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Chris LoCurto

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April 8, 2011

Leadership Spotlight: Allen Harris

The Leadership Spotlight continues this week with Allen Harris. Allen is the Director of Content Development for Dave Ramsey‘s company, where he leads Dave’s team of writers and editors.

With more than a thousand publishing credits to his name, his work has appeared in In Touch magazine, New Man Magazine, and The Alabama Baptist, as well as daveramsey.com and intouch.org. He has written or contributed to several books, including two national best-sellers, causing his mother to wonder why his name never appears on the covers. He lives with his wife, Maryalice, and their daughter near Nashville, TN.

CLo: What is your role in leadership?

AH: I serve as the Director of Content Development for Dave’s team. Basically, that means I lead all the writers and editors that produce all of our written content for the web, books, magazines, newsletters, training materials, etc.

Alternate job titles:

  • Chief Word Nerd
  • Grammar Nazi
  • Director of Scrabble
  • Front Man for “Allen and the Punctuators”

CLo: What is the best advice you’ve ever received about leadership?

AH: Dave Ramsey: “Lead people according to their personality style, not with yours.

I’m a very high C-D personality, so I’m generally task-focused. I have to be intentional about getting to know each one of my team members on a personal level so that I can communicate, instruct, lead, and encourage in a way that is meaningful to them.

Also a big “A HA!” for me: George Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Again, my high C causes me to think, re-think, and then think again. I have to be intentional about making decisions and not allowing indecision to bring my personal productivity—and my team’s productivity—to a screeching halt.

CLo: What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

AH: Huh. That’s a big one. Let me approach it differently and tell you what the biggest challenge facing me as a leader is today. I’m currently hiring three open positions on my team. Because we are so well-known, have such a solid reputation, and have experienced significant growth even during “these troubled economic times,” I have a barrel full of applicants for these three positions.

It’s heartbreaking seeing so many quality writers out of work, and you’d think it would make it easy to hire a few new people. It doesn’t. Instead, it really forces me to bear down and look at each and every individual candidate on a personal and professional level. I believe that the fastest way to destroy a productive team is to inject just one bad hire. Therefore, I am in the process of painstakingly looking at every individual’s resume, cover letter, and writing samples. The goal isn’t to find a good fit, but to find the perfect fit. We don’t hire “good enough” around here. We hire the best. God’s always got just the right person lined up; our job is to sift through dozens or hundreds or thousands of “good enough” people until we find the superstar.

CLo: How do you continue to improve yourself as a leader?

AH: Unconventional answer: I admit failure early and often. As soon as I see myself as above correction, I will stop growing and my team’s downfall will begin. I make myself accountable not only to my leaders, but also to those team members who report to me. If I can’t accept the heat when I screw up, I shouldn’t expect them to take responsibility when they do, either.

CLo: How do you invest in others?

AH: Time. Trust. Delegation.

I pour my own time into my team members, working closely with them in their first year or so on the team. As we work and grow together, we earn each other’s trust, so that when I ultimately start delegating important tasks and goals, I know they can handle it—and they know I know they can handle it.

CLo: What was the last book you read?

AH: How about the last four? I had most of these going simultaneously over the past month:

1.      EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey (manuscript; leadership)

2.      The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson (health/fitness)

3.      Pinheads and Patriots by Bill O’Reilly (politics)

4.      Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes (health/fitness)

Chris LoCurto

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April 7, 2011

How To Speak Gooder

Many people struggle with public speaking. For years I’ve helped other people improve their speaking, and there is one issue that always pops up – the inability to think while speaking to a group. What I mean by that is, you get so focused on what you’re saying, or what your script is, that when you mess up, you have nowhere to go. This also has a tendency to create the um’s, and uh’s that so many speakers insert into their talks.

When I started public speaking 16 years ago, I had to deal with this issue as well. It frustrated the daylights out of me mainly because I didn’t want to look stupid standing in front of a group, frozen, not knowing what I was supposed to say next. So I did what I always do, I figured out a way to not do that.

I started asking myself what I could do to train my brain to think in that situation. So I came up with a little brain exercise I now teach to every speaker, or future speaker, I work with. I start by looking around the room to find an object to speak about. Once I pick an object, I start talking nonstop. I quickly find that I am unable to consistently speak about that one object. So I don’t. I change the object quickly in my mind and start talking about it, and then another object, and then another.

As I continued this exercise, I was able to train my brain to think of where I was going, instead of where I am. This also gave me the ability to continue “filling space” with words while I was trying to figure out where I was in my script. Once I remembered it, I would find a place to get back on track. Sounds crazy, but it worked. The more I practiced, the more I was able to think on the fly while speaking. (It’s also helped me debate better. :-o)

As the years have gone on, I’ve used this simple technique with a lot of speakers, and it has helped them become better, more comfortable speakers. They always think it’s goofy at first, but you can tell when they’ve been practicing. For that matter, you can also tell when they haven’t.

Chris LoCurto

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April 6, 2011

Dang This Hurts!

I have a personal struggle I believe most people can relate to – sometimes I’m just an impatient person! There are plenty of times when I am able to breathe a little and wait. But sometimes, especially when I have some experience with an issue, I tend to rush the process. And it’s that rushing that gets me in trouble every time.

In there somewhere rushing to the finish line!!

Image by Salem Elizabeth via Flickr

Take for instance my latest attempt at getting in shape by running two half marathons in one month. Yes, I’m that crazy. Some of you may think it’s not that crazy of an idea. What makes it crazy is that I’ve never done a half marathon before. In fact, I believe the longest I’ve ever run was a 12K, roughly 7 1/2 miles, 20 years ago. But in classic LoCurto fashion, I figured I could just…run, and I would be ready to tackle almost twice the distance I’ve ever run before.

The problem is that my body doesn’t even remember what running looks like. When my mind told my body what we were going to do, it scoffed. “You and what 20-year younger body?” it said. But my mind won out. We were going to do this thing. And we started to run to see how well we could do. (I keep saying we, because it should be a collaborative process between mind and body…HA!)

As I ran, I began to realize that my mind didn’t really win out at all. At least, that’s what my body began to scream. It hurt like crazy! So I figured I would fix my impatience by getting on a training program. I asked around and received a walk/run plan from Chad Nikazy that would get us up to speed in 16 weeks. So what if we were already four weeks behind? We could just jump right in and make it happen.

Yeah….that’s been another win for the body as well. But no biggie, we’ll make it work out. Oh wait, did I just commit to a second half marathon four weeks earlier than the original event? Sweet! We can just crunch the 16 week program into an eight-week deal, right? How bad could that be? Well, it hurts. What I’ve realized is that I did what I always do with something I believe I can conquer with my mind. I compressed my time frame and put the demand on my body. Only thing is, my body never signed up for the trip.

I will do both half marathons if at all possible, but there certainly was a better way to prepare. One that wouldn’t tax my resources. There’s a reason it’s a 16-week plan; it takes 16 weeks to get you through the process without hurting yourself.

The same happens with us as leaders. While there are many times you should compress time frames to make things happen, you should always check first to see if your resources can handle it. If so, rock it! If not, step back and rethink the process. Perhaps go a route that will get you there with all of your limbs intact.

Check back Monday to see how the half marathon went! It was a battle between mind and body!

Chris LoCurto

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April 5, 2011

You Better Get Ready!

April 5, 2011 | By | 9 Comments">9 Comments

I have been speaking publicly to groups for 16 years. In all those years, people have told me that I seem at home on a stage. And I have to agree. They will often ask how nervous I get.

The truth is, most of the time, I don’t. I kinda adhere to Peyton Manning‘s belief. When he was backstage at the Get Motivated event in Nashville, somebody said, “You’re a football player, not a public speaker. I know you don’t get nervous on the field, but you’re about to go speak to 12,000 people. Does this get you nervous?” Payton, without missing a beat, said, “Only the unprepared get nervous.”

That is a truth that I have felt for a long time. For years I have believed that if God is going to put me on a platform in front of His children, I better be prepared. If I’m going to be entrusted with their valuable time, I better give them something that’s worth more than what they could have filled that space with.

I love being on stage, but not for the reasons most people love it. Some are just happy to be on stage in front of people so they can hear themselves speak. Those are the people who are going to be nervous on stage. Why? Because they haven’t taken it seriously enough. When you believe that your job is to enhance someone’s life, and that it’s a privilege to be there, your focus is different.

Funny thing is that I find myself getting nervous when someone walks up to me and tells me that we need to add five minutes of stretch to my already prepared talk. That’s when I’m concerned that I might not be able to deliver my best for those who are giving me their attention.

As a leader, you’re almost required to know how to speak in front of a group. How to motivate them. How to inspire them. How to give them the good, the bad, and the ugly. But you still have to be cognizant of the fact that you’re taking up your team’s precious time when you pull them together to share information. Forget the fact that you’re pulling payroll away from the work that brings in the income.

Unfortunately, I’ve been a part of way too many meetings in my life where my time wasn’t valued enough for the person who called the meeting to prepare ahead of time. (If I’m being truthful, I’ve done it myself in the past as well.) The result is always the same: a meeting where we brainstorm instead of make good, strong decisions. If the person calling the meeting had prepared for it beforehand, then the rest of us could have prepared our input ahead of time as well.

When both sides are prepared, decisions get made. And team members feel that their time is valued, and the information you shared was more important than the work they had on their plate at the time.

I always want to hear your comments on my posts, so please feel free to leave one. Also, if you enjoy them, please help me get the messages out by sharing with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever you use.

Chris LoCurto

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April 4, 2011

Wow You’re Big!

The Census Bureau recently reported that over 98.3% of all businesses employ fewer than 100 people. Also important to know, 90% of all American businesses are family-owned or controlled, and they generate more than half of our annual gross national product. So small business is actually…big!

Sylvia Borken, at the family store, Knox Marke...

Image by Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest via Flickr

In other words, big business isn’t running this country! But for some reason we tend to think it does. We see how much they screw things up, and we believe they are the ones in control. We believe if they don’t get their act together, this country will collapse. And while their mistakes can have a major impact, the truth is, small business runs more of America. It’s the mom and pop shops that are making it happen.

Small business has played a huge role in the success of our nation. In fact, most big businesses started out in someone’s garage somewhere. So if you’re a small business owner or leader, and you think you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, think again. If you’re a person working at one of those mom and pops and you think what you do doesn’t impact the nation, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Just the mere act of participating in commerce has an effect.

It kinda changes the way you think about who can make change in America. Hahaha – and I don’t just mean at the cash register.