Calling, Purpose, and Customer Service Via Sukhothai

By Raphael Hernandez

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There I was, in central Thailand, one of two passengers in a van being driven by a driver I will call Chen. We were there conducting a site survey to identify training venues for the U.S. Marine Corps who would be conducting training exercises with their Royal Thai Marine Corps hosts later on in the year. It was our second day of the survey and we were approaching the ancient city of Sukhothai, which means “happiness,” when we were suddenly surprised by the wonderful aroma of Thai cuisine in the air.

We decided to stop for lunch near Sukhothai’s ancient ruins; an open-air market lined with restaurants came into view and we agreed it was the perfect spot. The smell of Thai curries hung lazily in the air and we quickly selected a place to eat so we could quell our growing appetites. As we disembarked the van, I turned to Chen and invited him to join us for lunch. I was shocked by his reaction and what his facial expression communicated. Chen looked at me like I had just gifted him a check for a million dollars. His eyes welled up with water and his face lit up with a grin that spread from ear-to-ear. When I turned to my companion and gestured, “What’s up with this guy?” my friend answered, “Usually clients don’t invite their drivers to lunch; this is a big deal for him.” Chen joined us for lunch and we had a great conversation. He shared his personal story, we learned about his family, and he enthusiastically shared how much he enjoyed driving “important’ people in his van, which was maybe 10 years old and a bit worn, but impeccably maintained – one could say it was lovingly maintained for the maximum comfort his clients!

I was so grateful that Chen joined us instead of sitting in his van, going without a lunch meal while waiting for us to finish ours. We learned a great deal about Sukhothai and the surrounding area that our online research had not revealed and Chen offered to give us a personalized tour of the ruins for free. Chen was one of the most interesting, thoughtful, and happy people I’ve ever met. We learned so much from him in that hour or so we spent breaking bread together. We were so appreciative of his company and generosity of spirit. As the meal came to an end, Chen suddenly excused himself and darted across the street to where his van was parked. I asked my companion why he turned so serious, so abruptly. He explained that Chen wanted to ensure his van was ready to be re-embarked by us. “All we’re going to do is jump back in and move to the next stop and jump right out again,” I said. Quickly, I Cobra Gold 001realized that Chen saw his job as a calling and ensuring the happiness of his clients was his purpose in life. I wondered at that time if the Buddhist-inspired decorations inside the van had anything to do with his desire to make others happy. For Chen, it did not matter whether he was hired to transport people a few blocks within Bangkok or hired for a multiple day trip, like the one we were on—he was going to treat his every client “like royalty,” regardless of time and distance. The attitude and actions Chen displayed during our week together made me realize three valuable lessons:

Embrace diversity and connect with people you don’t normally speak with. Had I not invited Chen to join us for lunch, we never would have learned the rich history of the areas we visited and we would not have benefitted from the wisdom he shared via his captivating stories. Our worldview expanded and I believe Chen’s had as well. When was the last time you had lunch with someone that was not in your socio-economic circle? Why not make an effort to connect with someone completely different that yourself? You may just learn something new about yourself and your community.

You don’t need a high-paying job or a fancy title to pursue your calling and live a life of meaning and purpose. Chen was clearly a servant leader—a servant leader puts the needs of others first. He was called to serve and he did so by putting his heart and soul into providing the best possible transportation services for his clients. He did it in such a way that one didn’t notice that his van was not the most up to date model, and he did it with an infectious joy that made his clients “feel like royalty.” During our lunch, Chen spoke fondly of the year he spent as a young man living the austere life of a Monk, which is a customary rite of passage for most young Thai men. We might conclude that his “others-focused” worldview was driven by a higher purpose. What are you doing to align your life with a “calling” and/or with your “purpose” in life? Have you found your purpose?

Customer Service is all about putting others first; those who do it well are poised to be tomorrow’s leaders. Chen was a leader. I know this because on subsequent trips back to Thailand, I observed him organizing and leading multiple groups of drivers and from observing the group dynamic. It was clear that he was a trusted leader who was looked upon as an inspirational person by his peers. He led with a smile and his inspiring leadership made things happen. What are you doing to develop your customer service representatives on the front lines? Do you put the needs of others first? What are you doing to inspire your customer service employees to enhance their desire to put others first?

The last time I saw Chen was in 2011. He came searching for me at a hotel in Bangkok after learning I was in town. We met by chance just outside my hotel as I was stepping into a taxi. He shook my hand, gave me a hug, and told me he would miss not seeing me again. As I pulled away for the airport, I couldn’t help but think once again about the meaning of Sukhotai: happiness. Suddenly, I felt a smile form on my face and I happily gazed out the window to appreciate the beautiful landscape one last time.

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Raphael HernandezABOUT RAPHAEL HERNANDEZ: LT. COL. RAPHAEL HERNANDEZ (Ret) recently served AS THE CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER FOR THE MARINE CORPS RECRUITING COMMAND AND IN COORDINATION WITH J. WALTER THOMPSON ATLANTA, THE CORPS’ ADVERTISING AGENCY, LEADS A STRATEGICALLY ALIGNED, MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR, NATIONAL INTEGRATED MARKETING PROGRAM DESIGNED TO INCREASE BRAND AWARENESS, GENERATE HIGH QUALITY LEADS FOR 3,700 PLUS ENLISTED AND OFFICER RECRUITERS LOCATED ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. RAPHAEL HAS SERVED IN THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS FOR 21 PLUS YEARS AND HAS EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE IN LOGISTICS, STRATEGIC AND OPERATIONAL PLANNING AND EXECUTION, RECRUITING OPERATIONS AND ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP. HE EARNED A BUSINESS DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT EL PASO AND A MASTERS IN ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP FROM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, LAJOLLA, CALIFORNIA. HE SERVED IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ AND IN 2011 WAS PART OF A 6 PERSON PLANNING TEAM WHO ASSISTED THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE AT THE U.S. EMBASSY IN TOKYO, TO RAPIDLY DEVELOP CONTINGENCY PLANS AS A RESULT OF THE 9.0 EARTHQUAKE, TSUNAMI AND NUCLEAR CRISIS. IN ADDITION, HE SERVED AS THE DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS AND LOGISTICS, FOR THE THIRD MARINE EXPEDITIONARY BRIGADE DURING HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE DISASTER RELIEF MISSIONS IN THE SRI LANKA IN 2009 AND THE PHILIPPINES IN 2009 AND 2010. CONNECT WITH RAPHAEL ON TWITTER: @RAPHAELEADS

More from Raphael:

What a 10-Year Boy From Kabul Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement

The Stories of Creative Leadership: Raphael Hernandez

 

The Stories of Creative Leadership: Mark Fernandes

By Tony Vengrove

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Welcome to the Season Two premiere of The Stories of Creative Leadership on the IntrepidNow network! We’re coming out of the gate strong with our first guest of 2015: Mark Fernandes, Chief Leadership Officer at Luck Companies.

In the discussion, we discuss their framework for Values Based Leadership and the journey Luck Companies took to embrace and demonstrate their core values. Some highlights from the conversation include:

  • Why Values Based Leadership requires vigilance, intention, and purpose.
  • How Luck Companies unearthed creativity as a value and how they fostered creative thinking in an aggregates business. If they can do it, why can’t everyone do it?
  • Companies need both a business plan and a culture plan. At Luck Companies, their culture plan is larger than their business plan!
  • The day their engagement survey results come in is treated as the biggest day of the year.
  • On culture and leaders modeling the way: “People are professional boss watchers; the culture will be the shadows of leaders.”
  • Mark’s advice about caring for employees: 1) Love your associates to death, 2) give them something to believe in, and 3) Obsess about them becoming everything they can be.
  • On courage: “If you lack it you’re going to walk the earth needing from others versus giving to others.”

Mark is an inspiring leader and speaker. I’m sure you’ll love this interview–be sure to have a pad and paper at your ready.

We have a lot more exciting guests coming down the pike. Our next episode will feature Lt. Col. Raphael Hernandes, the CMO of your United States Marine Corps.  You won’t want to miss it!

Be sure to bookmark our new series landing page so that you never miss an episode!

Founder, Miles Finch Innovation LLCMiles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Episode 1: Introduction to The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership

By Tony Vengrove

7 C's of Creative Leadership

Welcome to the first episode of The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership!  We’re excited to kick off this nine-part series about what it really takes to lead innovation and foster a culture of creativity.

In this introductory episode, co-host Todd Schnick and I lay a foundation for the series.  Specifically, we:

  • Define important terms: innovation, creativity, creative leadership.
  • Share the inspiration behind The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership.
  • Discuss why developing creative leadership competencies are so critical.
  • Provide an overview for each of the Seven C competencies: Communication, Curiosity, Creativity, Connecting, Culture, Change Management, and Courage.

The lack of creative-leadership abilities among corporate leaders represents the biggest leadership abyss in business today. We’re here to serve you by sharing critical skills and competencies that will unleash the creative potential of your employees.

Be sure to join us next Monday for Episode Two.  We’ll welcome Perry Baldwin, COO of The Family Room, who will share his wisdom on how to use the power of communication to inspire people to think more creatively. In addition, Perry explains why objectives are so critical when leading productive conversations about your organization’s ideas.

You can follow the show and listen to archived episodes at our official landing page at Business in the Morning.

Tony VengroveMiles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Introducing The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership Podcast Series

By Tony Vengrove

7 C's of Creative Leadership

Since Miles Finch Innovation opened its doors in 2012, we’ve championed the development of creative leadership capabilities for our C-Suite clients. For over 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading corporate innovation teams; I can tell you first hand that the lack of creative-leadership skills represents the biggest leadership abyss in corporate America today. It’s why nearly every CEO who says she’s committed to innovation, also confesses she’s underwhelmed with the quality of ideas in the pipeline.

To fill this critical void, I’m thrilled to announce that Miles Finch Innovation, on Monday August 25th, is launching an exciting new podcast series entitled, “The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership.” We’ve partnered with the amazing Todd Schnick of Dreamland Media to produce a nine-part series illustrating each Seven C Competency: communication, curiosity, creativity, connecting, culture, change management and courage. We have a fabulous AAA lineup of guests who operate on the frontline of innovation. They’re going to share their firsthand perspective of what it really takes to lead innovation and foster a culture of creativity.

We’re going to arm you with practical applications that can be put into practice immediately, so you can model the powerful behaviors of an effective creative leader. You’ll put yourself, and your organization, on a path to creativity and successful innovation.

“A creative leader fosters the conditions for others to be creative.”

What is Creative Leadership? While the term has been bandied about for some time, it’s gaining increased attention as corporate leaders recognize innovation requires an ability to inspire and manage creativity—something they have very little experience at. Unlike many who think creative leadership requires demonstrating one’s personal creativity, we believe it’s far more important for a creative leader to foster the conditions for others to be creative.

Why is Creative Leadership so important? Once a company makes the commitment to innovate, they’re essentially making creativity a cultural pillar. Since most companies are process-oriented and their leaders have great analytical prowess, it’s no surprise that a tug-of-war quickly forms between the logical and creative thinkers. Can you guess who wins?

The problem is, most companies leap into innovation doing what they do best: creating processes and business systems that provide order and control. They set up the innovation department, create the governance, and put their top-tier managers in control. From the get-go, the innovation function is designed to play by the rules of the existing culture, which is usually hell-bent on guarding the status quo. It’s no wonder so many potentially-disruptive ideas are eventually shot down.

“Become a better steward of your company’s greatest asset: employee creativity!”

What can you expect to gain from this series?  We desire to establish a conversation that moves beyond the philosophical level of innovation and creativity. This series will provide pragmatic, actionable insights leaders will want to put into practice immediately. We want to inspire you to become better stewards of your company’s greatest asset: employee creativity!

Who are you going to be inspired by? They’re leaders in F500, advertising, consulting, and an acclaimed international author.  Here they are:

Introduction:  Co-hosts Todd Schnick and Tony Vengrove

Communication: Perry Baldwin, COO, The Family Room

Curiosity: Steve Kazanjian, Founder, Steve Kazanjian, LLC

Creativity: David Bonner, Chief Creative Officer, Marriner Marketing

Connecting: Max Mckeown, Author of The Innovation Book

Culture: Tim Murphy, VP Digital & Media, Pernod Ricard

Change Management: Jeff Shuck, CEO of Plenty

Courage: Denis Budniewski, EVP, Director of Account Leadership at Campbell Mithun

Series Wrap-Up: Ivy Ross, Head of Google Glass.

How you can access this content? Catch each episode of The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership by visiting this page, beginning August 25th and each Monday thereafter.  Mark it on your calendar in red ink!

In addition, on Thursdays, we’ll post a reflective blog on each “C” right here at www.MilesFinchInnovation.com. These articles will provide a summary of each podcast episode, along with key action items and reflective questions.

We hope you’ll join us for this important conversation!  It’s going to change your company’s culture! Creative leadership is the new frontier of leadership theory. It represents the missing piece in the leader’s tool-belt that will foster the innovative culture so desperately needed.

We welcome you to read our foundational post on the Seven C’s of Creative Leadership. If you want to learn more about the Creative Leadership training programs Miles Finch Innovation offers, please email us at info@milesfinchinnovation.com.

Fill Out Our Survey, But Don’t Tell Us What You Really Think

By Anthony Vengrove

I don’t like watching companies completely blow good opportunities to learn and capture insights that can help improve their business.  In my opinion, no one does this better than car dealerships.

If you recently purchased a new car or took one in for service, then you likely have experienced their customer service survey “talk.”  It basically goes this like this: “You should receive a email in a few days requesting that you fill out a customer survey.  Just so you know, anything less than perfection (i.e. a ‘10’) is considered a failure and I won’t get paid my full commission.”  To make matters even more absurd they usually add, “So if you’re not completely satisfied please tell me now so I can resolve your concerns.”

What do most consumers tend to do?  We head for the hills!  The last thing you probably want is to get caught up debating whether your tire rotation was worthy of a ’10.’  So, we go home and usually fill out the survey with glowing reviews because we feel bad the sales associate’s income is tied to such a foolish survey system.

Of course, dealerships that employ this type of “research” are missing out on a great opportunity to get real data and learn from it.   Instead, they’re essentially pressuring their customers into providing positive reviews, probably so they can meet customer service goals from corporate or live under the illusion that their staff is actually providing optimal customer service.  The dealership might feel warm and fuzzy at the end of the year but there’s a huge opportunity cost left on the table.

The main objective of soliciting this type of consumer information is not to confirm that you’re doing a fantastic job, but to understand where you’re underperformingUnderstanding where you are falling short allows you to learn, change and improve.  Anything less is a charade, pure and simple.

Imagine if dealerships instead encouraged honest and candid feedback from their customers?  Imagine if they listened and took action to address poor marks?  Don’t we all know that the biggest opportunities for growth come by learning from our failures?   Feedback is a gift.

Financial transactions in the automotive industry are costly and therefore can be emotionally charged and difficult to navigate.  There’s certainly a huge opportunity to collect a lot of actionable comments and real, raw feedback.  Dealerships might not enjoy hearing it all, but it’s valuable consumer insight.

Dealerships can fix this by incentivizing the right behaviors of their employees and stop penalizing failure.  A ‘pass/fail’ approach will only encourage employees to get the ‘pass’ grade at all costs – and ignore the true opportunities to provide a more consumer-centric experience.