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What’s Your Why?

Why? That’s a deep, powerful question that can apply to almost anything. Kids ask why the sky is blue. Sports fans ask why the coach called a certain play. Citizens ask why politicians make the choices they do. You get the point. I’d like to focus the question on you. What’s your why? Or put another way, why do you do what you do?

I’m intrigued by the question of why having reread Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. I encourage you to take a look at Simon sharing some thoughts on this in one of his Ted talk presentations.

Sinek builds a case that most companies lose sight of this important concept but great companies know their why and it becomes their culture. Apple, Costco, Southwest Air and Harley Davidson are a few of the great companies he refers to in the book. His perspective reminded me of Steven Covey’s idea of a personal mission statement. Covey’s idea applies to individuals because too often people go through life not knowing why they do what they do. This post isn’t about the value of a personal mission statement but if you’d like to learn more about that, read this article.

With Influence PEOPLE, my why is to help people achieve professional success and personal happiness. When it comes to professional success much of that depends on getting others to say yes to you.

That yes could be tied to a new product, procedure, strategy or any number of other initiatives in which people need to be onboard. Whatever it may be, business leaders, managers and salespeople need to get people doing what they need them to do.

On a personal level, I’m a firm believer that your home life will be much more peaceful and happy if family members willingly do what you want. Wouldn’t it be nice if your kids did their homework or chores with less resistance? Wouldn’t it be great if your spouse more willingly did what you asked? Both could lead to less stress and more happiness.

I believe professional success and personal happiness can be achieved with a lot less effort than you might imagine. If you understand how people typically think and behave and you’re willing to adjust your communication accordingly you’ll move more people to voluntarily do what you want. A big part of that communication change comes by ethically and correctly using the principles of influence.

The principles of influence are psychological triggers that are scientifically proven to move more people to a yes response. Think of it this way, if you knew the best way to hear “Yes” more consistently, wouldn’t you communicate that way more often? It would be foolish not to.

When I speak on this topic the word audience members use most often to describe me is passionate. They can tell I passionately believe what I’m saying. And I do because I’ve seen it work firsthand at home and the office. I’ve also heard from others. Here are a couple of examples:

“Brian Ahearn’s communication and teaching of Dr. Cialdini’s principles of persuasion into business applications specifically for our industry were extremely relevant and applicable in both of my work and personal life.”
– Greg Wilkerson, Sr. Vice President, Frost Insurance

“The class was so powerful for me personally, that it has extended past any particular work situation or sales situation. It has influenced almost every aspect of my life.”
– Christian Fanetti, Sr., Vice President, Consumers First Insurance

So let’s circle back to you. What is your why when you head to work each day? If it’s just a paycheck you’ll never put as much time and effort into your work as you would if you passionately believed what you do makes a difference.

Even if you don’t love the daily grind, can you see how the end results of your efforts and your organization make a difference for others?

I can’t answer your why for you. Nobody can. But taking time to really reflect might make the difference for you. Wouldn’t it be great to go to work each day with a little more energy, excitement and passion? It’s possible if you know your why and believe in it.

When the Good Becomes Bad

Have you ever noticed how something good can slowly become bad? I’m thinking of things we start for good reasons that end up getting distorted and becoming bad. Here are some examples:

  • In the Bible, the Pharisees, a religious sect of Judaism, aspired to be right with God. They knew the commandments but wanted to understand them more deeply. They knew “Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath” but wanted to understand exactly what work was. They set out to define it and laid a heavy burden on people in the name of God. It became work just to keep the law.
  • Public schools have set standards for graduation because people thought our education system was slipping on the world stage. However, rather than bolster learning we started hearing about teachers “teaching to the test” and in some districts misrepresenting student scores. On the topic of school, grades are used to measure performance. After all, “What gets measured gets done.” Seeing a student with a high GPA is usually a good thing unless students are more concerned with the grade than what they’re learning.
  • Faithfulness to marriage vows is a good thing. But what about couples who “stay together for the kids” and end up exposing them to a toxic environment at home?
  • In business, bonuses are used to incent people to do certain things like increase profits or sales. Offering people incentives to work harder, longer or more creatively is good unless people begin to do some unethical things to hit the numbers.

As I noted in the opening, many things start out with a good intention but end up getting perverted in some way as people lose sight of the original intention. So what are you to do?

I believe we all need to understand why we’re asked to do what we do and occasionally we need to remind ourselves. I work in the insurance industry and I’m proud of that. Insurance isn’t a sexy industry like banking or financial investments but it’s every bit as necessary. When people ask me about what I do, I tell them I’m proud to be in insurance because we do two important things:

We help people. If someone has a loss (car accident, home damaged, business destroyed) we step in to help them get back on their feet and lessen the financial burden they would face otherwise. No one ever said, “Darn my insurance agent for selling me the right coverages and limits” after a loss but many have said, “Darn my agent for not selling me the right coverages and limits!”

We help the economy. What bank will lend you money to build a house or buy a building if you can’t guarantee to repay the amount in full if the property is damaged or destroyed? No financial institution would do that but with an insurance company promising to make that guarantee, money is lent, buildings are bought, which employs people to build them and building materials are sold. This creates a positive ripple throughout our economy.

This brings me more specifically to what I do at work 9 to 5 and with Influence PEOPLE. I teach people how to ethically persuade others. The driving force for me in this endeavor is to help people professionally and personally. I believe:

Professional success depends in large part on your ability to get others to say yes to you. Sales are not made without getting to yes. If you’re a manger your success depends on your team buying into your vision and strategy – getting a yes! Even if you’re not in sales or management you’re asking people to do things all day long. 

Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human discovered through a survey of more than 7,000 business people that the typical non-sales employees spend upwards of 40% of their time trying to persuade others!

Personal happiness is quite often a result of getting a yes. Most people I know find that life is more pleasant when their spouse, significant other and/or kids willingly say yes to them. Understanding how to ethically persuade others can go a long ways toward making this happen.

If you’re like most people I’ve met, and including myself, then you may have things in life you started for the right reasons but may have “lost that loving feeling” and slowly slipped into a bad place. If that’s the case, step back and take time to remind yourself about who you are and why you choose to do what you do. If you can’t regain that old feeling and have the ability to let go of some things, then do so because you’ll enjoy what you pursue with passion more than what you have to drag yourself to do.

If the Pot was Boiling Would You Even Notice?

 

There’s an old tale that says if a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water it would immediately jump out but if it’s placed in a pot with room temperature water that’s slowly turned up it won’t perceive the difference and can be boiled alive.
I don’t know if the story is true because I’ve never wanted to harm a frog just to find out. True or not, it illustrates a common reality that sometimes change happens so gradually we find ourselves in an unintended place before we realize what’s happened.
This is top of mind because over the past month I’ve had the opportunity to spend a day with four different interns at State Auto. I thoroughly enjoy those days every summer because their wide-eyed excitement is invigorating. During our time together I give them insight into our sales coaching, sales training and how to ethically persuade people.
As important as those topics are, I think the most valuable thing I talk about with them is their future. When I do this I always share something I’ve regularly said was one of the most impacting things I’ve ever done – writing a personal mission statement.
Although I wrote about this four years ago I felt compelled to reexamine the topic again. You can view my mission statement here.
When it comes to our careers it’s so easy for us to be like the frog in the room temperature water. Everything starts off okay and slowly but surely things change. Our 40-hour week becomes 45 then 50, but we hardly notice. We begin to work most Saturday mornings and that starts to stretch into Sunday. After all, we’re highly productive so we’re given more responsibility. We know if we keep performing we’ll get that next promotion and we already have lots of plans for the extra money we’ll make. We justify the need for nicer things because we’re working so hard and therefore deserve a bigger house, nicer car, new furniture, etc.
We tell ourselves those good things are for our spouse, kids or other family members. But in the process we start to miss the Little League games, school activities and other important events. In the grand scheme of life they’re not that big a deal – well, maybe not that big to you but that’s probably not the case for your kids or spouse. Sure, they “understand,” but secretly they wish you’d choose them over work.
Then comes the day that Harry Chapin famously sang about in “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Your loved ones decline the offer to spend time with you because they have other activities that are now more important to them. You’re hurt and disappointed. You feel like they don’t appreciate all you’ve done for them. The problem is, you never really knew what they wanted. The water is boiling and you can’t do anything about it.
How does a personal mission statement help? It makes you sit down today and consider the end. What kind of person do you want to become? How do you want to be remembered? When it’s all said and done what do you want out of life?
I told a friend recently how I’d gone to a Christmas party last year at a beautiful home. When I saw the ornate decorations in this huge home my gut reaction was, “What am I doing wrong that I can’t give this to my family?” The good news is, the thought didn’t even last a minute. I quickly came to my senses and realized, where I am in life is exactly where I’ve chosen to be.
You see, my mission statement clearly says my priorities are faith, family, personal wellbeing, then my career. Now, for those who know me, between my day job as a sales coach/trainer for State Auto and my activities with Influence PEOPLE, I work a lot. However, I construct my day so those things don’t take away from my family. As I write this on a Tuesday evening, Jane and Abigail are at work so I’m not taking any time away from them.
I start my weekdays at 4 a.m. because I don’t what to give up other things I love like reading, working out and running. I could use those extra morning hours to climb the corporate ladder but that would mean giving up time I can devote to other things I’ve said are more important.
I encourage you to take a look at the blog post I wrote about “The Value of a Personal Mission Statement.” It might be a trigger for you to do something similar. The strongest thing I can say to encourage you is that writing a personal mission statement was one of the most impacting activities I’ve ever undertaken.
P.S. I thought you’d find this interesting. As I was writing this post Abigail came home and wanted to go for a walk. Rather than choose to finish this post I took a break and went with her. I know most teenagers don’t ask their parents to do things with them and before I know it she’ll be out of the house and I’ll long for these days. A choice like this was easy because I set my priorities more than 20 years ago when I wrote my mission statement.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

 

One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership

I recently finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with all of you. If you do what the author asks, I believe it will have a profound impact on your ability to lead yourself and others.

Mike Figliuolo, a friend, owner of thoughtLEADERS, and occasional guest blogger for Influence PEOPLE, just came out with his first book, One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. Mike’s basic idea is that every leader would benefit from critically thinking about his or her leadership philosophy and then committing it to paper.
I write a blog on the science of influence so you might be wondering how this ties into my weekly format. A light bulb went on inside my head when I read, “Leadership is inspiring and influencing people to act in ways they ordinarily would not.” This viewpoint ties in nicely with Aristotle’s definition, “Persuasion is the art of getting people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.”
Mike writes, “But one thing all leaders have in common is the need to understand, articulate, and continuously improve their leadership philosophy and do so in a simple, straightforward way.” With that in mind he asks readers to critically evaluate four areas:
  • Leading yourself
  • Leading the thinking
  • Leading your people
  • Leading a balanced life

It’s not enough to read and think about each so Mike asks readers to put pen to paper and write their own leadership maxims. He tells readers, “Maxims are simple, clear statements that serve as reminders for how you want to behave and lead and how you want your team members to behave.”

And why is this exercise so important? I agree with Mike when he writes, “As you apply your maxims on a regular basis, your behaviors will become more predictable for your team members, colleagues, friends, and family. That predictability and consistency are the foundation of trust for all your relationships. You can achieve consistency through the maxims approach first, because you have written your maxims down as rules you’d like to live by and second, because you have shared those maxims with others. That sharing strengthens your accountability for living up to those standards.”
Writing leadership maxims will increase your ability to be an effective leader and persuader because it will help enhance your personal authority. This is true because when it comes to influencing others your authority relies primarily on two things: expertise and trustworthiness.
If you’re in leadership already then I’ll make the assumption that you’ve been paying your dues and have some relative expertise. Unfortunately that’s not always enough to succeed because much of your success still depends on getting other people to buy into your ideas and that’s where trustworthiness comes in. As you write, share and live your maxims your team comes to rely on you to lead them in the way you’ve laid out. Without worrying about “the boss,” your people are more free to focus on the tasks they need to because there are no surprises coming from you.
Nearly 20 years ago I did a similar exercise after reading Steven Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of Covey’s admonitions was that readers take time to write a personal mission statement. If you want to learn more about that exercise and see my personal mission statement, click here. Suffice it to say, I’ve told countless people that exercise was one of the most impacting things I’ve ever done because I refer to my personal mission statement daily. Through sheer repetition it’s impacted my conscious and subconscious mind.
I really think the same benefit awaits you with Mike’s work in One Piece of Paper because he encourages readers to review their maxims continually and revise as necessary. If you’re a young person aspiring to move into leadership or someone who’s just made that move, imagine yourself defining your leadership style and using that with the teams you’ll lead over your lifetime.
How would you feel if your boss handed you one piece of paper and said, “Let’s talk about this because this defines how I lead and what I expect. I think it’s important for you to know this so there are no surprises and we’re on the same page”? I’m willing to bet you’d feel pretty good. On the flip side, if you are an employer looking to hire a new leader I’m guessing you’d be very impressed if someone handed you one piece of paper that defined their leadership approach.
Businesses take time to develop vision and mission statements but individuals rarely give that much consideration to themselves. My encouragement to you from the standpoint of becoming a person of influence is simply this – get a copy of Mike’s book, read it, write your maxims, share them with others and review them often. Do so and you’ll be glad you did and those you lead will respond by giving you their best as often as possible.
Brian, CMCT
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Tiger Woods and Character

Aristotle is credited with saying, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” In light of what’s transpired with one of the most well known people in the world this week I thought it would be good to look at character because of its impact on our ability to influence others.

I think you know the person I’m talking about here, Tiger Woods. Unless you’ve been on a secluded island this week it would be hard to have missed the stories that are surfacing about his infidelity. I don’t think it’s judgmental to say what he did was wrong. He’s said as much and if you were on the receiving end of the news his wife had to face I think you’d say what he did was wrong on many levels.

But here’s a truth for all of us – we can’t do anything about Tiger Woods. What we can do is take time to reflect on who we are and how we impact those around us. I can only speak for myself when I say, if I had done what he did very few people would care but that’s not the point. None of us should make right choices because lots of people are watching. We should make good choices because they’re the right thing to do. If we know people are watching then great, use that as extra motivation to do the right thing but never the reason for doing what’s right.

Have you ever thought deeply about your character, who you are? If I didn’t write this blog I’d still be Brian Ahearn. If I didn’t work at State Auto I’d still be Brian Ahearn. If I wasn’t a husband or father, I’d still be Brian Ahearn. All those things, as well as many others, function at two levels in my life.

First, they help shape me. Because I’m married I’m different than if I’d not made that commitment. Being a dad has certainly changed me incredibly. Learning about sales and influence has had a profound impact on me. But the fact remains, I’d still be me if I switched careers, if for some reason my marriage ended or the day my daughter moves out. I will still be Brian Ahearn.

The second level is these things become a reflection of who I am. The fact that I am married says something about what I value. How I raise my daughter also tells a lot about what goes on inside me. But in the end those things are like a map. A map is not the terrain; it only shows you something about the terrain. What we do and how we act shows what we value and reveals our character.

Who I am, who you are, is a very complex thing to figure out. Ben Franklin said, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Figuring out who you are is very hard but it’s worth pondering because understanding who you are helps you understand why you do what you do. Tiger Woods will have to figure out why he chose to do the things he did, things that could cost him his marriage, tens of millions of dollars and possibly impact his pursuit of immortality as he chases Jack Nicklaus’ golf records. He may be supremely confident and in control on the golf course but there’s something wrong away from the course.

In the end, after all the things that seem to define you are stripped away all you have is yourself, the choices you’ve made and the impact you’ve had on others. None of us is perfect and that’s not what I’m getting at here. We’ve all made mistakes, done things we’d like to change, hurt people and who knows what else. We have to come to grips with those things and thank God the whole world wasn’t bearing down on us as we tried to make corrections in our lives. We should treat Tiger the way we’d want to be treated, talk about him the way we’d want people to talk about us.

So character, who we are at the deepest level, is the most powerful persuasion tool we have. It can take a lifetime to build good character but it can be lost in a moment. It’s precious and we should treat it that way. One way I found to help me was writing a personal mission statement. You can read about that in a prior Influence PEOPLE post.

I’ll leave you with this suggestion – rather than spending lots of time talking about something that you cannot change, something that really is of very little impact on you, use the time to reflect on yourself and change for the better. As Gandhi encouraged people, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

The Value of a Personal Mission Statement

Last week I concluded with a teaser about my personal mission statement so this week I’m going to address the topic and share with you my personal mission statement, or life plan, as some call it.

Back in the early ’90s, I read Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and it really resonated with me. I often tell people, after The Bible the most impacting book I’ve ever read is The 7 Habits. I’m not saying it’s the best book – I’ve read others I enjoyed more – only that it was the most impacting. The impact came because I took the step to write a personal mission statement. Now, each day a part of my mission statement pops up in a task in my daily planner, Microsoft Outlook. Having read it now for 15 plus years, I’ve reinforced who I am, who I’m trying to become and what’s most important in my life.

If you’ve not written your own mission statement I cannot encourage you enough to do so. I’ll go so far as to say it could be one of the most important things you ever do because it’s something that will serve as a guide throughout your life. The mission statement idea is presented in Covey’s book in a chapter entitled, “Begin with the End in Mind.” I’ll leave it to you to read the book, or at least that chapter, so you can write your own plan.

I think a mission statement can help you be more influential in several ways:

  • Writing something down like this will help you stay accountable to what you say is most important and that accountability is ramped up if you share your mission statement with others. When you’re consistent, people come to rely on you which adds to your credibility, a component of authority.
  • Most people I interview never write down their goals let alone have a plan for their life. If you’re ever interviewing for a job and you hand the interviewer a personal mission statement you’ll certainly impress them. I think sharing mine helped me land the job I have today.
  • If you happen to share it with someone who has similar goals or world view then you’re likely to befriend that person because you’ve touched on the principle of liking.

Below is my life plan. It’s not for everyone so yours could look totally different and that’s okay because we’re all different.

My Chief Aim in Life: When I leave this earth and stand in the presence of the Lord, I hope to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant: you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21).

In order to make this a reality I will focus on four main areas of my life. Each area, while distinctly different, overlaps with the other areas. I want to focus on my spiritual life, my family, myself as an individual and my career.

Spiritual: I want to have a close intimate relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ and I want this relationship to be the priority in my life. I want to live a life that’s consistent with Biblical principles. I will seek to do this by striving for Christ-like qualities, knowing that while I cannot completely achieve them because I am human, I will be rewarded. I want to be a good listener. Finally, I want to reach out to others sharing Biblical love and truth.

Family: I want to make my family my priority second only to my relationship with God. I want to love and honor my wife Jane, building her up so she can become the spiritual being God intends for her to be. I want to meet her needs to the best of my ability and help her live a happy and fulfilled life. I want to strive to give unconditional love to Jane and Abigail, as well as other members of my extended family. I want to create a home environment where each person in my family can come to me in times of need and develop to their fullest potential. I want to earn my family’s respect and be the kind of husband and father they can be proud of.

Personal: I want to like who God created me to be; respect myself; maintain a balance between my mental and physical health; live my life with integrity, not compromising myself but standing firm on my beliefs as outlined in my personal mission statement; be open to change and accept when I’m wrong; continue to develop in the areas of loving, learning and relationships; smile, laugh and show my emotions more; I do not want to be controlled by anyone or anything other than God and need to remember I always have free will and therefore a choice in all matters; I want strive first to understand others, then seek to be understood; to be a leader and role model for others.

Career: I want Christ to be the centerpiece for all that I do at work; I want to give my best effort to whatever task is laid before me; be remembered for making my workplace better for having been there in both a productive and personal sense; obtain satisfaction from my chosen career; be fair and honest while remaining firm and decisive; remember the people involved; earn the trust, respect and confidence of those I work with; continue to develop personally and seek new challenges. Last, I need to remember that I work to live — I don’t live to work. Therefore, I will never sacrifice my spiritual, personal or my family’s well being at the expense of my career.

So there you have it. You now know more about me than you may have cared to know. I encourage you to take a similar step in your own life. Trust me, you will be glad you did.

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

Personal Branding

Last week I wrote about association and how we all have opportunities to create the associations we want people to hold when they think of us. We can do more than just respond positively to “thanks” to create a strong association. What I’ll share this week I owe in great measure to a coworker and good friend, James Seay, MBA.

James has been with State Auto for many years. He took a break to serve our great country in Iraq and upon his return – because of his passion for branding – he started putting on personal branding workshops at State Auto. The sessions are high energy, fun and interactive. His goal is to get people to realize other people (customers, coworkers, the boss) have opinions about each of us and we should be doing what we can to shape those opinions as much as possible. It’s not unlike companies wanting to direct customer’s thoughts when it come to their products or services. As I shared last week, sometimes hard work and a doing a great aren’t enough because that’s what’s expected in today’s economy. To see what James has to say about personal branding click here. You can also see him on YouTube.

I went through James’ workshop and walked away with this as my personal brand, “When it needs to be Done Well!” That tag line now appears on every email I send at work. If you were to get an email from me here’s what my signature would look like:

When it needs to be Done Well!

Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CMCT
Senior Sales Specialist
State Auto Insurance Companies www.stateauto.com
PO Box 182822, Columbus, OH 43218-2822
Phone: 614.917.5472 Fax: 614.719.0201

State Auto is one of only 13 companies to earn an A+ Rating by AM Best every year since 1954!

I want people to know they can count on me to do things well so every new email, every reply and every forwarded email people see, “When it needs to be Done Well!” Do you think they’ve started remembering that? I can tell you they absolutely have because some people will jokingly email, “I need something done well…” I know this; I have them thinking the way I want.

I’ve even incorporated my personal brand into my voicemail. If you called and I was unavailable you’d hear this, “Do you need something done well? Then you’ve come to the right place! Hi, this is Brian Ahearn and you’ve reached my voicemail.” One person, my college roommate from my sophomore year at Miami University, left me a very funny message after hearing my voicemail. When I called him back he said, “I have to be totally serious; if I didn’t know you and I heard that message, I’d say to myself, ‘Now that’s a guy I want to do business with!'” That exactly what I want people to think and act on.

Here’s one more proof positive story. A little over a week ago I met one of our Regional Vice Presidents for the first time. We’d had interaction through email and by phone but had not personally met. When we finally shook hands his first comments in a room full of others had to do with my personal brand. He complimented me on the voicemail, emails and most of all, my work.

Here’s a quick side benefit. When you “advertise” yourself you realize you now have a reputation to uphold and consistency kicks in. You find yourself working hard to maintain that reputation because you don’t want to let yourself or others down. If you live up to your brand then you also add to your authority because people hold you in higher regard. As the saying goes, “It’s all good!”

If you wonder why I choose “Done Well” instead of “Well Done” it’s because I didn’t want people to think I was some lousy chef. Seriously, after much soul searching, considering my likes, dislikes, passions, talents, etc., I came up with that personal brand because it tied into my personal mission statement. Next week I’ll share my thoughts about writing a personal mission statement because a personal mission statement can also help you be more influential.

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”