Hands Up and Hang On!

One thing about roller coasters… once it starts, you’re along for the ride, like it or not. Once you’re strapped in, how you handle the ups and downs, fear and excitement, twists and turns will ultimately determine how much you enjoy the ride.

If you stand on the ground and look at a roller coaster from a distance, you can see that the coaster starts out slowly climbing its first hill going up and up and up until it reaches a peak and then, after a short moment of stillness, it plunges back down toward the bottom before it levels out and begins the climb back up for round two. It’s a thrill on a theme park roller coaster. It’s often terrifying on the roller coaster of life.

What if you’d never ridden a roller coaster and had no idea that as you started your rapid descent toward the bottom you were not going to actually hit the ground and you were not going to die? But, it could certainly feel that way until you got the hang of it.

Often, I see people in my business and life who are experiencing some kind of trauma, stress, anxiety, downturn, or roadblock and they feel like they are headed toward certain disaster and permanent failure. It’s rarely true. They are simply on the free-fall portion of the roller coaster ride of business and life.

When I coach business leaders and professionals who find themselves in the freefall, I remind them that if they didn’t know how the roller coaster works, they’d want to jump off and never get back on. But, if they knew that they would eventually return to the upward trajectory, they’d hold on and ride it out.

The only reason to ride a roller coaster is for the thrill of the ride, up and down. And, the best way to enjoy it is to know that you will survive the freefalls and find yourself once again on the rise upward. You’ll always have a much better experience when you don’t hold on too tight or squeeze your eyes too much. When you relax into the flow of the ride, confident in your ultimate safe landing, you will enjoy the thrill and joy of the full experience.

This week, remember that when you find yourself in a free fall, when you can’t get your footing and you feel scared, anxious, lost, or any other negative emotion… just hold on. Don’t jump off. Your coaster will turn and head back up at some point. Relax, trust, and know that this is what you strapped in for… the whole ride. Scream, laugh, cry, smile, cringe and feel whatever emotions you’re faced with. But whatever you do, throw your hands up and enjoy the ride!


“Roller coasters would be so dull without their strange mysterious tracks.
I guess our destiny tends to like this idea a lot.”

~~Yash Goenka

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Part Two: Demonstrating Empathy

Last week, I shared about a conversation I had with a man at dinner. This man trains Oncology Residents and, while he is truly impressed with the dedication, talent, and level of clinical and scientific education his recent students possess, he lamented the poor level of skill his students exhibit in their ability to connect, relate, and communicate effectively with their patients. He feels strongly that, these days, empathy is under-valued and under-taught in our medical education system.

In last week’s stretch, I shared how important the skill of empathy is and how to motivate your team members to improve their level of empathy.

This week I want to talk about what this looks like in practice.

So how do we do it? How do we show empathy?

Empathy is often confused with sympathy, but they are very different. Sympathy is the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Generally, empathy is defined as “The act of correctly acknowledging the emotional state of another without experiencing that state oneself.” Empathy in a healthcare setting is defined as a) the ability to understand a patient’s situation, perspective, and feelings, b) to communicate that understanding and check it’s accuracy, and 3) to act on that understanding in a helpful, therapeutic way. In other words, we feel sympathy, but we demonstrate empathy.

Being effective at empathy requires two things: empathetic understanding and empathetic action. Both are essential to understanding a patient’s condition, level of understanding, motivations and desires, as well as higher levels of patient compliance.

This week, to demonstrate more empathy with your patients whether on the telephone or in person, focus on these things:

1)Be truly present.
Listen deeply. Make ongoing eye contact. Soften your facial expression. Smile.

2)Shift to neutral.
Check and challenge your own prejudices, stereotypes, and judgements. Everyone, no matter how different they are from us, deserves respect and wants to be understood.

3)Get personal.
In a good way. Jot down a few personal details to remember. Ask about how they are doing, not just medically. When people feel known, they feel better.

4)Question and clarify.
Ask clarifying questions to get clarity on their situation, expectations, and concerns. Repeat back what you heard and ask if you got it right. What else would they add?

5)Support them.
Your patients are feeling a wide range of emotions, not only about the reason for this visit, but just life in general. They’re in pain. They had to arrange for someone to babysit their kids. They are living paycheck to paycheck. They are worried about a scary diagnosis. Whatever it is, meet them where they are. Remind them that its normal to feel the way they do or to have lots of questions. They more you understand where they’re coming from, the deeper you can connect.

6)Pay attention.
Watch for non-verbal clues. They are harder to fake than words. Picking their nails, avoiding eye contact, slouching toward the door can be signs that someone is not “fine”… even if they say they are.

Empathy is not a soft skill. It’s the foundation of our work and essential to what we do. You and your team can learn to offer it better and to make it a standard by which you operate. It is quite simple really. It just involves the golden rule to treat others the way you would want to be treated. But, it requires you to see people as people, not just patients.

Watch this video with your team. Discuss ways you could improve your level of empathy with patients… and with each other. Remember, patient outcomes improve and team burnout decreases. A true win/win.

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Part One: The Healing Power of Empathy

Last week, I spoke on Courageous Conversations on the Smiles at Sea cruise to the Bahamas. I’m not much of a cruiser myself, but I confess that it’s not a terrible day at the office either. At dinner one night, I discussed the concept of empathy and patient communication with a PhD pharmacist who works in Oncology and teaches Residents.
While he is truly impressed with the dedication, talent, and level of clinical and scientific education his recent students possess, he lamented the poor level of skill his students exhibit in their ability to connect, relate, and communicate effectively with their patients. He feels strongly that, these days, empathy is under-valued and under-taught in our medical education system.

He spoke of the intense education he had received years ago from his professors who were adamant about the importance of developing an empathetic, patient, and kind bedside manner. He recalled being pulled out of a treatment or hospital room by his instructor and read the “riot act” about how to “lift his head up out of his clinical notes, lab reports, and medical jargon and converse with understanding, ask careful questions, and demonstrate empathy both physically and verbally. Even though these new students had apparently not received the same education, he found himself pulling them out of patient situations to educate in the moment and sending them back in to try again with a new awareness of the role they play in the patient experience.

But it turns out, communicating with empathy isn’t just helpful in improving the patient experience. Numerous studies show that it also improves actual patient outcomes, both short- and long-term. Equally important, some of the same studies show that it simultaneously improves the overall job satisfaction of the healthcare providers themselves and drastically lowers burnout rates. We also know it can be trained and taught.

After teaching communication skills in healthcare and business for over 25 years, I’ve come to understand that most people view empathy as a soft skill. They shouldn’t. Because it isn’t. Empathy should not be optional… just something we do, if we have the time. In healthcare, it should be a requirement and part of your expectations and ongoing training.
Here’s the rub. We all want to be empathetic. It’s the intention of most professionals. When I ask professionals in business (doctors, hygienists, business owners, managers, administrators) if they feel they are empathetic and communicate their empathy well… most give me a resounding, “Yes!” And then I observe them with very different results. In the training world, we call this conscious incompetence.

So, how do you motivate someone, especially a clinician, who already feels they are a great, empathetic communicator with a terrific bedside manner to get training on empathy and communication? You show them exit interviews of patients whom they thought loved them. Cleveland Clinic did just that.

They canvassed patients specifically about their experience of these skills and invited clinicians who were scored low by patients to take specific training to improve. After watching the patient interviews, they came to the training. Cleveland Clinic brought in clinicians who had the highest scores in the country to teach those who didn’t… and it worked. Evaluating 1500 clinicians post training, they found that validated empathy scores went up and professional burnout across the board went down. Patients said they felt more engaged, cared for, better known, and clearer about next steps.

Look. It’s not easy to be a doctor, nurse, assistant, hygienist, dentist in healthcare today. There are so many details to get right- coding, documentation, HR, HIPPA, OSHA, rapidly changing technology and treatments, and scores and scores of patients with complicated insurances who are increasingly well educated and demanding. We’ve essentially taken people who were, for the most part, drawn to the industry because they wanted to help, heal, and connect with people, and we’ve turned them into note takers, insurance specialists, typists, and data entry pros. If we want them to practice more empathetically, we have to make empathy a top priority, provide the training, measure the results, and get creative about making space in the system to allow for the actual conversations and concentration it will take to pull off this big, bold objective.

In next week’s MMS, I’ll discuss specific steps you can take to improve the empathy your team delivers in their communications with patients and one another. Don’t miss it!

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Making Business Easy

I love shopping on Amazon and I adore using Netflix for my movies and shows. I’m a frequent Uber patron and a huge fan of CLEAR to scoot past security lines at major airports. I hardly ever actually go to the bank anymore because of the ease and convenience of Chase Bill Pay and Deposit by Phone. All of these rank high on my list of companies that make it super easy to do business with them.

Just like you, I’m a pretty busy gal. I appreciate the precious minutes, and sometimes even the hours, that are saved by a company who offers a quick and effortless way to make purchases, return items, process repetitive tasks, and make or change appointments.

So why then did it take me almost three days to get my son in to see a dentist in Austin, Texas when he needed a root canal? I’m serious. Almost three days!

He had been diagnosed as needing a root canal by a clinic that did not do endodontics but “we’re happy to extract it” for him. Yikes! When your mother works in the industry, this was a wholly unacceptable answer. I told him I could help and would canvas my dental colleagues to find a reputable dentist who could care for him quickly.

It was mid-week and a quick Facebook shout-out to my friends in the industry yielded about a dozen terrific recommendations, though only a few did endodontics. But, as I made my way down the list of recommended offices, I was astounded at the amount of calls that went straight to voicemail, gave me a busy signal, or were redirected to an answering service. One just rang and rang until I finally hung up. Callbacks for the messages I left were slow to be returned. Some took days. When they were answered, I experienced enormously long hold times most with music or messages that were annoying to listen to in between the static. I spoke to many administrators who were unsure how to answer my questions about treatment, cost, payment options, or even location and directions.

I finally made an appointment for him at an office that told me they accepted Care Credit and was fairly close to his home. About an hour later, I received a call from the same office informing me that in fact they did not do root canals or take Care Credit. What?

Teaching telephone skills is a big part of my business. As a matter of fact, LionSpeak is known for it’s unscripted, consistently extraordinary coaching programs for dental, healthcare, and veterinary professionals. We have a robust mystery shopper program and my team and I speak on the subject at dozens of venues every year. You would think I would be aware of the “state of the industry” in regard to telephone skills. Boy, did I get an updated education!

Because I personally have a fabulous dental office where I have been a patient for over 15 years, I haven’t called dental offices as a potential new patient myself in a really long time. I was ready to make an appointment. I was able to pay the bill or help my son qualify for financing. He could come in at almost any time. He was in pain and highly motivated to feel better. I was highly motivated to help him save his first molar. Does a potential new patient get any better than this? And yet… most of them made it sooo hard to give my business to them.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. I eventually found my way to a terrific office where not only was the initial phone call handled well but the appointments and procedures were efficient, effective, and very well delivered. Austin loved his experience and has definitely found his new dental home.

Another great outcome was that this experience assured me there is still a deep demand and need for the client-focused coaching that LionSpeak delivers. It reminded me of how important that first impression is and prompted me to take a hard look at our own process at my company for engaging with a new or prospective client.

I want to make it a no-brainer and hassle-free experience for people to do business with LionSpeak. Just like the offices I called, we aren’t perfect and we don’t always get it right. But, this experience caused me to recommit to be diligent about the experience from start to finish for our clients.

I hope this week, you’ll do the same. Ask your team and even your patients what the experience has been like and what could make it better. Get creative and determined about finding ways to expand your availability and make your services easier to find, engage with, and raved about to others.

And, if you’re looking for a great dentist in Austin, Texas… I’ve already done the legwork for you!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This week we are recycling a favorite MMS. Our new subscribers will enjoy
Katherine’s story and the lessons she took from the experience. And to all of our
MMS readers who have been loyal subscribers from the beginning… you’ll remember why we love seeing the world of business and life through the eyes of The Lioness.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Generally, every customer wants a product or service that solves their problem,
is worth their money, and is delivered with amazing customer service
.”
~Fabrizio Moreira

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Director of First Impressions

Many large companies are creating positions called a Director of First Impressions. As a matter of fact, you can find many job openings on Zip Recruiter with salaries hovering around 40K+ per year. Their job is to design, implement, and maintain ongoing quality control for the first interactions their clients will have when interacting with their company, services, and products whether online, on the initial phone call, or in person.

But what about small businesses? Could anything be more important for a small business than getting this right since it will largely determine how many new clients they attract, convert, and retain? And yet, how many could afford a full-time position to assure this level of experience?

I have a radical thought… What if I told you that you already have them on your payroll? You often mistake them for a “receptionist.” Whoever you have hired to answer your phone, greet clients when they arrive, and keep an eye on your online presence… is unofficially your Director of First Impressions. Here’s my idea: Why not make it official?

It would need to come with a clear job description, extensive training, and supporting tools. The duties would include the ability to be unwaveringly warm and welcoming, expertly skilled in converting all kinds of new client phone calls and fastidious about the cleanliness and progressiveness of the reception and new client areas.

But the job description of a “Director” of any department would always include ongoing evaluation, quality control, and improvement duties as well. This position might include:

  • regularly evaluating your online and in-office image;
  • listening to and evaluating new client and other phone calls;
  • interviewing random new clients about their experience;
  • routinely inspecting the parking lot, signage, sidewalks, hallways, reception areas, and new client areas from the client’s perspective;
  • creating and delivering new client orientation kits and/or gifts;
  • developing and implementing referral programs;
  • and being absolutely determined to create an initial experience that would be unmatched by any of your competitors by suggesting and implementing the best ideas for improvement to the team.

There is much more that could be included in this position description but elevating your frontline workers to Directors of First Impressions with strong direction, proper training, and clear expectations could transform their jobs, your client experience, and ultimately your bottom-line results.


“A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight.
But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter.”
~~Lois McMaster Bujold

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Music Monday: Things Worth Fighting For

A recent Facebook post really resonated with me. It said:

I once asked a very successful woman to share her secret with me. She smiled and said:
“I started succeeding when I started leaving small fights for small fighters.
I stopped fighting those who gossiped about me.
I stopped fighting with my in-laws.
I stopped fighting for attention.
I stopped fighting to meet people’s expectation of me.
I stopped fighting for my rights with inconsiderate people.
I stopped fighting to please everyone.
I stopped fighting to prove they were wrong about me.
I left such fights for those who have nothing else to fight.
And I started fighting for my vision, my dreams, my ideas and my destiny.
The day I gave up on small fights is the day I started becoming successful & so much more content.”

Here’s what I know for sure: What we focus on, grows. What we give our attention to, expands. What we think about, we create. Our brightest visions, biggest dreams, best ideas, and powerful destiny requires all the energy and attention we can muster. When we spend any time and energy on what other’s think or say about us, especially in a negative way, we are squandering our precious resources and beckoning into our experience the very things we don’t want … all while delaying the things we do.

I’m not talking about being secretly angry or passive aggressive about these things. I’m suggesting that we try to truly let go of heavy, negative energy and redirect it toward your strengths, gifts, blessings, and future possibilities.

This week leave the small fights for the small fighters. Redirect your attention toward fighting hard for your own dreams, ideas, and goals. That is when you will become successful and be so much more content.

And for our Music Monday selection (always the first Monday of every month), I’ve selected the classic three-song medley from Barbra Streisand’s return concert in 1994, I’m Still Here / Everybody Says Don’t / Don’t Rain on my Parade which feels like the perfect fit.

As long as you’re still here, even if everybody says, “Don’t”… never allow them to bring around the clouds or rain on your parade!

Barbra Streisand – Medley
I’m Still Here/Everybody Says Don’t/Don’t Rain On My Parade

Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and, my dear
I’m still here
Gold statue sometimes
Sometimes a kick-in-the-rear, but I’m here
Now one day you’re hailed for blazing trails
Next you’re nailed for fingernails
Either they cheer or they jeer, but I’m here

I’ve heard them say song writing, acting, producing
What makes her think that she can? Or better yet song writing, acting, producing
What does she think, she’s a man?
One day a Tony, Tuesday you’re top of the Bill
So I’m here
Wednesday you’re phony, Thursday you’re over the hill
But I’m here

Now I’ve kept my clothes and kept me space
I’ve kept my nose to spite my face
Still once you say you won’t
Keep your place loud and clear
Once you announce you’re directing all you hear is

Everybody says don’t, everybody says don’t
Everybody says don’t, it isn’t right
Don’t, it isn’t nice
Everybody says don’t, everybody says

Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putter
Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter
Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade
Don’t tell me not to fly, I’ve simply got to, If someone takes a spill
It’s me and not you
Who told you you’re allowed to rain on my parade

I’ll march my band out, I’ll beat my drum
And if I’m fanned out, your turn at bat, sir
At least I didn’t fake it, hat, sir
I guess I didn’t make it
Get ready for me love, ’cause I’m a-comin’
I simply gotta march, my heart’s a-drummin’
Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade

I’m gonna live and live now
Get what I want, I know how
One roll for the whole shebang
One throw that bell will go clang
Eye on the target and wham
One shot, one gun shot and bam
Hey, look at me world, here I am

I’ll march my band out, I’ll beat my drum
And if I’m fanned out, your turn at bat, sir
At least I didn’t fake it, hat, sir
I guess I didn’t make it
Get ready for me life, ’cause I’m a-comin’
I simply gotta march, my heart’s a-drummin’
Nobody, no, nobody, is gonna rain on my parade

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The Productivity of Stillness

I’m leaving the cabin for the season tomorrow. Always a bittersweet day. I’m flying to Minneapolis for my annual one-on-one session with my business coach and then on to deliver two days of patient service and leadership communication training for a pediatric group practice. Tom will wrap things up at the cabin and make sure it will be strong and secure to withstand the harsh winter ahead and meet me at the Ranch next Saturday. Preparing for all of that, you can just imagine the To-Do List we have. There really is no end to that darn thing, no matter where I go: Airplanes, cars, cabin or home… it’s always there, impatiently tapping its foot at me.

And yet, this morning, we decided to take a walk through the forest. It snowed an early Fall snow last night and we awoke to a blanket of white as far as we could see. It was magical. There is something about a snowy landscape that is, well, quiet. Magnificently quiet and still. Like Mother Nature has put her finger to her lips and demanded all the creatures walking will do so quietly… hushed and reverent.

I usually take my I-Pod when I walk because I love music and there are always, of course, a long list of podcasts to be absorbed. But today, I left it at home and walked for the most part in silence through the snowy mountain landscape.

I’m a speaker. I talk for a living. According to my father and my husband, I talk even when I’m not making a living. I’m busy. I run a growing company. I manage a home on acreage and a cabin in the mountains. I have animals and friends. I’m writing a book. There is rarely a moment when I am still and quiet. But today I was reminded of the value of it.

We are multi-tasking, productivity machines. Our technology allows us to blast through loads of emails, texts, calls, and meetings and get much more work done in much less time than in my mother’s or grandmother’s generation. Why, then, do we always seem to feel starved for time?

We’ve gotten really bad at doing nothing. There is constant stimulus around us… video billboards, TV on demand, laptops, social media, music plays everywhere. We are constantly experiencing what scientists call “cognitive overload.” I saw a woman hurt herself recently falling off an escalator because she couldn’t ride down the thing without checking her cell phone and totally missed the step to get off. Whether we are standing in an elevator, waiting in a queue to board a plane, or riding on an escalator or in our car… we find it very hard to simply be still with just our own thoughts.

Rumi once said, “Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.” To have overflow, we must fill the depths of our well. To do that, we must be quiet and still. Humans need stillness to recharge our batteries. Scientists have discovered that being in this “cognitive overload” impairs our ability to be creative, solve problems, learn new things easily, make decisions, resist temptations, remember things, and control our emotions. Their studies also suggest that being busy keeps us from feeling the sometimes uncomfortable feelings that can easily erupt when we are quiet and still. But when we avoid feeling the hard feelings, we also numb ourselves to the good ones.

Here’s my takeaway: If we want to be productive, balanced and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still. We need to re-train ourselves that when we are feeling pressed for time and feel like we need more hours in the day… we don’t. We wouldn’t get them anyway. What we need is more stillness. It’s in the stillness that we can make better choices about priorities. It’s in the stillness that our creativity helps us find better ways of working and living. It’s in the stillness that we remember we are already enough.

I’m not talking about tolerating stillness. I’m talking about honoring, valuing, and cultivating it. More productivity and happiness doesn’t come from working harder or faster or multi-taking better. It comes from getting still and quiet just a little bit more so that we can hear the right answers and refill our own well.

This week, when you find yourself driving in your car, riding in an elevator, eating a meal, or walking down the street… before you reach for your cell phone… take the moment to cultivate some quiet and stillness for yourself. Breathe deeply, relax your shoulders, and open your heart. Refill the depths of your well so that you can remember the important things, identify solutions, manage priorities, create ideas, and offer your best self from the overflow.


“Learning how to be still, to really be still and allow that inner
voice to speak to you – that stillness becomes a radiance. “
~~ Morgan Freeman

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Gems of Greatness

13507775 - bright gems isolated on a white backgroundKatie Beckley graduated from the University of Baltimore with a law degree. She came to it naturally as her parents and grandparents were steeped in business and law backgrounds and founded a major department store in Maryland. It was in her blood but not in her soul. By her third year in law school, she realized she was much more drawn to other fields such as gemology, psychology, and spirituality. She took a job at Tiffany and Company’s flagship store in NYC where she learned a ton about their fabulous formula for success in business. From there, she launched her own luxury designer jewelry business. She had all the right components for success: courage, drive, business smarts, negotiation skills, and legal knowledge, but it was her ability to listen to her intuition, she says, that really propelled her into her ultimate passion and career.

Katie is now the co-founder of Awaken the Peace, a custom jewelry company which creates “wearable wellness” through its high-vibration gemstones, metals, and minerals. The idea for the company originated from an assignment she was given while studying for her master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology where she aligned with the work of Dr. David Hawkins and Dr. Masaru Emoto on the effects of energy from natural metals and gemstones on the human body.

The company caught my eye recently when I read this statement in an interview article with Katie: “Everything is energy. We are made of nothing but energy. And everyone has a unique energy vibration. The more energy, the higher the vibration. The higher the vibration, the more light. This is the light you feel, and sometimes see, when a fully-realized, fully-alive person walks into a room. There’s no mistaking it. Awaken the Peace is about that energy. It’s about raising that vibration. It’s about increasing light. It’s about upliftment, joy, love, peace, and safety. We sell from the heart rather than from fear. Our products are genuine and authentic. Our intention is always to deliver from a place of high vibration, where we, clients and employees alike, can be aligned with our highest selves.”

Whether you buy this idea as a retail product or not, you have to admit that the vision and value statement of the founder of the company is compelling. It’s stated with such clarity and inspiration, and we know these are the cornerstones to creating the same for your team and your clients.

If you want your team to:

     • buy-in fully to your purpose and vision
     • feel and speak passionately about what you’re providing your clients
     • feel rock-solid about the value of the fees you charge,

then you’ve got to be able to communicate that message with the same clarity and inspiration that Katie does… to your team and ultimately through them to your clients.

There can be no doubt, no question, and no ambiguity about your love for the profession, pride in your product, passion for the service, and your joy in the work. None.

I remember once hearing my friend, Ian McKelvie, founder of the transformational leadership company, Becauz, kindly but clearly scold a team member who had made an off-handed, condescending remark about a client at a group happy hour after a client event. He said, “Wait just a minute. I can’t allow that here. We are a company that stands for people’s greatness… most especially our clients. And most of them come to us because they are hurting and doing things badly. They’ve put their trust in us, and they deserve our compassion and highest level of energy on their behalf at all times… in front of them and behind their backs at happy hour. My expectation is that all of us will hold ourselves to that standard at all times.” You could have heard a pin drop…followed by a toast to greatness within us all.

This is a leader following and living their vision and passion. This a person who creates clarity and inspiration with their team and with their clients. This is who we should all aspire to be.

Here’s to your best week ever, being the living, breathing proof of your vision in everything you do and say.

* * * * * * * * * 
This week we are recycling a favorite MMS. Our new subscribers will enjoy Katherine’s story and the lessons she took from the experience. And to all of our MMS readers who have been loyal subscribers from the beginning… you’ll remember why we love seeing the world of business and life through the eyes of The Lioness.
* * * * * * * * * 

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“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want, and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”
~~ Albert Einstein

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Calibrating Leadership

Out on my hike today with my two-year-old Labrador retriever, Sierra, I was thinking about how quickly my business is growing and how my team is expanding to support that growth. I was ruminating on how my role is evolving by necessity into one of a leader and coach rather than the sole sales representative and income producer. I want to lead them well and I was thinking about ways to do that better.

I was pulled out of my internal musings into the present as I watch Sierra run up ahead of me on the trail. She knows the route well because we take it several times a week. It’s my favorite hike right out the back door and up about a thousand-foot incline to the top of Becker Peak with its gorgeous view of lower Echo Lake and South Lake Tahoe in the distance.

Sierra is joyful to be out and off leash in the mountains and I know that she hopes-against-hope that this hike will end, as it sometimes does, down at the lake where she will launch herself off of the dock like a rock which is shot out of a slingshot to swim in the cold water.

As she runs ahead of me on the well-worn path, she often takes off on her own side journeys, guided mostly by her nose and ears, pulled by the sounds and smells of other animals who inhabit the pristine forest. But she always comes back to the path and turns around to listen and look for my footsteps coming up the path… just checking in with me to be sure we are still headed to Becker and potentially down to the lake for a swim. I communicate the message that we are indeed still headed up to Becker with a nod, a smile, and a “Let’s go!”… and she’s off and running again, strong and steady up the trail.

I realize this is what my LionSpeak team members do as well. We are all headed in the same direction on a path toward my vision of a world-class communication coaching company. They know where we are going. They often run up ahead of me and occasionally off on side journeys of their own. But they always come back to listen and look for my footsteps to make sure we are still, ultimately, headed to our pre-planned destination or to see if I have decided to make a turn toward a slightly different one. Lest they get too far off track, they need reassurance that we are still headed to “Becker Peak” and not down to the lake or off to blaze an entirely new trail altogether. As long as they get a clear message back from me that we are indeed still headed toward our original destination and goal, they are off and running again, strong and steady up the trail.

At LionSpeak, we do this every year with several mechanisms, the first of which is an annual, off-site Vision Calibration Retreat. We’ve just put LionSpeak’s 2020 retreat on the calendar for mid-February at the ranch. This commitment carves out time to re-clarify and solidify the long-term vision, short-term mission, goals and benchmarks, and strategic plan for the company. It also allows me to check in on the goals and desires of my team as well as leverage their creative suggestions and ideas. We shore up our systems, renew our commitments, and celebrate our successes. Maybe even more importantly, the retreat bonds us together as a cohesive group, to one another and to the values and ideals of LionSpeak and, as our coach puts it, to “the good work we are called to do.”

This annual retreat is then easily leveraged throughout the coming year with individual growth conferences, quarterly strategy sessions, monthly team meetings, and weekly check-ins to make sure we are staying on track.

Is your team looking back down the trail at you, waiting for reassurance or a clear new direction? Are you looking back at your owners and managers for a clear signal as to which path you should be on and what your role will be going forward? If so… you’re right on track. This is what good leaders and great teams do… they check in for clarity.

You can decide today to make 2020 your year of progress toward a vision you love creating and in which you love to play a significant role. You can make it one which feels joyful and fulfilling and right in line with that which you value and those you respect.

At LionSpeak, one of the things we love most to do is to help business owners and managers facilitate amazing Vision Calibration Retreats. Though we can do them any time of year, we have about a dozen dates available between December and March. These dates will be gone quickly so, if you’re thinking about it, don’t wait. Reserve your date now.

You can make 2020 your best year yet. The view from top of that business peak is truly amazing! And, the swim in the lake at the end of the trail is just one big bonus for a job well-done.


“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
~~ John Maxwell

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Good Judgement, Bad Judgement

There are several definitions of the word, judgement:

  1. A decision of a court or judge.
  2. A misfortune viewed as a divine punishment.
  3. The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
  4. An opinion or conclusion often about a person or circumstance.

I showed terrifically good judgement when I read the fine print on a timeshare contract and discovered that the annual maintenance fees were sky high and could be increased with little notice… and I backed out of the deal.

I showed tremendously bad judgement when I lifted a piece of furniture and knew immediately it was heavier than I should lift myself, but because the holidays were approaching and I was in a hurry, I did it anyway … and spent most of that Christmas vacation on the couch with spasms in my lower back.

Good judgement is important when making decisions and “coming to sensible conclusions.” But making judgements and coming to “opinions or conclusions” about other people based on small amounts of information (especially second- or even third-hand information) can stunt our learning, limit our options and opportunities and often rob us of potentially rich relationships and experiences.

This year I’ve had the good fortune to spend time on six different occasions with people who I thought I knew fairly well, at least professionally. Five of them are well known in the dental consulting industry and one was a cousin whom I had not spent any significant time with since we were kids. In each case, Tom and I were invited to spend a day or two in their homes where we experienced life on their terms and through their lens.

We woke up to their coffee and their style of breakfast. At dinner, we broke bread in their way… eating outside on paper plates, or on a deck with incredible sunset views, or at a table set with china and crystal. Sometimes they said grace, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes we sat around a fancy fireplace or a rustic firepit or a homemade bonfire. We shared fine wines, drank aged whiskey, and sipped hot tea. Sometimes we helped with the dishes and sometimes we were shooed off to bed.

We enjoyed guided tours of their hometowns complete with personal narrations of historical treasures, funny mishaps, and special memories. Inside their homes, we learned about their lives through photos of family and friends. We delighted in the variety of personal expression in their choices of art, furniture, and memorabilia.

But most importantly, we learned their stories: Where they were from, what and who they value, their spiritual, political, and professional viewpoints, what shaped them, what they fear, what they dreamed of and what they regretted. And through it all, I learned a very important lesson about judgement.

I had entered every single one of these six visits with my own story about who these folks were. I had formed a judgement about them based on some limited previous interactions, social media posts, and what others had told me about them and/or their experiences with them, and too often through third-hand information about what they had heard others say about them.

Maybe because I had six of these “home visits” this year, I found it impossible to ignore how distorted or completely wrong my judgements had been. I repeatedly learned this year that when you know someone’s story, understand their journey, step into their private world and peel back the layers to see life through their lens… you experience them in a profoundly different way. And when relationships deepen, you move into a whole new level of friendship.

Mister Rogers once said that his favorite quote was this one by Andrew Stanton: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” I think it might become one of my favorites too.

This week consider the judgements and opinions you’ve come to hold about others. What if you spent a couple of days in their home, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and looking at life through their unique lens? Would you understand them better? Would you feel differently about them? Would you come to a better educated and perhaps more accurate conclusion? What if they spent time with you in your environment and got to know your story better? Would it improve your relationship or at least smooth out the rough edges?

This week consider this quote from the book The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks by Assegid Habtewold, “When we generalize and judge people quickly without taking ample time, we’ve chosen a shortcut. It’s superficial of us, and a lack of wisdom.”

Let’s not choose the shortcut. Instead, as Walt Whitman asks, let us “Be curious, not judgmental.”

Here’s some other helpful quotes on judgement:

“The self-righteous scream judgements against others to hide
the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”
~John Mark Green

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
~Mother Theresa

“If we had no faults of our own, we should not take
so much pleasure in noticing those in others and judging
their lives as either black and white, good or bad.
We all live our lives in shades of gray.”
~Shannon L. Alder

“Never judge anyone shortly because every saint
has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
~Oscar Wilde

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