Avoiding analysis paralysis

When I first came home from the Navy we lived in the country. The nearest store was a small store in a community with no stop lights. The store had been serving that community for decades. The grocery side of the store consisted of two aisles. A meat department was located where you turned to walk down the second aisle. The meat department had some pre-cut meat, but most of what you wanted the meat cutter would cut fresh for you while you waited. You walked in the door, walked up one aisle buying what you needed, turned the corner and walked down the other aisle completing your purchases. At the end of that second aisle was the cash register. The thing that still amazes me about that store was that you could buy all your groceries there in just two aisles.

They could do that because if you wanted ketchup, they sold ketchup, but they didn’t sell twenty-five varieties of ketchup. The same was true of almost everything else a family needed. Shopping there was a snap because there were not a lot of options. Of course, that store isn’t in operation today. Like most things that existed in a simpler time, they are gone as we have decided we must have more options in our lives.

These options can be good in some instances and not so good in others. Options certainly make it more difficult to make decisions today. There are so many factors to consider today that perhaps did not exist previously. Some people find it almost impossible to make a decision because of these seemingly endless options to consider. This is sometimes called analysis paralysis. We are paralyzed in our decision making because we are waiting for more information to come in.

While every leader wants to make the best decisions possible with the best information available, we have to accept the fact that we will never know everything we need to know before making a decision. Sometimes we have to just make a decision with the information we currently have and be willing to adjust that decision if new information becomes available.

In a previous business I owned our employees were sometimes frustrated by how slow I was in making some decisions. I was a victim of analysis paralysis. I was so afraid of making a bad decision I wouldn’t make any while the problem continued to grow worse. That’s not leadership. It’s irresponsible and costly. It costs time, money and the trust of those who work for you. It can cost you your business.

When we make a decision based on incomplete information that turns out to not be a good one, it’s often not as harmful as not making any decision. While every leader wants to make good decisions all the time that is not always going to happen. None of the decisions we make should be set in stone. Wise leaders understand they may have to alter their decisions as new and better information becomes available. That’s a far better approach than analysis paralysis.

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Beyond ordinary service

The other evening while scrolling through the channels I came upon Undercover Boss. It’s not a show I normally watch, but the part I came up seemed interesting. The boss was the CEO of a large department chain. He was working with a fashion consultant who had impressed him with her ability to know what her clients want and the relationship she seemed to have with them. He asked about her relationships with those clients.

She explained that she knew many of her clients personally and knew what they liked and would probably purchase. She said that when new items came in that she thought people would be interested in she would take pictures on her cell phone and send them in emails to her clients. She had a large number of contacts. She admitted it was against store policy to use personal cell phones for that purpose, but she found that it was a good way to stay in contact with her clients and many of them did come in to purchase the items she sent them.

Later in the show when the CEO revealed himself to the people he worked with he complimented the fashion consultant on the relationships she had developed with her clients and her interactions with them. He was very impressed with the initiative she showed in sending pictures of merchandise she thought they would want to buy to her clients. He was so impressed that he told her that the company would begin providing cell phones and i-Pads to every fashion consultant who worked for the chain so they could begin doing the same thing.

So many people in business are satisfied with providing good customer service that they never think about how they can exceed that and create life-long loyal clients resulting in increased business. Going the extra mile can make a big difference.

Several years ago when I was serving as the pastor of a small church I needed to buy some new suits. I saw where a large department store had a sale on their better suits. I bought one of them and later began to get cards from the salesman (This was before email.). He sent me a birthday card and sent cards letting me know of sales the store was conducting. The next fall I received a card letting me know they had their suits on sale again. I bought two suits that time along with some dress shirts and ties. Every year for the next several years I continued to receive cards from this salesman and I continued to buy a new suit each year. If I went to the store when he wasn’t working I didn’t buy anything until he could wait on me.

One year I went in and learned the salesman had left the company. The salesman I talked to didn’t seem like he was too interested in whether I bought anything or not, so I didn’t. In fact, I never bought another suit from that store.

People want to do business with people they like and who are willing to go the extra mile to provide superior service and products. In fact, they are willing to pay a little more to do business with such people.

Providing superior service isn’t something you do once in a while. It must become something you do every day. Every day you should think about how you can raise the bar on the service you provide your clients. Look for best practices, not only within your field, but best practices that other companies in other fields are doing. Go the extra mile. Build relationships with your clients so they won’t want to do business with anyone but you. You’ll be surprised at how doing so will affect your bottom line, and it will make being in business more fun as well.

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Why are you in business?

Years ago I learned the value of asking why. I learned that explaining why a change needed to be made should come before telling people what upcoming changes would look like. I learned that if one asks why five times before jumping to a decision that decision has a better chance of being the right one. If you think it’s easy asking why five times try it the next time one of your colleagues comes to you with a new idea. I’ve also learned that asking why is a good way to understand the reason you are in the business or career you are in.

I recently turned 71. Five years ago, after retiring twice from two different careers, I started an auction business. I earned my auctioneer’s license and began conducting auctions. People often asked why I would do this at my age. For one thing, I enjoy working and staying active. A second reason is that I enjoy the auction process. But, these were not the primary reason. You see…the real question isn’t why at your age did you start an auction business, but why go into the auction business at all.

Since 1981 I have been in ministry. I pastored a church for 20 years and served in a denominational ministry role for another 14 years. Almost anyone who goes into ministry does so to serve other people. The reason why I became an auctioneer is to continue to serve other people.

There are three times people call upon an auctioneer. Some make their living buying and selling. It’s how they support their families. Many auctioneers have regular pickers who bring them items to sell on their behalf. They have purchased these items elsewhere and want to sell them at auction for a profit. I can help these people feed their families.

A second reason people use auctioneers is when they are downsizing or moving into assisted living. The majority of clients I’ve had fall in this category. Like many older people today, they have found out their children do not want the things they have accumulated over the years and do not know what to do with their things when they move into smaller dwellings. Selling those possessions through auction is often the quickest way to dispose of them and can add to their retirement funds.

The third group of people who call upon auctioneers are those who have an estate they need to sell. Perhaps they have inherited an estate or been named executor of an estate, and they need to dispose of it to close out the estate. Oftentimes, they live elsewhere and do not know what they are going to do with their loved one’s belongings. Auctioneers can help them make decisions as to whether to donate items to charities, throw items away or sell them.

In each of these cases I am able to serve people who have needs. After spending an afternoon helping one lady decide what to do with an estate she had to deal with she told me how much stress was gone after meeting with me. That’s WHY I do this. I am ministering to people with needs in a different way that I have done previously.

It’s important that you understand the why of what you do. If it’s only a way to make a living, then at least you will know that, and it will probably affect the way you conduct your business or manage your career. If it’s to serve others then you will have an entirely different perspective on what you do, and that will also impact the way you do what you do.

Answer the why question and see if it doesn’t change who you are and what you do.

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More books that have impacted me

In yesterday’s post I listed five books that have most impacted my understanding of leadership and success. Today I will share five more.

Jim Collins’ book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t affected me more than most books I’ve read. Collins explains that, although many companies are good, few of them become great. The reason is that they settle for being good. When I read that I wrote in the margin the same is true of churches, families and individuals. He then proceeds to explain how any organization can make the leap from being good to becoming great.

I’ve attended a number of motivational conferences where the late Zig Ziglar spoke. His book Over the Top: Moving from Survival to Stability, from Stability to Success, from Success to Significance contains a lot of the wisdom he shared in the messages he delivered in those conferences. This book has been around since 1994 but it’s still full of valuable insights on how to enjoy tremendous success in everything you do. The chapters on the importance of goal setting and how to set goals to achieve more in life is worth far more than the cost of the book.

As I wrote yesterday, my understanding of leadership has been greatly impacted by John Maxwell. Many of his books are in my library. I could list several of them, but the only one I’ll mention today is Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others. Leadership is all about influencing other people. If we cannot influence them we cannot lead them. This book taught me much about how I could better influence those I lead. It has been a valuable book.

I cannot say enough about Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. It’s hard to lead or do anything when one’s personal finances are a mess. For many years we lived paycheck to paycheck sometimes having too much month left over at the end of the money. A few years ago I began listening to Ramsey’s podcasts while driving. I bought the book and began to put his simple plan into action. A few months later we were out of debt. More importantly, we learned a lot about good money management we never knew. I recently served as a Transitional Pastor in a church and asked a person to lead Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in a small group. The financial turn-around in the lives of those in that group were amazing. If you struggle in your personal finances I encourage you to read this book and put its principles into practice. Not only will it help you financially, but you will see improvements in your leadership, in your family life and in your personal satisfaction.

The last book I’ll mention is Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization by Dave Anderson. Sometimes those of us in business make things more complicated than they need to be. We can also get carried away by the latest fads or gimmicks. Anderson keeps things simple and basic. In this book he presents commonsense principles that anyone can use to improve their organizations.

This concludes the list of 10 books that have impacted my understanding of leadership and success. Leaders are readers, and I hope you’ll find some of these books will have the same impact on you as they have had on me.

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Books that have most impacted me

All of my life I have been a reader. Living in the country on a farm growing up we didn’t have a lot of books, but our county had a good public library. During the summer Mom would take me into town where we would stop in the library. I would check out several books to read until my next trip into town. During the school year the library would send a bookmobile to the county schools where I would check out books to read. This love for books has continued into my adult life. I continue to read 40-50 books a year. Almost all of them involve aspects of ministry, leadership and success. I want to share some of my all-time favorite books on leadership and success.

My #1 book has to be the Bible. As a believer I find that it contains directions for how to live my life to the fullest. Even if one is not a believer he or she will find the Bible contains many principles on handling money, leading others and making wise decisions regarding family, business and one’s personal life.

Perhaps the second book that has most impacted my life is John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). When this book first came out I heard Maxwell teach these laws at a conference, and they changed the way I understood leadership. I refer to the book regularly when I talk to others about leadership, and I’ve referenced it in several of my books.

A third book that has been very instrumental to my understanding of leadership is Leading Change, With a New Preface by the Author by John Kotter. Change is essential in any organization, but as we all know, leading change is difficult. Much of the change I’ve had to initiate has been in churches, volunteer organizations, where change is especially difficult to introduce. This book gave me important tools to help me do that, not only in churches, but in business organizations I’ve lead. This is a very important book in my library.

Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (NelsonFree) by Tim Irwin demonstrates how even well-known CEOs of major organizations can fail in providing the leadership those organizations needed. After dissecting the causes of the failures the author identified five lessons we can learn. The first is that character trumps competence. The second is that arrogance is the mother of all derailers. You can read more about them and the other three lessons in the book. Reading this helped me be more self-aware of my own leadership.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, an insightful book that explains that when people pay you for a job well done they are giving you a “certificate of appreciation.” In a time when entrepreneurship and successful business people are under attack and socialism is being promoted as superior to capitalism, this book reveals why being in business is an honorable and decent thing and why no one should ever be ashamed of making a good living doing honest work. I love this book.

Tomorrow I’ll share five more books that have impacted my life and my understanding of leadership and success.

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The difference maker

I just finished reading Andy Andrews’ latest book The Bottom of the Pool: Thinking Beyond Your Boundaries to Achieve Extraordinary Results. If you are not familiar with the name, you should be. He is a popular speaker and consultant for some of the world’s largest corporations and organizations. He is also the author of The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective which is one of my all-time favorite books on personal success.

In the Bottom of the Pool Andrews challenges the reader to forget what you think you already know in order to achieve better results. He correctly observes that most people are satisfied to do what they know, especially if they are seeing good results. However, it is possible to improve those results but not by doing what you’ve been doing or what everyone else is doing. In order to get those results we have to change the way we think about what we are doing. Andrews asks, “Does a mind have wings? Absolutely. Unfortunately, a mind also possesses an anchor. And either can be deployed at the drop of a thought.”

The book stresses that even if we are at the top of our fields there is much more we can accomplish beyond our current successes. Furthermore, it might not be that difficult because the way to do that is found within ourselves. It’s found in the way we think about ourselves, the way we present ourselves, the way we connect with others, and the way those thoughts and attitudes are lived out in our lives.

I enjoyed the example the author gave of Michael Jordan when he was playing in the NBA. Opposing coaches and announcers often pointed out that Jordan didn’t get fouls called against him the way other players did. He sometimes got away with taking an extra step or two without dribbling the basketball. Andrews believes one reason for this was that, unlike some other players, Jordan didn’t often get upset when he was called for a foul. He didn’t try to make the referees look bad. He knew them by name and their families and would often talk with them during warm-ups about things going on in their families. Conducting himself professionally, connecting personally with the referees and being the best basketball player of his time all may have led him to getting an occasional break that other players didn’t get. This is just one example found in the book.

You and I may not be Michael Jordan, but the same opportunities are available to us that he enjoyed. When we think positively about ourselves, act professional in whatever we do, connect well with others, and exhibit a high level of skill in what we do we will advance to another level not available to those who do not do those things.

I encourage you to read the book.

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Hiring the right people

I grew up on farms in southern Indiana. We milked cows, raised corn, soybeans, tobacco and hay. One summer we had hay in the field to be put in the barn. Dad was working off the farm at the time and left it to me to get the hay. I was about 15 years old at the time. He told me to call a new youth employment service in our county to hire some help which I did. I requested two people and stressed they needed to have worked in hay fields before. I waited an hour for them to show, and when they did I knew I couldn’t use them.

As they walked down the gravel road to our place I noticed they both wore shorts, tennis shoes with no socks, no hats, and their pace hardly inspired confidence they would last a hot summer day putting hay in the barn. When they got to the barn I told them to go back home because I couldn’t use them. They were not dressed for the hay field, and the hay would eat their arms and legs up. They weren’t happy with me but finally left. I spent the day loading hay on the wagon by myself, putting it up in the barn loft and then stacking it before going back in the field for another load. My Dad wasn’t happy with the progress I made until I explained I had to do it by myself.

How much time and expense do we lose by hiring the wrong people? I could have put those two teens to work, but they probably would not have lasted until lunch and most likely would have slowed me down more than doing it myself. Plus I lost an hour of the day waiting on them to show up.

Many companies are struggling to find quality people to hire for their open positions, but the biggest mistake they can make is to hire the wrong person just to fill a position. The wrong person is looking for a paycheck and isn’t interested in long-term employment or even doing a good job while he or she works for you. You know you’ve hired the wrong person if you find yourself wishing that person would quit. For your own piece of mind and for the sake of the company you probably should make that decision for the person and give them the opportunity to find a job they will want to do.

Some companies are now requiring a lengthy hiring process. It can take months and several interviews to get a position at Dave Ramsey’s organization. I was talking with an individual today who went through two interviews with one company before he was eliminated from consideration. Another person I know recently interviewed for a police position and has gone through several interviews and skills testing. He’s still waiting on an answer. Each of these organizations want to be sure they hire the best person for the positions.

These organizations know the value of identifying the right person for the position, and it’s not someone who has a pulse. They want people with the skills and temperament for the position and someone who will work well in a team environment. These qualities cannot be discovered from a resume or a half-hour interview.

If your company or organization has a high level of turnover you might want to look at your hiring techniques. Chances are you are making the mistake of hiring the wrong people. Improve your hiring process and you will probably be much happier with the results.

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