Professional Excellence


There was no magic formula. We just focused on being brilliant at the basics.
— John Wooden, UCLA Coach, 10 National Championships


The first thing a customer will notice about you is your attitude. They immediately ask themselves, “Is this person for me?” First impressions are like wet cement; you have a small window of opportunity to make a favorable impression. Once the impression is set, it is difficult to change.


Every business is a relationship business. Whether you are buying a car or seeing a doctor, you want to do business with people you like. The same is true for your customers. Take time to make a connection before getting down to business.


Always speak well of your co-workers, other departments and your company. This gives the customer confidence and let’s them know everyone is working together to provide a positive experience.


Emphasize what you can do for your customer, not what you can’t do. “Our first opening is Friday at 10 am.” sounds much better than “We can’t see you until Friday at 10am.”


Think of yourself as a teacher rather than a salesperson. Be clear and concise in your communication. Be a good listener and have the customer’s best interest in mind.


Think of something beyond the ordinary that you can do for your customer. It could be waiving a fee, charging less than the estimate or adding in a little something extra.


Avoid the phrase “no problem.” Neither of those two words are positive. If a customer makes a request, “absolutely” or “I would be happy to,” works well. If a customer thanks you, “you are very welcome” or “it is my pleasure” conveys your desire to delight.


When things don’t go as planned, follow a simple three step process. First, let the customer vent so they feel heard, apologize for the inconvenience, ask how to make it right. If you handle service recovery well, you could leave a more favorable impression than if nothing bad happened.


Always remember that you are in business to acquire and retain customers. The customer is the reason your company exists. Make sure that attitude is conveyed to them.


Tie a nice bow around the whole experience. Let them know that it is a pleasure and a privilege to do business with them.

Daily Planning: 6 Ways to Live Your Day On Purpose

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard

Jim Rohn once said "either you run the day or the day runs you." Daily planning is a cornerstone habit of successful people. We live best when we live 'on purpose.'

Here are some tips on daily planning:

1. Create a Daily Task List.

Do this every day. The night before is preferable because your mind can contemplate on the day ahead and you can hit the ground running the next morning. Include high-priority projects (ex. develop presentation), important calls or emails (ex. follow up on proposal), and the routine (ex. order contact lenses/fill out expense report.)

2. Make high priority items a high priority. 

Stephen Covey called this putting 'first things first.' I think it should be taken literally. Try and work on your highest priority first thing. It may be an important project or some other high-value activity. If it is a big project, break it down in chunks and work on the first chunk. As the day goes on, you lose willpower. In addition, other things will come up. Knock this out and you will have an early victory.

3. Adjust, don't Abandon your game plan.  

Planning every minute of your day is setting yourself up to fail. Leave white space. Stuff happens. Undoubtedly, you will get interruptions and emergencies. Your daily plan should be a good mix of structure and flexibility. If you go off on a rabbit trail, get back on track quickly. Too often when the day doesn't go exactly as planned, we think the day is shot and begin to dabble at things and become unfocused. Regroup and get laser focused again.

4. Batch Items.

Group similar tasks. Do your email only at certain times of the day. If you have several calls to make, make them one right after another.

5. Avoid Multi-tasking.

Our brains are not built to do two things that take cognitive effort at once. It's fine to fold clothes while watching a ball game. But trying to do several things at once that require thinking will slow you down and hinder the quality of your work. Just focus on one thing at a time. Determine to get after it and get it done. And done well.

6. Overcome Procrastination

The hardest part of this whole deal is getting ourselves to behave. It is much easier just to do busywork all day long, fight fires or be distracted. Use momentum. Here is a great technique to overcome procrastination, just get started. Tell yourself you will work on that tough task for 10 minutes before you decide whether you will work on it longer. Nine times out of ten, you will have gained momentum and want to continue. This is called 'acting your way into feeling.' It works.

When you plan your day, take a few minutes to visualize yourself at the end of the day having planned your work and worked your plan. As a Christian, I spend a few minutes in prayer thinking through my projects, appointments, meetings, etc. I ask for God's blessing, wisdom and impact.

Nobody ever wandered into greatness. This is all about living a life of intent and purpose. And the good thing is that life only comes one day at a time.

A successful life does not result from chance; nor is it determined by fate or good fortune, but rather through a succession of successful days
— Ari Kiev

5 Qualities Every Employer Craves

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.
— Albert Einstein

When I graduated college and about to launch my career in the marketplace, my father-in-law gave me this advice, "Wherever you work, make yourself valuable."

It is imperative that you are competent at your work. Skill and knowledge are essential, but only foundational.

To really stand out in the marketplace you need the following 5 qualities:


1. Optimism.

Employers want team members who are going to contribute to a positive work environment. They want employees with a 'can-do' attitude. I'm not talking about putting a happy face on everything but rather seeing the upside of things. It's easier to drag people down rather than lift them up. Be the exception. Be upbeat and energetic. 


2. Initiative

Many team members are simply putting in time. They do enough to get by. Set yourself apart by being proactive. Go beyond your job description. When you see a problem, suggest a solution. When you see a co-worker who is overwhelmed, jump in and give them a hand.


3. Service Orientation

When you go to a restaurant or a store, you can tell within a few seconds whether the person waiting on you is happy to be there or just putting in time. Be the kind of person who is easy to work and eager to help, whether it is a co-worker or an external customer. Being pleasant and helpful positively impacts the entire experience.


4. Adaptability

Humans are habit-oriented beings. We are comfortable with our routines. But in order for organizations to thrive, they need to be constantly changing and improving. Bucking change in your organization puts a drag on it moving forward. Be light on your feet, be flexible, be willing to learn new things. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Ride the horse in the direction that it is going."


5. Collaboration

Teamwork is absolutely necessary for any organization to win in the marketplace. Be a great team player. Give others credit. Ask for advice. Apologize when appropriate. Consider the other's point of view. Don't be competitive with those in your organization. If you don't enjoy collaborating, find a job that doesn't involve working with people. Drive a tractor-trailer across country, be an author and write books in your place of solitude. But companies need everyone to be a team player. 

Research shows that 75% of job success is due to 'soft-skills' not technical competence. Practicing these 5 qualities will give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


The 2 Qualities You Absolutely, Positively Need

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of us have been seen by a physician who is knowledgeable and competent, but doesn’t come across as caring. Conversely, we have all seen parents who want to be their child’s friend yet lack the firmness of appropriate discipline.

I recently read Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut. I was introduced to a very simple but insightful principle: the two qualities that make a person influential are Strength and Warmth. In the scenario above, the physician projected Strength but not Warmth. The parent possessed Warmth but not Strength.

The quality of Strength includes confidence, competence, passion, and grit.

The quality of Warmth includes kindness, connection, empathy, and congeniality.

The authors state that Strength and Warmth are not an ‘either/or’ proposition. You don’t have to sacrifice one quality for the other. It is quite possible to project both Strength and Warmth simultaneously. Think of it as two separate scales each ranking from 1-10. Theoretically, a person can be low in both Strength and Warmth, high in only one or the other, or, optimally, high in both Strength and Warmth.

Think about this concept in real-life situations. 

When we go for a job interview, the interviewer is essentially thinking about two things:

Can the person do the job? (Strength)
Do I want to work with this person? (Warmth)

If you are a leader, you need to be able to affirm, encourage and take an interest in your direct reports (Warmth). It is also your responsibility to step into difficult conversations and candidly address performance or behavior issues (Strength). 

If you are a presenter, it is essential that you first build rapport with your audience (Warmth) and then influence them with information that is presented in a confident, clear, and cohesive manner (Strength.)

Here are some practical tips to enhance both your Strength and Warmth.

Enhancing Strength

  • Become proficient in your field
  • Be clear and confident in your communication
  • Be a person of action-get results
  • Always be respectful but do not let others intimidate you

Enhancing Warmth

  • Build rapport by remembering people’s names and asking others about themselves
  • Regularly express appreciation and encouragement to others
  • Practice empathy-put yourself in the other person’s place and express care and concern
  • Build connectedness by finding areas of common interests (favorite sports team, hobbies, etc.)

So it is time for a little self-assessment. Where do you fall? Are you high in one area and low in another? Are you low in both? Your aim should be to project both Strength and Warmth everyday at a level of 10.

Teddy Roosevelt went on African safaris, had a boxing ring installed in the White House and continued giving a speech even though he was shot and bleeding (true story!). Yet he taught Sunday School to kindergarten kids and often made his cabinet wait as he played hide-and-seek with his kids.

I like that combination. Tough and tender.

4 Productivity Practices of High Performers

The world comes at you fast and hard every day. It is easy to get distracted and diffused. High performers cut through all the noise and trivia to focus on what matters most.

Here are 4 Productivity Practices of High Performers.

1. Capture Everything.

This is absolutely essential. Develop a system where you capture anything and everything that comes your way. Phone messages, emails, requests while walking down the hall at work, responsibilities that come out of meetings and ideas that come to you in the moment.

Get everything down: big and small, long term and short term, ideas inspirational to your dreams and everyday mundane items. Rather than have random sticky notes all over the place, try to minimize your collection ‘containers’ to 3 or 4.

For example my collection containers are:

My email inbox - I flag all emails that need a response or follow up.
A full size paper pad where I write down all phone messages, random thoughts, etc. I also bring this paper pad to meetings to write down anything tasks I have committed to do during the meeting
A technology app where I keep on-the-fly requests (walking down the hallway at work) or random thoughts when I don’t have my paper pad with me.

Getting stuff off your mind and written down gives you psychological comfort. I dislike feeling that I am forgetting something or failing to follow through on a commitment.

All of these items comprise a Master Task List(MTL). A MTL is the list of everything you need to do:, big and small, important and mundane.

“Our minds are for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

2. Plan weekly.

Think of zooming in and out on a map. All week long you are zooming in: rolling up your sleeves and doing the work in front of you. The weekly plan is like zooming out to see the big picture.

Taking a step back once a week to process your tasks and set weekly goals is a must-have habit. This is where you eliminate completed tasks off your MTL and get all your ‘To-Dos’ from your collection buckets on to your MTL. Most importantly, plan your week based the tasks on your MTL. You will not be able to get everything done, so choose the most important and absolutely necessary.

3. Chunk Big Projects

We procrastinate because a large project seems overwhelming. But a project is really made up of a series of small tasks. If you break down a project into a series of tasks then you can concentrate on just the ‘next action.’ 

Here is an example of ‘chunking a project.’

Project: Prepare Presentation for Fall Conference


  • Research content (4 hours)
  • Develop outline (1 hour)
  • Develop flow and bullet points of content (2 hours)
  • Add stories, quotes and humor to content (2 hours)
  • Develop strong introduction and conclusion ( 1 hour)

4. Set Aside Regular Times for Focused Work

This is critical to getting anything worthwhile done. Regularly shut out the world for a limited period of time and get down to doing your best work.

To keep me focused with periodic short breaks, I use an app called 30/30. You name the task and set a timer for a certain amount of time to do concentrated work. It sounds silly but I say to myself “when the timer is on, the rest of the world is off.”

I once read “Be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.” I love that principle. As much as I can, I try to do my most important work in the morning and schedule meetings or more routine work in the afternoon. 

There are many more personal productivity principles (somewhere deep down there is a book on the topic in me) but these are the Core 4.

If you really want to make a difference, you have to be different and do things differently. Most people fly by the seat of their pants and hope for the best. These 4 practices will help you live more purposefully.

Please share any personal productivity practices you have found helpful in the comments section.


6 Ways to Overcome Nervousness in Public Speaking

All greatness is achieved while performing outside our comfort zone. – Greg Arnold

It is common knowledge that the #1 human fear is public speaking. When someone needs to make a presentation, often they just want to ‘get it over with.’

But if you are in business, becoming proficient at public speaking can accelerate your career. Instead of trying to ‘get it over with’ think ‘get good.’

I would like to share a few strategies that can help you reduce your anxiety. Be assured that nervousness concerning public speaking is normal and even healthy.

1. Master your material.

There is no substitute for knowing your material. The more prepared you are, the more confident and spontaneous you will be. Thorough knowledge of the material will also help you speak in a conversational tone.

2. Arrive early.

Make sure you are not dealing with last minute room set-up or technological issues. This will compound your stress. Get there well ahead of time and make sure everything is in order. Greet participants as they come. This will get the focus off yourself and create a relaxed atmosphere.

3. Start strong and end strong.

The first few minutes are usually the hardest. If you have your introduction down cold and it has a good hook, you gain early momentum. Once you get going, the anxiety is often reduced or even eliminated.

4. Make nervousness work for, rather than against you.

If I am nervous before a speech, I simply tell myself that it is positive energy waiting to be channeled into a great presentation.

“Everyone has butterflies in their stomach. The only difference between the pro and an amateur is the pro has the butterflies flying in formation.” – Zig Ziglar

5. Use positive visualization.

This technique is used by some of the world’s greatest performers. Jack Nicklaus used to imagine the golf ball landing softly on the green right next to the hole before he ever took a swing. Picture yourself confident and effective during your presentation.

6. Focus on the message (or Get Over Yourself!)

I used to give Employee of the Month presentations. I would tell myself that my job is to honor person being recognized, not to make me look good. This took the focus off me and actually helped take the edge off my nervousness.

By the way, imagining people in their underwear doesn’t work.

There are no shortcuts to becoming proficient at presentations or reducing the anxiety that comes with it. But with practice it will be dramatically reduced. When I started my career in education, I volunteered to teach topics like infection control, fire safety and HIPAA about 6 times a month in front of an average size audience of 40 people. I did this for the sole purpose of gaining ‘face time’ in front of an audience.

So start small. Volunteer to make a presentation at a department meeting or for a committee. You will slowly build confidence that could eventually lead to great things.

The Key to Connection: 6 Ways to Remember Names

“A person’s name is–to that person–the sweetest and most important sound of any language.” - Dale Carnegie

It was April 15, 2010, the release day of the first iPad. I had reserved mine for pick-up at the local Apple Store. My daughter, Olivia, wanted to join the fun. When we got to the mall, there were several hundred people in line waiting to get their hands on the new device. Apple was only allowing a certain number of people in the store at a time. Olivia and I waited in line for about two hours, slowing making our way to the front. Finally, we came to the entrance of the store where we were greeted by a lovely Apple associate named Shamira. She introduced herself and said, “Isn’t this exciting? You’re getting an iPad!” Then she asked my name and my daughter’s name. Shamira was warm and welcoming, but I did not think much of our short conversation.

I brought my new iPad home that weekend. My wife decided she wanted one too, so we went back to the Apple Store the following Tuesday night. Shamira was there. To my amazement, she said, “Hi Del! How do you like your iPad, and where is Olivia?”

I immediately said, “Wait a minute. There must have been hundreds of people in line on Saturday morning. How in the world did you remember my name and my daughter’s name?”

Shamira said, “Well, first of all, I didn’t remember everyone’s name. But I do make an effort to remember names. When you said your name was Del, I thought of Dell Computer, and I have a best friend whose name is Olivia.”

When you remember and use people’s names, two good things happen: You make the other person feel special, and you come across as one very sharp cookie. That was my impression of Shamira. 

The old TV show Cheers theme song rings true: we want to go “where everybody knows your name.” Remembering another person’s name creates a unique connection.

Everyone has an unconscious, positive emotional reaction at the sound of his or her name.

Here are 6 strategies to help you remember names. Don’t simply dismiss these strategies because you think you are lousy at remembering names. Anyone can get better.

1. Concentrate.

We often do not concentrate on other people’s names when we first meet them. By the time the brief encounter is over, we are often frustrated because we don’t recall their name. When you first meet someone, make it a point to shake their hands, notice the color of their eyes and focus on their name.

2. Repeat their name.

When you first meet someone, use their name several times in your initial conversation. Do not overdo it, or it will come across as insincere or sales-y. But mentioning their name a few times helps solidify it in your mind.

3. Ask them to spell their name.

I once was introduced to a woman named Brunni. I did not know if I heard it correctly, so I simply asked her to spell it. When she did, it not only confirmed that I heard the name right but by visualizing the spelling, it greatly enhanced my likelihood of remembering it. Even common names like Kathy or Sean have various spellings, so you can ask, “Kathy with a K or a C?” It conveys your interest in them and helps you recall their name the next time you see them. (Don’t do this if the name commonly has only one spelling–e.g. Pam, Nancy, or Steve. That would be weird.) 

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is when two or more words start with the same letter. For example, I recently met a woman named Linda. She told me that she has a job at a hospital in Medical Records. During our initial conversation, she said she really misses her previous job of working face-to-face with patients at a physician practice. I thought to myself “Lonely Linda.” Now, Linda isn’t really lonely, but I simply concentrated for a few seconds after the conversation thinking of Linda being lonely at her job. This may seem silly, but it is actually very effective, and no one needs to know what your internal strategy is.

Here are some other simple examples:

  • Perky Pam
  • Shy Sharon
  • Tall Tom

5. Association

Associate the person whose name you are seeking to remember with someone familiar. This is a common technique, but it works well.

For example, my wife’s name is Karen. It is easy to remember people whose name is Karen because I simply associate them with my wife’s name. 

A few years ago, I often saw a guy at the gym in the morning before work. After seeing him repeatedly, I decided to introduced myself. He said his name was Paul. Now Paul is about my age and has a full head of hair. I associated him with Paul McCartney of the Beatles who were known as ‘mop tops.’ Once I did this, it was quite easy to remember his name. And the cool thing is that once you get to know someone, you don’t have to work at remembering names. It just comes naturally. (It doesn’t take great mental effort to remember the names of your children or your best friend.)

6. Visualization

This technique has worked very effectively for me. Here is how it works: When you meet someone, come up with a way to visually remember their name.

For example, I recently met a woman named Lois. I pondered for a few seconds on how to visualize her name. I came up with the idea of Lois Lane and pictured her briefly flying through the skies with Superman. It is a crazy idea, but it certainly crystallized her name in my mind. I have had no problem recalling her name since.

Every business is a relationship business. If you want to make a convincing, positive impression with others, remembering and using another’s name is powerful.

By the way, Shamira still works at that Apple Store. I saw here a few months ago, and she immediately came up to me and said “Hi Del.” I continue to be amazed.

The Simple Secret to Likeability

“If the world were run perfectly, perhaps you would be promoted, advanced, and rewarded on the basis of sheer ability. But the world doesn’t work that way or even close to that way. When your superiors look for someone to promote, they look for someone they know and like. So go out and make yourself likable. That’s just how the winning players play the game.” 
-Ben Stein

When you hear the word likability, it may conjure up negative terms like “people-pleaser,” “fake,” and “superficial.” But in reality, likability plays a crucial role in career success.

Think about it:

  • If you are a presenter and the audience doesn’t like you, they won’t care what you have to say.
  • If you own a business and you aren’t welcoming to customers, they will go somewhere else.
  • If you are interviewing for a position and you are not engaging, they will choose someone else.

A lot has been written about likability, and most of it is helpful. But I think it all boils down to this: if you want someone to like you, like them. Period. Done. End of story. We like those who like us. 

We will not have warm feelings towards everyone we meet, but being kind is a choice. This is not being fake, its being professional.

Likability plays a big part in success. It may not be fair, it may not be just, but you would be naive to think it is not true.

3 Ways to Wow Your Next Customer

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach

I routinely bring my training handouts to Staples for binding. For the last several years, the 3 people who worked there had given me great service. As I walked in this week I noticed someone new behind the counter. I was initially disappointed because I had grown familiar with the previous crew.

My encounter with Amber changed my mindset in short order. She did 3 simple things that all of us should do when interacting with customers.

1. Create a Great First Impression.

Within the first 20 seconds I found Amber to be enthusiastic, personal and eager to serve.

First impressions are like wet cement, you only have a small window of opportunity to make an impression, once it is made, good or bad, it often stays.

2. Exceed Expectations.

As I was bringing my materials in to be bound, I noticed that one of the cover sheets was crooked. When I picked them up Amber had taken the initiative to replace the crooked cover with a straightened one. She had copied a new one herself. She told me it was no charge.

Our customer service experiences are usually pretty ordinary. Most of the time our expectations are met. Very few times are our expectations exceeded.

3. Make it Personal

The address of my website is on the cover sheet of my training materials. Amber noticed the website and visited it. When I came to pick up the materials, she complemented me on the look and feel of the website. She also made a small cardboard sign which included my name, tag line and a quote for my website. She said she thought I could use it for advertising. (Again no charge.)

The goal of any company should be customer loyalty not customer satisfaction. This is done by making an emotional connection with the customer. Amber did just that.

Do you have any doubt where I am going the next time I need work done with my training materials?

What Signal Are You Sending?

A few years ago I was reviewing the results of a 360 degree assessment with a colleague. She was very diligent and regularly put in a lot of hours at work. Therefore, she was very puzzled when some colleagues gave her feedback which indicated that she lacked energy and often appeared fatigued.

She asked me for my observation. I told her that I had consistently witnessed her saying “I’m tired” when asked how she was doing. It hit her like a ton of bricks. She immediately said, “Oh my god! You are right.” She was sabotaging herself.

Are you sending the wrong signals? Everything you do and say sends a message.

  • When you share something that is supposed to be confidential, you are sending a signal that you can’t be trusted.
  • When you regularly complain openly about your boss, you are sending a signal that you are a victim not a leader.
  • When you are unnecessarily critical of others, you are sending a signal that you are insecure by making others look small so you can look big.

What signals are you sending? Make sure they are the ones you intend to send.