Every Ending Is a Brand-New Beginning

As 2019 comes to a close, I’m taking some time to reflect on the significant events of the past year and to anticipate the exciting things yet to come.

This is a long-standing tradition of mine and perhaps of yours, too. At the end of each year, Margie and I write a letter to all our friends, wishing them a happy holiday and catching them up on what’s been going on in our lives over the past 12 months. We’ve been doing this since shortly after we got married in 1962, the year Margie graduated from Cornell. That’s more than 57 years!

Together, all of these letters tell the story of our lives over the past half-century. What’s amazing is that by looking back, we can see how problems that once seemed insurmountable were the necessary conditions for wonderful new developments. A few choice examples spring to mind:

1967

This was the year I earned my PhD in education from Cornell. I had anticipated finding a position as a dean of students. Even though I had great interviews with several universities, none of them hired me. This was a blow to my ego and sure looked like an unhappy ending. But I ended up taking a position as the assistant to the dean at Ohio University, which was an important new beginning. At Ohio University I met Paul Hersey. Paul liked my writing and asked me to coauthor a book with him. That led to our development of Situational Leadership® and my career as an author and leadership expert.

 

2007

Fast-forward 40 years to the year a raging wildfire burned our house to the ground. What had every appearance of being a tragic ending was in fact an inspiring new beginning. Margie and I moved up the street into an even better house, this one with a view of the hills to the west. Now we never get tired of watching breathtaking sunsets from our back patio.

 

2019

This year one of our company’s superstars, Howard Farfel, is ending his 18-year career with Blanchard, seven of those years as president. I have real mixed feelings about Howard stepping down. I don’t know a nicer human being or finer gentleman than Howard. He’s had a powerfully positive impact on our company, and his smile and sense of humor will be sorely missed. But this ending marks a thrilling new beginning: My son, Scott Blanchard, will be taking leadership as Blanchard’s new president. As anyone who’s heard Scott speak knows, his love and passion for our company and the work we do is second to nobody’s.

I’m excited about 2020 and I hope you are, too. Before the new year, take a few moments to reflect on the things you’re leaving behind in 2019. Even if some of those things make you sad, remember that what looks like a finality isn’t really the end—it’s the beginning of something brand new.

 

We’re All in the Customer Service Business

Even in our competitive business environment, organizations that pride themselves on great customer service continue to be few and far between. To test that thesis, answer this: How often do you receive exceptional service—the kind where you can tell that the person serving you actually cares about keeping you as a customer?

I rest my case.

Now just for fun, let’s see what happens when I turn it around: When was the last time you gave one of your customers that same kind of exceptional service? If you work in the retail, foodservice, or hospitality industry, or as an online customer service representative or another frontline position, you may deal with hundreds of customers a day. How do you think they would rate your service?

Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as having customers because you aren’t in a customer-facing job—you’re a middle manager, you work on a manufacturing line, or maybe you spend your day looking at spreadsheets in a cubicle. Think about the internal customers you interact with. And parents, teachers, and coaches have customers, too.

In reality, we’re all in the customer service business—and every customer deserves special care. No matter what position you hold, or who your customer is, you can make a positive difference in that person’s life. And doing that may be simpler than you think. Read on!

One of my favorite real-life customer service stories begins with my friend Barbara Glanz giving a speech to hundreds of employees of a major grocery chain. At the end of her speech, Barbara challenged every attendee to think about something small but special they could do on the job—starting the next day—to make their customers feel important.

About a month later, Barbara got a call from a young man named Johnny who had been at her speaking event. As he introduced himself, he mentioned he was 19 years old, worked as a grocery bagger, and had Down syndrome. Johnny told Barbara that after seeing her speak, he went home and talked with his dad about what special thing he might do for his customers. They decided to focus on the fact that Johnny loved to read and collect quotations.

That night, Johnny chose one of his favorite sayings, typed it as many times as it would fit on a single page, and printed 50 copies. He cut the printed lines into strips and signed his name on the back of each one. The next day as Johnny finished bagging each customer’s groceries, he dropped a strip of paper in their bag and said, “I’m putting my favorite saying of the day in your bag. Have a great day!”

After a few weeks had gone by, Barbara was surprised to get a call from Johnny’s store manager. He wanted to let her know that Johnny’s small gesture had changed the store’s whole atmosphere. A few days earlier, the manager had noticed a huge line of customers at Johnny’s station but only a few at the other checkout counters. He tried to get people to change lines, but he kept hearing “I want to be in Johnny’s line so I can get his quote of the day.” One woman shopper even told the manager, “I used to shop here once a week, but now I stop by every day to get one of Johnny’s favorite sayings.” Johnny’s little gesture made a big difference to his customers, his manager, and his store.

To help spread Johnny’s message to more people, Barbara and I wrote a little book called The Simple Truths of Service: Inspired by Johnny the Bagger. It’s filled with true stories about simple acts of service that made a difference and helped build customer loyalty.

Just like Johnny, we all have the ability to make a difference in the lives of our internal and external customers. Remember that the best competitive edge in business isn’t product or price. It’s the way we make our customers feel.

You are in the customer service business. What simple thing can you do today to make your customers feel special?

3 Mindsets to Brighten Your Day

I’ve talked a number of times about Norman Vincent Peale and the positive impact he had on my life. I love this quote from him that I often read for inspiration as I enter my day:

“We are here to be excited from youth to old age—to have an insatiable curiosity about the world. Aldous Huxley once said that to carry the spirit of a child into old age is the secret of genius. And I buy that. We are also here to genuinely, humbly, and sincerely help others by practicing a friendly attitude. Every person is born for a purpose. Everyone has a God-given potential, in essence, built into them. And if we are to live life to its fullest, we must realize that potential.”

I like this quote for several reasons that all have to do with having a positive daily mindset.

  • First of all, I love the idea of carrying a childlike spirit into our old age. I feel sorry for adults who mope around and act like they have tight underwear. I love being silly and curious—it makes things more fun for me and, I hope, for the people around me. I’ve always said we should take what we do seriously but ourselves lightly. Norman had a twinkle in his eye and a childlike smile all the way until his “graduation” at age 95.

 

  • I am also a firm believer in practicing  a friendly attitude. That was core to the philosophy behind Norman’s perennial bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking. Whenever I would call him, he would respond in that wonderful singsong voice of his: “I was just telling Ruth the other day, the only thing wrong with our life is that we don’t see Ken and Margie Blanchard enough.”

 

  • Finally, I think it’s important for every person to realize their life purpose. Why are we here? How can we live life to the fullest and be more helpful to our families, friends, and colleagues, our companies and communities, and other good causes and people? Serving and helping others makes life more positive and meaningful.

So as you go out into the world each day, bring three positive daily mindsets along with you: a childlike spirit, a friendly attitude, and a purpose that includes service to others. Your day and the days of everyone you meet will be all the brighter for it!

 

Love is the Answer. What is the Question?

Today I’m finishing up my five-part blog series on the nine elements of love as conceived by Henry Drummond, a 19th century author, in his book The Greatest Thing in the World. Drummond based his nine elements of love on the “love passage” from the Bible—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We are on Drummond’s seventh element of love, which is Good Temper:

“Love as good temper restrains the passions and is not exasperated. It corrects a sharpness of temper and sweetens and softens attitudes. Love as good temper is never angry without a cause, and endeavors to confine the passions within proper limits. Anger cannot rest in the heart where love reigns. It is hard to be angry with those we love in good temper, but very easy to drop our resentments and be reconciled.”

Drummond spends more time on this element then any other. Why? Because if you tend to lose your temper and start yelling at people, you will negate all the other elements of love—patience, kindness, generosity, humility, and all the rest. A bad temperament can get you off a loving track easier than anything else. There’s just no place for it if you want to be a loving person. So if you’re somebody who tends to lose your temper, when you feel it coming on, take a walk around the block and come back when you’re ready to deal with the issue in a calm way.

Drummond identified Guilelessness as the eighth element of love this way:

“Love as guilelessness thinks no evil, suspects no ill motive, sees the bright side, and puts the best construction on every action. It is grace for suspicious people. It cherishes no malice; it does not give way to revenge. It is not apt to be jealous and suspicious.

I had never heard the word guilelessness before I read this passage. It’s about always seeing the brighter side of life. My mom always told me, “Ken, don’t let anybody act like they’re better than you but don’t you act like you’re better than anybody else. God did not make junk! There’s a pearl of goodness in everyone. Dig for it and you’ll find it!” My wife, Margie, thinks I’m a guilelessness fanatic because I always see the good in people. One of the things that attracted her to me was that I had a lot of odd friends other people had written off. But I saw the good in them and maybe that brought out the good in them.

Sincerity is the final element of love Drummond talks about:

“Love as sincerity takes no pleasure in doing injury or hurt to others or broadcasting their seeming miscues. It speaks only what is known to be true, necessary, and edifying. It bears no false witness and does not gossip. It rejoices in the truth.”

This element also reminds me of my mother. She rejoiced in the truth. She would tell me, “Never lie. Always tell the truth. Mean what you say and say what you mean.” That’s the way Mom was. She gave it to you straight. She modeled sincerity.

Well, that ends my blog series about love—one of my favorite words and one of my favorite topics. I always say, “Love is the answer! What is the question?” because I believe love is the answer to just about any dilemma human beings can come up with. You can make all the money in the world, get tons of recognition, and have lots of power and status—and yet when you die, as my friend John Ortberg says, “it all goes back in the box.” The only thing that remains is your soul, where you store who you loved and who loved you.

So be sure to practice patience, kindness, generosity, courtesy, humility, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, and sincerity. And I’ll add one of Margie’s favorite phrases: Always keep your I love you’s up to date. God bless!

Mondays and Fridays Are All About Perspective

I was reading recently about how some folks are “Thank God it’s Friday” people and others are “So glad it’s Monday” people.

Some might think that people who are thankful for every Friday must not enjoy their work—or that people who are excited about every Monday must be workaholics. To me, it’s not an either/or choice—it’s more of a both/and situation. I love the weekends for spending time with family and friends and doing things I don’t normally have time to do during the week. But I also really enjoy my work and don’t mind when Monday comes around.

So where are you on the Monday/Friday spectrum? As with anything, it really comes down to your mental attitude. You can choose to be upset and negative about Mondays or you can choose to be positive and optimistic about the coming week.  If you can stay positive whether it’s the weekend, the work week, or what have you—life will turn out to be that very special occasion I like to talk about all the time.

This concept reminds me of the joke about how different types of people perceive a glass that is half filled with water. Optimists (like me) see the glass as half full. Pessimists see the glass as half empty. Realists see the glass as full—half with air and half with water. But professional trainers don’t care—they just know that starting the half full/half empty discussion will give them ten minutes to figure out why their slide presentation isn’t working! (People in the leadership development business will like that one 😊)

I hope you have both a great week and a great weekend!