People Power - July 2011
By Scott Humphrey
In my last article, I wrote about my experience at the Masters golf tournament in April of this year, where a gentleman sought me out on a crowded tee to let me know that he had heard me speak at an event sometime in the past. It was a stunning reminder that, as leaders, we are always on stage. We are always being evaluated. In this issue of Floor Focus, the one I call the survey issue, I am reminded once again that businesses, like individuals, have reputations. That reputation and your willingness to do what is necessary to keep it good or change it will likely determine the long term success of you and your business. Your willingness to receive and act on feedback is crucial. In this article, I want to share a personal story that reinforces the need to receive and act on feedback in order to achieve success.
If you have followed my column over the years, you may know that, though I grew up in the flooring industry, I was a vocal performance major. I received my degree from Belmont University in Nashville. When I attended in the early 1980s, Belmont was one of two schools in the nation that offered a music business degree. Because Belmont is located on Music Row in Nashville, many seeking a career in country music picked Belmont as their school of choice. Though I wasn’t a student who attended for that reason, I got the benefit of going to school with many who had their sights set firmly on stardom.
As Belmont’s reputation grew, vocalists from all over the world began to transfer in and pursue the music business degree. Here’s the catch: no matter what your focus, if you were a vocalist at Belmont, you studied classical music for at least your first two years. Are you starting to see the challenge here? You had country music wannabes forced to study and perform music that they had likely never heard and in languages with which they were not familiar.
Here’s something you may not know. Probably more than any other style of music, classical requires performers to interpret the song and convey its meaning through their performance. This is especially true if they are performing in a foreign language. There is a vast difference between those who interpret and translate the song for the audience and those who simply sing. This is part of the reason that Belmont requires that all vocal performance majors have at least two years of classical training. The other reason is because classical will not let you cheat. To perform classical music well, you must sing correctly. That includes your breathing, enunciation, tone and more.
Students that transferred into Belmont from other schools were required to perform a mini recital for the faculty and students in the school of music. This way, the professors could gauge their abilities and determine the best vocal teacher to take them to the next level. I remember one such performance in particular. It was a student that was transferring in from the University of Georgia. Her voice was stunning, but if I had to gauge her overall performance, I would say it was just average. You see, she was just singing. There was no interpretation of the song. There was no emotion.
It was customary for many of the current students to get together at the student center after this type of performance. We never admitted it to each other, but the real reason we were there was to determine where the newcomer fit into the pecking order. We all knew that in order to make it as a vocalist you had to be better than other vocalists or have something unique about your style that made you stand out. At the get-together after the transfer from Georgia had performed, we all agreed that she would never make it—not because of her voice but because of her inability to interpret the music. She seemed to just be going through the motions.
As luck would have it, I actually ended up having a couple of classes with that young lady, and I soon learned that she was very talented, not just vocally, but as an overall musician. She had a vibrant personality and was very easy to like. We ended up having lockers next to each other and developed a friendship. Soon, she really began to improve in her performances. You could tell she was feeling what she was singing. Unlike a lot of the students who were afraid to ask for feedback after they sang, she would always come to her friends and ask what they thought and how she could make it better. Then she did something that was very rare. She began to change. Most performers had already developed their style and shied away from anyone who tried to change it, but not her. She craved feedback.
One day, toward the end of my senior year, she asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. After I responded (by the way, my response had nothing to do with the flooring industry), I asked her the same question. She simply replied, “I’m going to be a country music star.” It turns out that this was all she had ever wanted to be.
Three years later, I was invited back to Belmont for a reunion of a group in which I had once performed. I did what most people do at reunions: I asked about former classmates. I wanted to know who made it and who didn’t. When I asked about the young girl from Georgia, they said, “Haven’t you heard? She just signed a recording contract.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was always seeking feedback and making necessary changes. She had an unquenchable desire to succeed. And, she was focused on one goal: to be a country music star. That is exactly what she became. Yes, Trisha Yearwood is indeed a bona fide star.
My hope is that after reading this article, you will note what made Trisha successful and apply these principles in your own life.
Seek feedback on your business and on yourself. Simply ask the question, “How am I doing?” But don’t just ask anyone: ask those who would know (customers, close friends, co-workers, children, spouse), ask those with knowledge and expertise (leaders you respect), and ask those who have your best interest at heart (those providing feedback to help you, not to tear you down).
Change what makes sense. You certainly can’t please everyone. But where it makes sense and you don’t feel like you are abandoning your core values, change.
Stay single minded in your focus. Don’t try—do! If you want to be the best retailer in your community, constantly strive to be just that. If you want to be a better father, be a better father. If you want to be a better leader, then do what is necessary to be a better leader. Do not abandon your goal because of temporary setbacks or naysayers.
This issue of Floor Focus can be viewed as a report card of our industry. As individuals, each of us has a report card as well. Yours is revealed daily in your interactions with others. They are asking, does this person care about me and have my best interest at heart? Will this person help me to the next level?
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Copyright 2011 Floor Focus