Tag Archives: leadership

Two Japanese Words

kaizen

Any time I talk about customer service, I have to break out two of my favorite Japanese words, commonly used in the world of Lexus: kaizen and omotenashi. Kaizen means continuous improvement, an ongoing passion for personal and professional development. It goes without saying that any conversation about customer service will require a constant pursuit of offering better service today than we did yesterday. We must read, learn, try new things. Omotenashi is a little trickier to explain, as I don’t know that there is a true English equivalent.

Omotenashi loosely translated means hospitality, but it really is a stronger version of it. Imagine that your favorite celebrity is going to visit your home: think about how you would put out your best dishes, purchase fresh flowers, and prepare their favorite foods. This level of service is anticipatory, offering amenities which the guest doesn’t even know they want or need. It is a hospitality level designed to delight the guest, help them feel at ease, and create lasting memories. For a company aspiring to the utmost level of the customer experience, one can easily sense that omotenashi is the ideal goal.

In thinking of customer service in this way, I am reminded of the motto held by the Ritz Carlton: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. I love this phrase, because it conveys a sense of manners and graciousness. It implies that it is an honor to serve others (which it truly is). When I hear about a situation involving a heated debate with a customer or coworker, I think of this motto. Keeping a poised demeanor is absolutely essential, and the more that we maintain our decorum, the calmer the other person will pick up on our dignified presentation and respond in-kind.

In addition to these two concepts, I am unable to discuss customer service without mentioning employee engagement. I believe with my full heart that there can be no ongoing culture of exemplary guest service without a conscious commitment to the internal customer, the associate. It is not realistic to expect team members to be superstars of omotenashi and kaizen without a direct supervisor who embraces those same values. Of the 8-10 responsibilities I have at the dealership, the one which is my absolute priority is caring for the 5 employees for whom I am responsible. I cannot do anything else unless I know that they are ok, and that they have everything they need for the day. I work extra hours to accommodate special schedule requests, ask them about life events, keep communication lines open about their duties and tell them I appreciate them. As we have built our relationship over the years, they have rewarded me with a loyalty that impresses me daily. These amazing individuals provide anticipatory service to the Jim Hudson Lexus customers, seeing things that need to be done for them and jumping in without having to be asked. Ours is a relationship of the utmost level of mutual respect; we watch out for one another and safeguard a positive work experience. When guests comment on the friendliness and service extended by my department, I feel that it is a direct reflection on how they feel about their job.

It has been said that how one feels about their job is 90% related to how one feels about their supervisor. This is why I take my leadership responsibilities so seriously. Considering how much time we spend at work, I have the power to impact someone’s daily life in a significant way. I am sure that John Mackey of the Whole Foods organization concurs: “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

The best way to fulfill this obligation is to lead by example. If I instruct my team to be punctual, well-groomed, polite, attentive, hard-working…then I myself must demonstrate those attributes in excess of the level I expect from them. If I am encouraging kaizen and ongoing learning, then I must pursue it, as well. My team and I help one another to be better employees, and by extension, better human beings. As we sustain an elevated level of courtesy and graciousness in our environment, that same optimistic attitude begins to ooze into our personal lives, with positive results. We become a blessing to one another.

Being a blessing to someone is at the core of everything I choose to do in my life. It has become my mission statement, informing every interaction at home, work or in the community. The cool thing about having a personal mission statement is that it simplifies decisions. Anytime I am overwhelmed or in doubt, I ask myself how I can be a blessing to the other person, and the answers and actions flow from that. Followers of my blog will recall how I came to discover this mission statement a couple of years ago, but perhaps do not realize how transformative it has become. Be a Blessing Blog By asking myself how to be a blessing to others, it brings personal significance to the customer service I extend. I want to bring the most beautiful aspects of omotenashi to the guest in front of me in each moment, and I am rewarded with a feeling of actually being in love with my job. I go home each night knowing that the work I am doing is my life’s purpose, and it is more fulfilling than any career I could have imagined for myself 30 years ago when I helped my first customer in my first job almost 40 years ago.

While there are still moments of incredible stress and frustration in my work life, I cannot imagine doing anything else, for any other company, as long as I am physically able to work. Customer service positions have to be the most challenging and difficult of any jobs today, but by embracing two small Japanese words and coming up with a mission statement that resonates for you, I can testify that even a job you have had for many years can become new, fresh, and amazing.

 

Angela’s 8 Meeting Rules

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1. No meetings longer than an hour without the introduction of alcohol.
At a recent budget meeting, it was starting to look like we would never get finished. The inherent difficulty of a budget meeting hinges on the idea that decisions to give or take money from a certain area means more philosophical debates regarding the value of that area. Those wanting increased funding are defending it, others are challenging the worth of the program. We all have our pet projects and opinions, and everything spews out onto the table willy-nilly. Time will elapse quickly before any hope of consensus begins to surface.
Then came that moment in the proceedings when heads were hurting and clocks were given more attention than a swimsuit model parading through a room of adolescents. We wanted to leave, but we also wanted to do so with the knowledge that we would not have to return for a second round. In that moment, the host of the meeting left, and returned with a handful of cold beer bottles. I’d never seen such a transformation before: sullen faces now beamed with enthusiasm for the task, and we had a balanced budget before the first bottles were finished. From then on, I was sold on the idea that if the meeting was inherently difficult or long, there should be libations available. You may call it a crutch or a consolation prize; I call it an essential building block to success.

2. If you break rule number one, be prepared for me to leave before the meeting is over.
I hate leaving a meeting early, almost as much as I hate being late. I don’t like anything that calls too much attention to myself. That being said, I will walk out somewhere around the 2-hour mark even if I have no other pressing plans. It’s really a matter of principal at that point. If the meeting leader cannot structure our conversation and respect the time we are giving, then I am not obligated to give them free reign with my attention. On one Board, notorious for chatty, long-winded meetings, I stayed as long as I could, out of a perverse curiosity to see how long they would keep us. They were still talking at the three-hour mark when I departed in disgust. I served on that Board for 2 more years, attended almost very meeting, and never once stayed to the end.

3. Every meeting should have someone in charge, and that person should follow an agenda.
If we follow the assumption that nobody really enjoys being in a meeting, then the person who called it owes the attendees a productive and cohesive dialogue. No matter how many meetings you have led, you need to know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it. The only thing worse than a too-long meeting is a chaotic one. We’ve all been in enough of these gatherings to be able to recognize when someone is “winging it”. Don’t do it.

4. Whether you’re in charge or in attendance, remember that a meeting is not the place for problems that only apply to one person.
I’m always amazed when a person feels compelled to waste precious meeting time with a complaint that only affects them. They selfishly direct everyone’s attention to an isolated issue with no relevance to the group at large, one that could easily be addressed in a one-on-one conversation after the crowd disperses. Before you comment or pose a question, ask yourself if it really would be of interest and relevance to the others, or do you just have a random thought that could be held for the speaker’s direct attention after the meeting is over?

5. Do not talk to the person next to you when someone else is talking!
This one amazes me the most, and is very prevalent. People don’t realize how distracting and noisy the whispered “side conversations” really are. I am not above giving people the evil eye when I hear the vexing murmurings. If someone tries to engage me in conversation directly, I ignore them completely. If what you need to say or ask someone else absolutely cannot wait, at least write it down and silently share notes at the table. Even texting would be better. As much as we all know the etiquette behind a text-free meeting, it’s still better than whispering to your neighbor. There is no quicker way for a meeting to devolve into chaos than one or two side-bar conversations gone astray.

6. Be succinct.
I’m sure by now I have demonstrated the value of time, so I challenge everyone-leaders and participants- to edit their comments down to the bare essentials. Keep the anecdotes brief and relevant, do not repeat yourself, and do not monopolize the conversation. It’s a meeting, not a lecture or performance. A meeting implies participation by members, so let’s all be adults and share the spotlight.

7. Dont forget the power of the sub-committee.
If a conversation on one topic becomes too time-consuming and animated with a wide range of opinions, it may be a signal to form a smaller group built with the most vocal participants. These impassioned members can address the topic in a separate meeting and report back.

8. Finally, a gentle reminder of the fine art of listening.
We all have something to say, and we are all waiting for our time to say it. If we hope to accomplish anything with our time together, however, we absolutely must put our own thoughts on hold and really listen. I try taking notes when people speak, so that my ear is open to the main message. In the end, we can only expect the time to be valuable if the atmosphere was one of open sharing and equal exchange. If, as meeting leader, you are having difficulty getting your group to that point, don’t forget you can always excuse yourself and return with some bottles of cold beer.

10 Things I Would Tell Myself if I Could Travel Back in Time One Year

It’s been a full year. I knew it would be when I agreed to be marketing chair for the Miller theater at the same time I was slated to be board chair for Leadership Augusta, at the same time the dealership was embarking on our “World Class” campaign. As with all ventures, I will walk away smarter for my experience- I know how to take the knocks on my head and learn from them. The year taught me a lot about leadership, and even more about myself. Here are some of the take-aways from my year as LA board chair, written in advice form to myself, as if I could travel back in time.

1. Expect the unexpected. You will get some curveballs you did not see coming. Before you load up your own plate with all of your grand ambitions, go ahead and save a pocket full of time and energy for some unplanned drama.

2. It’s not all about you. Don’t forget that this year is also designed to help your vice-chair get a feel for the job, so make sure you include him in all of the activity. You will be glad when you can pass the gavel to someone who is as ready and excited to receive it as you once were.

3. Balance is your favorite word. Besides all of the work, be sure to get some rest, take good care of your health and keep up with the fitness. You will need your body to be strong.

4. Focus on what matters. You have a lot you want to accomplish, more than is possible. Look hard at your list of goals and pick the ones that are sustainable and will make a difference after you are gone. Let the others go.

5. Be prepared to have some honest conversations when you know in your gut that the train is de-railing. Someone you trust to do a good job will not live up to their promise of excellence, (or they define excellence differently), so be prepared to step in and keep the train on course.

6. There will be times when people delight you with how well they do their job. Savor it, celebrate it, and thank them well.

7. Don’t try to be anything other than the leader you are. Be gentle with yourself.

8. There will be people who will make your job much easier, and a couple that make it it significantly harder. Spend more time thinking about the former and give less consideration to the latter.

9. Set aside a designated time each week for your planning and assessment. Scheduling that time in advance will help keep you on track.

10. Enjoy the year and have some fun. Relish the small happy moments and know that in the end, it is going to work out just fine.

Quietly Leading to Win

The May edition of Fortune magazine featured an article titled, “How Introverts Can Be Leaders”. Showcased in the story is former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, who describes himself as a “born introvert”. I related to Doug’s experience when he told the story of the time he was offered the job of President of Sales for his company. His response to the CEO : “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m an introvert and I don’t play golf.”

In the end, Doug took the job, “his most challenging ever”, and got it done. He goes on to explain that although he isn’t the archetypal charismatic leader, his work ethic and directness won him the trust of his team and his leadership style got results. He would go on to even greater success, underscoring the point that one must never discount the power of a quiet leader.

I’m hoping this is true because I’m a quiet leader with a new responsibility much like Doug’s sales job: way outside of the comfort zone. On July 1, I am going to be the Chair of the Board of Directors for Leadership Augusta. Now that the start date is approaching, it feels like a recipe for an anxiety attack. Although there are no sweaty palms, I definitely have some heart palpitations and heaviness, similar to what one might feel after consuming a 6-pack of Mountain Dew and a bag of gummy worms. This year will definitely be a test of the quiet leader.

I know you think I should be a pro at managing these symptoms by now, and I truly should be. After the pressure of being a Dancing Star and a bride last year, surely this new role will be a breeze.  There is no reason to panic; it’s just a few board meetings and pep talks. So what’s the big deal? Why the extreme physical distress? I will tell you the big deal in one big word: expectations.

I can tell myself that the Board Chair position is just a few meetings and speeches, but I know in my heart that I expect much more of myself. This exceeds the stress of the Dancing Stars adventure because my goal this time is diffferent. Facing a crowded Bell Auditorium to perform the Tango, I aspired to make my instructor and supporters proud, and to avoid any serious mortification and/or injury. A couple of times the possibility of winning would pop into my head, and I would say, no, that’s the not the objective here. I was seeking survival over success. Survival was my success. I wanted to have a good experience, make new friends, learn something about dance and about myself. From these measures, the endeavor went beyond my expectations: it was an amazing experience and I am thrilled with how the final performance turned out. I tied for second place and doubled my fundraising goal. I didn’t win, but I was happy.

Some people who were there that night tell me I should have won. But they don’t know the truth. They don’t know that I played it safe. I didn’t do the tricky kicks  in the promenade around the dance floor, knowing that statistically the odds were stacked against me. The kicks would have given a tremendous ‘wow factor’ if I pulled them off, but the slightest hesitation or mis-step would cause a catastrophic tumble. I knew If I did the dance without the kicks, the audience wouldn’t know the difference. I could save face, turn in a decent performance, and live with my decision. I was not willing to take the risk, so I did not deserve the win. I can live with that.

This time, though, the stakes are higher. I don’t want to turn in a safe performance. I don’t want to just preside over some meetings and make a few speeches. My predecessors didn’t settle for that, and I don’t intend to, either. I want my year of leadership in this organization to be a year of progress. I want to leave my mark on the history of this impressive group. This isn’t just survival without mortification. This time I want to win.

In planning for my win, I have been conducting alumni interviews to determine what my best strategy might be. It has been a powerful and informative process, guiding me down a path that feels as right as that kick should have felt. I can imagine having a year of increased engagement, improved processes, fiscal responsibility and memorable experiences. The team is falling into place, the playbook is being finalized and the interviews are wrapping up.

So why the anxiety? Because it means so much. This organization has been important to me since I graduated in 1999. I have served on the Board for almost 10 years. I have been preparing for this role before I even knew I wanted it. And now it is time for the green flag. This is my one chance, my one race. I want to make it count. I’m willing to take the risks.

In one of my interviews, an alumni underscored this sentiment when she said, “Every day we must prepare for our finest hour, because we don’t know when it will be. Sometime during this year you could have your finest hour. Be ready.” I intend to be ready, but not because it could be my finest hour. I intend to be ready because that is the kind of year my team deserves and I deserve. A leader sets the bar for excellence, and it will not be said that I did not aspire to win, even if it is quietly.

A New Leadership Augusta Year

In 1998 I received a life-changing invitation. I was asked to join 31 other local professionals from various industries to participate in a leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. My employer made a leap of faith, investing in tuition so that I could spend one full day a month learning how to contribute to the growing strength of the Augusta area. A co-worker at the time predicted that my professional life would never be the same. Thirteen years later, it appears that his declaration was an accurate prophesy.

My class of 32 leaders dedicated nine months to the program, each monthly session an immersion into a different part of the community. On Healthcare day, presidents of hospitals spoke to us on topical issues. On Community Service day, we ate alongside homeless men and women at the downtown soup kitchen. On Arts and Culture day, we experienced the world of theatres and museums. Outside of the classroom, we rode with police officers on the job and jumped off of telephone poles in team-building adventures. By the time we were done, we had learned about Augusta, formed new friendships and created unique memories.  But the adventure had really just begun.

In June of 1999 we joined a legacy of other program graduates, sharing a common bond with those who had come before. Leadership Augusta alumni can ask one another, “were you a Green or a Red?” and start a conversation that a non-alumni could never understand. They can compare notes on what happened during their police ride, what kind of graduation party they had or how they scored on the history test. A few can even reminisce about meeting the Governor. If they pay their dues, they can attend holiday parties, business luncheons and wine tastings. For the Class of ’99, an entirely new world of networking was ours for the taking, and the call to service was loud and strong.

After graduating, many alumni choose to give back to the program, volunteering as panelists, speakers, class day coordinators, youth program facilitators or event planners. I was one of them, joining the ranks of many LA Alum who answered the challenge of continued leadership. The Leadership Augusta family is well-known for giving back to the community-at-large, agreeing to serve on non-profit Boards, volunteering for local events or offering counsel to various civic groups. I am one of 1,111 program graduates as of this writing, and the alumni directory reads like a “Who’s Who” in Augusta, boasting an impressive roster of movers and shakers.

In April of 2011, I agreed to serve as Incoming Chair of the Board of Directors, knowing that the time had come for me to put everything I have learned into action. I knew that soon, the next wave of leaders would begin to take over.  Before I move up and out, though,  I want to make a difference. I want to leave a legacy of Kaizen behind me.

Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement, implies that there is always some new growth that can be made in any individual or organization. In this spirit, I decided to use the 2011-2012 fiscal year to study what enhancements may be needed, so that the upcoming term will be thoughtfully planned. I have been interviewing as many Leadership Augusta alumni as possible, asking questions about their year in the program and their alumni experience. As of March 2012, I have had conversations with 42 different graduates, ranging from the class of 1980 to the class of 2012. I bounce ideas off of them, pick their brains about changes they would like to see, and inquire how other organizations run their meetings. After each 45-minute conversation, the notes are typed and the information is added to a report that will become the foundation of next year’s strategy.

Another benefit to the interviews is that I have a chance to get to know the LA family better.  I speak with individuals who support the program heavily, and others who don’t pay dues. I talk with people I know well, people I know vaguely, and others I have never met.  The interviews touch on succession planning, as I realize that this project is planting the seeds for a process of selecting new leaders, based on their interests, strengths and attitudes.

With 4 months left to go, my goal of 75 interviews is ambitious but do-able. I have 4 or 5 scheduled at any given time, and dozens of requests floating out there. I hope that any LA alum who learn of this plan and want to be a part of the process will reach out and request an appointment. I ask that any alum who has suggestions beyond what they shared in their interview will keep sending the ideas. I know that the more input I collect, the more meaningful the implemented changes will be. While the changes implemented will likely be small – the organization is solid, after all- they will at least set the stage for continued growth, and hopefully encourage other future leaders to stimulate new improvements of their own.

One of my early interviews was with Lee Ann Caldwell, a graduate of the first Leadership Augusta class ever, in 1980. Lee Ann served as Board Chair from 1983-1985, and continues to serve as History Day Chair to this day. Lee Ann said that for some, Leadership Augusta is a resume-builder. For others, it is transformative. For a few, it is life-changing. When an organization has the ability to have that kind of impact, it is an honor to be a participant, a priveledge to serve and a responsibility to uphold the legacy.

For more information on Leadership Augusta, visit www.leadershipaugusta.com

To contact Incoming Chair Angela Maskey (aka PR girl), email info@lexusaugusta.com