somebody off, remember the last time you had horrible service as just another patient, or your proposal was dismissed as just another stack of paper to be read.  The relationships I have valued most and have been so memorable to me all have one thing in common – that person never let me feel like a number.  The relationships I have abhorred and made me the most frustrated all had one thing in common – I felt like just another number.

Do What You’re ‘posed To Do!

Just do what you’re supposed to do.  It sounds simple enough to start with, right?  Well, I’ve never accepted anything for face value, nor do I think anybody should.  And getting beyond face value, if you haven’t already, will tell you that just doing what you are supposed to do isn’t always easy nor very clear.  There are plenty of moral structures, ethical guidelines, and different belief systems that at any given point can be conflicting.  At any given time there are legal, cultural, social, religious, or business morals and ethics to consider, and various ways in which to view each one.  Is it ever ok to kill a baby? The Inuit may convince you that perhaps it is on occasion.  What is discipline, spanking, grounding?  What is exactly acting in the best interest of those you lead?  I don’t want this to become a dissertation on the morality of ethics, rather I feel I can be more useful by hitting some wave caps that will apply to a more general audience in a more suiting fashion.

I wouldn’t say I have read a lot, but maybe more than average, on ethics.  Spending time in the Marine Corps has also exposed me to additional, moral & ethical dilemma training.  With all of, or the little, that I have read, I have decided:  Just do what you are supposed to do.  I am not saying I am the perfect practitioner, but I at least have a goal to be as perfect to upholding my mantra as possible.  Choosing the “right” ethical structure is too hard.  BUT, it is much easier to identify your commitments.  If your job has certain expectations, regulations, or even just standards you have agreed to take on, they would count as a commitment.  Are you married? Whatever agreements you have made within your marriage would count as commitments.  Are you a volunteer coach? The duties of being a coach you volunteered to be are commitments, as are the expectations of the parents whose children they have entrusted you with.  I could go on, but I think we all can get a good general idea of what I will now refer to as a “commitment”.

Doing what you are supposed to do is all about internal integrity and alignment.  Much similar to the teachings of Charles Lawrence Allen, in his book “Why Good People Make Bad Choices” alignment is about deciding, FOR YOURSELF what you feel is right in your circumstances, and proving it through your actions.  If you have a commitment to someone or something, generally, the “right thing” is the choice that best honors that commitment (which won’t be the same answer for everyone).  If you made a commitment as part of your marriage to not drink, then when presented with the scenario, do what you are supposed to do, and refuse the drink.  Sleeping with someone other than your spouse might be OK, if your commitments align for you and your spouse (know where you both stand together, in agreement, what your marriage does and doesn’t mean, where your religious values are, etc).   You are driving over the speed limit? Well, if you are bringing your pregnant and in labor wife to the hospital, you are probably in alignment being as you are still meeting the intent of the traffic laws (Being as they are able to be adjusted in emergency situations).

If you are internally aligned, you are likely doing the right thing.  If you have to justify something, it usually means you are aligned with some or most commitments, but not all.  In that case, you are NOT doing what you are supposed to do.  If you are still not sure, sit down and make a list of all your commitments (by my definition, not by Webster’s).  Then make sure if there are people on the other ends of those commitments, that whatever you deem to be “right” or in with keeping the commitment, the party on the other end is in full agreement (this will also help you greatly in being more accurate in what you can expect from others, and what others should be able to expect from you).  So, the mantra sounds simple, applies differently to each person if you get down to specifics, but stays the same in principal.  Just do what you are supposed to do.

Added Note:  I will personally admit that at times, you will have urges or be greatly tempted to do whatever you are NOT supposed to do.  It happens, and, it’s part of nature.  However, I can also admit, that making the decision to do what you are supposed to do, and retaining your internal alignment will develop a sense of internal integrity that will pay off much more than the source of your temptations.

As Always, Thank you for reading!  Your comments are always welcomed!

Skills Are Perishable

I’ve decided it was time to make a post that stepped outside of the Leadership category… at least a little bit.

San Clemente, CA
ProGear Open 2010 x Nakama Brand x Pete Ulatan Photography

The Marines are always training and academics are always learning, be it the Commandant of the Marine Corps or a tenured Professor with a doctorate.  In my experiences being exposed to both, I have come to the unfortunate realization that – skills are perishable.  Just about all skills are perishable, and if not used more often than not they get “rusty”.  That is where the much abhorred term many of my past Marine Corps Martial Arts Program [MCMAP] students hate hearing becomes necessary: sustainment. Nobody likes sustaining because, “We know this already”.  However, sustainment is a PROactive habit to ensure you retain the ability to use the excuse “We know this already”.  A lack of sustainment turns, “We know this already” into, “Wait, how does that go again?”

We maintain certain diets, we put money into savings and budget for monthly expenses (well, we at least try to right?), and we make or have repairs made around the house.  We do all of these things to sustain what we need to live, and hopefully live happily.  So, why does the idea of sustainment, when referring to the skills we’ve learned over the course of our life seem so daunting?  It shouldn’t be, and I hope to help anyone reading by making sustaining a little more endurable, and possibly invigorating.

Set Goals.  I know, goal setting is supposed to be for achieving new levels, new concepts, new accomplishments, right?  Well, if we have not been doing well at sustaining the skills we have already learned at some point why not set a goal to increase the size of our buckets?  You know, THE bucket.  The one we cram with information right before an exam or performance test, filling it to the brim and then spilling contents out to the point that we forget our mother’s birthday… Sorry Mom.  Well, there we go, while it may be hard to specifically measure, we can use SMART goals to increase our skill retention, or the volume of our proverbial buckets.  SMART goals, as a reminder or for those who have not heard of them, are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Sensitive.

Here is a SMART goal for retention:  I am going to read one book that I have already read before each month.  It is specific, it can be measured (1 book per month), one book is realistic to start with, and a month is easily measured, and you can set reminders in your task organizer or Google Calendar (I’m a huge fan of Google Calendar and my Android Phone).  Now your SMART goal can be even more specific if you know there is an area you once were competent in and now are just unhappy with.

Hold Yourself Accountable.  If you find yourself saying, “I used to have this down pact, and now, I’m just getting too old for this” then you just excused yourself from being accountable.  A more appropriate, or productive response would be, “Wow, I haven’t done anything to keep myself prepared for this, I need to ensure this doesn’t happen again”.  Harboring the power that our peers have on us can be good or bad.   Try doing something as simple as making a Facebook post about something you want to make sure you do.  It is a great way of adding a control to help hold you accountable.  How many times have you held yourself to your word and did something you didn’t really feel like doing because you had already told a friend you would? We were all taught how horrible peer pressure is in school.  Well, now we can also use it for good!

With that, I say, use SMART goals to increase our SMARTS!  That last “S” now stands for “Sustain Results”!