Words Are Tools: Use the Right One for the Right Job

Words Are Tools: Use the Right One for the Right Job

“There is a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”~ Josh Billings

Words Are Tools: Use the Right One for the Right Job

There is a transformative power in the language we use with our teams. If you don’t believe that words are important, why do news stories waft across our feeds about a group calling for the ban of a popular book? Why do companies now have “talent management” departments instead of human resources or personnel departments? It is because the way ideas are communicated carry weight. In our businesses, the power of words sets the standard in our team’s mental state. Consider a team member who comes to you with an idea you can’t quite wrap your head around. There is a huge difference between saying, “I don’t understand a word you’ve said; tell me again” and “I’m not clear on some points; let’s go over it one more time to make sure I understand.” The first response’s language might make your team member reluctant to come to you with ideas, whereas the second statement lets your team member know you’re invested in their opinion. Furthermore, the first statement implies a problem with the idea or the manner in which it was presented. The second statement suggests the problem is with understanding of the receiver (me). 

The structure of our language to team members should always hold the connotations of encouragement and growth rather than criticism and dead ends. That is the difference between saying, “What if we…” versus “That’s not possible” when a clunker is thrown into the mix. The recipient is challenged when faced with a “what if ” and given permission to continue their line of thought. “That’s not possible” automatically tells the recipient their idea was not valid, and they will become guarded before speaking again.

If your language choices normally roll toward the dead-end spectrum, it’ll take some practice to change your habits in that regard. It’s been said that actions take 10,000 repetitions to form a habit (to become cataloged as “muscle memory”)— the same concept is true with language choices. Develop your own personalized set of encouragement-centric language and practice its usage. This may sound contrived, but as a leader, you literally set your team’s tone via your language

Consider this …

1. Identify the common words you use when expressing disagreement with someone or when giving constructive feedback.

2. Highlight the negative terms or phrases that seem to be habitual for you.

3. Identify replacement words or alternatives to these overly negative terms or phrases that are much more positive, or at the least, neutral.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

Train to Win

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.”~ Navy SEAL adage

train to win

Any discussion of performance is bound to dredge up sports analogies, but the connection between excellence in business and athletics is more tangible than you might first think. The meld of mind and body is unquestioned in the sports arena, but we often discount this bond when discussing business performance. Why should that be on our radar? Unless we’re sprinting to catch a connecting f ight, there are not many occasions your 100-yard dash time matters in the daily grind of the nine to five (Wait, who works nine to five anyway? That’s a subject for another chapter.)

A 2007 University of Georgia study found a positive link between fitness and traits associated with success. Better focus, better follow-through, and higher levels of confidence were all attributed to either starting or increasing one’s physical fitness regimen. The benefits of diet and exercise shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has had a checkup in the last thirty years. What is surprising is that more professionals don’t follow up on this advice.

A component of reaching the pinnacle of one’s profession is to secure advantages. Communications, decision-making, process flow are all areas we twist and tweak for optimal performance in order to secure our business an advantage. So why do we not take the time to give ourselves the advantages physical fitness can bestow? It’s hard. I don’t know how. I’ll look foolish. We accept those same excuses for fitness that we would never accept in a business setting. If we accept those
justifications in lieu of pursuing the activities that will certainly improve our health and longevity, we will eventually accept those same excuses in our professional life.

Top performance is about a lifestyle of success, not just wins in the boardroom. The quicker you understand that the quicker you’ll be on your way to securing whatever brass ring you have in mind.


Consider this …

1. On a scale of one to ten (with one being undesirable and ten being highly desirable), how would you rate your current level of physical fitness?

2. List three areas (weight, strength, endurance, toughness, etc.) relative to your physical condition that you’d like to improve.

3. Make a plan to improve in ONE of those areas over the next thirty days.


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

Making Quality Personal

“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification cation of design, manufacturing … layout, processes, and procedures.”~ Tom Peters

clear your desks

Does the phrase “process quality” make your head spin? Do acronyms like ISO, TQM, PDCA, BPR, and OQM and the associated flowcharts and hours in hotel banquet halls watching PowerPoints make you wonder if you will ever implement the new gold standard for evaluation? Put away the checklists and certification manuals for a moment. Let’s start of with a new acronym for any process quality procedure, KISS (Keep it simple, stupid).

Your natural inclination for certification or recertification in any of these methodologies is to run back to your team, shouting, “Here’s what we’ve got to do by X date!” Passing out checklists like they’re Halloween candy will only serve to overload your team. As the kids today say, “You need to slow your roll.” The first question your team members will ask is, “How am I supposed to get this done with X, Y, and Z on my plate?” Be ready to answer this question by distilling the necessary actions for each of your team members (as well as the rationale) and be proactive by providing an individual plan for each team member’s success.

Make this plan as simple as possible for your team members. Assign compliance tasks that are tangential to the work team members are already performing. Use the buddy system where possible to complement team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Above all else, your individual plans should convey the tangible benefits each team member will receive by implementing the process quality procedures—improved efficiencies, increased customer satisfaction, or any other trigger that will get a team member excited about the process. No one likes to view another checklist as busy work so the folks upstairs can tout a certification

The more you simplify the methodology and explain the rewards to your team, the easier any implementation or recertification will be. If you’re a startup and you’re thinking this particular accelerator doesn’t apply to you, know that quality, repeatable processes are critical to any scalable business or
innovation. Ignore them at your peril …

Consider this …

1. Take some time to identify the top five business processes in your business or organization that need to be improved, standardized, and documented.

2. Now identify the various resources available from which you can learn the best way to improve, standardize, and document those critical processes.

3. Bring your team into the learning and planning process. Get them on board, tell them why, solicit their input, and work together to make these top five processes the best in the business. Once you’re done, move on to the next five, and the next five, and so on.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

Avocado Toast And Mocha Lattes

“If you live like no one else, later, you can live like no one else.”~ Dave Ramsey

Avocado Toast And Mocha Lattes

Tim Gurner, a luxury property developer in Melbourne, Australia, made headlines in 2017 by suggesting young people who consistently spent their money on coffee and avocado toast couldn’t afford to purchase homes. While Gurner’s comments raised the ire of millennials, he’s not wrong. Every dollar spent on high-end consumables is one less dollar to invest in tangible assets. Futures are not built on empty Starbucks cups. Those who hold spending habits, as Gurner described, have forgotten that sound financial and business principles should be applied to create personal wealth. T e practices of expense minimization, asset allocation, and revenue growth translate equally between home and office.

Many of the 1 percent—the uber-rich—translate these practices in their personal lives. Warren Bufett still lives in the home he bought in 1958. David Cheriton, Stanford professor turned Google stock profit billionaire, cuts his own hair and drives an old VW. Dish Network founder, Charlie Ergen packs a brown bag lunch for work. Aside from being enormously wealthy, these individuals have another common trait. All their parents grew up during the Great Depression and imparted lessons of frugality born out of a life or death level necessity.

More importantly than thrift, the bigger Depression-era example given to these men was that the good times can, and will, come to an end. You might have weathered the financial crisis of 2007–08 and feel like you can survive anything. As bad as that calamity was, the Great Depression was go out and hunt a possum for dinner bad. I guarantee anyone living the high life in 1926 wished they had cut back on their avocado toast intake to prepare for the future.

It’s often said to, “expect the best, but plan for the worst.” Our personal finances should follow this maxim. Your success will buy you security in lean times and is worth far more than an oil drum of mocha lattes.

Consider this …

1. Take an inventory of your personal financial life. On a scale of one to ten (one being awesome and ten being awful), how would you rate it?

2. Where would you like to be, financially, in five years?

3. What steps should you begin taking NOW in order to get you one-ffith of the way there over the next twelve months?

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

The Power of You

“No one ever made a dif erence by being like everyone else.”~ P. T. Barnum

the power of you

 “There is a subtle misconception that crops up when one reads books like The Innovator’s Field Guide. When faced with examples of the business community’s elite performers there is a tendency to think their methods will spell success for you. We fall into the same reasoning when reading books that outline a specific step-by step method to achieving your dreams. The authors of those types of books are successful and, by golly, it should work for me too. So, you change your management style or follow the steps only to f nd you’ve only succeeded in creating changes that haven’t netted the results you hoped for. How can this be? It worked for those individuals, but why are those tactics not working for you?

It could be that there is one critical component to following any example or methodology for success—you. Success comes from what new ideas and exemplars unlock within your unique set of skills and talents, not from being a carbon copy of someone else. Imagine if Jeff Bezos cloned Henry Ford’s early philosophy of, “A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black”? Amazon would offer a tenth of the items it currently does, and no one would think twice about Bezos’s business acumen.

There are authentic, innovative powers inside of you that should never be discounted or even remotely set aside. Are there behaviors and practices that will help you evolve into the success you want to be? Absolutely! There are lessons to be learned and systems to make your path easier. However, pathways to success are as unique as you are. Never forget that you have the power to adapt, evolve, and refine the ideas of others into your vision of success. That’s the power of you and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Consider this …

1. What key strengths or unique, innovative powers do you possess?

2. In what ways do you utilize these powers in your everyday work?

3. In what ways could you better leverage your uniqueness in pursuit of the key results you’re looking to achieve?


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

Powered by Teamwork

““Building product is not about having a large team to manage. It is about having a small team with the right people on it.”~ Fred Wilson

powered by teamwork

Fact: a true iconoclast is unicorn rare. Popular culture has sold us on the idea that innovators dig within their souls and against all the odds come up with the solution to save the day—all alone. T e pictures history paints of the Tomas Edison’s and Henry Fords is that they did everything from unclogging toilets to making accounts receivable calls on top of being innovators. What would Jeff Bezos be  going right now if the thousands of Sues and Bills stopped pulling orders in his warehouses? Bezos wouldn’t be rolling himself in the glory of imagining and implementing new programs for Amazon; he would be wondering why his team fell apart.

The true success of any innovator is not limited to his or her invention or idea, but the often-forgotten success lies in how that person created and maintained their team. The symbiotic relationship between “the idea” and those that make the idea a reality can never be dismissed. One might think of this as the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials where a bar of chocolate ends up in a jar of peanut butter followed by the tagline, “Two great tastes that taste great together.”

As you develop your confidence and skills as an innovator or change agent, remember that team-building is critical to your success. The more genuine you are with your vision, the more infectious it will become for your team. Your goal is to empower your team to make good creative decisions, as well as being committed to your vision at the same level of passion you are. If you can do all of that, you will be amazed at the platform effect your team will produce.

Consider this …

1. Find at least two mentors who will give you feedback about your leadership strengths and your blind spots

2. Identify the top three most critical tasks or areas of responsibility in your business or team for which you are not the ideal person to carry them out.

3. Develop a plan to get those tasks or areas of responsibility completed by someone who’s skilled and/or naturally gifted in those areas.


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

Walking the Tightrope

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” ~ Jack Welch

walking the tightrope

 The Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes carries with it a few metric tons of sound life advice. Two of the constant themes throughout the book are “there is nothing new under the sun” and “practice nothing to excess.” As you read through the book, it quickly becomes apparent that humanity has the same set of problems today as existed 3,000 years ago. One verse that directly applies to that commonality is Ecclesiastes 10:19 (KJV): “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry, but money answereth all things.” In context, the writer of Ecclesiastes is reminding us that, as far as earthly matters are concerned, money is necessary for our physical needs.

That need for income extends to our families as well. The care of my family is of utmost importance for me and is one of my greatest responsibilities. Half of caring for our families is working to supply food, clothing, shelter, and providing advantages. It is difficult to remember that aspect of “family first” when an important meeting bars us from attending a school play or soccer game. During those times we must be stashed with the knowledge that our hard work provides the costume for the play and the best soccer cleats on the market. But we must not use this rationale as an excuse to be an absentee parent. Make every effort to attend the dance recitals, soccer games, and cheer competitions of life. Don’t be too hard on yourself when work requires that you occasionally miss.

The other lesson Ecclesiastes 10:19 gives us is that laughter and merriment are components of the good life too. Work-life balance for leaders starts by assisting our team members to achieve that in their own lives. When we assist our team with those goals, we not only find solutions for ourselves, but we also build loyalty within our team members.

Leaders from Jack Welch to Sheryl Sandberg say that work-life balance is impossible. I disagree; however, I know from experience that it’s an elusive art—almost literally like walking a tightrope. To over-lean to one side, our personal lives and families suffer. To over-lean to the other, our work, our company and potentially our financial security suffer. Learn the art of tightrope walking. You’ll be glad you did.

Consider this …

1. On a scale of one to ten (one being best and ten being worst), rate yourself on the aspect of work/life balance.

2. Identify two or three things you can do to make personal improvements in this regard

3. Now identify the two or three things you can do to help your team members walk the work/life tightrope more consistently and confidently

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

Frame of Reference

None of  us see the world as it is but as we are, as our frames of reference, or maps, define the territory.” ~ Stephen Covey

frame of reference

Business borrows terms and concepts from many disciplines, but possibly none greater than physics. T e underlying science of momentum and line of sight is easy to connect, but frame of reference is harder to noodle. Imagine you’re riding in a train traveling at a constant speed. If there was a smooth track and the window blinds were shut, you might not be able to tell the train was moving at all. Someone standing along the tracks would see the train zipping along with the full force of its velocity. If two of the train’s passengers were throwing a ball back and forth, to them, the ball would appear to f y straight. Those standing on the tracks would see the ball taking a parabolic course due to the train’s forward motion. To say the ball is flying straight and on a curved path simultaneously is a true statement. The difference in perceiving those dual truths is one’s relationship to the train—one’s frame of reference if you will..

As leaders, we can be blinded by our frame of reference. Imagine you’ve set a tightly scheduled team goal. One day you see a team member doing absolutely nothing at her desk. She is literally sitting there with her eyes closed and you go ballistic. From within your frame of reference, she’s wasting precious time. From her vantage point, she’s quietly rehearsing her closing pitch for a client call that is occurring in ten minutes. Without the proper frame of reference, your tirade rattled her enough that the call was suboptimal and now so are your numbers.

Earnestly questioning your frame of reference, or your “mental models,” is a critical skill of top performers. If you’re prone to act quickly and decisively or to make snap judgments, make sure you understand all the frames of reference before doing something rash.

Consider this …

1. How quick are you to form snap judgments?

2. Recount a time when making a snap judgment or being decisive without all of the facts got you into trouble.

3. Practice the skill of questioning before you blindly act. Ask questions like, “Why?” “Why not?” “What if?


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

Creating Forward Momentum

“Trust your gut feeling about things, listen to what others are saying, and look at the results of your actions. Once you know the truth, you can set about taking action to improve. Everyone will be better for it.” ~ Jack Canfield

creating forward momentum

Coffeehouses throughout America are filled with people throwing out great idea after world-changing plans, so why are people sipping on lattes instead of making them happen? Many people seem to have bought fully into the notion that success is just “one idea away.” If someone would just buy into that idea, fame and riches would follow. To an extent, “one idea away from success” is valid. However, simply having the idea is only a portion of the equation necessary for success.
Ideas must be implemented. Should we not have the skill set or impetus to move thought to action, one’s chances for success are grim. I’ve heard it said that “It’s not enough to stare up the steps. One must also step up the stairs.” And so it is with our ideas. 

Having an idea is the easy part. A brainstorming session can create a dozen brilliant ideas that we can get all giddy over. Until we take one step, just one step breathing life into that idea, it’s a useless exercise. Tat one step can be a baby step, but it must be designed to create forward momentum. Let’s say you have an idea for a website and you’re in the daydreaming stages. Go ahead and buy the domain name before you plan anything else. In many cases, you’re looking at a twenty-dollar investment, but it’s a symbolic step. You now own the vehicle to make your website a reality. The next small step could be creating content or designing a logo.

Timetables aren’t as important as building forward momentum. If you’re familiar with the “Compound Effect,” you know that seemingly small actions, consistently applied, over time, yield MASSIVE results. Whatever helps you move forward, even as tiny as those seemingly small actions are, will eventually build on each other. You’ll likely find that momentum is not a linear, but an exponential expression of growth. Small successes build an excitement that you will be unable to contain. Tat enthusiasm will become infectious as you have tangible wins to show to others. Ten there will be no stopping you.

Consider this …

1. What three ideas have you been dreaming of yet waiting to implement?

2. Which of these three would produce the greatest results for you if they were implemented quickly?

3. For that one, most important idea, what “seemingly small action,” could you take right now to create forward momentum? Take that action!


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

Making Good Things Better

“Good is the enemy of great.”~ Jim Collins

Making good things better

 New, better, faster, stronger, and exciting are words that are usually coupled with innovation. We want to positively impact our world by showing everyone a spectacular idea that no one else has ever conceived. We want the Mona Lisa piloting a fighter jet while sipping a latte of ideas to validate our coveted title as “innovator.” That’s great, go get ’em, tiger … but is that what your business needs? Does innovation always have to center around the “we’re going to do something new and different” to make an impact on your operations? At some points in a business’s lifespan, the organization is sailing along smoothly. During these times, the best innovations might just come from scraping the barnacles of the ship’s hull. We need to look at our worst practices that drag down productivity and
profitability. Admittedly, examining what our company does lousy isn’t f ashy, but it can be hugely impactful.

A few years back, a major grocery chain was looking to increase their margins. They had always shipped their 12 pack sodas in low-cut cardboard trays. Someone in logistics realized there was no need to do this. Each of the pallets the logistics center was sending to stores was shrink-wrapped so the cases of soda wouldn’t skid of the pallets in transportation. After some testing, the theory held and the cost savings on cardboard alone were hundreds of thousands of dollars, every cent of which dropped straight to the bottom line. Tat innovation is about as mundane as they get, but the impact was greater than rolling out a new product, with far less risk.

What we want and what our business needs can be two different things. A truly innovative leader assesses the whole business and applies creative fair for problem-solving where the need lies.

Consider this …

1. Take a walk. Get out and meander around your project, business or workplace. Just walk, and observe, ask questions … and think.

2. Each time you do this, go back to your of ice and take notes on the feedback you receive, on your experiences, your observations, and your ideas.

3. After you’ve done this a few times, identify two or three “improvements” you can make to how the work gets done and share them with your team.

Work together to implement them!


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)

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