All Articles by Network Magazine

2020-spring-how-do-your-clients-view-you

How do your clients view you? Ask them.

When working with clients, we often find it is obvious that they do not know if their clients are satisfied. They assume that if the client doesn’t tell them about it, the client is happy and will continue to work with them. While it is a problem, it is a relatively simple one to solve. […]

When working with clients, we often find it is obvious that they do not know if their clients are satisfied. They assume that if the client doesn’t tell them about it, the client is happy and will continue to work with them.

While it is a problem, it is a relatively simple one to solve. How? Ask your clients.

There are several ways to do so from a simple client satisfaction survey to more in-depth client interviews. Before we get into the mechanics of surveys or interviews, it may be helpful to know why asking your clients is a good idea.

BAD NEWS

You will likely discover potential issues with the client, which sounds like asking them would be a bad idea. But it is better to know if there are fixable problems before the client fires you and hires a competitor. We do not think it is a client’s responsibility to bring issues to you – it is your responsibility, as the service provider, to ask.  Further, there are likely others in your market to service the client giving the client plenty of choices to hire someone else.  Keep your finger on their pulse, so they do not exercise other options. Without asking, you may be the last to know that there were fixable issues.

OPPORTUNITIES

This is your chance to uncover potential opportunities. If the client is generally satisfied, they may consider you for other services. The survey or interview should ask questions to find out what other needs the client has and who provides those services.  You can also use this opportunity to make sure that the client understands the full range of services that you can provide.

TESTIMONIALS

Client satisfaction tools are an easy way to solicit positive client testimonials and reviews that can be used for marketing purposes.  Depending on your profession, there may be compliance or ethical considerations on how you are able to use testimonials and reviews, so be careful before you implement the use of your clients’ kind words!

Did we convince you on why you should be talking to your clients?  Okay, now, how do you go about it?

As mentioned above, you can either take a survey or interview.

THE SURVEY

This may be a more realistic approach due to time and money concerns.  There are inexpensive tools that are available for client satisfaction surveys.  One example is SurveyMonkey – it is easy to use and has features to see data and measure results.  It is also an email tool, so you do not have to deal with envelopes, postage, printing, and everything else that is related to post mail.

CLIENT INTERVIEWS

If you decide to go “All-in” and do client interviews, you can uncover a lot of information and can interact with the client on a human level.  As you can imagine, this takes much more time than a survey.  One point to make is that a face-to-face interview may cause the client to hold back.  Most people do not like confrontation or be comfortable expressing dissatisfaction.  A possible solution, and probably a good idea, is to have somebody else do the interview.  This other person could be a colleague, such as the top dog at your company, or there are outside agencies that can provide these services. An added benefit to this latter approach is that a third-party can ensure confidentiality if that is the client’s preference.

No matter which approach makes sense for you, pick one.  Start small by picking and starting with just a few key clients.  This will help you focus on specifics and hone your questions. And, once you see the positive comments, you’ll be inclined to keep going. One point of caution: don’t exclude “problem” clients, or those who you think will not give you good reviews. You could save your working relationship by showing that you value them.

There is an old saying that clients do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.  One way to show your level of care is to simply ask.  It is key to keeping satisfied clients.  Satisfied clients are loyal clients.  Loyal clients will send you repeat business and refer others to you.  They will also be more apt to work with you to fix problems.

ESQuisite Marketing is a professional service marketing company with a niche in the legal industry. Clients include large and small law firms, solo practitioners, certified legal nurse consultants, public speakers, financial services firms, and nonprofits in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the U.S.

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2020-spring-marijuana

Dazed And Confused About Medical Marijuana And The Pa Workers’ Compensation Act

On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed “The Medical Marijuana Act” (MMA) into law. That law went into effect in January 2018. While you may (or may not) agree with the use of medical marijuana, there are thousands of patients who are eagerly using their card at dispensaries across the state. Over the past […]

On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed “The Medical Marijuana Act” (MMA) into law. That law went into effect in January 2018.

While you may (or may not) agree with the use of medical marijuana, there are thousands of patients who are eagerly using their card at dispensaries across the state. Over the past two years, more than 100,000 patients have been certified, and more than 60 state-approved dispensaries have opened.

So, what does the use of medical marijuana mean to an injured worker in Pennsylvania?

Short answer: a lot.

Under the MMA, physicians who have been certified by the Department of Health can recommend (not prescribe) medical marijuana to patients with one of 22 serious medical conditions. Several of those qualifying medical conditions – including neuropathies and severe chronic or intractable pain – are relatable to workers’ compensation claims.

Notwithstanding the state legality of medical marijuana, barriers still exist in the employment arena – particularly when it comes to workers’ comp. The first issue is whether the use of medical marijuana gives an employer a viable defense to an otherwise compensable claim.

Under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act, employers are responsible for injuries that occur in the course of employment. However, there are exceptions to liability. For example, if an employee was violating the law when he/she was injured, the employer has a defense to the claim. The Act specifically cites the illegal use of drugs as one such violation of the law. Additionally, injuries that occur due to an employee’s intoxication are excluded. But if an employee has a valid medical marijuana card – what law are they violating?

Medical marijuana legally obtained and used under the provisions of the MMA is not a violation of state law. However, marijuana, including medical marijuana, remains illegal under federal law. So, can an employer still invoke a “violation of law” defense to a Pennsylvania work injury? Probably not. Workers’ compensation is a state matter. Thus, state law should dictate whether a claimant is in violation of the law. But this may not prevent your employer from conducting a drug screen post-injury or otherwise enforcing an employment policy. After all, should you really be operating heavy equipment at a job site if you have cannabis in your system? In fact, medical marijuana must be labeled with various information and warnings, including, “This product might impair the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery.”

Further complicating the issue is Pennsylvania’s DUI laws, which establish that it is illegal to operate a vehicle if there is any level of a Schedule I drug in your system. This appears to be a real problem for employers that have employees driving company vehicles.

Moving past marijuana use as a defense to a workers’ compensation claim, questions also exist as to whether an insurance carrier is required to pay for medical marijuana for an injured worker. Under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act, carriers are required to pay for reasonable and necessary treatment, including medication. However, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, and carriers universally exclude medical marijuana from coverage. Section 2102 of the MMA specifically states, “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require an insurer or a health plan, whether paid for by Commonwealth funds or private funds, to provide coverage for medical marijuana.” While the PA Workers’ Compensation Act is silent as to the issue of reimbursement, several other states (Arizona, Florida, and Illinois) have written into their medical marijuana laws that workers’ comp carriers are not required to reimburse workers for medical marijuana use for work injuries.

Even though carriers may have a legal basis to deny payment for medical marijuana, some offer reimbursement to the injured worker. Given the current opioid crisis and the escalating costs of prescription medication, there is a financial incentive for a carrier to reimburse the modest monthly cost of a marijuana prescription. In January of this year, a New Jersey appeals court ruled that a contractor was required to reimburse a former employee for the cost of the medical marijuana that he uses to treat his incessant pain from a work-related injury. Given the addictive nature of opioids, it seems that it would benefit both the injured worker and insurance companies if the carrier would be obligated to pay for medical marijuana prescriptions.

As you can see, medical marijuana is certainly a “hot topic” in the workers’ compensation arena. While insurance carriers and attorneys try to speculate on what liabilities exist, there is little guidance from the Court. Indeed, many practitioners are waiting for that seminal case to further identify the rights of the injured worker and the obligations of the employer when it comes to the interpretation of the MMA. Whatever the outcome, the focus should remain on workplace safety and advancing the humanitarian purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

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2020-spring-inmate

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania Leads the Charge on Former Inmate Reintegration

It is no secret that incarceration rates in the United States are higher than in most large western democracies. On the Federal level, high incarceration rates can be traced to sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences for drug and violent crimes, and increased plea bargaining. However, our society cannot simply value punishment without rehabilitation, because after […]

It is no secret that incarceration rates in the United States are higher than in most large western democracies. On the Federal level, high incarceration rates can be traced to sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences for drug and violent crimes, and increased plea bargaining. However, our society cannot simply value punishment without rehabilitation, because after all, those who go to prison will eventually be released and come home to our communities.

This past summer, I had the privilege of working for the United States Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, an experience I will carry with me during my professional career. This article discusses my experience with the Supervision to Aid Reentry Program (hereinafter “STAR”), a first of its kind reentry program developed by jurists and legal professionals within the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, geared toward helping former federal inmates reintegrate into society. Since its creation, the STAR Program has become a model post-release reintegration program adopted by many additional federal and state jurisdictions across the United States.

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act, which eliminated parole for all federal defendants convicted after November 1, 1987. All federal inmates are required to serve their full sentences, which in many cases are heavier than state sentences because of sentencing guidelines and statutory minimums. Additionally, inmates do have an opportunity to earn up to 54 days per year for good behavior. Upon release, former inmates are typically placed under “supervised release” and monitored by officers of the United States Probation Office. However, recidivism rates, which are the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested and charged with similar offenses, remained high, with many former federal inmates being sent back to prison for probation violations or convictions for new crimes.

In 2007, members of bench for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania created the STAR Program, better known as Reentry Court, to help recently released federal inmates, who had served lengthy prison terms, reintegrate into the community. The program is voluntary and typically lasts for 52 weeks. The eligibility criteria include individuals with a significant risk of recidivism and/or history of violent crimes, who are Philadelphia residents. The groups, or classes, contain up to 20 participants currently on supervised release, who appear as a group every two weeks before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice or Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge L. Felipe Restrepo. The bi-weekly meetings allow the program participants to report on their progress regarding developments with employment or with their personal lives. U.S. Probation Officers, together with Federal Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys and Judges, assist participants with obtaining an education, employment, housing support, and financial literacy. The program culminates in a graduation ceremony attended by Judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. District Judges (many of whom were the original sentencing judges), U.S. Magistrate Judges, Federal Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, and most importantly, friends and family members of the graduates. From my modest experience as an aspiring attorney, it is a rare instance where a courtroom is a place of celebration, where leaders of the Pennsylvania legal community come together to ensure the post-release success of those who have duly served their time.

Punishment can come in many forms, and the failure of the justice system or the community to help properly reintegrate former inmates who served their sentence punishes them further and harms the legitimacy of the justice system’s major tenet of rehabilitation. As citizens living within the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, we should be proud of the federal jurists and legal professionals who came together and created such an important program which addresses the struggles and barriers faced by an often neglected population: those who have served their time and now must reenter the community. Thomas Paine once said, “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty . . . . He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates his duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

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2020-spring-politics

Politics In The Workplace: Avoiding The Potential Landmines

“Let’s have a calm, rational discussion about why your political beliefs are entirely incorrect and why my beliefs are clearly correct.”  A statement said recently by no one, ever.  What is more likely to occur in today’s world is one party yelling “Feel the Bern” while the other party screams “Trump 2020” or “bring back […]

“Let’s have a calm, rational discussion about why your political beliefs are entirely incorrect and why my beliefs are clearly correct.”  A statement said recently by no one, ever.  What is more likely to occur in today’s world is one party yelling “Feel the Bern” while the other party screams “Trump 2020” or “bring back Ross Perot!”  While the political arguments occurring are disruptive when they occur on a bus, the grocery store, or at a family holiday, such discourse has the potential to significantly and detrimentally impact a workplace.

Employers, however, struggle with what they can do to limit the possible issues which may result from employees discussing politics in the workplace.  Many employers, and more importantly employees, believe that they are free to discuss their political beliefs while at work, regardless of the problems it may cause because they have a “First Amendment Right” to engage in this behavior.  While employers may permit employees to discuss politics in the workplace, employees of private employers have no “First Amendment Right” to engage in such discussions while in the workplace.  Additionally, employees may be disciplined by employers for statements made outside of the workplace if they have an impact on the workplace.

In this regard, the First Amendment provides protection from intrusion by the federal government into an individual’s free speech.  The keywords in the foregoing are “intrusion by the federal government.”  Someone working for Target, the local manufacturing company, or a private accounting firm is generally not being employed by the “federal government.”  Accordingly, if Bob in sales who works for ABC, Corp. decides he wants to put “Trump 2020” posters all over his workspace and berate his co-workers about their political beliefs, ABC, Corp. can inform Bob that he can do so at another place of employment.

The same logic extends to postings that employees place on social media websites.  Courts have routinely stated that an employer is free to have clients and customers who are both Republicans and Democrats.  As such, if an employee posts a disparaging comment about a Democrat or a Republican, an employer can inform the employee that it needs to remove the posting or be subject to discipline.  Depending on the nature of the comment or posting, an employer may be able to terminate an employee if the language is severe, profane, obscene, is of a harassing nature, or if the employee’s conduct constitutes insubordination.

Based upon the previous, employers should develop internal policies and procedures which dictate how they are going to handle political discussions in the workplace.  An internal policy should indicate that the employer encourages its employees to take an interest in politics, but specifically state that such activities should not occur in the workplace.  A well-crafted policy should also provide examples of what is and is not appropriate behavior in the workplace. It should cite to the employer’s other impacted policies and procedures (e.g., an anti-harassment and discrimination policy and the employer’s disciplinary policy).  The policy should further state that any violation will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.  Finally, the policy should include a disclaimer that it does not prevent or prohibit employees from engaging in activities which are protected by law, specifically the National Labor Relations Act (which protects employees who are engaging in discussions about the terms and conditions of employment, such as wages or benefits, not whether the government should pay for everyone’s college or build a wall).

Managers and supervisors must be provided with training on the employer’s political policies and how to handle issues when they arise.  By way of example, if a supervisor overhears a political discussion, the supervisor should understand how to intervene and prevent the discussion from becoming a problem.  Managers and supervisors should also be specially trained on how to consistently apply the policies of the employer.  If a manager or supervisor does not apply a policy consistently, it may result in a bigger headache for an employer in the nature of a claim of discrimination.

If an employer does not adopt a specific political activity policy and train managers and supervisors on the policy, any issues of “political discussions” in the workplace will be handled on a case-by-case basis, if at all, which is more likely to lead to potential liability for an employer.  Regardless of whether a company’s employees “Feel the Burn,” believe in “No Malarkey” Joe Biden, or want “Trump 2020”, they will all agree that an employer who discriminatorily applies its policies will not receive their vote.

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The End of the Stretch: What to Do about the SECURE Act and Its Momentous Effects on Your Retirement Plan and Estate Plan

The SECURE (Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement) Act, passed by Congress and made effective as of January 1, 2020, made momentous changes to the Federal Tax Code and its rules regarding distributions from retirement accounts including 401(k) and 403(b) plans, IRAs, and tax-qualified annuities (referred to in this article as “Retirement Plans”).   […]

The SECURE (Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement) Act, passed by Congress and made effective as of January 1, 2020, made momentous changes to the Federal Tax Code and its rules regarding distributions from retirement accounts including 401(k) and 403(b) plans, IRAs, and tax-qualified annuities (referred to in this article as “Retirement Plans”).   These changes might affect you, as the owner of one or more Retirement Plans during your life, as well as the persons who inherit these accounts as the named beneficiaries of your Plan at your death.   Because the Act can result in unexpected income and tax and other consequences to you and your beneficiaries, you should speak with your estate planning attorney about these changes now.   In the meantime, let us review the Act’s most significant changes briefly.

How Will the Act Affect You as Owner?   The answer is a favorable one.    Among its many changes, the SECURE Act changes the age at which a Retirement Plan owner must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from the Retirement Plan.   Prior Federal tax law required an owner to begin taking RMDs by April 1 of the year after the year in which he or she turned 70     The SECURE Act has extended this age to 72 and applies to those who turn 70  n 2020 or after.  This change might make a Roth IRA conversion advantageous for persons under age 72.

Another change by the Act is that there is no longer an age limitation for funding traditional IRAs.   Prior Federal law restricted deductible and nondeductible contributions to a traditional (non-Roth) IRA to qualifying persons under the age of 70 1/2.   The SECURE Act has removed this age cap.    In certain situations, this change might allow for certain additional opportunities to fund a Roth IRA.

How Will the Act Affect Your Beneficiaries?   The answer is … It depends.    Most notably, the SECURE Act has dramatically restricted the ability of certain account holders of inherited retirement accounts to “stretch” their distributions over their life expectancy.   Prior law permitted certain beneficiaries to stretch the distribution of their inherited retirement accounts over their life expectancy, thereby allowing the undistributed balance in their accounts to continue to grow tax-free.   Prior law also allowed one to leave one’s retirement account to a trust which, if properly drafted to satisfy Federal tax law, could direct distributions to a beneficiary for life while also protecting such distributions from creditors of the beneficiary, and allowing the balance remaining in the account at the beneficiary’s death to be held for one’s other family members.

The SECURE Act has curtailed these very favorable prior options, thereby curtailing additional years of income tax deferral and of tax-free growth.  Most beneficiaries under the new Act must receive the entire amount of their inherited retirement account within 10 years of the death of the person who funded the Retirement Plan.   There are, however, 5 excepted categories of designated beneficiaries to whom this new rule applies:   (1) your surviving spouse, (2) your minor children (but not your grandchildren), (3) disabled individuals, (4) chronically ill individuals, and (5) individuals who are not more than 10 years younger than you.  Note that on the death of the eligible designated beneficiary or the attainment of majority of a minor child, the 10-year payout rule will apply.

Given the potentially complex effects of the Act on your Retirement Plans and your estate plan, what action should you and your estate planning attorney take right now?

  1. Review your current beneficiary designations of each of your Retirement Plans.
  2. Review your current estate plan, including your Will, any trusts you have created (either as part of your Will or as one or more independent trust documents), and your financial/legal Power of Attorney.
  3. Review the projected changes to distribution and income taxation of your beneficiaries under actions 1 and 2, above, given the Act’s new rules.     Are these consequences what you intended, or must you make changes to prevent unintended or unfavorable results?

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2020-spring-pumpkin-pie

What a Slice of Pumpkin Pie Taught me About the importance of mastering your craft.

Inspiration is everywhere if you are open to it. Sometimes, it may visit you when you least expect it. It happened to me recently at a lunch meeting at a restaurant in King of Prussia, PA, called J. Al-exanders. I was meeting with Mr. Ed Harris, the Chief Marketing Officer of The Valley Forge Convention […]

Inspiration is everywhere if you are open to it. Sometimes, it may visit you when you least expect it. It happened to me recently at a lunch meeting at a restaurant in King of Prussia, PA, called J. Al-exanders. I was meeting with Mr. Ed Harris, the Chief Marketing Officer of The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, and an adjunct professor of marketing strategy at Saint Joseph’s University. After we finished eating, Ed remarked to me that I might want to try the pumpkin pie.

Not wanting to disappoint Ed, I agreed. Before the pie arrived, Ed warned me that it would be the best pumpkin pie I would ever eat. A bold statement, to be sure. I mean, I trusted his judgment, but the best ever? Well, I found out how correct that statement was after I took the first bite. I immedi-ately realized that this was no ordinary pumpkin pie.

I gently put the fork down while attempting to maintain my composure. Ed looked over at me with a satisfied look, and asked, “Well, what do you think?” I had to admit, that was indeed the best pumpkin pie I have ever tasted, and I only needed one bite to realize it. Now, I believe that most people, given the proper ingredients, could probably make a decent pumpkin pie. I’m just not sure everyone could make a life-changing one. Or at least one that could make me contemplate the meaning of mastery and craft and how some of us function at levels of greatness that few ever reach.

Whoever made the pumpkin pie that day was no ordinary baker. They created something remarka-ble and so delicious that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months afterward. It made me think about what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary? What are the essential ingredients of success? I found a compelling answer in poet Reyna Biddy, who said this, “Trust in your craft enough to admire it, study it, perfect it, breathe it. Never stop getting better at whatever it is that you love to do.”

I don’t think it matters if you’re flipping burgers, writing screenplays, conducting orchestras, teach-ing high school science, roasting coffee, or painting houses. We all should be following Biddy’s advice. Far too many of us are content with the status quo, and I find that unfortunate. Mastery does not reside anywhere near mediocrity. Yes, you can earn a good living being average. But why would you want to? Seriously. Nobody should ever be content with average. While I can appreci-ate that not everyone is prepared to do whatever it takes to master their craft, I believe that mastery is attainable for those who work hard at it.

There is a myriad of factors that are involved in an individual’s journey to mastery, but there is one essential that is the fuel you’ll need to get you to the Promised Land. Passion! Without it, you won’t be able to sustain the energy and drive required for the road ahead. The ability to find your passion is really about finding your authentic self. You will also have to add in some resolve, a heaping amount of determination, equal parts optimism, and top it off with some love and bake it for 30 years.

Harris knows how mastery plays a role in both education and marketing. “As educators, we should never stop learning. In fact, the power of knowledge will continue to be a key ingredient for suc-cess. Students need to remember that learning doesn’t end when you receive a diploma. Whether you’re marketing experiences, apparel, or even food, the best companies understand that consumers seek value and quality. When you have quality products that are unique in some way compared to the competition, it makes our job as marketers easier to craft a memorable story that connects with an audience.”

I will always be grateful to those who consistently show up every day willing to put the time in, who are always

looking for ways to improve their skills, and who are profoundly invested in the outcome of the service they provide or a product they make. Those who take the status quo and turn it into status whoa! They never settle for good enough, and they are always looking for ways to improve both themselves and the people they work around. If it weren’t for them, the world would be a pretty average place. In that world, I would never have had the opportunity to experience how amazing a slice of pumpkin pie could taste when it’s baked with mastery.

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2020-spring-I-see-you-you-matter

I See You. You Matter.

My friend recently told me about meeting his company’s new CEO. He spoke excitedly as he described how this gentleman walked slowly through the office for the better part of a day, stopping at each team member’s cubicle to engage them individually and learn what they were working on. Each of the more than 200 […]

My friend recently told me about meeting his company’s new CEO. He spoke excitedly as he described how this gentleman walked slowly through the office for the better part of a day, stopping at each team member’s cubicle to engage them individually and learn what they were working on. Each of the more than 200 employees got some one-on-one time with their Chief Executive that day, something that none of them had experienced before, as evidenced by the buzz around the office afterward.

Like the sports coach that has a customized handshake for each player, strong leaders know that every team member is a unique human being with their own set of strengths, motivations, and perspectives. To lead them in their uniqueness, you must first see them in their uniqueness.

My friend’s CEO could have introduced himself to the entire team at once, which would have been easier and taken less time. But he chose instead to take the slow way.

He chose instead to say to each person, “I see you. You matter.”

Who was your most impactful schoolteacher? What made him or her so special? Was it their teaching expertise, or was it something else?

I once asked this question of one of our mastermind participants. Without hesitation, she told us about a high school math teacher that had a huge impact on her.

What made the teacher so impactful? Was it her in-depth knowledge of mathematics? No, the impact was created because the teacher had taken the time and energy to value her student and to learn about her ambitions, motivations, and fears.

Through her actions, this teacher was saying, “I see you. You matter.”

It has been said that people may not remember what you said. They may not remember what you did. But they WILL remember how you made them feel.

The Law of Connection

Leadership expert and author John Maxwell teaches The Law of Connection, which says that Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand.

In order to effectively lead others, we must first connect with their hearts. Their heads will always follow. The way to lead a team is to lead a collection of individuals, each of whom provides an opportunity to connect.

General Norman Schwartzkopf understood this when he said the following:

“I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon, and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see it as forty-four individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good.”

In his autobiography It Doesn’t Take a Hero, General Schwartzkopf tells of a time that he implemented The Law of Connection during the Persian Gulf War. He spent Christmas Day in 1990 with the men and women he was leading.

“I shook hands with everyone in the line, went behind the serving counter to greet the cooks and helpers, and worked my way through the mess hall, hitting every table, wishing everyone Merry Christmas. Then I went into the second and third dining facilities and did the same thing. I came back to the first mess tent and repeated the exercise because, by this time, there was an entirely new set of faces. Then I sat down with some of the troops and had my dinner. In the course of four hours, I must have shaken four thousand hands.”

General Schwartzkopf was saying, “I see you. You matter.”

You’ve Got This

In many ways, leadership is simple but hard. It always requires valuing people, and it always requires a heart connection with those you lead.

My friend’s CEO and General Schwartzkopf both modeled some powerful leadership principles:

  • Leaders Go First. Take the initiative to connect.
  • Leaders Go to Their People. Get up and meet them where they are.
  • Leaders Make It About Others. Learn who they are, what they are working on, their strengths, their motivations, and their fears.

And always tell them, “I see you. You matter.”

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2020-spring-small-mistakes

Small Mistakes, Big Consequences: The Power of Assumption

For this inaugural installment of Small Mistakes, Big Consequences, my goal is to take on and raise awareness of behavior that keeps each of us from being the best possible version of ourselves. Each and every day, we interact with others with the goal of achieving something. From simple social interaction to sales or influence, […]

For this inaugural installment of Small Mistakes, Big Consequences, my goal is to take on and raise awareness of behavior that keeps each of us from being the best possible version of ourselves. Each and every day, we interact with others with the goal of achieving something. From simple social interaction to sales or influence, our interactions generally have a purpose, and many subtle behaviors and actions keep us from executing at our highest level. This series is designed to raise awareness of these behaviors while providing tips and solutions on how to overcome and work around these self-induced barriers.

Let’s start with assumption…not assumption in the biblical sense but making assumptions or assuming something and using that assumption as a basis of fact in the decision-making process.

Here’s the definition, according to Dictionary.com:
Noun

a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof

The end of that definition epitomizes why assumptions are dangerous and why they regularly become barriers to success. When we assume something, we don’t have proof that it is TRUE! It is based upon rumor, conjecture, gossip, our own personal opinion, and many other factors, but it leaves verification of the truth out of the exercise. And, each and every one of us do it every day – often to our detriment.

How often do you fail to act because you assume the outcome? How often do you fail to ask a question because you assume the answer? My gut feeling tells me that the answer to both of those questions is, often, very often!

So, what do we do to overcome this natural tendency?

  1. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify” – if you think something is true and accurate; take the time to verify that it is so! Ask the actual person who can give you a reliable answer, the person about which you are making an assumption!
  2. Challenge your team members when they share a collective assumption by asking: did we actually ask this person or audience this question? I have often been in meetings where we are assuming the opinion of a group of people. Yet, we haven’t actually asked them their opinion in order to verify the assumption. One thing that we all learned by asking this question of each other is that many of our assumptions were actually based on our own internal assumptions that we shared with each other, and most had a longstanding foothold in our culture, so we were making decisions based on old information. Once we broke ourselves of this habit, and actually verified the real facts, we were able to make much better and more accurate decisions. And we were able to do so in a timely manner because we had opened up the conversation, and information flowed more quickly and smoothly.
  3. When someone brings an issue to your attention, and they are looking for advice on how to deal with an issue, first ask if they heard or experienced the information firsthand or if they heard it from another source. If the information came from another source, it is critical to direct the person to the source that has the information to determine the real facts. Every time you receive information from another source, remember that the information is delivered to you based upon the biases of that individual’s perception of the facts. It is natural for people to “spin” their perception of a conversation based on what’s important to them, and by relying solely on opinion, you run the risk of missing facts that could completely change the situation.
  4. Monitor yourself! Are you making decisions and forming opinions based on fact, or rumor and assumptions? What are you assuming without verifying? This is especially important in situations of conflict. Have the difficult conversation with the person who has the facts – be courageous and find out if there’s simply a misunderstanding based on assumption or if there is truly an issue to resolve. You may find that many times it’s the former, rather than the latter, and having the conversation to clarify only makes your relationship stronger!
  5. Assumption is a powerful enemy in our decision making. Yet, it is one that can be reduced and even eliminated by raising your awareness and the awareness of your team on the topic. Search for the truth, get the facts, have the difficult conversations, and you will be amazed at the success that will follow!

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2020-spring-healthy-leader

The Healthy Leader

There are two things that I absolutely love. Health & Leadership. I started out in the health club industry as a certified personal trainer over 20 years ago. Then over time, I became an executive for a national health club chain and oversaw up to 25 full-service health clubs. So, it’s safe to say that […]

There are two things that I absolutely love. Health & Leadership. I started out in the health club industry as a certified personal trainer over 20 years ago. Then over time, I became an executive for a national health club chain and oversaw up to 25 full-service health clubs. So, it’s safe to say that I am extremely knowledgeable and passionate about these two topics and, more importantly, would like you to understand how they both work synergistically together.

Being healthy should be a priority to everyone, not just leaders. However, I’ve seen leaders struggle with health time and time again.

Because of their busy work schedules, leaders frequently fail to take care of their health. Their focus has been on taking care of business and running it successfully. This leaves little time to look at their health.

And yet being healthy is crucial to being a great leader. Your health impacts all areas of your life. Unhealthy lifestyle choices bring down the quality of your life and hurts your ability to lead.

When you’re unhealthy, there is a ripple effect of things that will affect your ability to lead in a negative way. You might lack the energy to get through the day. Your mental clarity becomes clouded, and you struggle to focus on critical tasks. The length of your life could be shortened. This will impact your ability to leave a lasting legacy. Those you lead may not be willing to follow you because you have been unable to take care of yourself.

These are but a few of the effects of being unhealthy. Being unhealthy simply makes it a struggle to get the job done at an optimum level.
Leaders are especially vulnerable to stress. Often leaders put others first and sacrifice their own wellbeing in the process. That’s not a recipe for long-term success and often results in failure.

Leadership is fundamentally about being able to set a vision and persist over the long run as you lead yourself and others to take on big challenges and work toward the finish line, so it seems like making health a priority would be a no-brainer, right? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that taking care of ourselves affects our energy levels and stamina in the long run.

However, in my 20 plus years of being in the health club industry, this is the one aspect of personal excellence that so many leaders are most likely to struggle with—and this is true across industries, types of organizations, and roles. As the work piles up, self-care often takes a back seat to other more “pressing” priorities, which almost never leads to good outcomes in the long run.

More often than not, leaders who don’t prioritize their health either become unbearable to work with because they’re dehydrated, or tired, or stressed, or “hangry”—or they start to get sick. I’ve worked with people who’ve developed diabetes, pre-diabetes, and even heart disease because they’ve put work ahead of their health. I’ve also known people who’ve gained or lost too much weight because of work and even someone who eventually had an aneurism. I’m not saying that there weren’t other factors that played a role in some of these cases, but all of these examples are of people who put work ahead of self-care, and I think they (and their teams and organizations) suffered for it.

After seeing this pattern of behavior and outcomes over and over again, it became clear to me that managing your health is a key component of being an effective human being and a successful leader.

Leadership today requires a 24/7 commitment, which requires a great deal of physical stamina and energy. It also calls for more: An understanding of the intricate relationship between mind and body and how they work together. To keep going, you need a smart, tailored health and wellness program that allows you to maintain your stamina and lead a balanced life.

I hope I was able to connect the dots on the importance of a leader’s health and the direct connection of their ability to be an effective leader.
Leadership is influence. So, influence yourself to take action and start living a healthy life, so you can have a greater impact as a leader.

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2020-spring-semi-variance

That Semi-Variance Yuck

Few people have fond memories of statistics class. From complicated formulas to confusing interpretations, for most, stats class was a hurdle to a diploma and an exercise in memorization followed by an immediate flushing sound. A colleague once told me that if I ever find myself using the statistical term semi-variance with a prospective client, […]

Few people have fond memories of statistics class. From complicated formulas to confusing interpretations, for most, stats class was a hurdle to a diploma and an exercise in memorization followed by an immediate flushing sound. A colleague once told me that if I ever find myself using the statistical term semi-variance with a prospective client, I should consider the prospect lost.

I get it. Technical talk isn’t slick. Yet semi-variance is exactly what grips you when markets fall. It’s why people lose sleep at night. When markets rise, the variability of that upward trend is exciting; we high five and wonder, “how high can it go?” When markets fall, the variability of the fall, that semi-variance yuck, is why you worry, wring your hands, and think about bailing on carefully planned long-term investment plans.
The recent news cycle has COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, all over it. Many attribute the equity market’s February fall to it and its possible reaches. A pandemic has broad implications for global supply and demand. Economic activity requires people to create and consume; pandemics limit both sides of that equation.
The Toyota Production System was popularized in the 1970s. More commonly known as just-in-time manufacturing (JIT), it relies on steady production, high-quality output, and a reliable supply chain. Building large inventories just-in-case is no longer necessary. The spread of COVID-19 or any other pandemic puts JIT at risk, making supply chains unreliable. Moreover, China’s importance in supply chains is unquestionable. That a China originated epidemic could progress to a global pandemic means even less reliability in global supply.

On the demand side, the spread of COVID-19 curbs consumption. Empty streets in Wuhan, a city roughly the size of New York City, are a visual reminder of how quickly demand can dry up. So, what, you might ask. Order out, have it delivered! Recall that those services may not be as reliable as they once were because supply has been disrupted.

All of this can lead to at best a delay and, at worst, destruction of demand. If COVID-19 is contained, these problems largely subside, and delayed demand likely reappears in the coming quarters. If it worsens, prolonged decreases in supply and demand could lead to a global slowdown, or worse, recession. Most importantly, unlike a financial crisis that can be combatted by central bank tools, the Fed cannot stop a pandemic. It is hard to see how lower interest rates, or another round of quantitative easing could stop the spread of a virus and stimulate economic activity.

Back to semi-variance! Uncertainty about bad things leads to increased downside volatility and sometimes sharp market selloffs. Nobody knows how far COVID-19 will go, so markets discount equity prices. A company facing supply disruptions and a loss in demand for its products cannot be worth as much as it was before the threat of a pandemic. There are winners and losers, of course; a videoconference services company may benefit wildly from a pandemic as business travel declines.
What’s worse about falling markets today is we are not behaviorally conditioned for it. The S&P 500 has been up in nine of the last ten years, averaging 13.6% per year at the end of 2019. We must remind ourselves that times of uncertainty require buckling your chinstrap, evaluating your situation, and riding out periods of trouble. Since the beginning of time, a million news articles could have been extrapolated to forecast the end of the world, yet here we are.

In virtually all aspects of life, rash decisions do not translate into long term success. There are scarier things out there than COVID-19; they just aren’t at the forefront of the news. This is not a doomsday note but rather a reminder that when your investment account value falls, your emotions should never be your first defense. Whether or not a pandemic ensues, your long-term investment plan should still allow you to sleep at night without worrying about the day-to-day fluctuations in the market – because if it’s not one thing, it’s sure to be another.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Securities offered through M Holdings Securities, Inc., a Registered Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisory Services offered through Cornerstone Advisors Asset Management, LLC, which is independently owned and operated. 2978944.1

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