Differentiate yourself in today’s competitive market
Louis J. Cassara, CLU, ChFC
I would like to address the three biggest challenges I believe our industry faces and propose a new vision for all of us. These challenges are centered around relationships, and the single most important skill we can ever develop is the ability to get along with each other. All of us have experienced that relationships can be a wonderful source of happiness, joy, and abundance in our lives, and on the flip side, equally a greater source of disappointments and frustrations.
The Three Biggest Challenges
These three biggest challenges that I see right now in our industry—I'm going to provide you with three new statistics. Eighty-seven percent, 66 percent, and 35 percent. Eighty-seven percent of the time when clients leave you or clients leave me, they do so because of—what do you think? They leave us because of the relationship they have with us.
An interesting caveat when I study these behavioral trends is that 90 percent of the time they like the product, they keep the product, it has nothing to do with the product. They simply want to change relationships. So I attribute this to what I call leadership fatigue.
We have a lot of people showing up in our industry unfortunately at this time with their hearts in the parking lot. We have a lot of people who feel tired rather than inspired at this time. Profits may be up, but spirit is down in a lot of organizations.
The 66 percent represents a very significant trend, which I have observed to be consistent. It was a study done by the Gallup organization, which surveyed millions of our clients, and here's a startling understanding. Two out of every three of our clients right now are considering either changing advisors or looking for a new relationship. Willing to leave or changing. Now, this information either scares us or excites us with regard to our positioning in these relationships, and this 66 percent of this movement is attributed to what our clients feel is a lack of connectivity and meaningful dialogue and an overload of choice anxiety. Our clients are suffering from a tremendous amount of data. They're drowning in data and don't know how to interpret it.
We are connected in a different way, where we have on this planet approximately 10 billion cell phone calls a day, and 100 billion Internet connections per day, and yet our clients feel that we have this high tech, but low touch.
The third and most important challenge I think we face is the most significant one. It's the decline in trust in the United States today. In a study done by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business entitled "America's New Motto: In Few We Trust," they talked about the fact that in 1964—this is an ongoing survey—54 percent of Americans felt someone else could be trusted at first blush, and now it's down to 35 percent.
So the proverbial question I think we should be asking ourselves as an industry is "What are we thinking?" because our best thinking got us here.
The Premise of Your Business
So what I would like to share with you is the fact that I have been very fortunate and blessed to be part of MDRT, walk this path with you for over 20 years, and I have built a significant private practice as well as had the great fortune to help professionally develop 17,000 of my peers with my coaching programs.
What I'd like to do is share some of the feedback. I've asked a lot of questions, had a lot of experiences, and engaged in a lot of conversation centered around why we stay or leave in relationships. I'd like to share with you some of this feedback and perhaps provide some suggestions for all of us on how we can convert some of these relationship land mines that we might face into relationship gold mines that would allow us to be better, to attract, to connect, and to commit to significant relationships, and more importantly, to remind you of things you intuitively know and understand. I wouldn't be presumptuous to assume in any way that what I'm about to say you haven't heard before, but let's be reminded of a few key things: That the premise of our life should be that the key to our life in business is relationships. Without another person to talk to, be with, work with, or share something with, we don't have a business. Everything starts in relationship to something or somebody else. Relationships should not be the thing we get around to after 5:00 after working all day. They should be the center and the premise of our life.
Secondly, we're here to remind you what the premise of my book is all about. The premise of my book is simple. We love to be served and dislike being sold with a passion. People love to be served. We understand this intuitively, so the question I ask is that if we know this, why are we consistently delivering and employing, limiting, and exploiting manipulative behavior processes, which we know in our heart are no longer effective and working? We've been on both ends of these delivery systems. We all have. We have been in the presence of someone who has attempted to sell us something, and we have been in the presence of someone who has attempted to serve us, and what does it come down to? What's the difference? It comes down to a feeling, doesn't it? It comes down to a feeling of whose best interest is being considered. So when I say that it helps remind me, and should remind all of us, that people do business not based on how they think about us, but based on how they feel about us.
So with that being said, if there's one point I want you to grab onto in this whole talk it's this one to pay attention to. As the leaders that you are, the leadership that you and I provide is not about what we do, it's about what we help someone else do because we are in their lives. Keep that in the center of your thoughts.
A Grand Vision
Let me propose a grand, new vision for our industry and your individual practices. Let me propose this because the vision comes from our hearts not from our heads. Let me propose a vision that people are attracted to you in our industry because we engage them empathetically rather than arrogantly, that we contribute to them with such significance that they can't imagine their lives without us in it, that we help them see the grandest vision of who they are, and more importantly provide the concepts, tools, and applications so they can be empowered to make that vision a reality in their lives.
What would that mean to us personally and professionally, and where would that vision start? Well, I believe the centering of that vision, and the ability to attract people to us rather than chase them, is to pay attention to what we're thinking about at any given time. Let me demonstrate this with a practice example.
Let's suppose for the moment this meeting is not a business meeting but a gala event, a black tie event that's filled the room with quality men and women, people who ordinarily you'd love to meet with on a regular basis. As you mingle around the room, you have your cocktail in your hand, you're walking around, and you engage in conversation. Sooner or later where does the dialogue get around to going? What's the question inevitably asked of you? What do you do? Four little words, "what do you do," with powerful implications. A chance to shine or a chance to whine. A chance to express yourself or depress the hell out of yourself. What's the question behind the question? What's someone really asking us? Are they asking us to put a label on ourselves? No. We have a great opportunity if we truly don't want to engage with impact, don't we? We have a great opportunity. We just simply have to say we're in the life insurance business, and we can clear the room in 30 seconds.
If we truly want to engage with impact, what's the question behind the question? What is someone really asking us? They're asking us who are we. Who are you, and why should I consider talking to you? And what are the consequences to us, and to you in particular if you can't answer that question with impact? What's the consequence, and how do you feel right now about the way you would answer that question if you had the prospects of your life waiting for you when you get back to your offices and they ask you that question? How do you feel about the way you'd answer that question?
Let me share something with you. Here's a little sidebar. Men, we give each other about 33 seconds to answer that question with impact, 33 seconds. Women, you're amazing. You have this multitask, different brain configuration. You just can see right through the clutter of something, and you give people 17 seconds. Now men, I say it's like we have dial-up capabilities, and women you have high speed DSL Internet connections. That's basically how it works, and basically in this context how do you feel about the way you respond to this? I ask people all the time in a coaching model. How do you get a result in your life? And they say, Well, I take some action, right, a behavior, right. Well, what makes you behave the way you behave? Well, it's what I believe.
The Performance Formula
So my performance formula is pretty simple. Your beliefs plus your behavior equals the results you get in your life. Now, if we don't believe we're good enough, how are we going to show up in somebody else's life, and how are we going to behave, and what kind of result are we going to get? If we don't think we're interesting enough, how are we going to show up in somebody's life, and what kind of result are we going to get? So in this case our self-perception determines our behavior. Our actions are a result of our thoughts, and unless our thoughts are linked with a clear sense of purpose rather than chaos and confusion, we're going to get a whole different result in terms of this simple question being asked from us.
Now, let me explain how I came to this conclusion because I'm not a rocket scientist. Approximately thirty years ago when I began my professional career, I joined an organization in Chicago. I was born and raised in New York, grew up on Long Island, and when I graduated high school on Long Island, I told people I studied abroad. I went to school in Iowa. This was quite a culture shock. However, through a series of minor miracles, after school, and playing a little professional baseball, I was positioned with an opportunity to have my first sales and marketing job with an organization in Chicago selling dictation equipment. And the model in the early 1970s, as many of us grew up on, and as a 24-year-old kid at that point, I, like many people who entered a new career, wasn't clear about who I was really. I wasn't confident in what I could do, and more or less, I wasn't capable of doing it really.
So my strategy was pretty simple. My growth strategy was that I would simply allow this organization to tell me pretty much what I should think, what I should say, and how I should act. And then my empowerment strategy wasn't much better. That was simply looking at who I perceived might be successful in this business and simply imitating the actions of that person. In one of these meetings, and this is very early in my career, this sales professional, who was successful, was sharing his limiting—what I felt was very limiting, exploiting, manipulative processes. Of course, in that day the premise of the business was to get the check. The premise was pretty simple. The check justified the means, get the check no matter what, get the check even if it has blood all over it, get the check. All right. This is how we were trained.
Now, I have to tell you, my head and heart were not in alignment with this. So one day this guy's doing his thing, and I leave this sales meeting, and my stomach's doing a slow burn, I'm doing a flip. I'm really not aligned with this methodology. So off I go to my own meeting, and I go to this meeting in downtown Chicago. I'm presenting the machines to this very successful attorney in this beautiful, opulent office. He's sitting behind this big desk, and he's a big, football size type guy, a large man—and this man was bald, you need to know this. As I'm demonstrating to this man, he's staring at me like this. He's staring at me, and it's making it very uncomfortable. After a couple of minutes of this, I stop and say, "Excuse me, sir, is there something wrong?" He looks at me and says, "Your hairpiece, where'd you get your hairpiece?"
I was kind of taken aback with that, and I said, "No sir, it's not a hairpiece. I'm just Italian; I got a good head of hair." He said, "No, seriously, I'm in the market for it. Where'd you get it? It looks like a really good one. Can I touch it?" Now, I never heard this objection in any sales training manual before, but I was quick on my feet, and at that point in time I said the premise, the belief, get the check, the check justifies the mean, don't worry about it, just get the check, that kind of thing. I said, "I'll tell you what, if I let you touch it, will you buy the machine?" And he turns around and says okay. Now I'm in this mixed emotion place, right? So I stand up, and I lean over this guy's desk, and for the next 10 or 15 seconds, he's yanking on my hair saying, "I can't believe the quality of this thing." He's yanking and pulling. After about 10 seconds of that, I kind of step back. I looked a little like Don King at the time. I step back and pull out my little order blank, and I put it in front of him. I said, "If I can have your endorsement, I'll bring the machine tomorrow." And he goes ahead and does it.
I tell you that story with a tremendous amount of mixed emotion and a lot of humility and transparency because what did I learn from that experience that was so key to me, at this tender age of 24? The first thing I learned, being a John Wayne fan when I was a kid, is when your horse dies, get off. When something doesn't work, stop. But more importantly, what I really was starting to catch onto is this situation ethics that people were teaching. When all else fails, just lower your value system. It wasn't working real well for me, and I really was paying attention to the fact that imitating someone for the sake of imitating does not work because you don't understand the principles and patterns behind how he gets the results and why he gets the results. So imitating people for the sheer sake of it doesn't sustain you. This whole experience started to manifest with me, and I swore at that point as I went back that I would never, ever do that again. It helped me shape, at that tender age, the first true intention I've ever had in my life in work.
An intention in our lives is to be something. It's a powerful fuel in our lives, and that experience led me to create the first true, authentic intention I ever had, and that was simply to be a first-rate version of myself, rather than a second-rate version of somebody else. That's what I learned.
As I started to position myself, I was experiencing the fact that all relationships are in fact a reflection of the one you have with yourself at any given moment. Again, if you show up in someone's life, and you lack confidence, and you're not clear, who else is going to be attracted to you? Who else as an industry would be attracted to us if we lack clarity and confidence in who we are, what we do, and how we serve people?
I began to look at the model, and I began to understand the human relationship, client process and really think that through. I've been told intuitively like you have, since the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1934 prepared the study, that 85 percent of the process from when you meet someone to when he becomes your client has to do with your relationship and communication skills, and 15 percent of it has to do with the product skills. We know this instinctively, yet why is it that we are taught so much. We spend 85 percent of the time on the product pieces, and very little time on the relationship and communication elements, how to relate. I looked at myself and my business, and said I want to learn how to relate to people and to communicate, not how to sell them. It's a whole different premise in my approach to people. I had to examine my beliefs and behavior, why I might have fits and starts, and ups and downs, and inconsistent behavior, and more importantly, how to tell the truth about it. That's pretty tough.
A lot of people like to be honest, but there's a big difference between truthful and being honest. The truth is the truth. The truth is what you earned last year, for example. Being honest with me is putting your spin on the truth. Well, I lost a major client, I had a big setback, whatever.
The truth in our industry is that we have 11 percent retention, and the honesty, the spin on it, well, you know, there's different products, different this, different that. To me, we're not telling each other the truth in many cases here about this. Then, through this whole process I was able to filter what that question really meant: What do you do and why should I work with you? It really helped me understand that. When someone's asking me that, they're asking me to articulate my values and qualities. It's asking me to demonstrate what actions I would confidently deliver in this relationship, and it's asking me how I would make this person feel if he or she engages with me, and through this process develop what I call my personal value statement, or my cause of my business. So when I'm asked that question, What do you do, I could put my eyes in somebody's eyes, and come from my heart and suggest to them that for the past 24 years people have chosen to work with me because of my passion, dedication, and commitment, to be a resource for their financial security. And what that could mean to you, Mr. and Mrs. Prospect, is that I'll show a genuine interest in helping you connect to what you care about, but more importantly I'll share a process that will protect and preserve your lifestyle, assets, and loved ones.
The real benefit to you is that you'll walk away with the clarity, confidence, and the contentment of knowing you have honored your agreements to the people that matter most to you. You see, I feel strongly about having a cause for my work. It grounds me to my work. It's not some trite mission statement that somebody asked me to memorize or just buy into. It's a strong, powerful cause, and that's what we're going to need in this vision of having a strong cause of who we are, what we do, and how we serve. It's going to be powerful to bring a cause to people such as to protect, and what do we really do, the essence of what we do is protect and preserve people's lifestyles, assets, and loved ones. Do we not? We can't forget that. We have to have a cause. That's key. A cause is like a magnet for passion. It draws people to us. The cause of my development company is just to equip people with the vital skills necessary to make their difference in the world. It grounds me.
That's why I said when you look at great leaders, they had great causes. You look at Martin Luther King Jr. and his cause. Did he need a PowerPoint presentation to get his point across, which was to have people judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Did Gandhi need to have a closing meeting with his staff to get them to buy into his human rights cause? Did Mother Theresa have to go to negotiation classes to get people to buy in with her about human rights and helping the needy? You see, this is what I'm talking about, and what's the benefit to us to lock on to a strong cause? This powerful magnet to draw people to us. It's to be clear about this because what it does is help us every day set the intention for why we're in front of somebody. It's absolutely key and vital to why we do this work. Also, it's an opportunity to promote ourselves effectively. What an incredible opportunity to position ourselves in someone's life and have the opportunity to tell our truth to somebody.
Think of it this way. What an incredible opportunity to think of your best clients being in the position at some point, which they all are, to position you when somebody asks them "Hey, who are you working with on your financial matters, who are you working with?" And instead of them saying, "Yeah, I got a good insurance guy," how about trying this on? "I'm glad you asked me that. Let me tell you why I work with Jennifer Borislow. I work with this woman because she is one of the most dedicated and committed people in her industry, and what it has meant to me to have her in my life. She's so knowledgeable, and she has this uncanny ability to reduce complex problems to simple solutions. But the real benefit of working with her is that when she walks away, I have the peace of mind of knowing I have taken care of the things that matter most to me." Now, try that on. Try that.
If your clients are taught and skilled in positioning you in their life, rather than say something else, think about the implications of that. Twenty people in a month being in the position to introduce you and position you that way. So I would encourage you to understand the significance and the power in building a strong cause to your businesses, and most importantly, I'll tell you the implication if you don't.
The implication if we don't, as an individual in an industry, position ourselves and value what we do—if we don't place a value on ourselves, somebody else will, and it may be a totally different model than what we look for. Totally different.
Connect vs. Confuse
What's the second? If the first element of this vision is to position ourselves and to understand the power of having a great cause in our lives, the second one's going to be to understand the importance of learning how to connect with people rather than confuse them. Let me suggest something here. Let me ask a question. How many of you have been in probably the most frustrating experience we can ever have in our businesses, where someone who has worked with you stopped working with you and went to work with somebody else who you feel had an inferior product with an inferior company? Anybody else but me ever have that experience? Thank you for being truthful.
Now, when that happened to me, instead of getting angry about it, being the person I was to study people and not products, I wanted to understand what was going on. So through the course of the years I have interviewed thousands of people as to why they think this way, why they leave relationships, and in every circumstance the answer was the same. Maybe it was said a little differently, but here's what they say about why they leave, "I get the feeling that they were putting their interest ahead of mine." See, I get the feeling, not I was thinking, but I get this feeling, and so let me give you a practical, real life example of this, an understanding. And as I share this story with you, pay attention to the details of how the leadership and the attitude of leadership bleed over and drip into the culture of the organization and manifest what's in the whole group.
Seven years ago I needed a hip replacement surgery and, living in Chicago now, I researched and found the two top surgeons in Chicago who were renowned for their prowess of hip replacement. Both of these gentlemen, professionals, do this very well. I visited the first one. I'll call him Dr. G. As I walked into the office, I was greeted by someone who looked like she was mad at the world, like I'm bothering her to be there. "You got an appointment?" type of thing, throws a clipboard at me, tells me to fill it out, and has a wait-over-there type of approach. I give it back to her, wait another 30 minutes, and finally after that, they put me in a small room and make me wait another 30 minutes. And like many of you, I'm not a good waiter like that. I'm not good at that. So finally after about an hour, the door literally kicks open to the room. In walks the surgeon. He doesn't even look at me, barely acknowledges that I'm in the room, walks up to the x-ray machine if you will, looks at it, and says "This person doesn't need surgery," and walks out of the room. Now, with that, the person, the resident, whoever he was behind him comes fumbling in with the clipboard saying, "I'd like to just talk." I said, "Stop, stop! I've seen enough here. And now let me tell you this, I am not interested in working with you, that doctor, that office, anybody in this place, I'm out of here." All right.
Now, as I tell you that, I went to the second doctor, Dr. H., and I walk into Dr. H's office. I was greeted by this young professional who had this smile from ear to ear, and who said, "Welcome Mr. Cassara, we understand this is your first visit with us. Would you be kind enough to take a few moments and fill in some information that could perhaps help the doctor better serve you today?" Be happy to. I filled it out and gave it back. I'm no sooner done, 30 seconds, bingo, the doctor's ready to see you now. What a nice surprise. I walked into the room. I'm not in the room 30 seconds when I hear a knock on the door. Gee, who could that be? In walks the doctor. He immediately came over to me, extended his hand and said "Good morning, Lou, Dr. H., how you feeling today?" I said, "Awe doc, I've felt better. You know, this hip thing is really bad." I said, "Have you had a chance to look at my x-rays. He said, "I don't operate on x-rays, I operate on people, how do you feel today?" Guess who I selected as my physician?
I tell you this because we forget this. We forget that who we are being is more important than what we are doing. People won't give us a chance to show them how smart we are. It's far more than intellect that gets us and keeps us in client relationships, isn't it? It comes down to how we make our clients feel, and this is a critical understanding that we often forget. Amazing talent, people who sustain success have this uncanny ability of reversing the normal development model that we all grew up on years ago.
We were taught in the old days that if you want to have something, go do it, so you can be this thing called happy. Successful people who sustain and achieve it and sustain it over time—many of you in this room, an incredible feat of production at Top of the Table for years and years—you do that because you're bringing your state of mind to someone first. You're being kind, considerate, and compassionate. You're doing things like listening, understanding, and helping people to have the result of more clients and friends than you can handle. Oftentimes we forget that, and that's where typical training hasn't worked because it really hasn't supported what really attracts people to us.
One of the things I would share with you is how we do this. How do we create this vision where we can magically talk to people in all different walks of life, in all different ways? We all understand there are different personalities. There are people who are caring and sensitive, and there are others who are focused on results, and others who are focused on data. We've all seen Meyers-Briggs, and other reports. We know there're different personalities, but the biggest land mine I've seen is when we use a one-size-fits-all model, which in many cases gives a feeling to the clients that we're not paying attention to who they are.
Many of our relationships feel like a three-pronged plug trying to be put into a two-plug outlet. It can't happen without an adapter of some kind. Let me share with you a metaphorical adapter because what I've learned about people is that all of us in this room, every single one, regardless of our situation, has something that we care about and can focus on, something that we'd like to put our attention on. Every one of us has something we care about. We may express it differently, but we all have something we care about.
Every one of us has what I call core, C O R E, issues. We all have C, challenges right now in our lives and the consequences of not dealing with those challenges. We all have that. We have obstacles in our path. We all have O, opportunities in our lives that if we could capture could make a dramatic difference in our lives. We all have R, important relationships that matter to us personally and professionally. And we all have E, experiences that we're very familiar with, things that work for us, things that don't work for us. And so a way that I have learned to adapt to any and all personalities is to know that's the common denominator in all of us. To be able to go to a client relationship and have him tell me what it is that he wants to put his attention on or focus on is more important than me telling him what I'd like to talk about. And that in my role and responsibility, if I can make the clients feel that I'm there, it's about them, and I can help them eliminate some of these challenges, and bring them opportunities they didn't know existed before they met me. If I can position strategic relationships and resources in their life that can make a huge difference, and if I can keep them E, experiencing what they enjoy the best and love the most in their life and work, am I valuable to them? Am I valuable to my children if I can do that? Am I valuable to a spouse if I do that? Am I valuable to my friends if I do that?
So what I aspired to do in my model was to be able to be the best version of Lou no matter where I was and who I was talking with. I didn't want to have a model that I only use from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and after five o'clock turn it off and try to be someone else. That's what I desired to build in my client creation process because what I really was connecting with was what I feel, and remembering the fact that when it comes down to it, for you to be hired and someone else to be fired, the process of how you relate to someone is your real product. It is the product of our product. It is why we chose the Ritz-Carlton over some other resort because of how they make us feel over here. It's how we make our clients feel. We can't lose sight of that.
It comes back down to the fact that we all love to be served, and dislike being so, and to position core issues in someone's life. I have had the experience. In my personal practice I have never been able to effectively talk to people about their money without first talking to them about their life. That's my experience. My model, my premise is that I want to know about your life, and in your life you have these things called transitions, and these transitions have financial implications. So when I get to know about you and your life, you tell me about these transitions, and they have consequences and implications, which I then can address, but my model is centered around what's important to you. What do you want to talk about, and how can I help you with those? That's the difference in how you can make someone feel, and that's what I'm talking about.
The second element of this grandest vision is to let these people know we care about them because their psycho graphic requirements, what they care about, is someone who understands them and understands their situation. They're looking for someone who will respect their assets regardless of the size, someone who will solve a problem for them not sell them something, and someone who will keep in touch and monitor their progress. That's what they want, and to the extent that we remember that what we put into the relationship will be in direct proportion to what we take out of it, that's the key. What are we bringing to them?
Empowering Your Vision
Now, let's talk about this last piece, this critical last piece: What's our level of readiness on our level of commitment to empower ourselves in this vision? The question before all of us in this great industry is this: Do we have the courage to see our current reality and confront it? What's causing this tremendous lack of trust in our society? Well, if we really think about it, I believe the secret is in the word trust. Again, we're not telling each other the truth on a regular basis. We're not telling each other the truth, and we're untruthing a lot of things. Think of it this way. Every relationship has an expectation, doesn't it? Every relationship begins with an expectation that is either met or not, and a simple "I'll give you a call" and not following up on that. We don't realize that if we don't do something that we said we were going to do, it creates a negative energy in that relationship. And we do this over and over again—little things, we wing it, tell these little, white lies, whatever we do—and we don't realize the implications of this.
I believe this causes a lack of credibility, the fact that we might say one thing and do another, think one thing and say another, and act a third way. This causes a tremendous lack of credibility, and I believe this strongly from all my heart. I could lose my money, and you could lose your money, and someone could lend us money to get back on our feet, but if we lose our credibility, we can't borrow somebody else's to have a client want to work with us. So I think that's something we really have to look at because those best relationships we've developed personally and professionally are the ones where we tell each other the truth and we honor our agreements. That's what a great friend is all about, is it not? I define a great friend in my book as someone who will always tell us the truth. They cut to it. So this level of commitment, how about this in shifting this mindset in order to accomplish this result and this wonderful vision of having people all over us?
To get a commitment from someone, why don't we make one first? Why don't we show up with that premise? It gives us a whole different thing. Let's be willing to do that rather than want to do it. You see, willing is the greatest gift we give ourselves. It's the gas; it's the fuel in our lives to be willing to do something. I tell people not to even bother coming to my workshop unless they're willing to do something and their premise on learning is that they're always in school, otherwise stay home. Don't drain the energy in the room.
Being willing is the greatest gift we give ourselves in this industry right now, to be willing to make the tough changes we know in our heart we know we should be making. It's like this. There isn't a woman in this room who has experienced childbirth who wanted to go through the pain of childbirth, but she was willing to do so for the result that she has. That's the difference in the energy because at the end of the day what really matters is how we stay committed. How do we stay focused, committed, and dedicated to our work?
Many of us feel like the words of the author E.B. White who wrote, "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." A lot of us feel that way, but what is it? What keeps us willing to stay the course?
For many of us in this room we've had the wonderful experience where our younger associates may have not, but for many of us we've had this personal transformation where we've had a life event that we went from believing we could impact someone to knowing we could, to knowing we made a significant difference in somebody's life. Some of the greatest lessons I learned about what I'm sharing on relationships have come to me as my role as a dad and a husband because what good is being able to be good in business and going home and not being able to live my talk with my family? That didn't make much sense to me.
A Story of Commitment
Let me share a final story with you about courage and commitment. A story that should remind all of us that leading by example is not the main thing in influencing others; it's the only thing.
My son, Anthony, is now a junior in college. Five years ago when he was a freshman in high school, he announced at dinner, with the family all around us, "Hey everybody, guess what? I'm going out for a play at school." Now, that was one thing, but you have to understand my son was a basketball player and a golfer, and he was in a high school renowned for its fine arts. Renowned for it. People came from all over to be a part of this drama program. So that was a complete surprise to me and my wife. He said, "Yeah, I'm going to go out for the lead in the play." Cool, good for you Anth. He said, "Yeah, and the lead requires that I sing a solo in the play." Whoa, where's he getting that from? Good for you.
So afterward he goes to practice, and to his credit he makes the first cut. The second night he goes back and, God love him, he got the part, Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I. So off they go to practice and weeks and weeks of preparation. About two weeks before opening night, my oldest daughter, Stephanie, comes into my study and says, "Hey Dad, you've got to talk to Anthony. He's having a tough time. He won't go to practice." Now, I had at that point just talked to an audience a couple of days earlier and reminded them of the fact that we, as average individuals, spend 33 weeks behind a television set, three hours a day behind a computer, and less than five minutes a day in intimate conversation with those who matter most to us. I heard myself say that, and when my daughter said that, I heard the seriousness of the tone of her voice. I stopped what I was doing, left my study, and went up to his bedroom.
I walked up to his bedroom. I was about 15 feet from his door, I could see the door was ajar, and there was my son on the bed with his face in his hands rocking, in a lot of pain. I went up to him and, as I approached the bed, I looked up in the heavens and said, "Dear God, please give me the right thing to say to this boy at this time," because I could appreciate that this was not going to be an ordinary father-son chat. This was about to be a life event.
I approached my son and sat down on the side of the bed. I said, "Anthony, look at me, Son. What's the matter?" He takes his hands away from his face, and with these big crocodile tears he says, "Dad, I can't do this, I can't do this." I said, "Anthony, you are willing to talk about it, okay." I said, "You know what? I'm going to love you no matter what. I'm going to love you whether you do this play or not. It doesn't matter a bit to me, but you're willing to talk about it. Can I ask you a question? What made you consider wanting to do it in the first place?" He said, "You know Dad, I remember watching you speak on stage, and I remember the impact of it, and I wanted to experience that myself." I said, "Yeah, Anthony, remember how I told you how scared I was, and how uncomfortable I was, and how I finally ended up doing it, and then getting the experience I was looking for?" "Yeah, Dad." I said, "Let me ask you a question, my son, a very important one. It doesn't matter to me, but have you thought what the consequences are of you not following through on this? Have you thought about the fact that you're letting down your drama coach and your peers, and you're a freshman? You've got to live in this high school for four years, and people are going to have something to say about it. How are you going to feel about that, that they might say you didn't honor an agreement and a commitment that you made?" "I don't feel good about that at all, Dad." I said, "No, Anthony, it's something you should really think through. What is the opportunity you're looking to capture? What got you excited about doing it?" "Oh Dad, I wanted to see if I could speak in front of a group. And I love to sing, and nobody knows that I want to show how I can sing." I said, "Anthony, that's powerful, and you know what? The people right now who matter are this family, and if you can sing in front of us right now, you can sing in front of anybody, so why don't you try it right now? Experience it with us." I ran and got the family, put the CD in that he had to sing to, and threw it on the recorder. I said, "Come on, sing." He gets up there the first time and sings very lethargically but, nonetheless, the family all gave him a big ovation. "Come on, do it again." And he did it again, and he did it again. I made him do it six or seven times. Finally after the seventh time, we all stood up as a family and gave him a standing ovation, and he went to practice.
Two weeks later opening night comes around and we're all sitting there. There are 1,200 people in the room. We're sitting in the fourth row. We've got this big, magnificent stage, and we're sitting front stage. My wife, she's got about four layers of skin off my arms because she's just grabbing me. The band strikes up the theme to The King and I, out comes the pin light, and Anthony has to come out on stage and deliver his first set of lines. He comes to the point on the stage and delivers his first set of lines flawlessly. We go "OK, so far, so good." Then we turn around, about seven minutes later, he comes out alone. He comes out, the light hits him and follows him on stage. He stands at the point on the stage looking into the audience, and he sings, and he went through with it. When he finished the audience gave him a rousing ovation. You could watch his face as it changed from anxiety to relief, and he had a big smile on his face.
As you know, after the play, they usually bring the actors and actresses back on stage, and they bring the leads in last. When he came in, the whole room stood up and gave him a standing ovation, and I watched that boy go through a significant life event. He honored his agreement. He went into his discomfort and found his greatness. He understood something very powerful in all of us—that resisting something is the first step to making a commitment in our lives. He understood that, and he used that same feeling and understanding every time. Once he learned that, you can't take that away from him. You just can't take that away from him.
So I encourage you to be reminded. Please remember that the leadership you provide to your family and your friends and your loved ones and your clients is not what you do; it's what you help someone else commit to doing because you're there.
Call to Action
That's the gift you bring to them. Let me leave you with these thoughts. If you want something you've never had, you'll have to do something you've never done. Your greatness and our greatness as an industry lie in the unknown and at the end of our comfort zone, and don't forget the secret that resisting something is the first step to making a commitment.
So here are three things we can all do together collectively as an industry to create this vision, manifest it, and lead and serve people with impact.
- Be clear that you make a huge difference. Know why people work with you. Develop a strong cause for your business. It will ground you to this business and propel you through the unpleasant tasks of it to the results that you want to have. Create your value statement.
- Be confident that your process of relating to others is your real product. Talk to people about what they care about, address the core issues of their lives, and watch how you position yourself in these people's lives. It will magically transform your positioning in their lives, and they'll never want to leave you.
- We must be capable of honoring our own agreements. The greatest gift we give to other people is the example of our life working. We should be asking ourselves this question: What are we teaching people when we're not speaking to them?
This last thought: Always, always, always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of somebody else. Let's stop asking ourselves what everybody else needs, and let's start asking ourselves what makes us come alive and stay committed, and let's go do that because that's what this society needs and our industry needs more of us who have come alive and feel committed.
Louis J. Cassara, CLU, ChFC, president and CEO of The Cassara Clinic and The Financial Resource Network, has been inspiring people to realize their true potential for more than 33 years. He is a 34-year MDRT member and a 21-time Top of the Table qualifier from Willowbrook, Illinois.