SERVE WELL…What Does it REALLY Look Like?

Serve Well….what does that mean?  Well in the Four Foundational Cornerstones, Serve Well really speaks to how an individual or an organization engages with the community around them.  There are two basic ways that occurs.  There is the charitable, not for profit aspect.  Ideally, if the individual or entity is dealing from the Principle of TRUE, then it will be something they are both truly passionate about as well as truly invested in…time, treasure and talent.  The second aspect is what I will refer to as the public relations component, which is really the outward facing communications role of an individual or entity.  How are they telling their story to the world around them?  I will leave that aspect of the conversation to the public relations professionals.  My only comments here regarding PR will be to test those communications against the Principle of TRUE.  And make certain those communications are true across all three other Cornerstones….Lead Well, Sell Well and Live Well.

Over the past 100 days we have seen just how poorly a catastrophic event can damage the story a company intended to tell.  I do not know the true internal story.  I do not know if BP was or is operating from the Principle of TRUE.  Far be it from me to point my finger at BP’s embattled CEO.  I have no idea what his true intent has been.  There have been innumerable pundits who have commented on his actions with little that is positive.  I personally have learned many times over that there are occasions when I have taken actions with no ill intent only to learn I have substantially offended someone else when that intent was not clear.  I have learned I do not always tell my story the way I want it to be told, or more importantly, how I want it to be understood.   It is for that very reason that Serve Well is one of the Four Cornerstones.  It is for that very reason Masterplan Group Advisors focuses on helping professionals and organizations tell their story well. ..and consistently across all Four Foundational Cornerstones.

That said, as I noted in my earlier blog on Leading Well, the fact a leader’s intent may be misunderstood, misconstrued or miscommunicated, does not let the leader off the hook for the impact of how others experience his or her actions.  The truly great writings warn those with aspirations to lead to be wary of the responsibility and accountability that comes with the role.  When times are good, investment returns are strong, there are no leaks to plug, people are happy…then the leader is a rock star.  But it is inevitable.  Challenges will occur.  We then find out if all of the Four Foundational Cornerstones are aligned.  Is the story true?  If the message the public is seeing and hearing is inconsistent with what leaders are living by…they will be exposed.  If the story being told in the selling process is different than the reality the marketplace experiences, they will be found out.  If a story is being told about the importance of people over process or profits, but reality does not support that, there will be implosion.

The story must be consistent…in all Four Cornerstones.  If is not TRUE, then do not tell it.   Tell the true story.   Then when the inevitable storms come and true character is exposed, the Cornerstone of Serve Well will draw people to you.  It is such a rare attribute today, but there may never have been a time in our history as a people where it has meant more.

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How’s YOUR Story Going – LIVE WELL

Summer typically finds us in a season of life where we can slow down and be a bit more contemplative.  There are summer breaks.  Holiday weekends.  Vacations.  Longer windows of sunlight each day.  Summer camps.  Play!  Welcome warmth (at least for those here in Chicago).  It is a time to enjoy our story…this life we have been entrusted.

Five years ago my daughter began going to a summer sports camp in southern Missouri.  One of the key tenets of the camp is living what they refer to as the “Four Square Life”, and living it well.  It has been a reminder for me of the truths that were instilled in me throughout the days of my youth.  The four square life, simply put, is comprised of the four facets of life we each steward in our personal story…the mental, the physical, the social and the spiritual.  For today’s purpose, I am not going to attempt to unpack each of these four facets and what they may or may not mean to each of us individually.  Arguably, as the centuries have passed, scholars, philosophers, anthropologists, historians… virtually all honest thinkers…have agreed that when any of these four areas fall out of balance with the others the outcome is ultimately poor, if not grim.  Poor for individuals.  Poor for entities.  Poor for cultures.  Poor for entire periods of history.   

Whether I am working with the CEO of a company, the managing partner of a professional firm, or a professional athlete, the basic question is the same.  How are you living your story?  Are you living it well?  Are you inspiring others to live it well?  For those who lead, people will follow an iconic performance of success, whether it be in the board room, the markets, the court room, or on the field of competition, but they follow only while the success sustains.  When the inevitable difficult times come, failures that require perseverance, they follow leaders of character.  Why?  Because they can believe what the leader says and does is TRUE.  True to that leader’s own story.  And if it is true to that leader’s story, it will be true to how they lead the organization, entity or team.  People will follow those whose character, whose individual story, is consistent with what they ask others to aspire to do.

Let me briefly explain how this works itself out in a law firm environment (the examples can be easily transferred to the corporate and sports environment).  Masterplan Group Advisors is typically engaged to solve a business development problem.  How do we improve the amount of new business our attorneys are bringing in the door?  A clear ROI solution.  As those problems begin to be solved, leadership in the firm asks the question, “How can I get better buy-in with the people I am leading here in the firm in other areas in addition to development?”  And so we begin to invest in the leaders as to how they can Lead True.  Leading with other’s True Success in mind.  Leading with helping to provide True Solutions to the True Problems their team faces, as individuals and collectively. ..keeping the Principle of TRUE and the inseparable principle that People Matter Most at the forefront of the conversation. 

Then an interesting transformation occurs for leaders who “get” what the Principle of TRUE is all about.  They begin to actually think about those they lead in terms of how THEY are living.  How are their people doing mentally, physically, socially and spiritually?  These leaders begin to see the truth in living well themselves, modeling that for others, and encouraging others in their story of living well.  Then the organization begins to see true alignment around three of the Four Cornerstones of Lead Well, Sell Well, Serve Well, Live Well.  They are leading, selling and living around the same purpose, principles and practices.  Then Serving Well becomes a natural next step.  This is where a company begins the sustainable transformation from Good to Great.   

The key question is how are you living out the story you have been given?  We each have this life, intertwined and dependant on so many others, this life that we can choose to live well, or choose something less.   Your life is a story.  You get to participate in it, and to a degree, choose the steps in the story.  We can always choose our response to the adversity we face.  What will your story look like?  Will your life tell it well?  Start living your story well today and see what happens.

[Master story teller Don Miller does a great job of challenging us avoiding bad habits that will make our story “boring” in this blog]

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What’s Your Story? …SELLING WELL

Selling, sales, salesmen (no disrespect to those who bear those honorable titles and roles)…but those monikers bring angst to many a professional. Particularly in a new age where service professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, consultants, experts, financial sector, and so on) are learning that the business will no longer just “come in the door” because they hang out a shingle. ..or what I refer to as the “Field of Dreams” mentality…if we build it they will come. Like virtually any profession, when a title or role comes to mind, we tend to picture the caricature of what the person attached looks like. Such as it is with sales. It is often brings with it every experience we have had associated with the role, some good…some not so good. Or perhaps it conjures up visions of Michael Scott and Dwight Shrute. While funny, those are generally not caricatures even great sales people aspire to imitate. (Although my wife, a serious fan of The Office, might beg to differ).  Subsequently no one wants to be seen as “salesy”…not even a salesman.

Yet “sales” is a requisite step in virtually every business. And for a business or individual to be successful, there must be a culture of developing business, or sales. Never has that been truer in the professional services sector. How do we bridge the chasm between the internal angst of coming off “salesy” and the critical importance of developing business?

Practically speaking, I would like to suggest it all begins with a story. We ALL have a story. Short stories. Long stories. Life stories. New stories. And each of our stories is unique. No two stories are alike. Telling your story well, whether it be in the form of the proverbial “elevator speech” or a long story over dinner…or even over the course of a relationship…will pay immeasurable dividends.   Not to mention telling a story is soooo much easier, and truer to who you are, than and sales, elevator or other “pitch.”

There once was a time when people asked me what I did for a living, if I had no interest in talking about my work I would say, “I am a lawyer” to which their eyes would either roll, glaze over or I would get a corny lawyer joke. The sad reality is that I lost years of opportunity to tell my story the way I wanted it to be told. In my role representing professional athletes over the years I have emphasized time and again with each client the importance of controlling their story. Of telling their story the way they want it to be told. Communicating their story the way they want it to be told based on what they do on and off the field. Conveying their story through how they lead on and off the field, how they serve in the public and private sector, and how they live well, will do more to advance their career, and more importantly, their life, than anything else they could possibly do.

But there is more to it than just telling your story well. In fact, before you tell anyone your story, ask them about their story. There is nothing people enjoy more than to talk about themselves. After all, it is the one thing that they are the world’s preeminent expert on. But refrain from asking the “what do you do” or “how’s work” question sequence. Instead ask them about their story. Practice the Golden Rule we learned as a child. Ask them what their passions are; what drives them; how they came to this place (geographically, professionally, etc); what will it look like to have made it; when the credits roll, what do you think is most important in life? And those will just get you started! Then LISTEN!


If you can learn to tell your story well, you can sell well. It is not the only step to be sure, but it is the first and most important step in the practice of selling well. If you tell your story well, remembering the “Principle of TRUE” and that “people matter first”, then business development success is on your immediate horizon. I devote training and coaching time in virtually every engagement with a client on storytelling. That said, a little over a year ago I heard a professional writer and storyteller speak on the art of telling a story. More importantly, he spoke about not only telling your life story well, but living your life story well. The man, an author I truly enjoy, is Don Miller. Don’s definition is “a story is a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”.

Check out his blog. Here are several of his entries on telling your story well. Can I Tell You a Story?  Living a Good Story, an Alternative to New Years Resolutions    Writing a Storyline, An Alternative to the Mission Statement

Don’t waste another day not asking for and listening to other’s stories. Tell your story . Tell it often. Make it TRUE. Tell it well.

[Remember…a story well told includes how you uniquely bring true solutions to the true problems those in your target market face…and it demonstrates you care about other’s true success]

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Leadership in the Age of Transparency….

….was the headline article in a recent Harvard Business Review. While the focus of the article was primarily related to consumers ability today to know everything about your company, specifically as it relates to environmental issues, it raises again the far reaching implications of the over arching principal of transparency in leadership. It is with fear and trepidation that I speak to this topic. If life has taught me any lesson, it is that leadership is hard. It comes with responsibility. It comes with sacrifice. Unfortunately the examples we see today speak less about sacrifice and more about pointing the finger…less about responsibility and far more about shifting blame.

True leadership is not about being popular. It is not about being iconic. It is not even about short term success. My daughter was digging through my “memorabilia” (as young, intuitive ten year olds seem to love to do) and pulled out a very old comic book. It was a 1957 version of “The Rough Rider”…a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. It tracks the life of a great American…a great leader. A man who in retrospect has become iconic to be sure, but little about him was iconic early in his life. By most accounts he was referred to by others as a “shrimp” for his age. Only days after graduating from Harvard at the age of 22 he was told he had a heart condition. He was plagued by asthma throughout his life. He battled loss all around him over the course of his early years. Yet arguably he was one of the great leaders in the history of this country. When I have the privilege to teach on the topic of leadership Teddy Roosevelt examples abound.

The example of Teddy Roosevelt has been challenging me since the young age that I first read the comic book (and no I was not reading it in 1957….as I was not yet born). Yet most of my expertise in the area of leadership has evolved over the years. That evolution formally began as a leadership trainer for an international not for profit organization after college. Then over the years as a partner, CEO, board member, Chairman and various other roles, I have learned a great deal about the realities of what it means to lead. Often my true learning has come out of my own stumbling and failure. But as I recount the life of Teddy Roosevelt, and other truly great leaders of history, they were not flawless women and men. They did not always get it right. They faced the demons of their weakness. And the great leaders chose to overcome. Not to hide. Not to shift the blame. Not to point fingers. When they fell down, they got back up again. They lived lives of integrity, character, selflessness and perseverance…or what we refer to today as Transparency.

How refreshing that type of leadership is today when we see it. Those rare occasions are so striking we stop and are in awe. One of my athletic coaches early on used to tell us to be mindful that when we point our finger at someone else, three of our fingers are pointing back at us. Perhaps the proverb says it better, “remove the board from your own eye before pointing out the splinter in someone else’s.“

Often my current advising initially engages around the discipline of growing revenues, or “Sell Well,” particularly in the challenging economic times we face today. But as the relationship progresses there is a realization that without “Leading Well” there is little or no prospect of sustainable business growth. And without leaders investing in their people’s ability to “Live Well”, seldom does a company EVER move from “Good to Great.” So in the end, it circles back to leadership. True leadership leaves a meaningful legacy. Sustainable leadership operates from a foundation of integrity, character, selflessness and perseverance…it is True (a word we will unpack more in our journey together and how it effects every relationship we engage).

“Leading Well” is the first of the four cornerstones in the Masterplan. No building can stand long without a solid foundation, anchored in its cornerstones. The first of those cornerstones that aligns all the others is Leading Well. I look forward to interacting with you as we continue this journey of learning what it truly means to “Lead Well.”

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Masterplan Advisors – a Lifetime in the Making

Welcome to the first Masterplan Advisors blog.  You might refer to this as an “expanded ‘about us’ and why we are here” blog, although that would not be a particularly artful title.  This week marks the launch of Masterplan Group Advisors.  It truly has been a lifetime in the making.  We all come to crossroads in life that shape us.  For many of us the events of the past few years have accelerated that “reshaping” experience.  Such has been the case for me personally.

Recently I was encouraged by a coach (yes even coaches should have coaches) to look back through my personal files to see if I had ever taken a particular motivational and strengths aptitude assessment.  I had already given him a litany of tests I had taken over the years…DiSC, Meyers Briggs, Strengthfinders (3 generations of versions), Gifts Tests, Role Preference Inventory and so on.  I guess I have been one intensely assessed dude over the course of my 45+ years.  But the test the coach was referring to I think I barely recollected.  And sure enough, I had taken it as well.  It was a monster.  In fact, that is why I had not given it to him because when I saw the folder in my filing cabinet there was more information than I cared to review.

Alas, I pulled it out, scanned a few pages (of the literally hundreds of pages of info and two interview cassette tapes) and emailed it to him.  I originally went through the assessment in 1996.  As I reviewed the report in 2010, I nearly fell out of my chair.  Fourteen years after the fact, I was looking at the data, and the careers that would be best fits for me.  It was in that moment, and the days thereafter, that Masterplan Group Advisors came into full focus. 

I went back over twenty four years of experience, drawing together roles as a coach, trainer, lawyer, advisor, CEO, Board Member and a professional services consultant.  I walked through all of this “information”, history and experience with a multitude of counselors who know me well to determine exactly where it all aligned.  We looked at who I was uniquely made to be based on the myriad of “assessments” I have gone through over the years, and the picture came into focus.  So while this week does not mark the genesis of Masterplan Group Advisors, it does mark the formal launch…the crystallization of a twenty four year journey…and arguably a nearly forty six year adventure.

The end result…Masterplan Group Advisors helps individuals and organizations Lead, Sell, Serve and Live well….refining their Masterplan. 

Over the coming weeks I will unpack what that means.  What it means to Lead Well, to Sell Well, to Serve Well and to Live Well.  Then ultimately we will look at how each of these roles is intrinsically inseparable in GREAT organizations.  The goal at Masterplan is not just to consult in a single “category”, but to come along side individuals and organizations to advise and co-create in the transformative process of giving value and continuity to every facet of whom they are and who they intend to be. 

I look forward to interacting with you as this journey unfolds.

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