Core Competence, CXO Style

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When I think about the roles I participate in – whether it be parent, husband, author, speaker, golfer, or guitarist – I am intrinsically motivated to do them well. I have a desire to achieve proficiency. Each is a work in progress and I strive to improve each day. For me to get better and excel in my roles, I must possess or develop certain attributes or skills. For example, I need patience to be an effective father and perseverance to advance as a guitar player. The same is true for us in our workplaces. For us to meet our organizations’ expectations for our role, we should be able to perform various tasks and skills at a target level. These tasks and skills are often referred to as competencies, and collectively they make up a success profile. But when we are mismatched with the profile, or not given opportunities to develop and grow our competency, we struggle to meet expectations and fall short of achieving proficiency.

The global people and organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry explains it this way, “Like the periodic table of elements, it depends on what you want to make. Water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (H2O). The make-up of salt is NaCl (sodium + chloride). What is the make-up of a successful general manager, department head, or specialized individual contributor? This is where the practice of success profiling and competency modeling come into play.” I love that image; one part this, two parts that, and you can make the profile for effectiveness in any given role. Take my earlier example of being a guitarist and the necessary competency of perseverance. You could argue that perseverance is important to success at every and anything, and you might be right. But a part of competency modeling is to prioritize which elements are the most essential to getting the desired outcome from the role. Guitar players must have the discipline to practice, the persistence to fight through the initial pain in your fingertips, and the drive to learn new techniques; all which mandate perseverance. Mix in fine motor dexterity and you get an even more proficient guitarist; while  interpersonal skills may not be as essential to a guitar player. And perseverance may not be as important to my role as author or speaker if I am not first competent in written communication and presentation skills. Alas, getting the mix of elements right is critical or your NaCl wont taste like salt.

In my book, “I Am CXO, Now What?”, I spell out six competencies (elements) ideal for reaching high performance as a Chief Experience Officer. If you are not familiar with it, I summarize the role of CXO as delivering exemplary, life-changing experiences to others. Or to say it another way, a CXO strives to give positive experiences to others who interact with him or her. In this blog, I aim to define each of the six core competencies for a CXO. The competencies may be a behavioral skill, technical skill, attribute, or attitude, and will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role. For example, one of the principal duties of a CXO is to sacrifice your time, money, or effort for the sake of someone else. We are better equipped to do so when we possess the competencies of humility and generosity. And while there may be many other attributes and skills that would contribute to being a proficient CXO, I have prioritized these six as most important. And they afford us a finite number of measurable and achievable targets to focus on.

As you review the descriptions I assigned to each competency, I urge you to reflect on which come most easily to you and which you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate it consistently. That isn’t to say you can’t or don’t achieve that competency, it may just take more work for you or isn’t a natural tendency. In no particular order, here is the success profile for a CXO.

Chief Experience Officer Core Competencies

  • Accessible and easy to talk to
  • Sensitive to the interpersonal anxieties of others
  • Puts others at ease
  • Knows how or when to be warm and gracious
  • An attitude of optimism and hopefulness
  • Sees possibilities and opportunities
  • Sees the good in others
  • Pure, exposed, and genuine
  • True to your own personality, spirit, and character
  • Void of pretense
  • Self-aware
  • Embracing emotional exposure and uncertainty
  • Openness to differing ideas, opinions, and cultural norms
  • Allowing others into your heart
  • Courteously respectful of others
  • Self-restraint and gentleness
  • Openness to having your mind changed
  • Putting others first
  • Sacrificing time, money, or energy for others
  • Kindhearted and boundless
  • Belief that gifts are meant to be shared

How about you? Do you find yourself having to stretch and work harder to demonstrate one of these competencies more so than the others? Be honest with yourself; there is no benefit to being disingenuous here. Keep in mind, past mistakes and room for improvement don’t preclude you from being a CXO. In fact, they only heighten your potential for success. Please participate in the anonymous online poll and assess which competency you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate is consistently. I will be collecting data until the end of September and analyzing trends. Then, in a future blog, I will provide development ideas and resources for how individuals can increase their competence in the area most commonly identified.

Rough Writer

Not too long ago I was given a Theodore Roosevelt bobblehead by some dear friends of mine; a couple who I have laughed with, broke bread with, prayed with, and watched our kids grow up with. The bobblehead is the second in my collection of Teddy heads, the first I picked up for myself in Galena, IL. Anyone who has ever been to Galena knows the charming city overlooking the banks of the Galena River is best known for having been a residence to General Ulysses S. Grant. But when visiting the tourist center and gift shop I couldn’t resist getting a souvenir honoring one of my personal favorite historical figures – TR. My apologies to General Grant.
I am not sure where my friends found the bobblehead they gave me. They said when they saw it they thought of me and just had to get it. When presenting it to me, they took a few minutes to tell me why they wanted to get it for me. They said something about a “thank you” for some help I had given them – it was a kind and unnecessary gesture; though, honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention because I was distracted trying to figure out at the moment how they knew about my fondness for Roosevelt. Had I told them? Had they seen my other bobblehead? Did I share that I had read some of his books? Did I mention him during a presentation I had given that they had sat in on? I couldn’t remember. Finally, it came to me; it didn’t matter how they knew! I am certainly not embarrassed by or ashamed of others knowing that I gravitate towards the lessons on character, service, and what it means to be a leader that I learned from Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. It is actually great news that they know this about me. It helped to answer the life question, “Do others know what you stand for?”
Aside from being our 26th President, here are (in no particular order) a few other milestones achieved by Teddy Roosevelt. He was governor of New York, Vice President under William McKinley, Nobel Peace Prize winner, captain of the National Guard, cattle rancher, New York Assemblyman, conservationist, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant US Navy Secretary, prolific author, explorer (see The River of Doubt), Medal of Honor recipient (albeit posthumously), and leader of a volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders. And he did all this after overcoming severe health problems as a child; problems that likely contributed to his humble self-image as being a very “average” man. In the biography The Seven Worlds of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Wagenknect, Roosevelt is credited with saying:
“In most things I am just about average; in some things I am a little under rather than over. I am only an ordinary walker, I can’t run. I am not a good swimmer, though a strong one. I probably ride better than anything else I do, but I certainly am not a remarkably good rider. I am not a good shot. I could never be a good boxer, though I keep at it, whenever I can. My eye sight prevents me from being a good tennis player…I am not a brilliant writer. I have written a great deal, but I always have to work and slave over everything I write. The things I have done are all, with the possible exception of the Panama Canal, just such things as any ordinary man could have done. There is nothing brilliant or outstanding in my record at all.”
There are a number of quotes attributed to Roosevelt that when I take the time to reflect on really makes an impression on my life and serve well as a moral and ethical guide. My favorites include:
  • Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
  • In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
  • A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.
  • To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.
  • The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
  • Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”
  • The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.
  • Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.”
  • Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.
  • The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name.
  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I should also mention this list does not include the lengthier, inspirational speech commonly known today as “The Man in the Arena.” Every time I read it I get goosebumps and imagine myself reading it with a powerful voice akin to the likes of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. Check it out online if you are not familiar with it.
But I want to focus my attention today on another quote of Roosevelt’s which touches me in a profound way. It reads simply, “I am a part of everything that I have read.” Read it again, “I am a part of everything that I have read,” and allow it to sink in. Take it to heart and consider everything you have read is now a part of you. Have you read the bible? What about a birthday card? Have you read derogatory comments posted on Facebook? They are all now a part of you. How does that make you feel? Assuming the quote to be true it begs the question, “What are you reading?” What should you be reading? Do you need to make an adjustment to your reading habits? And I am not just talking about novels here; consider magazines, websites, social media posts, and blogs like this one. Each is a part of you. Like a grease stain on a white shirt that you can’t get out, you are a part of everything that you have read. 
Take it another step further and again assuming the statement to be true, what are you writing that others read…which is now a part of them? “I am not an author,” you suggest. Oh, but you are. Take into account every email, text, performance appraisal, and Tweet you draft. Would you approach your writing differently if you were cognizant of the fact that your reader is “a part of everything that he/she has read?”
I interpret Roosevelt’s statement to be an example of a force multiplier. In other words, what you focus on expands. If you read negative, intolerant, hate messages you will have more negativity in your life. Conversely, if you read uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational literature (especially first thing in the morning) you will set the tone for a positive day. And if you write something that is constructive and accepting you just might make someone’s day a little better.

The “Made in” Mindset

I started writing a blog about what I thought was a clever analogy for how we should conduct ourselves, and it began like this:

Check the “Made in” label of your favorite shirt, bath towel, or summer sandals and you will find words that read Made in China, Made in America, Made in Vietnam, or other similar designation. “Made in” labels show that a product is all or virtually all made in said country. The labels influence buying decisions, symbolize pride, and contribute to consumers’ overall perception of that country.

Imagine if you had your own “Made in” label that was placed (literally or figuratively) on everything you did indicating it was all or virtually all done by you. This “label” would give family, friends, co-workers, and community members an impression of you, your character, and your work ethic. How would that impact your actions?

I built a bird house tower for my wife several years ago that still stands in our backyard today. It gets a lot of attention, both from the birds who fight for vacancy and guests who wonder where we got it. I am happy to say, “I made it.” I have no problem imagining a label attached to it stating, “Made by Dan.” I value humility too much to actually do it, but you get my point. I am proud of the product and when we are pleased with our work the more comfortable we are branding it as our own. But what about the actions we are not so proud of? What if the bird house looked like a hideous mess? I suspect over the course of our lives we all have taken measures to hide from actions we are embarrassed by.

I try to carry this way of thinking over into other areas of my life. Whether I am in a meeting at work, cleaning the bathroom at home, raising my children, or talking with a friend, I imagine placing a “Made in” label on that task or interaction testifying to my doing it. And if I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that action being attached to my brand then I shouldn’t do it. I am not successful at it all the time, but it serves as a good remember for me to be my best self.

This is where I temporarily stopped writing the blog-or typing, to be accurate. It hit me; what I thought was a clever concept to stay aligned with the person I aspire to be, existed. We literally have a “Made in” label attached to something many of us use every day; it is called a username or profile. Numerous times a day we are sharing thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs using the platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. Each post is attached to our label proclaiming “Made by Insert Name Here.” And, sadly, it doesn’t keep us from posting rude and inappropriate content we shouldn’t be proud of. So that leaves me wondering, “Where do we go from here?” How do we lesson the insolence when not even the public shame of people knowing what we say or do stops us from doing it?

After a brief stint of despair I return to my original blog idea. I return with steadfast resolve to promote positive, honorable behaviors. I believe it is time well invested. It seems to be, at least in my opinion, there is less civility and kindness today. There are many studies readily available online that affirm my opinion. And there are so many theories as to the reasons and contributing factors it overwhelms me. Frankly, I do not feel the need to put my finger on the cause; I acknowledge there are many and with varying levels of credibility. However, what I am hopeful for is as a people we can agree that there is a problem and we need to get better. I am hopeful we can concede, regardless the rationalized origin, we are a part of the problem and the solution begins within each one of us.

Our oldest and greatest examples show us we are supposed to be a loving and gentle people; to extend mercy and compassion to all. Easier said than done, I admit. Why is it so hard for us? I would argue one of the greatest factors getting in our way is a lack of humility.

To be humble is to remember it is not all about you. Self-righteousness and hedonism don’t prevail in the long-term. Part of the trouble is that humility is a poorly defined word in our current culture. Humility is viewed as “meekness” or having a “low view of one’s importance.” The fact of the matter is authentic humility comes from a place of strength and maturity. It doesn’t mean you think less of yourself. From a biblical perspective, humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. Humility means you are sufficiently independent to meet someone more than half way; it acknowledges the dignity and worth of all humans. The attribute of humility is precisely what we need to exist in effective nations, cities, marriages, and friendships. Just because we can literally tell the world exactly how we feel or what we accomplished in any given moment doesn’t mean we should. Modesty prevails.

It is too easy to get caught up in a comparison-based world where the loudest voice wins. We need to be reminded that it matters how we treat people. We need a reminder that to try thy best is a virtue. And so I submit the following paradoxical challenge: to act in such a way you would be proud to attach a label to every task or interaction action stating “I Did This.” And then, of course, to never do so.

To learn more about humility, being kind to others, and responding to the call to be the best person you can be check out my book I Am CXO, Now What? (WestBow Press 2017).

Life Lessons from a Mission Trip

I recently returned home from a mission trip where I was one of seven adult chaperones for a group of nineteen high school juniors and seniors. We traveled to Detroit, Michigan; specifically the southwest neighborhoods. My church does these trips each summer with the teens and this was my first time accompanying the sojourners.

The genesis for my going was my oldest child was scheduled to take part. He will enter his senior year of high school this fall and this was to be his first mission trip outside of our home state of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, a day before we were scheduled to leave he became ill and doctor’s orders keep him home. I was conflicted about whether I should still go or not and ultimately decided the right thing to do was honor my commitment. So off I went to safeguard and be a role model for nineteen young men and women from my parish family, leaving the one young man from my biological family behind. I admit, I was a little salty the first day or so. I was caught up in the unfortunate turn of events that would lead to me spending Father’s Day and my wedding anniversary away from home. Eventually, and by the grace of God, I got over myself and made the conscious decision to be completely present and engaged in the experience. And I am so glad I did.

The trip was a much needed diversion from my “regular life” fraught with my own desires, trials and tribulations, and so-called urgencies. I found it very comforting and centering to have built-in time for prayer and meditation each day. And now, back at home well rested and sleeping in my own comfy bed again, I reflect on what the experience meant to me and how it will impact me moving forward. So here is a list of four things I learned from the mission trip–listed in no particular order.

Be sure you have the right tool for the job.

Do you remember the Spike Lee Nike commercials from the late 1980’s? Lee’s character, Mars Blackmon, helped sell a lot of Air Jordan shoes with the slogan, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” Sometimes the right piece of equipment can make all the difference. On our way east from Southeastern Wisconsin to Detroit, we stopped on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan at Warren Dunes State Park for a picnic lunch and stretch break. It is a beautiful park with spectacular views of the lake and a majestic dune formation rising 260 feet above the water. Naturally, the dune enticed many of the teens who felt compelled to climb it. Some were successful at making it to the top and others were not. What was the biggest contributing factor keeping some from reaching the pinnacle? “It’s gotta be the shoes!” Full of excitement and eager to run after having been cramped in a van for a couple hours, many of the teens began their ascent without their shoes. Those of you who remember your school science lessons know that sand has a lower specific heat than, say, water. This means that sand changes temperature more quickly. The bright summer sun caused the sand to be too hot for many to tolerate. Set motivation and skill aside, without the right planning and equipment you may not reach the apex of your goals. My grandfather used to call it “having the right tool for the job.” An important leadership and life lesson is to take a pause, set your bearings, and make sure you set yourself up to be successful.

Relationship outdoes rules.

As you can imagine, chaperoning a group of teens on a week-long trip requires its fair share of rules and regulations. For example, everyone has a job to do each day such as cleaning up after meals; lights out at 11:00 p.m. (the adults need their sleep); and absolutely no cell phones allowed in the sleeping quarters. Needless to say, the rules were a little difficult for the teens to adhere to on a regular basis. And the more the adults enforced the rules the more resistance we saw. It was a few days into the trip before I established enough of a connection with the youth to recognize people rarely do what they are supposed to do because it is a rule, law, or policy. People are more likely to do what they are expected to do because they value a relationship. The more the teens got to know the adults, build trust, and create empathy, the more likely they were to comply. Think about your own homes or workplace; do you assume people will do what they are expected to do simply because it is a rule or policy? Put work into the relationship early and often, and I think you will find people will follow the expectation because they don’t want to let you down and because they care about the relationship.

You can assert yourself lovingly.

At one of our work sites, our challenge was to design, build, and erect a sign for a neighborhood park that hosts outdoor movie nights throughout the summer. We were given some donated scrap lumber, a vague vision, and best wishes. Joining our crew that day was a board member from the non-profit organization that runs the neighborhood outreach program. He is an engineer and confident in his handyman skills. I have about 30 years of experience as a woodworker. We immediately took joint leadership of this task. Also in our group was a young woman, a recent high school graduate heading to college in the fall to study engineering. She enjoys woodworking and working with power tools so she gravitated to the task more so than any other teen in our group. As the two “old guys” problem solved on the fly and figured out the design as we went along, there were a handful of times where our ideas were not practical; they simply wouldn’t work had we pursued them. This young, aspiring engineer caught our imminent errors each time and stopped us before we got too far in the wrong direction. Impressive as that was, the really magnificent part was how she did it. She had the self-confidence to course correct two older adult males and do so in a way that was nurturing. She didn’t say, “Stop! That won’t work. Don’t do that.” Rather, she lovingly asked questions such as, “Have you thought about…?” Or, “What would happen if we tried…?” She was so good at it we didn’t even realize what was happening at first. She was guiding us. She was asserting her intelligence and experience, and never once making the two old guys feel stupid or condescended. I witnessed a great lesson in leadership that day. You can assert yourself and drive a project while also having a compassionate, caring heart. In doing so, you will build credibility and loyal followers.

Find peace by giving a piece of yourself away.

Finally, what I learned (or reaffirmed) from our mission trip to Detroit is we are called to serve. We are anointed to live in communion with God and neighbor. For us to think anything different or to ignore the gentle nudging is self-destructive and neglectful. In my experience, there is no better way to generate more peace and clarity in your life than to give a piece of your life away to others. In our week-long mission trip there was only one part of the day where I never saw any fighting, disobedience, bending of the rules, or disrespectful behavior. That one-time was when we were serving at our work sites. The work was peaceful. The moment we left our sites and returned to our personal desires, selfish wants, limited truths, and social (media) comparisons I could see a change in our group. We became more irritable, competitive, judgmental, and intolerant. At times when you feel like life is moving too quickly, you are overwhelmed, or you are dwelling on your own preoccupations I recommend doing something nice for others-even if it is just a phone call or quick message to say, “I am thinking of you.”

Little did I know I would learn so much from our trip to Detroit. Living and learning go hand-in-hand; life’s lessons are all around us if we look for them. And if you can’t find an example…be the example.

Dad: Small title; big contribution

As we enter into this Father’s Day weekend I am reflecting on my dad and all of the other men who impact their sons and daughters so profoundly. In loving memory of my dad, enjoy this excerpt from my book I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description for Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning. [Copyright © 2017 Dan Burnett]

My father was born in 1948 and raised in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the same city I grew up in and where my mother still lives today. Its name in French means “foot of the lake” because of the city’s position at the base or south end of Lake Winnebago—the largest lake in Wisconsin at almost 132,000 acres. Fond du Lac is a typical Midwestern city that feels smaller than its population of about forty-three thousand people.

My dad met my mom at a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) dance when they were both barely teens. In the fall of 1967, my dad was drafted to serve his country in the Vietnam War. If not for failing a physical examination because of a previously undetected condition, my dad would have joined anticommunist allies to support the South Vietnamese counter to the North Vietnamese, Soviet Union, and other communist allies. He made all the preparations to go. He said goodbye to his family and fiancée, got on a bus, and traveled about an hour south to Milwaukee. This is where he took, and failed, the physical. After getting sent back home, my dad had surgery to fix the ailment, married his sweetheart, and started a family. He was called to service again in the summer of 1968 and got a waiver because my mom was pregnant with my older sister.

I came along four years later in 1972. President Nixon called for the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1973, and the war officially ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975.

I heard the story about my dad almost going to Vietnam a handful of times as a child without ever stopping to recognize the magnitude of it. If my parents were captivated by how close my dad had been to going to war, they never showed it. As an adult with a wife and children, I think about it and can’t get the precariousness out of my mind. And I fully know if my dad would have gone to Vietnam to serve his country, it would have set in motion a series of events undoubtedly changing the time of his marriage (assuming he made it home alive) and subsequent children. In other words, I would not exist if my dad had not failed that physical.

And it wasn’t even a big, scary medical problem that caused it. I recall it being a hernia. My mom can’t remember, and my dad has since passed away so he cannot resolve the debate. But in my mind, I am alive on this earth because my dad failed a physical exam due to a hernia. I suppose I could send away for a copy of the Selective Service System records to verify the facts, but I like remembering it this way.

I can’t even imagine how different things would have been if my dad had gone to Vietnam. Life as I know it: vanished! For me, that failed physical was a gift from God—the gift of life. It is up to me to detect what He had in store for me with that priceless gift and this one wildly precious life.

My dad had a long career in the grocery business and had been, in many ways, defined by his career. He proudly worked for Schultz Sav-O Stores in Sheboygan, a city on the shores of Lake Michigan about forty-five minutes east of Fond du Lac. Schultz Sav-O distributed food and other grocery items through franchised and corporate retail supermarkets, which operated under the name Piggly Wiggly. To people who knew him, my dad was synonymous with Piggly Wiggly. He loved what he did, never complained about work, and was loyal to his company. I often joked that he had a big pig tattoo on his chest. He worked for the company for over thirty-five years. Yet he always told me that people will remember you for who you are as a person and not what you do for a living. After all, what’s in a title?

During my youth, I must have spent hundreds of hours standing at my father’s side as he carried on conversations that seemed like would never end. Invariably, errands to the service station or local home improvement center would lead to my dad running into an acquaintance, co-worker, old neighbor, bowling buddy, or high school classmate he had not seen in years. And there I’d be, a relatively quiet child, resisting all temptation to plead with my father for us to leave. I waited at his heels amazed that there could be so much to talk about. My dad, as the joke would go, could be dropped by helicopter in the middle of Timbuktu and in short order run into someone he knew. His hobbies introduced him to an array of people from diverse walks of life. He connected with them all. His work kept him traveling rather frequently from grocery store to grocery store throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Again, he met quite a few people and built a rapport with all of them.

My dad’s mission at each grocery store, grossly overgeneralized and oversimplified, was to affect change. He learned the best way to do that was to start with the person. My dad believed employees are more influenced by relationship than by policy or procedure. He didn’t have a college education and worked his way up through the ranks from humble beginnings as a butcher. But he had a way of making people feel comfortable with him.

I didn’t appreciate it until I got much older, but the lesson I learned in my youth from my father was how important it is to put work into meaningful relationships. He was a CXO.

To learn more about how to be a Chief Experience Officer (CXO), check out I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description for Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning. Happy Father’s Day!