How To Become A Better Writer

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Because you don’t communicate worth a damn.

If you can't be a better writer, at least be a better communicator!
Are YOU always present?

Have you ever read your own emails?  Ever listened to yourself on the phone?  Are those around you constantly NOT doing what you (thought) clearly spelled out for them to do?  How satisfying are your relationships? As Blue Collar Comedy’s Bill Engvall would say, “Here’s your sign!”

Okay, I can hear your inner monologue as I type this:

  • “But, I’m a GREAT communicator, I am just surrounded by idiots.” Or
  • “Well, I know exactly what it is I want, they just don’t get me!”  How about,
  • “If I don’t get what I want, I just say it again…LOUDER…until I do!”

Was I close?

Many years ago, in the midst of a job with a manager who “didn’t get me” and a relationship with a woman who “didn’t want me”, I began to look for answers.  Though I was comfortable with public speaking, I sought out a Toastmasters club, just so I could get some feedback.  To be honest, I just wanted satisfy my ego.  What I began to understand, though, was maybe… JUST MAYBE…the communication problem was me.

Nearly a decade later, I have had the privilege of traveling around the world as a professional speaker, married an incredible woman who loves me for me, and have become a father to the most beautiful baby girl I’ve ever known (Yep, I am a proud Daddy!) I have found deeper personal relationships with family and friends.  My professional relationships have also grown stronger and farther reaching than I ever imagined.  So today, I’m taking on a new challenge to become even BETTER, and I am asking you to come along with me on this journey. Here it is: I want to become a better writer.

Last summer, I casually met a speaking colleague with whom you might be familiar.  His name is Judson Laipply.  If you have ever visited YouTube, you will know him as the “Evolution of Dance Guy”.   Several months later, in response to an online posting Judson made, I received a free copy of Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception.  Which has me thinking.  A lot.

In his book, Seth simply states to become a better writer, one must write.  And he issued a challenge to write, something, every day.  This article is the first response to that challenge.  Some days I will probably write more.  Others, I will write less.  My goal, however, is to simply write.

Darren LaCroix, the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, is a mentor of mine. The license plate on his Mercedes convertible is “StageTime”; a reminder that there is no substitute for putting yourself out there, getting feedback, and adjusting to make yourself more effective from the platform.  By heeding his advice, I’ve been around the world…and someone else purchased my plane tickets!

Godin now suggests the same idea to become a better writer.  I am beginning to see a pattern.

What will YOU do consistently, on purpose, to get better? Everyday.

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Quick Poll About Cubicles

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This afternoon leaves me longing for my “office from home” days where I actually felt MORE productive. Sound off in the comments on this blog post and share some advice on how to stay motivated & productive when working in a cubicle. Go!

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Why Your Top Choice for A Mentor Will Tell You No

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The Top Five Rookie Mistakes When Asking For Help

Scott Cooksey and Randy Gage
Cooksey connects with Randy Gage at recent event.

Most successful people achieved their status shedding blood, sweat & tears.  The rest found success by accident.  Which path are you on?

Successful people also have another trait in common: failure.  Each person at the top, even the lucky ones, made many mistakes along the way.  Your journey is no different.   The problem occurs when you never learn from the mistakes.

In the corporate world, managers routinely send employees to training classes, in hopes the trainers will magically “fix” their broken employees.  (Read: Why Training Doesn’t Work).

What’s worse is when I routinely see “aspiring” individuals (often spending their own money) who continue to get in their own way when approaching a mentor, without even realizing it.

Here’s a list of the Top Five Rookie Mistakes:

1)   Never admit you have no idea what you are doing.
I can sum this up in two words: freshman year.   If you have blocked that traumatic experience from your memory banks, try to remember the second one…college freshman year.  Look, in the adult world, you will gain much more respect from the professionals even a few years ahead of you by just showing a little humility.  I have never seen someone in a business suit give anyone a swirly in the restroom—except once…and that guy deserved it.

2)   You can simply hire people to do what you do not do well.
Despite what you may have heard, there are no short-cuts!  You may have heard the phrase “Do what you do best, outsource the rest!”  Let me be clear: there are plenty of incompetent people who will take your money and make you feel good about it.  Outsourcing any task or aspect of your business should not occur until you fully understand what successful execution of said task(s) looks like. Before you divulge your plan to avoid doing any “heavy-lifting” to your prospective mentor, I suggest you think twice. (Required reading: The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and Take The Stairs by Rory Vaden).

3)  Someone must agree to be your mentor before you can learn from them.  Recently, I was watching a video post by prosperity expert, Randy Gage.  He was talking about his “mastermind group” which included some of the greatest success-minded individuals of the past 100 years.  Suddenly, it clicked. He does not actually sit down face-to-face with his mentors (some of them are actually dead!).  Rather, he studies everything he can find where each mentor explains their philosophy: recorded speeches, books, articles, videos… And, in his mind, these guys speak to him and offer perspectives on success.

(More reading: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill – I recommend the original 1937 version for full effect of it’s power; Risky Is The New Safe by Randy Gage; and watch Dead Poet’s Society starring Robin Williams.)

4)  Make sure your mentor thinks just like you do. Listen up, kids, ‘cause I’m only going to say this once: Keep an open mind and turn off your filter once in a while – you just might learn something from your mentor.  Time and again, I have witnessed people who ask for help, then offer a host of excuses why they couldn’t possibly do what had just been suggested they consider. Note: I am not saying you should “check your morals at the door”. I am merely suggesting that you can learn from people who think and act very differently than you.  Especially an “unofficial” mentor. Even Einstein knew the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”

(Challenge: Research someone who has been wildly successful despite possessing very different values from yours. Look for motivators, techniques, and systems you could replicate – seek to understand the “how” and get out of your comfort zone.  It’s been holding you back, anyway!)

5)  Your plan is the only way it will work.  As I look back at my career, with all of its amazing twists and turns, it is almost impossible to believe I am a professional speaker.  What made it work was my perspective.  Every setback.  Every failure.  Every slower than desired success. Each micro-decision along the way led me to where I stand today…on the platform.  Your pathway to success probably will not look the way you think it should, but remember – it is your story to tell.

Turn each setback into a lesson and call it experience.  Remember to celebrate the victories, no matter how small, with loved ones and confidantes. The road to success is full of twists and turns but, when you find yourself enjoying the journey, you will know you have arrived.  You will be even more shocked when you realize who helped you get there. Now, pick up the phone and call that prospective mentor!

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How to Fix The Most Critical Mistake In Sales

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Runner in Hamster WheelThe older I become, the more convinced I am that everything runs in “cycles”.  Music you once loved, eventually comes back around.  Sports teams you follow, no matter how good they are today, inevitably wind up in a disappointing “rebuilding year”.  Sales, once coming in as fast as you can take the orders, eventually slow to a crawl…along with the commission checks.  And that is when it happens. The critical mistake most sales people eventually make…  They dust off the same old presentation they’ve always given, complete with what they think their customer, prospect, or suspect already knows about their product or solution.

Take a close look at your sales team.  If you are a sales team of one, it is time to be completely honest with yourself.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get back to basics.  Instead of dusting off the same old script or [worse] old power point slide deck, start with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Jot down what it is you really want your customer to know. How long has it been since you reminded your customer how your company found success in the first place? Remember that this is your story to tell…so tell it your way!
  2. Set aside some time to practice.  Yes.  Practice.  Your favorite band still has rehearsals. Can you imagine a top performing sports team relying on their raw talent to get them to the championship game?  I know a LOT of successful people who use their commuter time practicing speeches; rehearsing upcoming, difficult conversations; and simply talking through issues they are attempting to work out – even if they are talking to themselves. [You will be surprised how helpful it is to hear yourself OUT LOUD…but more on that in a minute.]
  3. Creativity needs space.  Once you have sketched out the outline for your presentation, planned that critical conversation, and even practiced it a few times, put your notes away for a couple of days.  Let the ideas steep.  During your commute, I challenge you to turn OFF the radio and just drive. Let your mind wander into and out of that presentation.  Think about the message you are wanting to get across, at a higher level, and consider the phases of the presentation.  I like to call this the 20,000 ft view.  The details are not important, just focus on the “bigger picture”.
  4. Record yourself delivering your presentation. Audio is good.  Video is better. Video of you in front of a “live audience” is perhaps the best.
  5. Critique the presentation. This is the hardest part for most people. It is time to set aside your ego, and remember that the ultimate goal is to make such a favorable impression in the room, the buyer will not have  a decision to make, because they will be too busy placing the order.  You will want to review your video three times:
    1. Listen only.  Turn your back to the screen and simply listen to the presentation.  Keep a timer handy, and make notes of your impressions while you write down where you were in the presentation as you had those thoughts. Examples:  “1:42 – sounded uncertain” or “3:02 – confusing explanation”.
    2. Watch only.  For the second pass, watch the video of your presentation without any audio.  Make notes of what your gestures, expressions and body language are saying.  Do you look like you are enjoying the presentation?  Do you appear trustworthy?  How much are you moving around?  Do you display confidence, or discomfort?  How about 90 seconds later?

    3. Watch with audio.  On the third pass, you’ll finally watch and listen at the same time, to your presentation.  Make a third set of notes.  It should be fairly easy at this point to know what areas of the presentation need the most work.

Feedback accompanied by a willingness to re-tell your story in a new way helps to keep your message fresh, and your topic / product relevant.  Stop relying on “tenure” and your “years in the business” to get you by.  Ego may have gotten you here, but the most successful salespeople know it won’t keep you here. Avoid that critical mistake, and you will have more business than you can handle.

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Why Do You Notice More When You Read More?

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Several years ago, I made my first trip to watch the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Daytona,Florida, with a group of friends. It was a great trip. The best advice I received on that trip was to always “Walk with a purpose”. Of course, that meant, if you acted like you were supposed to be in a particular area, you would draw less attention to yourself and just might get to see some parts of the race experience most fans won’t get to see. [Note: We had garage/pit passes, but they were only good before and after the race…unless you didn’t draw attention to yourself during the race…..]. By the end of the weekend it had served us well, and we ended up with more of a VIP experience than our passes would typically allow. (Shhh – don’t tell anyone!)

In the time since that trip, “Walk with a purpose” has turned into “carry yourself with confidence”. You would probably agree that the times you have held your head a little higher, addressed an audience with prepared remarks, and been more decisive you have likely enjoyed more of the success that you anticipated. Along this same vein, I have long since committed myself to seeking out the wisdom of other successful people to constantly hone my own skills. I love to read.  Each week I choose to spend time reading of books and blogs, engaging in online discussions, and listening to interviews and audio learning programs during my (otherwise unproductive) travel time.

Chocolate Chip CookiesThis week, I was reading a blog article by sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer which I shared with my sales team. The theme of the lesson was one of being prepared, setting expectations for what you wanted to happen on a customer call and, in a sense, “walking with purpose”- all wrapped up in a story suggesting that cookies can be a great door opener on a sales call.

Later that same day, one of my own sales team members walked into my office carrying a box of cookies. When I asked where they came from, he told me they were delivered personally by the sales manager of a nearby hotel where we often refer our customers to stay when they come to town. I read the attached note inviting the salesman and I to join the hotel’s sales manager for lunch in the near future. Random salespeople “drop off material” at our office all the time, but this time was different.

Another member of the team laughed a little to himself, upon seeing this exchange, and said, “Hmmm. I guess the cookie thing really does work!”

The cookies lasted about 5 minutes. But, how long to you think that impression will last? My guess is that my sales team will read the next article I forward their way with a little less skepticism.

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Why Training Does Not Work

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For years, I have seen it happen time and time again.  Frustrated managers send their people to a seminar, so the instructor can “fix them” and send them back.  Time and time again…training does not work.

Re-read the bold statement above and give yourself a minute to digest it.  Go ahead.  Think seriously about what it says. Is it sinking in?

Imagine for a minute you and I are having a conversation immediately following your acceptance (enlightenment) of the above statement.

YOU:  “Wait a minute, Cooksey, you work with financial executives to improve their measurable performance, right?”

ME:  “Absolutely!”

YOU: “So, you’re telling me that if I hire you to train my people, it won’t work?”

ME: “Absolutely!”

YOU: “And you are talking me out of my desire to have you work with my people?”

ME: “No.”

YOU:  **Puzzled look**

ME: “If you want to call it “training”, and send them in to passively listen, somehow hoping it will magically ‘fix them’ while you keep doing what you have always done, I will suggest you are better off throwing your cash off of the top of your building as you shout about how you are spreading the wealth. ”

YOU: “So, how will you fix the problem I have with my team?”

ME:  “I won’t.”

YOU: “Well, if I have to do all the work, why should I hire you?”

ME: “Bingo!”

To be fair, training DOES have a place; albeit, a small one.  If a person desires a new skill, often times a workshop or classroom experience is effective in demonstrating the basics.  To truly master that skill, however, one must invest time and effort to gain the desired result.  There is simply no substitute for practice.

For the manager who sends an employee (in frustration) to a seminar without a willingness or desire to help truly develop said skills back in the office, I’m afraid both parties are being set up for disappointment. In this all-to-common situation, training does not work.

Perhaps most effective, however, is when someone self-selects which training they wish to receive, and challenges themself to use those newly acquired skills to increase their success at work.  During my years as a bank-based investment adviser, I often selected to attend my broker-dealer’s annual meeting in a different geographic region than the one I worked.  I found that my colleagues focused on building practices in places far from my own hometown were MUCH more open to sharing ideas, techniques and tools they used to build their practices.

Also, each year, I would work in a trip to Chicago for the Morningstar Advisers Conference in July.  While the trip itself was expensive, what I gained in ideas to share with my clients (and grow their wealth) was well worth it.  In addition, I found my ideas were truly unique and set me apart from nearly every other bank-based broker in my area – something which contributed greatly to my successful turn-around of the practice I inherited.

Seek out ways to be different, and remember:  If you do what you have always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had.  Find a mentor (someone with several years of proven success in your same line of work), constantly read to increase your industry knowledge, and consider investing some of your own money to work with professional who understands your business and will challenge you to try new things to grow your practice.   It will pay off much more than just another basic “training seminar” you received a flyer about in the mail.

Leave your questions or comment below, and qualify for a FREE 20 minute coaching session by phone or Skype!

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How to Fire Customers and Make More Money

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Do the Math and You Will Quickly See Why It Is Time to Fire Customers and Make More Money

THE LOGIC

Face it.  Your time is incredibly valuable.  Let’s cut to the chase and do a couple of quick calculations:

  1. Tally up  your total overhead costs (salary, utilities, rent, supplies, equipment, licences, etc…) for one week.
  2. Next, add up the total revenues earned last week (include sales or commission, pro-rated fees, other revenue).
  3. Subtract OVERHEAD out of REVENUE.
  4. Divide that number by the total number of truly productive meetings you held last week.

What you are left with is the true average result of each meeting last week.   As a formula, the calculation looks like this:

(REVENUE – OVERHEAD)
# of SALES MEETINGS 

THE REALITY

In my experience of working with thousands of business people seeking the mythical “silver bullet” to success, I have found that most people are less than honest with themselves about how good of a job they are doing.  Many of the financial professionals I have known over the years are some of the worst offenders.  It is very easy to make oneself appear “busy“.  The truly successful, however, focus on being “productive“.

It Isn’t Always About The Money

Who deserves your time and attention?  Certainly, your family and friends are in that category.  Your best clients should be as well.  That’s why you need to fire some of them.

Several years ago, there was a gentleman who chose to invest a significant amount of his retirement money with me.  We discussed a strategy that was appropriate for someone of his risk-tolerance, considered his expected number of years until retirement, other investments he held, and he agreed to open an account where he would pay me on a fee-basis rather than paying a commission on purchases or sales in his account.  He was particularly fond of the fact that his interests (growing the value of his account) were aligned with mine (the greater the value of the account, the greater the dollars I would earn as his investment advisor).  There was only one problem.  As soon as we opened his account and transferred in the cash, he forgot what we had discussed.  He froze up.  He wouldn’t agree on any of my recommendations and wouldn’t allow me to put the money to work in the markets.  That said, he was paying me fees (see “REVENUE” above) in return for my time.  The problem was, I was spending hours trying to track him down on the phone, attempting to catch him at his office, and discussing with him what we needed to do for his account.  In the end, despite the fact he was paying me to not take my advice, I had to fire him as a client. It was the best move I could have made.

What’s In It For You?

Donald Trump ApprenticeFreeing yourself from the binds of a customer or client who only wants your advice and attention, but remains unwilling or unable to act upon it, is an amazing experience.  Sometimes you have to fire customers. Once you do, you’ll wonder why you did not fire them earlier.  Suddenly, you have more time to tend to the the accounts with whom you have great relationships–The clients who take your advice.  The ones most likely to give you leads and referrals (the ultimate endorsement from a client) to help you be more successful.  You’ll have less stress, more enjoyment for the job you do, and maybe…just maybe…make more money.

Now, it’s time to call that customer and tell them, “It’s not you…It’s me!”

Leave a “Client, You’re Fired” story or other great practice growth tip in the Comment section below!

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Who Says Leadership is the Result of Planning?

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When THEY Look Good, YOU Look Better!

This week, something simply amazing happened when I came down with bronchitis, lost my voice, and was unable to attend (under a doctor’s orders) a trade show my company had paid a LOT of money for us to attend. My team stepped up.

For years, I have been teaching fundamental leadership tools to business people around the world as a corporate trainer.  Even before that, I had already read and adopted a number of fundamentals written up in David Allen’s best-selling phenomenon Getting Things Done. (Seriously, Google “GTD” and you’ll think you have found a “secret productivity cult”.)  I guess I have always been a bit of the “everything has a place” kind of person.

Here’s the breakdown:

I have a folder for everything (Thank you, GTD!).  When I walked out of the office on noon Monday to go to a maternity appointment with my wife, I fully expected to be back Tuesday morning at 7:15AM to load up and head down to the George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston to set up our booth.  Just to be safe, I pulled that folder from the stack, left it conspicuously on my desk, and checked in with our Sales Manager to let him know where all of the collateral had been stockpiled for the event.

My wife and I went to her appointment, learned the baby is coming along nicely, and on the way home…completely lost my voice.  Uh, oh.  I had my wife call our Sales Manager to give him a heads up, and confirm some last minute items.  He understood.  The next morning, I was a no-go.

Just about the time the exhibition floor was slated to open…I received a text message with a picture of our booth all set up and ready to go.  By the end of the day, I’d received another message that one of our team members stepped up to help out, and the day went great.  In fact, if I was feeling good enough to come in the next day, I was told to head on to the office…as they had the event “handled”.  Where I have seen so many people panic over a message like that, I just sighed in relief.  All was right.

If you believe whole-heartedly that YOU absolutely MUST be there to make things happen positively for your team, you don’t have a team that communicates very well.  If your team functions just fine without you, your leadership is working.  By making sure everything was done ahead of time, my presence was less necessary!  Plan your work. Work your plan.  Fundamentals matter.  Now, go get to work!  The better you make THEM look, the better off YOU look.

p.s.  I wrote this during the second day of that trade show while working from home.  Yep, I had even had enough forethought to pack the power cord for my laptop.  It’s been one of my most PRODUCTIVE days in WEEKS! Tomorrow, it’s back into the plant….

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Lens of Perspective (Getting Your Shift Together)

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Let’s take a ride in the “way-back” machine. Let’s look through the lens of perspective of your first day at any job you have ever held.

What can you remember about that day? What was the weather like? Do you remember the smell of the office? Were you seemingly over- or under- dressed? How organized were the people around you? Was it clear where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing?

Consider the excitement and enthusiasm you held for the opportunities which lay ahead on that first day.

What about today? Does your excitement still abound, or are you now “settled into the way things are around here”? Can you remember this morning’s commute to the office? Do you look forward to the day?

If your lens of perspective has shifted from one of optimism to one of pessimism (or as the pundits call it, “realism”), I think it may be time to refocus your energy.

Develop your CONNECTion Perspective. Focus on what you can do, rather than what “they” say you can, or “what always happens”. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t arrive for work fired with enthusiasm, do not be surprised when you are fired…with enthusiasm!”

Today is the day you will get your shift together! Stop waiting for your environment to change. Influence it for the better. When others around you find the proper lens of perspective, there is no stopping what you can accomplish.

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Connected Organizations

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Guest Post by:
Mike Henry, Chief Instigator
Lead Change Group

One thing I’ve noticed in leadership discussions lately surrounds the idea that everyone is a leader.   Some established, experienced leaders withdraw from the idea quickly.  “Too many cooks spoil the soup.” Or, “Someone has to be in charge.” How does anyone expect to get anything done when everyone thinks they’re the leader?

Room at the top

In a hierarchical organization, there is only one box at the top.  Everyone can’t be in-charge.  Someone must be ultimately responsible for what happens on a team.  But must everyone else be impotent?  Must everyone else wait until a box on the diagram above them opens?

 

When we were kids, we didn’t have org charts.  Whoever showed up played.  Sure there were some kids who didn’t get chosen early, but generally, at least in my circles, leadership was a function first of showing up and then either having the ball or having the best idea of which game to play.

Character-based Leadership

New, organic, character-based leaders lead from who they are.  It causes some concern in fear-based position-focused organizations, but generally organizations and leaders appreciate individuals who accept responsibility, act like owners , and avoid blaming others  or acting like victims.  We appreciate  people who demonstrate initiative.

 

But the old top-down org chart just doesn’t create a naturally conducive environment for that type of leadership.  We can talk about empowerment and initiative and creativity but there is always this looming idea that someone further up the ladder will stop anything they believe is unnecessary.

New Leaders Avoid Hierarchies

New leaders form something more similar to a tribe or a community.  It’s based on connections.  In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the new org structure is more of a project matrix.  Seth Godin and others have suggested that everything is now a project.   Your vacation is a project, and so is your current job.  In a few weeks or months or years, you’ll get involved in another project (or job).  Everything is more temporary that we like to think, unless we’re miserable and then everything is less temporary than we’d like.

 

Connections are the new keys to getting things done.  Project management is less about the project or the activities and more about who you can enlist, for how long, and what is their level of commitment.  Your connections and your ability to mobilize those connections will determine your success.  If the world is one big matrix, how you can connect and with whom are the key questions.

Triad Relationships


In Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, Jack King and Halee Fischer-Wright, the authors noticed something about the stage 4 and stage 5 tribes.  The highest most productive tribes built what they called Triad Relationships.  A triad relationship is a relationship where one person introduces persons two and three.  Two and three go on to build a relationship that no longer requires person one to be involved.  That’s a triad relationship.

 

Can you create connections that outlive your engagement?  If we’re going to be leaders who connect and succeed in the new community-based non-hierarchical world, we need to have the confidence and the genuine concern for others that would allow us to enable these triad relationships.  A series of triad relationships that exist over time and engage for various projects begins quickly to look like one huge matrix.

 

So how are you at creating triad relationships?  Does your organization support triad relationships or does it still reinforce old-style co-dependent relationships>  Can you point to some connections inside or outside your organization that have gone on to produce outcomes not involving you?  I can.  It’s rich and rewarding to see results from a partnership that you helped to create, even when you’re no longer involved.

 

Mike Henry Sr. is the founder and Chief Instigator of the Lead Change Group.  He has a passion to mobilize character-based leaders to make a positive difference.  Connect with Mike at http://leadchangegroup.com/members/mike.

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