November 2015

Standing Out. Staying Power.

Author: Courtney Hampson

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from a student who took my public communication course at USCB four years ago. She said, “In my short time as an adult, I’ve learned it’s not what you know but rather who you know…” and she went on to ask for my advice and assistance. What a great feeling, to know you made an impact. And that got me thinking.

The world is about people. My mentor told me that some dozen years ago. At the time, I worked in the non-profit sector, and we were discussing how to successfully connect with people. I soon learned that it doesn’t matter what business you pursue, the core of that business is always the people.

Understanding how to connect with people and mastering that art is central to building relationships. And isn’t that the premise on which we build businesses? Relationships. I tell my public communication students that they can read the textbook, and a plethora of journal articles, and communication theories, but at the end of the semester, if they remember nothing else (and some of them don’t) remember this: Know yourself and know your audience. Understand the people in the situation and you will be successful. (It also helps to know your stuff, i.e. what you are talking about, but that comes later.)

Every time you have the opportunity to tell your story, you become the leader of the situation you are in. Everyone is looking to you wondering, “What’s next.” So, knowing yourself—your needs, your values, your stressors—is paramount. And, it is tricky. Self-awareness is an art. It isn’t just about how you verbally communicate who you are. Ninety-three percent of our communication is non-verbal. What messages are you sending?

I had a boss who commuted from Atlanta to the Lowcountry for work each week. One week he forgot his luggage. (True story.) So, he wore the same outfit to work every day. It was summer. He was in corduroy pants and a flannel shirt with suede patches on the elbows. By Wednesday, three days of lunch crumbs and stains had accumulated on the corduroy pants. Corduroy is warm in the winter; in a Lowcountry summer, it is downright sweltering. This man was not self-aware. (Nor, did he possess any fashion sense.) He didn’t realize the negative impression that he was making on his colleagues, his direct reports, and anyone else he came in contact with for that matter. Now this example is simplistic at its center, but a good illustration of how being unaware communicates a number of things: is he lazy, is he sloppy, is he headed to a rodeo, is there a total disconnect?

His fashion faux pas notwithstanding, it was actually his dozens of other bumbles and stumbles that eventually led to his demise. And, I felt sorry for him on his last day, because he truly did not believe he had done anything wrong. He didn’t see what was so apparent to everyone else.

Trust me, there are days when the going gets tough, my attitude becomes less than stellar and I know I am in no position to lead. I like to call these “teachable moments.” I ask myself, what have I learned today, and can I use this to teach anyone else?
When I think about leaders who have made an impression on me, and what the common characteristics of each of those people are, I am always drawn to Steven Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership covenants. He sold more than a million copies of that book, so I believe that he is more qualified to speak on the topic than I. (But he died two years ago, so here I am.) And that my friends, is what I mean by “knowing your stuff.” You can’t be the expert on everything. Be the expert on your things, and know how to curate the people and resources who know what you don’t know. If you don’t know, find someone who does. Learning makes you a good leader.

I take my students on an exploration of Covey’s principles every semester and ask them to identify one person who possesses all of the principles that Covey identifies, who would thus be successful in business (whatever that may be):

• They are continually learning. They are open to new ideas, ask questions and learn through their eyes and ears.
• They are service-oriented. They give back—to their community, to their colleagues, to their employees. They think of others. (The world is about people.)
• They radiate positive energy. This is hard. No one can be happy all the time. Being a leader is hard. You make tough decisions every day. But can you have a sense of humor about it? And, even in the mistakes find a positive?
• They believe in other people. They look for the potential and talent in everyone.
• They lead balanced lives. They live in the present. They don’t tend to go to extremes. They balance their ideologies, their schedules, in an effort to remain focused.
• They are synergistic. They believe that the sum is greater than the part—that a team is more powerful than an individual, and that the more ideas the merrier.
• They see life as an adventure. They explore and try new things.
• They practice self-renewal. Whether spiritual, physical, or emotional, they exercise mentally or physically. (Fun fact: throwing weights around and running farther than you think you can is actually quite therapeutic.)
Covey’s perspective is just that, his. But when you add up the elements, you can easily see how someone who practices those principles can be successful in business.

So I looked around and asked some local business leaders for their perspective. What do you believe has contributed to the success and longevity of your business?

According to Leah McCarthy, owner of Downtown Catering, Downtown Deli and most recently Downtown Curbside Kitchen, “For us, staying power and leadership of our organization comes down to the team we have working with us and ensuring that they understand the company’s mission, vision and values. It’s placing your team members in positions that best work for their personality traits as well as hiring people whom you are willing to learn from. Staying power in any industry is to set your business’ anchor in your company’s mission and vision as well as have your team constantly reminded of the company’s mission, vision and values, so that even if the business tide changes, your ‘anchor’ remains intact.” Together with her husband Ryan, McCarthy started their business in 2002, based on service and quality. When the economy changed drastically in 2007-2008, they had a “big change in tides” she said. But, their success today is based on their ability to remain focused (and connected to their anchor) on the same quality and mission they used to start the company.

For Martin Catalioto, owner of CrossFit843, it is really quite simple. He believes that showing a personal interest in each of your customers and “offering those customers the best experience possible,” is the secret sauce.

“A commitment to constant and never-ending improvement (CANI) will continue to push the envelope of innovation and resourcefulness throughout your company and team,” said Ryan Lockhart, a founding partner in Group 46, a boutique advertising firm, based in Bluffton, with a national client roster. “A leader committed to CANI has the ability to set the standard to inspire all team members to raise their game and keep pushing for more out of the solutions they provide for your clients. A great example of this is asking quality questions; within my company I am always asking my team how can we make this better? How can we raise our game?

What can we do to enhance the experience? All quality questions can lead to a better result for all involved.”
Jen Lance, of the Heritage Fine Jewelry family had this to say, “Flexibility and diversity are instrumental to a successful business having longevity. In this day and age it seems like not only are the styles and trends changing, but the economy has been changing as well. There were many instances where we had to adjust not only what type of products we carried but also the services we offered to continue to be successful and keep our customers happy.” On the last day of each semester, I share this quote from Maya Angelou with my students: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

People. The world is about people. 

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