Beyond Cool: Jamal Robinson by Jim Johnson

I had the privilege to have lunch with Jamal Robinson of Desiar at the end of October.  What is Desiar (pronounced “desee-aire)?  Here’s what Jamal says from his website, www.desiar.com:

“a new revolution of eyewear for the fashion-forward who want to become style legends”
“progressive eyewear line for the bold, the confident, the expressive”
“Desiar is the framework for individuality”
“FUTURE CLASSIC”

desiar 1

desiar 2

Jamal and I met at a mentoring program hosted by IPFW (Indiana University/Purdue University at Fort Wayne) where business leaders (Jamal and I) spend time with IPFW business students to help them connect, network, and create a context for their current learning journey.

Jamal began Desiar in 2011 after early adventures into entrepreneurship.  He has designed clothing for a magazine in Florida before he began to focus on eye-wear.  As the idea for Desiar matured in his mind, the designs moved from “glitter” to working with mediums not normally seen in glasses – wood.

So how did Jamal create and develop Desiar?  He used his resources to figure out how to start up this growing business.  He worked for an import/export company here in Fort Wayne and learned valuable lessons that he has directly applied to Desiar.  His work/mentoring experience here helped lay the foundation for Jamal.

I asked him how he came to find the overseas factory.  “The internet.”  Jamal is genuinely curious.  He is not afraid to research and learn. In fact, that is a primary characteristic of this young business man.  If he didn’t know something, he jumped in and found the answer.  Not knowing did not create obstacles that stopped him.  He pushed and climbed and questioned and researched.  He found his answers, and he moved forward.

He didn’t stop there.  As he developed his eye-wear line, Jamal would go to concerts and get back stage to meet the artists (if possible) to present his product and simply ask if they would wear them.  He asked for the business.  But he did it intentionally.  He would approach the artist and say, “I design glasses. If I gave you this pair, would you wear them?”  They did.  His “fashion-forward” eye-wear had to be in the hands of individuals who were already setting fashion trends – people that other people would and do take notice.  Smart, smart moves.

Those first glasses were made by Jamal himself.  But he soon he realized that he could not keep up if he wanted to broaden the scale of his business.  He knew he had to go overseas to bring scale to his production.  So how did he find a production company on the other side of the world?  “The internet,” Jamal answered.  He did his research.  He spent nights reading, talking with manufacturers, making connections. 

His fashion line developed into glasses made of wood and other mediums.  His business grew.  But now, he is about to launch (first of November) a new line of eye-wear made solely of wood.  And they are beautiful!

So did Jamal look overseas for a manufacturer to make these all-wood glasses? No.  These are made down the road (from where we ate) in a small town.  Who makes them? A furniture maker.  Only 2%-3% of eye-wear is made in the US.  And to Jamal’s knowledge, none are made in Indiana.  But he just changed that.

As he met with potential investors, he explained that his glasses would be “made in Indiana.”  They didn’t think that marketing line was a good idea.  Who would buy glasses from Indiana? It’s a state of farms, race cars, auto manufacturing, and Amish.  Wooden glasses exist in a different atmosphere, right?

wooden glasseswooden glasses in a row

Made in Indiana?  Jamal is “pretty pumped by that.”  He’s proud of this.

“By fate and a blessing”, he was called on by a company to help them. In doing research for them, Jamal learned about the kind of machinery that HE needed to produce his all wood glasses.  Through this experience, Jamal shared his vision and his designs and this company was able to produce the necessary machinery needed to manufacture the new Desiar line.  He then found a furniture company who is now producing his wooden eye-wear.

CollaboratePartner with Talked toLearned from.  This is Jamal’s path to success.  Just 15 minutes into our interview, I heard these words over and over again.  Sure, Jamal is incredibly gifted in the creative process.  He has a very strong vision for his business.  He is passionate about it.  But he knows that HE must work with others. HE must find partners to help him fulfill his company’s vision.  HE must do the hard work of research to find the answers to his questions.

Jamal explained to me how the wooden glasses are made.  He knows the process.  He knows how the wood has to be manipulated to form the correct bend. He knows what kind of machines are needed to do this. He is intimately aware of his products processes.  He knows his business.

Jamal is currently in China to meet his overseas partners.  Knowing Jamal, he will come back with more ideas, improved processes, and new connections.  It’s not a sight-seeing trip.  Jamal will turn it into gold.

I asked Jamal if he ever wakes up in the morning to ask himself, “how did this become my life?”  He reflected on his China trip.  “The world has become smaller.  I find it easier to make connections.”  He uses those connections to build his business.

Did Jamal begin Desiar as his sole source of income? No.  He bussed tables at a restaurant.  He worked a year and a half with one of his mentors who runs an import/export business.  He got a “real world perspective” from this.  And all from our town, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Jamal has mentors from all over.  Import/Export.  Online music equipment sales/service.  He’s learned why they are great at what they do.  He’s captured why they do what they do.  His desire is to have Desiar known just at Sweetwater is known in the music business.  Jamal listens, absorbs, and applies.

What keeps him up at night?  Not much. He’s not worried about tomorrow.  Jamal shared with me a question he asked himself – “what are you doing today that made the business better than yesterday?”  It’s about positive movement forward.  It’s about not settling.  His agenda daily must be involved in the things that truly help his business to grow.

He sets goals with his team.  But it’s not about the goals.  It’s about results.  What did they learn from their results? Did they miss the goal? Why?  What do they need to do to hit the results the next time.

I asked Jamal if he ever struggles with self-doubt. He stated that he wouldn’t be human if he experienced “hesitation” from time to time. He listens to a lot of motivation podcasts and videos.   He explained that he has learned some techniques over the years to deal with this.  When a self-doubting thought comes up, he simply says, “Thank you, but I’m not on the list for you today.” 

He explained it’s good to have a dream/vision.  But you have to write it down.  Look at it.  Talk about it. Bring life to it.  Always learning.  Always willing to be stretched.  Always being positive.

This young business man is grounded.  Solid family.  Solid beliefs.  Confident in his abilities.  Faith.  A vision beyond eye-wear.

This is Jamal Robinson.  This is Desiar.

Discover Desiar here:  www.desiar.com

Jamal Robinson

 

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A.C.T. to become an Effective Leader by Jim Johnson

ACT a

I’m always looking for ways to engage my leadership team to become the best leaders they can be.  In 2015, we are going to learn how to A.C.T. like leaders.  What does this mean?  We want to identify, know, and embody the

Attributes

Characteristics

Traits

of effective leaders.

 

Together, each month, we will select an A.C.T.  Then individually, for the next 30 days, we will research this A.C.T. to find a good working definition, discover areas where we are already individually strong in and where we need to improve, and then work to identify what success will look like when we put this A.C.T. into practice with our teams and colleagues.

Then in our monthly meetings, we will collaboratively choose the working definition of the A.C.T.  We will then share what we’ve learned, where we personally need to grow and develop (accountability), and explain what we believe success will look like. I know my team – there will be great discussions, encouragement, and challenging moments.

I’ve started a list of A.C.T.s we might consider.  Here’s a partial list:

 

  • Vision
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Energy/Drive
  • Staff Development
  • Accountability
  • Results/Performance
  • Reputation

 

This blog has readers from around the world.  I would love to read your ideas of some the A.C.T.s of effective leadership.  Simply make a comment, and I’ll publish it so we can all share our thoughts and ideas.  I appreciate, in advance, what you will contribute to this experiment.

I’m looking forward to 2015 with my leadership team.  Thank you for being a part of this experience.  Together, let’s grow great teams!

 

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The Power of Praise by Jim Johnson

In my experience as a manager/leader of people for the past 30 years and in observing leaders I’ve led, a key behavior is too often missed.  Sure, we’re all good at pointing out areas of improvement.  We follow-up on the progress of a project.  We question our team member on an expenditure.

But we miss something.  Something that is powerful.  Something that is impactful.  Something that can help turn an indifferent team member into a passionate player.

PRAISE

Why is it we overlook this crucial part of leadership?  When a team member has done something great, overcome a hurdle, landed a significant sale, helped move the company forward, or shown initiative beyond their position, we might give a nod.  But so often we skirt by that and move on to “our” agenda.

The Results of Not Praising

What happens when we don’t verbally (or even in writing) praise a team member?

* We show our ignorance.  That’s right.  If our team member has done something significant and we don’t acknowledge it, they most likely will think “he/she has no clue what I do or how hard I work to make an impact here.”  And that is true.

* We exchange price tags.  What we focus on demonstrates what we value.  If we continually focus on what has gone wrong (according to our perspective), we show our team members what we value.  When they have really hit a significant goal or company metric and we basically ignore it, we have taken the “price tag” off that achievement and placed it on “well, we need to talk about how you…”  Where does that leave the team member?  Frustrated.  They just accomplished something that they are required to do – and exceeded expectations.  And what do we as leaders do?  Place value on something else with barely a recognition of their work.  Don’t ever let a team member feel “well, I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t”.

How to Praise

*Be specific.  It may seem like this is out of the “Mr. Obvious” playbook, but praise them specifically for what they have done.  Document this achievement and put it in their quarterly/annual reviews.  I’ve never had a team member be unhappy to review once again a major accomplishment.  They loved seeing it again.

* Make eye contact.  Look them in the eye when you are praise them specifically.  I’m bad at this.  But when I do it, it positively impacts me AND the team member.  It gets all of the focus on what you’re saying.

* Smile.  Again, I’ve got work to do here.  But if you are saying something positive, look positive.

* Remind them of their accomplishment.  Weeks or months down the road, you may be in a coaching session with this team member and they are not having a good stretch.  Remind them of what they can accomplish.  Remind them of what they did “back then”.  They can do it again.  Encourage them.

I just had a coaching session with one of my leaders yesterday.  I was so encouraged to hear how an online class had gone for her.  She took the lead in the class and was recognized for it by her professor.  I was able to put into my own words why this experience is true at her work, too.  She is very passionate about her job, her team, and her impact.  I was able to speak encouragement to her.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on an interview with the leader of my call center.  We were meeting a young lady who was hoping to get our part-time position.  She said at the beginning on the interview that she was nervous and not very experienced in interviewing.

But as my team leader worked her way through the conversation, this young lady spoke clearly, specifically, and confidently of her experiences and what she would bring to the table.  At the end, I said I had something to say.  I asked the young lady to look at me and I said, “you did an excellent job in this interview.  You did not come across nervous.  You gave specific examples of how you handled various work scenarios.  You demonstrated confidence in you as a person and your abilities.  You interviewed very well.”

The young lady almost cried.  She then said that she so needed to hear that.  She told me how much that meant to her.

Oh, yes, we hired her and she started this past Monday in training.

Don’t underestimate praise.  Don’t forget it.  As a leader, you probably don’t know how much your words of praise means to a team member.  The benefits for them, for your team, and for your company are endless.

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Christine: A Courageous Life by Jim Johnson

I may have shared this story before, but it’s worth repeating in case you didn’t read it then.  This is a story of a former team member of mine, Christine Frick.  The story “ends” with an update from last evening…

 

8/3/2014 10:23 pm. Within the past hour Christine passed away. I have just received word about this.

Most of you reading this have not met her. Most of you won’t. Christine and I had worked together at 3Rivers here in Fort Wayne. Christine was one of our great call center reps. I had been privileged to work with her for many years, and she gave me permission to share part of her story.

Christine has had her share of struggles in life. But you know what? I didn’t know about the struggles until she told me about them. You see, Christine was one of those wonderful people we get blessed to encounter who was facing really big issues but found a way to smile and bring happiness to others.

Christine had been diagnosed with cancer. She found out about it at the end of 2011. I won’t go into the details, but it was a shock to her, her family, and her friends. Her body was causing her many painful days that led into weeks and then months. After tests and surgery, she got the diagnosis. Did she crawl into a hole to cry out for a pity party? No. Not Christine.

You see, Christine was  no stranger to a life that had been anything but smooth sailing. She had MS. She was born with a condition that had affected the “normal” development of her arms. There were other uphill battles she had fought in her life. But had she given up? Nope. Had she settled for less in life? No.

Christine  earned a Second Degree black belt in ATA (American Taekwondo Association). Her goal was to achieve Third Degree status. I watched her work. You did not want to mess with that woman!

Christine was respected as one of our best service providers here at 3Rivers. She engaged in meaningful conversations with our members (customers) and helped them  understand money matters every day. There was a smile in her voice when she was on the phone. She handled cranky people with patience and empathy. One of our Sales Managers wrote: “I also want to take this opportunity to give extra special recognition to Christine Frick!! She is a star!! Not only does she resolve all of our questions and problems immediately, but she goes a step further and educates us on how to obtain the information ourselves in the future, hence allows us to speed up the resolution processes with future member questions or concerns.”

Christine had been positive and inspiring. Even after losing her hair due to chemo, she returned to work continuing to be a model with an awesome attitude. She had her good days and her bad days.  When I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself about trivial matters, I remember Christine and tell myself to toughen up. She gave me a good perspective on life.

I asked Christine to share her story. Her is what she wrote…

In Christine’s own words:

“I shared last two years ago with a few in my congregation that I did not know what my “Gift” was that the Lord had/has blessed me with. Well, you know how the saying goes – “Be careful what you pray/ask for”. I asked for my gift to be revealed to me.

Then I was blessed with a total hysterectomy in January, 2012 and was told I had stage four cancer (mind you I was blessed with MS and diagnosed in 2001). It was a friend who pointed out to me on June 19th, 2012 what my gift was (of course, I did not see what that was so I asked because I still not see what it was). She told me what an inspiration I was to her due to my handling of the news, my treatments, and my daily walk with Christ and accepting my blessing with the cancer and how it made her take a closer look at her walk with Christ and how she has renewed her faith.

I would not be able to do this walk if I did not have the support of those brothers and sisters “In Christ” that the Lord has blessed me with to lift me in prayer. I would like to thank those who I don’t even know who have prayed for me and continue to do just that very thing. This in itself is such a blessing and inspiration to me for through “Christ all Things are Possible”.

So when times seem to be too tough, keep looking to heaven and those who he has blessed us with and don’t be afraid to lean on someone. Reach out a little and before you know it, that little will turn into a lot of people.

I did not have an easy childhood and I now understand why. Everything I went through was preparing me for the different roads that I would be traveling down. I have never been one to wallow in self-pity. God has blessed me with one life on this earth, and I intend to live it to the fullest.

My phrase or motto is “I may have cancer but cancer does not have me.”

VISION – Into the Impossible! by Jim Johnson

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What got man to the moon?  What drove explorers to risk all to sail ships to the New World?  What gets an athlete up before the sun to train?  What creates movements?  What builds businesses and brands?  What changes people?

VISION

Definition:  “VISION is a clear mental picture of a future desired state, preferably in writing” 

Vision begins in the Mind

Peter Stark created that definition, and I like it.  Let’s break it down a bit.  A vision is “a clear mental picture”.  Vision begins in the mind of a leader.  Leaders dream, think, image, and create what they want to become – what they want their teams to become – in their mind first.  A vision can become that all-consuming passion that creates filters through which they see most everything in life.

Vision is about the Future

“…of a future desired state…”  Vision is future-focused.  I’ve heard it said that one of the leader’s primary duties is to go out into the future, see where he/she needs to go, and then returns to lead his/her team there.  To launch this idea, think about these things:

* What do you want to be known as?
* What do you want your team to be known as?
* Why does my company need leaders?
* If we are wildly successful, how would we describe that success? (Joel Dobbs)

Vision is Communicated

“…preferably in writing.”  What good is a vision if it is not shared with your team?  And if you cannot put your vision in writing, perhaps it’s not clear enough.  When you have a vision, communicate it!

In my February 22, 2013 post in “Go, Leader, Grow”, I shared a quote from a book entitled, “Leadership Excellence”.  Authors Pat Williams and Jim Denney said the following about vision:  “the purpose of leadership is to organize and motivate people to do the impossible and unthinkable.”  I love that!  This first requires a vision.  A vision that is thought-through.  A vision that is a bit scary and uncomfortable.  A vision that is about your future desired state.  A vision that makes you and your team say (or at least think), “This is crazy!  Can we really pull that off?!”

So how does a leader create a vision that can transform people and organizations?  Peter Stark has a great article on this that I posted back on February 18, 2013.  You can find that post here. https://goleadergrow.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/how-to-build-a-vision-for-today-and-tomorrow/

As you work on creating a vision for yourself, your team, and your company, it’s important to understand some things:

* Vision is created within your context.  The world around us is changing all the time.  Pay attention to trends, news, people’s behaviors, etc.  Read.  Read articles, blogs, books.  Read to expose yourself to new ideas.  You won’t necessarily find your vision there, but what you expose yourself to will help mold your vision.

* Vision is captured in reflection.  I still struggle to journal consistently.  But when I do, I tend to produce better results in my personal and professional life.  Do you carry a smart phone or tablet?  Try using Evernote – a free app.  I am writing this blog post on it right now.  It’s the best way to capture and organize your thoughts.  You can later retrieve your notes on your smart phone, tablet, or PC.

And if possible, get away from the “noise” in life. Reflecting in the quiet can sometimes help in clearing your mind and gain new focus.

As my L.E.A.D. team discusses the why, what, and how of vision, we will then find our ONE THING to begin applying.  Vision is not just for the C-class executives at your company.  YOU need to have a vision.  Your success depends on it!

“Vision basically answers the question:  what does success look like?”  Joel Dobbs

What are your thoughts on vision? Share them!

ROI – the Return on Involvement by Jim Johnson

As you may know, I work for a credit union.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at a Credit Union Times conference at Disney World Resorts.  My presentation focused on how credit union leaders can truly impact their communities.  This post is a summary of that presentation.  It is written from the perspective of a financial institution – specifically a credit union.  But there are lessons that can be learned for any industry.  

Today, many people are looking that “sure thing” – something to believe in, to hope for, that safe haven – but the reality is that there are very few sure things in this world.

Our customers/members are wanting, needing, and seeking “sure things” in their lives.  Guess what?  YOU can be that sure thing!

In this post, I want to share how you can create an incredible ROI – a Return on Involvement – that will positively impact someone else’s life while it grows your business, your company’s brand, and boost your personal reputation.

None of us can afford to waste time, resources, or energy becoming involved in things that go no where.  In thinking about this ROI, I suggest there are two variables that we need to consider that will help us determine the impacts of the levels of return from our involvement.

ROI a

As this exhibit shows, we will explore the Range of Impact – those member/customer experiences where you may or may not interact with them.  Also, we’ll see how the Return of Involvement – how well you become involved in those experiences – can grow.  Note the following:

roi f

…, the greater the intensity of the impact you can make on your member/customer, the higher potential for the Return on Involvement.  Read on…

The Range of Impact does not have to be harsh or intense.  In fact, your company already is doing activities that positively impact your community.

roi c

From Junior Achievement to Habitat for Humanity to food drives to mentoring a student, Community Involvement is the first level of impact that most companies participate in.  We get positive PR from this as we demonstrate our desire to become better corporate citizens.  We do good things!  There is impact on this level, but typically it is not very personal.  Let’s look at the next level of impact.

roi d

Personal Investment provides us more opportunity to personally impact our members/customers.  At this level, it is not the company that acts, but it is individuals within the company that begin to get more involved.  How does this happen?

In my industry (credit unions), we are committed to doing the following for our members everyday at every encounter:

  • Help them make money
  • Help them save money
  • Help them save time
  • Protect their assets
  • Help them prepare for their future

Most people want to do these things.  And it usually surrounds that person having a problem that needs to be solved, a need that they want met, or a dream they have that we can help them fulfill.

Years ago, a sales associate of ours was chatting with members who she had built a good relationship with.  On this day, the couple was sharing their process for adopting a baby (they were unable to have children on their own) and how expensive it was.  They didn’t think it could happen due to costs.  The sales associate suddenly connected some dots and asked them if they owned the home they lived in.  “Sure, but why do you ask?” The sales associate explained how a home equity loan would provide the needed funds for the adoption.  “We can use the funds for an adoption?”  “OF COURSE!”  This family has now grown to 2 children because a sales associate became personally involved in these members’ lives.  What an ROI, eh?!

roi e

The third level of impact is Crisis Intervention.  Bad things happen to good people.  And during these times, people need leaders like you and me even more.  This level requires that we have already built solid relationships with our members/customers so we know what is happening in their lives.  This level requires trust between our members/customers and us.

At my credit union, we have met this level of impact in positive ways by:

  • Helping folks consolidate debt and freeing up hundreds of dollars thus lifting heavy debt burdens from them…
  • Walking through the process with individuals who have had their identities stolen…
  • Coming along side of a woman whose husband suddenly died and providing peace of mind regarding her finances during this most difficult time…

Are you a leader of leaders?  Do your leaders understand their ability to impact their members/customers?  Do they know how to build trusting relationships today?  Are they willing to make the personal investment that can ultimately change someone else’s life?

This is true:  We serve our communities best we when, as leaders, seek to personally impact our members/customers at their greatest point of need.

Our nation is moving out of a hard economic period.  Some areas are recovering faster than others.  People are still in need of a trusted partner.  YOU can make a difference today.  Listen.  Act.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole, awful lot, things aren’t going to get better, they’re not!”  The Lorax

What Kind of Leader Do They Want? by Jim Johnson

leadership qualities

As you may know, I’m working on a certificate in Executive Leadership from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.  In a recent lecture, Dr. Mike Crant shared the findings of a survey conducted by Kouze & Posner (“The Leadership Challenge”).  The survey was seeking to discover what 20,000 people thought were the characteristics of leaders they admired. In other words, if they could create their own leader, what would they be like?  Here’s what the survey uncovered:

1. HONESTY

18,000 respondents said they wanted honesty in their leader.  It was really important to them that they could trust their leader and that he/she had integrity.  Crant says that this is good news for leaders.  Why?  A person can control this.  We can choose to be honesty and trustworthy.  “The extent to which you are viewed as an honest person who manages with ethics and integrity strongly influences how people perceive you.”

2.  FORWARD-THINKING

People want to follow leaders who have a vision for where they are leading the team/organization.  There is an agenda (and it is communicated!).  Forward-thinking leaders have initiative and ideas for improvement – they are out to make something greater.

3.  INSPIRATION

People want their leaders to have passion and be positive.  It’s true!  Energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  You’ve heard the saying “speed of the leader, speed of the team”.  Followers will copy the attitude and actions of their leader (like it or not).  Leaders are role models.  Just be sure, leader, that you are positively modeling positive attitudes and actions.

4.  COMPETENCE

Dr. Crant says that followers want to trust leaders’ judgment and technical skills to make good decisions.  A leader has to “know their stuff”.

5.  FAIR-MINDED

49% of those surveyed stated that they wanted their leaders to be fair.  Fair treatment increases motivation.  On the flip side, Dr. Crant states that unfair treatment leads to people to do undesirable things.

6.  SUPPORTIVE

People want their leaders to be focused on them.  Who wouldn’t want a leader who has the attitude of putting his/her followers in a position to succeed?  This type of leader worksto remove hurdles for his/her team.

Dr. Crant summarizes this lesson by stating that leaders will build credibility by keeping these desirable characteristics in mind.  But note this:  the survey used in this study did not measure the effectiveness of a leader.  It only focused on traits that were admired by followers.

So, how you do think you stand up to these characteristics?  More importantly, how would your team evaluate you in this?