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Embrace. Your. Genius.

There’s a conjecture I like that we were all born geniusesEinsteins, Mozarts, and Picassos—and that somewhere along the way, many of us lost that heightened quality.

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I’m not saying that we’re all duds now, nor that we all had perfect IQs back then.  I’m referring to “genius” as that special spark or talent—in anything—that’s far beyond the norm we’ve come to accept.  One of Webster’s definitions for genius is a person with “a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit.”

If you have a child—or niece, or nephew, or grandchild—who is two to four years old, you know that yours is a genius; but in a way, all of them are—and, most likely, you were one, too.

Maybe your genius had something to do with art.  You could see dozens of people and places in the green crayon swirl you worked so passionately to create.  Or, maybe yours had to do with flowers.  You spoke to them, and they spoke back and told you their troubles, and you helped them grow.  Or, maybe it was about insects.  You catalogued thousands of them using your own proprietary system.  But somewhere along the line, you became socialized.  You learned that what you were a genius at was not very relevant at all.

Imagine Miss Crabtree, gathering her kindergarten class for story time:

“Albert!  Stop watching how the light moves through the window to the floor.  It’s story time right now.  Please, join the circle…Wolfgang, you too!  Stop ringing those different sized toys against the desk to see how they sound…What’s that Pablo?  Yes, that’s a very nice picture of…your mother and father?  Oh, it’s just your mother…Very good, but next time, try to give her just one face.”

So, we grew up to become accountants, advisors, lawyers, managers, and consultants, going through our adult lives with a feeling that we’ve forgotten something.  And, of course, we have.  We’ve forgotten that we were geniuses—or even what we were geniuses at.

Once in awhile, though, there’s a glimmer of recognition—and somewhere deep inside, we do remember.  Oddly enough, instead of embracing whatever it was that made us geniuses, we push it out of our minds.  We’re afraid that allowing it in, at this point, will somehow disrupt our lives.

The next time you feel that spark, though, do something wonderful—and unusual—for yourself.  When that flash of recognition is triggered, take some small step toward embracing your childlike genius.  Buy that telescope, or that guitar, or those oil paints, and play with them.  Maybe you won’t be an Einstein or a Mozart or a Picasso, but you might find some joy and fulfillment that you’ve been missing.

In the meantime, bring the spirit of play to your work, and keep REACHING…

100th Birthday Party: Your Mission Statement

“I know I don’t want to do this anymore,” Erica, a financial advisor working for a large firm, complained to me during our first call together,“But I just don’t know what I do want to do.”

“Erica,” I responded, “Imagine you’re at your 100th Birthday Party.  Gathered around you are all the people you love and who love you—your children, your grandchildren…maybe even your great-grandchildren.”

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“One of your great-granddaughters has just asked you to tell the story of your life,” I continued.  “What do you want that story to be about?”

“I don’t know,” Erica persisted.

“Well, what do you want to be remembered for?” I pressed.

“I want them to think I was adventurous—maybe eccentric,” Erica began.  “I want them to think I was a good Mom,” she continued.  “I want to be able to tell them about my travels.”

Erica was beginning to enjoy the game.

“I want to be able to get away when I feel the urge—to have some kind of work that doesn’t tie me down to an office like I am now.  I could work from home, pick my own hours, and make house calls, or rent some space if I needed to bring some people to me.”

By herself, Erica had switched the conversation from how she would like to be seen and remembered to what she wanted her life and her work to look like.

“Would that work be in the financial field?” I asked.

“It could be, I guess—at least in the beginning,” she responded, “But I might want to write something and maybe try to sell some things on line—helping people manage their own finances—or helping other advisors to cope or change, like I’m doing.  If I had a business selling things like that, I could be helping people, and earning money even while I traveled.”

In a matter of minutes, with the help of the 100th Birthday Party Game, Erica had found direction and was working on her Mission Statement.  (This exercise can be completed in detail with the help of my book The High Diving Board: How to Overcome Your Fears and Live Your Dreams.)  One of the best things you can do for yourself is to sit down and write out your own Mission Statement.  What do you want to stand for?  What do you want to accomplish?  How do you want to be known?

What’s the story you want to be telling at your 100th Birthday Party?  Writing a Mission Statement will help you live your life on purpose.  All you have to do is make sure that everything you do each day is in some way connected to the mission you’ve chosen for yourself.

I hope to see you at my 100th Birthday Party.  In the meantime, keep REACHING

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See It from the Other Side

Reed, an advisor in LA, was telling me about his frustrations with a doctor-lawyer couple.  He thought they were already his clients, but he had left several messages for the lawyer-husband to set up a time to meet with them, and he had not yet gotten any response.

“I finally had a great conversation with his wife, and I told her I had been trying to reach him and schedule a time to see them,” he explained,  “But she told me that  because of his schedule, I’d have to set it up with him—right back to square one.”

“These are clients who are obviously not jumping up and down at the idea of meeting with you,” I confirmed, exhibiting as usual my keen grasp of the obvious.  “Do they know why you want to see them?”

“Well, no,” he responded.

“Then why should they want to see you?” I asked, “You don’t have a close relationship with them and it looks like they’re pretty busy.”

“But I have this great product I want to convert them to,” Reed confessed.

“OK, that’s a good reason why you want to see them,” I conceded, “But they don’t know that, do they?  And even if they did, why would they want to see you to buy another product you think is great?”

“I guess there’s no good reason,” he concluded.

So, I pressed him a little more.  “Let me ask again, then.  Why might they think you’re reason for wanting to see them is great?”

After thinking about it for a few more seconds, Reed had some insight.

“This is one of the new policies that could add Long Term Care coverage to their existing life and disability insurance,” he explained, “and possibly without increasing their premiums.”

“Great!  So what if you let them know that this is the reason you’ve been trying to reach them?” I asked. “Do you think they might be more responsive?”

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Reed now understood that he wasn’t getting the appointment because these clients assumed he wanted to see them to sell them something—a situation they probably wanted to avoid.  It was about him, and what was going on in his world.

He hadn’t thought to tell them why he wanted to see them, because he assumed that since they were existing clients, they would be interested in seeing him “just because”.

But all sales—even the sale of an appointment—happen in the client’s world, not in the advisor’s.  If you have not maintained a very close relationship, and their world is busy, they might not be interested in seeing you, especially if they don’t know why you’re reaching out.

If your clients aren’t responding, ask yourself how the client is seeing your efforts to meet.  Specifically:

Why would they want to set up a time to see me?

Why would they be excited to talk with me about what I want to show them?

When Reed asked himself these questions, he remembered that this was coverage he had already discussed with them and that they had decided against it because of the additional expense.  His was a new opportunity to have them snag that same coverage while limiting the expense they originally feared.

When he explained that to the doctor, she got her husband to set up a meeting for them right away.  In person, Reed discussed the benefits of the policy upgrade—and they applied for it at last.

Always look at your approach, and your services, from the client’s perspective.  How do you and what you offer fit into their world?  Keep asking, and keep REACHING…

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Expectation vs. Agreement: Make Them Promise!

I often hear managers complain about how their expectations are not being met by their teams.  I hear all kinds of professionals complain about their staff, or their clients.  They’re expecting a certain result or behavior, and they’re not getting it.

The problem is in their reliance on expectationsManagement—of a team, of your staff, or even of clients—will always be accompanied by some disappointment in the performance of those you work with—that is, if performance is being measured against expectations.

Ron, a branch manager I’m working with, was disappointed in his agents.

“I gave my people a simple telephoning assignment on Monday along with a checklist, and when I asked them about it on Friday, only one of them had done the work, and none of them had turned in a checklist,” Ron told me.  “When I tell them what to do on Monday, I expect that they’ll do it and turn in the report on Friday.  Is that too much to ask?”

“No, of course not.  But what was the agreement?” I asked Ron.

Ron hesitated, confused.  “There wasn’t any AGREEMENT,” he replied.  “Most of them have been with me for years.  They know what I expect of them.”

“Maybe they do, and maybe…they don’t,” I suggested.

I explained to Ron that Management by Expectation has a lot of holes in it.  The details of what is expected may not be clear, even when you are certain they’re perfectly implicit.  The door is still open to excuses about why the job couldn’t be done.  And, most importantly, no one has actually agreed to do it.

By contrast, Management by Agreement turns a vague, one-sided expectation into specific promises.  In Ron’s case, it might look something like this:

“I’m giving you all this calling assignment and a checklist.  I’d like to know that all ten calls have been completed by Friday of this week, so please turn in your checklists to me that morning by 10 AM.  All ten lines should be filled out with useful information on the calls you made.  This is an important project for all of us.  Do you all agree?  Jane?  Pete?  Mark?  Does everyone understand exactly what’s being asked of him or her?  Any questions?  Great; so completed call assignments will be on my desk by 10 AM this Friday morning.  If there’s any reason any of you can’t complete it by then, or if you need any help from me or anyone else on the team to make sure that it gets done, please let me know today.”

“That’s a lot of work for something so simple,” Ron complained, “But I’ll try it next week.  I have another project like this one coming up.”

Two weeks later, Ron and I talked about his result.  “All of them, except the one guy who was out for three days, did exactly as I asked,” he confided, “And the one who was out came back in on Friday and asked if it was okay if he turned his in on Tuesday.”

Unlike Management by Expectation, Management by Agreement includes all of the following insurances against disappointment:

1. Specific details, including what needs to be done, by when, and how it (or progress on it) is to be presented, along with a request for confirmation that the details are clear.

2. A request for a verbal agreement and an upfront discussion about anything that might prevent the project’s completion, with an opportunity to negotiate different terms, if necessary.

3. An offer to provide any help that might be needed along the way.

Agreements are based on promises—a type of commitment.  Since failure to do the job is now the breaking of a promise, not just a failure to live up to your expectation, it is much less likely to occur.

You can always discuss consequences for breaking the next promise.  Let the team member come up with his own “punishment”.  I had one client agree that if he violated our agreement he would give me a $1,000 check payable to the campaign of the political candidate he hated the most.  Another agreed to jump into his swimming pool in a suit.

Years ago, one of my clients agreed that if he interrupted someone else at an office meeting again, he would run down the street in front of the office wearing nothing but his “tighty whities”.  By his account, he’s only interrupted once since then.

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What works for managing team members and staff works for handling just about anyone, including your clients.  Don’t expect a certain action from them.  Have them agree to it.

Now, think up a failure consequence, and promise me you’ll keep REACHING…

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Level Your Ego: BE A LOSER.

Are you one of the many financial and insurance professionals who have avoided approaching doctors, lawyers, CEOs, military generals, celebrities, and a host of other people you think are in some way above you?

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My coaching colleague, Amir Karkouti, offered these words last week for professionals who are suffering from this fear-based affliction: “BECOME A LOSER…”

“LOSE the idea that any of these titles exist,” he tells his clients,

“LOSE the idea that the high achiever, because of his finances, doesn’t cry himself/herself to sleep at night…

LOSE the idea that CEOs have ‘made it’ and have something you don’t (made what?).

LOSE the idea that they won’t want to hire you because you don’t know what they know (after all, they don’t know what you know!).”

LOSE all the ideas and stories you’ve created about other people, so you can see them for who they really are.  The gap between “you” and “them” is imaginary, and sales can only happen when you can see yourself as part of their world.

Be a Loser, and be proud of it!  The more of your ego you lose, the less you’ll think that somebody is above you because he or she has made more money or is seemingly more accomplished.  Being a Loser in this way lets you build bridges to make relationships.

Amir explains that when you are a Loser, you win people’s hearts, and you win their gratitude.  You also win their respect.

So stop thinking you’re not at someone’s “level”.  Amir is right—levels don’t actually exist.  Or, if they do exist, there’s only one level that matters: the level of connection.  If you’re a Loser, you can be on the level with anyone in any field.

“And the only way to play on the level of being with another person is to
LOSE the idea of who we think they really are, by the arbitrary terms we’ve created…”

In the best business company, stop feeling like an imposter.  Allow yourself to be just as much a hero to them as they are to you, by LOSING the hero hierarchy altogether.  Agree to Be a Loser and reach for the stars, and then, just keep REACHING…

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Work the System! (Don’t Cook Your Mood)

This week, Ryan, a financial planner in California, asked me, “What do I do when I’m just in the dumps and don’t really feel like working?”

A few weeks ago, I shared the thoughts of my friend and colleague, Steve Chandler, about the difference between “Doers” and “Feelers”.  The central idea is that Feelers have inconsistent results, because their actions depend on their mood at any given moment.  Doers, on the other hand, almost always have a “system” and work that system no matter how they feel.

As I thought about responding to Ryan’s question, I recalled how inventor and entrepreneur Ron Popeil used to do an infomercial for his RoncoTM line of rotisserie ovens, repeating (often) the phrase: Set it and forget it!

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His point was that once you had set up the oven and the timer, the goal of a perfectly cooked roasted-meat meal would be met by the temperature and timing system built in to the oven.

Ryan had agreed that he could reach his income target (the perfectly roasted chicken) if he stuck to a simple plan—keeping six great appointments each week and working at maximizing the value he brought clients on every one of those appointments.  This six-appointment-per-week procedure was also his personal barometer for his earnings journey.

How the rotisserie oven feels at any given moment will not interfere with its temperature and timing mechanisms, and likewise, how a professional feels at any given moment cannot interfere with the his or her process goals (six appointments, 50 phone calls, etc.).

“If you don’t feel like working,” I told Ryan, “Book your six appointments anyway, and then goof off.  That’s your absolute minimum.  If you do feel like working, do more!”

As with any discipline, sticking to our own rotisserie settings so that we can cook the perfect success story is easier said than done.  But if you make up your mind that how you feel at any given moment is not relevant to what you’ll do, your process goals will lead you to your ultimate goal.

Imagine a surgeon or a pilot who “just doesn’t feel like” focusing on his or her job today.  The ultimate goal of having healthy patients and safe passengers is, for them, a simple matter of “set it and forget it”.  What they’re doing during the surgery and during the flight is unconditional.  If they stick to their skills and landmarks, they’ll get the results they want.

In your case, set it and don’t forget it: Remember to do what you do best, whatever your temperature, and even if you’re dragging your feet a little.  Keep moving, and keep REACHING…

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Start “Branding” You

“A 15-minute call could save you 15% or more…”
When you Google search “gecko”, GEICO appears first on the web list.

I’ve been preparing for my web program on kick-starting your business next week.  So, this week, I thought I’d revisit (and shed some more light on) a classic business strategy: branding.

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In any practice, branding is a primary way to attract your ideal client.  It is an expression of your unique identity to “sell” your services to the kind of people you most want to work with…and then some.  But branding isn’t just about showing how you’re different from your competitors.  It’s about getting your clients or prospects to see that what you offer is exactly the solution they’ve been searching for.

If I meet someone at a party or gathering, and I tell him during our conversation that I’m a coach for financial and service professionals who want to get to the next level in their careers and lives, and then ask him if he would like to work with me, I’m engaging in direct marketing.  If his friend comes across the room at that party and says to me, “I hear that you’re a great work-performance and client-attraction coach and I’d love to work with you,” I’ve successfully branded my business.

But to brand yourself and your work seamlessly, you need to take Three Preliminary Steps:

1. Know your “Target Market“.  Who do you most want to work with or for?  As a professional, a consultant, or a service-business owner, you will have more success if you become an expert in the needs of one particular narrow target market: teenagers, “Boomers”, families, entrepreneurs, landscaping contractors, retirees, ADD adults, etc.  It’s aiming a high-powered rifle at the bullseye, rather than shooting up hundreds of pounds of buckshot in the hope of hitting something wild turkeys.

2. Identify one to three “core needs”.  What are their biggest problems, or dreams?  Obviously, you want to talk about the needs that you have solutions for.  Your typical client may need dental work, but if you have a house cleaning service, this isn’t a core need you can use.

3. Design your unique solutions.  Why will people or businesses in your target market buy the services they need from you and not your competitors?  Clients like “packages”.  If the solutions you provide are not special, start thinking about ways to package them to make them special.  If you’re just another white crayon in a box of white crayons, there’s no good reason to use your services.  Be the red crayon in the box.

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote: “If you can, be first.  If you can’t be first, create a new category in which you can be first.”

Fedex is the business to use “when it absolutely, positively has to be there over night”.  When are you the business to use?  Decide who you are, and then, keep REACHING…

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Shift FEAR into Forward Gear

I started my coaching career helping people overcome their fears.  My book, The High Diving Board, and my audio program, Ten Steps To Overcoming Your Fears, are based on the premise that when we’re not where we want to be in our careers or lives, it’s because we respond to our fears by backing away from whatever has caused them.  We tell ourselves, “It’s not okay; back away.”

Unfortunately, growing any business requires finding a better response to our fears.  “It’s okay to be afraid,” I tell my clients and readers, “But if this is your dream, you have to do it any way.”  You often can’t stop the fear, but you can change your reaction to it.

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Nothing holds professionals and entrepreneurs back from growing their businesses or practices more than fear—fear of asking a client if they want to use our services…fear of asking for a testimonial or referral…fear of appearing foolish or odd when we speak in public, when we write, or when we’re simply making conversation in a networking situation…and fear of being rebuffed or rejected when we call someone on the phone.

So, we tell ourselves we hate marketing and selling our services; that these activities are difficult, manipulative, and sleazy.  We’re forced by financial pressures into doing marketing and sales activities reluctantly and uncomfortably, and our accompanying negative attitude—our awkwardness and discomfort—make the people we communicate with equally uncomfortable.  That, in turn, causes them to back away.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To change this mindset, you need to start seeing the marketing and sale of your services—activities that attract clients—for what they are: the sharing of information about the best person available to fill a need with the people who have that need.  In coaching, we call this a paradigm shift.  Here are ideas that may help:

  1. You’re the best at doing what you do.  If not, you’re working at becoming the best.  You’ll try harder and care more than anyone else.
  2. People who need the services you provide must get them from somewhere.  If they don’t know you and what you can do—if you’re not communicating with them—they’ll get those services from someone else.
  3. Attracting clients is nothing more than making sure they make the right choice.

Post these 3 points above your desk and remind yourself of them often.  By remembering how your actions serve, alter your reaction to your fear of putting yourself out there.  Then, keep REACHING…

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CREATE Your Future

We all have two futures: A “default” future, and a “created” future.

If you’re struggling to move your business forward, but everything you do seems to get you back to the same place—month after month, year after year—you are set to live your default future.

Imagine if nothing changed next year or the year after.  Now project that outward five or ten years more.  What will that future look like?  That’s your default future.  Is it okay with you?

You might be terrified about investing money, time, and energy in trying to change your path, because there’s a risk that it might not work.  Hiring an assistant, working with a coach, changing your business affiliations…all of these could result in steep expenditure (of money, time, or energy) with nothing to show for it down the line.

But if you don’t overcome those fears that are keeping you from changing, you are almost certain to be living out your default future.

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The future you could be living is the one you’ve created.  What do you want to create?  What resources do you need to create it?  How will you find the money, time, and energy it will take to experiment with creation?

If the future you want to create is one in which you’re earning a comfortable six-figure income and have left your money worries behind, or you have eliminated stress in your life and made yourself healthier, or you have more time to spend with your family, you need to do something different—something you’ve calculated might actually get you to the future you want.  And if that plan fails, you will need to be willing to find another path, and maybe another, until you’re successfully creating the future of your choosing.

What’s your default future?  Is it okay with you?  If not, what future can you choose to create?  Now, what’s your plan?  And if that first plan falters, will you create another?

One thing is certain: In the future of your design, you have to keep REACHING

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